Samuel Onyishi: A Success Story Driven by Integrity

One word defines Dr. Samuel Maduka Onyishi – integrity. It is the word that has shaped his personality from childhood, and is now a cardinal feature that manifests distinctly as his identity. The sobriquet of Mr. Integrity would be a fitting alias for a man who does not believe you must go with the crowd to be accepted, even if the majority is wrong, especially in a society from which morality has since taken leave.

Onyishi is not your run-of-the-mill businessman who believes that all is fair in business as long as it brings money. He isn’t a Machiavellian student to whom the end justifies the means. To him, the means is as important as the end, if not more important. For, in the end, the question should be: ‘How did you get there?’

When Onyishi mounted the rostrum recently to be bestowed with the award of Most Innovative Investor by Vanguard, at the newspaper’s 2024 Personality of the Year event in Lagos, he made sure not to miss the opportunity to remind the audience, indeed, the world, that he did not arrive at his current station by taking the commonly accepted route of anything goes in business. He spoke about what has guided is path in life and has been the reason he is what he is today – integrity.

It is worthy of note that in the three instances Onyishi spoke about regarding his integrity, those he mentioned did not put him to test as would be expected, as most, if not everyone else, would have done in those circumstances. He simply manifested what is inside of him, much to the astonishment of the people involved.

The first case involved a Ghanaian lady he knew at Tudun Wada, in Kano, by name Mercy Nana Dufie, who gave him some money to keep for her. The lady naturally expected him to trade with the money, retain the extra and return to her what belonged to her at the appointed time, as many are wont to do. It was a rare opportunity to earn some quick money, an opportunity many would have grabbed with both hands. But Onyishi did not see that as an opportunity, despite the fact that as a young man engaged in the daily ‘hustle’ of selling second-hand clothes, he needed money. It was simply not his idea of how to earn money. He put the money away in an Ovaltine container, kept it under his bed and returned it to the owner when she needed it. He missed an opportunity to make quick money. But the benefit he derived from that show of integrity was far more than whatever he would made from a ‘quick business’.

“When she came back after some months to take it, she shouted that I gave her the same exact money she gave me”, Onyishi recalled. “‘Did you not trade with it?’ she screamed, totally surprised. I protested naively that she told me to keep the money for her, not trade with it. She went ahead spontaneously to tell all the Ghana people in Tudun Wada Local Government Area that she had seen one man in Nigeria who didn’t touch money given to him for safe keeping. Patronage for my clothing business spiraled that I saved N12, 000 between 1987 and 1989 and quietly left for spare parts business in Kano City”.

Another case involved a spare parts dealer in Kano, Alhaji Mohammed Lawal Kurfi, who gave him spare parts on credit without any form of guarantee, with agreement to pay back after selling. He took the spare parts to Lagos, sold them and returned to pay the dealer, in cash, in a carton, not having a bank account at that time because of his low capital. “Alhaji Lawal marveled on seeing his complete money in cash and confessed it was his first experience of such in that business”, Onyisho told his captive audience. “He promptly told all his colleagues who imported spare parts that he had seen someone who pays completely and in cash for goods given to him on credit. Again, out of my ‘naivety’, in not recycling his money to multiply return as others ‘smarter’ did, my patronage exploded. I suddenly became very important as the reliable middle man there. Expansion was inevitable, and it came forcefully”.

Honesty and integrity are natural to Onyishi. They are in his DNA, and do not depend on the issue involved, or circumstance in which he finds himself. A common feature of his show of integrity, honesty, trustworthiness and reliability is that the higher the stake, the more these character traits come to the fore. It is not a question of displaying integrity in seemingly inconsequential issues like collecting money for safe keeping or being given motor spare parts on credit, with any possibility that he could yield to temptation to get on the bandwagon of dishonesty on transactions that are worth larger sums of money. This fact was evident in the third instance he talked about.

As a transporter using passenger buses for his inter-state transportation business, Onyishi had bought new vehicles from Ineh-Mic Autos, a popular motor dealership company owned by Mike Inegbese, in Lagos, in the 1990s. At the point of making payment for the vehicles he bought, he fell short of the total amount by N200, 000 (a huge amount of money in those days). He had no way of guaranteeing payment of the balance for the vehicles other than a verbal pledge to complete the payment in two weeks.

