Geoffrey Anyanwu, Enugu
On December 28 last year, all roads led to Atta in Ikeduru Local Government Area of Imo State for the consecration of the new 10,000-capacity Cathedral of St Matthews Anglican Church, by the then Primate of All Nigeria, Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh.
In this exclusive interview with Sunday Sun, the man who built the magnificent Cathedral, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu told the story of his life and why the project is dear to his heart. Excerpt:
On Saturday, December 28, the new Cathedral building of St Matthews built by you was dedicated, what was your motivation in building this temple for the Lord?
Frankly speaking, I’m 77 years, I’m getting to 80 and I’ve examined my life right from when I was born. I was born on 4th September, 1942 and I know the environment I was born. My parents were not rich. They were struggling people and then I was able to get university education because I had scholarship. So, I was endowed by God with intellect, it’s a gift from God. Most of the time when I was a young man, I was on top of my class. So, academically, I was sound. I was also very good in sports. At every time, I was selected as leader. So, wherever I have gone, God has blessed me with three qualities; that of intellect, that of leadership and that of energy, sporting energy. I even fought a war, I fought a war successfully and I commanded battles and I did well. So, all through, God has protected me. Well, my education was a very interesting thing. I graduated from the university and, of course, I did very well in my university career. So, I decided to practise engineering and in practising engineering, I did very well. I carried out researches; in flexible pavement, that is on asphaltic concrete and also in hydraulics, that’s, I designed an ocean badge and these are things that gave me very high recognition among engineers and I think you probably know that engineers as a mark of honour for me, organise annual lecture series in my name; Engr. Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu Annual Lecture series and then you see, when you look at all that, everywhere, God has put me up. Now, in terms of national honours, I think I’m one of the few Nigerians that have been honoured three times by Nigeria. As a young engineer, I got the MFR. Later on in life, I got the OFR and, of course, you know I am the founding chairman of the Raw Materials Research and Development Council of Nigeria. Later, about seven years ago, I was conferred by the Federal Government again, giving me the honour of Commander, Federal Republic (CFR). You see, when you look at all these, I think these are gifts from God. On the international scene, I have been honoured by the African Students Association. You know, I have trained so many. I have Iwuanyanwu Foundation which has trained so many students in the universities. On records, we have trained between 4,000 and 5,000 people so far, either with full scholarships or part scholarships. Over 5,000 people so far that we have assisted and they are everywhere and they show appreciation one way or the other and whenever they see me, they give me honour. In fact, everywhere I travel now; America, Britain, I see Nigerians who were trained by me because the scholarship I gave went across frontiers of states. I gave scholarships to all the states in Nigeria. So, you could see that all these things I have done are through God’s help. African Students’ Union put my name in Hall of Fame in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, some years ago. About three years ago, I won the Mandela Leadership Award and also, some years ago, I won the Nnamdi Azikiwe Leadership Award. In the State of North Carolina, I was honoured by the Governor of North Carolina by what is called The Order of Long Pine, which gives me a status of an Ambassador Extraordinaire. Well, if you come to Church, the Church has honoured me as a Knight of St. Christopher and the Primate, Church of Nigeria gave me one of the highest honour one can get in the Anglican Church. Traditionally, I have received over a hundred traditional titles, but the major ones is the one the whole traditional rulers in Igbo-speaking Nigeria; Rivers State, Delta State, Abia, Imo, Enugu, Ebonyi, Anambra; they all met and gave me a title for the first time they are doing so. They gave me a title, Ahaejiagamba Ndigbo because they appreciated what I have done. There was a time when they came together immediately after the war, I was elected as the spokesman. That time, when political activities were coming back, everybody coming came through me. I did it so well. So, you can see that my life has been a profile of achievements, profile of service, profile of success in many things and all these things are just gifts from God Almighty. Even at a point, we from Eastern Nigeria; after the war, this place was terribly depressed and everything was bad. So, we met in Port Harcourt and the whole leaders of Eastern Nigeria, we formed an association called Business Leaders of Eastern Nigeria at the Presidential Hotel, Port Harcourt. Surprisingly, they elected me as the President. That association played a lot of roles in shaping the economic life of Eastern Nigeria at that time. That time, states have not been created as they are today. We had only two states and before then, I think, the oil revenue to oil producing states was hardly about three point something per cent. That association went on many delegations to the Presidency to lift it to the present 13 per cent and in fact, that’s why I’m highly respected by all these people. I have been honoured by many other people too. The Efik Kingdom has given me one of the highest title in Efik land. The Ibadan land has given me one of the biggest titles. I’m the Balogun of Ibadan land. I have been honoured by many of those northern areas. The centre point of my activities has been the support of the youths; most of the youths in Nigeria have honoured me. For example, I am a patron of National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS). I am also patron of Nigerian Youths Council, Patron of Arewa Youths Council, Patron of Oduduwa Youths and Patron of Ohanaeze Youths. The youths have taken me as a patron even the Tivs. Ironically, I have not concentrated only in my area. I do a lot. In my Alma Mater, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, I built the first Students’ Centre there and that was dedicated to my late mother, Hilda Iwuanyanwu who made a lot of impact in my life. That’s the Students’ Centre/Library, Hilda Iwuanyanwu, UNN. The Iwuanyanwu Foundation recently approved N50 million to that centre. By next year, Iwuanyanwu Foundation will give them N50 million which they will use to expand the educational facilities in the university.
