Wilfred Eya

In life, some men are born to dominate their environment. For such people, impossible is nothing and there is no alternative to success. They can walk through thorns and bristles to realise their vision and get to their destination. Call them men of passion and vision. Their lives are ruled by only one thing- the ambition to succeed in whatever endeavour they find themselves.

A great thinker, Orison Swett Marden, says: “a strong, successful man is not the victim of his environment. He creates favorable conditions. His own inherent force and energy compel things to turn out as he desires.”

One man that certainly belongs to the class of people Orison Marden refers to above is High Chief, Obiora Okonkwo. As a man of zeal and determination, he has literally conquered his environment both as an academic and entrepreneur.

Dr. Okonkwo, who was born on December 5, 1965, in Gombe, North-East Nigeria, is an accomplished entrepreneur and chairs the boards of several companies including the Dome Entertainment and Hospitality Limited, an umbrella organisation comprising of the Summit Restaurant and Lounge, the Camelot Spa and the Bodytrust Health and Fitness Bar. Others are the Francis Hotel, the Bowling Alley, Twins Café and Bakery, Noni’s Pizza and mor, Solicom Engineering Limited, Private Airline Services Limited (PASL), owners and operators of United Nigeria, Rokada Security Company Limited among others, with a combined employee strength of over 600 including Nigerians and foreigners.

He is  the founder of Nigeria-Belgium Business Forum among other business fora.

Earlier this year, Okonkwo endowed a research chair at the UNIZIK Business School, Awka, to carry out a study in Onitsha Main Market as an entrepreneurial hub of Igbo land. He believed that the outcome of the research would help create innovative changes that would revolutionise Igbo enterprise and make them become global brands, having had his initial contact with business at the market before he traveled abroad for studies.

Okonkwo’s love for humanity particularly his state is unimaginable. He believes so much in Anambra’s potential for greatness and excellence. For him, the people sustaining the quality of life in Anambra are are not making income in the state and insists that it is why when one looks at the poverty index of Nigeria, Anambra is reputed to have the lowest even though it is not because of the government or leadership of the state.

He is a man of conviction who readily proves to you that he  understands Anambra and its cultural and historical dynamics.

Talking about his people, he said: “Majority of the people who live there (Anambra), even if it is time for them to marry, their brothers and sisters overseas send them money for the dowry. When it is time for them to go to hospital, the money comes from overseas. Where they cannot cure them locally, they fly them abroad.

“Our life in Anambra is actually guided by biblical principles because of the impact of religion in all aspects of our life. And when you talk about religion, the first development that came into that state that made Anambra what it is including education, hospitals, came from Anglicans and Catholics and I do not see why people should try to divide these people or alienate them in any way in the current developmental process of the state.

“You can only be prosperous when all our material resources and highly equipped human capital with our intellectual profile are fully developed and harnessed.

“I do not also think that we should continue to tamper with local governments. It must be autonomous. It’s only when development starts from bottom up that we can realize our full potentials. With that done, we would have restored the pride by repositioning it to take its dominant place in commerce again and strive towards full industrialisation, which is actually the next big thing if combined with agriculture. “Take a hold of commerce, dominate it and then use the proceeds to drive our industrial and agricultural growth.”

It is not surprising that ahead of the 2021 governorship election in Anambra State, Okonkwo’s name, has continued to ring a bell. Many believe that the state needs another man of vision to sustain the development strides of the current governor of the state, Willie Obiano.

Okonkwo believes that at this time in the history of the state, Anambra needs: “ a governor who has vision, someone who has competence, someone who is able because he will be focused on doing what is required for the office.”

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He added: “Anybody who wants to govern Anambra come 2021 must not look at the end of his four years. He must be someone who can lay the foundation for the next 30 years of the state. We need to go back to the basics and that is why I endowed a chair at Unizik on the entrepreneurship of Anambra people who serve their masters and are then settled.

“We are losing our values and that is why we need reorientation. Our youths must know the dos and don’ts and imbibe the fear of God. It is crazy for our youths to be killing themselves in the name of cult war. Our founding fathers did not fail us and we are worried about our youths who don’t get direction.

“We have our youths who had done so well in many areas of human endeavour, but they do not come home to play any role in our communities. Some rich people send their children to the best universities in the world, but do they come back to play any role in the development of our society? The answer is no; they remain overseas because there are no jobs for them here.

“We are losing those who have the wherewithal to help develop our country. That is why we need a government that could create the enabling environment for those youths to come back to contribute their quota in our development.”

