Our Personality of the Week is Mr. Luke Isikwei Mokwunyei (MNIM, FCPA). Rector, DEO-GRATIAS Polytechnic, Agbor. He was born in Sapele, Delta State on the 18th of March 1953 into the family of Johnson Aniase Precious Mokwunyei and Philomena Etide Mokwunyei (nee Nwabuzor) and he is the first son of ten children.
In this Interview with Lawrence Uche, he talks about his career, religious disposition, his passion for DEO-GRATIAS Polytechnic and how he intends to bring style to Polytechnic Education in Agbor.
Tell us about your Childhood and Education Sir?
I grew up In Sapele, attended Abbot Primary School and ended my primary education in 1966. Thereafter, I moved on to St. Patrick’s College Asaba in 1967, until the war broke out that year and my family had to relocate to Ubulu-Uku. I then proceeded to St Anthony’s College, Ubulu- Uku where I wrote my West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (WASSCE) in 1971.
After my graduation from secondary school, I applied for admission into the University with the hope of making a preliminary entry. While waiting for admission, I taught at Academy Primary School, Sapele now known as Okotie Eboh Primary School. After two years of waiting and it didn’t work out due to its highly competitive nature, I returned to St Patrick’s College, Asaba for my Higher School Certificate (H.S.C) from 1973 to 1975. Thereafter I re-applied for admission with my H.S.C and was admitted into the University of Calabar in 1978 to study Banking and Finance and graduated in 1982.
Can you tell us about your parents
My father Mr. Johnson A.P Mokwunyei, was a teacher. He taught at Pilgrim Baptist School in Ogwashi – Uku, but eventually fell out with the school’s administration and systems. It happened that the school, being a mission school insisted that he gets baptized and also marries from the church. But he was just a church goer; not a complete Christian. He did their entire requests in order to secure his job and get money to sustain himself. At the end of the month, they deducted ten percent from his salary as tithe, believing that he has become a full time member of the church. My father went to the Headmaster and requested that the 10% deduction be refunded as he was not interested in the arrangement and needs money to take care of himself and his new wife. When they refused to refund the money, he angrily left the school and relocated to Sapele with his wife. As a result, he hated everything about Christianity, which also to a very large extent affected my view on Christianity. Because of this situation; which he saw as very intimidating, he made sure all his children went to the University and today, all his children are university graduates. The least qualification anybody among his children has is HND. My father was simply stubborn and wanted to have things in his own way. He died in 2003. My mother was a housewife and still very much alive. Currently, she is 97 years old.
Can you mention some of your classmates in secondary school?
Oh Yes! There Brigadier General Francis Osokogu, Sir Okey Ofili; Former Head of Service, Jonas Onwochu; Retired Director, Delta State Board of Internal Revenue. Our Principal then was Rev. Fr. Mac Donald. Later on, Chief P.A. Dunkwu took over from him before we graduated. Chief P.A. Dunkwu made me to become what I am today. He often flogged and punished me to take out the stubbornness in me. He was a strong disciplinarian who insisted I must know Mathematics for which I am grateful to him and am better off today. As at then, I thought he hated me, not knowing he was only building me to become a better person in life.
Some have argued that flogging students does not help build them but only instills fear in them. Since you claim it moulded you, what is your take?
The truth is, if a child misbehaves, flogging him/her should be an option but when he/she is flogged without being told his/her offences, it is very bad. These days teachers hardly tell students why they are being flogged, they just flog at random. It is also very bad to flog students on their back or head; the palm is ideal to flog but they should be brought closer afterwards by telling them their offences. Flogging a child helps to mould a child but must not be done out of anger.
You talked so well of your former Principal, P.A. Dunkwu, do you still relate well with him, and if yes, what have you done to express your gratitude to him?
