Innocent Chukwuma: The Auto Entrepreneur

His journey into success is one of the numerous grass to grace stories. Born without the proverbial silver spoon to the family of Chukwuma Mojekwu of Uru-Umudim, Nnewi, in Anambra State, Innocent Ifediaso Chukwuma has successfully tread the terrain where many fear to explore and today, he stands out as one of the leading entrepreneurs not only to have come from the eastern part of the country, but also within the larger Nigerian entrepreneurship class. This is the story of Chukwuma, the 47 year old CEO of Innoson Group of companies
What he lacked in an affluent parental background may have been compensated for by his intelligence, hard-work, discipline and business acumen, the qualities that have continued to interplay remarkably in his many ventures.
Through exceptional courage, determination and the zeal to succeed, Dr. Innocent Ifediaso Chukwuma, Chief Executive Officer, Innoson Group of companies, the youngest among the family of six, like every average Nnewi man, has been able to successfully put the name of Nigeria in the world map. By his dogged business acumen, Chukwuma has not only become an entrepreneur of repute, his endeavour as an indigenous vehicle manufacturer has also helped enlist Nigeria in the league of vehicle manufacturing countries in the world.
Chukwuma saw a hidden treasure in the automobile industry, where Nigeria is said to rank among the biggest consumers of automobiles in the world even without manufacturing its own car. He had thought it wise that manufacturing cars in the country, instead of importation would be a big plus. That was the thought that gave birth to what is today known as Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Company, manufacturing various types of cars, buses and tricycles.
Going into the car business then, Chukwuma’s idea was to make cars affordable for Nigerians. According to the business mogul, “If Nigerians can be patriotic enough to patronise made-in-Nigeria vehicles, all the money being wasted on importation of vehicles, would remain in the country. We will have more money in our hands to develop the country,” he had said at a time.
Chukwuma’s entrepreneurial stride generated a lot of interests within the business community as many still wondered how he was able to put together, the first truly made in Nigeria cars within a short time.
Indeed, a trip to the Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Company Limited, an auto plant located in the industrial city of Nnewi, Anambra State gives one the initial feeling of surprise, as it is a vast and gigantic project with awesome machinery and tools. The auto plant, built by Chukwuma, in partnership with Chinese auto makers, however does not limit itself to the production of refuse haulage trucks. It manufactures a range of other vehicles, including SUVs, double cabin pickups, 18-and 14-seater mini-buses and coaster buses among others.
A team of inspectors from the National Automotive Council, led by Akintunde Zedomi, which recently toured the plant, confirmed that the products of the company were of international standard and commended the proprietor for keying into the Federal Government’s vision for transforming the country.
The company, with about 30 per cent Chinese expatriates and 70 per cent indigenous workers, has no fewer than 3000 staff in its employ. Its presence is a motivator to other small scale manufacturing firms especially those dealing in motor auto spare parts and accessories. As a way of building the technicall capabilities of its indigenous employees, the company constantly engages in training its workers to acquire the muchneeded technological skill in auto manufacturing.
Inaugurating the Innoson Motor Manufacturing Plant in October, 2010, President Goodluck Jonathan had described the Innoson innovation as a dream come true. “Today is the day we are all happy because this is an indication of the drive we are expecting as we enter fifty years of our journey as an independent nation. We’ve always been saying that since 1960, a number of other countries were with us at the same level of economic and industrial developments. But they have all left us behind and the present Nigerian generation agrees that we must retrace our history and move forward and meet them up and pass them,” the president said.
President Jonathan, commending Chukwuma for the industry and sense of patriotism had expressed satisfaction that Innoson Vehicle Plant is not just about assembling parts that are imported. “From all indication so far, it is only the engine that he brings in from his partners in China, and every other thing is built here. And even abroad, no particular company produces everything, whether aircraft or even turbines,” he said.
To Chukwuma, his goal, apart from putting Nigeria on the world map as a vehicle manufacturing country, was to stop Nigerians from buying fairly used vehicles, popularly known as Tokunbo. According to him, with the commissioning of the plant, Nigerians can now beat their chest and say, “this is our own,” just like the Americans, the Chinese, the Germans and the Japanese do.
