The Knighthood of Dan Okekenta

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Tony Eluemunor

The multifaceted aspects of the Holy Roman Catholic Church have given it an incredible mystic as well as lustre that many have, for thousands of years, found to be complex, complicated and intriguing.
What with the Catholic Church’s lengthy history, diplomatic presence at the UN and other 180 countries, its own Central Bank and currency, security agencies and postage stamp; indeed, its very own state – the Vatican City.

Saturday November 21, 2017, the city of Awka, the Anambra State Capital, led by its First Citizen, Governor Willie Obiano, thronged the St. Patrick’s Cathedral, to witness one of the captivating aspects of this truly ancient church; how it bestows honour on those it regards with great respect. That day, Dr Dan Anaebo Okekenta, from Enugwu-Agidi, Anambra State, received a rare honour from the Catholic Church with his “investiture” (please read admission or inauguration) into the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great. I pray this is not a vulgarization of the elegant and official nomenclature in Latin: “Ordo Sancti Gregorii Magni!

The Order of Knights of St. Gregory was established on 1st September 1831, by Pope Gregory XVI, seven months into his papacy. It remains one of the five Orders of Knighthood of the Holy See. The honour done to Dr. Dan Okekenta that day is bestowed upon Roman Catholic men and women and sometimes in rare cases to non-Catholics in recognition of their personal service to the Holy See and to the Holy Roman Catholic Church, through their unusual labours and their excellent examples set forth in their communities and their countries.

Sharing with Dr Okekenta in that investiture that day were Dr. Chike Akunyili, (husband to late Prof. Dora Akunyili), Prof. Fidelis Uzochukwu Okafor, Vice-Chancellor, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University (formerly Anambra State University), and Chief Anthony Obiagboso Enukeme, Managing Director of Tonimas Nig Ltd.

Even among those heavyweights, Owele (Dr) Dan Anaebo Okekenta stood out. Not only was he born into a humble family at Enugwu-Agidi town, Njikoka LGA of Anambra state, he was orphaned at age eight. But today he has not only pulled himself up by his bootstraps, lapping up education eagerly, he is the author of a highly-regarded book “The History of Knights of St. John the Baptist” which sells like hot cake across West Africa, United Kingdom, Germany, the United States of America as well as in Nigeria. This man who supports self-improvement with all his might holds two honorary Doctor of Philosophy degrees from foreign universities.

Okekenta, as a business man, is a massive employer of labour who owns the largest Nigerian Breweries distributorship in the Northern part of the country. He is the founder and chairman of several companies including Worldgate Group Ltd, Anaebo Consultancy, FZ LLE (Dubai), Izoma Nig Ltd, Anaebo Real Estate Ltd, Worldgate Properties Ltd, Anebsons Hotel Ltd, etc.
Yet, it is in the service of the Catholic Church that Okekenta has stood out as a veritable star. He has been Chairman of the laity councils of several parishes, patrons of many societies and has also received sundry awards from various Catholic Church segments and societies. He has generously contributed to the development of the Church in many capacities in the Dioceses of Awka, Abuja, Minna, Makurdi, Otukpo, Gboko, Katsina-Ala, Onitsha, Enugu, Lokoja and even as far afield as the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia..

Okekenta has always served his society through humanitarian efforts and so has been Suleija Rotary Club President, District Chairman, Rotary International Group Study Exchange, Patron, Niger State Boys Scout of Nigeria, FCT Patron/Senior Advocate of Peace, Peace Corps of Nigeria, member, Abuja Chamber of Commerce, National Trust for Scotland, Edinburgh, UK, San Antonio Fiesta Commission, Texas, USA and Association of Business Executives, Chicago, USA, etc.

The Papal Knights of St. Gregory award is usually made on the recommendation of Diocesan Bishops or Papal Nuncios (Vatican Ambassadors to specific countries) for distinguished services. It is thus the preferred award to acknowledge an individual’s particular meritorious service to the Church. A Bishop wishing to recommend an individual for this honour will draw up a suitable letter proposing the candidate’s name, with a C.V., and forward it with his recommendation to the Apostolic Nuncio. The Nuncio may consult with the Bishop then he will forward the recommendation to the Vatican’s Secretariat of State (Foreign Affairs Ministry). There the candidate’s name is considered carefully and, if approved, a Diploma is drawn up in Latin (and the candidates forenames are translated into Latin) and this receives the signature and seal of the Cardinal Secretary of State to the Pope. It is then delivered to the recipient.

Out of the four persons honoured at that Saturday November 21, 2017 investiture, at Awka, three – Okekenta, Akunyili and Enukeme – are members of the Knights of St. John International (KSJI). Even among the three, Okekenta stood out easily because of the role he has played in that hugely respected and ancient Order of the Catholic Church that was founded by the 10th century AD and stands for the Roman Catholic Church virtues of faith, hope and charity.

