He is first and foremost, an intellectual who started off as a trader at Onitsha, then, veered off into an academic pursuit that took him to Russia where he earned all his university degrees, before returning to Nigeria in fulfillment of a promise he made to himself not to settle outside Nigeria.
By Achilleus-Chud Uchegbu
After he delivered a deeply engaging lecture titled ‘The Value of Diversity: Restructuring to Save Nigeria’, at the Faculty of the Social Sciences of Nigeria’s only university, University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), which earned him a standing ovation from the students and lecturers, a professor that chaired the event said: “when they were telling me that High Chief Obiora Okonkwo holds a doctorate, I was thinking it is one of those doctorates from the market. I did not know that he is a Ph. D holder from the Russian Academy of Science, Institute of World Economy and International Relations”. Like many people at the university, he was encountering Dr. Okonkwo for the first time. And he was not disappointed.
The leadership of the faculty got the entire accolade from the University management for fishing out Dr. Okonkwo to deliver the lecture wherein he agitated minds and left the students asking for more. That was in May 2018.
Again, at Enugu in June 2019, Okonkwo mounted the podium to deliver another lecture titled ‘Media and National Integration in Nigeria’. The event was a colloquium organized by the Enugu State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalist to commemorate the 50th birthday of a journalist, Nze Magnus Eze. Among those that listened to Dr. Okonkwo were Senator (Elder) Anyim Ude, Mrs. Bianca Ojukwu and Amb. Lazarus Agubuzu, chairman of Enugu State Council of Traditional Rulers. They were all on the podium alongside the leadership of the NUJ. As they listened, Okonkwo took the audience through a discourse on the role the media must play to achieve national integration.
His delivery was masterly. He turned the colloquium into an erudite discourse that left many wondering who he was. As they wondered, Magnus smiled away his time in a manner to suggest that the audience hadn’t seen anything yet. Okonkwo left no one in doubt about his academic credentials and mastery of issues. Bianca Ojukwu was later to make a confession when adding her voice to the issue in discourse. She said: “I never knew you to be an intellectual. I have always known you as a club owner. Never knew you have a doctorate and with distinction”.
Like Bianca, not many people know that Obiora Okonkwo is an intellectual with an academic background in economics with special appeal in political economy. He is ordinarily associated with The Dome, Nigeria’s iconic entertainment hub housing some of the finest outlets for leisure and business meetings including a bowling alley and a hotel, ranked by guests, among the finest in the Federal Capital Territory. However, he is first and foremost, an intellectual who started off as a trader at Onitsha, then, veered off into an academic pursuit that took him to Russia where he earned all his university degrees, before returning to Nigeria in fulfillment of a promise he made to himself not to settle outside Nigeria.
For love of country, Okonkwo returned to Nigeria with a vision to add value to the entertainment and relaxation industry. Interestingly, he returned to Nigeria at a time when family relaxation was mostly about sitting over drinks at gardens. He believed that there was room for value addition. For this, he looked out for opportunities in Abuja and invested in The Dome, creating an entertainment outfit that offered residents and visitors options other than sitting out at gardens over drinks.
Deciding to invest in Abuja, Okonkwo chose a part of the city that was less visited by the public and invested in his passion. He created jobs and wealth out of his passion. As a visionary, his eyes were on the future. Today, The Dome sits pretty well in the heart of
Abuja town which at the time, was considered out-of-town. Such was his investment insights. He looks into the future working out the possibilities of another decade while his peers looked at now. This is why he believes that the south-east, with its deficiency in landmass, cannot favourably compete in the commercial farming that demands large land space. He says that investors from the geopolitical zone would do great exploring opportunities in the technological world, especially, information technology and greenhouse.
After the Nsukka and Enugu lectures, Okonkwo had gone ahead to deliver several others including: ‘Leadership and Service in the Nigerian Democratic System’ which he delivered at the 2019 retreat of the southeast zone of Heads of Federal Establishments and Parastatals Forum held at Golden Tulip Hotel, Agulu; ‘Managing Business in Nigeria: Challenges and Prospects’, delivered at the maiden convocation of Executive MBA of Nnamdi Azikiwe University Business School (Unizik Business School), Awka; and, ‘SDGs And Their Impact On The Youth’, which he delivered at the 2019 International Youth Day (IYD) celebration jointly organized by Pro-Value Humanity Foundation (PVHF), Development Centre for Orientation, Discovery and Empowerment (DeCODE) and Justice, Development and Peace/Caritas (JDPC) at Shanahan Hall, Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity, Onitsha.
Okonkwo started off as a trader (schooling and trading) at the Main Market in Onitsha. He traded from the Fancy Line before travelling for university education in Russia. Today, he stands out as one of Igboland’s very successful businessmen and philanthropist. And he has not forgotten Onitsha. He recently instituted a research chair at the Unizik Business School for an entrepreneurial study of Onitsha Main Market and its place in the promotion of Igbo enterprise. He announced this after the Business School conferred on his its prestigious Business Philanthropist of the Year award in June 2019. He is a demonstration that with tenacity and sense of purpose, one would rise beyond the skies.
