For those who may not know, Barrister Allen Onyema is the Chairman/CEO/proprietor (deliberate emphasis) of Air Peace Airlines, which last week freely and successfully evacuated the first batch of willing Nigerians who voluntarily opted for liberation from xenophobic South Africa. Let me state from the outset—for the avoidance of concoctive serial doubts—that Onyema owns Air Peace 100 per cent.
It is apposite to underscore federal government’s commendation for Chief Onyema on his inimitable gesture at a time that our people were almost stranded in a hostile foreign land. The first batch of evacuees arrived at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport last Wednesday, September 11, at 9.23 p. m. to an emotional reception by peaceful Lion Onyema and elated government officials.
Onyema deserves all the accolades that should come his way consequent upon this laudable and patriotic initiative of his. It is even more appreciable considering that much more costs were involved because of documentation delays that culminated in the payment off avoidable parking charges for Air Peace aircraft in Johannesburg. The outlay for this international project can only be imagined. I take off my hat o things that have no economic benefit for them, especially the ones that are capital intensive on grounds of logistical challenges. Entrepreneurship in our country is strictly profit driven. There is no room for patriotism, nationalism or charity.
I experienced the threshold of quality service by this airline when I flew to Owerri in July to evaluate the monumental damage caused by the immediate-past governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha. The two-way flight was so pleasurable that I felt I had been flying in “molues” staffed by querulous and uncaring crews before the advent of Air Peace! Within just six years of existence by next month, October 24 specifically, this upscale airline has rewritten the history of commercial aviation in Nigeria. Going by Onyema’s robust pedigree, I have the conviction that optimal quality assurance, sustenance and institutional flourish are guaranteed.
A conflict-resolution expert, Onyema’s legendary philanthropy is celebrated in his country-home where indigent members of the community gather daily for unprecedented succor in that part of the country. For most Hausa moneybags, it is an empathic routine. With a fleet of 23, Air Peace which was founded in 2013 provides passenger and charter services in major cities of Nigeria and flies to many West African destinations and the Middle East.
Let’s briefly meet this man of profound promise: I am Allen Ifechukwu Onyema, a proud native of Mbosi town in Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra State, South East region of Nigeria. Proud Nigerian of Igbo descent, born to fantastic parents who instilled a lot of discipline in us through the way they live and lived their lives respectively. My mother died at the age of 44 in 1991. I grew up in the old Bendel State, principally, Benin and Warri. I am the first out of nine children. I attended several primary schools. I also attended several secondary schools including St. Anthony’s Secondary School, Azia, Urhobo College, Effurun and the prestigious Government College, Ughelli.
I am also blessed to have been privileged to attend Nigeria’s premier university, the Great University of Ibadan (UI) where I studied Law. I attended the Nigerian Law School between from 1987 to 1988 and was called to the Bar in 1989. My parents and my uncle wanted me to work for Shell after Law school. My uncle, Capt. J.O.W. Onyema, a master mariner, was the Head, Crude Oil Export Terminal, Forcados, then. That meant that I was going to remain in Warri and, that, I never liked. I wanted to be free. I felt that working in Warri would still keep me under parental care and control but I wanted to be on my own. My mother was angry that I was considering a life of the unknown rather than working for Shell. But I was bent on going away. So I rebelled against my parents’ and my uncle’s decision.
I left for Lagos in 1990 in search of jobs. No money on me. I was squatting in Oshodi. I couldn’t afford taxis or buses; I was going to Lagos Island by rail. Going back to Oshodi, I would trek from Marina to Iddo to join the overcrowded trains. I wanted to practise my profession as a lawyer.
For two months, I was searching for a law firm to join to no avail. I became frustrated but came alive when the late Chief Vincent Amobi Nwizugbo gave me the opportunity to come to his chambers on Martins Street, Lagos Island, to learn. He had five other lawyers working for him. I was very happy. At least, every morning, there would be a place I could go to, though I was not on salary. However, it was not long before he placed me on a monthly salary of N500. This he did because I surprised him by winning a high court case for the chambers; a case they had on their own regarded as a bad case for the law firm. It was my first case as a lawyer. And I was up against a SAN with three other lawyers in tow. He trusted my abilities so much that he made me head of chambers under two years. By this time, I had become big in real estate so I had to resign so as to avoid conflict of interest in my dealings. Though he didn’t want me to go, I had my way at last. I left and floated not only my own law firm but several other successful businesses. This was how it all began for me.
I got married in 1993. I married a beautiful Kogi State girl from the Igala ethnic group. I met her in Abuja at a time I never thought of marriage. I married at the age of 27! It actually started with my late mum. One morning in 1991, just a few days to my immediate younger sister’s wedding, she told me that she and my dad would want to know the girl I would like to marry when the time comes. By this time, I had met my wife in Abuja but I didn’t know her names. I thought she was Hausa because of her attire and I told myself to go after “this Hausa girl”. She agreed to come for my younger sister’s wedding on my invitation. This was the first and last time she would be seeing my mum for she died a month after the wedding of kidney failure. Her death spurred me to early marriage. I fulfilled her wish. We have four children, a girl and three boys.
I have said it on several fora and occasions that I made this Air Peace decision together with my wife just to create jobs for the people. If it was about profit, I would have kept the money in the banks and be getting double-digit interests on my investments. By 2008, I was receiving about 18% interest on my deposits. I was building estates from interest alone. It was during my advent of floating Air Peace that I scattered all my deposits for the first time since 2004! I was told, in 2007, by a friend that one commercial Boeing 737 could give jobs to over 150 persons! So I told my wife that we should do it.
I made a pact with God Almighty in 2003 that I would get involved in touching lives through massive job creation and that I have done by setting up Air Peace. God has been very faithful—to my family and I. Air Peace is for the welfare of mankind and not really for us. But do not think that we want to lose our investments, far from it.
I am happy when I see the faces of these young ones in Air Peace who, today, could boast of a means of livelihood for themselves and their families. Our staff would tell you that I treat them like equals. I have no airs over my shoulders. I encourage every wealthy person in this country to invest in the country so as to create jobs for our people instead of taking the money abroad.