A popular saying in Igboland is “Igbo Enwe Eze”, which translates to “the Igbo Have No King.” A principle that is all too common in the United States, this adage does not however capture the complexity of Igbo social system. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines dynasty as; a powerful group or family that maintains its position for a considerable time.
The words dynasty, aristocracy and nobility certainly are not new concepts in today’s world. the truth of the matter is that most successful founders want to bequeath a legacy to their descendants, in hopes that the dynastic offspring will honour them and build upon the legacies they leave behind. Such legacies could be tangible (businesses & properties) or intangible (name & reputation). In the same vein, family dynasties could be accidental, or intentional – as in most cases. Despite the best intentions and desires of the family patriarch, most families don’t survive through to the second generation not to mention the third; withering away and losing their wealth, influence, reputation and social standing all in one generation. This is a common occurrence all over the world. In Igbo land however, there are few families who have managed to stand the test of time; maintaining the influence once wielded by their legendary founders and leveraging it to propel the family to even greater heights. Below in no particular order is a list of old Igbo families prominent in politics and business that have gone beyond the first generation, with visible family members and a strong social standing
The Ojukwu Family:
Sir Louis Ojukwu (Left); Queen Elizabeth in Louis Ojukwu’s Rolls Royce -1956
The Ojukwu family needs no introduction. Simply mention the name Ojukwu in Nigeria and everyone knows what family you are referring to. The family fortune was built by the late Sir Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu KBE in the 30’s. Sir Louis was Nigeria’s first corporate titan and millionaire. He was the founder of Ojukwu Stores, Ojukwu Textiles and Ojukwu Transport (the first major transport company to move easterners to Lagos from Onitsha). He soon diversified his interests, investing in various companies and organisations across the country. At the peak of his success, Sir Louis was the first and founding President of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, President of the African Continental Bank, and Chairman of the Board of some of Nigeria’s most profitable companies such as Shell Oil Nigeria Ltd, Guinness Nig. Ltd, Nigerian National Shipping Lines, Nigerian Cement Factory, Nigerian Coal Corporation, Costain West Africa Ltd, and John Holt amongst others. In 1939, on the outbreak of World War 2, the British Government requested the use of Sir Ojukwu’s fleet of trucks for the War effort to which he agreed. When the war ended in 1945, the British Goverment recognised his sacrifice and he was awarded a KBE (Knight of the British Empire). A man of immense wealth and influence; in 1956 when the Queen visited Nigeria, the British authorities had to borrow his Rolls Royce and personal driver to chauffeur the Queen around. Sir Louis was also a financial pillar of Zik’s NCNC party and when the party came to power in 1960, Sir Louis was offered the position of Minister of Finance which he turned down, the position ultimately went to Okotie-Eboh. Politically, he was the Chairman of the Eastern Nigerian Development Corporation (ENDC), the Eastern Regional Marketing Board, and a Member of the Federal House of Representatives. Despite his many achievements, His Oxford trained son Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu (Ikemba of Nnewi), would rise to eclipse him in name and recognition, but not in wealth. Ikemba, who was the Military Governor of the Eastern Region in 1966, was the President of the breakaway Republic of Biafra during the Nigerian Civil War. In the twilight of his life, Ikemba was the founder and Party Leader of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), which at the time of his death in 2011 had secured control of two states in the south east. As a historical figure, Ikemba is considered one of the greatest and most prominent Igbo leaders, alongside the late great ‘Zik of Africa’. He was married to Ambassador Bianca Onoh (former Miss Nigeria and daughter of C.C. Onoh, the former Governor of Anambra State). The third generation is represented by his son Emeka Ojukwu Jr. (from a previous marriage) who was former Commissioner for Special Duties in Anambra, and Member of APGA’s Board of Trustees.
The Nwodo Family
J.U. Nwodo (Left)
The Nwodo clan is considered one of the greatest political dynasties in Nigeria today. The family has produced numerous political office holders including; a Governor, Ministers, Legislators, Judges, a Party National Chairman and General-Secretary, Commissioners and Special Advisers. The patriarch of the Nwodo family was Igwe J.U. Nwodo, a traditional ruler who hailed from Ukehe, in Enugu State. J.U. was appointed Minister of Commerce in the former Eastern Region under Premier Michael Okpara, and was subsequently Minister of Local Government. Three of his sons ventured into politics and have since catapulted the family to National prominence. His first son Barrister Joe Nwodo was a former gubernatorial and presidential candidate who was disqualified by the military government of General Babangida as a result of the fierce contest between him and his gubernatorial rival. Joe, however, was craftily replaced by his immediate younger brother who went on to win the heated election. His second son Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo who was Governor of Enugu State in the Third Republic, later became the first National Secretary of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and subsequently the Party’s National Chairman. His third son Chief Nnia Nwodo was Minister of Aviation under President Shehu Shagari, and again Minister of Information under President Abdusalami Abubakar. An eloquent orator, Chief Nnia is currently the ninth President-General of the ‘Ohanaeze Ndi-Igbo’ social cultural group. The family’s political structure and reputation in Nigeria has served them well; seeing them through different dispensations and regimes while ensuring that the family bounces back no matter the setback. The next generation has also added to the family’s legacy of public service; producing humanitarians and notable public servants. No other political family casts a longer shadow than the Nwodo clan in the south east. This family and its political structure are not going anywhere anytime soon.
