Our personality for this week is Hon. Chief Emmanuel Chukwuemeke Nwaebo, from Owa-Alero in Ika North East Local Government. He is the Akpara of Owa Kingdom. He is an octogenarian whose birthday comes up on the 21st of October 2018. He is a onetime Delta State House of Assembly Member; he is the CEO/Managing Director of Ezinne Hotels, arguably one of the biggest hotels in Ika land. He has experiences in teaching, lawmaking, business, hospitality and humanitarian services. He has been married for 50 good years to Mrs. Alice Nwaebo, and they are blessed with 3 children. In this exclusive interview with Ika Weekly Newspaper reporters, he sheds light on how he became a palm wine tapper in Benin, struggling through life, schooling in the US to being a Lawmaker, and now CEO of Ezinne Hotels and suites.
Happy Reading! Chief Nwaebo
Your family Background sir?
I was born into the family of Udugba and Uche Nwaebo from Aligwe quarters in Owa – Alero. They were peasant farmers; my father was also a road worker with the Council. My mother was a petty trader.
I started my academic pursuit in 1947 at St. Michael’s Primary School, Owa-Alero and graduated in 1954 with standard 6 living certificate. I would have however gone further into secondary school then, but my father did not allow that, so I went into bicycle trading in 1955.
In 1956, I was employed as a teacher by Mr. G.M.C Dial, I was posted to Umunede Primary School now Okpewuro Primary School. I stayed there for about two years before going to St. Georges’ Primary School, Igbodo. I was there until 1959. I later got admission to do grade 3 teachers training at St. Peters’ College Asaba for two years; 1961-1962.
On leaving the College, I was posted to St. James Primary School Agbor. I was there from 1962-1964. From there, I was again posted to St. Peters Primary School Oza-nogogo. I was there when the Civil war began in 1966. I was later posted to Ute-Okpu Secondary School till 1974 before leaving for the United States of America in 1974. Before leaving for America, I obtained my GCE and teachers grade 2 certificates with which I got admission into St. Edwards University, Houston, Texas, USA. I graduated with a Business Administration degree in 1977. I pressed further and did my post graduate studies till 1980. I came back to Nigeria in 1981.
What prompted your return to Nigeria?
Nigeria is my home, and I love my country, so I had to come back.
Did you work during your stay in America?
Yes, I worked. Without working you cannot survive abroad. If you are lazy, you cannot survive in the USA. I worked as a Newspaper vendor while I was schooling, I worked with security outfits, I worked also as a staff in the University. I did a lot of jobs to survive.
What did you do on returning to Nigeria?
On returning, I did my National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) in 1981/1982 with Central bank of Nigeria, Benin. In 1983, I was reemployed into the then Bendel Teaching Service board. On the creation of Delta State, I returned back to Asaba in 1991, with Post Primary Education Board as an accountant. I retired from the board as a senior accountant in 1992. On retirement, I went into business.
How did you get involved in Politics?
In 1996, I had a clarion call from my people to go into politics. I am a founding member of PDP in 1997.with my membership, I was permitted to contest the Council election. I contested the Chairmanship position which was aborted, despite winning the election. Prince Sam Obi was my opponent in that election; he later assumed office as the Chairman of the Council.
I contested for House of Assembly position in 1998, which I won. There was however an opposition who took me to the Tribunal and Appeal Court, I won both, I was cleared and assumed office in 1999. I served for one term (4years). After that, I didn’t go back for elections due to the zoning formula then. After that experience, I went back to business fully, and since then, I have been in business.
What were your experiences as a House of Assembly Member?
Being new to the house, we had to learn, and I learnt a lot of things like making laws. In my Tenure, I was able to influence projects to my Constituency. Today, those projects are known by all, especially the road infrastructure. I included Owa-Alero to Ute-Okpu, Alero-Idumuesah, Alero-Owa Alizomor, Efeizomor and other roads into the budget. Even though I put the roads in the budget, I was not the one that carried out the project.Owere-Olubor to Ute-Ogbeje, Ute-Ogbje to Igbodo roads were my constituency projects.