The Imo airport project?
Of course, everybody knows that Imo Airport was my baby. I made efforts, I was the first chairman. Ike Nwachukwu was the governor under whom this was started and it’s important that history is put right. People seem to be confusing it. It was Governor Ike Nwachukwu that started Imo airport and he appointed me chairman. People didn’t believe that individuals can build airports. I built Enugu Airport, it is my field so I then wrote a report and told them that airport is just like a pavement, it can be built. The terminal building doesn’t need to be too sophisticated. Once you have a proper runway where planes can land, you have a house that will be used for sales of tickets and checking in luggage and bags, so they agreed. The government didn’t want to do it for us, it was built by the community. At a point, I had to transfer some money from abroad to give them. Owerri Peoples’ Assembly, people from Owerri zone promised N2 million. They didn’t have it and I told them okay, I will pay the money and they will refund me. I eventually had to transfer money from my account in New York to them because I didn’t have enough Naira. In fact, then, Naira was even stronger than the Dollar. What I transferred then was more than 2 million dollars to get that money for them to pay. Well, in fairness to them, they wanted to pay, but you see, they said they are going to tax people locally, they are going to cut palm trees, etc. So, I told them okay, they should forget it. So, they didn’t pay me back. I didn’t bother and I said they shouldn’t bother. They wanted to try, but the way it was going, it will take more than 15 to 20 years to finish paying it. So, I wrote it off and I feel happy today that the airport is a success.
Did that necessitated your adventure into aviation industry?
Even after the airport was built, if you remember, it was not commissioned. The Federal Government refused. Some people argued that it was very near to Port Harcourt and that since it was very near to Port Harcourt, aircraft can jam and all that. I remember when I talked to one of the officials at that time, I told the person that if you go to New York, JFK and La Guardia are nearer to each other than this, that it’s not possible. So, eventually, they said if we can get aircraft to operate then, we should come. That’s how I bought four aircraft. I bought aircraft and I started Oriental Airline, not because I wanted. Airline was not my business really, but it’s just patriotism, to make sure that the airport works because without it, without Oriental Airline, there could have been no Imo airport. So, because I bought four aircraft, I started Oriental Airline, the Federal Government now came and put in facilities. There were facilities; the air control, everything and then we started operations. I ran a lot of losses at the beginning because people were not using the airline, but thanks to God, after about one month, passengers picked up and within the next 60 days, it was very profitable and when it became profitable, other airlines came; Cabo, Okada, Triax, Nigerian Airways, a lot of airlines started coming and when a lot of airlines started coming, I said to myself, my job is done because all I required was just to have the airport in place and functional. At that time, I had two corporate jets which I used to fly to America and to UK for my businesses, for board meetings and so on. So, I just didn’t have interest in running commercial airline fleet, but my only interest was to make sure the airport was operational. I feel happy today. Whenever I go to the airport, I feel proud. It is one of the things by the grace of God that I’m able to achieve in my life time. Last year when they reported during Christmas that Imo airport was one of the heaviest air traffic during the Christmas, I was very happy and it’s a thing of joy to me. So, these are so many things that I have done that give me joy and all these things I did because God is with me. There are so many things that I cannot actually count. For example, I was the Pro-Chancellor, University of Calabar for four years. What happens is that wherever I go, I try to put in my best. I have held many public offices. I was the chairman, National Productivity Merit Awards; that awards give honours to people, I was the chairman for years. I was the chairman for Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA), the chairman for Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission, the chairman of Igbobi Orthopaedic Hospital. I was the chairman of National Sports Development Fund. I have held leadership positions in many places, but you have seen that, all through, you can’t see any impropriety. I have tried my best to live above board, to ensure that at every point, I can be held accountable and nobody can point at me at anything. So, you could see that all these things are God’s grace. I think a man who has lived this kind of life and looking at the kind of background I had, I have cause to be grateful to God. I don’t want, to be honest, to die and then people start struggling over my things without giving to God. I want to give to God when I’m alive. Its better I give to God when I’m alive. I don’t want to wait until I die. I’m getting to 80 now, so, I’m getting old really and God has been very faithful to me over these years. That is why I gave that. I initially gave N1billion, but I will do more. I will do more for God really. My children, I have not left them. I have been able to accommodate them because I called them to a meeting in my house in London and we sat down and we shared our things. So, I gave them. I mean, they have to agree that I am a kind father because myself, I didn’t get anything from my own father, but instead, I gave my father. These are some of the things that have happened. God has been good to me. It’s not as if everything has been perfect all the time.
