70 candles for philanthropist extraordinaire, Ojomo Anaibe

ojomoThe white building on Ainabe Close, off Park Lane, Apapa appeared new this afternoon. It has been freshly ‘anointed’ with paint. The building, which seats in a large expanse of land, stirs a deep feeling to those who know Chief (Dr.) Ezekiel Aikohi Ainabe, the Ojomo of Ekpoma, Edo State and his rag to riches story.

The atmosphere in the well-furnished living room — with air conditioner that seemed permanently in a freezing temperature — shows how much of a stickler to perfection Ainabe is. The furniture is not only well arranged, but reveals his taste.

The soft-spoken, gentle and clean-living man peddles his culture, religion and humanity. So, don’t be thrown aback by his dialogues: God, life and business.

Being 70 years, tomorrow, offers many reminders of the barriers he overcame in becoming somebody from nobody: A reminder of the poverty ravished childhood, where he had to drop out of school, because there was no money; where his sister had to be married off, and the bride price used to roof the room of their mother. Perhaps, his story is one of the bittersweet tales of life. It seemed like a constant touchstone of divine intervention and the vagaries of fate.

Born on April 18, 1946 at Ujoelen, Ekpoma, Ezekiel’s parents were Pa John Agbator Obeke Ainabe, alias O’Jesu, a deeply religious man and Madam Oibo Ainabe.

With the kind of excitement that filled the room, you’d know how happy he were to be 70. The Knight of Anglican Church says, “I’m full of thanks to God for reaching the milestone.”

Very calmly, he adds, “as you grow older, you want to do good in the society, and more for your country.”

With a commendable look, you wonder if really the man is 70.

“Yes, I am,” he says. “At that age, all what’s on your mind is to leave a legacy… give back to the society from which you have benefitted so much.”

There’s a long pause. Anaibe’s phone rings. He looks at the caller’s identity and answers: “I will call you back, I’m having a media briefing.”

He confesses, “I have always known that God has a reason for making me who I am.”

An earnest man with pleasant personality, he says, in a low voice, “it gives me joy to be philanthropic. I spend a lot of my time doing philanthropic work and serving in religious capacities both of which I enjoy a great deal.”

He adds, “if I don’t do it, I wont feel happy. That’s what is helping me. I try not to hurt anybody. When I do, I go back to say I’m sorry.”

According to him, “when I have, I spend it, if I don’t, I can’t be satisfied. I enjoy it when I look at the ceiling and ask myself, what have I done for another person. That’s my joy.”

Ainabe has done so much for his people and immediate community not based on the hope of direct personal returns on his investments, but on the strong spirit of love and patriotism. He contributed substantially to the building of a town hall for Ekpoma community, built an assembly hall for the local grammar school in his village, as well as, providing job opportunities for several persons in his companies and elsewhere.

He has been a benefactor to humanity through his invaluable contributions to Rotary International and the Church, where he is one of the knights in armour and philanthropic gestures generally.

His philanthropy, sense of humility and contributions to the development of his immediate environment compelled the traditional ruler of his town Ekpoma, headquarters of Okpebho Local Council of Edo State, to confer on him, a chieftaincy title, Ojomo of Ekpoma (extraordinary child is what ojomo means), in 1984.

By dint of Spartan discipline and unflagging perseverance, he has, over the years, acquired academic laurels and become one of the notable captains of industry in Nigeria. He attended St. Mark’s Anglican Primary School and St Peter’s Anglican Secondary Modern School, between 1955 and 1963 in Ujoelen. Between 1966 and 1970, he had his secondary education at the Western Boy’s High School, Benin City, but had to drop out, though, he was to later complete his education, bagging an MBA from the Syracuse University, New York, in 1980.

The Rough, Painful Road To Success
Most success stories have elements of sacrifice. Enaibe has them in quantity. So, what, in his estimation, is the secret of his success?

“Determination,” he says, adjusting his seat.

