Our Personality of the week is Dr. Donald Peterson Onyibe, an economist, a philanthropist and a business man. In this interview with Lawrence Uche, he shares his success story, family life and love for Ika nation. He also addressed some societal and economic issues.
Let’s meet you sir,
My name is Dr. Donald Peterson Onyibe born on Dec 28, 1971 in Lagos to the family of Mr. Peter Onyibe and Mrs. Comfort Onyibe. My father was from the Onyibe family in Ogbesere and my mother was from Eribo family in Benin. We were a family of eight.
Background and education?
I lived with my parent in Lagos until 1980 when I was brought to Agbor to live with my grandfather because I wasn’t feeling well. I had my primary 1-3 in Lagos and was enrolled in Nosiere Primary School, Agbor for primary 4-6 gained admission to Gbenoba secondary school where I had my form 1-5 and then proceeded to the University of Abuja, to Study Economics. While I served, the University of Abuja introduced (MFE) masters in financial economics. After NYSC, We rushed to take the Masters course because it sounded so nice, until we realized that it was not an academic masters but an executive masters degree, I finished that and took another masters in Economics and PhD in Economics.
Dr. Donald Peterson how did you start your career?
I started business early, I started by consulting for Halliburton, we did quite a number of businesses with the Ministry of Defence in Nigeria, with the growth of E-commerce, I delved into it, I also invested heavily in real estate and then the energy space in Nigeria.
You didn’t start all this immediately after NYSC, what were the first steps you took leaving the service?
I was very lucky. Immediately after service, I did my Masters and was opportune to render consultancy services for Halliburton Company, I was a grey horn then but was fortunate to have someone then in the company who helped me through when I newly started consulting for the company.
How long did you work with them?
I consulted for Halliburton for about four years, I was not feeling fulfilled with what I was doing, I then set up my company where we started business with the Ministry of Defence, delved into real estate and then expanded into the oil and gas. I worked with Halliburton as a consultant. I didn’t work for the company.
Dr. Donald Peterson, what kept you going through out these businesses?
For me, business comes natural, I never believed working for anyone rather, I believed that the toughest way to make money is to be your own boss. From then on, I have always nursed the idea of having my own business and running my own thing. I never wrote an application for job for one day, I never had a CV put together for job hunting.
How many Masters Degrees do you have currently?
My first was an MFE then an MSC in Economics, I wanted a broad base knowledge so I did an MBA in Business Administration, I applied to do PhD in London School of Economics but was told I have to do an M.Sc Economics in the school before I would be allowed to do a PhD. I ended up repeating the M.Sc Economics that I had already done in Nigeria. I have an Executive Masters and an Academic Masters in Nigeria and two other Masters Degrees in London including a PhD.
While in school, how was the Financing?
I had a very loving father who was not rich but financially okay. He made sure he sent his children to school.
Did all your siblings go to School?
I being the first, son, emphasis was laid on the first son with the hope that he would guide the younger ones though some of us went to school, some dropped out of secondary school especially the girls among us, most of them stopped after secondary school for some reasons I don’t know because my dad was totally ready to sponsor their education, but for the boys the minimum is a first degree.
Dr. Donald Peterson, you are a high flyer, how have you achieved so much within such a short time?
It has a lot to do with destiny and hardwork pays. We must always make sure to plan. If you fail to plan you actually plan to fail.
Tells us about your Mother
A wonderful woman who traded to support her family, she was very caring and loving.
Back in Nosiere, what was life like?
Agbor was not even rural back then, when we were living in Lagos there was no street light, pipe borne water, water closet in the area we were staying. I saw all that first in Agbor and was elated. For the first time in my life, I saw showers in a bathroom. In fact, there was a time I went to the toilet and stood on the WC instead of sitting because I didn’t know what it was. We also had a telephone in the house. In Lagos, we didn’t have all of these, so for me, it was a better life coming back to Agbor.
How did you integrate immediately?
