Renowned Nigerian industrialist and boardroom guru, Dr. Christopher Ebhodaghe Abebe, passed away on March 22, at the age of 99. In his death, Nigeria has lost one of her best astute managers and administrators. Abebe had his formal education at the then Government School Uromi in present day Edo State, and shortly after he joined the services of the United Africa Company (Nigeria) Limited (UAC) in 1935 at the age of 16. He started as a Clerk and was promoted to Chief Clerk in 1944.
By sheer dint of hard work and total dedication to duty, Abebe rose through the ranks and became the first African Group Personnel Director of the UAC in 1959 and ultimately became the Chairman and Managing Director of the company in 1972. After four years in the saddle, Abebe retired from the services of the UAC to pursue other interests.
He went to the Nigeria Breweries Limited and became the first Nigerian Chairman of the company. He left indelible marks in the organisation as his tenure witnessed the rise of the company to the top in the industry and dominance of its products in the market.
The deceased held several management positions in many professional bodies, which he belonged. He was the Chairman of the Nigeria Institute of Management (NIM), President of the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA), member of the National Labour Council (NLC) and member of National Universities Commission (NUC). He also served, at different times, as Pro Chancellor and Chairman of Council of University of Benin, Benin-City, University of Nigeria, Nsukka and University of Calabar, Calabar. He was also honoured with the Officer, Order of the Federal Republic in 1980 in recognition of his meritorious services to the country.
As a devout Catholic, he was conferred with the distinguished Papal Knighthood of the Order of St. Gregory the Great, which is one of the highest honours in the Vatican Honours Roll. Before this great honour from the Vatican, Abebe had been honoured with the prestigious Order of the Knights of St. Mulumba. In fact, he rose through the ranks of the Knighthood to become a Fourth Degree Knight and later elected the Supreme Knight of the Order of St. Mulumba, thus attaining the highest position of the Order.
As a result of his contributions to community development, the deceased was honoured with the highest chieftaincy title in his community, the Odionwere (community leader) of Iruekpen in Esan West Local Government Area of Edo State.
In his tribute to the deceased, President Muhammadu Buhari said that the nation as a whole would miss his dedication and astute business acumen. According to the president, “Dr. Abebe was a shining light and worthy example of hard work, positive influence and patriotism to his local community, the private sector and the nation.” To many Nigerians, Abebe was indeed a colossus and a trailblazer who impacted positively on many lives both within and outside the country.
He would be remembered for his excellent contributions to the industrial development of the country and his ability to manage human and material resources. Abebe was an icon and a role model whose sterling qualities should be emulated by old and aspiring managers. We join other Nigerians to mourn the passage of this great industrialist, management guru and administrator par excellence, who rose from the position of a clerk to the top echelon of management in the UAC. There is no doubt that he contributed immensely to the growth of other organisations in Nigeria. We urge the government to immortalise him for his numerous contributions to the industrial development of the country and his invaluable services to mankind. We commiserate with his family, friends, the people and government of Edo State and Nigerians for the irreparable loss. May his soul rest in peace.