By CHIDI NKWOPARA
If you have been to Owerri, and you have not visited Ibari Ogwa Village, then, you are like the Biblical Moses that was shown the promise land but never entered it. The brain behind the popular hangout that is today described as the entertainment headquarters East of the Niger is Chukwudi Ofoha. He had a very humble beginning but without the N1,000 he borrowed from his mother, Ibari Ogwa Village would probably have remained a mirage. Ofoha narrates the story himself.
How did you begin?
To tell you the truth, I was initially nobody but thank God that I am somebody today. I started life with practically nothing. All the people my father trained virtually abandoned us and those that tried to do anything for us, sadly turned us to slaves! I started life with N1,000 I borrowed from my mother, who has today joined our ancestors. I lost her December 8, 2013. The N1,000 I borrowed from my mother has made me a millionaire today!
To survive life’s hardship, I sold all manner of petite things, including pigeons, kerosine, chickens, guinea fowls and it’s eggs. I bought some of these perishable goods from Katsina and sold them at Owerri and parts of Mbaitoli markets.
With my mother’s N1,000, I started with kerosine. From kerosine, I jumped into palm oil. From palm oil, I went into guinea fowl trade. I will buy them from the North and move them to the East for sale. I did a lot of things to help myself.
In an attempt to expand my horizon, I started traveling to Cotonou to buy men and women wears. I also sold apple, frozen foods like chicken and turkey, just to make ends meet. I stoutly resisted attempts by some crazy human beings to lure me into crime, especially as I knew that it would not only pitch the security agencies against me and ruin my future but will also tarnish the image of my family if and when arrested.
You do not do any of these things now?
Yes, I agree with you that the Ibari Ogwa Village is a different concept entirely. It was born when General Sani Abacha seized power and closed the borders. By the time the borders were reopened, we had badly eaten into my capital and what remained was my car and about N100,000.
I stocked a kiosk close to Mr. Biggs along Okigwe Road, Owerri, where I sold can drinks. My price was cheap and people preferred buying from me after buying their food from Mr. Biggs. Not long after and based on a barrage of petitions from people, a plan was hatched to sack all kiosk owners from the vicinity.
Notices were issued to us and they day government came to demolish the kiosks, I was away on a business trip. It was a security man in a nearby commercial bank that played a fast one on the team.
He told the bulldozer driver that the owner electrified the kiosk and it was capable of electrocuting anybody that goes close to it. The badly terrified officials opted to play safe and left it untouched. When they left, the security personnel carefully packed all my wares to a corner in the bank premises.
Was this not another business opportunity lost?
Definitely, it was. There was a government official, Goddy Dike, whom I met to discuss my plight. After our discussion, he promised to assist in securing a place for me. Not long after, I was taken to the landlord of a four-room store.
Somebody had taken two and I was to take the remaining two but I honestly had no money to pay the bill.
My elder brother returned from Singapore when I was at the point of selling my car. He quickly gave me his return ticket, which was worth $2,000. I gainfully employed this money and today, I thank God that I have paid all my debts and left the poverty zone.
It appears that you had so many challenges in life?
Yes! Honestly, I faced so many life challenges. I was the one taking care of everybody in the family because my mother and all, had to return to Owerri because of the crisis in Kano.
I rented two rooms for them along Royce Road, Owerri. A windstorm that swept through Owerri at the time, yanked off the roof of the house. I moved them to the single room where I was staying. I abandoned the room for them and continued sleeping around with friends.
Let us go back to how you kick started this business?
I started this business in a small scale, indeed in a one room apartment along Tetlow Road, Owerri. To make the difference, I engaged a small band that plays the popular Owerri bongo music in a raw way.
In the beginning, I had no money to employ a chef. I was the chef. I killed the chickens and prepared them for my customers. I later engaged three or four young boys from Akwa Ibom State. The helped in serving my customers.
How did you get the name Ibari Ogwa Village?
It was truly a problem. Using my first name, Chukwudi, did not click. All the nicknames my friends called me did not equally do the magic. I was drinking with some of my friends one early morning, talks about what to call my place came up. It was at this point that the name Ibari Ogwa Village came up! I am also indebted to Chief Emma Ugorji for his benevolence.
The same is also true of Chief Willie Amadi. He was very understanding. When it was difficult to get a suitable alternative to my Tetlow Road spot, Chief Ugorji willingly gave me his plot in World Bank Housing Estate. There was an understanding that I will willingly vacate the plot anytime he wants to make use of it.
What do you regard as your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement is that I make people happy. I have not only created an entertainment empire where people reduce or simply cure their hypertension, but have equally given a number of people a source of livelihood. What else do you think I want in life?
Any advice to youths?
God has a place for everybody. All efforts I made to travel outside Nigeria failed. I believe that whatever God has destined for you will ultimately be realized. I thank God that I started my own early and thank God that discovered my own talent early. I appreciate my God for His guidance and protection. Nigerian youths must learn to work very hard. Nothing comes easy at all.