By Ingram Osigwe
If you are 13 years old and in your mind’s eye, you were already seeing yourself among vivacious crowd of age mates resplendent in their forget-me-not secondary school uniforms, chattering away heartily in a classroom, and just when that dream was about to berth on the shores of reality, your own biological father rudely abort it, what will you do? Crestfallen and disappointed, will you turn your back on life and bemoan your fate for ever?
Some people with fickle spirit will. But the likes of Dr.Cletus Madubugwu who are made with sterner stuff and blessed with a can do spirit that does not yield to despair will soldier on with life, turn the disappointment into a blessing in disguise and later in life have an inspiring story to tell.
And that was the exactness of what the then young Ibeto did when his dream for secondary education crashed on January 22, 1966.
On that day, the young lad was in high mood. He looked forward to a new and exhilarating life as a fresh student of Crusader Secondary School, Isingwu Amachala, Umuahia.
Gaily dressed in his school uniform and armed with his school box, Ibeto was set to depart for Umuahia to begin a life as secondary school student and then suddenly his father made a shattering proclamation that would leave hot tears cascading the young man’s cheeks, crestfallen, disappointed and embittered: He was to make a detour to trading rather than education.
There and then, Ibeto was parceled, willy nilly, to Onitsha to begin apprenticeship in auto spare part szas a trader under the tutelage of one Akamelu.
And so began his journey through life’s pumpy road which would dramatically signpost his subsequent rise to the top.It will be safe to say that Ibeato’s eventual road to prominence was watered by grit- determination to succeed and excell after a devastating and unsettling dream crash.
Fifty- four years down the lane, Ibeto has not only shrugged off that initial life hiccup but he has also left bold imprints on the sands of time.
His zero to hero story typifies the rise of the proverbial Phoenix.From grand zero, Ibeto has built a multi- billion dollars business conglomerate, the Ibeto Group, spanning real estate, Petro-chemical, cement, Auto parts, hospitality, oil, commodity trading among others.
Naturally blessed with business acumen and fecundity of ideas, Ibeto’s apprenticeship on auto- spare part was abbreviated by the civil war. He was himself a combatant in the war having joined the Biafran Army at the outbreak of hostilities.
Surviving the war by the whiskers, he launched himself back into the world of trading at the end of hostilities. Thus, at the end of the civil war in 1970 Ibeto was already an enterprising young businessman. Ingenious and enterprising, Cletus Ibeto had started his business career in 1970 stepping into what has now become a massive business dream with the establishment of Ibeto Brothers Trading Company as its sole proprietor.
However, his major business break came during the administration of president Shehu Shagari, profiting massively from a policy change during that era. There was a policy that goods could be imported without import licence but as Nigerian’s external reserves began to dry up, the Shagari government had to introduce import licence.
The uncertainty forced many importers to suspend importation in order to monitor the new policy.
But braving the uncertain situation, Ibeto moved quickly to secure the N3 million import licence at a time a dollar sold for 68 kobo. With the licence, he imported 65 containers of vital motor parts. By the time other importers could wake up to get the license, the government had tightened the screws and made it almost impossible for anyone to obtain the license. Almost at the same time, the Shagari’s government was toppled which made matters worse as it resulted in borders being closed.
The Nnewi born business mogul then virtually became a monopolist for motor spare parts. He confessed that the moment was a turning point for his life and business. He was selling at almost 500% mark up and people were buying!
His words: “That was the turning point for me.Come and see the line-up of people who wanted the spare parts. I was packing money with cartons. There was no armed robbery then, no kidnapping. It was a seller’s market. And the mark up was almost 500% but people were buying! In fact, within two days of the arrival of the containers, I made four million pounds”
Diversification was flowery and seamless for Ibeto, swiftly moving from an importer of auto spare parts to automotive lead-acid batteries and plastic accessories merchant. Then in 1988, he delved into manufacturing when he completed his factory in Nnewi and stopped direct importation of lead-acid automotive battery and plastic motor accessories. By 1995, the company had become one of the largest auto spare parts manufacturing outfit in Nigeria.