When I was in Lagos, I lived as the only son. I was over-pampered by my parents and that made me not to be very serious academically and I had so much time to play but coming to Agbor, my grandfather was a disciplinarian. He enrolled me in Nosiere primary school, the then headmaster said “I don’t think I can enroll this boy in primary four because his results coming from his school in Lagos were weak passes and a pass in primary three to four that he cannot do well in primary four let me take him back to primary three. My grandfather immediately replied that since I returned from Lagos, he has been tutoring me and agreed with the headmaster that if he puts me in primary four and I fail in the first term, I should be returned to primary three. That was how I joined the Primary Four Class on trial. It is on record in Nosiere Primary School that I took first position all through my stay in the school. I was one of the brightest students in the school then because of the environment I was in and how my grandfather handled me. I got so much discipline from him.
Tell us about your Grandfather
He was highly educated, he was British trained. He was in the West African frontier force where he worked for a British man as a cook and a steward. He lived in London briefly, lived in US briefly before returning to Nigeria and got married to my grandmother. He then joined Nigerian railway where he served until his retirement. He is Chief Samuel Arimokwu Onyibe. The chieftaincy title of Ebu-eno was given to him by my late Obi Ikenchukwu of Agbor.
Can you remember any of your Classmates in primary school?
Nduka Igumbor, Christiana Foster, Victor Akwe and lots more.
Do you still have Close contact with them?
Surprisingly, some of them have houses on this street, we are in close contact. I still talk with some on phone.
How was life in secondary school?
Wow! That was from1983 to 1988, Mr. Egede was the principal shortly when we came in and then Mr. Onyegbunwan was our last principal before we graduated from the school. He was a brilliant man and a great influence on some of us. In fact, when we did our re-union just recently, he taught us the difference between sitting in a chair and sitting on a chair. He said one only sits in a chair with arms and sits on a chair without arms some of my mates were: Nduka Omodon, Chuks Nsibor, Frederick Mordi, Lawrence Onahor, Victor Akwe and many others. My grandfather brought out the best in me through his disciplinary nature. When we did entrance exam into Gbenoba Grammar School, I came out third overall in the entire Ika which was then of course one local government area. That time, depending on how well you do in class, that’s how you would be graded into classes.
How do you remember your grandfather?
I owe my grandfather a lot, he was the one who brought out the fire, zeal and discipline that made me who I am today. He was a great disciplinarian and a wonderful grandfather; he played with us a lot but emphasized more on work and seriousness.
Do you have mentors, if yes, who are they?
Jim Ovia mentored me a lot. I grew up knowing him as an uncle. I admired him a lot because he loved academics and brilliance. When I go on holidays to my aunt’s house, he used to come visiting and we interacted a lot. He would say, if you want to get headway in life, make sure you study very well and make sure that you are the best in anything you’re doing. These his words in the early 80’s have kept me going till today. Grandfather was the foundation; another thing I did was to learn from any man that is great because there is always something to learn from a great person. I admire not just successful men but great men who have made headway in life. I read about them a lot from Nelson Mandela to Nnamdi Azikwe, Obafemi Awolowo and so many people. In their stories, I try to extract what their lives were and how they lived and I try to imbibe that to my lifestyle.
There is a renovation work going on in Gbenoba Grammar School, (your alma-mater) are you aware?
What you see there is being done by some of us and there is one person we must give credence to, one of the Ebeano brothers. He is doing a wonderful job.
Dr. Donald Peterson, you mentioned one of your Principal Mr. Onyegbunwa, was he any influence on you?
If you listen closely to what I said earlier, you would probably realize I passed through him. You can’t pass through him and speak bad English.
We understand that he (Mr. Onyegbunwa) is still very much alive, do you see or relate with him?
We saw him as a body of old students. We all went to see him during our re-union.
Donald Peterson has been mentioned in developmental projects. The name seem now to be ringing a bell and becoming a great and popular name quietly and humbly doing things others are not doing, what should you say is responsible for that?
