Chief Obinna Iyiegbu, popularly known as Obi Cubana, is a businessman and entrepreneur. He heads the Cubana Group, a diversified business organisation that has interest in entertainment, real estate, telecommunication among others. In this interview with Iyobosa Uwugiaren, he talks about how he is building a conglomerate that is fast becoming a household name in Nigeria
It appears there are so many things members of the public do not know about you. Apart from the fact that you are into show business, club’s ownership, and entertainment. What are the other things that you are doing that many of your fans do not know about?
I will say that I am a very restless human being. I work round the clock because at this moment, my success doesn’t depend on just me; it is not just about me. I have a lot of dependants, a lot of people I mentor, a lot of people I carry along and a lot of people I am directly and indirectly responsible for their daily survival. So, I have to work, and I have to make new inroads; break new barriers and be very adventurous in terms of new business ideas. So this year, if you have noticed, I have been more out there, doing certain things you did not know about me, because you only know about club business; my real estate, which became very pronounced this year and then Odogwu Bitters, because everybody saw me running up and down. Recently, I have been doing what I call the Cubana FMCG, which is Fast Moving Consumer Goods, where we gather a lot of products. We’re putting them under one umbrella and the products will be coming out very soon. I will be launching in October. I’m into construction, we are partnering with Axion, a Canadian company. It’s a building solution for block moulding, plastering, concrete mixing. So, we are into real estate full time, consumer goods, entertainment, hotel business and telecommunication. Recently we made a loud statement in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT), when we relaunched a global power bank and mobile phone accessories company, New Age Mobile Concept Limited. Cubana is a co-partner to the business, which I pride as among the leading mobile accessories merchandised companies in Africa, offering high quality mobile products. And a lot of opportunities are coming up day by day, and then we look at the ones that do not conflict with what we are already doing that will make us employ more people, closer to grassroots and make life better for Nigerians and humanity.
Members of the public believe that what brought you into the public space is the entertainment industry. But there are other people who are involved in this business. Tell us what makes you unique.
First, if you are close to me or you know me from a distance, you know that I’m a people’s person. I like the well-being of human beings; I like to keep relationships. So, over the time, I have kept relationships with a lot of people I came in contact with. It doesn’t take you anything to be nice to people. Then somehow, they feel indebted to me and my business. I have been running this business for like 13 years – in October; and if you have noticed, I am doing a facelift on the Cubana Abuja because we are making it very big. For Ibiza, which is the mother of Cubana, it’s 16 this year, it was opened in October 2006. So, it’s not easy to run business successfully for just five years in Nigeria. I believe that because I am a people’s person, some of these things look easy. But they are not because we also do not rest on the job. We are making over the whole Cubana business, starting with Abuja; we are changing the face and you can see the Cubana Suites in Abuja that I am marketing. It has been there. This is the seventh year, but we have remodelled it and it’s looking like a new baby.
How profitable is showbiz in Nigeria?
It’s extremely profitable; it comes with its own headaches. But you must know how to run it, how to keep your eyes on the ball, and not to be carried away by the distraction. Again, in a business, you will lose a lot normally. But you will have to look at the business aspect of the thing; then you know the glam and the glitz aspect of it. When you are able to marry both, it’s quite an interesting and profitable business.
Some people believe that your clubs are some of the most expensive in the country. Why are they so; and what make them different from others?
I will use the word ‘exclusive’ because if you enter an airplane, the same plane you are flying N100,000 to London, some other person is flying for N500,000, some other person is flying at some point, N1.5 million and some other person is flying over N5 million. There’s first class, there’s business class, there’s premium economy and there’s economy. There’s Cubana; there’s the Bush Bar, the prices inside and outside are not the same because we try to look at the economy, the people’s wellbeing. So, for beer for example, instead of drinking it for N5000 inside the club, at the bar, it’s the same beer, same premises, you can drink it for as low as N500. So, it’s now left for you to know where your pockets fit in. You choose, no imposition.
Give us more insight into the Cubana Group of Companies. I know you started in a garden many years ago in Abuja, and later Ibiza in Area 11, Abuja.
The Cubana Group started from a very humble beginning from a garden, then to Ibiza, with the primary objective of catering for people selling basic food, basic drinks and offering entertainment. You know life in Nigeria, sometimes entertainment plays a very important role in reducing the stress level. You will need to go there and ease your stress and then give us money to take part of the stress from you before you go back home. We started from the garden to the Ibiza and then the concept of Cubana came sometime in 1998. And I said having done this at the grassroots level, we needed to move to Wuse 2, which is a prime location in Abuja, even up till now and cater for the higher class. That was the first club ever we will build because Ibiza was a lounge. Ibiza was a lounge for dancing openly, and it was like a hit from day one. So, we designed it in such a way that it had VVIP upstairs and so many other features. And that’s how we metamorphosed from garden to Cubana. At a point, we had the challenge of insurgents in Abuja and became very low; then we decided to leave and moved to Port Harcourt and it became very lucrative at that point. So, we became an instant success in Port Harcourt and from there we went to Owerri, Imo State and it was amazing. Later the insurgency in Abuja increased because they were bombings, and if you noticed in Cubana, there was this barrier that you thought it was a water fountain, but it was iron cast because then they used to ram into buildings. So, after that UN building incident, people were not going out to public places. When the security situation improved, we came back remodelled and then it picked up; but then, having started growing in other places, we had our eyes fixed on other places and the target then was Lagos, but I didn’t want to go to Lagos unprepared because if I rushed in, I would rush out.
