There is a saying that great things never come from comfort zones. Sen. Ifeanyi Patrick Ubah’s underprivileged early life might well be his ‘perfect excuse’ for not embarking on the momentous journey that has brought him, today, to the commanding heights of success, influence and prominence in the worlds of business and politics. But, as someone has said, you can choose either the comfort zone of excuses, or you can choose success. Many have chosen the former – whether or not they recognize it as such.
Ubah chose the latter. And that has made all the difference – not just to his profile and fortunes, but to the lives and fortunes of so many others as well.
Ironically for a schoolteacher’s son, he had to drop out of school at an early age because of his parents’ inability to fund both his education and those of his many siblings. But the shutting of the door to an academic – and perhaps a future professional – career, as sad as it must have seemed at the time, was actually the catalyst for the opening of the doors of business success.
Born on the 3rd of September, 1971 in the community of Umuanuka, in Otolo, one of the quarters that make up the commercial town of Nnewi in Anambra State of Nigeria, Ifeanyi Ubah was the fourth child (and first son) of the seven children of Mr and Mrs Alphonsus and Patty Ubah, who were both educators. His early education was at the Okongwu Memorial Grammar School, Nnewi, from where he proceeded to the Premiere Academy, Lugbe in Abuja for his secondary education. Those two schools were, however, to be the few landmarks in a scanty educational resume. The young Ifeanyi’s parents could barely make ends meet, and so it was a struggle trying to fend for their children’s basic material needs, let alone their education.
It was out of a desire to ameliorate his family’s precarious condition, and to end his parents’ existential struggle, that the young Ifeanyi opted to take a break from formal education, and, like many young men from the eastern part of Nigeria who have seen the Eldorado at the end of a spell of a trade apprenticeship, he joined that bandwagon.
It was an extremely fortuitous decision. Just three short years after the end of his trade apprenticeship programme, the powers that controlled the business universe showered their bountiful favours on him as he joined the millionaire club. Thanks to his savvy, diligence and eye for business opportunities, he became, in no time, a dealer in auto spare parts, exporting tyres and other auto-related items to destinations such as Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Incredibly, he was still only 16 years of age.
Through a combination of street smartness, doggedness and an unquenchable appetite for success, he eventually set his sights beyond the aforementioned African markets, and eventually expanded his business tentacles to incorporate more countries. In time, his business ventures spanned countries beyond the shores of Africa, such as Belgium and the United Kingdom. It was a state of affairs that soon established him as an undisputed market leader in the auto spare parts trade.
Meanwhile, with every opportunity he got, he made up for the academic deficiency imposed by the circumstances of his early life with a rigorous programme of self-development, as he attended several local and international business courses and seminars in leadership and business management, among other areas of interest – including the prestigious Owner/President Management Program at Harvard University, Massachusetts, USA.
Not content to just sell tyres and other vehicle parts, Ubah’s entrepreneurial instincts led him to venture into the world of oil and gas, and in 2001, he set up Capital Oil and Gas Limited. Again, the same doggedness that ensured his meteoric rise in the auto spare parts business came into play again, so that by 2011 (just 10 years after its founding) Capital Oil and Gas could boast of the largest depot facility in Nigeria, with a capacity to berth 3-6 vessels simultaneously, as well as 32 loading arms. Prior to this feat, the company, which later metamorphosed into the Capital Oil Group, had ventured into haulage, distribution and petroleum products retailing, with 4 large petroleum depots in 4 of the 6 geo-political regions of Nigeria – giving the company responsibility for 30% of daily distributions of petroleum products around the country. In time, thanks to its founder’s constant search for new frontiers, the company – which by now had the makings of a conglomerate – further expanded its reach to markets as disparate as S/Africa, the United Arab Emirates, Belgium and the United Kingdom.
