• Fri. May 24th, 2024


Dec 26, 2017

Human existence and sojourn on earth is primarily accentuated with a lot of uncertainties. That is why from the day a man is born, he starts going through the crucibles of life, confronting the vicissitudes that are permanent features of life’s journey. Many people allow themselves to be overwhelmed and defeated, while some others refuse to give in, and in the process become a part of those rare individuals who have helped to shape their immediate environments and the world at large. It is with the above statement in mind, that we introduce our personality of the week, in the person of Mr. Steve Ekiri Mekiriuwa Ashien, the ever committed Chief Executive Officer and publisher of Ika Weekly Newspaper.
Mr. Ashien who was born in 1947 at Ewuru, Ika South Local Government Area of Delta State obtained his Primary School Leaving Certificate from the then Local Authority (L.A) Primary School Ewuru, in 1960. Even though he had strong interest in western education, he could not go beyond that level because of financial constraints.
Speaking to a team of Ika Weekly reporters in his office at Agbor on Monday, Mr. Ashien disclosed that he had memorable experiences of his growing up years at Ewuru, adding that he did what his peers did in those days, like going to the farm, leaving Ewuru by 4 am to Orogodo to sell firewood before returning back to go to school, also going to the nearest river at Aliokpu which is about 10 kilometres away to fetch water.
He explained that he was the first from his school in Ewuru, sometime in 1957 or 1958 to be baptised at Agbor-nta because he was very good in Catholic Catechism and English Language, to the extent that he was detailed to teach his fellow pupils.
He said that after his primary education, he left for Warri in 1961 and stayed with his elder sister and her husband and then had a stint in, selling newspapers as a vendor. In between, he took common entrance examination into Hussey College, Warri, which he passed but could not raise the five shillings needed for his interview which put a stop to his dream of moving further academically.
According to him, he was taken to an Igbo business man, Mr. Patrick Offor who had a bookshop, called PORAS BOOKSHOP, where he got the opportunity of venturing into book selling. He said that Mr. Offor and his wife took very good care of him. In 1966, however, he said he completed serving his master and opened his own bookshop, which he called Stephen Ashien’s Bookshop in Warri main market, and interacted widely with many students such as John Kayoma, now a medical doctor in the U.S who became and is still his closest and best friend.
Mr. Ashien explained that when he completed his books selling apprenticeship, he could not get the money to start his own Bookshop immediately so he had to start working as a helper to bricklayers, before he was able to start his own in that same year, 1966.
In the heat of the Nigeria/ Biafran war, in 1967, Mr. Ashien said he relocated to Agbor, and established what is his own bookshop which was then popularly known as Central Bookshop Ltd, thus becoming one of the first Ika persons to set up a major Book selling outlet in Agbor, which before then was dominated by our brothers across the Niger.
He however noted that his steady rise from 1967 when he came back from Warri to Agbor was outstanding because bookselling then was very lucrative.
“I had a wonderful patronage from people both within Ika land and outside. In fact, Agbor was a melting point then, and people were coming from faraway places like Uromi, Auchi, Ogwashi-Uku, Abraka, Obiaruku and other surrounding towns and villages to buy books from me.
“I had excellent relationship with publishers particularly Evans Brothers, who’s Managing Director then was a Dutch (a white man) known as Mr. Joop Berkhout, who developed special interest and liking for me, as a young boy in the books selling business”.
He said the Dutch man who is now the Chairman Managing Director of Spectrum Books Ltd, Ibadan did all he could to encourage and help him, to the extent of giving him a Station Wagon car in 1971 which was his first private car at a very discounted rate. He added further that it was the Book Sellers Workshop and the excursion to the University of Ibadan Press Bookshop and Library organized by the management of Evans Publisher in 1968 that fired his interest in setting up a library, which was only realised in 2008, 40 years after.
He disclosed that they formed the Midwest Books Sellers Association then, which had Chief Aideyan of Aideyan Bookshop in Benin as Chairman, himself as Secretary, while his very good friend Mr. Okebor from Uromi was Treasurer. He added further that Adeyan Bookshop was the biggest bookshop in the whole of the then Midwest region, with Akinjobi Bookshop being second while himself, Central Bookshop Ltd was number three.
Mr. Ashien explained that he had always had the desire to create employment opportunities for people, saying that he tried establishing cassette producing company in collaboration with a German company between 1976 and 1977 which did not materialize because of some reasons. But he was later able to establish a toilet paper manufacturing company under the name, Central Industries Ltd in partnership with late Chief Alfred Nzemeke, whom he described as the finest gentleman of Agbor extraction he has ever come across.