Urging governments to lead the way by patronising madein- Nigeria products like vehicles and others, this, he said, would make Nigerians stop feeling that made-in-Nigeria products are of inferior quality compared to their imported counterparts. “If the president, governors, senators and other dignitaries begin to drive in Innoson vehicles, confidence in other Nigerians to begin to patronise us. It would also inspire other Nigerians to go into manufacturing. The fear of most potential manufacturers is government’s preference for foreign- made goods. But once they begin to see government officials making use of made-in-Nigeria products, it would inspire them to bring out their best for their fatherland,” Chukwuma said.
Innoson Motor Manufacturing Plant manufactures different types of vehicles like pick-up vans, buses of different kinds, sports utility vans and tricycles, popularly called keke NAPEP. The company only imports the engines used on its vehicles, while other components are sourced and manufactured in Nigeria and built with special considerations for the state of the Nigerian roads.
Chukwuma’s trajectory into the business world, like many successful business persons from across the Niger, took off modestly when his elder brother, Gabriel Chukwuma (Gabros) identified the good qualities in him and paved the way for the youngster’s journey into the business terrain as an apprentice after his education in his home town.
First, it was patent medicine trade that he tried his hands on, but later developed a stronger passion for motorcycle spare parts. This early tutelage became the veritable foundation the young Chukwuma needed to demonstrate an innate flair for trading, especially in motorcycle and automotive parts.
With his knowledge of the trade now sharpened, Chukwuma, in 1981, ventured fully into the trade under the name Innoson Nigeria Limited (with motorcycle parts and accessories as his main stock). It was this seed sowed 21 years ago that flourished and multiplied like a mustard seed, into the many companies under the big umbrella called the Innoson Group.
Incorporated in 2002, Innoson Group of Companies, has many subsidiaries including Innoson Nigeria Limited, which is based in Nnewi, while Innoson Technical and Industrial Company Limited, which manufactures all kinds of plastic and allied products, is based at Enugu. General Tyres and Tubes Company Limited, is also at Enugu. Innoson Motor Manufacturing Company Limited, Nnewi, has in its fold more than 3,000 staff.
The Innoson Group of companies is also largely into manufacturing of plastic chairs, tables, trays, plates, spoons, cups, jerry cans of different sizes and many other allied products.
Since inception, the company has been the biggest plastic manufacturer in Nigeria. It produces the highest quality range of the plastic products of international standard and has a production capacity of over 10,000 pieces of chairs and tables per day. Due to the rapid demand of these products, the company’s twelve production lines of injection moulds have been increased.
From being a leader in motorcycle parts, Innoson Nigeria Limited later launched into the importation of the products from China, and by the turn of the 1990s, had become so popular that its products were doing well across the country and in the West African sub-region.
Guided by the instinct of a far-sighted investor, Chukwuma promptly realised that the time was ripe for Innoson Nigeria to domesticate the production of the motorcycles with substantial local input. This had the attendant benefits of enhancing the company’s grip on the market and contributing positively to the development of the economy by way of technological transfer, employment opportunities and competitive pricing of the motorcycles.
With uncommon zeal and courage, he took the risk of setting up a vehicle plant in Nnewi, Anambra State, and a tyre factory in Enugu, at a time the first generation auto and tyre manufacturing firms in the country were either dead or dying.
To realise this dream, Chukwuma in 1994, entered into a symbiotic partnership agreement with some Chinese motorcycle manufacturers, which was consummated with the establishment of a facility in Nnewi, where top quality motorcycles were produced.
However, the targets of comparatively low prices and transfer of the production technology were only partially achieved owing to the fact that the assembly process was totally manual and did not make for high volume. This explains why only one year later, in 1995, he defied a major industrial boundary, by installing an automated assembly line at the Nnewi plant, thereby making Innoson Nigeria the first fully indigenous motorcycle maker to join Leventis and Boulos Enterprises in their club of companies producing the machines in Nigeria.
Innosson produces about 8,000 pieces of motorcycle tyres and 13,000 tubes daily for now. But the company says there are plans to expand the range. The products are sold under the brand name of Load-visa.