While in the house, I gave employment to a lot of persons, mostly teachers, I thank God for giving me such an opportunity.
As a one term lawmaker, how many terms do you think current lawmakers should serve
Well, it all depends on the Party. If the party wants you to go for 3rd and 4th terms, then you can go. Just like the Lagos State Governor, Ambode was dropped by the party, maybe that happened to some of us too. For those who know me, they know that I am a honest and straight forward person, I do not play “hanky panky” in whatever I do, and people do not like that. Most persons do not like honest people.
What moment stands out as most memorable while growing up?
When I came back from US, I went into farming; I tapped palm wine in Benin bush to make life a bit comfortable for me. Life was hard in Nigeria then. As early as 4:30am, I was in the bush tapping wine before going to the office as an accountant with the Post Primary Education Board. People did not know I tapped palm wine. I made little money from selling the wine.
During my school days, I was loved by my teachers, especially when I was in teacher training school. Then teachers were expected to have servants for one term, but the man I worked with out of his love for me refused to let me go, so rather than one term, I stayed with him for one year, until I became the Head of the Library Department of the School.
I thank God that my parents gave us the training to be honest and hardworking. While some parents still give their children such trainings now, some other parents are very lousy in taking care of their children.
How come you had a good job in Benin City and was still tapping palm wine?
I learnt it before I traveled out and when I came back I still went into it; I was doing a little bit farming then because that is what my body needed and to get life going.
How did you come about Ezinne Hotels and Suites?
In fact, the brain behind me is my wife, Ezinne (Mrs.) Alice Nwaebo. She is the engine house of the establishment. But for her, I wouldn’t be here. She is a workaholic. She served in Union bank for 30 years as a senior manger and retired as at when due, otherwise, she was ready to continue. She was loved by the bank; she managed about 14 branches in Bendel and Delta before retiring from their Asaba branch.
She brought the idea of establishing the event center. I never had the idea of establishing a hotel or anything of such. But as God would have it, while we were managing the event center, an avenue to buy an open land (which the hotel is situated now) became open to us. After buying the land, the thought of building a hotel came, hence we started it. While I was building it, people said I was using the money I stole from the House of Assembly. But I can state that while I was in the house, I never executed one contract, I never misappropriated funds. Those of us who were older members of the House, are experienced to maximize what we had. That prudent management helped me to have savings. The event center was established in 2008 while the hotel was set up in 2011.
How lucrative is Hospitality business in Ika land?
From experience, I will say it is very lucrative when it is well built, managed and maintained. But our problem is Power Supply, we pay as much as two hundred thousand naira as BEDC bill on a monthly basis, we also spend as much as four hundred thousand naira for diesel on a monthly basis, we also pay salaries, we maintain the generator which happens to be a major problem. After all these expenditures, we are almost left with nothing. Otherwise; hospitality business is a good business without these problems. I am thankful to God for the location where the hotel is situated.
How are your children doing, is any one of them taking after you in terms of your business?
Well, that is difficult to say, knowing that a lot of children today are not forced to what is not in their line.
My first son read politics, he is a civil servant, my second son is an engineer, he is also a civil servant, while my last girl is a lawyer, we have been talking to them to take up this business. However, they all are doing fine.
As a business man, how do you think government can promote small scale businesses?
In the case of Delta State, I think the government is toeing the right direction in the creation of STEP and YAGEP programs which have helped a lot of youths to stay off the street. I doff my hat for the governor for that step in the right direction. It has reduced a lot of social vices and youths restiveness in the State.
As a former lawmaker, are you still actively involved in Politics?
Once a politician, always a politician. I am not very active now, if I were, I wouldn’t have the time to manage this place (the hotel). My wife handles the event center and canopy rentals, while I manage the hotel. It keeps me active and healthy. Even when I have nothing doing, I leave the house by 8am down to the hotel.
How would you rate the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari and Governor Ifeanyi Okowa?