On the argument concerning strong men as leaders as against the building of institutions, he said: “I’ve studied developments in two countries – Singapore and Russia. If I were to use these two countries as example, I will rather go for strong leaders and strong institutions. But there must be a balance. A strong leader with the right vision and honest mission is necessary. But we need a combination of both in this part of the world where certain things are still at developmental stage.

For critical observers, the entrepreneur par excellence is a man to watch out for as power brokers in the state get set to battle for the governorship seat which will be vacated by Governor Obiano in 2021.

Okonkwo holds a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Political Science (with distinction), from the Russian Academy of Science, Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Moscow, and a Professional Fellowship Doctorate from the Institute of Chartered Economists of Nigeria. He had earlier earned a Master of Science Degree in Economics, also with distinction, from the Russian Peoples Friendship University in Moscow and a First class in economics from the Russian Peoples Friendship University in Moscow. He had his early education in Onitsha, Anambra State where even while schooling, he combined trading at the Main Market, assisting his father and, managing a horde of apprentices.

Okonkwo, who in September 2019 was garlanded with the Rotary International Youth Leadership Icon Award in Abuja, is an engaging public intellectual. In August 2019, he delivered a seminal paper on ‘Sustainable Millennium Goals and Its Impact on Youths’ at an event to mark the International Youth Day held at the Shanahan Hall of the Basilica of the Holy Trinity, Onitsha in Anambra State. Before that, in July 2019, he delivered a paper titled ‘Leadership and Service in the Nigerian Democratic System’ at the annual retreat of the South East Zone of Heads of Federal Establishments and Parastatals Forum held at Golden Tulip Hotel, Agulu, Anambra State. Earlier in June 2019, he was on the podium to deliver yet another lecture titled ‘The Media and National Integration in Nigeria’ at a colloquium by the Enugu State council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ).

Okonkwo was the 2018 laureate of Faculty of the Social Sciences, University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), where in May of that year, he delivered a seminal lecture titled ‘The Value of Diversity: Restructuring to Save Nigeria’. His major publications include: ‘Democracy and Development: A Prolegomena For growth’, published in Okwadike, a commemorative book on the 80th birthday of a former governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, ‘The Role of Nigeria Civil Society in Transition to Civil Rule’ (1999), which earned him critical acclaim and became a reference study at the Russian Academy of Science, Institute of World Economy and International Relations in Moscow. Others include Engaging the Nigerian Diaspora for National Development (New York 2005), Turning the Nigerian Brain Drain into Brain Gain (Accra-Ghana, 2007) and Citizen Election and Expectation: The Role of Religious Groups in Politics (2013). His Master’s Degree thesis on ‘Corporate Strategic Planning and Methods’ was published in Moscow in 1994.

He is founder of Nigeria-Belgium Business Forum among other business fora.

Dr. Okonkwo, who in July 2019 was conferred with the prestigious honour of Business Philanthropist of the Year by the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Business School, otherwise known as UNIZIK Business School, is also the Founder and Chairman, Board of Trustee of Pro-Value Humanity Foundation, set up to recreate humanity by creating a society where the human person is at the center of development. It also seeks to transform society by reorienting values for authentic human development.

A native of Ogidi in Idemili-North area of Anambra state, High Chief Okonkwo, is widely travelled and is fluent in English, Russian and Igbo. He is also a Fellow of the following: Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (FNIPR), Institute of Chartered Economists of Nigeria (FCE) and CareerNation Institute, New York, USA. He is noted for his exceptional philanthropy and dedicated support for humanitarian and religious causes with several Nigerians now in European, American and Nigerian universities enjoying his education scholarship opportunities offered through Joseph Okonkwo Foundation, dedicated to the memory of his father. He also built and donated a school to his home community in Ogidi as well as brought in the Catholic religious order of Sisters of Divine Mercy to manage it. Fees at the school are subsidized by him. He is also the 2019 Face of Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA), an annual event of Rotary International which brings together youths from across the globe to leadership and entrepreneurial training. To demonstrate his support for the programme, he sponsored 10 students of the Unizik Business School to the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards.

High Chief Okonkwo, who was Knighted in the Kingdom of Belgium as a Knight of the Order of King Leopold, was in December 2018 honoured by the Anambra Central Senatorial Traditional Rulers Forum with the elevated title of Mbuba Anafolu Mbulu N’Ukpa to underscore the high esteem the traditional institution holds him among other titles including Dikeora Idemili, Inwele Ogidi Inwele, Ugegbe Igbo, EbekuoDike and Ugobueze.

Okonkwo is married with children.