INNOSON: THE BOY WHO CAME BACK FROM THE DEAD TO BECOME RENOWNED INDUSTRIALIST
If the happenstance that came the way of Innocent Chukwuma had had its way totally into the tracks of death in 1964, maybe Nigeria would not have had the first person to set up a car or automobile assembly plant in the country today.
You may not know Innoson enough. But he is the unassuming chief executive officer of the largest plastic fabricating outfit in Nigeria. He is also the first to set up an indigenous tyre manufacturing plant in Nigeria that produces tyres from Nigeria rubber adjudged the best in the world in Enugu. Chukwuma is also the first Nigerian investor to establish a vehicle manufacturing plant. That is at his home town in Nnewi, Anambra State.
Before Chukwuma, industrialization and importation had pegged the price and means of importing motorcycles at iroko tree level. And they had insisted there was no other means of making these things come cheaper until one day when the forces of business said 'let Innoson be', and prices came crashing.
Those days, motorcycles used to come in containers in 40 units, and the price of motorcycles was sky high and only within the reach of the rich. His ingenuity thought out a way out of the quagmire. He introduced and invented the completely knocked down (CKD) format of importation. He decided to bring them in CKD and set up a plant in Nigeria to assemble the components. Through that he generated employment from the assemblage and most of all cut down the cost of procurement. That made a whole world of difference in the consumer price of motorcycles in Nigeria till today. You know too well that motorcycles cost less than TV sets in Nigeria today. That is the product of the mind of Innoson, fecund with business creativity.
With his CKD formula instead of the container picking 40 whole motorcycles, it contained between 200 and 230 motorcycles. That helped greatly in inculcating some regime in pricing and that is the reason motorcycles remain as cheap as they are in Nigeria. Later he stretched the same ingenuity to produce the plastic components of the bikes in Nigeria. And it has gone further to include the manufacture of vehicles in Nigeria.
But for that turning point that brought him back, all these would have been lost and gone. The force that brought him to the world to do these wonders stopped the hands of death and turned the forces back. He had his life back in an impossible manner way back in 1964. That did not just come because he had to stay in hospital for three months.
Then he was a little boy. And on that fateful day, he was crossing a major road in Nnewi his home town when the fanciful toy wrist watch the parents bought for him on a festive period slipped off his wrist.
While the elderly person taking him across was still dragging him away to safe distance from danger, the little boy who valued his watch could not go without it. Yet, his little mind did not count the danger involved in that act. He therefore pulled free and ran back to the middle of the road to pick his prized plastic watch. That childhood indiscretion was the snapping point of his life. Forty six years after, with a scar on his right cheek, he still recalls vividly how the day was. He would quickly point to the scar on his face and also tell you that there are more of them all over his body from that car hit.
Part of the story was told him and part of it he still recalls from the imprints on his young brains that stuck and refuse to fade away till today.
But one thing that would not get out of his mind is that there was a great incident that formed the turning point of his life. Without that, maybe, the story of Innoson would not have been complete or if that incident had gone as observers saw but for the inscrutable ways of providence, that would have been the end of this ingenious character that is fast helping to shape the landscape of Nigeria's economy.
What triggered off this tale? It was an innocuous question by Saturday Sun to Innoson Chukwuma on his age. And he fired back: What do you think is my age? To this question, the answer was you should be in your 30s. The unassuming industrialist and maybe, one of the best in Nigeria laughed and asked back: 'Do you know that this scar came in 1964.
I was old enough to know what happened. On that day, someone held my hands to cross the major road in my town. I was wearing a colourful toy wrist watch my parents bought for me. So, as I was pulled along, the watch fell off my wrist. In order to recover my watch from the middle of the road, I spontaneously pulled my hand free from the older person holding me and ran back to the middle of the road to reclaim my watch. In that split second a Morris Minor collided with me. It was so bad that the person holding me lost control and wept profusely. Sympathizers rushed at me and on finding my state as a child just did their best to pack my remains to the side of the road. After observing me, they all declared that I was dead and gone. So they plucked green leaves and covered my 'dead' boy by the roadbody whole some of them that knew me rushed to tell my parents that I had been killed in an auto collision.'
The hit was so bad that when the driver realized what happened, he had to run away. And when people examined him and saw how bad the case was, they packed his mangled body to the side of the road and covered it with green leaves pending when the owners would come to remove it for burial.