According to him, Central industries Ltd was one of the first companies to get loan from the then Small Scale Loan of Bendel State, where he got Eighty Thousand Naira (N80,000) between 1977 & 1978 which he used to buy the toilet paper equipment through R.T Brisco. He said they started production late 1979 with about 10 staff, but said that by the mid 80s, the staff strength had grown to about 35 with over five graduates as Admin Manager, Engineer, Accountant, Sales Manager etc.
He said the factory which was one of the earliest in Ika land was located at Ewuru, revealing that he was also a director in RENEA Industries Limited also at Ewuru which was managed by Mr. John Ehikwe, and was owned by about eight of them.
He stated that the equipment used in starting another factory, SNOW WHITE Paper and Pulp Mill, which was along Omumu Road was wholly imported by Central Industries Ltd at a cost of (Two Hundred and fifty Thousand Dollars) $250,000.00 in 1984, which was cleared from the seaport with Five Hundred Thousand Naira (N500,000.00) including transportation to Agbor . He added that after the arrival of the equipment, late Dr. George Oka Orewa, impressed with the size and sophistication of the equipment advised that he (Mr. Ashien) and late Chief Alfred Nzemeke to accept other people on board, saying that, that was how people like Dr. G. O Orewa, Mr. John Ekikwe, late Clement Orewa, late Mr. Issah, Mr. Emma Afambu, Mr. Julius Onwubuya and others came on board.
Mr. Ashien disclosed that before they imported the equipment for Snow While Pulp and Paper Mill, he had travelled to Europe twice with Dr. Orewa to source for the machines but when they could not succeed, a very good Chinese friend of his, then based in Aba called Mr. M.K. Chen found one in China with which Central Industries Ltd. opened the letter of credit for $250,000.00 (Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Dollars) He said that it was actually to be a joint venture with Mr. Chen because they were supposed to crush bamboo trees into pulp before pulping it into toilet paper in jumbo reels, but Mr. Chen later withdrew.
He disclosed that some time in the 80s he cultivated a large pineapple plantation located along Benin/Asaba Expressway, (former RCC yard ) before Ewuru Road junction, adding that the farm had as much as thirty five thousand pineapple stands saying that people were coming from Benin City, Lagos and other places to buy for export. He said he had a large portion of land in the open place (former RCC yard).
In all these, he explained that they did their best to enhance the industrial profile of Ika land, through trying to turn Ewuru into an industrial area, an effort that attracted electricity and telephone services to the community. In fact, he disclosed that he personally provided the first transformer for Ihu-Iyase in early 80s when electricity was brought to the area, which was later used for only Ewuru and the transformer only went bad in 2007, noting that himself, Dr. Orewa, Mr. Ehikwe and Afambu were all instrumental to the success story of the industrial transformation of Ewuru. He also disclosed that himself and Dr. Orewa made concerted efforts to bring a branch of United Bank of Africa (UBA) to Agbor, noting that because of the impressive turnover of the account of Central Industries Ltd at the Abudu branch of the bank, he spoke to the Manager to convince Lagos Head Office to grant the request of having a branch at Agbor. He said he also contacted his very good friend, Mr. Ralph Osayeme the then UBA Area Manager in Benin who tried using his position to facilitate the establishment of UBA in Agbor, which unfortunately did not materialize before things fell apart for him.
They sent bank officials on many occasions to survey possible locations, which himself and Dr. Orewa always conducted them round.
Mr. Ashien recalled the role he played during the disarray that hit schools in the State in the 1980s when chalk, writing materials and school diaries were in acute short supply. He said that he assisted by going to his very good friend, Chief Benjamin Elue (A onetime Deputy Governor of Delta State) who owned or still owns a chalk industry at Obior to gather all broken chalks in bags which he paid for and sent his staff from Ewuru to go and collect for distribution to the various schools in Ika land. That was how schools in Ika nation had chalks to write with. He also revealed that he was able to give note books to a few schools in Ihu-Iyase to use as diaries and registers. He equally said that he provided ceiling boards for Agwa-Ewuru Secondly School when Aghedoh was the principal.
In 1995, or there about according to him, he was responsible for patching Imudia Street, between Mariere Street and Dr. White Street, that went bad after seeking for help from Ika Local Government Council and the Ministry of Works who did nothing saying that this was the first time he was openly mentioning it. The job according to him was handled by his very good friend, Chief Larry Onyia, who did the costing, with the money provided by him with the understanding that he Larry must never disclose the person doing it.
