The Nnewi chamber which was one of the biggest in the country before then because of the calibre of its members became a shadow of itself as the industrialists who constitute the bulk of its members had fled the industrial hub because of prevailing insecurity in the state, particularly kidnapping.
Thus Ngonadi had a herculean task on his shoulder as president, but three years after he has repositioned the chamber to be vibrant organization again even as most of the industrialists have returned as security has also tremendously improved in the state.
As NCCIMA is now standing on a sound-footing again, the president is looking at other ways to make more entrepreneurs out of Nnewi and the South-East by staging the Nnewi Economic Summit and Exhibition, where the entrepreneurs in the zone come to showcase their products and upcoming ones taught how to climb the enterprise rope.
In this interview to flag off the 5th Nnewi Economic Summit and Exhibition scheduled to begin on August 27, Ngonadi said that they carved out the theme: “Moving the economy to the next level through the non-oil sector,” to redirect their people going by the prevailing economic situation in the country.
According to him, the chamber has assembled experts to speak to their people during the summit, exploring how to rely on agriculture and setting up small-scale enterprises to survive than the school leavers roaming the streets in search of non-existent white-collar jobs.
He also looked at how the Nnewi chamber has fared in the last two years under his watch, saying that in the next 10 months a new president would be coming to take over from him.
He also revealed the secret why industries thrive in Nnewi, saying that their people love home and freely associate with everyone. Excerpts:
It is three years you have been on the saddle as President of Nnewi Chamber of Commerce, how has it been?
Well, I think it is well and good in the sense that it has been an opportunity for me to serve my people. I love serving people more especially when I am invited to do so. So, it has been three years of service of the chamber and by the grace of God, I will be here for another ten months before I hand over to the incoming president. And I want to thank God for these three years and some months I have been in office because of the enormous co-operation I have received from the executives and the entire members of the Chamber of Commerce. I have a very wonderful working relationship and cooperation with them; they have given me all the necessary assistance I required to do the job. To be honest with you, I am just like a player in a football field, when a goal is scored, it is not the particular player that scored the goal that played best; there are people who passed the ball from the back to the centre, to the forward, before the goal was scored. But you see that we clap hands and shout for the player that scored the goal forgetting the other players that made it possible for the goal to be scored; honestly, some people have contributed so much for the goals we have scored and still scoring in this chamber.
What are some of these goals you people have scored?
Well, number one, we re-established the chamber which was comatose as a result of the security situation in the country; then a lot of the members of the chamber had fled the city and state to other parts of the country. Even the president of the chamber then also left and the chamber was there for more than one year without meetings, without leadership, it was in indeed in a comatose state and when I came in as president, the first thing that happened was that the chamber was woken from slumber and made to be alive again. If you come to any of the meetings of the chamber now, you will agree with me that Nnewi City Chamber is one of the best chambers in the South-East and we are highly recognized within the nation. Then number two, we have started enlightenment programmes to educate our people not only on the activities of the chamber but on what will be beneficial to them in their private businesses. The chamber has continued to educate our people knowing full well that information is power. We want the people to understand this, in the last Economic Summit we held, one of the major things we achieved was trying to make our people see the need that their businesses outlived them, which is unusual in the environment we live in here. The environment we belong to is one when somebody that is very rich is getting old and because he will not be able to attend to the business again; the business will now start going down because of his management style, what I will call one-man show. The man who is the founder of the business will remain the founder and the manager and everything until he gets old. But Nnewi Chamber of Commerce has organized seminars and brought people with good knowledge to impact good wisdom into our people on how their businesses can outlive them and how they can manage their businesses when they are alive, retire and hand over the business to someone else to manage. Though they will not be very active in the business they will still be benefiting from it like when they started it. So, it is part of the programmes, which we have succeeded in educating our people. We are also trying our best to make our people understand that they can start their business small because all industries are not to be started with billions of naira, there are some small-scale industries which you can start with a very little amount of money. We are also encouraging our young men who left school to begin small. This is because before now you will notice that somebody who came out from the university after five years still wear the same jeans trouser the parents bought for him while he was in the university without getting a job; so we are educating our people on how to be self-employed. We give them training, we organize seminars, get people to train them on how they can start their life from nothing because a lot of people that have made it in life started with nearly nothing and they eventually made it. We are educating our people that if you come out of university you should not be roaming the streets. If you seek for a job and you are not getting any, you go into your own establishment with what you have and if you are dedicated to what you are doing, then God will see you through. Like some of the multi-millionaires we find around us, many of them started that way. I believe that in this Economic Summit, Dr Cosmas Maduka will be there and he will share with people how he started, some people who look at him today will know that he was not born with a golden spoon; that he actually started very small. If you look at some of the top men we have around, in the last Economic Summit, Chicason shared his experience with us, somebody looking at him today will not know that there was a time he was a newspaper vendor, he was selling newspapers within this market, nobody will believe there was a time he was going within the market selling re-fuel products. There are some many things he passed through before he became what he is today. We choose such people to teach our people through their testimonies the importance of being honest and dedicated to whatever one is doing; for them to know that through honesty they can become somebody someday.
