Our personality of the Week is Chief Norbert Ike Dan Akumabor, the Ojisi of Umunede Kingdom and one time both Financial Secretary and Treasurer of Onu Ika Nigeria; a position he held together for twelve years.
He has in this interesting interview has said that he would want to be remembered as a humanitarian.
His humanitarian services, life experiences, how to met his heartthrob and many others will interest you to know
May we know you Sir?
I am Chief Norbert Ike Dan Akumabor, the Ojisi of Umunede kingdom (KSM). My late father, Chief Daniel Akumabor was the Ojisi of Umunede. So, it is an inherited title. By inheritance, the title shouldn’t have come to me, because I am the third child of the family. But then, when my father died, my two elderly brothers refused to take the title. In fact, after twenty years of my father’s death, my siblings never talked about the title. Then, a letter came from the Palace of the Obi of Umunede kingdom in the year 2014, requesting us to come for the title because it is an inherited one, else, it would be given to another family. My eldest brother, whom the letter was addressed to, was given an ultimatum of a specific time to come for the title. That was when he called me and told me that it was I that he would want to take the title. I was in Lagos when he called me. So, when I came home, I went to meet him and requested he repeated what he told myself on phone. He repeated it and then I asked him to take me to the Palace to tell the Obi himself, so that people would not think that I craftily took what belonged to him.
When we got to the Obi’s Palace, he told the Obi he would want me to take the title. The Obi was surprised. He asked him if he was being compelled or lured in one way or the other to say that, but he replied that if there was anything of such, he would at once cry out to the Obi to help him. He told the Obi that his wanting me to bear the family’s title was of his own volition and with the acceptance and approval of our family members. So, that was how the title was conferred on me.
Quite interestingly, my father while on his deathbed in 1994 called me and told me I would be the next Ojisi of Umunede. But I quickly refuted the statement because I had two elder brothers and didn’t want anything that would bring hatred and disunity to the family. Also, after my father’s death, my mother had once called me and asked me to go and take the title, but I knelt down before her and pleaded with her not to repeat such statement, because I didn’t want any controversy between my elder brothers and myself. But now, here I am, bearing the title, and funny enough, my siblings and their children contributed money and gave to me as their support for the ceremony of the conferment of the title.
One would readily say there is unity and cooperation in your family
Yes. My family, without mincing words, is one of the most united families in the whole world.
How many are you in the family?
We were twelve (12) in number. My father and my mother were both AS, which they were ignorant of before getting married in 1934. Of the twelve children they had, four (4) were SS. four (4) were AS, and four (4) were AA. I happened to be one among those in the AA group. We have lost all the four SS, and the remaining eight (8) children are all alive.
Another interesting thing about my family is that my father was born on the 23rd of May 1909. His first child was born on the 23rd of December 1935; the second was born on the 23rd of August 1937; and the third which is myself, was born on the 23rd of May 1939. My first son was born on the 23rd of January. So, we are 23rd people. In fact, in my family, there are about ten of us born on the 23rd. I jokingly tell people that when you get to heaven, ask of the 23rd Street, that’s where my family resides.
Tell us a little about your father
He was a very pious man, who was visited live three times by the Virgin Mary, as he was kneeling down saying his rosary. She showed him a lot of things, including how her son Jesus Christ was crucified. He saw everything and those who were there on that day of the crucifixion. He was religious to the core. He was a wealthy man and a philanthropist. He was a papal knight (knight of St. Gregory the Great).
He started work at Asaba on the 17th of March, 1930, with UAC Then he got married to my mother, Philomena on October 17th, 1934. After having his first two children at Asaba, he was transferred to Illah for a short period, where he stayed for nine months. I was born there at Illah. After that, he came back to Asaba where he had the fourth child. Then, he was transferred to Obetim, from there to Iselegu in Ukwani. From Iselegu, he was transferred to Warri, and from Warri, he was transferred to Burutu. It was in Burutu that I started school. He was later transferred to Ekpoma.