The Mbadiwe Family:
The Mbadiwe family is a flamboyant political family that hails from Orlu, Imo State. The family came into the national spotlight in 1951 with the emergence of Kingsley Ozumba (K.O.) Mbadiwe on the political scene. K.O. who served the country in numerous capacities as the Minister for Lands, Minister for Commerce, Minister for Trade and Special Adviser was a colourful political figure during the First Republic. Popularly known as the ‘Man of Timber and Calibre’, K.O. was as politically savvy as he was flamboyant, nurturing a warm relationship with the press who made sure his views were taken to every corner of the political arena. A true wordsmith and orator (with flair and appetite for coinages and usage of jaw-breaking words); K.O. remained in the political limelight for almost four decades. However his political success underwent a great challenge when he along with Kola Balogun attempted to remove Nnamdi Azikiwe as leader of the NCNC party. They both failed and where removed from the party. He later re-joined the party and was appointed Minister of Trade. K.O. had prominent siblings including his older brother J. Green Mbadiwe (a business giant) and Francis Mbadiwe (a legislator) amongst others. In the second generation, the most prominent of his children; Ambassador Greg Mbadiwe, was the Nigerian Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo under President Olusegun Obasanjo and the former Chairman of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC). Ambassador Greg who is as flamboyant as his father before him enjoys more than his fair share of the night life and can be seen in various social clubs and events in Lagos and across the country. His children are also following in his footsteps in the limelight and on the social scene.
The Okeke-Ojiudu Family:
The Okeke-Ojiudu family is a political and business dynasty founded in the 1940’s by the late Chief P.N. Okeke-Ojiudu. Unlike most other prominent Igbo families, the Okeke-Ojiudu family survived the civil war with control over their structures and tightly knit family businesses. The patriarch Chief P.N. was a prominent politician, legislator, businessman and philanthropist; and was the influential Minister of Agriculture during the Nigerian First Republic. A successful businessman, P.N. transitioned into politics early in his career and joined the struggle for independence; As a young and rising legislator in the 50’s, P.N. was re-elected member of the Eastern House of Assembly with a massive vote of 67,000; second only to Nnamdi Azikiwe who polled 77,000 votes. A man of wisdom and refined taste, P.N. was intelligent, practical and handsome. Popularly known by his colleagues as a ‘Man with a Plan’, he was one of the most powerful figures in the former Eastern Region alongside M.I. Okpara and Zik. An equivalent to the Federal Ministry of Petroleum today, the Ministry of Agriculture was arguably the most important ministry in the government at the time. Under his direction, the Ministry bankrolled government projects, provided jobs, boosted food supply, and bolstered economic growth. A devout catholic and papal knight; his friends included Cardinal Francis Arinze and blessed father Michael Iwene Tansi – who was beatified by the Pope in 1998. The second generation of the family is represented by his sons Ambassador Dr Francis Okeke-Ojiudu, a medical doctor who became Nigeria’s first Ambassador to the Vatican City and Chief Tony Okeke-Ojiudu, a businessman who heads the family’s businesses. The family is still going strong into its third generation with business leaders, policy shapers and Ivy League graduates. Unique in its blend of family business and public service, the Okeke-Ojiudu family is one family that will definitely endure.
