Some years ago, when some Nnewi traders in Lagos resolved to head back home and reestablish their motorcycle business, it looked like a mission impossible. Really, leaving the commercial nerve centre of the country at that time, with all its potentials, for a local community like Nnewi, was indeed a huge risk.
However, after weighing the pros and cons of doing business in Eko, especially with the activities of the area boys, the traders made the move, which eventually paid off.
Today, what started merely as a trading centre for motorcycle spare parts at Nkwo Nnewi Market has turned the town into an economic hub of the east, with companies and industries scattered all over the place. Notwithstanding the level of industrial activities taking place in Nnewi, commerce is still major.
It is on record that the first indigenous car manufacturing plant in Nigeria (owned by Innoson Group) is located in Nnewi, while the first wholly made-in-Nigeria motorcycle was manufactured in the town by the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI). So, to a large extent, Nnewi holds the ace in technological advancement of the country.
When approaching the commercial town from Nnobi axis, you will surely know that a commercial centre is just near by; the signs are everywhere. Being the home of motorcycle in Nigeria, which remains a major mode of transportation here, almost every home owns at least one bike. Unlike in other parts of the country where ridding a bike is more of men’s thing, in Nnewi, it is everybody’s affair; from women to children, elderly… everyone is involved.
From left to right, there are economic activities going on at every corner. Welders, technicians, traders dealing mostly in automobile products, restaurants… there’s no place for idle minds. Though the town has grown in strength as regards industrial activities, Nkwo Nnewi Market still remains the centre of attraction. It is more like the exhibition ground for goods produced in the area.
From large-scale manufacturers to small-scale entrepreneurs, who use charcoal to produce motorcycle break pads to big time industrialists, Nnewi has positioned itself as the Japan of Africa, as it is home to many major indigenous manufacturing companies.
From Ibeto Group of Companies to Cutix Plc, Uru Industries Ltd, Omata Holdings Ltd, First Aluminum, Cento Group of Companies, Coscharis Group of Companies, Innoson Group of Companies, Tomy Tomy Group, Ngoo Bros, Ebunso Nig. Ltd, John White Industries, Ejiamatu Group of Companies, Chicason Group, Louis Carter Group… the list is endless. Interestingly, majority of these industrialists, especially those within the automobile cluster, were once traders. In fact, most of them, such as Innoson, Tummy Tummy Group, Coscharis actually started from Nkwo Nnewi where they sold motorcycle spare parts. Except for the likes of Cutix Plc, whcih has a background in engineering, a large number of these industrialists started from Nkwo Market.
Having experienced first hand how technology boosted the Chinese economy, these men, who started out as importers and franchisee for major Chinese brands, have since migrated into production.
Obviously, the achievements of their foreign partners might have spurred them to take a chance. Forget their grammar, which might not be as fluent as that of the Queen, but these men understand how to apply science and technology to satisfy need and earn good money. And with a vibrant Nnewi Chamber of Commerce, which sometimes provides the intellectual aspect of the ventures, things are look bright for them.
According to history, the first Igbo man to own and drive a car was HRH Igwe Orizu I (Eze Ugbo Onya Mba) in 1912. And by 1940, Nnewi residents were at the center of an international trading network that dominated the supply of motor spare parts in Nigeria. The town subsequently became a center for commerce and industry, and has one of the largest automotive parts markets in Africa. Besides the big players, small and medium sized industries have also joined the venture, producing for both Nigerian market and for export.
Since 1970, Nnewi have controlled approximately 80 to 90 percent of the motor-parts trade in Nigeria. This has made Nkwo Nnewi Market the major import and wholesale point for motor spare parts in Nigeria. The industrialists on their parts are adapting foreign technology for local needs, providing employment for thousands.
“Nnewi is a success story, which Nigeria as a country, is yet to celebrate. Funny enough, majority of these people that championed this cause never saw the four walls of the university; most of them managed to finish secondary school. But today, they control the economy of this place. What that tells you is that an average Nnewi man in particular, an average Igbo in general, is naturally gifted,” Charles Muojike, an Nnewi native said.
For Ugochukwu Egwuatu, a trader in Nkwo Nnewi, lack of genuine support from government, is slowing down business in the area.
“We’ve not really seen serious impact of the government over the years, especially the federal government. I thank God that Innoson has succeeded in drawing their attention to Nnewi, but beside producing the first made in Nigeria car, Nnewi has what it takes to lead industrial revolution in Nigeria.”
He continued: “We have Ministry of Science and Technology and money is voted every year, what have they achieved? Here in Nnewi, with no government support, you can see the result; our people are resilient. All we need is conducive environment to operate; power supply is still a major challenge. Notwithstanding, go to Nkwo Market, there’s nothing our people don’t produce; traders come from all over the country to buy goods. We are seriously contributing to the economy of this country. Sometimes, I feel that due to what happened during the civil war, the rest of the country seem to be afraid of empowering the Igbo man to achieve its full potential,” he said.
