When you venture to Lagos or Kano, strive for success—that’s commendable. We applaud your pride in your hard-earned accomplishments after years of sacrificing comfort and pleasure. However, it’s counterproductive to boast about owning sixty-five percent of Lekki or Sabin-gari, an assertion that, frankly is ludicrous. But even if it were true, how does it serve you to alienate your host community, creating an impression of a hidden territorial agenda? Lagos is located in a geographical space that belongs to the Yorubas and not the exclusive domain of the Ezeigbo of Epe or Ikotun
Nigerian Millennials and Gen Zs probably have no idea that before Ovation and other wannabe celebrity magazines, there was Classique. This gig was owned and run by the deceased first wife of Nollywood royalty, Richard Mofe-Damijo(RMD). In fact, May Ellen Ezekiel, as she was known before she married RMD, had Dele Momodu, Ben Charles Obi, and my dear friend, Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo working for her at the time. It is also very likely that May’s Classique magazine was the inspiration behind Mr. Momodu’s highly successful Ovation brand today.
Maybe the above intro has nothing to do with the main premise of this essay, but I needed to give a background on the person who wrote about one Chief Evaristus Ofegbu, an Igbo businessman whose life history she believed, embodied the quintessential Igbo spirit.
I do not remember the full details of her story on Chief Ofegbu, as published in her Classique magazine back in those days which was before the internet became widely available, but it clearly spoke to the concept of survival against all odds. With no formal education and barely being able to communicate in English, the Chief rose from a less than modest background in one remote village in the South-East to become a man who presided over a board meeting where other members included alumni from Oxford and Harvard business schools.
Notable too was Chief Ofegbu’s uncommon predisposition to philanthropic gestures. But one has to wonder, where is his business legacy today? Did his conglomerate stand the test of time like Chief Rasaq Okoya’s Eleganza or did it fizzle out the way Ekene Dili Chukwu Motors did with the demise of Chief Austin Ilodibe. We’ll get back to that in a moment.
May Ellen’s recounting of Ofegbu’s journey serves as a testament to the Igbo can-do spirit, echoed in contemporary success stories like Innocent Chukwuma (Innoson) and Cosmas Maduka( Coscharis). These billionaires, lacking university degrees, exemplify business brilliance that transcends conventional education
When you hear them dispense business advice, you know they didn’t graduate from Harvard but are convinced that even graduates of elite business schools , could learn a thing or two from these brilliant minds. But success of any kind comes with a steep price which sometimes is unavoidable and Igbos in Nigeria have seen lots of it.
Igbo people are the most misunderstood and often mistreated in this country of Nigeria, and that is one unpalatable truth we all have to accept. When their shops and entire livelihood are not being looted or burnt down in Kano, their places of residency are being pulled down in Amuwo-Odofin, using all kinds of excuses.
For as long as one can remember, bashing the Igbo has been a favored pastime among Nigerians of various classes. A crack in a wall at Aso Rock Villa, and Ndigbo would be blamed for importing fake cement, allegedly causing the fissure. It’s quite ironic that the very country perpetuating this injustice is willing to resort to violence to keep them in the union—a union where many have not experienced any sense of belonging for many decades.
One of the victims of the recent demolition effort in Lagos is my brother Emeka. To be clear, Emeka is not my blood brother but more like a very close friend; a much younger man whose life hustle I am very familiar with. I knew him back when he was just a “Boyi.” He served his “Master” for seven long years before he was finally “settled.” For those who know, serving as a “Boyi” is the business equivalent of a military boot camp, except it lasts longer.
Emeka, like his peers, started out living on one shoe and few cheap clothing, eating mama put every day/night, and has been working seven days a week since I first met him. Before long, he saved up more, and his electrical accessories business prospered. That’s when he bought a piece of land in Amuwo Odofin and started putting up a structure. He was already midway into developing what was to be his dream home when the bulldozer came in the middle of the night.
I could understand pulling down illegal structures encroaching on public spaces, but destroying hundreds of magnificent complexes and giving no option to make amends for whatever infraction was deemed to have been committed smacks of outright personal vendetta. How I wish the properties were even seized by the government instead of knocking down 600 plus in a city and country with an acute shortage of livable spaces.
The question is, was the demolition orchestrated by the President? Perhaps not. Was he aware and did he have the power to stop it but chose not to? I believe so. Is he complicit? I don’t know. Just like I can’t explain why Nnamdi Kanu’s issue is still being dragged around, I don’t understand this one as well. And please, let no one give me the lame excuse of letting the law run its course. In today’s Nigeria? All I know is that no nation can progress while sitting on the neck of a group that is 40 million strong.
How about Ndigbo! Can we elevate ourselves, redefine our behavior in certain situations? Absolutely. The stark reality is, sometimes, we can become our own greatest obstacle. History teaches us that success often triggers envy—just ask the Jews about Hitler’s attempt to annihilate their entire race. Yet, this crucial lesson seems to escape many Ndigbo.
When you venture to Lagos or Kano, strive for success—that’s commendable. We applaud your pride in your hard-earned accomplishments after years of sacrificing comfort and pleasure. However, it’s counterproductive to boast about owning sixty-five percent of Lekki or Sabon-Gari, an assertion that, frankly is ludicrous. But even if it were true, how does it serve you to alienate your host community, creating an impression of a hidden territorial agenda? Lagos is located in a geographical space that belongs to the Yorubas and not the exclusive domain of the Ezeigbo of Epe or Ikotun.
But back to Chief Ofegbu’s story. Why is it that most Igbo businesses find it hard to survive, years after the demise of the original owner/founder? Could it be linked to the challenges of individualism versus collectivism? Centuries-old businesses like Johnson and Johnson, Procter and Gamble, and the Hilton brands thrive because they embrace collective talent. The notion of a single individual making all decisions and owning everything is outdated. Ndigbo should also rekindle the spirit of Onyeayananwanne, tapping into a concept that has historically served our people well. Our future shines bright if we reclaim it.
Despite the devastation of the Nigerian-Biafran war, where our people faced grave financial ruin and witnessed their homes flattened by artillery fire, our resilience remains legendary. Even Gowon acknowledged the remarkable recovery speed during his visit to Onitsha years ago. No matter the challenges—chasing, shooting, looting, or burning—we rise. That indomitable spirit defines the people East of the Niger.
Drawing inspiration from biologist Thomas Hunt Morgan’s illustration of the regenerative planarian worm, we find parallels in the Igbo spirit. Just like the planarian species, Okechukwu exemplifies our resilience. Despite the destruction of his business and family house in the Kano riot, he rose from the ashes, rebuilding in Lekki and Aba to secure his family’s future. In the eyes of a biologist like Morgan, the Igbos might well be seen as planarian species, embodying the extraordinary ability to regenerate and thrive against all odds. Hopefully our tendencies to be abrasive will not continue to stand in the way. IGBO MMA MMA NU O!
Osmund Agbo is the author of ‘Black Grit, White Knuckles: The Philosophy of Black Renaissance