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PERSONALITY: GOD CARVED A WAY FOR ME – Alex Onyeagwu

Feb 20, 2020
ALEX ONYEAGWU

Our Personality of the Week is Mr. Alex Onyeagwu, a business mogul and a philanthropist who celebrated his 60th birthday recently. The President of the prestigious Prime League. He has in this interview attributed his success to God Almighty whom he said carved out a way for him.

 

Enjoy reading.

 

May we know you sir?

My name is Alex Onyeagwu . I was born on the 15th of January 1960 to Mr. B. S. C. Onyeagwu from Ogbemudein quarters and my mother, Mrs. Regina Omodolor Onyeagwu, from Ebudo, Oza-Nogogo. I am the first son of twenty-one (21) children of my parents. My father had three wives. But then, with our unity and love for one another, one would almost believe we are all from one mother. God has also been faithful to us in keeping us alive. Of the twenty-one children, nineteen of us are still alive.

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Mr. Alex Onyeagwu what is your take on polygamy?

Well, back in the days when polygamy was a norm, our fore-fathers who practiced it were not enlightened. Their ideology was narrowed down to the number of hands they needed to boost their farming which was their major source of livelihood. It was believed that the larger the number of children one had, the larger the farm produce one would get at each harvest, and consequently the richer one would become. The world is evolving and ideologies are likewise changing. It is now one man one wife.

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How was your growing up days?

My growing up days was very difficult, because coming from a humble background, my siblings and I needed to work very hard to actualize our goals and aspirations. A man with 21 children might not have had all it takes to send all of them to school. So, I relied so much on my ability to push myself after secondary school with the support of my mother.

I attended St. Patrick’s Catholic Primary School now Nosieri Primary School, Ime-Obi from 1966 to 1972. Thereafter, I proceeded to Gbenoba Grammar school then known as St. Colombus College, from 1973 to 1977.

When I left college, I briefly worked with Orikese Farm as accounts/wages clerk between 1977 and 1979 and saved some money for my education. Luckily for me, I was among the second set of people who wrote JAMB when it was introduced in 1978, and we were only two that passed the exam in Ime-Obi. Then I gained admission into the university. I was admitted into the University of Calabar where I obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Economics in 1983, I had my Executive MBA from the University of Benin in 1995.

I believe God carved a way for me. When I got that admission I knew to sponsor myself through higher institution would be a big challenge for me. With the little savings I was able to make from Orikese Farms, I was able to fulfill some of the financial requirements. I remember paying five hundred and twenty-seven Naira (N527) as both tuition and accommodation fees for the first year, including feeding. By that time we were being fed with 50kobo per meal, which was N45 per month, highly subsidized by the government.

The serenity of school environment and sizable number of students in a class are also worth commending. We were only 30 in our class and 27 of us graduated in 1983. I remember two could not continue and one died.

As soon as I gained that admission a new civilian regime came into being, the Administration of Professor Ambrose Ali, and he introduced bursary award for students in higher institutions. Students were paid N600, which was enough to offset my school bills. So, I was able to complete the 4 year university education by the divine grace of God. As soon as I graduated, Professor Ambrose Ali was ousted, and the bursary scheme stopped. So, I could see the hand of God in my life.

My Youth Service was done in Anambra State, at Teaching Service Commission. Thereafter, my late cousin, Chief Alfred Nzemeke, the Olihi of Agbor took me to the recruitment officer in Lagos, Mr. A.N Okoro, to give me a job in the UBA bank. I got the job. That was after my one year stay at home after graduation. So, life has never been easy in this country. Most people complain of staying at home after graduation. It has always been like that. So, it’s not a reason for anyone to make himself/herself unproductive or indulge in nefarious activities.

Immediately I was employed, I was transferred to Warri and at that time there were only two branches in Warri. After the training for one year, I was then transferred to Effurun branch. I worked there for just three years and became the accountant, the number two person in the hierarchy of the branch. I was always getting awards for exceptional performances. My managers would always tell me that if it were possible, they would give me 100 over 100. But, for formality sake, I should indicate areas where they would subtract one or two marks from my reports and papers.

Along the line, I started getting calls from corps members I had trained to thank me, and to announce to me that they had got jobs in new generation banks. The salaries they were being paid were even more than mine. So, in year 2000, I decided to leave UBA to join Manny Bank which is now part of Fidelity bank, and I became the manager. I worked there for six years, between year 2000 and year 2006.

