Despite coming from a wealthy, legendary family, I began life from scratch –Victor Mbadiwe

Henry Okonkwo

When a man’s father dies, it changes his life forever. And if the father had been a great leader or prominent personality, the societal expectations are usually high. The sons feel hugely pressured to be like their father and continue his legacy. This was the kind of anxieties that fell on Victor Ngozi Mbadiwe as a 31-year-old young man when his father passed away.

Victor is an heir in the prominent Mbadiwe family. His father, Chief James Green Mbadiwe was an iconic persona when he was alive. He was a foremost statesman and a pan-nationalist that was a key ally with the likes of Great Zik (Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe), Herbert Macaulay and Olu Alakija during the struggle for Nigeria’s liberation from colonial rule. He was the major financier that sponsored the likes of Nwafor Orizu, Mbonu Ojike, K. O. Mbadiwe, and others to study in the United States. A group was popularly called the “Eight Argonauts” that later returned and joined in the fight for Nigeria’s independence. Also, Victor’s father was a well-loved philanthropist.

So when Chief Green Mbadiwe was laid to rest on the 18th of November, 1980, all eyes were on his son, Victor to continue in his father’s legacy. That date was not just the day for his father’s burial, but also a day fate formally inducted him to step into his father’s footsteps. Many anticipated he would explore his father’s influence to build up his life. But unknown to many, Victor has been groomed to follow his path, and not gloat at his father’s wealth and contacts.

Taking up the mantle

So Victor Mbadiwe instead went into a business from scratch. He started trading, became vast in hospitality business, and later connected with Wahl Clipper Corporation in Sterling, Illinois, USA, manufacturers of electronic clippers. He started that venture and revolutionised the face of barbing in Nigeria. “I don’t like being compared to my father. You can’t compare the years of our fathers with now,” he said. “In this day and with this internet age, somebody from nowhere can start a business and begin to prosper in a few years. But during colonial times, life was much tougher.

Our fathers strived to make it under the exploitations of the British government. So anybody that was able to excel at that time must have been a great man. Those of us that came after them, enjoyed and showcased the foundation they laid for us. My father left an illustrious, and a huge legacy for me after he passed away. And it is not easy fitting into his shoes.

“When I came back from the USA in 1979, I did some trading and then got in contact with the Wahl Clipper Corporation. I was lucky to get the distributorship of their business in 1990. It was I who introduced the use of electric clippers to barbers in Nigeria. Before then, barbers were using the manual clippers and operated at roadside shops. I saw that these old-fashioned clippers could be modified to something that would simplify the jobs of barbers. I also showed them how they can beautify their barbing salons to make it look nicer and more comfortable for their customers. I felt that barbers are doing a good job for humanity, and felt that they should be better appreciated.

“I choose not to go into politicking because of the way it’s being played in Nigeria. People from anywhere can come and hijack a political system. It’s not the best area for me because I feel that there are some other things I can do in life and do it well. An example is what I’m doing now.

I’m getting barbers together, empowering them, encouraging them to be proud of their skill, organising events to get them recognised and respected in the society. I want to be remembered for that feat. I want to have a legacy for my role in improving the lots of barbers in Nigeria. “I’m a businessman. In families, some people would be politicians while some others are cut out to do business. The Mbadiwe family is a large clan, and I have cousins and nephews who are still flying ‘our political flag’. Ambassador Greg Mbadiwe and Dr. Eddie Mbadiwe are all still currently active in Nigeria’s political circle. I continue to wish them the very best of luck. But politics? No, not for me!”

My Dad’s strict upbringing

Sons of powerful and stupendously rich men are often pampered and made never to go through much stress in life. But that was not the case of Victor Mbadiwe. Even with all his father’s wealth, he was made to go through harsh times, and taste the hard knocks of life, living as a houseboy at a family friend’s house. “It was not easy having a prominent father like mine. My father was very strict with me even when I was young. At 10 years old he sent me to go and live with The Nwachukwus, a family friend whose wife was a primary school headmistress. And I lived there, relocating with them to different parts of Nigeria, whenever they got transferred to any part of the country. That was a training that helped me tremendously because I was virtually a houseboy to this blessed ‘foster family’ who were squarely responsible for the valuable training that characterized my early formative years. I frequently did chores like hacking the firewood, washing clothes, cooking, and fetching water from the well. It was a tough life.

“When I was sent to stay there, I kept wondering why my father didn’t want me in our luxury house. And even when I ran back to my home, my father would send his driver to take me back to continue staying with the Nwachukwus. My father didn’t want us his children to feel that he had stupendous wealth. But I think that that training helped me to stand on my two feet and become independent. And that helped me later in my adult life because when my uncle (the late Dr K. O. Mbadiwe) took me to America immediately after the civil war for my tertiary education, I did summer jobs to earn extra pocket money for me to afford a good apartment, and live a good life.”

My father, my role model

But the memory of his father, Green, remains as green as ever, especially his words of advice. “I miss the fatherly advice I always get from my father,” he said. “When he was here, I saw him as a real role model that I looked upon to emulate his ways and learn from. I love everything about my father apart from his strictness. I don’t know if I can be as strict as he was with my children in this day and age.”

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