When we went to Ekpoma, he was buying cocoa, rubber and palm kernel for UAC. He was the first man to own a vehicle in Ishan. He bought his first vehicle, BEDFORT) in 1949 and started using it in carrying products for UAC to the port in Sapele. Not long, he had twelve vehicles with the name DEOGRATIAS on all of them.
My father because of his love for education and his desire to give back to the society, made his vehicles readily available to convey Ishan secondary school children to their various schools in different locations within and outside Ishan, free of charge. Prof. Allị and Prof. Aimakhu were beneficiaries of this gesture. If they (students) were about to vacate, they would write to him, and he would send his drivers to go and convey them home. The people of Ishan because of this loved him so much.
He had rubber plantations, cocoa plantations and palm plantations in Ekpoma and some villages around. At Amaho, he had a rubber plantation that was six square miles. Many cocoa farmers were selling their cocoa farms to him. My father also trained so many Umunede indigenes that were not his relations.
When the war broke out in 1967, Ishan people all gathered and went to him to advise him to leave, so that he would not be killed or manhandled by the Nigerian soldiers, because he was seen as an Ịka-Ibo. He heeded to the advice and relocated to Umunede. The Onoje of Ekpoma, Dr. Abebe of UAC, and Dr. Christopher Okojie led the delegation of those who went to him. After the war, all his lands and plantations were lost. He was advised not to take the matter up, else the army would be used against him, and might even end up losing his life. So, he settled in Umunede.
What is your relationship with the Abebes?
The children of Dr. C.E Abebe are like my siblings: Late Mrs. Stella Obasanjo, Victor, Edwin, John, Rita, Bess and Henry. It’s only John and Rita that are alive today. I lived with them at 2 Kingsway Road, Ikoyi, and Lagos.
We would love to know more about your educational life?
I started school at Burutu in 1946. When we left Burutu to Ekpoma, I attended St. Gregory Catholic School. When I finished from there, I went to St. Peter Clevers College, Aghalokpe, and graduated in 1958. Then I started teaching at Annunciation Catholic College, Irrua. There I did my A-level. After which, I went to University of Nigerian Nsukka (UNN) to study Accountancy.
Where did you work after your graduation?
When I graduated, I got a job in an Oil company; I did a professional course, and started working as an accountant. First, I worked with Shell BP. I got married on the 27th of December 1969. I was working in Lagos and we just got our first son. My wife then had just Secondary School Certificate and was working with West African Examinations Council (WAEC). Then, I was transferred to Port Harcourt. That was in 1972 when the Nigerian Civil War had just ended.
I thought within myself, if I should take my wife to Port Harcourt with me, there was no WAEC office in Port- Harcourt where she would work. At that time, Alfred Diette-Spiff asked all companies in Port Harcourt to employ only people from Rivers State. We are from Mid-West. It therefore meant that she would lose her job, and would not be able to get another job. Also, there was no higher institution in Port-Harcourt then for her to go to. I therefore asked her to remain in Lagos.
I told my company the problem and they agreed to allow me work for ten days in Port-Harcourt and be off duty for four days, and travel with the company plane to Lagos. I did this for one year. It was tiring and risky. One day, the plane lost height and I thought we were going to crash into the ocean but by God’s grace we were able to make it. Then, I told myself that I must come back to Lagos. But then, because the war had just ended, jobs were not readily available. One, day, while I was going through the papers, I saw an advert from a French oil company in Lagos looking for a Budget Controller. I applied and was invited for an interview.
We were forty-five (45) persons who went for the interview. We were given 60 questions for 60mins; aptitude test. We did it and were asked to wait for the results. Later, someone came out and read out ten names out of the 45 applicants and asked them to wait for further interview. I was the tenth person. So, I told myself that even if I didn’t secure the job, I would tell my wife that I came out tenth position out of 45.