I looked at the level of infrastructural development our Governor has done for us, especially in terms of roads. So I feel it’s only natural for us to maintain them. I grew up here in Agbor and there were lots of streets that were never tarred, but are all tarred now, thanks to our Governor, that’s why we decided to go clean up the drains, put up street lights and employ women who sweep the streets. I am only responding to how I met Ika when I came in 1980 with street lights and in my own way appreciate the Governor for what he has done for us and also letting us know that there is need for us to take care of those things that are in place.
Dr. Donald Peterson, you mentioned employment of women, did you really employ women?
Yes, we employed about 27 women to sweep Orikeze Avenue and they are paid monthly. We also provided refuse bins for the roads, the houses have their bins so we felt it wise to place refuse bins at different spots on the streets, from the expressway down to the end of Orikeze Avenue. They are labeled Orikeze avenue and brown in colour. Yes, we financed this project and we pay the women who sweep the streets. The street lights are always lighted up, powered by the generator in my compound.
What is the motive behind these projects?
I belong to my ward, ward 2 in PDP and we have wonderful leaders who have great ideas. There is increase in political awareness in Delta state and in Ika nation. We felt that in any election in future, you will have to give people reasons to vote for your party, give substantive evidence why they should. Our leaders came together to look at ways we can assist the government with complementary projects. The reason for this street light project is to beef upsecurity and help business strive on Orikeze Avenue.
You said it is powered by the generator in your house, how is the electricity supply?
Oh its poor, most times, there is hardly power supply especially at night.
What are the people’s responses toward all these? Are they appreciative?
Oh yes, they are, am always visited by people who come simply to say thank you. When I walk on the street, I hear people saying thank you, others praying for me.
How does it feel?
I feel accomplished, very happy to put smile on people’s faces and bring joy to their lives but above all, the street light makes businesses thrive better at night and it has resuscitated the economic position of business in Orikeze Avenue at night as it has boosted commerce and trading and people have extended business hours. All these give me joy.
Any political ambition?
I have been asked this question on several occasions and I often reply by asking if it is because of these things that I am doing. Did people who are in government today or who expressed political desires to run for office do all these as antecedents. Yes as a human being, I have ambition but for what, how, where and when I do not know for now.
Do you think going by your precedence that you will do more if you happen to be in government?
I believe I will do better
Advice for Parents
Good legacy bequeathed is better than a million dollars left in the bank. A good legacy is worthy much more than currency. When you leave so much money in the bank without a good legacy, you are only creating problems for your kids since they never worked for it, they would squander it. People would talk about you after you have gone. People would make references to what you have done and it would also rob off on your children.
When did you get married?
I got married in December 1998 at the age of 27 and I am blessed with four children (two boys and two girls). They live and school in the US with my wife.
Does your wife support some of your philanthropic deeds?
Oh yes, she does and encourages me to do more.
What would you like to be remembered for?
“One who added values to lives”, there can be no end to adding values.
Dr. Donald Peterson, what are your Contributions to Ika Nation?
Apart from the mentioned Orikeze Avenue, Edike Street had a dangerous pot hole that took a life last year. Now it has been fixed, flooding around Obei-sogban area and Palace Junction was also fixed by digging two very large borrow pits in Obei-sogban and behind the dispensary. We have cleaned up the drains from the express down to obi palace junction. We have also offered scholarships to quite a number of students through Donald Peterson Foundation across schools in Ika Land. Quite a number of the students are in Ideal school in Uromi Junction.
We also came up with an idea to encourage graduates who have no jobs to see how they can apply for the Express Entry Programme for Professionals into Canada. Each applicant would have to write an exam. The exam fee is Eighty Six Thousand Naira (#86,000) and we have given ten persons Ninety Thousand Naira (#90,000) each to enroll for the exam. More are still applying and we encourage others to apply as well. Our target is to get at least two hundred people to enroll for the exam with the hope that at least ten percent of them would pass. The exam is such that if one is a professional here with a degree, he/she would write the exam and when he/she passes the exam at least with a score of 8.0 or above, the Canadian government would give him or her a work permit to work in Canada right from here in Nigeria. One would not go as a visitor to Canada but as someone who already has a job over there.
Are you a member of any Ika club or association?
