By ROSE EJEMBI
For Uchendu Christian Ikechukwu, President of Nwaudo Foundation and Chairman, Nwaudo Football Club, that you are born poor does not mean that you must die poor. To him, poverty of idea is the greatest poverty anyone can ever be afflicted with. Born into a very poor family of a shoemaker father and a petty trader mother with eight other siblings, Uchendu at a very tender age knew the meaning of poverty. In fact, growing up under his parents, it was difficult to feed, cloth or even go to school.
But not prepared to live and die poor and armed with a resolve to change the story of his life and that of his family, the young Uchendu took his destiny in his hands and left his village in Anambra State to serve as an apprentice under his uncle, Elochukwu, a businessman in Gboko, Benue State.
From a humble beginning, Uchendu has courageously dared all odds in life and has become a successful businessman today and is currently mentoring a vast majority of Nigerian and African youths to become responsible adults and future leaders of the country. In this interview with Inspire, the young entrepreneur-cum-philanthropist tells his grass to grace story and how that had inspired him to add value to the lives of others.
How did life begin for you?
I had a very poor background. Growing up, I understood the true meaning of poverty. In fact, I suffered to finish primary school. I had to drop out of school at a point. My mother had 13 children out of which nine survived and I am the first of nine children. My father, Andrew Uchendu, from Okija, Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra State was a shoemaker and my mother was into trading by hawking. There was no means of going to school with this poor background. So, on the completion of my primary school education, I joined my uncle, Elochukwu Investment in Gboko in 2000 as an apprentice. I served him for six years and by 2007, my uncle settled me and I immediately established my own business in Gboko.
What inspired you to go into business?
By 2009, my business was already well established and I began to see the need to help other less privileged in the society pick up their lives. I feel pained when I look at how youths are jobless in the society with our leaders showing little or no concern at all. So, I decided to contribute my quota by going into youth empowerment. That was how the Nwaudo Foundation was born. I set up the foundation, which was registered in 2013 and started going to orphanages. The foundation, which focuses on widows, youths and orphans is a Non Governmental Organization out to emancipate youths from social vices such as alcoholism, crime, cultism and laziness using the Christian doctrine. So far, the foundation had built houses for widows in Gboko, Benue and in Okija, Anambra State. We built three two-bedroom flats for widows in Gboko and seven of such for widows in Anambra, all free of charge. We have also renovated some orphanage homes including the NKST Orphanage Home, Mkar Gboko.
In August of 2013, we established a football club known as Nwaudo Football Club, which has so far sponsored more than 18 players outside the country. Nwaudo Foundation has at the moment gone into farming because President Buhari has encouraged Nigerians to go into agriculture. At the moment, we are into farming of rice, soya beans, yams, cassava. Presently, we are farming over one and a half acre of cassava in Gboko, Benue State and Okija, Anambra State. Also, Nwaudo Foundation has spent more than N150 million to help people pick up their lives again. We also have a computer training center where we train youths for free. We are planning to invest in construction of roads soon. The foundation, through its farm had created a lot of jobs for youths and women. Of this year’s harvest, 45 percent of what we got, was donated to the less privileged as part of our social responsibility.
As you celebrate your 34th birthday today, what package do you have for your teeming fans?
As I celebrate my birthday today, I am giving out the sum of N5million, N5000 each to five thousand youths. Three thousand beneficiaries would be drawn from my Facebook friends, one thousand from Twitter friends and one thousand would be drawn from friends around.
How do you think young men like you can break the bondage of poverty?
If this country must move forward, we must put religion and tribalism aside. Personally, I believe that Muslims and Christians are serving one God and all these divisions among us are needless. We should unite as one so that we can together solve the problems of the country. On my own part, I’ve been trying to preach peace among all tribes and religions by ensuring that no one around me is discriminated against under any circumstance. For instance, out of my 27 staff, 14 are Muslims and we have been working together without rancour. We have 77 players in my football team out of which 43 are Muslims. Of the number, 18 are already playing outside the country and we are working hard to send more. The largest number of people we have supported as an NGO are Muslims. On the occasion of my 34th birthday celebration, I am assuring Nigerians that in the next five years, we would have touched the lives of thousands more youths in the country so much so that every family will hear about us. I have travelled to about seven countries of the world where I have admired the way government is supporting NGOs to help the masses. We can also do same in Nigeria. I am praying and working hard to ensure that Nigeria can favourably compare with nations like USA, Germany, England and the rest of them. I am also appealing to Nigerian leaders that there is God to whom we will all give account of what we have done. They will surely give account of all they have embezzled and how they have plunged the country into recession by their action. I am therefore urging those who had embezzled money to start using such monies for the betterment of the country instead of stashing them in foreign accounts.
With all that you are doing to alleviate the plight of the less privileged in the society, do you have any political ambition?
No. I have no intention of running for any elective position for now. I am just doing God’s work. But the Foundation will fully support any presidential candidate who will take youth issues as his first agenda in 2019.