Ozuomba and Oseloka, a third generation Mbadiwe, who are better known as Ozee and Ocee have been catapulted to a fresh wave of fame after featuring in a UK documentary about young Nigerians who are flourishing in London. Titled: ‘From Lagos to London: Britain’s New Super Rich,’ it captures the luxury lifestyle of the twins and other children of Nigerian elites in the UK. Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Vanessa Obioha report
“The Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated”
Genesis 25:23 (New International Version)
The religious imagery conveyed in this scripture aptly describes the strong individuality of the twins born over three decades ago to Ambassador Greg Mbadiwe. While they are identical, certain physical attributes and character traits mark a clear distinction between them.
To some, Ozuomba and Oseloka Mbadiwe need no introduction. They come from a family with a rich political, business and social heritage. Their grandfather, the late Hon. Kingsley Ozuomba Mbadiwe, was a respected politician in the first and second republics. He was an impressive wordsmith who gave the Mbadiwe name a larger-than-life status.
Their father, Greg, is no exception. Like his father, Greg who is a lawyer is deeply interested in social engineering. He also has a copious penchant for photography. This is clearly displayed on the walls of King Celia Hotel, which he opened last year to honour the memory of his dear parents-Kingsley and Cecilia. The vibrant life and times of his father are vividly captured in images-some of them in black and white, others coloured- adorning the walls of the hotel. More than a personal reflection on the life journey of the late Mbadiwe, the photos capture a good chunk of colonial and post-independence history of Nigeria, as Mbadiwe was in the thick of it all. The building that is now King Celia Hotel has an interesting record as the headquarters of the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in the second republic.
Interestingly, Ambassador Mbadiwe has ensured all his six children attended the same secondary school he graduated from in London, St Edmund’s College. At a time he could easily afford sending the children to other private schools in Nigeria, he threw all in the ring to ensure that his children got the quality of education he received from his alma mater. But that is not all he has bequeathed to them. Along with his wife who is also a lawyer, Greg may have unwittingly scored a Guinness World Records double hat-trick by raising an all-lawyer family.
“We are a legal family,” said Ocee in a display of wonderful repartee.
In the most restrained tone possible, the twins explained their huge physique as opposed to their father who is on the short side. “We take after our mother’s family. They are the tall ones and they are not know to be (you may say) as loud as the Mbadiwes. Even in our attitudes there is a good mix of the two families.”
Speaking with the twins was a cheerful session filled with amusement as they kept a string of clever retorts coming. Named after their paternal and maternal grandfathers Ozuomba Mbadiwe and Oseloka, they are better known as Ozee and Ocee. The twins left Nigeria when they were 12 years old to further their secondary school education in the UK.
Ozee and Ocee strike a lot of similarities. They are of the same height and almost of the same build, though Ozee, the older one (even if by a few minutes) is slimmer. He is also the outspoken one. Like most twins, they share a peculiar bond. They understand each other and have only been separated once in their lives during their secondary school days, before the move to London. Now in their adulthood, they are still doing things together. It’s like one cannot work without the other. Does this mean, they will wed the same day or perhaps get married to a set of twins?
“Hell no!” exclaimed Ozee.
“No, we wouldn’t. Why would I want to wait for him to find a wife before I marry mine?” asked Ocee.
“We tried it once and I received the short end of the stick. There is no way we are doing that,” said Ozee.
Looking back now, the twins believe that sending them to study in the UK was a huge sacrifice on their father’s part.
“I was already attending Igbinedion secondary school here,” said Ozee. “That was in 1996. It was new and one of the best schools you could find around. But my father insisted that we get the best of education and exposure. I know the sacrifice he made to send us to the school. Going to that school at that time was ridiculous. It would have been easy for him to enroll us in a school here and easily sort out the fees. But over there, he had to pay the fees as well as sort out accommodation. The Naira was already weak. Imagine the foreign exchange rate converting it to pounds. Now in my adult life, I’m beginning to seriously understand why those sacrifices were made to send us there. You get exposed to different cultures across the globe. You can’t take me to any international function and I will be uncomfortable because those are the kind of things I grew up with. Being in the kind of environment we grew up in easily reflects on your thoughts and makes you think outside the box, drawing from different cultural influences. I can see why my father made that sacrifice just to give us these tools for survival.”
