Nseobong Okon-Ekong reports the heart-rending story of Chinelo Bob-Osamor,a former staff of THISDAY, who is trying to heal from the hurt of her father’s death on Christmas Day in 2004 by establishing a n education-focussed charity in his memory
Christmas lost its meaning for Chinelo Bob-Osamor, nee Okagbue and her siblings, since her their father passed on December 25, 2004. Eight years on, the initial pangs of hurt may have subdued but the feeling of despondency returns, ever so often. And at Christmas, the trauma is evident.
While many families everywhere had a white or red Christmas, it was all gloom and tears at the home of the Okagbues with the unfortunate death of the head of the household. He was 67 years. Chinelo who was particularly close to her father was inconsolable. For four years, bought space in newspapers to bring her father’s memory to the public space. She refused to come to terms with his demise. Her husband had to organize several trips outside the country during Christmas to help her heal. She is beginning to heal but doubts if time can take away the scar. Occasionally she sheds tears.
With the help of her husband, she was able to snap out of her mournful look which she hitherto wore like a mask.
It was her husband who presented her with a more lofty and profound way of entrenching her father’s memory. That is how the Chike Okagbue Foundation (COF) was born. It was not difficult to decide on an area of focus for the foundation. Chinelo was familiar with her father’s huge passion for education. She knew that nothing would better perpetrate her father’s memory like an educational and philanthropic foundation. The foundation has been positive in the healing process, giving the fulfillment that she is doing something to keep her father’s memory alive.
The late Chike Okagbue’s love for education found expression when he facilitated the establishment of Girls Secondary School in his hometown of Umunachi. In Anambra State. In his business ventures which was varied, he engaged competent professionals as officers/personnel such as lawyers, chattered accountant, surveyors, auditors and engineers. He placed a lot of premium on Education.
He was a self-educated man who appreciated reading books. He bought books with which he equipped his library. Okagbue also aspired to the leadership of his larger community. His manifesto and presentations when he contested for the state chairmanship of the National Republican convention were written and delivered by him.
Chike Okagbue lost his parents at an early age and was raised by his sister. At an early age, he supplied water, firewood to hoteliers to augment the cost of his primary education. He could not go beyond primary School then Standard Six because of lack of Fund. As an apprentice under his uncle he sought knowledge privately through extensive reading. Little wonder that his expression, ideas and reasoning were far above his level of formal education.
Popularly known by many as Bessoy (his company name), the late Okagbue through ingenuity, hard work and pragmatism built the business empire that is known as Bessoy group of companies.
His business enterprise was interrupted by the civil war. Undeterred, he continued his textile business at Onitsha. In 1971,he diversified into distribution of cement and his first company Dunu Merchants Ltd was incorporated to take care of this. His distribution network took him nationwide. In Oct,1976, Chike Okagbue’s major company Bessoy Ltd was incorporated and it started with the supply of electronics. He was quick to realize the value of the black gold,(petroleum). The capital intensive nature of mining and refining petroleum was beyond his financial muscle, he therefore engaged in the distribution of petroleum products. He had filling stations all over the eastern part of the country; Onitsha, Umunachi, Enugu, Nnewi, Nnobi. Chinork Gas and Chemicals Ltd was established alongside Bessoy Ltd to deal with cooking gas and chemicals.
He continued diversification of his business. To this end, Bessoy Building Product Construction Co. Ltd was set up. The company constructed so many buildings for the FCDA in Abuja. He also ventured into scientific products with Bessoy Scientific Supply Co. Ltd equipping secondary schools, laboratories and universities.
For a man who read widely, admired and quoted the likes of JF Kennedy, Martin Lurther King and Kwame Nkrumah, politics was second nature to him. In the Second Republic, he was a member of the UPN. His choice and alliances were determined not by tribal or religious sentiments but by personal convictions. When in 1990, the Babangida administration lifted the ban on politics, he was back on the block, this time he was in Liberal convention. With the formation of NRC and SDP, he joined the NRC. He vied for the State chairmanship of the party for old the Anambra State. He was tenacious in politics as he was in business.
Chinelo, who holds degrees in Political Science and Law from the Universities of Jos and Lagos, respectively had a short stint as an opinion writer in the Daily Times, the Guardian and other journals. She joined THISDAY Newspapers as a judicial correspondent. She left THISDAY to become the Special Assistant to the then Minister for Health, Dr Tim Menakaya,. Thereafter, she returned to the media as an independent producer of television programmes. She currently hosts the talk shows, “HealthWise” and “Discourse” on health issues and current affairs, respectively. She is the Chief Executive Officer of Ella-B Ventures Limited.
She painted a glowing picture of her father. “My father was phenomenal. For a man with little formal education to attain the height he did is indeed inspirational. Failure is not an option for me. He belonged to the wealthy men of old; those who really worked for their money. He is my role model; hardworking, disciplined and honest. He never spared the rod. He instilled discipline in all of us.”
The Okagbue children are in various cities in Nigeria except one who is a medical doctor in New York. They are all supportive of the foundation. However, since it is Chinelo’s brainchild funding, formulation and execution of policies are the prerogative of the board of trustees of which she is the chairman.
The foundation supports 41students on full scholarship at various secondary schools. Preparations are on going to usher in the tertiary phase of the foundations scholarship scheme. Currently, the foundation draws beneficiaries from products of common entrance examination in Anambra state, while waiting for an opportune time to go nationwide.
Starting with an annual intake of 10 Students based on merit (although in one year it was compelled to take 11 students), the beneficiaries are on full scholarship. This means that their school fees, boarding fees, books, uniform and examination fees are catered for by the foundation. Its current expenditure of over N2m (Two Million Naira) for the 41 students in various classes between JSS 1 and SS1 is likely to increase as the foundation grows to include beneficiaries in tertiary institutions.
Eze Ihediwa Chukwuemeka, Coordinator of the foundation sums it up as an expression of one of the lofty ideals of humanity - charity. The good thing about this is that it’s being shown in the area of education which is the basic pivot for human capital development and is also key to the overall success of the individual and the society. I consider myself privileged to be associated with the good works of the foundation.”
Parents of some of the beneficiaries Mr. Christopher Udokwu, Mrs. Gloria Metuh and Lorita Udueze praised the work of the foundation, describing it as an unexpected intervention from God while thanking Chinelo.