Chief Cletus Ibeto
Posted by Karen on
Chief Cletus Ibeto
05/20/2016 04:37:46 PM
Cletus Ibeto was born Cletus Mmadubugwu Ibeto on November 6, 1952. He is a native of Nnewi in Anambra State, Nigeria. Ibeto is a businessman and the the
founder of Ibeto Group, a largest business enterprise in Nnewi, a city unique for its entrepreneurial spirit.
Ibeto’s educational story is an inspiring one. The story is best captured by Dimgba Igwe of The Sun and it goes as follows:
"On January 22, 1966, the 13-year-old Cletus Madubugwu Ibeto, was in high mood. He was going to Crusader Secondary School, Isingwu Amachala, Umuahia, following in the footsteps of his two elder brothers, Cyril and Louis Ibeto. His box of new clothes and provision were all packed and his friends gathered to bid him farewell.
“His elder sibling, Cyril, arrived and went to have a discussion with his father for over 30 minutes. He came with a message from their maternal uncle. Soon after Cyril left, Ibeto’s world crashed. His father had made a decision: Ibeto would not be going to secondary school again! A man should not put all his eggs in one basket. His two sons were already in secondary schools, his last son should chart a different course—not academics!
Shocked, deflated and traumatized, Ibeto resorted to all the tricks in the world, refusing to eat for days, climbing trees as if he would jump to his death, crying, begging, inconsolable, but his father has made his decision. Young Ibeto’s fate was sealed behind the close doors and he was helpless to do anything about it.
In those days, the young Ibeto felt his future was over, but today, if you count ten of Nigeria’s richest men, Ibeto’s name would be found somewhere in the middle of the list. How did this come about? It was to find answers to this question that took Mike Awoyinfa and I to Bundu Ama Creek, in the outskirts of Port Harcourt, where Ibeto had reclaimed 30 hectares of land from the sea to build one of Africa’s largest cement bagging terminals. But the interview was finally shifted to his exquisite Ibeto Hotels, Abuja, where as the “chairman’s guests”, we were treated to a bit of luxury the place has to offer.
Ibeto is being featured in the elite category of our book titled, Nigeria’s Corporate Caesars, featuring Nigeria’s topmost business founders. Ibeto Group, made up of over eight major companies, is employing above 5,000 workers and still counting. The companies include Ibeto Industries Limited, a photographic processing chain spread all over the former Eastern Region; Kings Palace Hotel which was the forerunner of the current Ibeto Hotels Limited, a hotel chain that include a 100-room five-star hotel in Abuja, with ongoing construction of branches in Port Harcourt, Lagos and Nnewi where a 250-room hotel is under works.
Others are Odoh Holdings Limited, a property company that manages Ibeto’s large property holdings; the Union Auto Parts Industry, makers of Union Battery brand, that started with the manufacturing of automotive batteries for Nigerian market to exporting batteries to all of the West African countries, United States, India, South Korea and Indonesia. “China is our only competitor now,” Ibeto asserts.
At the time Ibeto came into manufacturing of automotive batteries, there were about a dozen local and foreign auto battery manufacturers in the country, but today, only Ibeto’s company is still in business, waxing strong. Indeed, Union Auto has added a subsidiary, Union Recycling Plant which extracts the lead from used batteries and refines “them to international purity standard.”
Apart from manufacturing of automotive batteries and their recycling arm, Union Auto is also manufacturing motor accessories including auto light covers, reflectors, fan belts, front grilles, wheel covers, break pads, break linings, clutch linings, break shoe kits and PVC materials.
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 construction of the cement terminals at Bunda Ama Creek, they also had a responsibility not to escalate the war and perhaps, in future attract international sanctions.
Another money-spinner in the group is Ibeto Petrochemical Industries Limited which started with the Expresso Oil brand of lubricant, but has now diversified into establishment of a tank farm that at the time in 2000, boasts of the largest storage facility in Apapa, Lagos with 36 tanks with storage capacity for 1.3 million litres. Today, the company’s capacity has expanded with massive tanks with combined storage capacity of over 20 million litres.
The ever restive Ibeto is also a big player in commodity trading through his company, Palmex Agencies Limited. Since he won the battle for the re-opening of his cement terminals in Port Harcourt, closed by draconian and intemperate President Olusegun Obasanjo regime, Ibeto has truly joined the league of cement kings, especially with his acquisition of Eastern Bulkcem Company Limited and Nigerian Cement Company Limited, (Nigercem) Nkalagu.
The irony of Ibeto’s battles with the Obasanjo regime was that it was Obasanjo who banned the importation of bagged cement and in a bid to create jobs in Nigeria, asked stakeholders to build bagging terminals as well as invest in Greenfield production—total manufacturing of cement from limestones. But four months after commissioning the N12 billion bagging terminals, with patronage booming, Obasanjo closed the company. It took the coming of President Shehu Yar’Adua administration to reopen Ibeto’s factory and by so doing, his financial floodgate.
“Of course, cement is one of the best businesses in the world,” enthused Ibeto. “It is better than crude oil. If you are talking about the development of infrastructure, you need cement. I don’t know any other business that is better than cement. And the competitors are not many because it is a big budget issue.”