I belong to a number of groups that meet toward the development of Ika nation.
As an Economist, what can we do to raise up industries in Ika nation and draw foreign investments?
First, we must commend our Governor, who has created several Platforms for our youths to acquire skills and be empowered to strengthen the economy
How have you encouraged others to do business in Ika nation?
The Business Environment is like a cheese, a businessman is like a rat, you do not need to tell a rat where the cheese is, he would definitely find it on his own. An Agbor man or Ika man who is wealthy might likely not invest in Ika land as the business environment is not totally favourable.
Do you get appreciation from those you have assisted?
Of course, a few of them show appreciation, at least out of ten about two or three come around to show their gratitude and that’s life, its only normal.
Do you feel disappointed when they don’t show appreciation?
Not at any time, help and assistance should be done out of goodwill without expectations.
We have sons of Ika, the likes of Emefiele, Jim Ovia, Okowa and many others who are in very good positions today. How have you and others close to them been able to convince them to create industries in Ika nation either collaboratively or using their positions?
I know the Governor is setting up industrial parks in the state and I know there is one or more for Ika and it is only right that we start investing from there, where there would be easy access to land and more stable electricity supply.
How much of our people are your children relating with over there in US and how much of our Ika culture have they imbibed?
Sincerely, Nigerians relate so much abroad. My children relates easily with Ika people, they get to know our culture through interactions, watching videos and listening to stories and reading about our culture and of course the Ika Day festival which they all attend. They have picked up a few words and they are very much interested in learning about their hometown. They visit from time to time.
How much of our language or culture have your wife learnt?
She picks up a few words in Ika as I pick up a few words in her language too.
Where and how did you meet your wife?
We met in London, you know one can never tell where you will find love or where it will take you.
If you believe in re-incarnation and again, you were to re-incarnate would you like to come back as an Ika man?
I would want to come back first as a man, an Economist, an African, a Nigerian, and an Ika Man. My reason is because there are little things you do for Africans and they will really appreciate you. Where would you see in Europe to install streetlight, clean the drains or put boreholes not to talk of expecting a thank you? In Africa one can easily on his own capacity add to the growth and development of his community and be seen as a hero, but in the western world, such opportunity doesn’t exist.
Dr. Donald Peterson, which is your best food?
Pounded Yam, (yellow yam) and Egusi Soup.
How do you relax?
Watch movies a lot and reading
What are your Likes?
Humble and truthful people
What are your Dislikes?
Arrogance and lies
Not at all
What is it that has brought the greatest joy to you?
Adding values to people’s lives.
Greatest thing you are happy about as an Ika man?
Born an Ika man, at this point we have the Governor of Delta state who is an ika man and another as the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, It is something worth celebrating.
Dr. Donald Peterson what gives you joy?
When I put smiles on people’s faces and seeing businesses evolve from a conceived and executed idea.
As a politician what is your advice for fellow politicians?
I want politicians to be aware that there is an increase in political awareness of the people and that the people are more prepared to hold them accountable. I will advise politicians to view any office they are in as an opportunity to serve and serve well.
We have security concerns all over the country, any suggestion to the government?
Yes, to solve this security challenges, I believe equity, fair play and justice would put an end to it. The government should be more decisive with critical approaches to issues.
Advice to the youths?
The Bible said, study to make yourself approved. If they study well they would be more aware of situations and how to prepare themselves ahead. For those involved in cyber crimes, I want to urge them to take advantage of the opportunity we are making available for them to work in Canada, Its for skilled and unskilled professionals the pass mark for skilled people is 8.0 and for unskilled is 5.0. Talking about those going through the Saharan desert to Europe, this is a very bad trend; there are many unemployed people in Europe too. These young ones should take advantage of opportunities here and forget about crime and illegal migration.
Advice to the Elders?
Be more assertive on what is right, there is a higher rate of moral decadence. The youth can only learn from the elders and whatever act a youth exhibits is either taught or condoned by the elders. An adage says an elder cannot be in the market and watch a baby’s head bent on the mothers back.