To the surviving league of industrialists in Nigeria, it is time to mourn the demise of one of their own, Chief Onwuka Kalu, the famed Okpuzu of Abiriba.
Until he succumbed to the four-year battle against cancer last week in a London hospital, the deceased’s name almost became synonymous with indigenous industry as his activities between a long period spanning 1970s and 80s laid the foundation for the emergence of local manufacturing and indigenous enterprise.
His close associates said the story of Onwuka Kalu epitomises the Igbo spirit – the spirit of enterprise, hard work, determination, intelligence and honesty. Chief Onwuka Kalu – the Okpuzu Ndigbo was an eminent industrialist, lawyer, politician and community leader.
According to records, Onwuka Kalu achieved fame as a teenage millionaire trader who went into manufacturing of Rocket Nails and motor parts through Onwuka HiTek Plc, the first Nigerian company to be quoted straight on the first tier of the Nigerian Stock Exchange.
Today, the sheer industry and sophistication of locally manufactured goods in the popular Aba town is well known all over the world. However, it is on record that Onwuka Kalu, as a foremost promoter of Made-in-Nigeria goods, to a large extent popularised Aba as the Japan of Africa.
He was also the chairman, Onwuka Inter Biz, Aba. A fellow, Institute of Sales Management and associate member, Institute of Business Administration.
His enterprise did not end in the factory. He also tried his hands in banking. A man of big dreams, he was one of the first set of Nigerians to obtain a banking licence. He founded and chaired the board of Fidelity Bank but later exited in the heat of a boardroom squabble.
A great lover of children, Onwuka Kalu was passionate about promoting the welfare of African children. This moved him to set up the Children of Africa Foundation, with which he organised the Children of Africa Charity Concert that brought the global musical giants of the time to perform in a globally followed show in Lagos in 1991.
Having acquired fame and wealth, Onwuka Kalu also tried his luck in politics. He was a member of the 1988 Constituent Assembly. He later ran for governorship of Abia State in 2003 on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) but lost to the Chief Orji Uzor Kalu.
Records also showed that Onwuka Kalu was one of the victims of late despot Gen. Sani Abacha’s iron-fist reign. He was detained as a political prisoner for about a year at Alagbon, Lagos, losing one of his eyes in the process.
Onwuka Kalu, was born in Abiriba, Abia State on May 24, 1954. He had his early education at Amaogudu Primary School and JIKS Commercial Institute, Abiriba. He had his post primary education at Hendon College, London and Middlesex University, London from where he graduated with a law degree – LL.B (Hons).
Although he was a very bright and keen pupil, Onwuka Kalu’s education was interrupted by the Biafra-Nigeria war and the economic difficulties created for Igbo families by the Federal Government’s decision to wipe out their entire savings at the end of the war and pay them forty naira (twenty pounds) in exchange.
At the beginning of his illustrious career, he was once an assistant company secretary, Chika and Company Limited between 1971and 1974, and secretary of the company between 1975-1976. He was also the chairman, Onwuka Inter Biz, Aba. A fellow, Institute of Sales Management and associate member, Institute of Business Administration, Kalu was the co-coordinator of the first “Made-in-Nigeria Trade Fair” in Aba in 1982. He was also chairman, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, (MAN), Eastern zone. Certainly, he legacies will live after him.