Ainabe was fortunate to go to school. This is more as a result of his position in the polygamous setting. His father had two wives. The approach adopted generally in such families in respect of the education of children was that one child from each wife would be sent to school and the others would be helping their father in the farm. Michael, Ezekiel’s elder brother, was already going to school on his mother side, and Aidenojie, on the second wife’s side, was next to be sent to school. By that arrangement, he was supposed to be in farm. But fate played a good one and the Action Group (AG) introduced Free Education Programme, which was the springboard for his education.

What was on his mind when he decided to leave home, was it to continue education or to go into business?
Ainabe, who wears a permanent smile, which easily points out his humorous and kind nature, says, “it had been my intention to either become a doctor or a nurse, I mean, be well educated. Unfortunately, my parents were so poor that they couldn’t afford it. If you look at my history and the many attempts I made, you’d discover that they couldn’t push it, because they were peasant farmers. My father was very poor; same for my mother, they could not do anything financially to help in any way. It was not that they didn’t want to do, but they didn’t have it.”

Anaibe says, “at first, many attempts were made to be educated, but I was discouraged that there was no way out. I still believed there was value in education and I could do it by any good means, but the only way was to be determined. I was determined to learn and I knew God has blessed me with good brain.”

He continues, “for the little one I did when I was in primary school, I was always taking first. I never recorded failure in my life, any of my classmates, if you meet them anywhere in the country, would tell you who I am, so, I didn’t want them to bury that talent. I had it at the back of mind that I had to move around, because I was yet to reach my destination.”

He admits, “I spent only two years in Modern School. I actually spent a term in my second year and I went back home. The school sent me a letter to come and finish my education, thinking that my parents had the money. My father said to me, ‘my son, you know, if I had the money, I would have paid for you, the money is not there.’ I understood this. I didn’t give up and I thought of what to do.”

Not deterred by the temporary setback, he sought and got employed at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, as a field officer at the Rubber Research Institute. He was there for sometime. “I was chosen from among field officers to be a recorder, laboratory officer. When I got there, I came out first and I did the Civil Service Examination and I was the only person that passed from that farm, yet they didn’t promote me, and when I looked at it that at my age, I would continue to be in the bush, I had to move forward.”

Even while there, he took examination to Yaba College of Technology to become a horologist in Switzerland. He came out first in the examination. “I was there for about six months, again they withdrew their scholarship programme and I was not allowed to continue. I was worried about what to do and I had already resigned from my training to take up the admission.”

How Fate, Determination Changed His Life
WHAT happened to Ainabe at Yabatech was enough to frustrate somebody, but he was determined. “I told my father I wanted to go to the North and take up a job. He wondered why I would want to go to the North when there was a Civil War in the country. I told my daddy that some people were at the war front, those are people’s children, let me go and take the risk, maybe I would be favoured. Reluctantly, he blessed me and refused to give me money, but my mother gave me money to go.”

Risk taking is very necessary in life, and that was what he did when he decided to go to the North in search of a job. He explains, “when the Civil War was going on, many people were running away from the North, so, I felt I could grab a job when I get there. On getting there, things worked out my way. I had the feeling that God had something planned for me. That was why when I got there; I grabbed the employment with Shell. From there, I grew to be what I’m today. Therefore, I would say it was fate and God’s blessings.”

He says, “I used to visit my uncle, who was working in Shell Aviation In Kano/Kaduna. Then I had opportunity to have learnt the Hausa language and I thought going back there, I would be better. I had the feeling that it was a place I would get any odd job, because I don’t know anybody and nobody knows me provided I could make it.”

He recalls, “I did not know where I was going; I just entered a train to nowhere. I said I was going to Kaduna, because I was there before, and I loved the city. I was a houseboy to my uncle there. On getting to Kaduna, the train stopped, it was on its way to Kano. I entered a taxi with my friend, Solomon Aidenojie Ojo, I asked the taxi man where he was going to, and he said he was on his way to Lokoja Road; he asked me the number of the place I was going to and I told him to just drop me at Lokoja Road. I got out of the car and entered a house and asked if there was any person from Edo State and the person said ‘yes, there is one old man here’ and he took me there. When I got there, I knocked at the door and one old man came out, he said he’s Okpevbo from Esan Land. He asked me where I was coming from that night? I told him Lagos. Surprised that I was from Lagos, he asked to do what? I said to look for job. Miffed by my reason, he asked where I was from in Esan land. I told him Ekpoma. I was introduced to some people in the boys’ quarter of the building. I never met both the old man and the boys in life before that time; I slept at the back till the following day.”

