Kelechi Iheanyi Onyike is a man who combines an attitude of excellence with fierce, undying patriotism for his country, and Africa as a whole. An Architect by training, Kelechi is the Managing Partner/CEO of Podex Associates Limited; a very promising architectural firm which aspires to become a leader in the industry in Nigeria. He is also the convener of the Caleb Generation which powers ‘Jawanu’ an annual praise festival. Enjoy Kelechi’s tale of making the best out of unlikely situations, enjoying a robust walk with God and excelling in every sphere.
KA: Share some background information with us. Where are you from? What’s your birthday and what was childhood and family for you?
Kelechi: I am from Eluama, Isuikwuato in Abia State. I was born on the 10th of August 1978 as the youngest of five children. Family played a major role in making me who I am today. Both of my parents were academics so this set a high standard for all of us straight off the bat. They were also very principled and strived to build the right values in us. Though they were not affluent they provided us with a very comfortable life and good exposure too. I think this went a long way in building my self-confidence.
KA: Primary, secondary and tertiary education? Why did you decide to train as an Architect?
Kelechi: Primary school was at Alvan Ikoku College of Education Staff Primary School. After which it was the Federal Government College, Okigwe and thereafter the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (Enugu Campus) where I obtained my 1st and 2nd degrees. I decided to be an Architect while I was still in Primary School; even back then I had a group of friends who could draw. We called ourselves the ‘Duko’ Brothers. I would say that my father also guided that decision as he recognized my creative ability.
KA: What were the most defining moments of your time as a University student?
Kelechi: My tertiary education proceeded quite smoothly except for delays due to ASUU strikes! In my first two years, I was very zealous about God’s work and probably a little careless with my academics. I don’t regret being vibrant for God, but I do regret not being able to strike the proper balance. Nevertheless, God was faithful, because I graduated top of my class. I was involved in politics and served as the Speaker of the House at some point. Another memorable period was when I served as the Publicity Secretary of the Christian Union. It was an avenue for me to gather and mentor other young, creative people; something I enjoyed, and continue to do.
KA: You received several awards and recognition as a member of the vaunted National Youth Service Corps; do share your experiences during that period of your life.
Kelechi: I could write a book on my NYSC experience. It was truly amazing. My personal vision for Youth Service was “Exploits and Adventure” and I got precisely that. I was posted to Nassarawa State at a time everybody was struggling to go to Lagos or Abuja. When it came to primary assignments, everyone hustled for a choice posting to the state capital or Keffi, which is close to Abuja. I was posted to the remote village of Kwarra in Farin Ruwa Development Area (part of Wamba LGA), a realisation that left me reeling and had my fellow corps members, disgruntled and embittered. I had to encourage myself, and determine to make something out of nothing. We had no water, no light and no mobile telephone network. We were able to locate a spot at a corner of the village where there was an isolated spot of MTN network. We would often go there especially in the evenings with our phones under a tree waiting for text messages to drop in. Refusing to be discouraged, I engaged myself with several community service activities- A tree planting campaign around the Local Government Offices, A skill training programme for young students in fine and applied arts and a compilation of scenic photographs of the beautiful landscape for which Farin Ruwa is known; Farin Ruwa (meaning white water, is renowned for the water fall which is located in that area. It also boasts of several yet to be celebrated tourist attractions). I also plied my trade, designing houses and community centres. I went on to win 1st prize in an essay competition on the Tourist potential of Farin Ruwa which earned me a cash prize of N500, 000. This made me a celebrity Corper. At the end of service I won a State Award and another cash prize, hence turning a perceived disadvantage into an advantage. I met with the Governor twice because of these awards. I was also very active within the Nigeria Christian Corpers’ Fellowship [NCCF.]
KA: Is it safe to say that you are a firm believer in the ideals of the NYSC? You are not of the school of thought who thinks it is a waste of valuable time?
Kelechi: NYSC is not a waste of time. Certainly not! Unfortunately it is not safe in many parts of the country. I still believe in NYSC though I wouldn’t encourage people today to go to the unsafe areas of the North. I hope things normalise soon so that Youth service would not continue to be hindered by these challenges.
KA: How did you fare in the dreaded Nigerian job market?
Kelechi: By God’s mercies, I graduated as the best student in my class so I didn’t have difficulties in securing a job.
KA: When and why did you decide to become self-employed, an entrepreneur to all intents and purposes?
Kelechi: I have always been an entrepreneur. I made money cutting hair in secondary school. I also made money doing graphic design and art in the University with my buddies, Effanga Okon and Mfonobong Bassey with whom I formed Bricklayers. I even had casual workers at the time who were fellow students. I went into paid employment to get training, exposure and to build capacity. I continued to do private work on the side until the demand became intense and I decided it was time to focus on my dreams.
KA: Was the transition difficult?
Kelechi: No. The timing just seemed perfect and the transition has been smooth and exciting.
KA: I always ask this question about Finances: Did you borrow or bootstrap? Did the uncertainty of not having an assured monthly paycheck not cause you sleepless nights?
Kelechi: Not at all! I didn’t have one sleepless night. I was very confident in my dream. Besides I had been doing this successfully alongside paid employment.
KA: How does Kelechi manage his Firm? What services are on offer, and how does he strive to maintain world-class standards?
Kelechi: I have partners who compliment my strength. One of them is with the firm full time currently and has been extremely supportive. We also have a great team. This has made the work fun. For now we all work together as one team but as we grow and progress, we intend to create more teams. We offer architectural designs, design consultancy, interiors and landscaping. Our long term goal is to delve into property development.
KA: Any CEO advice for other CEO’s in the making?
Kelechi: Go with your strengths! Operate in your area of natural advantage and always remember that “People make it happen”. In addition, a lesson which I learnt from my NYSC experiences is that the right attitude makes a world of difference.
KA: Tell us about the Caleb Generation and Jawanu:
Kelechi: Jawanu, praise in our homeland, is an outreach programme that has been organised by the Caleb Generation Isuikwuato since 1999. It has been an awesome experience that has brought several passionate believers together to reach out to lost souls amongst our kinsmen. Our vision is “that our kinsmen may be saved”. The programme is usually held on the 28th, 29th and 30th of December in 3 separate locations within Isuikwuato, Abia State. It is essentially a praise concert held in Igbo language. It has been awesome and there are numerous testimonies. It is financed by personal and voluntary donations.
KA: If you were President for a day what policies would you put in place before your tenure expires?
Kelechi: If I’m president for one day, I would appoint men and women of integrity and competence into leadership of some evidently corrupt government agencies. The Police, Customs, Immigration, NAFDAC and as many others as are possible. I’d be counting on these people to make a difference since one day in government may not be sufficient to change everything.
KA: Is Arc. Onyike a family man?
Kelechi: Oh yes! I am married to my black beauty, Ngozi Onyike and we are so blessed with a daughter and a son: Kamnefechi and Ezindu.
KA: Life is…
Kelechi: Your limited time on stage. Use it to make an impact for which you would be remembered when your time is up.
KA: Inspire an African youth with one sentence.
Kelechi: You don’t have to wait till you are in a position to change your state or country; you can start now by changing your own space.