He said his house along Ojeifoh Street which he moved into in 1971 used to be a beehive of activities as his wife was always cooking food for the numerous visitors that came to the house any time of the day and night, saying that his wife was a wonderful and hard working woman during their book selling years. He further stated that by 1972 he already had a car with a driver and in 1973 had two cars, making him the youngest car owner with a driver in the whole of Ika land then. He said he was always changing his cars every year courtesy of Evans Publishers. He stated further that in 1991 he moved into his present house at Ewuru Street, off Andy Iyamah Street, Agbor.
Mr. Ashien, who has travelled far and wide both within Nigeria and Europe said that he was blessed with wealth early in life, disclosing that as a bookseller in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s he had pickups, but that unfortunately two of them were together involved in a fatal accident close to Ewuru road junction along the expressway in 1977. They were completely destroyed, but luckily, they were insured as every of his property then was always insured.
The dogged Ika Weekly Publisher revealed that he loves travelling, saying that he used to travel to Europe at least every four to six months, because it cost just One Thousand Five Hundred Naira (N1, 500) for a return ticket then, including hotel accommodation and other expenses, adding that one did not have to go to the Embassy to obtain visa to gain entry into the United Kingdom then because of the Commonwealth status of Nigeria as one was always issued visa at the airport in U.K.
He said he was the chairman of the committee constituted by late Dr. Orewa with other members which included Mr. Josiah Olukwu for the sole purpose of resolving the boundary dispute between, Alifekede and Omumu, which was a thorn in the flesh to both communities then, which he said was finally settled with both sides feeling satisfied.
He pointed out that in between those years when he had flourishing businesses concerns, he assisted in seeing not less than two persons through the University, not less than four persons through Colleges of Education, two in Abraka even before it became a University and a good number in the secondary school, all in the 70s and early 80s . He also said that God used him to start businesses for about five persons.
Mr. Ashien said what helped him was the fact that while growing up in the village, he was hardworking, enduring, and loving community work.
He said he started publishing Ika Weekly Newspaper in 1989, to disseminate information, with Mr. Loverage Okwuidegbe who is now a lecturer at College of Education, Agbor as the Editor, adding that they could not go on as a result of lack of fund and low patronage.
Mr. Ashien noted that one of the things he enjoys most in the course of his selling books is that today, wherever he goes to, he is still remembered and acknowledged by those who schooled within Agbor, Asaba and Obiaruku and environs as someone who contributed to the educational development of people. He stated that almost every school principal within Anioma area then was his good friend, saying that he used that privilege to assist a lot of people to gain admission into secondary schools and Teacher Training Colleges (TTC) when it was very difficult to gain admission without any one of them paying a kobo in those days.
He said he also tried revitalizing the Ika language in the early 70s through the publication of “Ekwukwo Ogungun Ika” written by Mr. Eric Ogboi, but unfortunately the people refused to embrace it, after having spent huge sums of money to publish the books and going from school to school.
He stated that when he fell on hard times and became completely bankrupt, only very few people stood by him. Such persons included Mr. John Ehikwe who then was based in UK. He said Mr. Ehikwe made great efforts, with good arrangement going to the extent to have him relocate to London, saying Mr. Ehikwe and his children were very supportive and always sending him money, encouraging him in so many different ways. But he refused to relocate based on the fact that many of his good friends and some of the people he helped were in the government at that time and he thought they would help him. But that was not to be. Another person he further mentioned was his very good friend Mr. John Okenabirhie, an Urhobo man who was always coming from Warri to Agbor to see how he was faring and to make sure he was still alive, adding that Mr. Okenabirhie who owns a toilet paper factory and a big hotel in Warri and his wife did their best to make him comfortable and happy. Many a time, they invited him to their house in Warri and was always giving him money. Late Elder John Omo-Ikirodah, he said, was another wonderful person he will never forget. He said these two people did so much to restore him back financially but, unfortunately, Elder Ikirodah died before his plans and arrangements could materialise. He disclosed that it was Elder Ikhirodah that took him to Aso Rock, Abuja, to see Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the then president of Nigeria who was a very good friend of Elder Ikirodah.