With the theme of the Economic Summit, Moving the Economy to the Next Level through Non-oil Sector, what specifically is this non-oil sector you are talking about?
You see, our country is one I know as a small boy before the oil boom was rich, but not through oil, Nigeria was not selling oil then, the North had groundnut, in the West, there was cocoa and down here, we had coal and palm oil; the country had so many things that we’re giving it good economic balance, but when the oil boom came, Nigeria abandoned all these things and everybody now moved into the oil business and today oil has failed us. I thank God for the last administration that started shouting of reviving the Nigerian economy through the non-oil sector. They tried to pursue that but the only problem was the implementation, it was only words and no action, if the government had matched its words with action in the last six to eight years, the Nigerian economy would not have gone down the way it is today, they shouted reviving the Nigerian economy through the non-oil sector, but there was no action. So, we are calling this summit to put those things into action. How can we practicalize this, how can we drop thinking of oil and get back to those things that made our economy to boom in the past? I know some countries that do not have oil but are stingingly rich.
The first time I went to Australia, the first thing I did was to try to know what the country was depending on because I noticed that they don’t have oil, they depended on agriculture and tourism. Nigeria will even be better than all these countries if we develop our tourism potentials. We have a lot that people from all over the world will come to look for in tourism but they are not developed. If Nigeria develops these things, people from other countries will be coming to Nigeria for tourism and this will push up Nigeria’s economy. Then on agriculture, we are bringing a man who is well knowledgeable on agriculture to this economic summit to talk to our people on why they should see the need to go into agriculture, particularly as the government we have today is willing to aid anybody that is interested in going into agriculture. At the last summit, we brought experts who talked to our people in many areas of developing one’s talents and becoming entrepreneurs. There are so many hidden things people can hook on to become millionaires instead of roaming the streets. We are bringing a man who will develop the mind of our people in agriculture. He will also talk to the people on how to start a small-scale industry in order to be self-dependent. I thank God for the governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano who is very passionate and interested in developing our people in these areas. So, we are bringing experts to come and talk to our people and teach them how they can move into other things than oil. We will also try to tell our people that trading is good, but we should not depend only on trading, we have to pick some little from here, and little from there to balance things. For example, Nnewi was known for trading yesterday, today Nnewi is known for industries. In fact, Nnewi is known for industries more than trading as we speak and we want more people to get into manufacturing, we want more people to get into agriculture. We want more people to get into other types of businesses where they can employ other people. In agriculture, you will need a lot of people to join you and by that, you are creating employment. Our young men and women will no longer be roaming the streets looking for non-existent jobs.
You said you people are now moving away from trading to industry, so how would you manage the challenges posed by the Nigeria economy?
I am so happy with the word you used, challenges. One of the things that these challenges help us to do is to think, to reason, to look for a way out. The industries are facing a lot of challenges today because of the economic situation in the country, especially as almost all the industries have one or two things they import to make up the things they source locally for their production. So, in that sense, the industries are facing a lot of challenges, but I believe the government will not look over the challenges facing the industrialists; the government will definitely do something before all the industries are closed down, so definitely the challenges facing the industries will be overcome such as the challenges of power. Industries, especially those in the South-East and Nnewi, in particular, run hundred per cent on generators and running on generator also adds a lot to our cost of production. But we believe that one day the problem will be solved and the industries will not suffer from too much production costs again. I want to encourage those who want to come in not to mind the problem of power today because it will be solved one day. Again all over the world, there is economy recess, it is not peculiar to Nigeria; I believe that it will come and go, things will definitely change, so I am encouraging people to just have a little patience, to continue to believe in God, to continue moving forward and to continue joining in manufacturing, we will all make it.
Three years ago when you came in as president, you staged an economic summit and exhibition that was applauded as it had very big weight, but in your second year, we didn’t hear about the economic summit again, what happened?
Yes, actually in the second year, the economic summit was planned and a date was fixed for it but unfortunately, it coincided with the burial of our revered and respected daughter, the late Prof Dora Akunyili. So, we shifted the date to honour her as the Bible says, give honour to whom honour is due. So, the Nnewi Chamber of Commerce considered that it was not too much a sacrifice because our sister, our daughter and our mother had honoured Anambra State with her service to the nation, so her being buried on that day of the economic summit, we said was not proper, so we cancelled that economic summit to honour her.
As you are planning for this 5th summit that will come in August, what lessons have you learnt from the previous one, is this one going to be bigger?
Definitely, the efforts we are making are showing me that it is going to be something quite bigger than the last one. Inasmuch as the last one was very successful, we are moving forward. With the knowledge we had and the efforts we put in the last one, we are doubling it and because we are doubling it we are expecting a double result. This time around, we are using you (The Sun) as we did in the last one, and you could notice in your first publication for the economic summit, it’s better than what you did in the previous one, so if your publication this time is better than the last one automatically it’s a sign that the economic summit this time will be better than the last one.