He paid off the balance before the period he set for himself was due, thus eliminating the need for phone calls and reminders from Inegbese and, most importantly, mindful of the damage a default could cause to his business and his reputation. To him, that wasn’t anything unusual, as he was just being his true self. “Dr. Mike Inegbese, the owner and a major car dealer, then voluntarily without my asking, because of that single act, commenced giving me double of any cash purchase orders I made”, Onyishi said. “If I paid for two, he would give me four; if four, he gives eight; if 12, he released 24 vehicles to me without any form of collateral, no agreement and no witness. He made it plain when eventually I managed to ask him much later, that I was his first customer who paid off his credit grace on time, without asking or tedious follow-up”.

Onyishi made integrity a core value of his business from the outset. It is one of the values he has instilled in his employees in all his companies and establishments. At some point, the process of instilling values involved forcible change of mindset and attitude to work. An instance of a forced change of attitude was in the early stages of his transport business when he discovered that some of his employees were engaged in underhand practices that drained the financial resources of the company. He had discovered an irregular pattern of spending money on maintenance of the company’s vehicles, which involved changing oil too frequently. Being someone who learnt business on the street, he decided to carry out a discreet investigation to find out why the company was spending money so frequently changing oil in its buses. One night, he went into the company’s premises unseen by the watchmen, went under a bus that was said to be in need of repairs because it was leaking oil, used his fingers to test the sand at the portion the oil should be leaking and found there was neither a leakage, nor any sign there was an issue with the vehicle’s engine.

Onyishi promptly summoned the company’s drivers to a meeting the following morning and, upon enquiry, it came to light that the frequent “servicing” of buses was stage-managed to steal money from the company. A summary dismissal of those involved in the unwholesome practice marked the beginning of instilling of the values of integrity and honesty in his employees. These values reflect in the operations of all his organizations, especially his flagship business – Peace Mass Transit (PMT), which has a reputation for customer-centric services, including safety.

A brief on Onyishi

Onyishi, 60, holds a Diploma and a Bachelor’s Degree, Second Class Upper, in Social Work and Community Development from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN). He has and MBA in Entrepreneurship from the Institute for Transformative Thought and Learning in the Doctoral Research Centre of the University of Arizona, Phoenix, in the United States.

He is credited with revolutionizing mass transit in Nigeria in a manner never known before. Prior to his entry into the transport sector in 1994, the dominant vehicles of mass transit in the country were luxury buses that have capacity for more than 40 passengers. He caused a major disruption of the sector with the introduction of mini buses that provide more comfort for passengers, besides the advantage of speed. Soon, road users began to abandon luxury buses that were prone to frequent breakdowns that often-left passengers stranded on the roads, sometimes overnight. Today, the company, with a fleet of over 2,000 buses, is a major reference point in mass transit across the country.

Having triumphed in the business world where he has substantial investments in various sectors that include leasing and pharmaceuticals, and being in a unique position of doing business in five major currencies of the world, Onyishi turned his attention to education by setting up the Sam Maduka University and Maduka University College, at Agu-Ekwegbe, in Igbo Etiti Local Government Area of his home state of Enugu. It is his own way of giving back to the society by providing vehicles through which the country’s youths could acquire education that is tailored towards self-employment, for the purpose of reducing the high rate of unemployment in Nigeria.

Beyond the establishment of educational institutions, Onyishi set up a foundation – the Maduka Onyishi African Entrepreneurship Foundation (SAMOAEF) – through which has provided scholarships worth over N100 million to indigent and physically challenged Nigerian youths, in addition to building infrastructural projects in institutions of higher learning. In the first year of setting up SAMOAEF which is domiciled at UNN, the foundation sent five indigent students to China for studies. Today, one of the students is the coordinator of the department of Chinese Studies in UNN.

Onyishi has won several awards that underscore the appreciation he receives for the various humanitarian services he has rendered to humanity. For his achievements in the transport sector, he was given the award of Best Inter-state Transport Company at the Abuja International Auto Fair in 2008. He won recognition as the Number One Customer by Toyota Nigeria Limited in 2012. He also received the award of Pillar of Development by the Anambra State Development Foundation. Other awards in his kitty include and Honorary Doctorate Degree in Communication Arts and Public Administration from the Institute of Journalism, Management and Continuing Education, Enugu; African International Fellowship from the African Biographic Centre in Nigeria, and is a Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Science and Technology.

Onyishi is married with children.