After he was sworn in as the governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano made public his intention to take the state beyond buying and selling and launch it into a new economic phase. To achieve this, the governor marshaled what he described as Four Pillars Of Development, which include Aggressive Mechanized Agriculture, Oil And Gas, Trade & Commerce, and Industrialisation.
Already, Anambra Sate hosts a large number of Industrial Clusters, but many have raised concern on the need to strengthen this advantage with an appropriate policy framework that will boost the indigenous capacity in the sector. It is hoped that the initiative will not only have a direct impact on wealth creation in the state, but will also bring down rate of unemployment.
While the state is currently sealing agreement with international partners and investors to actualise its dream, a nest has been created at the Technology Incubation Centre Nnewi, to train youths under the State Youth Skills and Empowerment Scheme. Already, the first 500 participants drawn from the 21 LGAs of the state are undergoing training at the centre, which is always beehive of activities.
Though the Incubation Centre was put in place by the federal government as part of the efforts to train young Nigerians in the area of science and technology, the Anambra State government, under the present administration, has seen reasons to take advantage of the facility to spark industrial revolution. The programme is designed in a way that the 500 youths would attend classes three times a week for free, while the government provides them with feeding and transportation allowance.
While the maximum period for the training is three months, there are some skills in the curriculum that runs for just a month. For instance, those in cosmetics, chemical and allied, food and agro processing and others don’t have to spend three moths; most of them will be rounding off soon. But for those into fabrication, building technology, foundry, auto spare parts and leatherwork and so on, they have to complete three months at the Centre.
To ensure the trainees are grounded in their field of choice, a special scheme was developed to perfectly blend theoretical learning with practical. While resident entrepreneurs at the Centre serve as resource persons for the trainees in different fields, staff handle the theoretical aspects. With standard laboratories and workshops manned by scientists and engineers, who are professionals in those fields, the trainees have all is required to excel.
Though, the current batch is made up of mostly youths with secondary school certificate, there are graduates among them, who see the empowerment programme as an opportunity to have practical knowledge of what they learnt in school.
As it is, only a few of them wish to take up paid employment; others want to be entrepreneurs. Of course, the success story of industrialists in Nnewi is enough encouragement for these young one to believe that, if the Innososns and Ibetos of Nnewi can make it as industrialists, then it is possible.
While the Centre provides both theoretical and practical training for the participants, the manufacturing firms around give them opportunity to see real time production process. The progarmme is designed in such as a way that the trainees go for internship with different firms in Nnewi. And being a member of the Nnewi Chamber of Commerce, getting placement for the interns is no big deal for the Incubation Center.
“You find that for you to operate in a system, you have to be part of that system. Having been member of the Nnewi Chamber of Commerce, it’s very easy to interact with the industries. The main objective of the excursion is to exposure the students and we have categorised them into various skills,” Mrs. Uche Chukwu, the Center Manager hinted.
While those into chemical and allied products go to Chikason Group, those in catering and agro processing are sent to Tummy Tummy Foods factory. For those into fabrication and auto parts, Innosson Motors is their destination, while those into electrical and building technology are sent to Cutix Cable Plc. There’s also provision for those in the fishery section to visit a fish and snail farm in Adazi community.
“Aside from what we teach them here, the idea is to send them out to see proper industrial setting and have the opportunity to ask question. Most of these industrialists started small, so this is an opportunity for the trainee to understand that you don’t need billions to become an entrepreneur,” one of the teaching staff hinted.
Upon graduation, the youths will be provided with seed money by the state government to establish small-scale businesses so as to become self-reliant.
Providing insight into the state government’s commitment towards ensuring the viability and sustainability of the empowerment programme, the then Commissioner for Science and Technology, Mr. Obi Nwankwo, said the programme is collaboration between Anambra State and Federal Ministry of Science & Technology.
“The federal government handles the area of management and administration, payment of the admin staff, procurement of some of the equipment and infrastructure development, while Anambra built all the facilities and structures at the centre.”
According Nwankwo, who now heads Ministry of Public Utilities, apart from the participants getting necessary skills, the government sees the program as a key component of its economic enablers.
“It will provide ready skilled work-force to support and service the state’s areas of needs in the governor Obiano’s Four-Pillars of Agriculture, Oil & Gas, Trade and Commerce and Industrialisation. The 500 youths participating in this phase one programme were selected from a database of over five thousand, who were registered in the state Ministry of Science and Technology to reflect a cross-section of the state and the applicant’s area of interest. So far, we are impressed with the result we are getting and the governor is already thinking of having the second batch on board,” he said.