As an economic historian who has published a well-respected book on entrepreneurship in Africa, the introduction of which advocates the recognition of different African entrepreneurial traditions and innovations, I find the case of Obi Cubana (boss Obinna Iyiegbu) quite fascinating. The fascination grows when you look beyond the pictures of the funeral in Oba and the legitimate moral panic that the pictures evoked.
Let me first remove a few caveats. I don’t advocate his exhibitionism and performative richness, but neither do I judge him. To each his own. We all operate according to different values and ethical scripts, but ultimately none is inherently superior to the other.
In this play, I am not concerned with the moral and ethical implications of the optics exhibited at Chief Iyiegbu’s mother’s funeral. Morality is personal, and there is no single code of ethics for everyone. What matters is whether there are clear, unambiguous ethical and legal boundaries that protect society as a whole from actions that harm non-participating compatriots or bring the country into disrepute. From my admittedly limited point of view, I don’t see how the vulgar materialism and exuberance of Cubana and Co. violate existing laws, but I’m open to being proven otherwise.
In addition, people have the right to spend their money as they see fit, and Cubana’s exhibitionism cannot be analyzed or understood outside of its business and brand, which is anchored through show business and entertainment, whose elixir of life is performance, choreographed pomp, excess, and razzmatazz. In other words, his antics have an instrumental and utilitarian logic in his industry. The person, the achievement and the profession are all closely linked in a symbiotic web of mutual reinforcement.
What appears to others to be offensive dirty exhibitionism and exaggerated indulgence is actually part of his business repertoire, script, and aspects of a carefully strategically organized spectacle to strengthen his brand. If I’m right, that’s some kind of genius.
Others, of course, have the right to be disgusted and express that disgust in any moral, ethical, or religious sense, but ultimately a person has the right to bury their loved ones as they please and they are only in their conscience, God and in to a lesser extent, their birth community, from which they derive social legitimacy and cultural capital. On that last point, I haven’t heard the Oba people complain about the events of the past weekend.
As to how Cubana and its staff got so rich, any explanation outside of privileged insiders or documented information is guesswork and speculation. I also leave the question of how he started and how he received his entry fee to those with privileged information. He granted an interview to BBC Pidgin, in which he discusses his beginnings and the early days of a laborious life full of hectic life and humble successes punctuated by failures. Alternative stories of his financial rise would have to convincingly refute and suppress the autobiographical account of his wealth.
I only heard from this man a few days ago, even though I knew the Cubana nightclub in Abuja because a friend took me there once. I didn’t know the owner, nor did I know it was part of a larger entertainment empire.
When I read that a certain Cubana high priest, one of Obi Cubana’s staff, had recently met with Kogi State Governor Yahaya Bello and the report showed that he was a nightclub operator, I assumed he was the owner of the Abuja. was Cubana, to which my friend took me. In other words, I mistook the employee for his Oga.
I think Cubana is an interesting case study on corporate insurrection and innovation. Insurrection for refusing to adapt to some of the tropics normalized by more established wealthy people in Nigeria when it comes to creating and maintaining one’s public image as a wealthy person. I associate it with innovation because all successful entrepreneurs are innovators in their own different ways.
Whether you like him or hate him, it is to the man’s credit that he dominated the news cycle for an entire weekend and that the debates and conversations he started not only continued, but gave him and his brand loads of free, persistent advertising the kind other brands pay tens, if not hundreds of millions of naira for. Incidentally, I am aware that by publishing this article I will give him even more publicity and expand his dominance in the news cycle.
The other aspect of Obi Cubana’s profile that fascinates me is his model of what could be called associative entrepreneurship, my imprint and theoretical framework for the central role he plays in association relationships and trust in organization and operation of his company. Obi Cubana heads a core group of entrepreneurs around his age who are his friends and enablers.
Most of them started with him. Others, we are told, are independently wealthy, but have embraced the aura and magnetic social charm of the Cubana brand and found it a worthy and profitable canopy for their own ventures. This is not traditional franchising as taught in business schools. Rather, it is an informal agreement among trusted friends to support and build one another by adopting a common, recognizable badge, much like the Wangara dealers and dealers in pre-colonial West Africa whose permissive, inclusive and integrative branding I researched and published on.
Obi Cubana’s associative entrepreneurship harnesses the same power of inclusion and integration. In this way, the success of Obi Cubana is also the success of its employees and the success of its employees and so on – a collective, joint, reproducible success, if you will. As he and the business rose, so did his staff, including the empire’s more visible and noisier face, Cubana Chief Priest, rising with him.
Whether or not Cubana and observers recognize it, this model of entrepreneurship is clearly African, as I argued in the introduction to the above-mentioned book on entrepreneurship.
For this reason, the highly individualized entrepreneurship model of Western capitalist experience theorized by Alois Schumpeter, with its emphasis on the single, individual catalytic business innovator and disruptor, does not apply to the African entrepreneurial landscape.
Sure, Cubana partially fits into Schumpeter’s model of an innovative disruptor that identifies a niche and its deficits and breaks it up with innovative and more efficient solutions. But in contrast to the Dangotes, the Elumelus and Adenugas, the Otedolas, the Alakijas, According to Abdulsamad Rabius and others, Obi Cubana is not the only patriarch of a business loan or a blood-related empire, but rather the coordinating leader of a multi-layered business empire in which branding is diffuse, fairly decentralized and robustly delegated and distributed to the core players.
It seems to me, but I need to correct, that Obi Cubana spawned a new model of entrepreneurship that is an improvement on the well-known Igba-Boi-Igbo teaching system of business guardianship, service, training and “settlement”. His model seems to take the apprentice model to a new level of collaborative entrepreneurship and wealth creation.
Obi Cubana did not recruit apprentices, but rather employees – friends and contemporaries of his who helped him build an empire in which they are key players and co-creators. To the extent that, by his own admission, he did not go through the traditional Igbo teaching system and did not implement it, but instead created a new system of associative empowerment and the associated wealth creation, he has the Igbo. in a certain way improved and challenged training model resp.
The African group entrepreneurship model is not just about building an inner core of invested entrepreneurs, as is the case with Cubana; it is also about maintaining a larger, concentric circle of collaborators, community supporters, a social network of beneficiaries, an elastic chain of empowerment, and a community of shared prosperity.
It is far too early to canonize Cubana as the patron saint of associative entrepreneurship, but my scientific intuition leads me to read his entrepreneurial vision within this theoretical framework. Other scholars should take on the challenge of examining whether and to what extent Cubana embodies this theory, whether its business practices and achievements deserve the recognition I have awarded them, or whether these achievements are merely the product of what Nigerians colloquially call packaging.
Moses E. Ochonu can be reached at: [email protected]
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