It was while studying in London that the twins were approached to feature in the famous UK documentary about young Nigerians who are flourishing in London. Titled: ‘From Lagos to London: Britain’s New Super Rich’, the documentary captured the luxury lifestyle of the twins and other children of the Nigerian elites in the UK.
“When they approached us, there was no title. We were happy to get involved with what will portray Nigeria in a positive light, away from anything about corruption, politics and what have you. This was trying to celebrate successful Nigerians. What better way to be involved than to talk about Nigeria being successful from my family perspective, from the days of my granddad and all the things he did, his relationship with the first lady of USA then, Eleanor Roosevelt, down to my dad who also had the British culture ingrained in him. In our narrative, it wasn’t really about our parents per se. We were thankful to them for availing us the opportunity to get that kind of education.”
In the documentary, the twins visited St Edmund’s College and showed the crew their dorms. Back in Lagos, the crew visited the Mbadiwe home in Victoria Island where the twins displayed their father’s large collection of cars, photographs of their father and grandfather, as well as took the crew on a ride to the opulent Banana Island neighbourhood in Ikoyi. Evidently, they were proud of their heritage and acknowledged the responsibility it foists on them to work harder in order to maintain the family legacy.
However, the controversial documentary drew equal dose of ire, envy and admiration from the Nigerian audience. Some believed that the twins should have contributed to poverty alleviation in Nigeria than showing off their cars. And yet others showed admiration to the twins for being successful in their own right.
Ozee and Ocee who were back in Nigeria when the documentary aired in 2016, said they were not happy with the title because that wasn’t what the producers offered them when they were approached.
“We understand that they have to make the title and the narrative interesting because rating was the only way they could get their money back. We weren’t in control of the narrative.”
Regardless of the controversial headline, the documentary cast the spotlight on them afresh. Suddenly, people were reading about them, writing heroic letters to them, as well as waving at them when they drive by. They also had the opportunity to walk the runway for Mai Atafo at the Lagos Fashion and Design Week.
With the new fame, came added responsibility.
“People walk up to us on the streets, they say they are proud of us and we should keep representing Nigeria well. They easily recognise us. There are others who see us as their role model and we try as much as we can to tell them they have to work hard to be successful,” said Ocee.
Unfortunately, the new celebrity status also came with scandals. A Kenyan lady, who identified herself as Sheila Wetangula, claimed that she was swindled by the twins.
“None of us dated Sheila. I can show you messages on my phone, with Sheila pleading with me to beg my brother Ocee that she is sorry, and misses him. I feel very awkward because she caused a lot of embarrassment to me and my family, not my brother alone.”
Given the disgust surrounding the Sheila episode, he showed these reporters messages from the Kenyan lady. In the attempt, he mistakenly dialled her number. Regretting the action, he exclaimed in apparent remorse, ‘What have I done?’ “She is not going to let me rest now.”
True to his concern, his phone immediately began to ring. And he raised it to show us the caller. It was Sheila! Of course, he ignored the calls. But she was persistent. Eventually, he had to switch the phone off; so we would not be distracted. “You see what I told you?”
According to Ozee, Sheila had walked up to them at a gig and got talking with his brother. After a while, they exchanged numbers out of courtesy. That act of modesty would later led to an invasion of his privacy, as she bombarded him with calls when they returned to London. Along the line, Sheila who claimed to be in Nigeria for business wanted to introduce a brother of hers who was into some equipment business in Sweden to Ocee. She went as far as setting up an all-expense paid business meeting in Sweden which he attended. However, Sheila apparently wanted more from him. When it became obvious that Ocee wasn’t ready to give in to her demands, she decided to play dirty by paying a blogger to write defamatory stories about the twins. Luckily for the twins, her first contact was a friend of theirs who hinted them on her devious plans.