We went for oral interview and after the interview, four persons were asked to wait, and I was the fourth person. Then I told myself I would tell my wife that I tried; out of 45, I was able to come out 4th. It was now time for professional exam; 6 questions for 3 hours. I was on the sixth question when the examiner said “time up.”This was about 7 pm, an interview we started at 8am. We waited as told, and around 8pm, one Mr. ELANOI, a French man, came out and said, “Mr. Akumabor, you are to follow me to my office because you did not finish the sixth question. I would like you to follow me to finish it.” Others were muttering that they too did not finish too. So, I followed him to his office and he gave me my answer script. I saw TRESBIEN, TRESBIEN, and TRESBIEN. I never knew it meant, very good, because I didn’t understand French then. I answered the sixth question, and after four days I received a telegram that I should come for further interview. When I went back I was asked to see the Personnel Manager and I was asked what salary I would like to receive. I requested the company to make an offer and I would say if it will be okay by me or not. But, he insisted I tell them what I would like to receive and he gave me a paper and a pen. I quickly doubled what I was receiving at shell BP and wrote it down. Then I gave it to him. After he left with it to the Managing Director to see if it was acceptable, my heart smote me. I felt I was greedy to have requested for such an amount as salary. I quickly followed him, but before I could get to him, the door of the elevator he stepped into was just closing. I became restless and sat thinking of what would happen to my desire to stay in Lagos with my family if I miss the job. Not long after, I heard footsteps. It was him. He came to me and said, “Congratulations, when will you resume?” I was extremely happy, but I tried as much as I could not to show it. That was how I got the job and reunited with my family.
I was employed as the Budget Controller. The company was formerly called SAFRAP. Later it was changed to ELF Petroleum.
ELF Petroleum is a petroleum company owned by the French Government which drills crude oil. TOTAL is also owned by the French Government, and markets petroleum products. FINACORP, was also owned by the French Government, but specialised on marketing gas. They then decided to merge them and called it TOTALFINAELF. But, because the name was too long, it was shortened to TOTAL. We are TOTAL upstream because we deal on the production of crude oil. The two others are TOTAL downstream because they market petroleum products. I was later sent by the company to study French because of my position. I initially went to ALLIANCE FRANCE in Nigeria for one year. After that, I went to TOULOUSE in France. Then I worked at the head office in Paris.
When I returned, I was sent to learn Petroleum Technology in NICE, BUSSENS, and PARIS all in FRANCE and The Hague in HOLLAND.
In 1978 when the current president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari was the Minister of Petroleum, I boarded the same plane with him to Port-Harcourt on an official assignment. We sat together. He was a very quiet man. He asked if I was working with the company and I answered in the affirmative. The, he tried to know if I knew what it meant when they talk of ‘300 API,’ ‘340 API.’ I told him that it referred to the specific gravity of to crude oil at 600 Fahrenheit as calibrated by the American Petroleum Institute (API). This is because the Americans were the pioneers in the oil industry. So, they calibrated the crude oil, put it under 300 Fahrenheit and took the specific gravity in order to determine the gravity of oil. The higher the API, the higher the price. The lower the API, the lower the price, which means that the crude is heavy crude. Nigeria produces sweet oil with high API. So, it is expensive. It is just like the North-Sea oil. The Middle-East produces heavy crude because of the heavy sulphur content in their crude, which makes it highly corrosive. If it is put in the refinery, it will gradually eat up all the metals in that refinery and they will have to be changed every five years or thereabout. It is therefore priced lower than our crude oil.
Then, he invited me to the presidential hotel by 8:00pm to have dinner with him. I told him a helicopter would be waiting to convey me to Bonny, and after that, I would go to our guest house to freshen up before honouring the dinner invitation. He said it was okay, that he would wait for me. But unfortunately, we came back from Bonny at 7:00pm. By the time I got to the estate and had my bath, it was already quarter past nine. I was also to go to Ukpomami in Delta State the following morning. So, it became impossible for me to meet up with the appointment. When, I returned from Ukpomami, I traveled back to Lagos.
I worked with the company for 27 years, and I retired as the first Finance and tax Adviser of the company, a position I hold from 1990. I retired on the 23rd of May 1994. Then, I was 55years. That was the mandatory retirement age at that time.
What else did you go into after retirement?
When I retired, I went into petroleum business, because I had made a lot of friends. We started marketing Low Pour Fuel Oil (LPFO) and Automotive Gasoline (AGO). Our refineries were working then, and we had excess of LPFO, AGO, and High Pour Fuel Oil (HPFO) used in heavy industries in Europe.