I still relate very well with him and we often meet at events. P.A. Dunkwu is one who never stops advising. He is 91 now and still has good memories, sight and strength. He once met me at an event, the burial ceremony of one of my brother’s father in the National Association of Seadogs known as Pyrates. In the process of playing our roles and having our procession as members of the group, he noticed that I was in Pyrates and then he sent for me and queried why I had to join such a group. I seized the opportunity to explain what we do as Pyrates and who we are. After my explanation, he was convinced about the group and gave his support. He is not a very strong Christian but he often tries to do the right things at the right time. He is a strong moralist.
You mentioned being a Pyrate, is that not one of the secret cults being canvassed against?
Oh no, that’s a misconception. Let me seize this opportunity to give clarification on what the Pyrate stands for. Prof. Wole Soyinka formed the Pyrates Confraternity in 1952 at the University College of Ibadan. When the organization was to be registered, we decided to use the name, National Association of Seadogs a.k.a., Pyrates Confraternity. It is unfortunate that the intentions of the seven founding fathers; Soyinka, Ralph Okpara, Egbuchie and others including one who is now a Pastor, to fight elitism and getting things properly done in the university system has been made a mess.
In 1974, at the University of Ife, some of the members went against the norms of the confraternity and the then head of the chapter did according to the dictates of the confraternity by issuing sanctions to the erring members after which they were thrown out of the group. These expelled members came together and formed another group and because they were rebels, they decided to rebel not just against the Pyrates Confraternity but against the society at large. This was where the problem started. Nigeria became more corrupt and several wealthy individuals and politicians engaged them in several societal vices that made them grow across the country. Amongst this group, some of them also broke out and formed other, causing several unholy actions in our university campuses across the county.
When the Pyrates Confraternity discovered that these boys from other groups were misrepresenting us and giving us bad images across the universities, we closed down all chapters, units and branches in university campuses. As we speak, there is no campus confraternity under the P.C in the university they have all been sunk down. The minimum qualification for being a member now is your NYSC Certificate. The P.C. is not a secret cult; we are registered and known across the country. We have our anchor point or Club House in Agbor, Okpanam and many other places. We do not hide nor operate in secret, at night or behind closed doors. We do our meetings in the day time and in open places with our banners displayed at the meeting venue. Most times we invite members of the public to some of our activities. It is just unfortunate that these young men brought in criminality into what would have been a beautiful way of enjoying oneself and at the same time fight elitism and injustice.
If any of your children wants to join after NYSC, would you assent to it?
Two of my sons are members already. I didn’t talk them into joining; they saw the peace, positivity, love and support in the group and decided to join. I am sure if there were women there, my daughters would be there too. The only person who does not like it is my wife; she complains often about our logo, ‘the skull and crossed-bones,’ saying that it is demonic. But she does not hate doctors and hospitals for having snakes on their logos.
You just described Pyrates Confraternity as a social gathering; do you think the younger generations including your children who are just joining now view it in the same way?
It is a matter of orientation. We have our interview annually worldwide, from the first of November; our website is open for application and registration and closes on the 30th of November, 2019. In the second week of December, there is an online written test for the applicants and results are released at the end of December. When an applicant passes the test, he will be invited for a physical assessment by the end of January. We do the assessment at the state and zonal level and on the 28th of February, all that process is completed.
Between then till the end of July, every Wednesday and Friday is fixed for orientation and grooming where they are taught to be good Pyrates members, the origin, including the do’s and don’ts of the confraternity. At the end of each month, they are given written tests. If any of them should fail any of the tests, they are immediately dropped but if they scale through and pass till the end of July, they will be fully initiated as members of the Pyrates at the regional level. In the second week of August, we often meet at the National Convention where the new members will have the opportunity to meet the number 1 Capon and rob minds.
Baba Wole Soyinka and other great men of old are often around to meet with them. So to answer your question, there is no way one would go through all these and still view the confraternity as the same with others. The difference is extremely glaring. It is a gathering of intellectuals and not for idiots, criminals or violent natured people. I am proud to be a Pyrate and I say it anywhere I go.
You mentioned that the new members would have to write and pass some tests, what is the nature of the test?