Before he left Lagos, his aunty, who was working at the Airways, gave him a letter to one ASP Ishoye, who was in the Police College. He went there, and the man asked him whether he was interested in joining the Police.

“I nodded in affirmation. He said somebody should come and take my measurement. Thereafter, he told me I was not tall enough that I should go and grow my height and come back. I wondered how I would grow my height. He said I should go and start eating beans ‘and when you are of height, you can come back.’ That statement struck me,” he reveals.

Still recalling his rag to riches story, he retorts, “I felt disappointed as I was coming, I went to Shell depot at Kakuri, I entered there and said ‘I was looking for a job, any position you can give me even if it is attendant or clerk. They said, we can give you – assistant or invoicing clerk, but after sometime, we might be able to help you with a petrol station, we have some stations abandoned in the town, Ibos are running away back to the South. I said I don’t mind; just give me anything to do.”

When he met the manager, the man was surprised when he saw his credentials. He didn’t believe somebody, who had modern school certificate and had attended secondary school would want to sell petrol.

He was able to convince the station manager, chief Olu Odufowora from Ilesa, who had been in Kaduna for over 30 years, that he really needed the job. He gave him the job, and from there, things began to fall in place. A training programme was conducted for all the attendants in the six northern states, and he came out first. Another training was held at the training school of the Shell headquarters in Marina, Lagos, and he came first too. Impressed by his performance, he was given a station

The Edo State native says, “when I got a job, I was subsequently appointed a dealer to come to Lagos to serve in one of the stations in Apapa, on Commercial Road. It turned out to be the best AGO selling station in the whole of West Africa. You can see that on getting to my destination, things started to work out well. Since then, I have always known that God has a reason for making me who I am. As a human being, I disobeyed Him one way or the other, I guess that was why it was slow, beside that, God has been so wonderful in my life.”

HAVING started petroleum salesmanship in 1972, as a petrol pump attendant in Kaduna metropolis, he today owns a chain of petrol filling stations at Apapa, Uselu and Akpakpava Street in Benin City, and Ujoelen, Ekpoma.

In addition to being a fishing magnate, he is the sole founder, chairman and managing director of several companies from construction to communications.

Propelled by the urge to ensure that no promising human asset is allowed to lie fallow or wasted due to financial constraints, Ainabe has awarded several secondary and university scholarships to needy Nigerian students here in Nigeria, excluding members of his immediate family.

An unapologetic workaholic, hardwork is the powerhouse on which he has built his entire existence, waking up as early as 5am and closing as late as 12 midnight. Friends and admirers of Ezekiel strongly believe that on the day he will be called to the great beyond, he will be found working.

Samson Emiowele, one of his teachers at the Western Boys High School, Benin City, who later became a close confidant, said, “Ezekiel was created likeable by God and this was admirably complimented by his also being quintessentially cerebral and gracefully elegant in manners.”

For the former Vice Chancellor, Ambrose Alli University, John E.A. Osemeikhian, Professor Emeritus, “throughout almost four decades of our close association, Ainabe has always struck me as a compassionate, selfless philanthropist and bridge builder, who believes in justice and fairness. He has made significant impact through contributions to development and welfare of the Church in general, development and welfare of community dwellers, development and mentoring of youths for self actualisation among others.”

He added, “Ainabe has through his philanthropic activities assisted many youths to attain their full potential, because he believes so much in the empowerment that goes with education, he has helped countless youths to finance their education at secondary and tertiary levels and in many cases facilitated job placements. Young entrepreneurs who sought his assistance often received not only advice, but also takeoff grants, which enabled them to consolidate in their profession.”

Reflecting on his life, he says, “whatever situation I find myself, I take it so. I take it as the will of God. I’ve already told God; let His will be done in my life. It is the grace of God, why should I not be satisfied?”

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