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HE WAS A CHILD PRODIGY WHO PLAYED THE GAME OF DRAUGHT LIKE AN ADULT

30 Mar 2013

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PAUL OSOGBE ENEBELI REMEMBERS KADUNA AS A LIBERAL CITY WHERE RESIDENTS’ ETHNICITY AND RELIGION DID NOT MATTER. THAT IDYLLIC OUTLOOK WAS SHATTERED WHEN HIS FATHER FLED FROM THE CITY AT THE OUTSET OF THE CIVIL WAR. THE CIVIL WAR WOULD ALSO CAUSE HIM TO RELOCATE FROM HIS DREAM SECONDARY SCHOOL. HAPPILY, IT DID NOT DIMINISH HIS THIRST FOR EDUCATION. ENEBELI, 60 NEXT TUESDAY, RECALLS STUDYING HARD FOR HIS PHARMACY DEGREE - AND STILL FINDING TIME TO ROCK THE UNIVERSITY OF BENIN CAMPUS, WRITES FUNKE OLAODE


Memories of old Kaduna…I
I
was born in Kaduna in then Northern Region on April 2, 1953, but my late parents hailed  from  Ndokwa-East Local Government Area of Delta  State. I grew up to know that my father was an employee in the catering department of a nursing home in Kaduna then. My late mother was a business woman. I grew up in a family of seven comprising four boys and a three girls. I am the last  child. It was interesting being the last born because I was pampered and got away with a lot of things. As a young boy I was always on top of my class and from that moment I became special. Despite the fact that my parents were not rich, I got whatever I wanted. For instance, if I came home with a torn school uniform, I would insist that I wanted a new one and if my parents failed to produce it, I would not go to school. Though from an average family it was a privileged beginning for me as a kid. My parents left Kaduna in 1966 shortly before the war. We all grew up in Kaduna and we were very much at home in Kaduna.

In those days, there was no discrimination because we regarded every tribe as one. That is why it is referred to as the “Liberal State”. Those days, the predominant tribes in Kaduna were the Igbo and Yoruba. You could hardly see the traditional Hausa people. For instance, I learnt how to speak Yoruba and Igbo in Kaduna because we grew up in the old Kaduna on Jos road. In our large compound then, we had different tribes and we lived as one big family. Parents took care of every other child whether you were Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba. We enjoyed that relationship. Life was good: there was electricity, pipe-borne water, there were sanitary inspectors who came around regularly to ensure that everywhere was clean. There were pit toilets, but they were clean. Life was worth living.

From Kaduna to my country home…
I finished my Standard Six and passed three entrance examinations to St. John’s College, Kaduna, St. Pius College and Government College, Ughelli, in Delta State. My father wanted me to go back home at all cost and that was how I Ieft Kaduna to resume at Government College, Ughelli. My parents were still in Kaduna when the war broke. One night, he was accosted by a group of people who told him to leave Kaduna the following day, that they could no longer guarantee his safety. My father didn’t react on time but the same set of people visited him the following day, warned him, threatened him and almost killed him. He was literarily smuggled out of Kaduna by rail to Delta State. It was a bitter experience for him because he lost everything he had worked for all his life. In terms of human casualty there was none because all the children had grown and left. I had, also, gone back home for my secondary education.

Imbibing the virtues of hardwork and honesty…
Parental influence on us was enormous because it dwelt on values of the past, which stressed hardwork, honesty and diligence. My father wasn’t a Christian, but a traditionalist. Ironically, we grew up to be Christians  and strong Catholics. I was a member of the Legion of Mary in Kaduna in those days. And we went out as young boys to convert people to Christianity. We embarked on evangelism at that young stage not because we didn’t see the light in what my father practised as a traditionalist; I was too young to differentiate. I didn’t know how everything happened. I attended a Catholic school run by missionaries. But because my father worked in the hospital environment and having worked with a lot of white men, he saw the need for education early and sent us to good schools. In those days, St. Joseph’s and St. Gregory’s in Kaduna were top class primary schools. They had the best teachers and the environment was good. And once you went to a Catholic school, automatically you become a catholic. We were forced to do the biddings such as going to the church in the morning, performing mid-day prayers, another prayer in the evening. It was a routine and that instilled the fear of God in us.

The frenzy of independence…
Seven years after I was born, Nigeria became an independent nation. As a child our little mind didn’t know what was going on. But October 1, 1960 was remarkable. I remember there was a march-past where people held flags and branded cup. We watched a polo game at the Race Course where the late Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, took salute. For us, it was something novel. We never knew the implications as kids but enjoyed the day because we had a free day. It was a day of merry-making where food was given freely. Another occasion was when the Mid-Western Region was created and because my father was President-General of Ndosimili Progress Union in Kaduna then, all the preparations were made in our house in Kaduna. Again, I went with my father to race course to receive the late Chief Dennis Osadebay who was the Premier of the Mid-Western Region then .

