ENCOMIUM Weekly has been given an insight into how billionaire mogul and Chairman/Group Managing Director of Ekulo Group, Chief (Sir) Emma Bishop Okonkwo, OFR emerged Ikenga Ichi in Ekwusigo LGA of Anambra State.
In an exclusive interview with ENCOMIUM Weekly’s Associate Editor, UCHE OLEHI, one of his uncles, Chief Sam Okonkwo explained how the kind-hearted tycoon stepped into his forefathers’ exalted traditional office.
The Managing Director of Fairpoint Nigeria Limited also reviewed the coronation ceremony of the new Igwe Ichi, HRH Igwe Lawrence Nwafor Okonkwo (Anamanalike III), giving the credit of its huge success to the civility and maturity of Ichi people.
Chief Okonkwo, who is also Enyiagbaso of Ichi, equally commended Bishop Okonkwo for deploying his resources in the service of his people.
The enterprising mogul had initially taken us through his rapidly expanding business empire, Fairpoint Limited. He also delved into the challenges of doing business in Nigeria.
You are a businessman?
Yes, I manage and direct Fairpoint Nigeria Limited.
How long have you been in business?
I was actually born into a business family. Even while in school, I was already in business. Business has always been part and parcel of my life. But we’ve been in active business for 30 something years.
Has business been all that rosy?
Certainly not (laughs). It has not been too rosy. But you know the harder the battle, the sweeter the victory. Nigeria itself is battling inconsistency in policy. There has been policy summersault that makes planning very difficult. For instance, you wake up this morning to see that the exchange rate has hit the roof, the stock market is crumbling, major factors of productions are beyond control, amongst other shocks.
And because we have elections coming up, it means everything has to be ‘switched off’ until April or whenever election is eventually held. Such are parts of the problems.
Fairpoint produce goods or it only distributes?
We have a lot of plans for manufacturing. At the moment, we still have factories under construction. For now, we develop quality products we import. In fact, we do contract manufacturing of very popular brands.
Can you unveil some of your brands, sir?
We have a litany of products. We have the food section which goes under the name, Mega Food Products. Here you have Mega Mackerel. We can beat our chest that it is the best in Nigeria today. There is also Mega Sardines, Mega Mixed Meal for people on the go. There is also the Mega Tomatoes. We equally have Vero Non Alcoholic Wines. Then, Eggovin which is our baby. Also on our stable are alcoholic drinks like OC Blue Whisky, Lord and Master, among others. How did I forget our premium bitters, Yacht Bitter, made in Netherlands?
So, in all, Fairpoint is on ground when it comes to quality products?
You can say that again. We are the home of premium products.
Recently, Ichi people of Ekwusigo LGA of Anambra State coronated a new monarch in the person of HRH Igwe Lawrence Nwafor Okonkwo, Anamalanike III, Igwe Ichi. What gave cause for the massive celebration?
That’s a good one. I am proud to be from Ichi. And I am particularly proud to be from the Okonkwo lineage. What happened reminds the world of the saying, if you thought Ichi is a small town, invade them and see what would happen to you. The successful coronation ceremony of the new Igwe Ichi re-echoed this in a very big way. It is not too easy, especially in Anambra State, where succession crisis usually erupts, for Ichi to do theirs without any rancor. We are really happy for how things turned out.
Why did it take your community all of 12 years to coronate a new Igwe after the demise of the last king?
I think that whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well. When the former Igwe died, Ichi people thought it wise that this is a newer generation and we needed to review our history. To start with, we are very proud of our heritage. But what we simply did was to articulate the wisdom of our fathers and put it under one umbrella which is our constitution. We wanted to leave behind a landmark the next generation would appreciate. The only time you get people to totally agree without opposition is when you have mainly ignorant people or even fools. People will disagree to agree, but at the end of the day, those with superior argument would have their way.
Who was the late monarch and how are the Okonkwos related to the new Igwe?
The late Igwe was Igwe Obibuenyi Okonkwo. We are from the same lineage. Our patriarch is Chief Ezemelugini. He had four sons: Duokandu, Ezemekwu, Onyilianwu and Ifine.
Chief Emma Bishop Okonkwo is now Ikenga Ichi, was this title conferred on him by the new Igwe of Ichi?
It’s not possible. No, he didn’t. History has a way of repeating itself. When I look at what happened lately, I agreed there’s no accident in God’s work. He must have a purpose for everything He does. Like what was said in Romans 8 vs 23, 39. Everything God does is planned and pre-planned. For those He predestined, He called and for those He called, He justified and glorified. And that was exactly what happened. The Igwe didn’t give Bishop the Ikenga Ichi title. He rather inherited it. The staff of Ikenga was bequeathed to him by his forefathers. The Ofo (the staff) was highly revered in the olden days. A symbol of authority like the mace, people couldn’t undertake any venture without the Ofo. They needed to assemble with the staff and pray for favour even before going to war. It was more like the ark in Israel. It is this staff of Ikenga that we all celebrate in Ichi. In fact, anybody that holds it would have to cap the Igwe. So, it was Emma Bishop who did that. It is a hereditary title. It belongs to his lineage of which I am one of the beneficiaries. It could be me or anybody tomorrow. But the family has to select who is capable of holding the communal staff. That made Bishop, Ikenga Ichi.
What’s your relationship with Ikenga Ichi?
Emma Bishop Okonkwo, Ikenga Ichi is my nephew.
The palace is now wearing a new look with eye-popping edifices. Was this project executed by the town union?
No. That is why I said everything God does is planned. Bishop is like the ancient Ikenga Ichi (Ifine) who was highly philanthropic. He raised his nephew who was practically neglected by his brothers after his father’s death. And in our generation, Bishop is continuing with this kind act. He deployed his resources for the good of the community. From what Bishop told us, when the Igwe was alive, he (Ikenga Ichi) told him he wants to assist him in celebrating Ofala (an annual traditional ceremony) but the Igwe said he would rather prefer he built him a house. The Igwe reportedly lamented he doesn’t have a befitting home, should he pass on then. Bishop promised to look into the issue at God’s time. When Bishop started building an estate, everybody was like, what is going on, until he got it finished and handed over to them. Incidentally, that was when the Igwe’s son was ascending the throne. When you look at this coincidence, you would see it’s something that had been done before, that was repeated in his generation. And he was the flagbearer, while we are the partakers. I’m so excited.
The coronation ceremony of the new Igwe is one landmark that would be on the lips of many for years…
Yes, it was a landmark. And thank God we witnessed it. We were part of the history.
And what’s your last word for your people, especially eminent Nigerians who honoured Ichi people with their presence at the traditional coronation ceremonies?
We should all emulate good things. We should all endeavour to look after one another. We must all at all times, act collectively, with the building and pulling together the oasis of trust and honesty that would create a happy and modern society.