Chris Ogiemwonyi’s Unusual 72
By John Mayaki
For Ogiemwonyi’s 72nd birthday, he was thrown as many as 72 parties, held across different countries and continents. It was a most unusual event for a private citizen. But Christopher Aigbovbiosa Ogiemwonyi is no ordinary citizen.
The man with the long Benin name, as former President Olusegun Obasanjo fondly called him, holds the unique feat of fathering thousands. Not biologically, before some run to town with salacious news of an assumed bedroom prowess. Rather through various circumstances tied to this great man’s attributes.
Some chose him as their father out of admiration for his sterling reputation as a meticulous, principled, and patriotic servant of his country. He is, after all, the oil and gas legend who began his career in the 70s as a Petroleum Engineer and bowed out decades after as the Group Executive Director of the NNPC.
His leadership and professional contributions helped the sector blossom and caused significant improvements to Nigeria’s local production capacity. Crucially too, having been given a chance, he extended the same to as many Nigerians as possible, aiding their professional climb into positions of power to determine the destiny of their fatherland. A Nigeria built by Nigerians. This is his abiding credo and one that guided his years as a civil servant.
He was a nightmare to conceited expatriates who, perhaps due to colonial residue, viewed their service in Nigeria as a long vacation and Nigerians as their stewards. Many of them walked into his office with an ego the size of a balloon aircraft but left deflated and grounded, their haughty assumptions replaced with the dread of the studious and courageous engineer who refused to even flicker in the face of the threat of being reported to his superior.
Ogiemwonyi’s desk was always clean, literally and metaphorically. He left nothing for later, an uncommon diligence that made him unbearable to the sloth and complacent, even until this day. Also, if your documents or plans lacked due process, whether as a consequence of incompetence or chicanery, then best avoid his office. With goggles perched on his nose, back arched for comfort, and pen at the ready, he stroked and crossed, optimizing proposals and projects for prudence and excellence. He saved the government money and prioritized productivity in a sector assumed in some quarters as a place to ‘relax and enjoy’.
It’s no surprise then that he left with the same reputation he came in with; upright, ambitious and consuming desire to serve the country. When asked, he boils all of this down to his mother’s dying wish; “do well to support your siblings and do not spoil your father’s name.”
This is why thousands chose him as their father, and why his Ministerial screening lasted all of five minutes. A record time, because his reputation went ahead of him. The examiners only sought to know how he did it and why. And he repeated his mother’s wish. No whataboutism or elaborate pretensions. Just straight, simple, and honest talk. And so he was appointed as Minister of State for Works in the year 2010, capping off a remarkable streak.
But this isn’t the whole story. Ogiemwonyi is not just the disciplined and unsparing engineer who walked out unruly expatriates or insisted, even at the cost of his job, that due process be honoured. Beneath the bellowing voice, intimidating swagger, and fierce courage is a soft underbelly. A generous and sentimental man who cries during worship and grins widely at the mere mention of a cheez-whiz burger.
It was through his philanthropy that he acquired a thousand more kids, many of whom he offered scholarships, employment opportunities, and a chance to prove themselves and fulfil their potential. Having struggled himself, enduring the trauma of losing his mother before an important examination, he made it his life’s mission to make life easier for as many young persons that cross his path. His generosity doesn’t end with donations. He is not merely a titular father. But an involved parent who mentors, guides, and rebukes. Bent arrows are made straight. The hopeless is given a reason to dream. The lonely is offered company.
For his 72nd birthday, it was these children, acquired in his journey through life, that gave him an unusual celebration. They marked it in different locations for several days and with various symbolic activities. The variety nonetheless, they all called it a thanksgiving. Ogiemwonyi, indeed, has a lot to be grateful for. He has lived an extraordinary life. But he is not done yet. Not at all. There is more to come. Tomorrow remains pregnant and assumptions are already rife about what it might give birth to. For now, we can only watch and wait. And perhaps also marvel at the strength and resilience of the 72-year-old patriot who is still as hard as a nail!
Mayaki is a journalist, Historian and Diplomat. He’s a Communication, Culture and Media expert (Coventry University, England). An Oxford and Cambridge University-trained entrepreneurship, leadership and sustainability expert. He’s also a Professional Consultant on Communication, Management and Strategy (Chattered Management Institute, England).