Playing draught sharpened my intellect…
As a child I was quiet, hardworking and diligent. Like every child we played pranks. I got away with a lot of things. And in a situation that I went beyond my boundary and my sin would earn me a severe beating, I would deploy another method of prank by boycotting food and not do certain things and my parents would beg me. I enjoyed this privilege being the last child of the family. Also, I played the game of draught very well. And because I was good I became a darling of many elders who always showered praises on me on the street. I think the game of draught actually sharpened my intellectual ability in Mathematics. My reasoning became older than my age and looking back at the proficiency I have shown in a lot of things, my exposure to the game of draft at age eight really helped me.

Days at Government College Ughelli…
I began my early education at St. Joseph’s Primary School, in the Centre of Kaduna. After two years, the Catholic church established another school called St. Gregory’s Primary School in Costain, which was a new development area. The class was divided into two and some of us were moved into the new school where I eventually finished my primary school in 1965. With my father’s desire to have a feel of home I went to Government College, Ughelli. Although that wasn’t the first time I would be in my village since my father used to take us during holidays. It was play time for us because we had the opportunity to travel by rail to Osogbo in Osun State. From Osogbo, we would board Armes Transport to Benin and from Benin, we would take another Armes Transport to our village. It was interesting and we all looked forward to it because going to school and coming back at times got boring.

Moving to Government College as a border was a new phase of my life.  For you to attend Government Colleges in those days you had to have an extraordinary performance. The chances were very few and each arm of the class was barely 15 or 20 students. Then we had Alpha, Beta and Omega. In fact, if somebody was given admission and didn’t pay on time the place remained vacant. There was discipline. We had dormitories and there was pre-hall within the dormitories. We were brought up like British citizens. It was the best time of my life. I remember Dr. Christopher Kolade was a teacher in that school before our admission in the ‘60s.

The civil war ended my stay at Government College…
I was still enjoying the best of my life at Government College when the war broke out in 1966/1967. My parents didn’t want me to go back. But the foundation had been laid for me in this great school. Instead of wallowing in self pity or crying over lost opportunity, I decided to be the best wherever I later found myself. I re-enrolled at St. Columba’s Grammar School in Agbor where I completed my secondary education in 1970. That year was also critical in terms of the West African Certificate. It was the year of massive exam leak and all the results were cancelled. Prior to that, I had five credits in General Certificate in Education (GCE). We came back in 1971 to retake. I got admission into the University of Benin with my GCE result. Then, you sat for the university examinations and once you passed you were admitted. Initially, I went to Benin to study medicine.

And on getting there we were all put in Foundation Class where everybody did sciences. After the foundation examinations, your score and available space would determine where you belong. I was to study engineering or pharmacy because the school management said I was good in physics, chemistry and mathematics (and those were my best subjects). And those that were good in biology, chemistry and physics did medicine. And when I saw the two, I pitched my tent with pharmacy. Again, you could not remove the influence of my father who had worked in the hospital environment from the choice I made. At that time, nobody knew about pharmacy and my brothers wanted me to study engineering. I remember one of my older brothers who was a lawyer in London then wanted me to come to London for my “A” Levels. But I chose where my heart belonged.

Mixing politics with academics…
I enjoyed my stay at University of Benin but Pharmacy was too demanding for me. In fact, it took a lot of your time. But I still had a way to go about it because I was very much involved in the University of Benin politics. By God’s grace I was able to combine the two. In those days, I used to travel as far as Lagos to bring musicians to play in the campus. The first musician I brought was the late Sunny Okosuns when he released his first hit album, Oh Jesu. I paid him 60 pounds. Later on, I brought in BLO of Beckley, Laolu and Odumosu. I also brought  Wrinkers Experience to play, the next year I brought King Sunny Ade. The late Celestine Ukwu, Fela Anikulapo Kuti graced some of our activities at the campus. We got a lot of support. For instance, Guinness used to support us with adverts and vehicles to create awareness and we used to go to The Observer to place adverts. It was a fulfilling moment of my life both academically and socially.

Starting a career…
I left University of Benin at age 23 in 1976. I did my house internship in Warri and Benin after which I went for the National Youth Service Corps at the Kwara State Government General Hospital in Okene and later on in Kabba in 1978. I secured a full time employment with a company called Schering Africa Nig. Ltd, a division under Nigerian Hoechst Ltd, a German company as a medical representative. And barely two years after being product manager, I was promoted marketing manager in 1983-1984. I was enjoying my job but in life people must move on; especially when they have their eyes set at a higher picture. I resigned my appointment to float my own company, Elpha Ltd, comprising Elpha Pharmacy, Elpha Consultants which render public relations services, project conceptualization, designs, management and execution. We later added an insurance brokerage company where I was chairman for seven years. It wasn’t smooth sailing when I began a career as a pharmacist. The initial challenge was problem of recognition and acceptance because we were one of the pioneer graduates of pharmacy in Nigeria. What we had were dispensers and people could not understand the evolution. I recall the day I was at a pharmacy outfit during my internship as a young man, a man was referred to me and the first thing this man asked me was “are you really a qualified pharmacist?” I didn’t blame his ignorance because they were used to hearing doctors.

