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.
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