But then, if you want to be rooted in solid wealth, Ibeto says it is a great folly to close your eyes to investing widely in property. “The white man calls the money you have in your bank “liquid cash” and property is called, “real estate”.”
Once his eyes opened to this wisdom in 1987, Ibeto says he has gone haywire in investing in prime property in all the prime areas of Nigeria. “You cannot believe what I have in real estate,” he told us. “And that is between 1987 and now. And any one I have would be choice property. I found out that money is coming out of these real estate investments. Plenty money! Nigeria is indeed a land of opportunities. Real estate is one thing that would outlive you.”
But every rosy story came with it thorns. Ibeto has waded through many thorns. Go back to his beginnings. Once his parents determined that Cletus should be groomed as a trader, his father parceled him out as an apprentice to one John Akamelu, at Onitsha. He arrived at his new station still wearing his school uniforms and becoming the butt of jokes. “School boy,” became a new name they gave him in a market where people looked at going to school as the refuge of weaklings who could not brave the competitive world of trading.
Probably to whip out school sentiments from him, his master did not spare the rod. Today, Ibeto still has as a trophy the mark of his master’s whip lashes on his laps. But Ibeto was a brilliant trader and competitor, before his apprenticeship was cut short by the civil war. At 17, Ibeto was conscripted into the Biafran army, becoming a batsman to a Biafran captain who died at the first battle, betrayed by a saboteur. Ibeto survived the enemy’s ambush only because he had been sent to go and get food.
At another battlefront, Ibeto was shot, but he survived after months in hospital, although the bullet is still lodged in his lungs. After the war, Ibeto’s trading dexterity came to the rescue. To raise trading capital which ultimately became the foundation of the multibillion dollar octopus Ibeto Group has become, his elder brother, Louis gave him a leather handbag and a Biafran round neck suit which he sold along with a packet of APC tablet he picked at an evacuated hospital.
The magic of translating a few pounds in 1970 into today’s multi-billion corporate empire is the secret of what defines Cletus Ibeto as one of Nigeria’s Corporate Caesars. In the narrative of his life’s odyssey, Ibeto seems to have crossed a decisive rubicon in business when he profited from a policy change during President Shehu Shagari regime. Under the liberal regime of President Shehu Shagari, goods could be imported without import license. But as Nigeria’s external reserve dwindled the government introduced import license.
While other importers stalled at the fence, monitoring the state of things, Ibeto moved to secure N3m import license at a time a dollar sold for 68 kobo. He sub- sequently imported 65 containers of vital motor spare parts. By the time other im- porters went for import license, the gov- ernment has tightened the screw and it was virtually impossible to get import license. To worsen matters, Shagari’s government was toppled and the borders were closed, but by then, while nobody could import anything, Ibeto’s containers were already in the Nigerian ports.
Ibeto became a virtual monopolist for motor spare parts. “That was the turning point for me,” he declared. “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 kid- napping. ..It was a seller’s market. And the mark up was almost 500% but people were buying! In fact, within two days of the ar- rival of the containers, I made four million pounds!”
Ibeto still has to fight a final battle. After a painful betrayal by a friend he partnered with to open a bank, owing to his limited education, Ibeto fought to sit for a WAEC examination at 48 and subsequently grad- uated from University of Nigeria with a degree in Accountancy, at age 54! And, all these while, he was already a billionaire!
But he is not just a billionaire, Ibeto is today the godfather of billionaires. Ask Mr. Innocent Chukwuma, Chairman of Innoson Group, Nigeria’s first vehicle manufacturing, (not assembling) compa- ny who points to Ibeto as his mentor and the mentor of many other Nnewi billion- aires. “If you run into financial problem and go to him to help, he would help you out. Ask any of the big business persons from Nnewi and they would tell you the same thing. He has helped me too.””
Cletus Ibeto started as an apprentice in the motor parts trading business and gradually moved into motor spare parts importation. He eventually moved into the manufacturing industry that by the year 1995, Ibeto Group had become one of the largest auto spare parts manufacturing industry in Nigeria.
On October 2, 1996, Ibeto founded another land mark industry known as Ibeto Petrochemical Industries Ltd, a company that is into the blending of oil lubricants and the production of various types of petroleum products for local and international markets. The Company which is located at Apapa Wharf and Ibru Jetty Complex, Lagos, maintains the largest liquid storage facilities for petroleum products in Nigeria with a capacity to store over 60,000 metric tons.
Cletus Madubugwu Ibeto was honored with the Nigerian National Honour Award of Officer of the Order of the Niger [OON] for his outstanding contributions to the growth of Nigeria through his manufacturing enterprise in the year 2008. Also in the year 2012, Cletus was further decorated with the honour of Commander of the Order of the Niger [CON].
These terms and conditions contain rules about posting comments. By submitting a comment, you are declaring that you agree with these rules:
- Although the administrator will attempt to moderate comments, it is impossible for every comment to have been moderated at any given time.
- You acknowledge that all comments express the views and opinions of the original author and not those of the administrator.
- You agree not to post any material which is knowingly false, obscene, hateful, threatening, harassing or invasive of a person's privacy.
- The administrator has the right to edit, move or remove any comment for any reason and without notice.
Failure to comply with these rules may result in being banned from further commenting.
These terms and conditions are subject to change at any time and without notice.