After the merger of both banks: Manny bank and Fidelity bank, we were told that because our bank was a small bank, a manager would become an Assistant Manager in the new Fidelity bank. It wasn’t easy for me, because as at 1993, I was already an Assistant Manager in UBA. How then would I cope? So, I decided to leave.

But before then, God in his infinite mercy had already calved out a way that I would live my life after banking. In year 2003, I went out for marketing and met a young man who told me he knew me in UBA. He told me he was into fish importation, but he had no money to continue with it. I asked him how much it would cost to import a container of fish, a particular species called Croaker fish, and he said it would cost about N5million.I asked him how much he had, and he said he had only two hundred thousand naira (N200,000.00). Then I said, “If you are given N4.8million, how are you going to share the profit?” He said, “No! The owner will take everything.” I told him that that was not how business is done, that there must be a sharing formula. Then he said he would take 2%. But I insisted on something reasonable, which was 30% for him, while the owner of the capital would take 70%. That was how I got introduced into the fish business. 2yrs after, we made a profit of 4.7M. For the first N1millionprofit, I gave him three hundred thousand naira (N300,000.00). He knelt to thank me because N200,000.00 was fetching him N300.000.00, and he was also kept busy. That was how I eventually got into the fish business and today, I am at the top in the business. He slacked and after sometime we parted ways.

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Do you remember some of your old school friends?

Oh, yes. I remember so many of them. One of them is Sam Ogochukwu Otiegede. We were in the same arm all through my Primary and Secondary school days. So, he is my closest classmate. Another one is Mike Ebie, a Brigadier General in the Nigerian Army. He’s a brilliant man. He has a doctorate degree and still a soldier. He is from Owa. When he came to join us in our second year at Igbenoba Grammar School, I was told he was taking first in his former school, Adaigbo in Ogwashi-Ukwu. So, Mike, Joseph Onyenakwe alias Sancho the Bad and I told one another we were going to compete for the first position. At the end of each term, one of us would take the first position and the other two would come out second and third respectively. We always embraced one another at the end of the term in spirit of sportsmanship. I also remember the late Barr. Ebite. He made the best aggregate in our set. Patrick Odiase was also my classmate.

 

Who were your principals?

The first principal I met was Mr. Enemo from Asaba, and then Mr. Daudu from Esan. Those were my principals.

 

Were there teachers that impacted greatly in your life?

Oh, yes. In fact, there is one still alive, Mr. Ologbo from Otolokpo. He was my Primary school teacher and played a magnanimous role in my success story. After I had my Primary School Leaving Certificate in 1971, my father said there was no money for me to go to college, since my three elder sisters were already in college. So, I had to repeat class six even when I never failed. When I passed again, my father said my sisters were still in College. Then, Mr. Ologbo came and told my mother and told her to take up the challenge and send me to College that I would be a great person in life.

 

Tell us about your immediate family

I am married to former Miss Cordilia Nmonye, and the marriage is blessed with four children. Our first daughter is about rounding up her PHD, and our three sons already have their master’s degree. They all schooled abroad. My daughter got married last year on March 6th 2019, and two days ago, I became a grandfather.

 

You spoke of your children in the academic world, is anyone likely to take over from you?

Not now, because I sat my children down one day and told them that they should not aim to be like me, but to be better than me. I know they will surpass me in all their endeavours. But then, I believe that with time, one of them will take over from me in this line of business, not as a sole business but one among many others.

 

Your younger brother is now the Managing Director/CEO of Zenith Bank.

Like I said, my brothers are all doing very well in their pursuit. My immediate younger brother is Ebenezer and he is the MD/CEO of Zenith Bank. He has always seen me as a sterling example to emulate. Some of siblings are chattered accountants, engineers etc and they are all doing very well in their respective fields.

 

How come you have made it this big despite your humble background?

Like I tell people, I am a destiny child. God already carved out the path I would tread for me. However, there were times when I was faced with difficulty as is synonymous with life; there must be ups and downs. Those are life vicissitude. Your ability to manage them counts a lot. However, in my trying times, God always brought someone to raise me up and to put me into a better position.

So, I try as much as possible to give back to humanity as a token of my appreciation for what God has done for me.

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You were once a banker and now a businessman? Which is more profitable?

I have gained a lot from both. Banking trained me to be a good businessman. I was taught endurance, discipline and carefulness in the banking sector. So, when I finally moved into business, it wasn’t difficult for me. I do tell people that you don’t jump into something you know nothing about or not prepared for. My advice for people is; go through training, acquire a skill, develop it and work hard. Once you are consistent and determined in whatever you’re doing, the sky will be your limit. Information Technology (IT) for instance is in vogue. The rich people are now into it. So, people should develop that spirit of creating something for themselves, and not waiting for paid employment.

