Obi Cubana and the theory of associative entrepreneurship, By Moses E. Ochonu
As an economic historian who has edited a highly regarded book on entrepreneurship in Africa, the introduction of which argues for the recognition of distinct African entrepreneurial traditions and innovations, I find the case of Obi Cubana (chef Obinna Iyiegbu) quite fascinating. The fascination grows when one looks beyond the visuals emerging from Oba’s funeral and the justified moral panic the visuals caused.
Let me first make a few caveats. I do not endorse its exhibitionist and performative richness, but I do not judge it either. To each his own. We all operate from different values and ethical scripts, but none is, in the final analysis, inherently superior to the other.
In this piece, I am not concerned with the moral and ethical ramifications of the perspective exhibited at the funeral of Chief Iyiegbu’s mother. Morality is in the staff area, and there is no one moral code for everyone. What matters is whether there are clear and unambiguous ethical and legal boundaries that protect society as a whole from acts that hurt non-participating compatriots or bring the country into disrepute. From my admittedly limited perspective, I fail to see how the vulgar materialism and the revelry of Cubana and his company violate existing laws, but I am prepared to be wrong.
In addition, a person has the right to spend his money as he sees fit, and Cubana’s exhibitionism cannot be analyzed or understood outside of his company and his brand, which are rooted in show business and the entertainment, the cornerstone of which is performance, choreographed pageantry, excess, and razzmatazz. In other words, his antics have an instrumental and utilitarian logic in his sector of activity. Person, performance and profession are all intimately linked in a mutually reinforcing symbiotic network.
What appears to others as his offensive and disgusting exhibitionism and excessive self-indulgence are actually part of his business repertoire, script, and aspects of a show carefully and strategically organized to strengthen its brand. If I’m right, he’s some kind of genius.
Others of course have the right to be disgusted and to express that disgust in moral, ethical or religious terms, but ultimately a person has the right to bury their loved ones in any way they please, and she is accountable only to her conscience, to God and, to a lesser extent, to their native community from which they derive social legitimacy and cultural capital. On this last point, I have not heard the inhabitants of Oba complain about the events of this past weekend.
On the question of how Cubana and its associates got so wealthy, any explanation outside of inside or documented information is conjecture and speculation. I will also leave the question of how he got started and how he got his seed money to those with inside information. He gave an interview to BBC Pidgin in which he reviews in detail his beginnings and the first days of a difficult life of turmoil and modest successes punctuated by failure. Alternate stories of his financial rise should convincingly refute and displace the autobiographical account of his wealth.
I first heard of this man just a few days ago, although I knew Cubana nightclub in Abuja because a friend took me there once. I didn’t know the owner, nor did I know he was part of a bigger entertainment empire.
In fact, when I read that a certain chief priest of Cubana, one of Obi Cubana’s associates, had recently met with the governor of Kogi state, Yahaya Bello, and the report stated that he was a nightclub operator, I assumed he was the owner of the Abuja Cubana where my friend took me. In other words, I confused the associate with his Oga.
I find Cubana to be an interesting case study of entrepreneurial insurgency and innovation. Insurgency because he refuses to comply and in fact challenges some of the tropes standardized by more established wealthy people in Nigeria in terms of how to shape and maintain his public image as a wealthy person. I associate it with innovation because, well, all successful entrepreneurs are innovators in their own way.
Whether you love him or hate him, it is to the man’s credit that he dominated the news cycle for an entire weekend and that the debate and conversations he has not only continued, but earned him and his brand tons of free and lasting ads. the type for which other brands pay tens or even hundreds of millions of naira. By the way, I’m aware that by publishing this essay I’m giving it even more publicity and extending its dominance of the news cycle.
The other aspect of Obi Cubana’s profile that fascinates me is his model of what we could call associative entrepreneurship, my invention and my theoretical framework for the central role he gives to associative relations and trust. in the organization and operation of his business. Obi Cubana is at the top of a core of entrepreneurs who are about his age and who are his friends and facilitators.
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, finding it a worthy and profitable awning for their own efforts. This is not a traditional franchise as taught in business schools. Rather, it is an informal arrangement among trusted friends to support and strengthen each other by adopting a common recognizable badge, much like the Wangara merchants and traders of pre-colonial West Africa, of whom I studied and published on.
Obi Cubana’s associative entrepreneurship harnesses the same power of inclusion and integration. In this sense, the success of Obi Cubana is also the success of its associates, and the success of the associates of its associates, etc. – a collective, shared, reproducible success, if you will. As he and the business grew, his associates, including the empire’s most visible and vocal face, Cubana’s chief priest, rose with him.
Whether Cubana himself and observers realize it or not, this model of entrepreneurship is distinctly African, as I argued in the introduction to the aforementioned book on entrepreneurship.
This is why the highly individualized model of entrepreneurship of the Western capitalist experience theorized by Alois Schumpeter, with an emphasis on the sole catalyst and disruptor of individual business, does not apply to the landscape of African entrepreneurship. .
Of course, Cubana partly fits into the Schumpeterian model of an innovative disruptor who identifies a niche and its deficits and disrupts it with innovative and more effective solutions. But unlike the Dangotes, the Elumelus and the Adenugas, the Otedolas, the Alakijas, Abdulsamad Rabius, and others, Obi Cubana is not the only patriarch of a trading stronghold or consanguineous empire, but rather the coordinating chief of a multi-tiered business empire where brand building is diffuse, fairly decentralized and firmly delegated and distributed among the main actors.
It seems to me, but I have to correct myself, that Obi Cubana has produced a new model of entrepreneurship which is an improvement over the familiar Igba boi “learning system of Igbo mentoring, service, training and mentoring. “Establishment”. His model seems to bring the learning model to a new level of collaborative entrepreneurship and wealth creation.
Obi Cubana did not recruit apprentices, but rather associates, friends and contemporaries of his who helped him build an empire of which they are key players and co-creators. Since, on its own, it did not go through the traditional Igbo learning system and does not implement it but rather created a new system of associative empowerment and joint wealth creation, it sort of improved and challenged the Igbo. learning model.
The African group entrepreneurship model is not only about forming an internal core of invested entrepreneurs, as is the case with Cubana; it is also about cultivating a larger concentric circle of collaborators, communal sympathizers, a social network of beneficiaries, an elastic chain of empowerment and a collectively shared prosperity.
It is far too early to canonize Cubana as the patron saint of associative entrepreneurship, but my learned intuition leads me to read her entrepreneurial vision within this theoretical framework. Other researchers should take up the challenge of determining whether or to what extent Cubana embodies this theory, whether its business practices and achievements deserve the credit I have given it, or whether these achievements are simply the product of what Nigerians call colloquially the packaging.
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