Can you remember any setback?
I had two setbacks. One of it was in 1994 when one of my aircraft crashed. It was carrying my footballers to a match in Tunisia and they were coming back and they crashed in Algiers and I lost four of my players, two pilots, lost one or two of my hostesses, but God is faithful. It could have been worse. It was carrying a full load of footballers, but out of the footballers, only four were killed and some also came out without any injury, but it was very painful to me. Not only that I lost my aircraft, I lost my friends, footballers because I value footballers, they are my assets. My footballers are people I value so much and a football club was one of the things I did that I feel happy about because this is one thing I have done to project the youths. When I see young people like Kanu Nwankwo; Kanu Nwankwo started off with the one we call Iwuanyanwu Comets. By the first year, he transformed and moved from Comets to Iwuanyanwu Nationale Football Club. He was called to national camp and he played and he was very outstanding. From there, we lost him, he was bought by a foreign football club and then he continued to represent Nigeria. In fact, he captained the Olympics where we won a gold medal in football. He was the captain. So, it was of pride to me and, in fact, during the 1994 world cup, I was happy at the pitch, I was in VIP lounge and I was sitting next to George Bush, the former President of America, the father who is now dead. He was a lover of football. So, when we were there, I introduced myself, he was very excited and I told him I have seven players. Seven players from Iwuanyanwu Nationale were playing in that team and he was very excited. Not only him, all the other dignitaries there, congressmen and big business people, they were taking my autograph. You could see, this put me up in many areas. The other area, that’s football, where I lost my aircraft, obviously, I bore the cost of all these things; the compensation for the players that died, my aircraft was a write-off because when a plane crashed, you can’t get anything out of it. No government helped me anywhere. It was all my personal liabilities. The other sad thing I had was the death of my wife, Eudora. The death of Eudora was another sad thing that I experienced. Eudora was my girlfriend in the university and eventually we married after six years of courtship. Then we married and had the best type of happy marriage. She was a very brilliant girl, very nice girl and I had a very happy home. She’s the mother of my children, but she died in 2011 after some ill health. So, it pained me so much. I thought it was the end of my life, but I prayed to God and God answered my prayers. I married a young girl, Frances Nnonye Iwuanyanwu. She is a graduate of Chemistry, but she is very sound, she’s from a very good home. She is very well domesticated. She has done so well to renew my life. I’m very grateful to her. My children, my family are very grateful to her because she has been looking after me. My welfare is a concern to my children because they themselves because of their duties cannot stay with me. Some of them are running their families, they can’t leave their families. So, when I look at my life all through, I have cause to be grateful to God. I cannot in a single message remember everything. God has done so much for me and I will continue to worship God, to serve God until the end of my life and as I’ve been telling the younger ones that; some people ask me about myself and I tell them, well, myself, I’m just a simple person, a normal person, but the only difference is that as a young man, I can recollect one thing. I was always very humble and quiet, I hardly speak, but I know what to say, but kept it in my mind most of the times. People only know that I’m brilliant when they see the results and so on. I’m not loud. That is why, wherever I go, they make me a leader.
How do you feel fulfilling this dream?
To be honest, fulfilling this dream, I can tell you is by the grace of God. Mind you, it’s very expensive really because I’m determined to give the best because I believe that everything I have is given to me by God and that anything I want to give to God will be the best. I believe that it is God’s own, but I want to tell you one other thing, you see, it’s not that people were having church alone. I believe that a church built by me must be a church where the fundamental needs of humanity can be fulfilled. I have been praying and I have told my friends all over the world that have been praying for me; I have people praying for me all over the world. My prayer request for St. Matthews Cathedral is that this cathedral should be a hallowed place, hallowed place where God will dwell. It will be like a new Bethel ground where God will dwell so that people who are sick, when they come and pray there, they will be healed. So, that people who have family problems, when they come to the altar of God at St. Mathews Cathedral, they will be healed. So, that when people who have business problems, when they come there, it will be solved. So that even women who have problems in getting children because we have been promised by God, that whatever we ask in His name, He will do it for us. That’s what God told us. So, I’m praying and I believe that with the consecration, people will come and bear testimonies. I pray that St. Matthews Cathedral will be a place where people can worship, people can communicate with God truly and have God answer their prayers and we have been praying and God is going to consecrate that place and make it a holy ground, a hallowed ground, where every request we make will be granted because that is the promise God has made us and He’s going to fulfil it in the Cathedral of St. Matthews which I’m building. God fulfilled it in my life; there’s nothing that I asked God that He didn’t do for me. So, that is the highest thing that I am asking God. It’s not just building this structure which is magnificent, yes, but that God should help me so that people who have all manner of problems, when they come with faith to that St. Matthews Cathedral, that problem should be solved. So, that people from all over will hear about it as a ground for fulfilment of the promises God made to us; that He’s with us, even unto the end of the world.