Our Personality of the Week for this week is Professor John Onyemaechi Alizor, BA, MA, EdS, PhD. He is a Business and Education Consultant and Managing Director, Alizor Signal Hill Limited. In this exclusive interview he granted Ika Weekly reporter in his residence at No.1 Professor John O. Alizor Street, Ohunmere Quarters, Ime-Obi, Agbor, the American trained said he was once an Ajegunle boy before he got the opportunity to travel to the United States of America in 1968. The soft spoken professor of education also talked about his family background, education, life in the U. S and why he returned to Nigeria after spending almost 50years in the U.S.
Good afternoon sir, may we know your name and background?
My name is Professor John Onyemaechi Alizor. I am from a village called Otolokpo in Ika North East Local Government, Delta State. I am the last child in the family of five children. I did my elementary school at St Dominic Catholic School, Otolokpo before leaving the village in the 60s.My parents died when I was at a tender age. My mother in her dying bed told me to continue my education. After my primary education, I learnt typing and shorthand before I left for Lagos, Ajegunle precisely, where myself and others grind tobacco for my relative, late Mrs. Juliet Odega for our upkeep. We resided at 13 Olayinka Street, Ajegunle. Mrs. Juliet Odega is the younger sister to late Mr. Godwin Odim of Otolokpo.
While in Lagos, I started going to the library to read. I love reading. In the process, I had a pen pal with a Christian Caucasian elderly woman in the United States of America, Ms Bessie Gardner Sharpe, whom I told my story and my desire to come to America and learn typing and shorthand. Fortunately, she developed interest in me and provided support for me to travel to America where she enrolled me in high school (secondary school). Before I left for the U. S I informed my friends in Ajegunle about my plan but they laughed at me, doubting the possibility of my trip to America when I could hardly put on shoes. I was a poor orphan; they thought I was joking even when I showed them a letter from Ms Bessie Gardner. That was why there was no one to say goodbye to me at the airport. Other travelers were accompanied to the airport by friends and relatives but I was alone with a small bag containing my few clothes in my hand. I finally got to America in 1968 and got in touch with Bessie Gardner and the rest is history.
How was America when you first landed into the country?
It was amazing. I was happy that I was able to make it to America. While there, I was enrolled in high school where I finished with high score. Thereafter, I had my BA in Political Science and English from the University of the District of Columbia, USA. I made attempts to study Pharmacy or Law but it didn’t work, hence, I pursued a career in education where I bagged my MA, EdS and PhD. I spent all my years in school. I am an author too. I worked my way up. I was a university lecturer and adjunct professor at California State University. I worked and married in America. I have never worked in Nigeria. My wife, Mrs. Jean Alizor returned to Nigeria more than two years ago. Our children are still in America.
What about Ms Bessie Gardner Sharpe?
She died long time ago. She died at 80years old about three years after I had arrived America.
Apart from being a university Don, what other activities did you engage yourself in while living in America?
In the early 80s, I invented a hair product for the maintenance of Jheri Curl for African Americans. The company name was Omaka Cosmetics. It became popular in the 80s in America. I became a millionaire in dollars. Unfortunately, I sold the company when the white companies came into the business. After my retirement as a university Don, I went into consultancy services. That was the last work I did before returning to Nigeria with my wife.
Why did you return to Nigeria?
I returned to Nigeria with my wife because I felt I could contribute my knowledge and experience to the country where I originated from. I was advised to return to my country and help build it. At first I was not interested in returning to Nigeria but I later made up my mind to do so after I remembered the advice Ms Sharpe gave to me that I should give back to my society.
How has it been since you arrived Nigeria with your wife?
It has not been easy. We almost died of malaria. It is difficult to get the type of food we eat in Agbor where we erected our building. We can only get the food in Shoprite either in Asaba or Warri. Since our arrival, I have been able to open up the roads leading to my area, Professor John O. Alizor Street and Professor John O. Alizor Close with twenty-four hours electricity and security. Before now the place was like a jungle. My coming, to an extent has been a blessing to the area. However, there are persons who wanted to pay me with evil as they planned to kill me during my 70th birthday celebration on February 20 this year. The gun men came at night and shot sporadically at my compound. There was a gun battle between them and my security men. I thank God we were not hurt. The hoodlums wanted me dead on my birthday but that did not happen.
Was there no resistance from your wife (a white woman) when you told her of your plans to return to Nigeria?
No, except from her family members and friends, but she remained resolute. My wife loves me and I love her too. I love my wife so dearly. I will give my life for her, I will never cheat on my wife, and she lost her family and friends because of me because she came back with me to Nigeria.
