By Chidiebere Nwobodo
“The entrepreneur is essentially a visualizer. He can visualize something, and when he visualizes it, he sees exactly how to make it happen.” — Robert L. Schwartz
Prior to the much-publicized funeral of Ezinne Uche Iyiegbu in July, 2021, only few Nigerians knew the propelling force behind the Cubana Group of companies. Chief Obinna Iyiegbu was only known by family members, friends, business associates and close customers of his business outlets. But what was supposed to be a befitting burial for his late mother, changed the dynamics for him. Obi Cubana became a golden fish that could not hid again.
The media spotlight he avoided for years, while industriously and ingeniously building his businesses, trailed him to Oba—his home town, beamed searchlight on the consummate entrepreneur and literally catapulted him to the Olympian height of limelight. The publicity frenzy was so much that many Nigerians saw the burial of his mother as more of a carnival than a celebration of life.
Actually, the real exchange that transpired at Oba, Anambra State, was not a “lavish burial” or an “ostentatious outing”, as some people erroneously inferred. It was a return of massive goodwill Obi Cubana had invested in the lives of others for decades. The funeral provided the opportunity for those who felt indebted to him to reciprocate the gestures. It was more like “Return on Investment” (RoI). Obi never planned it to be that big.
If you genuinely invest in people without attaching strings, it is like sowing seeds of goodwill that will certainly return as avalanche of harvest one day. Those who have been following Obi Cubana’s trajectory rise to wealth cum stardom know that he is not given to wealth exhibitionist tendencies—even though his business is mostly about luxury. He is an exemplar of humility and a paragon of civility. He embodies humanitarianism and symbolizes elegance.
When his mother’s burial happened, some curious and impetuous analysts went overdrive in the media with an uninformed narrative, trying to create blurred optics that Obi Cubana was an “overnight success who just stumbled on humongous wealth he lacked the capacity to manage, apart from throwing it around”. Some of us who knew the failure and success stories of chairman of Cubana Group were flabbergasted at such prejudiced and malicious propaganda disguised as opinions.
In 1999, then young Obinna Iyiegbu, after graduating from University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), as a political scientist with Second Class Honors (Upper Division), left for the nation’s capital to serve his fatherland. As an NYSC member, he was among the first set of corp members that served at National Assembly at the return of democracy in 1999.
While he was serving, Obinna Iyiegbu wished to work in one of the primed government offices at the end of his national assignment like NNPC, CBN, etcetera. When the curtain of NYSC was drawn, it dawned on him that wishes were not horses and there were limited choice jobs at out there. Obinna Iyiegbu had the option to pick up his bags, return to his parents home and start lamenting about joblessness and how “hopeless” the country was.
He chose to turn his own stones into bread. Energetic and ambitious Obinna Iyiegbu entered the street. He took a deep dive into the ocean of entrepreneurship. He had in mind the inspiring words of Martin Luther King, Jr: ‘take the first step even when you do not see the entire staircase.’ He began as a low level contractor, got his first major breakthrough via a contract from Pipelines and Products Marketing Company (PPMC), where he made his first one million naira.
He resisted the usual temptation to “paint the town red” with the money, which many youth face when they experience their first major financial openings. Instead, he used it as proceed to venture into hospitality business. Obinna Iyiegbu started his first restaurant outlet at Noo Gardens, Area 7, Abuja. For those who understand the terrain of FCT very well, Noo Gardens was situated between Garki Hospital and the popular UTC Plaza.
Like a mustard seed planted on a good soil and being well-watered, the restaurant where he specialized in African delicacies, palm wine, all sorts of soft drinks, alcohol, etcetera, began to grow in publicity and traffic. When Obinna Iyiegbu thought he had broken the gravitational pull of unemployment and poverty with the success of his restaurant business, the tornado struck! The young entrepreneur ran into troubled waters.
Few days to Valentine Day—which usually comes with business boom for those in the hospitality industry, adventurous Iyiegbu had stockpiled his restaurant to the brim for anticipated huge traffic; synonymous with Lovers Day celebration, unannounced came the storm. It was on 12th February, 2006, when the day suddenly became night for this young entrepreneur. His efforts and sweat for few years were neutralized by bulldozers from Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA).
The fear of Malam Nasir el-Rufai as FCT minister was the beginning of wisdom. The demolition of the structures at the garden returned Obinna Iyiegbu to ground zero. To add salt to injury, it happened the day his then fiancée, Ebere—now wife, came from her place of national assignment (NYSC) in Kano to spend the Valentine Day with her sweetheart. As she alighted from vehicle, she saw Obinna, with the help of few sympathizers trying to scavenge the pile of rumbles crushed by bulldozers. Tears gushed like water.
Like Thomas Edison said when his factory was razed: “We just got rid of a lot of years of mistakes. Although I am over 67 years old, I’ll start all over again”. Obinna Iyiegbu could have wept, yelled in anger, locked himself in a state of depression, or quit out of frustration, but he persevered. A lot of then young entrepreneurs like him whose businesses were cut short by el-Rufai’s demolition exercise, left the city with palpable feeling of despondency. But Obinna saw the drawback as an opportunity to experiment superior business ideas.
He had a deep understanding that without death there would never be resurrection—that the good had to give away for the better—even the best. He picked up the pieces of what were left, went back to the drawing board, conceived bigger idea of business and gave birth to Ibiza Restaurant.
With great success of Ibiza, it became the springboard that heralded Cubana Group and other associated business outlets, carving a niche in the hospitality cum entertainment industry, today. It was a painful entrepreneurial voyage that required sacrifices, eagle-eyed vision and surgical precision of focus.
So, when some people, out of sheer ignorance, referred to Obi Cubana as an overnight success, I screamed: “overnight what?! If you don’t know a man’s story, don’t try to cook up one for him. Obi Cubana has been through thick and thorns of entrepreneurship. He worked (still working) for every dime he has today. The Anambra-born billionaire entrepreneur shares Ralph Waldo Emerson’s ideal here—”the prize will not be sent to; you have to win it.”
Since the advent of Cubana brand in 2009, it has been from one success feat to another. A conspicuous signature on every business under Cubana Group, is the midas touch of Obinna Iyiegbu aka Obi Cubana. He has the ingenuity and grace to turn coal to diamond. His business grit as well as emotional intelligence is outstanding. These sterling attributes he has demonstrated in running his night clubs, bars, hotels, restaurants, etcetera.
From Ibiza Restaurant (Abuja) to Crave Cubana (Abuja) to Opium Cubana (Owerri) to Cubana Rhapsody (Lagos) to Gustavo Cubana (Enugu) to Hustle and Bustle (Abuja) to Grand Cubana Hotels (Abuja), etcetera, the story is the same—midas touch and spirit of excellence embodied in Obi Cubana. Cubana Group is a conglomerate of platforms for demonstration of Obi Cubana’s superior ideas, sense of quality and entrepreneurial acumen in hospitality/entertainment industry.
As the indisputable king of nightlife and grandmaster of showbiz in Nigeria of today, Obi Cubana has not only redefined business of hospitality and entertainment in the country but has equally created thousands of jobs for the youths—and still opening more frontiers of opportunities for the younger generation.
His massive support for up-and-coming entertainers is very encouraging. He is a huge asset to the nation’s economy. Obi Cubana, with his midas touch, has set a high benchmark of excellence in the hospitality industry that will be difficult to equal.
Nwobodo writes from Abuja via email@example.com.