Give us an insight of how well you did in the oil business?
As I said before, since my entire life was centered on oil; I went into exporting LPFO, HPFO and AGO that were in excess from our refineries. I had international connections. My local partner was one Alhaji Bima who had local connections. On one occasion Alhaji Bima called from Abuja that he had secured for us a ship load of LPFO. I immediately called one of my friends abroad, Jens Victor to start travelling to Nigeria. It was on a Friday. Alhaji Bima said that he would travel first to Jos to see his family and return to Abuja on Saturday evening, then fly to Lagos on Sunday. We were to meet in his office on Monday at 8am. I was in his office on Monday. A large crowd gathered in his office. I asked his Secretary “is my friend, in the office?” He kept quiet. I was angry and I opened his office. It was empty. I asked of the people around and he told me” your friend is dead. He died in his car as he travelled from Jos to Abuja on Saturday and was buried on Sunday. I was devastated. Thank God my wife was with me, she took me to my doctor. By the time the whole episode died down, the Nigeria refineries failed and instead of exporting, we started importing refined products. To complicate matters, politicians became interested in the business and these without political godfathers like me became orphans.
Could you please tell us about your immediate family?
I am married and blessed with three sons: Ken, Collins and Chris. So, I nick named myself; Life President of Boys Brigade in Nigeria. My wife, who I married as a school certificate holder, has her NCE, B.Ed, M.Ed, and Ph.D, all from the University of Lagos. Our first son is a professional builder with a master degree in construction management and a chain of professional building qualification. Our second son is a Medical Doctor and our third son is a computer expert. Our children all work in Lagos. My wife is retired and we both live in Umunede.
How did you meet your wife?
How I met my wife is quite an interesting narration. When I was doing my A-level, I was teaching at Annunciation Catholic College, Irrua. I would go from Irrua to Benin where I was doing my A-level. I had a cousin of mine whom my father trained, Andrew Alidinma. We were doing the A-level together. When we finished the paper, he asked me to go with him to his aunt, Mrs. Ofulue, who was staying in the same building with Humphrey Mordi. A pretty young girl who was schooling in ST. MARIA GORETTI GIRLS COLLEGE Benin City was staying with the Mordis. Just a flat separated Mrs. Ofulue from the Mordis. When we got there, the young girl who knew my cousin, Andrew Anlidinnma, came to us and showed my cousin her result. She was saying, “Uncle, uncle, see my result, see my result.” She came first. Andrew showed it to me and I commented it was a good result. She was smiling with dimples. We gave her back the result and she ran inside.
When later I was in the university, in my second year, the RAMBLAS dance band from Ghana came for a dance show. One Esther, who is a family friend, brought one of her friend, Patricia to the dance show. We danced together all through the night and then I went back to my hostel at Bello hall. The next morning, Esther brought Patricia to my room. Before we could know it, we became friends, and she started coming to see me from Enugu every weekend. Then, one day, she asked me one question, “would you like to marry me?” I was 24 years old then and marriage had not come into my mind. Then, I told her to give me one week to think about it. Before I went to bed that night, I prayed to God to tell me if I were to marry Patricia.
The first night passed the second and the third also. Then on the fourth night as I was asleep, a girl was brought in front of me, and I was told, “This will be your wife.” I saw the girl smiling with dimples. I woke up and after a while of musing, I went back to sleep. The same revelation came again. Then I woke the second time and started pondering where I knew the girl with the dimpled cheeks that was revealed to me. Then I remembered the little girl I met in Benin, staying with the Mordis. Her name is also Patricia.
I started devising means to get in touch with her. Then, I decided to write to Andrew Anlidinnma, who was then in Sapele, because he had told me on that day of our first visit to Benin that the girl’s mother’s elder sister was the second wife of his father. But that she died at child-birth, and the child she gave birth to, Rosa Anlidinnma, his half-sister was also staying in Lagos with the girl’s mother, her aunt.
