Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu
Sir Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu, OBE, (1908– September 1966) was a Nigerian business tycoon from the Ojukwu family of Nwakanwa quarters obiuno umudim Nnewi. Sir Louis, who was considered the wealthiest person in Nigeria and the whole of west Africa at the time, was Nigeria's first recorded billionaire with his networth reaching equivalent of 4 billion dollars using today's currency, and he was the founder of Ojukwu Transport, Ojukwu Stores and Ojukwu Textiles. At his peak, he was the first and founding president of The Nigerian Stock Exchange as well as president of The African Continental Bank. He was also either chairman or on the board of directors of some of Nigeria's most profitable companies such as Shell Oil Nigeria Limited, Guinness Nig. Ltd, Nigerian National Shipping Lines, Nigerian Cement Factory, Nigerian Coal Corporation, Costain West Africa Ltd, John Holt, Nigerian Marketing Board amongst others. He won a parliamentary seat during the nation's first republic. He attended a primary school in Asaba and the Hope Waddell Institute. His son Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu was a Nigerian military governor and the president of the secessionist state of Biafra.
Life and career
In 1936 he met Bishop John Cross Anyogu - then a parish priest at Nnewi. Louis was a Roman Catholic.
Ojukwu started his professional career at the Agricultural department before leaving to join John Holt as a tyre sales clerk. He also incorporated a textile company in Onitsha to supplement his income during this period, already exhibiting a little bit of his entrepreneurial spirit. While at John Holt, he noticed the severe strain a lack of adequate transportation had on Eastern textile traders. He later left John Holt to create a transport company to improve the trading environment for Nigerian traders. As a transporter he was a tireless worker and meticulous to detail; he was usually the first to inspect his transport vehicles for oil and leakages. Apart from his work ethic, his success was also oiled by the economic boom after World War II, working with the West African Railway Company and the newly inaugurated produce boards, he provided his fleet for commodity transportation and for other traders use. As a transporter he had his own transport company (Ojukwu Transport Limited)which was the first major transport company to move the easterners to Lagos from the Asaba end of the Niger river after they might have crossed over from Onitsha on a boat.
During the 1950s, he diversified his interest, bought some industries, invested heavily in the real estate sector and became a director in numerous major corporations including the state-owned Nigerian National Shipping Line. He was a member of the board of Nigerian Coal Corporation, Shell Oil, D'Archy, and African Continental Bank.
During the period of pre-independence and in the First Republic, Ojukwu was an active member and donor to the political party, NCNC. He was a one-time member of the House of Representative. In 1958, he was chairman of the Eastern Region Development Corporation and the Eastern Regional Marketing Board. On May 1, 1953, he was appointed head of an NCNC peace committee and given power to choose most of the committee's members. The committee was charged with the responsibility of restoring peace in the regional House of Assembly. His views on policy were a little bit capitalistic and right of Zik's socialist undertones. He was a co-author of a report on the Economic Mission to Europe and North America with Azikiwe, the report recommended the investment of extra funds from the produce marketing board in a regional bank and public corporations to stimulate economic development. Ojukwu died in 1966, just a year before the Nigerian civil war. His son Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu was the leader of the secessionist state of Biafra. The Ojukwus have produced a family history that bucks the trend in at least one respect: birthing a famous son who became more widely known than his famous father. Most people who know anything of the Ojukwu will only have heard of Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, the leader of the old secessionist state of Biafra, or his wife, Bianca. Not many know a certain Louis, father of the better known Emeka, and (here's where he has a bragging right) Nigeria's first billionaire.
Louis Philip Odumegwu-Ojukwu was a man of significant accomplishments. It's perfectly understandable why his achievements currently lie in the shadows of his military commander son's engagements. However, a case can be made for a wider recognition of all the firsts he notched up.
There's a good deal of inspiration to be derived from Louis's story. His many wins were more the product of a strong work ethic than of anything else. Starting off as a low-level employee at the agricultural department and then at John Holt, he beat a path through the uncertain business terrain of pre-independence Nigeria and wound up at the zenith of the country's entrepreneurial ladder.
Perhaps there was something about his background which spurred him on. Nnewi, the town he hailed from, has produced an unusually long list of naira billionaire business people (Innoson's Innocent Chukwuma and Ibeto Group's Cletus Ibeto are just two examples). Whether he had a gene for spotting opportunities or not, he certainly sensed a promise beaconing when he left John Holt to found his own company.
Louis's first big venture was his transport company, which he named after himself. His trucks helped to facilitate cross-country trade by moving products between different regions. Because his transport business was plugging a hole that was still considerably open at the time, he made a significant fortune from it.
Throughout the era of the World War and after, the Ojukwu trucks carried goods and raked in income for their owner. At a point, the British had their supplies for the war moved by Louis's trucks- a service for which Louis was later rewarded; years later, he was conferred with an MBE by Queen Elizabeth II.
The relatively upbeat economic environment of the post World War years presented an opportunity to diversify into other business concerns, and Louis seized upon it. Besides shipping stockfish to Nigeria, he also got involved in real estate and sold textiles and cement.
As his wealth grew, his influence and clout began to extend beyond the industry. He was active in pre-independence politics and was a donor of the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons (NCNC), a political party which had Nnamdi Azikiwe as one of its members. At a point, he was elected to the House of Representatives.
Back in his familiar terrain of commerce, Louis became even more influential. He sat on the boards of many of the country's biggest companies and was also a founder and first president of the Nigerian Stock Exchange.
By the time of his death in 1966, Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu's wealth was worth $4 billion by the current value. But beyond his riches and bourgeoise culinary tastes, he had lived his entrepreneurial life in an exemplary way, at least in one sense: his meticulousness with his business dealings. The very mindset that gave rise to his successes was the one which caused him to inspect his trucks with such keenness and punctuality. It was the oil that lubricated his business's history-spinning machine.
- Forsyth, Frederick. Emeka. Spectrum Books, 1992. p. 1. ISBN 9789782462091. Retrieved 4 February 2017.
- "In Quest of Perpetuity: The Ojukwu Nigerians didn't know - THISDAYLIVE". THISDAYLIVE. 2016-05-08. Retrieved 2018-10-04.
- Sklar 1963, p. 450.
- Sklar 1963, p. 180.
- Sklar & 19638, p. 447.
- Tom Forrest, The Advance of African Capital:The Growth of Nigerian Private Enterprise
- Robert, Sklar (1963). Nigerian Political Parties: Power in an Emergent African Nation. Princeton: Princeton University Press.