Born in Nsukka, Enugu State in November 1963, Sam is the first son in a family of nine. Sam’s father was a bricklayer at the University of Nigeria Nsukka. He slumped and died on the last day of February, 1977. Sam had his primary school education at the Enugu Road primary school, Nsukka from 1971-1976. He then was admitted into Bubendorf Grammar school, Adazi, in Awka, Anambra State. But the death of the father left the mother with no option than to withdraw him from the school for financial reasons and bring him closer home. He then entered Community Secondary school, Mbu in Isi-Uzo LGA of Enugu State.
Barely managing to survive in school because of poverty, Sam had only one pair of white khaki shorts and a white shirt as a school uniform as against two recommended by the school.” At that time, I only wash my school uniform on Saturdays, wear it clean to school on Monday to Wednesday and avoided morning assembly on Thursdays and Fridays because my uniform was too dirty. I used to report to school early those two days, but I would go and hide somewhere until the assembly was over. Of course, I was always punished for coming late. That was not all. I climbed all the mango and cashew trees around our school to pluck their fruits for food and for sale, to supplement what my mother was giving me as pocket and feeding money. I climbed these trees so often that I know those trees knew me by my name.”
At the end of his class 3 at Community Secondary School, Mbu, he could no longer cope with the financial demands and subsequently, had to be transferred to St. Theresa’s College, Nsukka where he felt a lot more relieved as it his home. But as a senior student as he was in class 4, he was expected to wear trousers to school. He had no money to buy trousers, and so he continued wearing shorts until the second term of his final year. It was a public embarrassment!
While in secondary school, Sam had dreamt of being a lawyer, but his poor financial background made sure that dream was never achieved as he could not continue after the secondary school. “At the time I passed out of secondary school, government was recruiting auxiliary teachers in his state. The minimum qualification was five credits in one sitting. So, I applied because I had that. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the job because I didn’t have two naira to bribe a messenger to allow me enter the zonal commissioner’s office to collect my appointment letter. What pained me more was that some applicants, who did not have up to five credits at one sitting, got the job. I couldn’t explain what could have happened. That was my first encounter with what they call the ‘Nigerian Factor’. I was so fed up with education that I contemplated tearing my school certificate to pieces so as to forget all about academics. On a second thought however, I remembered the sufferings and the sacrifices my mother went through for me to go to school. I decided to handover the certificate to her and leave to search for what to do with my life.
His mother gave him N200 which was the bride price of one of his sisters to enable him go to Enugu and fix himself somewhere, but this failed. Back in Nsukka, he tried his hands in many things and at a time, he was a barrow-pusher and a bus conductor. Later, he went into learning a trade after which he could not still go into the business because there was no money. He then went into music as a song writer and singer. His producer went into political detention before his record was released .Out of frustration, he left them. “I traveled to the North, Kaduna state, to serve as a laborer at a place called Ikara. I left my employers in1984 because my salary wasn’t paid in full. I returned to Nsukka fortunately for me, that was when UNN was paying my people some money for our land which was sold to them. My mother received N1200 as her own share and she handed over the whole money to me because she trusted me. With that money, I returned to Ikara and went into second hand clothe business and later moved to Kano in 1987. By 1989, I had saved up to N12000. With that, I went to learn motor spare parts business for 24 days and then, set up my own. I had saved up to N260000 in my bank account.”
Sam was challenged to pursue university education by one of his village men who ordered him to keep quiet because as an ordinary West African School Certificate (WASC) holder, he shouldn’t talk where graduates like him were talking.
“this guy was my junior in Primary school, in fact, he was two years behind me; even though he was older than me, but he had become a graduate. He told me in public that I should not argue with him because I was only a WASC holder. Can you imagine that? That was when I told myself that I must go back to school, to acquire that University education for which I was insulted. I personally like challenges and this was just enough challenge to make me abandon my business in the north to return to Nsukka. Like I said, I like challenges because when someone delivers a punch on you, the person’s armpit is open and you can always land a shock on the person’s open armpit, although, it depends on how you position yourself and are able to land a cut on the person’s open armpit. I was a boxer in my secondary school days and I know how to give a good punch. I am always guided by this belief in confronting challenges on my way. I got admission to do a diploma program at UNN between 1993 and 1996 and later, a degree program from1996 to 1999. I graduated with a second class upper in Social works and Community development”
When he started his lectures as a student, he discovered he had plenty of idle time. To fill that space, he went back to Kano and withdrew that N260, 000 in his account and used it to purchase two buses. He gave one out to another driver and managed one himself. He used the bus to convey passengers after lectures on week days and full time one Saturdays
“my going into transport business was like a film. At a time, I was only doing it to support myself in school. but before I knew it, I had moved from the initial 2 buses to 8. I went into a contract with Nsukka LGA to use their name. my company then was called Nsukka Mass Transit. The number of buses continued to grow that when I was graduating in 1999, I had up to 45 buses.
“I fell out with the local Government because they violated our agreement by allowing another operator to use a similar name as mine. The new person called his Nsukka Urban Mass Transit. I had to change my name to Peace Mass Transit. I applied for a private park and it was granted. So, I owned the first mini-bus private park in Nsukka, Enugu, Onitsha, Aba, Abakaliki, Owerri, Njuba Abuja. Then, it was almost impossible, but God was with me.”
Peace mass Transit (PMT) from that humble beginning has today, blossomed into not only the foremost road transport business in Nigeria with over 3000 buses, but also the fastest growing Mass Transit business in West Africa. It has grown into what is known as the Peace Group of Companies, comprising among others, Peace quick response Insurance brokers; Peace Petroleum Limited; Peace Micro-finance bank; Peace express service ltd; Peace Capital Market ltd (Stock Brokers); Dealers and Investment Advisers; Maduka Commercial and Futon International Ltd, the sole importers of Peace Hiace Brand of vehicles; Peace Bureau de Change; Peace Aviation Services, PMT Beijing Trade ltd. China.
“One important lesson I want the young generation to learn is that there is nothing like carry-over in success. Success does not necessarily come from one’s background. My father is rich and therefore the richness will come to me or that my mother is very poor and therefore I will be poor, no way, I do not believe in that. Any body can be successful; there is no hindrance from being successful in life.” “I also want the young generation to know that God gives money, through hard work and dedication to duty”
Chief Onyishi reveals that God talks to him in dreams and directs him on whatever he wants to do. “God revealed to me in a dream when I wanted to venture into the big buses that I shouldn’t, that He wants me to concentrate on the small buses.” The directive from God was very instructive because after about 12 years in the business, all the big bus operators left the big buses and came down to the small buses and it’s like every transporter is now doing the small bus business.
One another important lesson of Chief Onyishi is Honesty in Business. He recalled that when he was in Kano, that there was on Alhaji Lawal Kurfi who used to give them goods on credit to go and sell in Lagos. He said, while other people will sell and invest the money and pay instalmentally, he will sell and bring the whole money back to Alhaji and this has made the Alhaji to trust him which aided rapid growth in business, because the alhaji introduced him to more suppliers because of his honesty.
The story of Samuel Maduka Onyishi is the story of an African child who will not allow his background to determine his destiny. It is the story of the dogged spirit of the African child. It is a story that proves and again that with determination, integrity and hard work, one can rise from the smallest of beginnings to the highest aspirations.
It is a story that illustrates that Success is within the grasp of each and every one of us, and that no external condition has the power to stop us from achieving our dreams if we are determined to do so.
These are the qualities we teach young entrepreneurs today, Because we know that is easier to fall back on blaming the government and fruitless agitation once we loose focus on what we can achieve on our own, if we make the effort.