Another person, he stated was Chief Ukwuadinachi and his wife, whom he described as wonderful and caring people, who were regularly giving him money to survive. He said that even though he could not repay all the money given to him by these kind individuals, they never stopped assisting and caring for him. He said the sister, Madam Rosa Onwubuya, who is like a mother to him was always coming to the house to see him, giving him money and was always crying over what befell him. He pointed out that there was also Elder Ignatus C. Okoisama, a native of Obior, who stood by him. According to him, he will remain eternally indebted and grateful to these and other persons who identified with him in his time of despondency. He said all the people he helped in the 60s, 70s and 80s all abandoned him. His brother in-law Prof Pat Idoye also showed a lot of concern and was always sending him money from the U.S. He said his sister in-law, Dr. Mrs. Ogwu was also not left out as she too was very helpful, and he will ever remain grateful to her. He revealed that at a time, he was arrested and looked up at Owa-Oyibu police station, by a money lender to whom he was indebted.
Mr. Ashien, who today is affecting lives in numerous ways said that at that time, he tried his hands on various ventures but they all failed woefully saying that his attempt at selling second-hand books from Ghana and some other enterprise, all failed, including becoming a salesman to his very good friend, Mr. Morgan Agbonlahor, a Pineapple Juice producer, saying that he went to beg him to start selling his products and the man obliged but unfortunately the attempt also failed. He said he used to go to Ghana to buy second-hand books, and was going from one university and polytechnic to another in places such as Ilorin, Auchi, Abraka and other major towns to sell the books but that also failed. He recalled an incident that happened at Auchi while he was under scorching sun selling books, a girl approached to ask him if he was the father of Priscilla one of her friends, and on answering in the affirmative, she stared at him for some minutes in surprise and walked away shaking her head in sadness, wondering why he Mr. Ashien could fall to that level.
He said that while at home during these years, having nothing to do, he was always reading because at that point in time, books were his only companion adding that whenever he got any amount of money, like N1000 which was a lot of money to him then, he would go to Benin to buy second-hand books at Oba market. He said he read so much at that time, that he became afraid that his eyes could go bad. He however give thanks to God that his eyes were okay.
On the return of Ika Weekly Newspaper on the newsstand after almost 18years, Mr. Ashien said that in the late 2005, he managed to get some amount of money together which he used in renting his former office along old Lagos/Asaba Road opposite Mary Mount College and decided to go back to his former publishing business, which he was doing along with the toilet paper business in the 80s.
However, he admitted that December, 2006 was very rough and probably the worst December in his life that he almost lost hope having only N2000 on him for the Xmas coupled with the approaching expiration of the office rent. He said he was given a stipulated time to pay or move out from the office but miraculously, before the time could elapse, he was able to get money to pay part of the rent while the balance was paid later.
Continuing, he pointed out that the right person; Mr. John Ehikwe that would have been favourably disposed to bailing him out then had travelled but said that before the money with him got finished, his daughter in Germany sent him a hundred Euros which helped him a great deal. He also added that another person, Mrs. Angela Ngozi Okoruwa who is like a stepdaughter to him, resident in Canada also sent him $100. Mr. Ashien disclosed that immediately he got the monies, a strong urge to sell some of his personal and precious belongings took hold of him which he did and realized about N300, 000 from which he was able to settle some very pressing debts of t N50, 000 and then used the balance N250,000 to commence the publication of Ika Weekly. He said after having discussions with Mr. Joe Osieze Onyibe, he became the Editor-in-Chief of the paper. He said he paid N170, 000 for three motorcycles after which he was left with about N70,000.
He explained that after each edition, it was always difficult to predict whether he would be able to continue, noting however that God sustained him beyond his imagination as he’s still sustaining the vision.
He said he can never forget the overwhelming support and encouragement he received from the public, many of whom he did not even know, through personal visits, phone calls, letters of commendation and some with money saying that it was the unparalleled support that really spurred him on.
He disclosed that the first persons that sent money to him were Admiral Peter Isimoya Eluma (rtd) and Chief (Mrs.) Henrietta Ajuebon-Egbarin, J.P. He said he was pleasantly surprised when both gestures came because he was really not expecting such magnanimity, adding that since then, Chief (Mrs.) Egbarin has consistently been assisting Ika Weekly Newspaper both financially and morally. He said she has been most wonderful.
Mr. Ashien observed that there were a lot of hitches here and there but emphasized that God’s mighty hands were upon the project; because of the way problems were being effortlessly solved.