I therefore asked Andrew how I could reach her, and he said since I was spending my vacation in Lagos, he would give me a letter to Rosa. But that would be when schools were on vacation, because I would pretend the letter took me there, but with the objective of meeting with Patricia. So, I waited until schools were on vacation. Then, I told one of my cousins in Lagos, Joe Osuhor, to go with me to the girl’s house that I had a letter to deliver. Patricia’s step-father, whose house they were all staying in Lagos, was a policeman.
When we got there, they asked us in and we met her mother in the sitting room. She knew my parents. She welcomed me and we entered into a discussion. After a while, she went inside and called Rosa, telling her I had a letter for her. Rosa came and I gave her the letter, but, I was somewhat unhappy, because I wasn’t there to see Rosa. Later, she stood up again, went in and called Patricia to come and greet us. She came and greeted us, and I was happy to see her. But, she did not stay long with us. She withdrew to the room. Again, I became unhappy, because I felt I had not left any impression on her. I stayed long, but, she didn’t come out again, then I said to myself that I would repeat the visit. Then, I told her mother that we were leaving. She saw us to the door, then went inside and told Patricia to see us off. I turned back and saw her approaching, and my heart again was filled with joy. We got talking and I asked her when she would be going back to school and she told me. Then, I told her that I would ask my father to send one of his cars to Lagos so that it would take both of us back to Benin.
The car arrived a day to that day and we set out at the wee hours of the day to pick her. So, I now had the opportunity to sit down beside her and have a lengthy discussion, as we journeyed to Benin. That was how I started writing to her.
Before my graduation, I was offered a job in Benin, but I didn’t accept it and preferred rather to get a job in Lagos, which I did and waited for her to come back. When she finished, our relationship became a very serious one and we went to Umunede and got married on the 27th of December 1969.
So many couples start well, but end up in bitterness and regrets. But, your love for your wife seems ever new for the past 51 years. What’s the secret?
Aside my overwhelming love for her, my father also gave me a bitter pill immediately after our wedding.
Tell us about this bitter pill?
My father called me aside one day and said to me, “Son, I want to give you a bitter pill to swallow.” I looked at his hands and he was neither having a tablet nor a glass of water. In my bewilderment, he said, “you see, now you are married. The love is there, you are anxious and all of that. A time will come, when the whole thing will wane. What will sustain your marriage and love is this; anytime you say something or do something to your wife and she is angry, do not try to explain at that point the reason you did that thing, because if you start explaining, she in her anger would not want to listen to you. She will be talking and you will be talking too. Before you know it, you would have started abusing each other. You won’t know when you will tell her ‘go to hell,’ and that will invite the devil into your marriage. What you will do instead at that point, is to begin to tell her ‘I am sorry,’ which will save you a lot of things. It will calm her down. Then you can explain. It may not even be that day. Wait for a time when her mind is calm and then she will give you listening ears.
I tell you, before God and man, I have never at anytime lifted my finger on her. It has never happened. Also, we have never gone to any family or any person to settle any misunderstanding. It has never happened. “I am sorry,” is a self adjusting mechanism.
Do you have any remarkable experience?
I can vividly remember two remarkable experiences that were orchestrated by the devil to temper with my life. Of course, one of them backfired to the plotter, and I escaped the second by a hair’s breadth.
Can you give us an insight to these two experiences sir?
One interesting story in my life was how I did a business with one of my friends who thought that I had cheated him, and then try to make me mad, but his spell backfired on him. What happened was that he went to Ijebu to get some charms to “deal with me”. He came to my office and embraced me three times repeating some incantations. By the time our mutual friend Lawyer Soetan called to find out if Bamidele had been to my office, I replied in the affirmative and Soetan screamed. “Yea! He has carried out his threat!!” Months later Bamidele was mad!
The second one was when; I bought a 505 car from a friend, Lt. Colonel Lawrence Onoja, now a retired Major General. He left the car with his friend, Lt. Commander Ogwuji whom I was to pay to and collect the car, because Lawrence was traveling out of the country. I went to his friend with my wife, the transaction was made and the car key was handed over to me and I took the car.
It was later that I realised at a checkpoint that the particulars were not in the car. But God saved me that the soldiers who flagged me down at the check-point couldn’t understand what was going on. They saw their insigma on the windscreen and asked me to go.
