Business Mogul and Founder of The Dome Entertainment Center, Dr. Obiora Okonkwo, has instituted an entrepreneurial research chair into the Onitsha main market as a central hub of Igbo enterprise development.
The research will document the beginning, the growth and development of entrepreneurship at the Onitsha main market, which at a time, was the largest market in West Africa.
Announcing this Monday at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University (UNIZIK), Awka, Anambra state, after he was conferred with an award as Business Philanthropist of the Year by the UNIZIK Business School, Dr. Okonkwo said that the coming generation of Nigerians have a lot to learn from the entrepreneurial spirit of the Igbo man which, according to him, was developed from the Main Market at Onitsha.
He stated that before the emergence of large markets in Lagos, the main market held sway as the hub of Igbo enterprise adding that “at that time, every Igbo billionaire took off from the main market in Onitsha.”
Relating that to his humble beginnings in business, Dr. Okonkwo recalled that “I had my first lessons in trading at the Onitsha main market, rising from there to become who I am today.”
He noted that most Igbo businessmen and women of the time, had their offices at Onitsha and only traveled to Lagos on holidays.
He said that though the trend has changed, a proper study of the market and the growth of the apprenticeship system in Igbo land, will add value to new business innovations that will sustain growth and ensure enterprise survival.
Noting that the upcoming generation of Igbo businesses must learn from mistakes of their forebears, Dr. Okonkwo regretted that the exploits of Sir Louis Odumegwu-Ojukwu, who at a time was the biggest name in business in Nigeria, ended with his passage.
He said Sir Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s contemporaries in Europe, America and Asia, have their names as super brands wondering why same failed in Nigeria.
Dr. Okonkwo challenged the UNIZIK Business School to use the research to help create innovations that would turn Nigerian businesses into super brands appreciated world over.
“In my life thus far, I have received several awards. But this is the first from a Business school. So, I deeply appreciate it. Not only is it the first from a business school, but it is also one from a business school in my home state. It means a lot to me because it is said that a prophet is often without honour among his own. But here I am being honoured by my own, in my home state capital, Awka, a town that is just a few kilometers from Onitsha where my father taught me my first lessons in the rudiments of trading at the Fancy Line.
“I went through Onitsha Main Market as a youngster, helping my father of blessed memory manage his shop. Through him, I had my tutelage in business growing up to combine school and shop management as well as managing his apprentices. The lessons I learnt at the Main Market are immortal. They could not have been learnt at any University at the time. And that is why I always looking at Onitsha with nostalgia. The city, and the market, laid the foundation for who I have become. I won’t ever forget.
“I am therefore happy that the management of Nnamdi Azikiwe University accepted the challenge to start a business school that will transform lives and help bring innovation to our traditional trading practice. I was at the maiden convocation dinner organized in honour of graduands of the executive MBA programme of the business school last May. I was highly elated to see a crop of young Nigerians graduate from your programme. Seeing them tells me that there are no limits to what Unizik Business School can achieve in the lives of our people.
“It is for this reason that I accepted to be part of you today. It is also for this reason that I have decided to commit myself to funding a research into what makes Onitsha Main Market such a giant hub in the creation of great businessmen and women with deep insights and guts even when they have no university education. We must know what makes main market, once the largest in West Africa, what it is today. We must remember that before Alaba International, ASPAMDA, Balogun, Ladipo (all in Lagos), there was Main Market. Then, the big businessmen and women go to Lagos for weekends only. Their businesses were domiciled at Onitsha. So, I believe a research into the main market that will document its beginnings and growth, for our children will be a great intellectual contribution to the vaunted entrepreneurial spirit of the Igboman.
“This is more so as American journalist, Robert Neuwirth, had in a study, declared that the apprenticeship system in Igbo land, is the largest venture capitalist platform in the world. His study was based on the Alaba International Market in Lagos. However, I do not think we need a foreigner to tell us our story. This is a story that Unizik Business School must document and tell the world. Unizik Business School must strive to bring the world to Awka to learn something about the Igbo entrepreneurial spirit whch created the main market.
“Many of the great businessmen and women that we have come to know in Igboland, passed through the main market. They started little and grew to become big. It tells me that there must be something that is spectacular about the Main Market and the people that pass through it.
“In committing myself to funding such research, I am guided by the need to find out vital lessons that will guide our businesses into growing to become world super brands. Like I recalled at my lecture during your MBA graduation, the exploits of Sir Louis Odumegwu-Ojukwu and the likes, challenge us towards understanding why their businesses ended with their generation irrespective of how large they were.
“I believe that such understanding will help students who pass through UNIZIK Business School to prepare better for the future because the challenges of tomorrow will be greater than what we experience today,” he stated.