He praised the effort of members of staff particularly Mr. Joe Osieze Onyibe, the Editor-in-Chief whom he eulogized for his broad knowledge and dedication to duty, noting that on several occasions, they had to sleep in the office or start work as early as 4.00am on Fridays to be able to meet up with publication. He also appreciated the efforts and commitment of Mr. Jonathan N. Onwuka, the News Editor for his good writing skill and dedication to duty. Mr. Fred Sunday Orisedumbiri the senior Computer Graphic man for his unparalleled commitment to seeing Ika Weekly Newspaper succeed, Miss Joy Ulebor, Miss Ukamaka Nwajei, Mr. Ikechukwu Oboko, all of Computer Department, Mr. Sunday Olise, Mr. Samuel Chinyem among others, saying that all the staff have all done wonderfully well. He added further that he has always been blessed with good and hardworking staff even right from the Central Industries days to the present Ika Weekly Newspaper.
He remembered running into a hitch with the staff a little over a month after the paper came out over salary issue. The workers he said went on strike because he was yet to pay them their April salary on the 8th of May and also because people were telling them that the publisher will not be able to continue the publication. It was a very serious, damaging and dangerous rumour that people were peddling all over the place very much to my hearing. But because I was very determined, I closed my ears and eyes and by the special grace of God, I was able to overcome. The person and persons behind the rumours and their aims and objectives will be made public knowledge later. He said he pleaded with the staff but they refused, so when he got home, he prayed earnestly to God to help him whom He God did in a most wonderful way and the issue was resolved.
Mr. Ashien still reiterated his gratitude to a lot of people in particular, Chief (Mrs.) Henrietta Ajuebon-Egbarin, who has been tirelessly supportive, Chief Dr. Edwin Kalikwu and Mr. Mitti Akwara, whom he refers to as Ika Weekly U.S. ambassadors. Mr. Lawrence Adagbon who incidentally was one of his staff in the factory in the 80s who has always been very supportive also.
He also extended his appreciation to Mr. Smart Onwuka, his personal driver of over 20years and James Egbule, another of his former staff, who remained with him even when it was so clear that he could not pay their salaries for a very long time because of the faith they had in him.
He emphasized that the greatest miracle is that in spite of what he has went through; he has never been admitted in the hospital for any ailment.
He however, regretted the sudden death of his only son, Benjamin Chukwuemeke Ashien on April 21, 2001 in the heat of the crisis that assailed him, adding that since that unfortunate incident, nothing bothers him anymore, no matter what people say or do to him, saying that in all things, he has learnt to give glory to God.
Mr. Ashien stated that he holds no grudge against anybody stressing that he had to go through the ugly experiences and afflictions which have made him understand the world and its people the more.
He expressed his appreciation to the proprietor of Johnson Supermarket whom he described in superlative terms as being very wonderful and of great assistance to Ika Weekly Newspaper, advertising and promoting the paper through words of mouth and printing and placing of posters and handbills at strategic places in his supermarket.
On his role models, Mr. Ashien who is a practicing Catholic named St. Augustine and his mother St. Monica who prayed for the conversion of her son, St. Augustine who was a rascal in his early years, for many years before he got converted and became one of the greatest Catholic Bishops ever. He is referred to as Doctor of Grace. He also mentioned late Chief Obafemi Awolowo who used his privileged position to touch many lives by instituting Free Primary Education in 1955, without which, he said he probably would not have gone to school, and one Sister Ochieze, Directress of the Catholic Apostolic Ministry who runs a prayer house in the East, saying that she is a very wonderful woman. He particularly praised her for her humane and accessible nature, remaining humble in spite of thousands of people that come to see her every day.
On his hobbies and likes, Mr. Ashien says his hobbies and likes are reading, traveling, listening to good music and watching wrestling and eating delicious food.
He said one of his greatest desires is to see Ika Weekly Newspaper succeed along with her sister publications, Anioma Weekly that will soon debut and to also see St. Steven’s Library grow into international standard and for both ventures to outlive him.
He also revealed that he started writing a book in the 80s which Mr. Uche Nwani was helping to proof read which has been abandoned a long time now. He said his dream is to have it published some day. He promised to publish more volumes of his recently published Quotable Quotes from Great Minds which he said is selling very well.
Mr. Ashien said he appreciates Ika Weekly Newspapers’ numerous readers, advertisers and the general public particularly the good and enterprising people of Ika nation, both at home and abroad, in particular, members of Ika National Association, U.S.A saying he wished them a fruitful and rewarding National Convention. He enjoined Ika people to remain united and build a collective and formidable sense of purpose.
Finally, he said that his greatest prayer is to see a united Ika and also touch as many lives as he can for simple reason that God has touched and turned his life around in a miraculous way.

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