Grass to Grace Series (27): How Samuel Onyishi defied abject poverty to become top businessman

 Grass to Grace Series (27): How Samuel Onyishi defied abject poverty to become top businessman

Samuel Maduka Onyishi Image Source: Facebook

The only privilege Samuel Maduka Onyishi enjoyed while growing up was the breath that all living humans had. The poor called his family poor. Looking at how far he has come, one would wonder how he emerged from nothing to greatness.

In this Grass to Grace Series, we will look at the life of Samuel Maduka Onyishi, the Founder/Chancellor of Maduka University, Chairman of Peace Mass Transit Ltd, and Chairman of C&I Leasing PLC.

Not a Bed in Sight

One would expect at least a bed before having roses on it, but Onyishi didn’t have that. Born to a labourer dad and a stay-at-home mum in Nsukka, Enugu state, his barely had enough. His father, Ezugwu Onyishi, collapsed and died while on duty as a labourer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, creating more hardship.

Onyishi attended Enugu Road Primary School, Nsukka, in 1976, where he received his First School Leaving Certificate, and in 1981, he graduated from St. Theresa’s College, Nsukka. However, his tertiary education was put on hold as he needed to support his family.

Recounting his experiences in his reach for success, he stated in a Vanguard interview, “My road to success was very rough and challenging, coupled with the fact that I lost my father when I was 12 years old. My mother was just a housewife and, being the first of the seven children, I was left with the responsibility to cater for the rest of the family. So, we lacked everything in the house except air, and it was difficult finishing secondary school. The saving grace was that my mother took us to the church, and, as children, we learned about what God could do and we embraced Him since then. After my secondary education, I couldn’t continue because there was no money to further my education. So, that’s how my hustling started. I did many odd jobs just to make ends meet. I worked at a construction company as a laborer and, at some point, I was a bus conductor and bus driver. I sold second-hand clothes and later went into the motor spare parts business in Kano.”


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Hunger for Knowledge

Onyishi loved learning and didn’t let his predicament box him in. His passion for education drove the former conductor and trader to the four walls of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, between 1994 and 1996, where he earned a diploma, graduating as the best student.

Between 1996 and 1999, young Onyishi studied for a degree in Social Works and Community Development and graduated with a second class upper. He later earned a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) in Entrepreneurship from the Institute for Transformative Thought and Learning at the Doctoral Research Centre of the University of Arizona, Phoenix, United States, and also from the London School of Economics.

The Genesis of Peace Mass Transit

While studying for his diploma in 1994, Samuel Onyishi started his transportation business. Talking about how he started, he said, “I used my savings from the spare parts business in Kano, about N260,000, to buy two buses, and that was how I started Peace Mass Transit. I was driving one of the buses myself even as a student, and by the time I was leaving school as a graduate, I had 45 buses already. When I realized how lucrative the transport business was, I concentrated fully on it after settling my apprentices with my two shops in Kano.

“In 2006, I increased the fleet of my vehicles from 500 to 1,500. This was possible because motor dealers like Inehmic Auto were giving me buses to operate and pay without any interest. I never defaulted, and that was why I never took any loan growing up. From there, we moved on and expanded our branches. Presently, we have about 65 terminals spread across Nigeria with over 3,000 vehicles.”

Expansion, Extension, Explosion

Onyishi objects to the idea of being small or confined and has gone on to start other businesses within and outside Nigeria, including in China, the UK, and the US. He has spread his net to lubricants production, chemicals, banking, pharmaceuticals, marine and stock trading, and most recently, education.

In the words of ‘Odogwu’ Onyishi, “I produce the lubricants that I use for my buses. We also produce the popular Tiger brand of anti-termites. I have a tin manufacturing plant as well as a plastic plant where we produce plastics and tins for our engine oil, lubricants, and all the agro chemicals in our line of business. There’s also a vehicle assembling plant which started production in 2016. Since 2016, I have been using my brand, Ugama Hiace, which has helped my transportation business. By God’s grace, I am the Chairman of C&I Leasing Plc., and a Director in so many other companies, including Globus Bank and May & Baker Plc. I am investing in education.”

His educational establishments, Maduka University College and Maduka University, at Ekwegbe – Nsukka in Igbo Etiti Local Government Area of Enugu State, are becoming sought-after educational institutions.

Onyishi’s efforts in the transportation industry have earned him numerous accolades, including the Best Inter-state Transport Company of the Year (2008) and Toyota Nigeria Limited’s No. 1 Customer (2012).

Life as a Public Servant

Onyishi’s influence extends to public service, having served on the board of NITEL and as Chairman of the NITEL Technical Committee during President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration. He also chaired Rangers International Football Club Enugu under former Governor Sullivan Chime.

From Onyishi to Oyi-Oha: How the Son of a Nobody Became the Community’s Son

Dedicated to easing the hardship of the common man, Samuel Maduka Onyishi and philanthropy are bound by a cord. From education to community development, the people of Nsukka, his hometown, and beyond have benefited massively from his benevolence through the Samuel Maduka Onyishi African Entrepreneurship Foundation (SAMOAEF).

His initiatives include granting N100 million in scholarships to indigent and physically challenged students, donating N50 million to the Institute of African Studies at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and funding infrastructure projects. SAMOAEF also sponsors an Annual Igbo Language Competition to preserve and promote the Igbo language.

Onyishi has been awarded the Pillar of Development Award from the Anambra State Development Foundation. His community recognizes him with titles such as “Oyi-Oha” by Orba Community for his role on the NITEL Board, “Onwa” by Amukwa Community, and “Onwa Nsukka” by Nsukka Town General Assembly for his success with Peace Foundation.

His educational contributions are acknowledged with honorary degrees and fellowships from various institutions, including the Institute of Journalism, Management and Continuing Education, Enugu, and the Federal College of Education, Eha-Amufu.

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