– Enjoins Indigbos to always ‘think home’.
Mr. Charles Nzechi is a business leader and philanthropist in the Abia State socio-economic arena. The Umuahia-born business icon is the founder of the Charles Nzechi Foundation which he established to carter for the educational and other needs of the populace. In this interview conducted during his birthday celebration, Nzechi explains why he is into humanitarian work, extolling also the virtues of the late Dr. M.I Okpara and Chief Sam Mbakwe, while calling on Igbos to always think home. Excerpts:
You just came back from Baltimore, U.S.A where you attended the Ohuhu Development Union, ODU Biennial Convention, what was it about?
First of all I want to thank the U.S.A Chapter of Ohuhu Development Union, ODU for the privilege and honour given to me to be the chairman of the biggest gathering of Ohuhu people in the Diaspora. As you are aware ODU is the umbrella body of all Ohuhu people both at home and in the Diaspora aimed at fast tracking development in Ohuhu land. So we went to discuss the future of Ohuhu people and how to bring about enduring development in the community.
The meeting is all about how to rebuilt Ohuhu and unite the people, because with unity, we can achieve a lot. There is need for all Ohuhu sons and daughters both at home and abroad to join hands in the development of our society because if we don’t do it, no one will do it for us.
We also talked about rebuilding schools in our area. It is unfortunate that the schools bequeathed to us by the likes of the late Dr. M.I Okpara and Chief Sam Okwulehie was left to deteriorate. We must come together to rehabilitate the public schools. The gathering discussed the need to bring health care to the door steps of the common people and infrastructure to the area. It was equally important that the message on the need to make investments at home was delivered at the ODU convention.
You talked about rebuilding schools, are you aware that Governor Okezie Ikpeazu launched Friends of Abia Schools Adoption Initiative, to help rebuild schools in the state?
I must confess that the initiative of the governor is good and it formed part of what we are doing today. Already the Charles Nzechi Foundation has keyed into the programme and we have started to build classroom blocks and toilets in some schools in Umuahia. In Community Secondary School Isingwu, for instance, my Foundation built modern toilet facilities and also paid school fees and WAEC registration for final year students. We are going to do more in Abia state by the grace of God.
It is observed that you have been investing massively at home, including a residential edifice in your country home. Why?
It is a simple message; bring it home because if we don’t build our society, nobody is going to build it for us. If I had erected this mansion in Abuja, you will come home and only talk about the magnificent building you saw in Abuja. But today you are appreciating this structure right here in our community and that is the difference. That is what we need to do because God blessed us for a reason, for us to use the gifts to develop our community and be of help to others in need.
God knows why he created me from this part of the country; He knows why He decided to bless me this way; it is that I should be of help to my people. So my advice to my brothers and sisters from the South East is, let us develop our society, and let us bring the light home. Let us begin to think home, it is the Igbo that are developing Lagos, Abuja and other cities they find themselves. Who says we can’t build a mega city in Igbo land and make it our own? Why can’t the Igbo governors come together and champion a new Igbo vision. I’m close to Hausas, every Hausa man believes in Kaduna, just like every Yoruba man believes in Lagos and Ogun States. So which city does the easterner believe in?
But with your presence and massive investment at home, including your philanthropy, your Okpu Isingwu community seems not to have seen any government presence
I have lived in this village for the past 40 years and I have not seen any commissioner appointed from my Okpu-Isingwu autonomous community, no deputy governor, no minister, speaker or National Assembly member emerges from this community. There is no definite political representation for a community that is part and parcel of the foundation of the state. In the Eastern region, Dr. Michael Okpara was Premier and he is from Ohuhu clan and it is not fair that Ohuhu is now relegated to the background in spite of being part of the Umuahia capital territory. This Okpu-Isingwu road has been abandoned for decades by successive governments in the state; while we are supposed to be a major stakeholder in the Abia project. So we need a voice, a strong voice and representation at both the state and federal levels to help reposition Okpu-Isingwu and Ohuhu in general.
In your opinion what do you think is responsible for this neglect of even your larger Ohuhu community?
There are two reasons; one being that we have left things for others to do and we have now realised it is not in our interest. Secondly, we need to speak with one voice. We can be in different political platforms but we need to have a common political interest which must be protected. That is the only way we can move forward as a people. This idea of individualism will not take us anywhere; we need to forge a common front to be able to realise our dreams as Ohuhu people. Nobody will do it for us but we have to take the initiative and begin to have a common political platform that would unite us as a people.
You recently launched your new country home edifice and the former First Lady, Her Excellency Chief (Mrs.) Adanma Okpara was there alongside who is who in the political arena of Nigeria and even beyond. What informed her choice?
The choice was not a difficult thing being that we live our lives based on ideology and perception of life. It is very unfortunate, I have related with Hausa and Yoruba people. We are trying as Igbos but there is one aspect they do better than us, they known how to respect and honour their leaders either dead or alive. If Hajia Turai Yar’Adua coughs today, you see they rally together. The same goes for Chief H.I.D Awolowo who until her demise was a rallying point for the Yorubas.
It is unfortunate that the two people who governed us in the past, who till date have remained enduring models of leadership not only in the Eastern region both Nigeria at large are not accorded the deserved recognition. You can’t talk of Imo State without talking about the former Eastern region, and you can’t talk of Abia without talking of old Imo State. One man sacrificed everything: time, energy, and love for the sake of his people. He lived for his people and served without enriching himself. Ninety per cent of the infrastructure we have today in Umuahia was built by the late Dr. M.I Okpara and Chief Sam Mbakwe. Okpara governed a region which is today seven states and left enduring legacies as far as Calabar and Rivers. In the last 16 years, as far as I can recollect nobody has honoured Mrs. Adanma Okpara and it doesn’t speak well of us. My role models after God are Dr. Okpara and Chief Sam Okwulehie. Do you know what it means to build a secondary school in this community in the 60s? These men had the vision. So in Abia State and Ohuhu land I have great respect for Chief Adanma Okpara, and it is a rare privilege to bring her here in honour of Okpara.
If so, can one conclude that you have a political ambition, looking at the caliber of people and politicians that thronged your country home, including politicians at the federal level?
I have been asked these questions severally and as I speak I have no party membership card, I have not called any political meeting or indicated interest in any political office. What I am doing is to ensure that I use God’s given gifts to the benefit of all. So when the time comes for political engagements it would be made public, but for now let us continue to do what God Has positioned me to do in the lives of many people.
As a young philanthropist, are there occasions you have to regret certain decisions?
My regret is the fact that my mother is not alive today to witness these good things that God Has done for us as a family. It would have been my greatest joy if she was to be alive today, but her sister is representing her here. They were very close while she was alive. So in anything I do her sister must be around.
What is your word for your community and others in the south east?
I will tell them to always think home, let the riches reach home because there is no place like home and if you don’t build your community nobody will do it for you. Let us develop our state and region.