I drove down to Lt. Commander Ogwuji the following day to get the papers. This was during Major General Mamman Vasta’s coup. The moment Ogwuji saw me; he said he knew what I had come for. Then he quickly went inside and brought out the car particulars. He also came out with a chilled bottle of beer and a chair and asked me to sit down and join him and his friend who was there with him to take a beer. I declined the offer politely. He pressed further, but when he saw I wasn’t interested, he let go. I was just leaving his apartment, descending down, when I saw eight heavily armed military men climbing up to his apartment. The one at the front was carrying a very heavy iron. When I passed them, they stopped for a while communicated among themselves as if deciding whether to arrest me or not. But they weren’t sure as they doubted which apartment I was actually coming from. The moment I got down, I heard a very loud bang on a door, almost sounding like a bomb. I quickly entered my car and drove off.
When I got home and tuned on to my television, it was announced that Lt. Commander Ogwuji had been arrested together with the friend that I met drinking with him. Both were tried in connection with Major General Vasta’s failed coup and Lt. Commander Ogwuji, the General and others were found guilty and were executed. The friend who was having a drink with Ogwuji was in detention for six months. That would have been my fate and I would have lost my job and my life would have been twisted!
What is your take on the Political situation?
I am not a politician, but two things are uppermost in my mind: security and unity of this country. Never in the history of Nigeria has there been insecurity and the country’s unity been so threatened. People are afraid to travel, kidnapping evry where, farmlands are being ravaged by cows whose guards are armed with AK47. No attempt is being made to disarm them even though those with legitimate inferior weapons were asked to return them. Migrants carry weapons and boast that God gave them the land. They are not migrants but conquerors! Since protection is not coming from the FG, regional armies are now being formed which is a threat to the unity of the country. God save Nigeria.
Your best food?
My best soup is Egusi soup and Oatmeal.
How do you relax?
I start the day with morning mass and then hop on the Chinese mat 10,000 times. I play the piano for relaxation.
What will you like to be remembered for?
I was the Financial Secretary and Treasurer of Onu Ika for twelve years. When I left, the positions were split into two. My holding the two positions simultaneously was a mark of confidence in me. My wife and I have tried to impact positively on our society. Apart from our children, we have trained 12 boys and girls, some from primary to tertiary institution. When we see them as doctors, bankers, economist, etc we are full of joy. I like to be remembered as a humanitarian, one who tried to do good and struggled to serve God well.
Who are your mentors or role models?
My mentor was Dr. Christopher Abebe – Chairman UAC African. He started his working life with the UAC in Umunede. He was very close to my dad who also worked with the UAC. I spent my long vacations with him and the family at number 2 Kingway Road Ikoyi. He was a very simple man and very hard working. His honesty goes beyond description. He took me as one of his children and I always ate with him and his family at table. As we went to work in the same car, he would tell me the importance of honesty and moderation in life. He lived a life of chastity and this greatly impacted on me. Even when he became the father-in-law of the president of Nigeria to (Obasanjo), he did not show-off for it. He was my role model.
Any comment about Corona Virus
On corona Virus, let us keep to the rules and regulations set by WHO, our governments and our various churches. We should take it seriously and not wait until it comes to our doorsteps.
Your knighthood in the church?
Since my dad was a knight of the Catholic Church, when I came back home in 2010, I had enough time to join the knight of St. Mulumba of which I am a 3rd degree knight at the moment.
Your headship in your church in Umunede?
Leadership of Immaculate Heart Catholic Church, Umunede: This was sort of family trend. When there was only one Catholic Church in Umunede – Sacred Heart, my late dead was the Head Christian of Immaculate Heart, I was not too surprised. I am very lucky to be heading Christians who are not turbulent. I will continue to assist the priests in their work of evangelization. The big challenge of Christianity in this part of the world is their intrinsic belief in witchcraft, voodooism and the mistaken belief that the enemy is behind every misfortune one encounters in life. We will continue with the task of turning our people to true Christian Worship free from “dreams” and Miracles”.