Growing the profession…
Looking at the aforementioned scenario, people at the initial stage didn’t recognize the importance and usefulness of pharmacy. And that was why I got involved in the activities of Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria and put it where it is today. At a young age, I became a member of the executive of the association in the then old Bendel State. I was also involved in the sub-committee. When I moved to Lagos as a product manager, I became an active member of the Nigerian Association of Industrial Pharmacists. As I progressed, I became vice-chairman of Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, Lagos chapter. As vice chairman, I was involved in virtually everything. The blueprint for whatever they are doing today was  produced by some of us. I did a lot for the association both locally and at the national level. I have done my bit as well in the academic community.

I became president of the University of Benin alumni association (the first one outside Benin). I set up the Lagos branch of the alumni association in 1983. After sometime I became he chairman of the branch in Lagos and when there was vacancy to fill at the centre, I was elected. After that, there was an election into the university convocation election and I was the sole candidate put forward. And I became the first graduate of the University of Benin to be elected into the governing council in 1995. I stayed there for four years. I  was also appointed by late President Yar’Adua as a member of the board of Eye Centre in Kaduna, the biggest referral center for eye diseases in the entire of West African region. I am also a member of Flood Relief Committee set up by the federal government, in Delta State.

This year, I was appointed to the board of NAFDAC. It has been a wonderful life contributing my own quota. I thank God for good health and an understanding wife. At 60 I am not retired because my Elpha Pharmacy in Ikeja is still on. I still do consultancy and supply and so on. I also engage in community activities for my people. I was an aspirant under the Peoples Democratic Party for the House of Representatives, Ndokwa/Ukwuani Federal Constituency  in 2011. I never lost elections and never won it for obvious reason. Today, the people have elected me as their president-general. I am doing my best to carry the flag of that nationalist.

Getting personal…
I started being conscious of myself at age 15 as a student in Government College, Ughelli. By that time, puberty had set in and girls from other schools were already beginning to show some degree of fascination. In those days, there was this aura about government colleges because once you secured admission into these colleges, it was assumed that you were destined to be great. And, naturally, most women want security. As a young man, we saw that as part of growing up because we were more focused and determined to be great. But I got married at age 27 in May 3, 1980 to my wife, Mrs. Ije Enebeli (nee Ikpelue). I met my wife in 1975 when I was about leaving the university. She was studying nursing at the teaching hospital.

But prior to our meeting, I used to know her elder sister who had told me about her sister who was studying nursing. The elder brother too was in Government College with me. The day she strolled to my room with a group of friends and introduced herself, that name stuck. That was how we met and our chemistry just jelled. I knew the family and they are good. She is from a good home and when you marry from a good home, that marriage will last. We have been married for close to 33 years now and the marriage is blessed with five children. My last child, an architect, is 24 years. We had our challenges at the initial stage having got married in 1980 and did not have a child until 1983. But I kept faith with God and within six years we were blessed with five boys. I love all my children equally and they have made me proud in all their endeavour.

My first son has a first degree in geology and a second degree in oil and gas from University of Aberdeen, Scotland. My second son has a first degree in political science from University of Benin and currently pursues a master’s degree in international relations. The third son, Chukwudi, is a lawyer in whom I am well pleased. I wanted him to get the best exposure and after his degree, I handed him over to a friend and brother, Mr. Kemi Pinheiro (SAN) and he is he doing well. Another son read computer science and my last son studied architecture. I have a beautiful daughter-in-law and a handsome grandson. They all make me happy and fulfilled. I will spend the rest of my life serving God and humanity.

I’m fulfilled
I think I have fulfilled all my desires. One thing I did not achieve was when I wanted to represent my people at the Federal House of Representatives and, for obvious reason, lost the election. But looking back, God has compensated me by making me the president-general of Ndokwa National Union. What I have realized is that when God doesn’t give me something, it’s possible He knows it will not make me edify Him. Looking back, I am fulfilled. My parents told me when I was young that I was sickly and they thought I was going to die. Today, at 60, I am still waxing strong. I thank God for sparing my life in a country where one is not sure of tomorrow. If you live up to 60 and you have all your family members around you one should be grateful. My wife is alive, my children are doing well. Of my six other siblings, only one died at almost 70 and others are still alive. My oldest brother is close to 80 and is still hale and hearty, the second one is 75 years and is living quietly with his family in Warri. My father died at over a 100 years and I intend to beat that record. Life has taught me to remain faithful. As I said earlier, at a very young age, I was a member a Legion of Mary which wins souls and serves the humanity. I was also made to understand that money doesn’t make anything; it is the service rendered to humanity that will determine how you will be remembered.

Tags: Life and Style, PAUL OSOGBE ENEBELI

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