Apparently, as a result of his efforts to bring growth and development to the people, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had honoured Chukwuma with the national award of Officer of the Order on the Niger, OON while recently; President Jonathan awarded him a title of Member of the Federal Republic, MFR. Elsewhere, he was bestowed with the Commonwealth Business Council award in London, and the recent Institute of Directors (IoD) award, among others.
The Innoson boss himself admitted that the awards have shown him that the little efforts he has been making in the manufacturing sector are being appreciated by the people of the country and even those outside. “It simply means that investing in production in order to contribute to the development of the economy and reduce unemployment is what the people of this country need, and they recognise you when you do it. I am always happy to receive such honours because they are a very big source of encouragement to me. In most cases, when I am contacted, I do my investigations and find out that the people behind the awards do not even know me personally but are usually impressed with what we do at the Innoson Group and decide that we deserve commendation.”
Last year, Innoson Group of Companies was given recognition as the 2012 African Business Award in London for its cream of successes in Nigeria and Africa. The award, given to the company at a colorful ceremony, attracted top business executives and government officials around the world at Grosvenor House Hotel London.
Explaining the enormous contributions of Innoson Group at the occasion Galib Virani of Afren International, an upstream oil and gas Company recalled that Innoson’s industrial record is not only outstanding but also heartwarming. “Innoson Group represents the best of Nigeria, and obviously the champion of Africa. It is a thing of pride to have such a high profile group in African continent,” Virani stated.
Six distinguished business experts- Jean- Louis Ekra Runa Alam, Amadou Ba, Barbara James, Sir Samuel Jonah and Tim Turner formed the panel constituted by the Commonwealth Business Council and African Business that vetted the nominees and recommended the Innoson Group after assessing her business leadership skills as having the ability to overcome tough hurdles in a hostile business environment like Nigeria.
The team also considered the group’s meteoric rise into auto parts engineering, assemblage and manufacture of automobiles in Nigeria and submitted that “there is no doubt that Africa, especially Nigeria’s improved reputation today is largely due to the achievements of leaders like Innoson Group, and we wholeheartedly cherish your exceptional contribution to the economic and social development of Africa continent.”
However, like every entrepreneurs, Chukwuma admits the various teething challenges confronting businesses in the country, which chiefly, he said is the persistent erratic power supply. He explained that if there was stable power supply, production cost would be lowered and prices of products would go down drastically. “Our mission by the grace of God is to drastically reduce the prices of vehicles and cut down the country’s dependence on imported vehicles. We did it with motorcycles; we can do it again with motor vehicles,” he said.
Chukwuma appealed for incentives from government including facilities and patronages, to enable the company outgrow its teething problems and contribute its quota in effective national growth.
Also, he believes that high tariff on electricity has been another big problem facing the manufacturing industry. “Unfortunately, the new tariff is posing its own headache. For instance, one factory alone in the Innoson Group – the plastics industry in Enugu – pays a monthly electricity bill of N30 million. It takes a lot of toll on the factory. It does not encourage growth and expansion. That heavy monthly bill reduces your ability to bring in more equipment and employ more hands. It is a problem the government should look into because it is a problem all manufacturers are battling with.”
Chukwuma is already looking beyond the shores of Nigeria. Exportation of the IVM vehicles has already commenced. Ghana, he said for instance, has ordered over 200 units of his vehicles.
The Federal Government has been the biggest patronage as Innoson has been able to supply some of the busses order for public transportation under SURE-P programme. Also many ministries and parastatals have purchased vehicles from the factory, just as the Anambra state government.
Governor Peter Obi who recently acquired some vehicles from the manufacturing firm, described the company’s proprietor as a man of vision and ingenuity whose activities have given boost to the growth of the state and nation’s economy.
Besides, the company has been enjoying the Bank of Industry (BOI) support as it was able to get loan facility to kick start the factory since 2004 when it had only 500 staff. Also, the company was able to access National Automotive Council fund to expand its vehicle plant.
Apart from their durability and the availability of spare parts, the Innoson Chairman said the vehicles can be purchased for as low as N1.7million.

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