Now, the third generation of Mbadiwes, Ozee and Ocee are faced with the responsibility to continue the legacy of their family. They are not relying on their family name to be successful. In fact, according to the twins, the name often shut doors at them. They sometimes see the name as a disadvantage.
“The fact that people think I’m a big man is a disadvantage to me because it means that they think I don’t have needs. I haven’t seen any privilege that I have had that didn’t come from me crying metaphorically speaking to get things done. If the name really works in our favour, then we shouldn’t have wants and needs.”
The twins who are graduates of law are towing a different path, which is tilting towards entertainment and tourism.
They currently run a tourism company called ‘Enjoy Africa’ with the main objective to promote tourism in every city in Africa, but first from their home country, Nigeria. Initially, the concept was limited to promoting tourism in Lagos but a chance encounter with the former Director General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), Mrs. Sally Mbanefo expanded their vision.
“The initial idea was ‘Enjoy Lagos.’ We have seen it in other countries and it is mostly city aimed at particular cities. For instance, there is ‘Enjoy Spain,’ under which you may have specific target at cities like Barcelona or Madrid. That was what we came up with until we met Sally Mbanefo who coincidentally is a family friend. I had no idea that who she was at the time and being that she also had a background in law, we got talking. We exchanged a couple of emails and she told me that she was looking at things from a federal perspective and suggested we broadened our vision to accommodate the entire Nigeria. So we bought into the idea and decided to do ‘Enjoy Nigeria.’ Since Lagos is like the trailblazing state in Nigeria, we started with it. There will be other destinations like Abuja, Cross River, will followCalabar and so on.”
With this new idea, the twins took a step further by making the concept a continental one, thus the birth of ‘Enjoy Africa,’ which they registered as a company with N10 million shares.
In order to bring their vision into fruition, they needed partners who also bought into the idea. At the time they started the project, they had nothing but an idea on paper. They relied on their various skills acquired from their different citadels of learning for successful negotiations The ‘Enjoy Lagos’ project was launched at a time when Nigeria was feeling the pangs of recession.
“It was in paper format when we launched because everywhere was tight. Companies weren’t giving out funds and we needed generosity of these companies to prosper. Those were really difficult times. For some reason, we decided not to give up. We were convinced that we were on the right path. In the process of launching the second edition, we struck a partnership with UBA. That shot ‘Enjoy Lagos’ up from being a paper based format or a discount coupon to the digital format. We now have an ‘Enjoy Lagos’ app. We have information about tourism in Nigeria. It’s like an information directory. We have information on Lagos, from the weather to news, updates on things that the government is doing, the geotags on the app show you the nearest police station, banks, and other information. We also have buses that pick tourists from their hotels to any tourist site in Lagos. There are honeymoon packages. The whole idea is to show people that Nigeria can make money from the tourism industry. We are beginning to realise that the tourism industry is worth N1 billion. It has taken us so long. Other countries like Kenya are surviving on their tourism.”
From that humble beginning, ‘Enjoy Lagos’ has taken a life of its own. It is now the official partner for Africa Fashion Week, and also part of the organising team of the Global Management Challenge. They also intend to use the platform to encourage people to get their voters card.
Since their return to Nigeria, they have joined their father’s latest business, hospitality where they fucntion as non-executive directors. This requires them to take part in the board meetings of KingCelia Hotel every Monday and Thursday with other siblings who are executive directors. Usually after the meetings, they stay back or return to their office in Lekki. It is a sure sight to see them having lunch with their mother (who can pass for a woman half her age and nothing close to one who has six grown-ups), siblings or guests on either of these days.
On this particular Thursday afternoon, the meeting was already over when we arrived. They had just finished lunch and were having a conversation with their younger brother at the restaurant when their father walked in with these reporters in tow.
Courteously, they greeted us as their father beckoned on them to sit.
“Ozee and Ocee, these are gentlemen of the press. They will like to speak with you guys,” said the former Nigerian Ambassador to Congo, Greg Mbadiwe.
The curious expression on their faces disolved into a clear excitement. The Ambassador had earlier mentioned that they barely grant interviews to the media.