The Azikiwe Family
Nnamdi Azikiwe was a legendary statesman, patriot, leader and political icon. He transcended national politics to become a global figure and is considered by many to be the father of post-independence Nigeria. As the first President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Azikiwe pushed for and oversaw the young Nation’s transition from colony to republic. In his early years, Azikiwe was a graduate of Howard University, USA, and the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League institution also located in the United States. Upon his return to Nigeria, Azikiwe founded the ‘West African Pilot’, a newspaper he used to promote Nigerian Nationalism. Along with the Pilot (Lagos), he started a string of newspapers in various cities across the nation under the ‘Zik Group of Newspapers’. Other papers under the group included: the Southern Nigerian Defender (Ibadan), the Eastern Nigerian Guardian (Port Harcourt), the Eastern Sentinel (Enugu), the Nigerian Spokesman (Onitsha), and the Daily Comet (Kano). After a successful journalism enterprise, Azikiwe entered active politics, co-founding the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) alongside Herbert Macaulay in 1944. He soon became; a Member of the Eastern House of Assembly, Premier of the Eastern Region, Governor General of Nigeria, and finally the first President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Although his group of newspapers no longer exists today, Azikiwe’s legacy lives on in his many children. His best known son was the late Chukwuma Azikiwe (the Owelle of Onitsha). Chukwuma, a graduate of Harvard University, was the oldest son of Zik and succeeded his father as the second Owelle of Onitsha. He ran unsuccessfully for Anambra Governor in 1991 under the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Another son, Emeka Azikiwe, was Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations (from 1987-1993), and a Special Adviser on Anti-Corruption to President Olusegun Obasanjo; and a third son Uwakwe Azikiwe, is currently Special Adviser on Special Duties to Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State.
The Okigbo Family
The Okigbo Brothers – Pius (Left) & Christopher (Right)
The Okigbo family came to national prominence with the emergence the Okigbo brothers, Pius and Christopher in the 1960’s. Pius, the older of the two was a world renowned economist, academic and administrator who served different administrations and the United Nations in various capacities. An erudite scholar, Pius was the first Economic Adviser to the government of the former Eastern Region of Nigeria (1960-1962), the first Economic Adviser to the Federal Government of Nigeria (1962-1967), and Nigeria’s first Ambassador to the European Economic Community (EU). In 1994, as Chairman of a committee to probe the activities of the Central Bank of Nigeria, he released a report critical of the government’s role in mismanaging 12.4 billion dollars of oil revenues. The report was popularly known as the ‘Okigbo Report’. His younger brother Christopher Okigbo, was an influential and enigmatic poet and author who died fighting for the independence of Biafra. Considered one of the greatest modernist writers of the 20th century, some of his works included; Silences (1962), Limits (1964), Lament of the Masks (1964), Dance of the Painted Maidens (1964), and his final highly prophetic sequence, Path of Thunder (1965–67), which was published posthumously in 1971 with his magnum opus, Labyrinths. Christopher was bosom friends with literary legend Chinua Achebe of whom he partnered with in the 60’s to establish a publishing house called Citadel Press. The second generation of the family is represented by Pius’s son Pius Okigbo Jr., Founder of InfoSoft Ltd and former President of the Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON), and Christopher’s daughter Obiageli Okigbo, who established the Christopher Okigbo Foundation in 2005 to perpetuate her father’s legacy.
The Okpara Family:
Michael Okpara was the young, energetic and full faced Premier of the Eastern Region during the Nigerian First Republic. At 39, Okpara was the Nation’s youngest Premier; he was a strong believer in agricultural reform, and was convinced it was crucial to ultimate success of Nigeria. A medical doctor by training, Okpara soon joined the Zikist movement (a militant wing of the NCNC party) while practicing medicine. After the shooting of rioting coal miners by the police, Okpara was arrested for inciting the riots. Upon his release, he contested and won a seat in the Eastern House of Assembly. In the early 50’s, when NCNC legislators revolted against the party leadership, Okpara pledged loyalty and joined forces with Azikiwe. When Azikiwe left active politics in the region, Okpara was elected leader of the NCNC and Premier of the Eastern Region. A forceful and outspoken leader, Dr. Okpara was uncompromising on vital national issues; championing the educational and infrastructural development of Eastern Nigeria. Despite never owning a house of his own, Okpara’s legacy still endures. Various monuments, parks, squares, streets, schools, and institutes are named in his honour; notable of which are: the Okpara Square (Enugu) and The Michael Okpara University of Agriculture (Abia). He was also a recipient of the National Award of GCON (Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger), one of Nigeria’s highest honours. His most visible son Uzodinma Okpara was the former State Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Abia State. Uzodinma was also a onetime All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) gubernatorial candidate.
The Obioha Family
Chief Ralph Obioha
Obioha business family from Aro-Ndizuogu was founded by business titan Chief L.N. Obioha in the early 50’s. L.N. was a palm produce merchant and industrialist whose industrial complex ‘the NIPROC’ sited in Aro-Ndizuuogu provided jobs for all eligible indigenes from the Zone. He was also a board member of the African Development Corporation (ADC), alongside titans such as Sir Louis Ojukwu, C.T. Onyekwelu and Board Chairman, Mathias Ugochukwu. The most prominent of his children is Chief Ralph Obioha, a businessman, presidential aspirant, and former member of the House of Representatives of which he was Chairman of the House Committee on Finance in the Second Republic. Chief Ralph is currently a chieftain of the social cultural association ‘Ohanaeze Ndi-Igbo’. Chief Ralph’s children are also following in their father and grandfathers footsteps in the business world.