It is purely academic. If you studied Microbiology for instance, you will be given questions from the field of Micobiology so as to defend what you studied at the university. Other general questions are also asked.
What is the benefit of being a member of Pyrates and how does it benefit the society?
Well, there is no direct or immediate benefit for members. It is all service to the society; majorly for humanistic ideas. Last year, we bought generator for an orphanage in Agbor. At Ogwashi-Ukwu, we bought twenty pieces of bedsheets, pillowcases, ten pieces of stethoscope and 20 pieces of thermometers for a hospital there. We do things like these every year and it is not of benefit to us but sacrifice; spending our money and time on others. To a very large extent, one can say it is philanthropic organization. The public can check online at www.nas.org.ng for more details.
The Pyrates Confraternity seems like a very organized group. From all you have said, do you have books written on it or any documented material?
Yes, we do but not for public consumption. It is only for the grooming and orientation of members.
The initiation you mentioned earlier, what is the nature? Does it have anything to do with blood?
Thank you for this question. It is called initiation because we choose to call it initiation; knights are inducted, pastors and priests are ordained; it is just the same and nothing like bloodletting. One only has to read the creed, we even end the creed with so help me God, Amen. No blood sacrifice of even animal is involved neither is any part of the body being cut for initiations or rituals.
In all you have said, you have exempted the Pyrates from the several cultism menaces in our campuses. Are you categorically saying that Pyrate Confraternity do not carry guns or involve in hooliganism, robbery, kidnapping and other vices attached with secret cults?
Sincerely speaking, if we have an occasion amongst us or in public and any of us breaks a bottle, he is expelled immediately. We do not condone violence; we hate violence passionately. During our meetings, even a blade is not to be found on any member let alone a gun. Some of us who are politicians, when we come to our meetings, we cannot bring in our orderlies, carrying a gun. It is either they stay outside with the guns or come in without the guns.
So how did you begin your career after graduating from the University in 1982?
I went for my National Youth Service Corps, (NYSC) at Illorin, Kwara State. A week after I ended my youth service, I started work as an assistant lecturer at Ogwashi-Uku Polytechnic as the only lecturer in the Department of Banking and Finance as at that time. I was the pioneer lecturer in that department until in 1986, when General Useni, the then Bendel Governor opted to close many of the schools for political reasons. Ogwashi-Uku, Ozoro and others were affected. The then politics of the state wanted only Auchi Polytechnic to stand. In 1987, they closed down all the schools and posted the lecturers out to Auchi, ICE Benin and Igueben but because there was no Banking and Finance in any of these schools, I was posted to teach at St. Rose’s Grammar School, Ogwashi-Uku, where I remained till 1990. In the Polytechnic, I had risen to level 8, step 7 but when I joined St. Rose’s Grammar School, I could not transfer my service, I had to go back to step 2. Because I was not enjoying my teaching job, I sought employment somewhere else and was employed as a Finance Officer at the then Civil Service Commission of Bendel State in Benin. In 1991, the Federal Road Safety Commission was doing a recruitment exercise, I went for the interview and was offered level nine; that was how I moved from the Civil Service Commission in Benin to Lagos and became the Pioneer Zonal Internal Auditor of the FRSC, covering Lagos, Ogun, Oyo and Kwara State.
I remained on the job until 1997, when the issue of NADECO came up and some of us were fingered to have assisted Wole Soyinka out of the country. They accused us of using the Road Safety vehicle to sneak Wole Soyinka across the border. I had to find my way out of Lagos for my own safety, in fact until today four of our members are nowhere to be found. The Military Gestapo then severely threatened and death was visited on our members. If they had found me then, I would have been tortured to death. That was how that career ended. They dismissed about 88 civil servants but when Obasanjo came in, he recalled those who wanted to return to the service but for us who have resigned he paid us our gratuity, I got One Hundred Three Thousand Naira (103,000) in year 1999 as gratuity.
Who are your mentors or role models?