With what everyone is saying, personally, I am not satisfied with the administration of Buhari, and I pray there will be a change in 2019. In Delta State, with what our governor is doing, I don’t think a sensible man can abuse him or say he is not doing well. Anyone who does that might be a foreigner who does not reside within the state. While I seek for a change at the Federal level, I commend the governor at the state level, and pray for his second coming in 2019.
Chief Nwaebo, while you were actively involved in politics, was it a money bag political era?
Of course not. If there was money bag politics then, it was not as pronounced as it is now. If now were then, I wouldn’t have been able to contest any election. It is a bad development. Only education can save us from it. Understanding the pedigree and ability of aspirants can save us from it, and it is only the educated ones that can do that. For those who are not literate, money rules as far as they are concerned. Gradually, with education and enlightenment, money bag politics will disappear.
How would you compare the level of Democracy then and now?
We do not have democracy now, what we have is imposition, impunity, nepotism and Intimidation. Democracy is Government for the people and by the people, allocation of positions equally to the people, not to a particular ethnic nationality or region alone, that is not democracy. I hope our politicians will learn to change. That is why I love Peter Obi as Atiku’s running mate, he did a lot.
Has the introduction of traffic light along Old Lagos Asaba road have any effect on your business?
Yes, it has helped a lot, coupled with the improved road infrastructure in the area and Delta State generally. Power has improved too, but we need more.
As an Octogenarian who passed through rigorous endeavours to make money while growing up, how do you feel at 80?
I feel great, and I thank God for the fact that I am still strong and kicking. When I look at my age mates, I give thanks to God for keeping me happy and strong.
What would be your advice to the younger generation who are after quick wealth?
My advice to them is to find something doing. Like I said earlier, if you are not hard working, you cannot make it in life. It is what you put in the ground that you reap. Anyone who wants affluence without working for it is making a big mistake. When they make that money and live in affluence without working for it, the end is always grievous.
What is your advice for parents who sell their properties to send their children to Libya and your advice to the youth who go into such dangerous journeys?
I don’t encourage parents selling their properties to send their children to Libya, going to Libya to do what? Or to Steal? I don’t encourage that and even if I am a billionaire you come to me for sponsorship I wouldn’t do it.
The youths going for such journeys already know the repercussion, they know what is happening to their mates, who are involved in such trip; in fact any youth seeing what is happening in the television and the social media and still wants to go to Libya is up to him.
You are an 80 year old man who looks 60, what is the secret?
Basically, I would say your mind has to be very pure. For somebody who doesn’t sleep due to problems and thoughts, he wouldn’t look younger. For me, I thank God I do not have such problems. My family is happy, my wife is happy. In fact, I always say, if you want to live long and happy, marry a good wife. My wife needs to be praised. If you are happy in your home, then you will live long.
You are planning for your 80th birthday anniversary come 21st of October, 2018, what should we expect?
Well, it’s difficult for me to say because I don’t know the minds of people outside, but I expect that it will be a jolly good occasion
Dr. Emmanuel Efeizomor on turning 80, said life begins at 80, do you subscribe to that?
Yes of course, at 80, I still go to my farm to supervise and cut palms most times, I can still do some of the things I could do while I was younger even at 80.
What is your perception of life?
Life is simple. If you take it to be unattainable, it becomes that way for you, but if you take it as it comes, be your brother’s keeper, help your neighbours, colleagues and those in need, then life becomes sweeter to you. There are people I give school fees/scholarship to; I have those I give financial grants too. My wife loves charity. I have built and donated land to the church at Owa-Alero. In the Church, my wife is involved in so many roles which keep us busy. From what we have seen, it is good to be good, that makes life easier.
Chief Nwaebo, What would you like to be remembered for?
I would like to be remembered for the infrastructural development of roads in my area which were facilitated by inclusion in the state budget were constructed through the help of the then governor, Chief Onanefe Ibori, and the present governor, Senator Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa; he was instrumental to the approvals. The Obi of Owa, Dr. Emmanuel Efeizomor JP OON gave me several awards: which include chieftaincy, developmental awards and the likes. More awards which I will be remembered for are on the brochure of my birthday celebration. Those are the areas people will remember me. It will be known that Nwaebo did this and that.
