By Peter Ogbuokwa and Uzumma Okoli
At 70, Sir Emmanuel Chukwunweike Umeohia, Ide Okpara Amichi and Agu Emab, chairman/chief executive officer of Emab Umeh & Sons Nigeria Limited, owners of Emab Plaza, is an accomplished man. He has, through dint of hard work and blessings of God, done well in business and in touching people’s lives
As he marks his 70th birthday, joy and excitment overwhelm him. He told our reporters: “I feel really excited and very appreciative to God Almighty for sparing my life and making me reach the landmark age of 70 years. It is by His grace that I am alive today and have become who I am. I give Him all the glory.”
In this interview, Chief Umeohia talked about himself and some other fundamental issues.
My name is Chief (Sir) Emmanuel Chukwunweike Umeohia, OON, KSC, Ide Okpara Amichi, also known as Agu Emab. I am the first son of the 11 children of my parents, Mr. Edwin and Mrs. Janet Umeohia, of blessed memory.
My parents had 10 sons and one daughter. We are natives of Ebenato Okpara Village, Amichi, in Nnewi South LGA, Anambra State. I was born on April 15, 1951, and I attended St. Andrew’s Anglican Primary School, Amichi. I am married to Chief (Lady) Angelina Uchenna Umeohia and we are blessed with four daughters and three sons.
How did you begin life as a business man?
I have been in business for approximately 51 years. God, indeed, has all along been my helper. I began business early in life. During the Nigerian civil war, I was into the palm produce business, dealing in palm oil and palm kernel. I continued with these until the end of the war.
After the civil war in 1970, I came to Lagos and, because most of my people in Lagos were into textile business, I followed the same line. I rented a little space beside a shop. From there, I progressed and rented a bigger shop. Thereafter, I began to travel to Aba, the present commercial city of Abia State, to do bulk purchases of goods from textile merchants from Abriba and Ohafia for a resale in Lagos. Over time, I began to travel abroad to places like Indonesia, Hong Kong, South Korea, Germany as well as the United States of America to import these goods by myself. From these efforts, I was able to raise enough funds to diversify into my present business of real estate development. Now, I build both commercial and residential real estate. I also purchase large chunks of land for property development and resale.
What were your childhood days like?
Growing up was quite interesting and exciting. My siblings and I had very good and hardworking parents, who nurtured and trained us to live in conformity with our societal norms and values. They gave us very good moral upbringing. They took us to church and taught us to trust God and love our neighbours. They gave us exposure into early primary education as well as inducted us into business.
As a primary school boy, I became exposed to what we now call poultry farm. I reared many domestic animals, particularly goats and fowls. I fed green herbs for my goats and developed livestock feeds for my fowls, using a mixture of maize and palm kernels. I so took good care of my chickens to the extent that they knew me and as well became acquainted with my voice. Each time I came back from school, my agric chickens would cluster around me, knowing they would have something to eat. I harvested so many eggs from them weekly for sale, having enough money for my upkeep in school as well as to share refreshments with my friends.
How was life then and now?
Life, I can say, was better then than now. People lived peacefully; the crime rate was low. Truth prevailed. There were little or no armed robberies and bloodshed was rare. Then you could sleep with your two eyes closed without any fear of intimidation, unlike what obtains today.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently when you were younger?
Of course, yes. You know, lost opportunities are not easily recovered. I had the opportunity to acquire whatever level of education I had wanted, but I did not exploit it. If I were younger today, I would not fail to grab it. There were other opportunities I had lost both in business and other spheres of endeavour, owing to inexperience as well as trying to be extra careful. Nevertheless, I thank God for where I am today.
What would you describe as the most memorable experience you have ever had?
The most harrowing experience I have ever had was when two containerloads of my goods were seized by the Nigerian Customs. I had travelled abroad, bought these textile wares and shipped same to the country. Before the arrival of the goods, government policy changed. Importation of textile wares were placed under prohibition. Thus, on arrival, the goods became classified as contraband and were seized. That singular occurrence gave me sleepless nights as well as very great concern. It gave my business a huge setback. It was by God’s special grace that I overcame and survived it.
Is there anything that life has taught you?
Over the years, I have learned to be honest in my dealings with people. I have learned not to cheat anyone or appropriate to myself what does not belong to me. I do not hold back what belongs to others, I always discharge my commitments to people as and when due. I have also learned that it is not good to subvert or cover up the truth.
Do you have any foundation or NGO that caters for the underprivileged as a means to show appreciation to God and humanity?
Yes, we have the Emab Foundation through which we reach out to the vulnerable and less-privileged in society. For over 30 years now, we have been doing our best to assuage the sufferings of our people. We have a scholarship scheme for indigent students at various levels of education. We empower our jobless young men with tricycles to earn a living. We give financial grants to struggling men and women in our community to either resuscitate their businesses or as start-up capital. Each month of December, during Christmas season, we give out bags of rice, tinned tomatoes and kegs of vegetable oil to households in our community, to celebrate Christmas.
Ten years ago, when I celebrated my 60th birthday, we built a minimum of six bungalows for needy families in our community. This year again, as I celebrate my 70th birthday, we have built another set of seven bungalows fully equipped with power generating sets for some other needy families. If God permits, we shall also at age 80, by His grace, do more.
How do you see the state of the nation?
Although things may not be as good as we all envisaged, I think the government of the day is doing the best it can to move the country forward. We are praying and believing that, by God’s grace, things will be better.
Are you disturbed by the security situation in the country?
I am not a politician and I do not want to dabble into politics. Nevertheless, like every right-thinking person, the spate of insecurity pervading the country at present is a matter for great concern. Our leaders should do everything possible to stem the tide of these unprecedented abnormalities in our country.
What is your take on the 2023 presidency as it affects the geopolitical zone that should produce the next President, which has become a subject of debate in the country?
I believe that the time for Igbo presidency is overdue. In the spirit of fairness and equity, Ndigbo should be given a chance to produce the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This would go a long way towards cementing our much-desired unity.
Do you believe in restructuring as being demanded by different sections of the country?
Nigeria is abundantly endowed with natural resources. I don’t know why we should get ourselves fixated only on a single resource, crude oil, when we can spread our tentacles upon the enormous resources we have been blessed with in our geopolitical zones. Restructuring would allow each section of the country to harness its God-given resources and use the proceeds therefrom to develop at its pace and better the life of its people, and at the same time bring the agreed quota to the centre for the good of all.
What is your advice to the younger generation?
I have always advised my children, my wards and young folks around me to be honest, God-fearing and to be diligent. They should shun the temptation to acquire illicit wealth or indulge in get-rich-quick mentality. I always counsel them to follow my good examples and depend on God and His gradual blessings.
What is your advice to government?
My advice to those in political leadership is to do their best to reduce the sufferings of our people. To provide necessary job opportunities for our unemployed youths in order to stem the tide of criminality, which idle hands engender, as well as to provide for our people necessary social infrastructures that make life better and worth living.