I would have loved to be like Wole Soyinka, he is consistent, fearless and bold. He has never been caught in any dishonest position. I take him as a role model. In terms of mentor, someone who had really made me who I am today is my childhood friend Chief Ighoyota Amori . He became powerful in Ibori’s government and sent for me all the way from Lagos to take up an appointment. We had not been in contact for many years but he remembered me. Through him I was re-appointed into Ogwashi-Uku Polytechnic, where I retired three years ago. Another mentor is my first Rector in the Polytechnic then Dr. James Ovri, now aProfessor. He is an epitome of hard work, diligence and sincerity.
What religion do you profess?
I am not a Christian, nor a Muslim- I believe in the Almighty being that some call God; some Yahweh, some Jehovah and other Allah. We are all spirits and we all have a spirit being that guides, protects and talk to us sometimes when we say, “my body talk to me”, it is actually the spirit being, our individual gods that communicates with us. I believe so much in the law of nature some of my children still go to church, it’s a personal conviction. I am a traditionalist but not an idol worshiper. Heaven and hell are only states of affairs
Earlier on, you affirmed that you believe, in the Almighty being whom Christians call God and Muslims call Allah. Since you believe what do you call him?
I call Him the Almighty, I consider it an insult to call Him by His name, and it is disrespectful because I cannot call my father by his name. I do not worship anything; I totally believe in nature. I wake up every morning and appreciate the Almighty being for a new day, I do not worship.
Do you believe in Re-incarnation?
I do, very much, I have experienced a situation where a baby of about 3 to 4 months died and was given a mark by his parent before being buried. When they had another baby, that mark on the dead one was seen in the new baby.
Your stance on Christianity and on religion in general, was it fuelled by your father’s disposition or there were other experiences that led you into having the understanding you do now?
My children, while growing up, often come to collect offering money from me when going to church and I give them. Now that they are grown, their eyes are opened, some of them do not even go any longer, I did not have to talk them out, and they chose their religious path themselves. To your question, my father’s position did not necessarily or directly affect my decision on Christianity. I realized that all that was done in church was more of recitation afterwards you write an exam and become baptized and they forget about helping people to survive life issues. Some of the Reverend Fathers in those days had their hidden characters that I would not want to go into details. All these culminated to my decision. They forced us to be Christians and as soon as I left school I dumped the Christianity for them.
Are you convinced that dumping Christianity was the best decision to have taken?
I think you should have asked me why I am not a Muslim. The truth is, if I am to choose religion today, I would prefer the Muslim religion in terms of practicing forgiveness, giving, helping others they are at the forefront even though they are violent. When my father died in 2003, during his burial, there was a power surge and an electric cable from an electric pole disconnected and fell right into our compound where people were gathered. Everybody took to their heels but three were unfortunate to be victims of electrocution. The unfortunate victims were my in-laws from the Yoruba land. I ran to and fro the NEPA office Issele-Uku, police station and the hospital on my return home my mother, younger sister and about five others fainted and were rushed to the hospital.
It was a very devastating day for me. With the assistance of Rt Hon.Victor Ochei and some others, we were able to re-organise ourselves and had a befitting burial ceremony for my dad. After my dad’s burial, we took the corpses of those victims of electrocution from the mortuary to their families in Ore, and started negotiating the burial arrangements, two of them were muslims, the last is a Christian. The Oba of the town, a muslim, sympathized with me, gave me a bowl of Kolanut and Ten Thousand Naira (N10, 000) for all the wahala but complained that I should not have put their bodies in the mortuary but buried them immediately. The families were there they provided their coffin and, ambulance but the family of the only Christian among them, was problematic, they dragged us here and there complaining about several issues not considering what we also went through. We spent over N500,000 for the burial of just that Christian. In short, we paid for everything down to the match stick box that was used for cooking.
Tell us about your nuclear family?
My wife, Mrs. Mary Mokwunyei, she works with Aniocha South Local Government Council. We are blessed with seven children.