This quest for new frontiers – which had so far spanned the worlds of trading and the oil and gas industry – would in time take Ubah into the world of media (with the founding of The Authority Newspaper, a prominent daily news outfit distributed by The Authority Media & Publications Limited) and football (with the formation of the Ifeanyi Ubah Football FC, one of the teams competing in the Nigeria Premier Football League, following his purchase of the club when it was still known as Gabros International FC). His other investments include real estate, telecommunications, healthcare services and high finance.
An astute multi-sectoral investor, Ubah also serves as Chairman or Director on the board of a number of companies and organisations, including, but not limited to, the following Chevron Oronite & Chemical Company Limited (S/Africa); Commodity Giants Nigeria Limited; Knoll & Hachfer Engineering Company Limited; Hero Communications Limited; Oil Force Nigeria Limited; Capital Group Congo S.a.r.l, DR Congo); and American Hospital Limited.
The rewards have been tremendous, to say the least – for himself and his family (i.e his wife, Mrs Uchenna Ubah, a holder of a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management and an MBA, who currently serves as an Executive Director at Capital Oil and Gas Industries Limited; for their 5 children; and for their extended family) as well as for so many others, including staffers and business associates. With success has come the accumulation of stupendous wealth; at the last count, Ubah is reputed to have a net worth of about $1.7 billion (ie N350billion) in physical assets – landed and movable alike, including palatial homes in upmarket locations and some of the most luxurious cars in the market today. Also, thanks to his various corporate strides and multi-sectoral investments, Ubah has not only provided gainful employment and livelihoods to hundreds, but also indirectly provided for many families across and beyond the borders of his country.
Perhaps mindful of where he is coming from, the plight of society’s most vulnerable members and the underprivileged is never far from the heart of the multi-billionaire – inspite of the rarefied air he now breathes and the exclusive niche he occupies amongst society’s movers and shakers. In a grossly unequal society such as Nigeria, whose unenviable Human Development Index ranks millions of its citizens among the poorest people on earth, the downtrodden are, of course, never far from sight. Like Biblical Lazarus the beggar, they’re never far from the rich man’s gate, constantly tugging at the strings of both his consciousness and his conscience. For Ubah, this awareness, coupled with the experience of his early struggles, have awakened in him an active social conscience that will not be appeased by mere platitudes, or protestations of good intentions, or even by palliatives designed to ease the agony of extreme poverty and the pangs of hunger for a while. On the contrary, this conscience has spurred him into ACTION aimed at no less than the EMPOWERMENT of its beneficiaries to the point where they would no longer have need of charity.
And with the same single-minded determination with which he built up the structures that brought him his billions over the years, he has also built up the structures designed to regulate and maximize his giving back to society in an efficient and timely fashion – in the form of the Ifeanyi Ubah Foundation, which, since its inception, has disbursed enormous amounts in cash and kind to beneficiaries of every imaginable background, from indigent students, to rural peasants struggling to climb the ladder of economic self-sufficiency, to struggling startup entrepreneurs, and so forth. This meticulous giving is an activity that brings him intense pleasure and satisfaction – and, from all indications, he has no intention of stopping anytime soon. On the contrary, he – and by extension, the Ifeanyi Ubah Foundation – are constantly on the lookout for ways to take this highly gratifying engagement with society to another level, and another, and another.
“If winter comes,” asked a famous English poet, “can spring be far behind?” The brutal truth about philanthropy and social investment in a society such as Nigeria is that, however much an individual or private entity invests in the welfare and security of the needy in society, there is only so much such an individual or entity can accomplish. Surely, the pervasiveness of poverty in Nigeria and her parlous HDI indices is not for want of trying by well-intentioned and public-spirited members of the elite. But without a concrete, corresponding programme of social development by a government committed to socio-economic justice, efforts in this regard by private stakeholders may sometimes seem like an inconsequential drop in the proverbial ocean.