 

Mr. Alex Onyeagwu, Could you tell us about the loan schemes and high interest rates in Nigeria banks?

If you look at banks in Nigeria, the overhead cost is outrageously high, as a result, the profit they make is not as much as what banks in developed countries make. The banking industry is a service industry where you mobilise funds from areas of surplus to areas of need. In Nigeria, people will always say the interest rates in the banks are very high, but they are not looking at the rates the banks also pay to generate funds.

 

What about loan advancement? Educate us on that

It is now a very difficult process to secure loan from the bank. This is because the rate of default is alarming. Most people have the poor mindset that loan from the bank is free money. Every time you don’t pay what you borrow from the bank, you are creating a problem for the bank, because, bank loans are classified. After 90 days, they are grouped into “performing” and “non-performing.” Then after 1 year, the non-performing ones are written off. That was the reason some banks failed, because the rate of default was higher than what they had. So, after writing off, they realised they had dug deep into their capital. Most of the monies in the bank are not owned by the bank; shareholders’ fund is just like 10% of the total money in the bank. The bulk of the money is for clients who patronise the bank. When they need their money and the bank is unable to provide it because someone has borrowed it and has refused to pay back, it becomes a huge problem for the bank.

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You are the president of Prime League

Yes. You’re right

 

For how long have you been the president?

This is the eleventh year. I became the president of the League in the year 2009.

 

Who was your predecessor and how long was he the League president?

My predecessor was late Tony Obuh and he was the League’s president for four years. Ideally, our constitution says two years in office at the first instance and another two years. Our present governor, Sen. Dr. Arthur Ifeanyi Okowa was once a president of the League, Mr. Goddy Ibeh was a president of the League, and Dr. Emmanuel Tibi was also a president of the League.

I would say I am a reluctant president of the League. This is because when Tony Obuh’s tenure was over, pressure was mounted on me to contest for the post of the president which I never thought of. In fact, I never wanted to hold any position in the League. But, members of the club insisted I should become the president of the League. I reluctantly agreed and became the president in May 2009.

When it was time for election to be conducted for who would be the next president, the League members insisted I should continue. In order not to be seen as going against the constitution, the house had to amend the constitution for my sake. It then became four years in the first instance and another four years. So, I was elected to start the first four years. So, that’s where I am today. The constitution was amended in year 2016, so my first four years will end this year 2020.

 

Mr. Alex Onyeagwu, what are the criteria to be a member of the League?

You must be a reputable male Ika indigene, from 30 years and above with sustainable means of livelihood, and one who is educated.

 

Are there no females in the League?

No. Our wives have formed the female arm and they call it Ladies of the League. So, their number one membership criterion is having a husband who is a member of Prime League.

 

The League is of high value to Ika people as the name implies. What then has been the League’s contribution to the growth and development of Ika nation?

Members of the League have done so much for Ika nation, individually and collectively. The present governor of Delta state like I earlier said, is a member of the League. Three League members came out at the beginning to contest for the position; Hon. Prince Sam Obi, Sen. Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, and Late Tony Obuh. We gave them level playing ground since the trio was from the League. But when after the Primaries, Sen. Ifeanyi Okowa emerged as the last man standing we threw our full support on him.  The League members were the first people that went to congratulate him. We also campaigned greatly for his reelection and late Tony Obuh was at the forefront of the campaign. Now we can see his blossom impact not only in the League, but on Ika nation, and Delta state at large.

We visit orphanage homes, yearly, where we donate chairs, food items and other things they need to carry on in life. We also render other humanitarian services, assisting individuals in dire situations. For instance, there was a girl that lost her family to fire outbreak at Abavo. We were of great assistant to her. We sponsored her university education.

 

What change has your presidency brought to the League?

First and foremost, we have increased in our membership strength. We were nineteen (19) when I joined the League. We are now fifty-two (52) active members of the League. My presidency has equally opened the door for young Ika people who want assistance. I get a lot of calls and requests which I pass to the governor and he has graciously attended to most of my requests.

 

You have mentioned Okowa so much and so well in this interview, what is your assessment of his performance so far?

Governor Okowa has truly done so well in his administration, especially in terms of empowerment, and road creation and reconstruction, beside other laudable developmental strides in the educational sector, health and others. Okowa is already writing his name in gold.

 

The governor has three more years to go. How prepared are our people to continue the good works, especially those around him and those he has empowered?

