When last June the death was announced of Aba-based oil merchant, Chief Anthony Obiagboso Enukeme, chairman and managing director, Tonimas Oil Limited, everyone who knew him felt a deep sense of loss of an accomplished man. His popularity, philanthropic gestures, business acumen and dedication to serving God were last celebrated in January this year, when he turned 76. Five months down the line, he took a bow and departed for the great beyond.
Chief (Dr.) Enukeme, KJSI, JP, OON, was better known as Tonimas, the corporate name of the independent oil marketing company he founded. He had a humble beginning, a very inspiring one. Born on January 21, 1944, in Umudioka, Neni, in Anaocha Local Government Area of Anambra State, Enukeme was until his death the Onowu (traditional prime minister) of Neni community.
In the early stage of his life, Enukeme obtained primary and secondary education in Neni but, in his later years, he obtained a degree in Public Administration from the Abia State University, Uturu. Driven by ambition made of sterner stuff, he went further to obtain a master’s degree in International Affairs and Diplomacy from the same university. He received an honourary doctorate degree in Business Administration from the Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University.
In the course of his initial struggle to succeed in life, young Enukeme had, between 1962 and 1970, worked with French oil giant, Total Oil, as a fuel attendant. But by 1981, he took a bold step in business by establishing Tonimas Nigeria Limited, an oil marketing company that later went into production and distribution of a wide range of lubricants. Although Tonimas was established in Aba in present-day Abia State, which serves as its head office, its business frontiers have expanded over time, covering the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory. Beyond Nigeria, he established outlets and trading posts in other West African countries.
Even though the company was initially established as an oil marketing company, Enukeme diversified into many other sectors, including real estate, table water production, haulage, shipping, insurance, hospitality, aluminum profiles and nails production and several others. His White Castle Hotel and the long span aluminum profile company are located in Neni, his home town, where he created massive job opportunities. At the last count, his group of companies were said to have offered employment to no fewer than 9,000 job seekers across the country.
Married to Iyom Mary Uzoaku, with whom he had six children, Enukeme was a devout Christian of the Catholic denomination. In his capacity as the Onowu of Neni, he became the chairman of Anambra State Council of Traditional Prime Ministers. He was widely honoured by various groups and associations.
A one-time president of the Aba Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, he also became the president of Lubricant Producers Association of Nigeria (LUPAN). He was a recipient of Merit Award on Business Excellence by the National Affairs Society of Nigeria. He also bagged a Merit Award on Business Productivity by the Institute of Corporate Chairmen of Nigeria; and a Community Service Award by the Rotary Club International.
Despite his strong commitment to the growth of his business, Enukeme also made a modest contribution to the political development of the country. He was a member of the board of trustees of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).
“A good man has joined the saints. Since I met him, it has been one good act or another recorded for him. He single-handedly built a church in his hometown, Neni; celebrated annual yam festival for his people, and gave generously to numerous church and philanthropic causes,” said Victor Oye, national chairman of APGA.
Enukeme was a renowned philanthropist and was adequately honoured for his philanthropy. He awarded secondary education and university scholarships to many young people. As part of his contribution to community development, he provided water and medicare to his people. He spent his resources to construct and maintain feeder and link roads in his community. For those acts of charity, a non-governmental organisation, the Martina Chinyere Enidom Foundation honoured him with an award of excellence on community development.
For his contributions towards the development of Aba, his host community, Enukeme was honoured with the title of Enyi-Abia by the Abia State government. In his Neni community, he single-handedly built a police station and barracks. In recognition of his many good works that touched many lives, he was decorated as Anya-Anaocha by traditional rulers in Anaocha Local Government Area of Anambra State.
Enukeme’s contributions towards the development and sustenance of the Catholic Church were quite noticeable and for that he had a rich profile in the church. Among others, he built and furnished the Saint James’ Catholic Church, Neni. The church had a Reverend Fathers’ house and other facilities for worship. As a devout Catholic, he became president, Knights of Saint John’s International, Commandery 445, Aba, Abia State. He was also the grand president of the Owerri Grand Commandery. Back home in Anambra, Enukeme was the vice chairman of Awka Catholic Diocesan Pastoral Council. It was, therefore, not a surprise that he was inducted as a member of the Papal Knight, Order of Saint Gregory the Great (KSG).
Tonimas, as he was fondly called, has severally been described by many people in many ways: A man of vision, articulate and versatile businessman, a highly experienced man and tireless in the pursuit of his dreams. He was patron of many reputable associations including the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN), Aba depot.
As the remains of the late Chief Anthony Enukeme are to be committed to Mother Earth on August 14, 2020, he will, no doubt, be remembered for his many good works. His dedication to the service of God, and his commitment to giving a helping hand will remain in the minds of many that came across him in his lifetime.