In your capacity, how have you helped to develop Ika land?
Establishments like this (Ezinne hotel) are one of the things that help in developing a town. If my colleagues can do similar things in the town, I think the town will be developed. Rome was not built in a day. I Challenge those building houses and parastatals outside the town to come home and establish, and once that is done, the community will be developed. I have done my own quota, I have about 30 workers that I employed, if others start ventures that can employ 5 to 10 persons, then the town will be developed. There are a lot of wealthy persons who can establish business industries that can employ the youths here. Bell-X is one of the indigenous companies that has helped in reducing unemployment in town. Others should follow suit.
I thank God; I have helped in employment and thereby bringing development to the town as my contribution.
Who inspires you/who are your role models?
His Highness, Dr. Emmanuel Efeizomor II JP OON, The Obi of Owa is my role model. He is never tired of working. We were together in Primary school, till he became the Obi, and since then, we have been together. We go places together. When we were in the US, he visited us there. He encourages a lot of people, so I regard him dearly.
What awards have you been given thus far?
From the church, St. Michaels Anglican Church, Owa-Alero, we have an award as the best couple of the year, and two others, I have a couple of them from the Bishop, I have an award from Rotary Club, the Obi gave me about three awards, they are numerous, they are all listed on my birthday celebration brochure.
How long have you been married?
We will be celebrating our golden jubilee by next year and we are blessed with three children and grand children.
As one who has been married for 50 years, what would be your advice to newlyweds?
I advise them to live a good life. I like people to be experienced before getting married, not to jump into it and blame ignorance later. People should be matured before getting into marriage. Most persons do not know what life is until they get into it. So I encourage people to get matured and listen to the voice of the elders before going into marriage.
What is the secret of a successful marriage for as much as 50 years?
The secret is nothing, but understanding and love; because when both ingredients are lacking in the union there is bound to be problem.
Do you have regrets in life?
I cannot remember any situation; though I had a disappointing experiencing while schooling in US. Schooling in US, you are not meant to work, if you are found working, you will be repatriated. I had an experience where during the summer I wanted to work, the report got to the Immigration that I was applying for a job. So they asked my University to repatriate me immediately. I had to do everything possible to make them know that I had money, the school pleaded on my behalf and vouched that I had enough money in my account to carry me through. I quickly called my sponsor, Chief Erigbuem, who helped me to save the situation.
You talked about Chief Erigbuem being your sponsor while you were studying abroad, what is your relationship with him?
We are not from the same family, we were school mates and friends; but for him I wouldn’t go to America, he was the one whose documents I used in getting my visa from First Bank and in fact he paid my wife’s transport all through to the United State of America, all along he has been our benefactor.
What are your most cherished moments?
My happiest moment was the day I was sworn in as a Member, Delta State House of Assembly in 1999. It was unexpected for me. Also, the day the Obi of Owa conferred chieftaincy title on me, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, Chief Lawrence Oshiegbue, and Hon. Nduka Irabor witnessed it. it is a moment I cherish too.
You are vast in life experience, how did you attain such?
It is Gods making. I thank God I was able to attain such experience.
As 2019 approaches, what is your advice to Ika electorates?
My advice to Ika people is for them to get their PVC and re-elect Governor Ifeanyi Okowa. Without him there, we would be in trouble. We have suffered enough, if he goes back for a 2nd term, more development will come to Ika land.
How do you relax?
When I close from work, I go home for my wife’s sumptuous meal. After that I rest with my favourite sports: Wrestling. Once I am watching it, it keeps me happy. At times, I watch wrestling into the night, until my wife will ask me to sleep.
What is your favourite Ika delicacy?
It is Ujuju soup with swallow.
How come you are very, very humble in spite of the position you have attained in life and you even drive yourself as against the typical Nigerian who exhibits wealth, affluence and lives a proud life, and looks down on the others as if wealth is everything?
I thank my God for that, it’s not my making, it is what God has made me to be. There is one of my brother who told me that after this celebration, they will set a driver for me; but I am