This understanding on the part of Sen. Ifeanyi Ubah, coupled with his constant search for new frontiers (this time in terms of giving back to society in a bid to make a real and lasting difference) has now led him from the ‘winter’ of philanthropy and social investment to the ‘spring’ of POLITICAL engagement and policymaking. Ubah’s foray into the murky waters of Nigerian politics began back in 2014, when, to the surprise of not a few people, he announced his intention to run for Governor of Anambra State on the banner of the Labour Party. There is, by the way, an interesting anecdote about his decision to pitch his tent with the Labour Party, rather than the more ‘popular’ groupings like the All Progressives Congress (APC), or the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), or even the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) – the party which held gubernatorial power in his state at the time, and still does till date. When asked about his choice of party, Ubah reportedly responded that of all the parties, only Labour had HUMAN BEINGS in its logo – whereas the others had either inanimate objects (broom, umbrella, etc) or animals (cock, etc) on their respective logos! Whether true or not, this anecdote reflects his truest motivations for stepping into the political arena at the time he did – his concern for people, and his desire to see an end, or at least a significant amelioration, of the misery in the land.
Far from being deterred by his loss in the 2014 gubernatorial election, Ubah instead saw it as one more challenge to be surmounted, in a career marked by victories over challenges great and small. He was encouraged in this attitude by the tremendous traction his bid had got from a wide segment of the electorate, who saw hope in him, inspite of his relative inexperience in politics. In 2019, his tenacity was finally rewarded when he was elected into the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to represent the good people of the Anambra South Senatorial District – but this time under the banner of the Youth Progressive Party (YPP), a political movement which, as its name implies, puts society’s youngest demographics front and centre in its vision of the way and manner in which government, society and the economy of the nation and its constuent parts should be organized.
Sen. Ubah’s tenure in the upper legislative chamber has been marked by two laudable attributes: his outspoken and forthright advocacy on behalf of his home state, Anambra in particular, and the South-East geopolitical region in general; and his robust engagement with his constituency, especially in the implementation of ‘constituency projects’. Like the proverbial hunter who kills two birds with one stone, Sen Ubah has successfully used his perch in Abuja – and especially the instrumentality of these projects – to blend his passion for social empowerment with his desire to use governmental power as a catalyst for the actualisation of meaningful change in the lives of the greatest possible number of people.
One such constituency project – which has already produced a sea-change in the lives and livelihoods of people in that catchment area – has to do with tackling the menace of insecurity in Anambra South Senatorial District, and the state in general. It is no secret that the country’s South-East axis has been a hotbed of unrest for quite a while, a situation which has had a detrimental effect, not just on the safety of lives and property, but on the economic life of the area. No one knows this better than Sen. Ubah, whose own convoy was attacked by gunmen during a trip to his home state in late 2022, leading to a number of casualties among his security detail. So his intervention in this regard couldn’t be more timely. The provision of security vehicles, along with a wide range of sophisticated security gadgets to the Nnewi Vigilante Security System and the Nnewi Neighbourhood Watch is a measure designed to fortify the commercial nerve-centre and its environs against the activities of criminal elements and to protect the investments that form its economic life-blood. These vehicles and gadgets would complement the close-curcuit television (CCTV) network that rings the town and keeps an eye on the movements and activities of its residents and visitors. It is a measure which has, unsurprisingly, received the full-throated endorsement of the Anambra State government under the leadership of Gov. Chukwuma Soludo.
For those who know Sen. Ifeanyi Patrick Ubah in person or by reputation, this (and other engagements too numerous to mention) are to be expected of a man who always attributes his many accomplishments to Divine Providence, whose fruits he is more than eager to share with as many people as possible within and beyond his present constituency. And for a man like him, who is forever seeking new frontiers, there will always be a ‘beyond’ to strive for.
What this ‘beyond’ looks like – Governor, or something even higher – is anybody’s guess. But one thing is sure: The last has not yet been seen or heard of this modern-day Midas, who manages to turn everything he touches into gold.