Have you been engaged in any meaningful activity since you returned to Nigeria?
The Nigerian government has not hired me to do anything; even if I want to render a free service, the government has not deemed it fit to call upon me. I am currently into consultancy service. We are business and education consultants. I also organize workshops. I have not made any money in Nigeria except the eight thousand naira I made from the sales of the ugwu (pumpkin leaf) I grew in my garden. I was told there was money in the business until I discovered it was not true. I have also tried to produce a business directory paper called Yellow Pages which is lacking in this part of the world, but it was messed up by the printer I hired to do the job. However, I have business directory online website: Africanyellowpages.org where people can register their business free. People can recommend their friends and family members for employment opportunities through it. That is the only way I feel I can contribute to the society. If you need a service you don’t need to call anyone you can go to the Yellow Pages website (Africanyellowpages.org.)
Are you satisfied with the type of governance we have in Nigeria today? Is there any way it could be compared to that of the United States of America?
I love being honest while answering questions like this. To be honest with you, Nigerian leaders are not leading. I have been saying this since I returned to the country. Any time I have the opportunity to speak in public I don’t hide the truth from the public. If you want to help change the system today in Nigeria come up with the facts, don’t hide them. At 70, I will always speak the fact. I am satisfied with the little I have. Our government is our problem. With the mechanism the Nigerian government has put in place, it is difficult for people to move up. I feel sad each time I see our youths run after politicians. For us to get it right as a country we have to go back to the elementary level to learn morality and ethics. We should stop thinking of what to gain when we help people. I have a lot of knowledge and experience to contribute but nobody has come to me since I returned. I won a Congress award for a community service in America. I can still do it here. I know what it is when you are poor and also, what it is when you have surplus. Leaders must do what is right for their followers and not only the right thing for a few. Leaders must strive to provide resources to satisfy the needs of their people. On the part of the Delta State government, I commend Governor Ifeanyi Okowa for the roads he is constructing. I was at his swearing in 2015, and then I was still planning to come back to the country. I am supporting Governor Okowa because he is working for Deltans. I don’t know much about him, I just want him to do more for the people.
How is your relationship with your family members and other Ika people?
It has been very cordial. Last Christmas, I was at my mother’s place, Umuhu Quarters in Otolokpo where my wife and I donated rice to our people, we also gave out shoes to people and helped in the renovation of the community town hall. Unfortunately, our elders there in the village don’t invite me to their meetings. It is only the Agbor people that are carrying me along. My great grandparents (the Osegi family) were from Agbor. I honour every invitation sent to me. This provides me the opportunity to air my views in public.
Is there any plan to bring any of your children to Nigeria?
That is my prayer.
What was your contribution to Ika land while in the U.S.?
I lived all my years in the U.S in an area largely dominated by the white people. I did not really live with our people. However, I assisted one of my sisters and her children to travel to the U.S.
Do you have regret traveling abroad?
I have been blessed by God and I am grateful to Him because if I had not travelled to America I would definitely not have been successful as I am today. My only regret is that when I returned to Nigeria I discovered that none of my family members was educated. I wish they had gone to school. I have written books, seminar reports and articles, so it pains to see my people not educated.
What legacy are you leaving behind?
I wish to be remembered by the good work I am currently doing in my area .Like I said earlier I have opened up two roads leading to my area with twenty-four hours electricity and security. I will do more when I have the opportunity.
Do you have role models?
My role models are all dead. They are Mahatma Gandhi; Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. These men proved that one person can make a difference. They fought for the underdogs. Through them I learnt of justice, integrity, value of honesty and trust. When people trust you, they follow and work with you. I believe in these men because they were able to mobilize their people to follow them. They worked for the well-being of their people.
Would you accept any appointment from the government?
I will if it is not going to infringe on my freedom. I don’t want to enrich myself but to help better the society. Through my community service in America I was given an American Congress award including other awards.
What do you do at your leisure time?
I love playing golf. I am a member of Ibori Golf and Country Club. I watch CNN and foreign movies. I love reading. I love quiet times too.
What is your advice to Nigerians?
Nigerians should not give up because I believe that whatever plan God has for anyone will surely come to pass. My name is Onyemaechi, God made me to succeed. The same way He will do for others. They should not look up to the government but learn to be responsibly. They should be honest in their dealings, truthful and respectful. For President Muhammadu Buhari, he should reshuffle his cabinet. He should be surrounded by intellectuals and honest people.