“THE tragedy (in life) lies in having no goal to reach. It is not a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled, but it’s a calamity not to dream……..It is not a disgrace not to reach your stars, but it is a disgrace to have no stars to reach.”- Benjamin Elijah Mays, then president of Atlanta Morehouse College, USA.
Allen Onyema. Does this name need any introduction? Nay; certainly not in the past two or three weeks. At a time when the image of Nigeria and Nigerians was being battered from the left, right, and centre, Onyema embarked on an audacious adventure. Yes; he and Air Peace, his pacesetting airline, embarked on a rather risky voyage; a voyage which verily vouches that despite the condemnable conducts of some Nigerians at home and abroad, Nigeria boasts commendable compatriots whose integrity, patriotism and forthrightness tower above their counterparts anywhere on earth.
It would be recalled that newspaper headlines of the past couple of weeks had brimmed with damning details of all that is bad about Nigeria as a country. There was the mass arrest of a legion of Nigerian ‘Yahoo Yahoo’ boys in one fell swoop by the United States’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). As the dust raised by that infamous episode was still swirling, the no less notorious P&ID mess burst upon us like a tale told by an idiot. Even as the ripples of that mind-blowing international infamy continued (and still continues) to reverberate across the globe, out came news to the effect that fellow Nigerians were being slaughtered with abandon in South Africa.
Enter Barrister Allen Ifechukwu Onyema. Something stirred in him as he watched the heart-shattering tragedy unfold on television. So much so that he was nudged to act. As founder of the international award-winning NGO known as FEHN (an outfit devoted to peace and conflict-resolution all over Nigeria), he felt obliged to do something in the interest of his people in South Africa. To him, it doesn’t matter whether the victims of xenophobia in the former apartheid enclave are Yoruba or Igbo or Hausa; to the extent that they are fellow Nigerians, they are all Onyema’s people. Pronto, he applied for permission for Air Peace to waltz into the lion’s den (so to say) and ferry home our long-suffering compatriots.
Understandably, not many took Onyema’s gesture seriously. How, they wondered, can a private airline undertake such a money-guzzling and risky voyage all the way from Naija to Nelson Mandela’s homeland just like that? Was he joking or had he gone crazy? Needless to say, such posers were anchored on ignorance. You see, rendering selfless service has been an integral part of Onyema’s life right from his undergraduate days.
And I should know, having written an insightful book on him about one year ago. Entitled Allen Onyema: The Life–Transforming Story of an Audacious Entrepreneur, Lawyer, Conflict-Resolution Expert and Airline Chief, the book chronicles the book chronicles this outstanding gentleman’s numerous philanthropic gestures over the decades, including his decision to establish Air Peace principally to create thousands of jobs for our army of unemployed graduates.
As a journalist who has been privileged to serve as the editor of various newspapers like Leadership Weekend, Abuja Inquirer and Desert Herald, I felt duty–bound to tell Onyema’s verily life-transforming story in form of a book (a project which, by the way, I self- sponsored). Incidentally, chapter 8, which is entitled Ten ‘Commandments’ of Audacious Allen, contains salient “secrets” which, when juxtaposed with some recent heart-warming events, can be rightly described as somewhat prophetic. Suffice it to say that for Onyema, whose middle-name means “God’s light” in Igbo, peace-building, conflict resolution and charitable gestures have been a way of life for a very long time now.
By the latest demonstration of his own peculiar kind of heart of gold, the Air peace CEO has not only carved a niche for himself but shown all and sundry that the all- Nigerians-are-villains narrative is a lamentable lie from the pit of hell. Granted, there are bad eggs among us, but is there any nation on earth that doesn’t have its own fair share of the good, the bad and the ugly in varying proportions? Is it fair to use the sins of a few to judge about 200 million Nigerians?
To ice the cake of this memorable narrative, the House of Representative chipped in by according Onyema a well-deserved special recognition last Wednesday. How inspiring! How salutary! As our Reps stood there in unison giving ‘Audacious Allen’ a standing aviation, they were not doing so for one man alone. Rather, they were doing so for the millions of Onyemas, Othmans, and Owoichos out there – fellow countrymen and women who represent all that is noble and admirable in Nigerians – the silent majority whose stories of heroism, patriotism, audacity, and selflessness are begging to be told.
Abbah writes from Odoba Otukpa, Benue State