People I believe are contributing their own quotas to the development of Ika nation in different ways. But I also believe it is something we must really give robust attention to. I for instance, I am thinking of coming home with a new line of business to be established in Ika land. This will also create employment opportunities for the people.

It is a good thing that the Federal government has closed the borders to save us from chemical laden foods. So, we will do backward integration to help our people eat healthy foods and meats, and as well engage them in meaningful labour.

 

One of our cries is the upgrading of the College of Education into a University. Do you think there is any plan for that?

The governor from the much I know is not silent over it. Discussions are on ground for that. The school is presently half dead, and we will not sit back and watch it collapse fully. It is the only government higher institution we have here.

 

Mr. Alex Onyeagwu, you just celebrated your 60th birthday and you are not looking 60. What’s the secret?

I give God the glory for keeping me alive to celebrate my 60th birthday, because there are a lot of people I started the journey with but are no more. The grace of God is upon me. When people say I look younger than my age, I readily attribute it to peace of mind. I try to live a simple life. I don’t do anything to hurt my neighbour. I do not take anything that does not belong to me. I work hard and I exercise a lot. I eat well and drink moderately. I don’t smoke and I am not addicted to anything. I socialise; you can see that from the numerous number of people that graced my birthday ceremony. So, solitude is not my lifestyle. There is also longevity in my linage; my late maternal grandmother lived more than 110yrs. Also, my maternal grandmother lived very long.

Also, I believe that in life we need the blessing of our parents and the grace of God. I had two grandmothers that loved me so much. They showered me with prayers and blessings. I remember in those days, when I was a youngster, I would fetch water at the Obi’s palace, tie the jerry can to my bicycle and would ride 25km to my maternal grandmother at Oza-Nogogo to give the water to her. She was always praying for me, and she told me that in her next world, I would be her father. She also said that she would be my only female child, that I would be very rich and would send her to school oversea. She passed away in the year 1990, the very year I got married. In the year 1991, I had my first child, a girl, who is now the only female child among four children. All higher studies were all done in London. Now she has two Master’s degree certificates and is about rounding up her doctorate.

People say good things about me, and I return the glory to God who has ever been faithful to me. It is a pleasant thing to be alive and hear good remarks about one’s life from people who not sycophants and hypocrites. People who do not say anything to please you because they want something from you. Such good remarks always keep one on guard to do better and not to fall short of people’s expectations. I will always say it without mincing words that I am a product of God’s grace.

 

What’s your relationship with Ika people in Warri where you reside and Ika people generally?

I was a member of Agbor union, Warri, and was punctual at meetings and participated fully in all their activities. But at a point, I had to quit my membership because I could no longer meet up owing to my business schedules. However, I still maintain a good and cordial relationship with them. In the area of employment, I have Ika people as some of my staff. In fact, my general manager in Lagos is from Ogbemudein.

 

How are you showing your gratitude to God? What’s your relationship with Him?

I worship my God with all dedication. I equally believe in Man-God-Man. No one can see God. So, it is necessary we show prove of our love for God by also loving humans around us whom He has created. He said we should love our neighbours as ourselves. If we can’t show love to our neighbours, it is then impossible to claim we love God. This is the philosophy I believe in. I can’t see someone suffering and add to the person’s pains. It is both ungodly and inhumane. Rather, I will try within my capacity to wipe off the person’s tears.

 

What are the responses you get from people in your quest to render assistance to them?

Definitely, in life you must expect betrayal and blackmail from some of those you try to help. Some may even try to play a fast one on you. But, I don’t put those ones to heart, because, they are all part of life. I still go ahead to assist those in dire need of help within my capacity.

 

Do you have a foundation?

No, I don’t have a foundation. When I know there is an area that requires my attention, I gladly render my assistance.

 

Do you have any regret or pain in life?

The only pain I have is losing some beloved persons I wish were still alive. I have lost some good friends and relatives.

 

What Is your Philosophy of Life?

My philosophy of life is take life easy. Do to others what you wish they do to you. Respect everyone you come across. Humble yourself and God will raise you up. Be of assistance to those who need help, not minding what people will say.

 

What are the things you do to ease off?

I exercise a lot, after my morning prayers, and I love watching wrestling, and reading newspapers.

Also, I like travelling a lot. My business has taken me to almost all the continents in the world except Australia.  I have been to Japan, China, Dubai, UK, Italy, Denmark, Holland, Norway, Switzerland, Canada, USA, Uruguay, Argentina, and others.

 

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