Innocent Eloka is the Chairman of Clarion Shipping West Africa Limited, one of the leading shipping businesses in the country with branches across Nigeria. In this interview with SEGUN ADEBAYO, Eloka shares some of the story behind the success of his business, challenges and how he has been able to sustain the business for years.
WHAT were the factors that necessitated the establishment of Clarion Group?
The truth of the matter is that Clarion Group was a child of necessity and the story of its birth has been told over and over again. The plan was, and still remains efficient in all we do, which has continued to make us the leading star in the shipping industry. Clarion is a company where we prioritise the welfare of our staff and protect the interest of our clients and the people. We place premium on honesty and integrity and we treat our customers as kings. The establishment has been in existence for some years and we have continued to make positive impacts in the shipping industry in Nigeria as many Nigerians trusted and are satisfied with our services.
What are the challenges confronting you as one of the big players in the shipping business in Nigeria?
I think the challenge is similar to those of other businesses operating in Nigeria. The sheer lack of basic infrastructure such as roads, power and water have remained major problems for the shipping industry and we can’t stop talking about it. There is also the issue of insecurity including piracy, kidnapping and the like. Corruption is another factor that has crippled many businesses in the country. If you look at some of the unstable policy in the industry, you will realise that many Nigerian business owners are not smiling at all because of some of these problems. You can imagine a situation whereby someone borrowed a huge sum of money to build up their business based on existing laws and policies, only to have same businesses destroyed overnight using emergency policies put up by government without a proper consultation with the stakeholders in the business.
How have you managed to stay afloat despite these challenges affecting the growth of the business?
Well, I don’t like to talk about rising to the top because we are a company keeps making big moves and we are always trying to create innovations that would transform the industry. So, I don’t know about rising to the top, but we are grateful to God for how far we have gone in the business. As much as we have grown over the years, I think it will be wrong to start blowing our trumpet as we are fully aware of our imperfections. We will continue to strive for improvement.
Looking at where you are coming from and where you are now, is there anything you wish you have done differently?
As I always say, life is like a school and you have to pass through the good and bad experiences of life. You can’t always have it rosy. Life is usually filled with mix of successes and failures. Men of faith always pray to make their failures to be stepping stones to their successes. If you are trying to ask me, if I have any regret, I will say I don’t see anything as regrets in life, I would rather thank God for all that has happened to me and learn from my past mistakes. I always try to get better at every opportunity that comes my way.
Was there a turning point in your life?
There was never really a turning point because at every turn, there will always be another twist. So, there was no turning point for me. However, an Igbo adage says that “a man never knows the size of his God, until he gets married.” The right spouse could provide a major turning point for many as it was for me. In most instances, as was my case too, not a sharp turn as such, but most times slow and twisting, but with a definite direction.
Having the right mentorship is a challenge for most Nigerians. How well do you think this gap can be bridged?
Mentorship has no rival as dependable enabler to success. Examples abound all over the world; the traditional Japanese and Chinese rely on mentorships as a sure way of ensuring a prosperous and strong community.
Until lately, the Igbo man is a perfect example of those who build success on mentorship, particularly in the areas of trade and crafts. It is sad to say that it does not seem to be so today because of ‘shortcut mentality’ of the younger generation. Our hope is that, all over Nigeria the young generation should learn why the Lamb has to kneel to feed from the breast of the mother.
You organised a fundraiser recently, what was the motive behind it?
I believe that selfless giving is a success formula. The saying that a giver never lacks is both biblical and spiritual. A lot of people know that truth, a lot more people sing it, but surprisingly only a few practice it. The inspiration can be summed into two. For me, selfless giving is definite route to good life for those who know it.
Have you ever thought about quitting and what made you go on?
Quitting is and should never be an option. But since change is a constant, strategy will continue to change to meet new challenges and changing circumstances. In shipping as in any other life endeavour, trust and fear of God should be uppermost. Passion is a key factor of winning formula; not money, not power, not influence, but passion while service, integrity and loyalty are other ingredients.
Tell us about your growing up and childhood experiences that shaped your life?
I was born in Umuoji, Idemmili North LGA of Anambra State. I grew up in the rural community, under my grandmother. It was a very rural community, with farming as main stead of the people. The usual routine of growing up children then was to wake up early enough to go to the stream some 15 to 20 kilometers away to fetch water; return early enough and proceed to School. Back from school you perform other house chores expected of male children like going to the bush to cut grasses to feed the family goats and sheep, going to fetch fire wood etc. On school free days, other than Sundays, one was expected to join the family team to the farm.
How did those experiences shape your life?
Those experiences schooled our generation to be responsible, respectful, resourceful and dependable. I always endeavor to exceed the expectations of my grandmother and in return receive encomiums and loads of blessings, almost each day. How I longed and cherished those heart-felt blessings. I believe these experiences are invaluable and they are largely responsible for whatever modest achievements I have recorded in the last few years.