Okenkenta made global news when he became the first Nigerian to be elected into the Governing Board of the KSJI in 2011, as Trustee of the Supreme Commandery, KSJI, New York and he later rose to become Second Supreme Vice-President, KSJI worldwide. He is also the First Vice-President of the Nigerian KSJI arm, called the Supreme-Subordinate Commandery. Most of all, as the founding Chairman, Supreme Board of KSJI’s St. John Foundation beginning from 2002, he has been overseeing the global charitable works arm of the KSJI. He holds the exalted rank of a Lieutenant-General in the KSJI a religious, military and social order; the first Nigerian to soar to that remarkable height.

After the investiture, a thanksgiving mass was held for Okekenta at the St. John Parish, Enugwu-Agidi. Gov. Obiano said in his goodwill message: “Your investiture is an acknowledgement of your excellent value to the church and its mission to humanity. The Papal Knighthood is a call for the recipient to stand up to the task of a standard-bearer of the church and its mission”.

Secretary-General, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria and KSJI Supreme-Subordinate Spiritual Director, Rev Fr. Ralph Madu, encouraged Okekenta to see his elevation as a “catalyst for greater efforts in the service of God and humanity”.
KSJI Abuja Grand President, Arc. Jerome Nwokeji, also appreciated the role of the Lt-Gen in the development and growth of the local Church and the KSJI Order, lauding the leadership style of Sir Okekenta, one of his predecessors in office and acknowledged that the Papal honour is a good testimony of his immense contributions to God and humanity, as he has been using his three Ts (time, treasure and talent) wisely.

The parish Priest of St. John Enugwu Agidi, Rev Fr. Bernard Anaebene thanked God for the honor and appreciated the Bishops for finding Okekenta worthy of the recognition of such merit. “We take pride in your service to the church and humanity, you are a worthy ambassador”, he added.

The Knights and Ladies of KSJI thronged both the Awka Cathedral and the Enugwu-Agidi Church in Okekenta’s honour. Besides the thanksgiving Mass, there was a grand reception at Okekenta’s Residence, where several priests, religious and lay faithful joined Gov. Willie Obiano and Anambrarians to celebrate their illustrious son.
Okekenta, an ardent family man, is married to Lady Comfort, a woman leader in her own right and an active top officer in the KSJI Ladies Auxiliary. They have seven children, a girl and six boys – one of whom is studying for the priesthood.

–Mr Eluemunor, a journalist, is a member of the Knights of St. John International.

Jameela Nuhu Sanda
Mr Murtala Dantoro is the Chairman/CEO of Youth Initiative for Entrepreneurial, Leadership and Development (YIELD), which was founded ten years ago and is based in New Bussa, Borgu, Niger State.

Dantoro grew up in Ghana where he discovered the passion to serve humanity. He volunteered in various NGOs in Winneba, Accra, Kumasi, Tamale and Cape Coast in Ghana, helping to create awareness on obesity, girl-child education, and human rights.

From Ghana he travelled to the Republic of Ireland for his education in University College Dublin, where he earned a Bsc (Hons) in Housing and Community Studies. He continued his passion to serve humanity where he joined a community-building platform created by the Irish government called Rialto Community Network. He established a community health forum in the Rialto area in Dublin, acting as an advocate for the group in discussing and raising awareness on health concerns.
Dantoro later joined New Communities Partnership, an NGO based in Dublin. He participated in a series of programs and projects relating to community building.

Back in Nigeria, he delivered lectures on Transformational Leadership in Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Schools in Borgu, Niger State. He has successfully supported the less privileged to have access to third level education and founded the Youth Unified Forum to promote social inclusion in Borgu Niger State.

On that platform he discussed the importance of building relationship and establishing communication channels between leaders and their followers, creating awareness on equality in economic, social, political and cultural aspects.

YIELD is currently sponsoring some students that are less privileged in secondary schools and universities, with majority being girls. YIELD empowerment programs help widows identified in the two local government areas in Borgu Emirate (Borgu and Agwara Local Government) as well as a scheme for youths that are into agriculture and trade.

YIELD donated pharmaceutical drugs for free in 10 wards in Borgu Local Government and donated free uniforms to orphans in both Borgu and Agwara Local Government. It has her liaison officers in all the 20 wards that make up the two Local Governments.
Dantoro believes that for one to make change, one needs to start at home, which is why he situated the YIELD office in his hometown.

YIELD is in partnerships with some NGOs. African Youth Empowerment in Agriculture and Industrial Development (AYEID) and LEAH Foundation are some of them.
Dantoro has worked and built strong relationships with international NGOs – Trocaire, Concern Worldwide, Irish government on Aid and Diaspora matters, and was involved in promoting trade between Ireland and Nigeria.
Dantoro is an Advocate for change, social inclusion, entrepreneurship, quality education, health care, and community development.