A year later, Ibeto would further expand his business operations by diversifying into other sectors thus establishing Ibeto Petrochemicals Industries Limited. His petrochemicals industry owns one of the largest liquid facilities for petroleum products in Nigeria.
Subsidiaries under the Ibeto group are legion and they include Union Autoparts manufacturing Co. Ltd which was incorporated on 2nd June 1987.The company is a major player in automotive lead-acid battery manufacturing in Nigeria. The interesting thing is that the company produces locally, from its lead and aluminum smelting plant, all the lead and aluminum required for its operations.
It has the capacity to produce, annually; 300,000units of lead/acid batteries, 120,000 units of sealed maintenance-free batteries, 5,500tonnes of lead, 500 tonnes of accessories and 1,500 tonnes of friction parts.
There is also the Ibeto Petrochemical Industries Ltd. It was established in October 1996 with a blending plant in Nnewi, Anambra State. The company blends oil lubricants and produces various types of petroleum products for local and international markets. The Petro-Chemical company also owns one of the largest liquid storage facilities for petroleum products in Nigeria with a capacity of over 60,000 metric tones located at Apapa Wharf and Ibru Jetty Complex, Lagos.
Ibeto Cement Company Ltd produces bagged cements at its bagging terminal at Bundu Ama, Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
Ibeto Cement commenced operation in 1997 with the importation of bagged cement from Portland before establishing Ibeto Cement in 2001.
In 2018, Ibeto Cement Company Limited announced a reverse merger with Century Petroleum Corporation, a United States (U.S.) publicly-traded petroleum exploration and production company. This was aimed at taking the global markets by storm and bypass the complex process of listing. The company was to acquire a 70% controlling stake of Century Petroleum and thus Cletus Ibeto was subsequently made the Chairman of the Board of Directors.
Ibeto’s foray into cement business saw him establishing Eastern Bulkcem Company Ltd
The company is also engaged in the importation of bulk cement and bagging of same in its factory premises in Rumuolumeni waterfront, Rivers State.
Eastern Bulkcem equally owns 60% of Nigeria Cement Company Plc (NIGERCEM), Nkalagu, Ebonyi State.
NIGERCEM was very important for Ibeto; if he was to remain an importer of cement, he needed to own a cement manufacturing plant as it was the requirement. Owning NIGERCEM did not come easy as the then Ebonyi state governor, Martin Elechi was against the acquisition. Ibeto fought him head-on like a wounded lion until he had NIGERCEM secured. NIGERCEM gave him the initial stability he needed to continue in the cement business.
King’s Palace Hotels Ltd was established in March 1985 and has become synonymous with hospitality. Kings’ Palace is located at the heart of Nnewi and has played a significant role in the economic and tourism development in Anambra State.
Ibeto Energy Development Ltd is Ibeto’s response to the energy need of the country. The company was established in April 2008 in line with federal government’s aspiration to exploit the available natural gas in the Niger Delta Region for economic development.
Palmex Agencies Limited was incorporated in September 1998 and engaged in general merchandising. The company imports and distributes commodity items like rice, sugar and fertilizer.
Ibeto Industries Ltd is the flagship. It was incorporated in 1984 to serve the Nigerian public in their quest for colour print and photographic processing. Ibeto industries have modern printing machines that meet the need of customers and they have branches across Nigeria.
Odoh Holdings Ltd made a debut in March 1985.It is the real estate arm of the Ibeto. The company owns properties in prime areas of Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Enugu, Onitsha and Nnewi.
Ibeto Hotel Abuja is a 100-room four-star property which was commissioned early in 2013 and the company has interest in replicating Ibeto Hotel Abuja in other major cities in Nigeria.