A very senior journalist, Kanayo Esinulo, commenting on Dr. Okonkwo’s profile as published on his Facebook page, said: “One thing strikes me about Ogidi and its people. They always give Ndigbo and the world the best human beings -Prof. Chinualumogu Achebe, Dr. Obiora Okonkwo etc. They make us proud and hopeful that all will be well, in spite! No one can deny us what God has always blessed us with: hard work”. Like Esinulo, Ezeani Chidubem Mayor wrote: “Having read your citation Sir, I came to the conclusion that you are an Iroko and an epitome of excellence. I never knew that Anambra state has such a man and we are still here suffering from poor policy and leadership. There is a need for your type to take the mantle of leadership in Anambra state as its governor so as to practically transform Anambra state”.
Dr. Dike Chukwuemeka, an official of the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), describes Dr. Okonkwo as ‘coming from the future’. In a short narrative on him, Dr. Chukwuemeka wrote: “An observation from a distance may give most people a skewed impression of Obi(ora) as difficult, unfriendly, but when you get closer you will be amazed at the simplicity of Dr. Obiora Okonkwo. He is simply a model and a special sample of man. Obi(ora) is a perfect gentleman who keeps his words and his promises. He is a man of vision and mission; he sets out achievable targets with timelines. In business, he transacts clean and neat making all concerned winners. He ensures that targets and objectives are met to the benefit of all participants. Here, he brings in the soviet socialist principle of production; “to each according to his ability and to each according to his contribution”.”
Dr. Chukwuemeka also sees in Okonkwo a global citizen who has travelled to so many countries of the world and “has decided to domiciliate his ingenuity and creativity in his country, Nigeria. As a self-starter, he was able to transform an abandoned dumping ditch to one of the finest tourist attraction currently called The Dome. His humility is disarming. In my opinion his ancestral parental training, upbringing must have a maximum contribution to this trait. I could pride in saying that Obiora has been my friend overtime. In this process, I have discovered Obiora as a workaholic. The masculine tendencies in Obiora are not only in physique but also in thought, mind and action. He has a penchant to properly identify problems, obstacles and challenges; tackles them head-on and comes out with the finest solution to the benefit of the human family at large. He dreams of a near-perfect society devoid of crime, corruption, hate, inequality, injustice and other negative societal vices. Whether that happens in Nigeria in his lifetime or not is a discussion for another day.”
Dr. Chukwuemeka concludes saying that Dr. Okonkwo is “coming from the future with a clear understanding of why governance has failed in the past, he is equipped with the prerequisite training and experience at local and international levels, he has the capacity to midwife our current leadership challenges to solutions that will serve as a developmental launch-pad for the next generation.”
Also, Nonso Atamo, an airline executive, who encountered Dr. Okonkwo by chance, wrote: “I first met High Chief Obiora Okonkwo in 2014 but before then, I have heard so much about him. I can describe him as a philanthropist, a charismatic leader, an astute politician and an enviable scholar. All these and many more fit into his personality. One can only imagine the excitement when I finally met him in person in 2014. It was a privilege to meet a man with such estimable pedigree.
“As Shakespeare will opine, some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust on them, Dikeora Idemili is a man who achieved greatness through hard work, dedication and an excellent spirit. He is a man of few words but loads of action. He leaves you in no doubt on his tenets and vision. He will always leave an admirable impression”.
Chief Stephen Ibegbu (Omelora), calls him “the man with a heart of gold’, adding that “Dr. Okonkwo is a man who goes out of his way to put a smile on people’s face regardless of age, sex, race, tribe or religion. He is an affable man, very nice and friendly. Never have I seen a man who is so gregarious in nature. At all time, he shows that he understands and cares about other people’s problems. He is one of the sincerest persons I know; so direct and honest. I can go on and on but words can’t describe a man that is not just a friend but a brother. Dr. Okonkwo is very patient, self-disciplined, resourceful, hardworking and versatile. He is very dependable and a great leader, teacher and, a devout Christian”.
For Chief Pius Nnoli, a very senior member of the Nigerian bar, Dr. Okonkwo is filled with progressive ideas. He says of him: “Dr. Okonkwo came into political limelight as a torchbearer. He came with zeal, energy, filled with progressive ideas, and ready to give his best. With his erudition and global exposure, he naturally fell into the Ndigbo First Eleven. But Nigerian politics is a huge joke. It is not about the best, but clearly, murky water where only the wily and the street smart-alec hold the sway! As polluted as the water is, it is also shark infested. Dr. Okonkwo would decide whether to swim along or to concentrate his shining dignity to other worthy causes. As Igbos would say, a smooth face does not deserve the savage pinch”.
However, Dr. Okonkwo is not willing to “concentrate his shining dignity to other worthy causes” because for him, there is no cause greater than offering oneself in the selfless service of others. That, to him, is why humanity must be recreated through the re-ordering of values that would help the human being achieve goals.
Dr. Okonkwo remains a star that shines from Anambra state.