The recent death of James Ogbonnaya Mamah, founder and chairman of Ifesinachi Group of Companies and traditional ruler of Enugu Ezike in the Igboeze North Local Government Area of Anambra State, brought to an end a glorious career of entrepreneurship. His was a life of struggle to overcome the vicissitudes of early life.
Ifesinachi Group of Companies has become one of Nigeria’s major indigenous companies, contributing to the economic development of the nation. Better known by the name of the company he founded from scratch- Ifesinachi, Ogbonnaya Mamah was born on April 14, 1942 (after the death of his father, unfortunately). In the late 1950s, the young Mamah compeleted his primary education. With no one to fund his secondary education, he took to serving someone in Onitsha as a houseboy, a typical story of grass-to-grace, much like that of Abrahim Lincoln and James Garfield, both former presidents of the United States. He later left this service for Sapele, where he was involved in manual labour, from which he raised money to return to Onitsha to buy a truck with which he manually transported goods for people, beginning in 1965. This formed the foundation of his transportation business which was to become a major player in the transportation business in Nigeria.
To date, the transport arm of his numerous businesses boasts over 200 luxury buses and 50 modern Toyota Hiace buses, and has in its employ over 3,500 workers.
With an unquenchable spirit for enterprise, Mamah diversified. After he had secured a good hold on the transportation sector, he moved into manufacturing, the oil sector, and later, courier service. He founded Ifepet, an oil company, in 1982. In 1993, the Ifesinachi business empire further expanded when he, in partnership with foreign business associates, founded the Jamesongigye Vegetable Oil Nigeria Limited. The company produces Star Vegetable Oil and J&G Soap.
With the liberalisation of the courier service sector in 1990, the group established the IFEX Courier Services Limited in 1998. The company has grown tremendously with offices in London, Germany, and all the major cities of Nigeria. The Ifesinachi Group has other interests in information technology, pharmaceuticals, hospitality, and entertainment.
In recognition of his contributions to the Nigerian economy, Mamah was honoured with the national award of Member Federal Republic (MFR). In addition, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, awarded him an honorary doctorate degree in Business Administration. He was a life patron of the Onitsha Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and member, Onitsha Sports Club. Mamah was a trustee of the Luxury Bus Owners Association of Nigeria (LUBON), and patron, Enugu State Traditional Rulers Council.
Beyond the accolades that are being showered on Mamah, and the celebration of his rags to riches story, we believe that what should be of greater concern is to ensure that the business empire he founded survives long after him. The challenge that has faced entrepreneurship in Nigeria is that, with only a few exceptions, family businesses, no matter how big, hardly survive their founders. This is unlike what happens in other countries where companies initially established as a family or sole proprietorship enterprise, survive through the ages to become multinational conglomerates.
Therefore, the task before the Mamah family is to ensure orderly succession so that the labour of the founder of Ifesinachi Group and patriarch of the family, James Mamah, does not go down the drain.
If the business survives the shocking death of the founder, it will continue to provide jobs for the workers of the various companies in the group. The group will also have prospects of growing bigger than was envisaged by the founder, thereby providing even more jobs for Nigerians. In a country with a high rate of unemployment and little encouragement for entrepreneurship, the legacy of James Mamah offers a ray of hope. Such a legacy should not be allowed to die.