Ibeto believes in ethics in business even if its application or observances will cause him money and business opportunities.A veteran journalist, Mike Awoyinfa tells an enchanting story of how Ibeto elected to lose millions of dollars during the gulf war than compromise on business ethics: “Ibeto said that during the Gulf War II, his company received a lot of pressure from Saddam Hussien’s officials who badly wanted Union Recycling Plant to export the lead products refined by his company at very lucrative terms, but the company turned down the tempting offer because Ibeto believed that such leads would go into production of dangerous weapons of war by Saddam. This was far more ethical than a business decision, but Ibeto argued to his astonished management that even though the group desperately needed the fund to inject into the the construction of the cement terminals at Bundu Ama Creek.
Born on November 6, 1952 in his home town, Obiofia Umuenem, Otolo Nnewi in Anambra State, Ibeto is humble, unassuming and focused.Through his philanthropic gestures Ibeto has lifted thousands of people out of poverty. He has also helped other top business persons from Nnewi.
A large hearted and ever kindly disposed community developer and human capacity builder, Cletus Ibeto has to his credit the following notable philanthropic milestones, amongst several others:
The award of over 200 secondary and university scholarships to deserving, indigent Nigerian youths.
Instituted and maintains in perpetuity a prize award foundation for the best graduating student in pediatrics at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, College Of Medicine, Nnewi, Anambra State.
Instituted and maintains in perpetuity a prize award foundation for the best graduating student in the department of Electrical/Electronics Engineering, Federal University of Technology, Owerri, Imo State.
Extensive Community Support Services in: Rural Electrification projects with donation and installation of transformers, borehole water projects to communities and institutions of learning.
Constructed and maintains a 20km road and a multipurpose hall for Nnewi community.
Constructed the biggest but yet-to-be commissioned N650 Million-worth Medical Diagnostic Center at the University of Nigeria (UNN), Enugu Campus (renowned to be the largest in the West African sub region).
Constructed and donated Departmental buildings to Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital Nnewi.
On the construction of the most modern and contemporary Catholic Youth Village located in Amansea (near Awka) in Anambra State, Dr Ibeto was acknowledged as the single largest donor and developed 250 number self-contained rooms of hostel accommodations within the Village designed to mitigate the accommodation challenges of students of Nnamdi Azikiwe University.
Constructed and donated a world class church building, chancery and Conference Centre to St. Cletus Catholic Church, Otolo Nnewi, Anambra State.
Sponsors annual comprehensive medical/surgical outreaches to communities that have restored health to thousands of sick and helpless Nigerians and prevented death for many.
Extensive development programme for host communities to his numerous businesses.
Though denied access to formal by his father at 13, that burning desire to see the four walls of a classroom remained aflame. Ibeto for he would later sat for his WASSCE at the age of 48 and got a Bachelor’s degree in Accountancy from University of Nigeria, Nsukka at the age of 54. He was subsequently honoured with a Doctor of Business Administration degree from the same University.
Over the years, he has had numerous trainings at seminars and conferences within the country, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Japan.
Ibeto had earlier attended St. James Primary school, Owerrinta in the present day Imo state.
Come March 2020, another enchanting feather will be added to Dr.Cletus Madubugwu Ibeto’s crowded crown and another honour done him yet as the Ebonyi state University confers on him Honorary Doctorate Degree on Business Administration.
Before the EBSU honour, Ibeto’s gallery of Honours brimmed with assortment of awards and recognitions, including:
Gold Service Award from the Rotary Club of Enugu, Rotary International District 9140.
Three-Ruby Paul Harris Fellow from the Rotary Foundation International.
Certificate of Merit from the Government of Anambra State of Nigeria.
Award of Excellence by the Pilgrims Africa Health Foundation.
National Honour, Officer of Order of the Niger, OON.
Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), Honoris Causa, University of Nigeria.
National Honour, Commander of the Order of the Niger, CON.
And friends and business associates who have followed Ibeto’s life trajectory testify that the Honorary award is a fitting, proper, deserving and eloquent recognition and testimony of of his years of entrepreneurship, hard work, tenacity of purpose and service to humanity.
Ingram Osigwe is the MD/CEO of Full page international communications Ltd writes from Lagos.