As the World Igbo Conference is to confer an award on Prince Arthur Eze, it is imperative to take another look at the personage and philanthropic disposition of this iconic Nigerian businessman. The giant of a man, Prince Eze, though not huge in size, is a first-class philanthropist and business mogul, with immense contributions to the development of the oil and gas industry in Nigeria and Africa as a whole.
Prince Eze, who founded an international energy company, Oranto Group, is no doubt one of the wealthiest men in Africa. He has been described severally as “Nigerian oilman” and “accomplished businessman.” However, one would be mistaken for concluding that he was just another oil mogul. Beyond this, Prince Eze is known because of his heritage and royal ancestry. His late father was the traditional ruler of the Ukpo community in Anambra State. His brother is the current royal father. Prince Eze himself is what his tribe call the Ozoigbondu of Igboland.
As a descendant of tribal royalty, Prince Eze studied overseas, following his elementary education in Nigeria, which was partly at Nkwerre Secondary School. Abroad, Prince Eze was in the Sunshine State of California, where he studied Mechanical and Chemical Engineering at California State University at Long Beach, where he uncovered his passion for industrial life. He founded Atlas Oranto Petroleum and began oil exploration activities in West Africa. The corporation grew exponentially and today is the largest holder of oil exploration blocks in the continent. The strength of the company is not just in its acreage. Oranto’s production per block is staggeringly gigantic. Atlas Oranto Petroleum today owns several producing and non-producing oil and gas assets across Nigeria, Liberia, Equatorial Guinea and the Gambia, but has 21 oil and gas licences across Africa.
Today, Prince Eze, with his Oranto Group, has several partnership agreements with the government of various African countries on very critical oil and gas jobs. Back home in Nigeria, Oranto is hardly involved in the government procurement cycle, though in the past Eze had been involved extensively in the infrastructural development of Anambra State. In all, he is a savvy political operator with immense experience and goodwill going for him.
In 2017, Oranto Petroleum announced that it was signing a petroleum exploration licence and oil production sharing agreements with the Government of Uganda. The agreement covered the Ngassa area of Uganda, which accounts for 410 square kilometres near Lake Albert. Being a shrewd businessman, Prince Eze ensured that Oranto was one of the first companies to bid in Uganda’s first competitive oil exploration licenses, in 2015. His business model reversed the usual style where the big oil players get the big blocks and the rest trickles to the local players.
As it is common to men of his means and stature, Prince Eze is politically exposed and has been close to every administration in Nigeria and beyond, including the current government in power.
But what makes Prince Eze really tick is that the magnate with the largest oil wells on the continent is not just a moneybag but a man with the milk of human kindness flowing abundantly in his veins, as his passion for the poor and downtrodden is unrivalled.
As a big philanthropist, Prince Eze, acclaimed third richest man in Africa, has also been described as the most generous. He made the headlines in 2013 when he donated $12 million at a fundraising event to help fund the construction of an Anglican Church Youth Development Centre in Otuoke, Bayelsa State, the hometown of former President Goodluck Jonathan. Prince Eze also made a $6.3 million donation to flood relief efforts in Nigeria the year before, and regularly makes large donations to educational causes and universities.
The common indicator to know of his presence in an enclave is that the poor line up the streets to receive from his benevolence, as he keeps solving their problems such as hospital bills, school fees and providing food for the hungry, in line with the teachings of the Bible.
Prince Eze loves the good life and is an ardent lover of religious music. He not only single-handedly equipped the choir of his local church, he has a live Christian orchestra at his palatial home.
His concern for the development of Nigeria is amazing as he largely makes his billions from outside the country and yet remits it here to bring succour to the needy.
He is not known for lavish celebrations but spends his great wealth in acts of philanthropy. Not long ago, the Prince of Ukpo Kingdom was honoured by Igbo across the South East in recognition of his outstanding charitable acts. It was at his 70th birthday. At the well-attended birthday celebration at Akanu Ibiam International Conference Centre, Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital, the Prince of Ukpo was honoured with a traditional title by the council of traditional rulers of the state in recognition of various giant philanthropic gestures to the people of the state. In appreciation of their gestures, Arthur doled out a whopping N200 million to the monarchs.
The governor of the state, David Umahi, named a major road at Abaomege community in Onicha LGA of the state after him.
The Enugu State governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, also hosted Prince Eze to a colourful luncheon.
It was a very emotional outing for the astute oil mogul and philanthropist, as prayers and encomiums were showered on him. Prince Eze has, perhaps, adopted Enugu as his second home, having lived there all his life.
The climax of honours was bestowed on him by the five South East governors at an exceptional event organised by Ndigbo Lagos, in collaboration with South East Governors Forum, at Intercontinental Hotel, Lagos. The gathering provided a platform to discuss critical issues relating to development of the region. All that gathered said Prince Eze had contributed immensely to the socio-economic development of Ndigbo in Lagos, in Igboland, across Nigeria and the Diaspora through his philanthropic works. He was, therefore, installed as the Patron of Ndigbo Lagos as well as adopted into Ndigbo Lagos Patrons’ Hall of Fame.
Bold, humble but assertive, as well as easygoing, the Prince is always full of life. His enormous wealth and huge golden heart of charity are uncommon. He is obsessed with the spirit of giving, as if the whole essence of his being depends on making others happy.
Over the years, Prince Eze has come to mean different things to different people. To the poor, homeless, sick and needy, he is indeed the Ozoigbondu, the one who saves lives. To the politicians and political office seekers, he is the one whose keys unlock political doors across the nation. He has built countless number of churches and mosques. To the churches, Prince Eze is the highly sought-after guest or congregant, as his presence at a church service, irrespective of denomination, becomes a rain of funds for God’s work and the worshippers present at such services are showered with cash blessings. No wonder Prince Eze is greatly loved and celebrated by his people.
These are indeed the kinds of people the nation needs now that we are faced with very daunting challenges in our economic and socio-political life.
•Okpala is a political analyst.