You retired from Ogwashi-Uku Polythenic in 2016, and recently became the Rector of Deo-Gratias Polythenic, Agbor how did you come about your new employment?
I was managing my poultry farms after retirement, when someone (a friend) called me and informed me that Prof. George Odabi and his wife the owners of the school are in search of someone with competence and integrity to help them in the process of starting a Polytechnic in Agbor and that they are based in London The woman told me that she had vouched for me in confidence and that I should expect a call from them soon since she has given them my name and number. She asked if I would have the time and I informed her that, the time would be arranged when I speak with them and know the terms. Few weeks later, I received a call from Mrs. Odabi, Professor’s wife. I was directed on where to meet with the Prof in Agbor. I have never met the Prof or his wife before, until that day when I met Prof Odabi for the first time. He was already expecting me, we spoke at length, there and then he approved that I start managing the start-up process for the Polytechnic. Till today I have not met the wife but she often sends me messages commending some of my input in the school.
Tell us about your new employment?
It is very challenging, you know we are just starting up and getting students is the main challenge now as many are yet to know about the school. The school has concluded most of its registration process with the N.B.T.E, Higher Education Ministry and other government agencies in charge of polytechnic registration. I thank God for Professor Odabi, he never gives up neither does he believe in failure. He believes everything is possible with consistency.
What encouragement are you getting from the community?
Oh it’s been wonderful, the press has been very supportive, the radio, Ika whatsapp group, especially Ika Weekly Newspaper. I am getting good support from Ika people. Someone called me and offered to help publicize the school online asking me to send our adverts and designs and he has been doing that consistently. Even when I was to get accommodation here in Agbor, the agent of the building, on realizing that I was a Rector, immediately deducted #20,000 from my rent and prayed for me, saying that he is happy whenever he sees anyone who is coming to develop Ika land. To that extent, I am getting full support and I appreciate it.
Does the school presently have lecturers and how many departments are in place so far to kick off?
When Ogwashi-Uku Polythenic where I retired from kicked off in 2002 they started with only nineteen students. There were only three departments then Accountancy, Mechanical Engineering and Fashion and Clothing Technology. The total number of students at first graduation in 2005 was 15 there was only one student in Fashion Department and she graduated alone in 2005. She is currently a lecturer in that department. It was easy for the school to cope then because it was funded by State Government. There were enough lecturers, all departments had Heads of Department and Schools had Deans just for only 19 students.
Here in Deo-Gratias a private polythecnic, although Prof. Odabi is not all out to make profit but it is only natural that he gets returns from investments. To answer your question directly yes lecturers are in place, the school is starting up with part-time lecturers. The departments we are starting with include, Computer Science, Office Technology, Mass Communication and Paralegal studies.
There are other private owned Polytechnics long before Deo-Gratias was established, what difference is Deo-Gratias Polytechnic bringing to education system in Ika Nation?
There is a Memorandum of Understanding between Deo-Gratias and Ecotes-Benin University, Cotonou in Benin Republic. We are bringing style to the Polythecnic system. This MOU of affiliation gives us the opportunity to offer Bachelors degree programmes in Computer science, Economics, Psychology, Accounting, Business Administration, Educational Management, Mass Communication and Pre-Law (Paralegal) studies. No Polytechnic has done this in Nigeria. We are setting the pace for others to trail.
We also have an understanding with a small country in Central America called St Vincent and Grenadines. Our students after their O.N.D programmes have the opportunity to go for their one-year internship in that Central American country. Those of them who do well there may be retained for B-Tech degrees.
What’s your take on the H.N.D\B. Sc dichotomy?
It is unfortunate, that this discrimination still exists. I appreciate President Obasanjo for stepping in to make HND graduates more relevant than they used to be I believe that notion is fading off gradually.
This is your first time of working with a private institution throughout your working career, how is the experience?