The Onoh Family
Governor C.C. Onoh welcoming Vice President Alex Ekwueme in 1983
C.C. Onoh was a Nigerian lawyer, businessman and politician who became Governor of old Anambra State during the short lived Second Republic in 1983. Born in Enugu-Ngwo, Enugu in 1927, C.C. worked as a contractor and livestock trader. With money from this, he funded his education in the United Kingdom, earning a law degree. In 1958, Onoh was elected member of the House of Representatives from Enugu Constituency. He soon was appointed as the first indigenous Chairman of the board of the Nigerian Coal Corporation, and then board member of the Nigerian Railway Corporation. After the tightly fought election, C.C. defeated Jim Nwobodo and was elected Governor of old Anambra State in 1983 on the platform of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). Considered the Godfather of Wawa politics, C.C. was a dogged fighter for the rights of Wawa people, and was instrumental in the creation of Enugu State. His first son G.B. Onoh was the Chairman of Enugu North Local Government, his youngest son Joseph Onoh was a one time member of the Enugu State House of Assembly and is currently a Senior Special Assistant on Special Projects to Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi. C.C. is also the father of Ambassador Bianca Ojukwu (née Onoh), a world class beauty and fashion icon, who was former Miss Nigeria and Nigeria’s Ambassador to the Kingdom of Spain. Bianca was married to Igbo legend and aristocrat Chuwkuemeka Ojukwu despite the objections of her father who kicked against the union due to the 30 year age difference. The couple have three children.
The Udoji Family
Chief Jerome Udoji was a renowned government bureaucrat, technocrat, public administrator, businessman and philanthropist in the Nigerian First Republic. He was educated at Cambridge University in England and held the traditional title of Igwe of Ozubulu. During the Nigerian First Republic, Chief Jerome was Permanent Secretary to the Ministries of Commerce, Finance and Health. He soon rose to become the Head of Service in the former Eastern Region and Chief Secretary to the Premier of the Eastern Region, Dr. Michael Okpara. He was also Secretary to the Executive Council and served as the official constitutional Adviser to the Eastern Nigerian delegation to the Nigerian Constitutional Conference in London. A corporate giant, Jerome helped found the Nigerian Stock Exchange and served as its Chairman from 1981 to 1986. He was also Chairman or on the board of at least 13 major corporations in Nigeria including Citibank Nigeria and Nigerian Tobacco Company. A papal knight and philanthropist, the Udoji Award is named in his honour, as well as the newly built Anambra State Secretariat. His son Chief Oscar Udoji is a businessman and founder of the defunct Udoji United FC. He also served as the national Chairman for the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), and founding member of the All Progressive Congress (APC).
The Ugochukwu Family:
A Statue of Mathias Ugochukwu in Umunze, Anambra
Mathias Ugochukwu was a prominent industrialist, businessman and traditional ruler from Umunze, Anambra, who played a major role in large scale industrialisation and manufacturing in the Eastern Region. After engaging in various jobs as a youth including petty trading, he joined the police force in 1945. The turning point in his career came in 1951 when he won 50,000 pounds on the Irish Sweepstake. He soon left the police force for the business world. He first traded motor parts, and then built up a sizable transport company that was second only to Ojukwu Transport. He purchased shares in John Holt and his close association with the company soon lead to his appointment as Chairman. Mathias then diversified into imports (tobacco, textiles and food stuffs) and real estate, and became the Chairman of the African Development Corporation – an indigenous investment agency which had as its board members Louis Ojukwu, L.N. Obioha and C.T. Onyekwelu. Mathias also took up various regional and federal appointments including; the African Development Bank, National Railway Corporation, Nigerian Industrial Development Bank, the Stock Exchange, the Federal Tenders Board and the Eastern Nigerian Marketing Board. After the civil war, Mathias was the founder of Ugochukwu Chemical Industries which produces mattresses, pillows, cushions and sheeting. While he was never directly involved in politics, he nevertheless identified with political parties. He was a member of the NCNC in the First Republic and the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in the Second Republic. His many children are all involved in business and a few have successfully tried their hands in politics, notable of which include; Nikky Ugochukwu, a Member of the Anambra State House of Assembly and Chinedu Ugochukwu, a former Member of the Federal House of Representatives.