Indeed, when news got to his parents, the father came to the scene, examined the body of his little son by the roadside with the green leaves on him and accepted his fate. He had mobilized his kith and kin to take the body of the little boy away for burial when someone advised him on the contrary.
The advice was not on grounds of hope, but on caution - that death by road accident was a police matter and the police had to be contacted or informed of the incident before the body is buried.
Because there was no need for any rescue, nobody contemplated going to the hospital. So while the argument on reporting the matter to the police lingered, it had taken some two hours at least, after the incident. That means Innoson had been 'dead' for two hours.
In the process of informing the police for record purposes, the least expected happened. And that incident changed the course of the plans and arrangements about the little boy. At that point, to the consternation of the crowd that had gathered for the burial, the 'dead' body had a spasm, a jerk and ultimately a sneeze.
That startled the team and changed their plans. The arrangement to inform the police was put in abeyance. The sneeze was a sign to them that there was still some residue of life in the dead body. And naturally, their senses of alarm were triggered. They dropped every other plan to swing to action if the fading life, violently snapped in the auto crash could be brought back.
Little Innoson was immediately rushed to the hospital. That was a complete opposite direction from what had been earlier planned. Now the real battle to bring back from the brink a little kid that would later grow to a large oak and palm tree - whose parts would all be economically beneficial had started. But it was not picked just like that - a magic. It was a battle that lasted three months. Yes, little boy Innoson was in hospital for three straight months.
No gainsaying he went through the scalpel, the stitches, the bandages, the pains, the mending and piecing together of fragments of his shattered body. And given the level of medicare in the country then, only his creator's intervention that had prepared him for greater heights that actually stepped in to turn things around.
Three months after, the dead body that had been packed to the side of the road and covered with green leaves for burial had picked some energy to live. He had found his breath and had had his life re-invented, and the little dead body had turned a living boy with bandages all over him. Sure, he was alive and walked out of the hospital in Nnewi on his feet.
He went home for the parents to continue with the finishing touches of his final and total recovery. In that respect, the parents lived up to their task, with God blessing their every effort. Innoson came back fully into life.
Exactly twenty years after, when the same hands that bounced him back into life from the land of death must have kept him safe from the ruins of the civil war, the little boy once dead for two hours had acquired enough impetus in life to initiate the first of his major moves to set standards and make things happen in a very special way.
That was the year Innoson tapped into his brains to come up with the idea of knocking down motorcycles from overseas which he imported. Like the story of the invention of coca-cola, which the original owner sold to a chemist in the street, Innoson added what the multinational companies that were the traditional importers of motorcycles had not. That addition was ingenuity. While the multinationals brought in Kawasaki, Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha and the rest in bulk and had about 40 of them to fill a 40-feet goods container, Innoson, the young man that cheated death years back, asked the Chinese business partners to tear down the structure of the motorcycle, packs the pieces in cartons. Move them into the container and try their hands on whether they would be more for export. When they experimented this, they found that the part accommodated more than five times of what the bulk motorcycles loaded into the container gave.
Now the cost of freighting was based on a container load and not the number of motorcycles contained. Innoson had cut cost five steps down with his 200 to 230 bikes in the container freighted at the cost of 40. That finally affected the unit consumer cost of the motorcycle in the Nigerian market. With this, the price of motorcycles crashed and tumbled. Consumers were on song. The importer had hit the zenith of his business exploits, and he pushed his creative mind further into some other facets of business. Today, Innoson is a giant with the first private automobile fabrication plant in Nigeria. He calls and marks his buses, pickups and luxury buses and jeeps IVM (Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing)
He is a billionaire no doubt. He has the largest plastic manufacturing factory in Nigeria in Enugu. He has 2000 workers in his employment in the Enugu factory and churns out about 150 ranges of products. Innoson in all his manufacturing outfits - motorcycle assemblage, car fabrication, plastics, tyres, hotels has created the avenue for at least 3,600 Nigerians to have food on their tables and their hands busy with activities.
All these would have been lost and unattainable if that turning point on the fateful day of his accident did not happen.
Ask him how all these things happened and he would simply say: 'The answer is clear. The revival I had on that day, the business heights and all have been by the grace of God because I know I never worked harder than all the world as to have achieved this much. It is just hundred percent God's grace and favour on my labour.'