So, who and who are you expecting at the summit, are you having some international collaborations or some exhibitors coming from abroad?
For now, exhibitors are mainly within us, we are inviting exhibitors to come within the country, inasmuch as I am having some telephone calls from abroad of people making inquires on what we are doing, which I have given them favourable answers. But as I am talking to you now, I cannot confirm whether they will be here or not, but there are a lot of interests, considering the time of the first publication, let’s believe God that they can make up their papers to be here. And we have also as I told you earlier wonderful speakers, you were asking about challenges facing industries, we have got a man who is well trained, well informed, well educated, Dr Uche Mbonu, who will take us on the challenges facing the industries and I believe by the time he finished talking, the industries with such challenges will begin to find a way out of their problems.
Besides the entrepreneurs operating in Nnewi, are you expecting others from outside Nnewi?
Yes, a lot of them have indicated interest and are getting ready. The contact we have shows that many of them are coming.
You talked about how security challenge led to the comatose state of the chamber last time, have things improved now, are the entrepreneurs who fled back?
Yes, the present government of the state has done a lot in that direction. His Excellency, Chief Willie Obiano, came into power, the security of the state has been well managed. In fact, Anambra State people can now sleep with their two eyes closed. So, apart from the economic situation in the country, the business would have returned to normal in Anambra State. The only challenge we are having now is the economic situation in the country, otherwise, Anambra is safe. And because Anambra is safe now nightlife is gradually coming back in all parts of the state. Before now, by 6 O’clock everybody goes into his house; the other day I had the course to be returning about 10 O’clock in the night, I saw a lot of cars, a good number of people were still on the streets, a lot of cars were still plying the road after 10 O’clock in the night, that means security is sure. Honestly, the governor and security agents in the state need to be applauded for this good work.
Because of the presence of big entrepreneurs in this part of the state, one would have thought that at the summit the government will be involved, so is the state government participating in your upcoming economic summit?
The present government of Anambra State is part of what we are doing for now and you will be a witness on that day, you will feel the presence of government in what we are doing because the governor is someone who loves to see things happen and he loves the kind of thing we are doing and has given us his support. And the commissioner we are working with is also a friend, we work straight into his office and agree on a number of things we are doing and he is giving his own advice and if the commissioner and governor are with us, I think the government is involved.
During this exhibition, are we expecting new feats from the entrepreneurs here, are there new things you people are going to showcase that have not been in the market before?
I believe that new products are spring up around Anambra and Nnewi in particular, there are too many products that are new and they will be found at the economic summit and exhibition, but more will come during the trade fair in December.
Are we expecting to see in the summit big names which dominate the industrial sector, and is the spirit of the Nnewi entrepreneurs going up or dwindling?
If you ask me, I think the spirit is being doubled. The spirit of Nnewi entrepreneurs is being doubled because they are waxing stronger. Entrepreneurs from Nnewi are people who love their town and because of that, they love anything that is happening here. Elsewhere people in their class do not visit their towns or attend local functions, but people from Nnewi, you always find them in local church services every Sunday and within the community on every occasion. Every activity within the town, you find them, which shows that their first interest is in their town.
Why do you people love your place, Nnewi?
I think everything is my upbringing. Our upbringing is here and we love the town that treated us well and there is maximum co-operation amongst our people from this town, I think that is the strong reason behind it.
Most of the best Igbo investments seem to be outside Igbo land and without these investments here, it will be difficult to transform the South-East geopolitical zone. How can we balance the situation and begin to have more Igbo people like you investing here in Igbo land?
I will not agree with you, if I will use Nnewi as an example, you cannot mention one industrialist in Nnewi who does not have a better industry here than the one outside. Anybody that is doing business must have a branch to help his business grow, what I will tell you is that industrialists from Nnewi simply have branches outside Nnewi. We start here, function very well here, and perhaps have a kind of branch outside here. If you can use Ibeto, for an example, his cement industry, there is no way he could have located it here because he needs a seaport which Nnewi does not have. So, that is part of the reasons he located it outside because somebody like Ibeto I know would have built that cement industry in Nnewi, but circumstances could not allow him to do so. But you can see what he is doing in his industry here, which is his foundation industry, he is doing exceedingly well.
Besides Ibeto, there are still many Igbo investments in Lagos, Abuja, and other places, they are not commensurate to what we have at home here?
Yes, I will tell you that it is still the problem of insecurity because it is only a mad person that will hear that he will be killed and he stands there to be killed; every right-thinking person will run away. When these businessmen left here, it was because of the security problem then. You know this insecurity did not start a few years ago, the insecurity problem started even when Chinwoke Mbadinaju was in power when armed robbers were harassing people, visiting people’s homes, you can still remember that there was a time people don’t sleep in their houses, they sleep in the churches, even those who do not go to church were going for night vigils in the churches. There was night vigil every night in the churches because people were not safe in their homes. And some people left because of this, and when they left they established branches elsewhere, something forced them out, which were against their wishes, but today they are back because the situation has improved.