I must count myself particularly lucky to work with Prof. Odabi. He gave me the leverage to work without heavy supervision, I was happy to go around for startup enquires and subsequently did all necessary registrations because he is a very pragmatic and straight forward person. Even when I wrote my name and added Acting Rector as my designation, he queried why I would regard myself as the Acting Rector, emphasizing that I was officially the Rector. I told him that I was a finance person and not an academician and that I would only set the institution running after which, he would employ a rector and if opportunity permits, I will be the Bursar. Prof. Odabi insisted that I am the Rector and that he was comfortable with me and asked me to remove the Acting Rector and officially appointed my as the Rector. He has always told me that I am in charge and that I will be in the position to take certain decisions and so, for now my passion is for Deo-Gratias.
At 66, many of your mates are already looking aged and have probably retired to their houses but you are talking very actively and even planning ahead for an institution. What has been the secret of your strength?
At the time of my retirement in 2016, when I submitted my resignation letter to the then Rector, Dr. (Mrs.) Mogekwu, she insisted I stayed with her for a year longer since she was to retire the year after. I agreed and then stayed one more year in the school.
After her retirement in 2017, the current Rector, Dr. (Mrs.) Stella Chiemeke came on board. She sent for me and appointed me as Financial Adviser. I could not reject the offer because I noticed she really needed my assistance. Some of the senior staff hated me for what I was doing. She employed me to work with her for a year as Special Assistant to the Rector on Financial Matters, a position I relinquished on mutual agreement with the Rector in July 2018. So, I have been working even after retirement. I am retired but not tired; I have always been doing one thing or the other often. My strength is that, I often do things moderately I don’t over-do. I eat and drink moderately.
You explained your relationship with Prof. Odabi the CEO, Deo-Gratias Polytechnic; what are you doing to maintain the confidence reposed on you?
I will simply do my best to the best of my ability and with all diligence, honesty and faithfulness for which I was employed. The relationship is a very cordial one.
What is your view on Nigerian politics?
Nigeria is rather unfortunate with the different administrations it had witnessed right from the inception of Independence till date. Both the military and civilian leaders seem to have worsened the state of the economy. The question is, how can we salvage our economy in Nigeria?. Our greatest economic problem is electricity and it has been on for several years as if it has no solution. We are very unfortunate as Nigerians because of the breeds of politicians we have. The nation has degenerated to a state of laughter as we all have failed the nation through our electoral choices. I can only beg the Almighty to give us someone who will help the country.
Akpu and any soup
What is your advice for the youth who delve into cyber crimes and illegal migration?
The larger society is to blame for their acts, politicians especially. They often use the youths to perpetuate several criminal acts. Even those involved in cyber crimes, as soon as they are caught by the EFCC, pay their way out and off they go. The larger society encompasses the family, the government, security agents and different strata of the society. If they should all join efforts to dissuade the youths from such desperate vices and begin to educate them on the virtues of hardwork, patience and honesty, morality and integrity, then Nigeria would be a better place for all of us. This begins with the parents or home. Those crossing over to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea and deserts, do so in ignorance at the expense of their lives.
If I have done anything wrong in this life, when I come back again, I will suffer for it. I may not be fulfilled but I am satisfied and accomplished I do not have regrets.
What gives you joy?
I have peace all around me. Sometimes, I leave my doors open and because I don’t bother people, I am hardly disturbed. My life is all joy. All my children are graduates with just one still in a tertiary institution. Money, riches and wealth does not give happiness. What gives happiness is personal sense of satisfaction.
Philosophy of life?
Be good to anyone who comes your way. Whenever you can be of assistance, don’t hesitate.
Worse day of your life?
When my wife lost one of our babies few days after delivery, it was a very sad period for me.
Happiest day of your life?
The day my first daughter got married.
I have awards from the Student Union Government, Ogwashi-Uku; the Pirates Confraternity, Okalete Social Club and several others. But I prefer to be rewarded by the Almighty and not being awarded.
What would you like to be remembered for?
I would like to be remembered as a man who does not attach value to money. Who is not materialistic but always wants to be real.