We got a place at Adeola Odeku and it became a hit too because it gave us global attention; Lagos is the centre of everything. We got one in Ikeja. So, we have two in Lagos, one on the Island and the other on the Mainland. Immediately we finished the one in Victoria Island, COVID-19 came and we realised that everything we had was just entertainment, and then we had up to four hotels in Abuja and we noticed that this thing grounded all my businesses. It was a natural occurrence, but with the kind of reasoning we had, there was no way we thought we will ever be stranded, because we focus our energies on areas that were doing well and balanced the business geographically. But when COVID-19 came, it became a war because all my businesses did not function for over one year. So, it took the grace of God for us to survive that period. So, I needed to diversify.
Recently, you came up with the idea of having a Golf City in Abuja. Tell us more about that plan.
The Golf City is an exclusive parcel of land in the heart of Abuja and because of my love for luxury architecture, it is designed to have a stream running inside it, hills, contours of the land and a lot of greens. It’s actually a golf course, an estate in a golf course and no estate has ever been built in a golf course as of today in Abuja. The idea is to bring nature closer to humans. So, it’s one of the most exclusive projects we have ever done and the reception has been quite encouraging. It’s almost sold out as at today. We are putting up some luxury apartments on 84 hectares, five-star hotel, helipad, playground for children, shopping malls, the golf course, worship centres, schools and different categories of buildings, from luxury to semi-detached to fully-detached to villas. So, it’s one of its kind.
When do you intend to have the city completed?
It’s in phases; and the first set of houses will be ready by mid next year. We have partners and we are in compliance with the master plan of the FCT.
Early this year, there was this Odogwu Bitters that came on board and it was everywhere. How did you come about that product?
Until after the burial of my mum, I didn’t know I was so loved. So, I was thinking that my businesses were too exclusive, but the love is much on the streets. How do I make these people have a taste of what Cubana has to offer? So, the idea of the bitters came through my friend, partnering with a business associate. This is my gift to my people; so that as low as N500, you can have a Cubana product for people that take alcohol. But we are also going into other ranges of Odogwu that are non-alcoholic. Some of them are health drinks. If you noticed, I personally took it to the streets in Aba, Mushin, Island, etc. The Ooni was very receptive. I saw a rich cultural display of the Yoruba people. The love was massive. Today, it’s like a national treasure widely accepted everywhere and it’s humbling.
How do you manage all these businesses? What’s making it grow? Is it the quality of workers, micro-management or what?
I think that every man is gifted from God. I think I am a good manager of humans and because I am a people’s person, I have come across humans who are next to God or angels. So, you place these businesses in their hands and also you ensure they see a future with you and they give you their all because I cannot do more than one business at a time. I need to drive these businesses through people. I also partner a lot of people, and if you look around, you just say, this one has a knowledge about water or bitters, take this share. So, they become part of the business. I only superintend. I don’t call them my workers; I call them my partners because they see it and everyone takes a part of the pie. You make sure their families are okay. Along the way, you might have one or two betrayals, but it won’t take the faith you have in other people.
A lot more people came to know you after the burial of your mum. That comes with its own burden. Tell us about that.
The burial made a lot of people misunderstand me. I never planned that burial to be that way, but I also saw the love people had for me. The one-year anniversary was few days ago; and a lot of things started popping up on Facebook: images, memories and everything. And I said, wow! Was this being a carnival? Because it wasn’t a political rally. I had a reflection of who I was before the burial, and who I became after the burial. It threw me to the open and a lot of people misunderstood me. Because if you noticed, throughout last year, I was in the news for some negative reasons, but then people began to understand me better. Some people felt I just sprang up from nowhere. But I know who I am, and I had to submit myself to every one – of those investigations and then today, you don’t hear anything about them anymore. In those trials and tribulations, I was focused. People started going to read about me and where I was coming from.
How do you manage the family with all these, especially your wife who might feel my husband is in a club and I don’t know what he’s up to out there?
I am one of the luckiest men alive because of the kind of wife I married. There must be peace at home before you leave, and I think when I wanted to get married, I made up my mind emotionally that I was ready and my wife was ready emotionally too. We met when I was at the garden as her husband, and she saw my beat and that has not changed. I have not given her any reason whatsoever to doubt me. I know that I am committed to her and the kids. So, it’s about my commitment to the marriage and her own commitment to the marriage. Everywhere, in the air, in the garden or anywhere, you send her a message and when she wakes up, she will see it. She will know that you are out there for them. She’s the one coordinating some of these businesses and most of these ideas emanate from her. But I’m the one in the field that people see. So, we have that mutual understanding, mutual trust and mutual love that she tries to encourage me instead of doubting me. And I won’t also take undue advantage of her understanding. For me, it is a well-blended union.
You hinted earlier about how far you have come. Can you tell us where exactly Obi Cubana is coming from?
I knew quite early that I didn’t have any other option but to succeed. I come from a very humble family – although we never lacked anything as children of teachers. My dad was a school principal and my mother was a headmistress and we had the basic things. But the most important thing about life is contentment, not about what you have. You can have everything and still not be contented. So at every point in time we were taught contentment. I did not come from a poor family because poverty is a state of mind. So, I was contented with everything because I went to some of the best schools – including University of Nigeria, Nsuka, where I obtained a Bachelor Science Degree in Political Science. So the upbringing helped in shaping who I have become. I knew I needed to leave a footprint in the world, a positive one. That’s why I look restless in doing everything I have been doing. I do business, mentor humans, impact positively on the society, grow the economy and reduce unemployment and this is who I am.
There is perception out there that you are very flamboyant and you like exhibiting wealth in the public, which may have attracted some negative reports in the past. What defines your lifestyle?
I do not know what you mean by display of wealth because I am into show business. I live in a house. If I am in my office and we take pictures, if it wasn’t for social media, nobody will know. And then you post and the background shows something, it doesn’t mean I’m flamboyant. I see people flaunt their cars, their watches, cash etc.; but I don’t do that. But maybe because of the environment I take pictures or in a private jet just to promote the things I sell. You can’t be showing champagne in a mud house? It won’t work. Even Odogwu Bitters, I took Okada; but people don’t see that one. I was never thought to be flamboyant and everything I show is for a cause – because I have been into luxury entertainment. You look at Jay-Z, DJ Khaled, P Diddy, they do some things to be able to communicate with the people; their target customers and whatever I am showing, I’m trying to show them so as to survive and some of them are not mine. So, if I see myself in Transcop Hilton Hotel, I take advantage of the environment and post the things; it is not about my personal life. Nobody has seen my closet or my toilet. They don’t know how my room looks like, they don’t know how many pairs of shoes I have, I don’t show how many clothes I have or designer watches that I have; they can see my bar because that is what I sell. You can see the food I eat because I sell food. Nothing more.
A lot of people do not know the difference between Obi Cubana and Cubana Chief Priest.
Cubana Chief Priest is a different brand entirely. He runs the shrine club, etc. We were partners, he worked for me and when the time to leave came, he left and he’s doing quite amazing in his own field. This one is Obi Cubana. He’s different from Cubana Chief Priest, but we are friends and brothers and he’s like a son to me.
Where do you intend to be, talking about the Cubana Group in the next few years?
We are going global. I am looking at mentoring and developing some guys who are tech savvy. Guys who can develop phones for Africa and by Africans. I had over 3,000 entries. In the coming months we want to go into tech. This is because tech is the future; there are lots of Africans who have a lot in their head but they have no support. So, I’m offering my platform for them and even today I said anybody who has an entry should come because tech is limitless. It could be Wi-Fi, phones, funds transfer etc and I will set up an advisory board for this because it’s not good that you die with your dream. When you give them that platform you might just create an Elon musk in Nigeria.
You said earlier that you are loved by Nigerians. What are those things you have been able to give back to them?
We do a lot of charity; like when I told you about the tech and part of the profit is going to make cheap homes or free of charge because I want to give people shelter because many of them are going through hell. We want to have these homes for free – depending on what the needs are for them. Just basic shelter and we’re trying to do our own bit to support government as human beings. Whatever we are making from tech will go 100 per cent into charity. I want to build hospitals that will be funded from the proceeds of my business so that people can have basic healthcare and maternity care free of charge. Because if it is food, I have conquered that one myself. From my generation, no one will ever go hungry and part of the job that God gave us here is for us to take care of other people the way He takes care of us. So, I’m looking at the charity angle right now. I’m not good at dashing money or doing giveaway. Money that you give without guidance will finish like the prodigal sons. But just set up something that is basic.
You have many followers among the youths. There’s so much youth involvement in crimes. What’s your message to them?
The youth of every nation is the future of the nation. I’m a role model to a lot of people, so I try to abstain from certain things because people look up to me. They have that love for me. I know the kind of messages I get in my DM, on my WhatsApp messages, Facebook and the rest. I know what I represent, what I want people to see me as. I tell people anything that gives you happiness as far as you are not hurting anybody, do it, anything you do to make money as far as it is legal, do it. Meaning that you can live the kind of lifestyle that Obi Cubana is living legally. In terms of drugs, it is a generational killer. we have seen cases of what it does to people and what it can do to generations. There is one Pastor Rapu who goes around picking these people up and you see the transformation when they get well. Yet people still go about selling these drugs and people keep taking them. There are musicians who don’t smoke and yet they churn out melodious songs. The youths are the nation builders and we should not destroy where we live. Whether alcohol abuse, drug abuse or crimes, stay away.
Are you interested in politics?
I am interested because I have one vote and I am going to cast my single vote, but for running for political office, no. My elder brother has the APGA ticket for Idemili North and South Federal Constituency and I will be supporting him all the way. Me, personally, no.