Tonna Okei,what are your philosophies of life?
“Injustice to one is injustice to all” – Martin Luther King. I am also guided by another quote by Martin Luther King that says “The greatest place in hell is reserved for those who say nothing at great moral times”. I build my philosophy around this quote, “when they came for the Jews I said nothing because I was not a Jew, they came for the socialists again I said nothing because I was not one of them, but when they came for me, there was no one left to speak for me” – Martin Niemoller. Am also moved by quotes from Nelson Mandela that says “the surest way to success is to journey along the footsteps of those who have succeeded” “All that evil needs to triumph is that good men do nothing” these quotes move me to do things like we are one. The power is within you to do things.
I am also motivated by the notion that nothing is impossible for me, I have been round the world, spoken to the high and mighty so there is no impossibility with me. Am a mere commoner from Ekuku-Agbor, and right now I go places, so the child of a farmer can also go places, if only they are determined. I usually tell people that, “I don’t fear a man with guns, but rather a man who is determined, courageous and has the audacity of hope, like Obama calls it.
Do you have interest in running for any political office in Nigeria?
I belong to the Agbor Community group, the people’s parliament, and a lot of Nigerian groups such as the Egbe Ombo Oshogbo by way of Affinity; I belong to an African group that is made up of African Conservatives. I belong to some Indian groups. I also belong to the Irish group. In short, I am in a lot of groups, Nigeria and non-Nigerian. My hands are full, for the good of the community.
I am a strategic thinker and builder. I love to stay behind the scenes and do things. Regarding politics, if I will run for office tomorrow I don’t know, would I take any political appointment tomorrow? I don’t know. My priority is to continue to better the lives of my people, continue to empower each other, speak the truth and fight for justice in every situation.
How would you rate the way Politics is played in Nigeria as compared to other countries?
It would be very unfair to begin to compare the United States of America to Nigeria. Firstly, America is over 200 years old, while Nigeria is merely 57 years old. Secondly, African nations are mostly conservative, coming from a society where it believed that elder do no wrong. We have gerontocrats who believe that you can’t talk when they are talking. It’s very difficult; we have our challenges back home. But, if you ask me, I will prefer to be a politician in the west, because it’s an egalitarian society. I can talk to a man who is in his 70s and 80s and nobody brings that issue of age or that I got my PhD in 1961. Even the governors in the west are called by their first name. In South Carolina, I don’t even address my governor as “His Excellency”. He just says, “Call me Henry”.
I prefer a place where I can call my state commissioner for health by his first name. It is easier to discuss with such people. But when you are in an area where you must address somebody as “His Excellency” and they can do you wrong, when you try to correct them, they will say “How dare you?” this is our challenges back home. I wouldn’t say it’s wrong. It’s our culture; it’s the way we are. However, I long for the day when our society will be egalitarian, where a boy who is 25 can sit down and talk with elderly men. Even here, my children reason with me, my last child and first children reason with me. We argue and I defend any decision that I take, I don’t give orders, rather, I let them know why I am doing anything I do. For instance, my daughter will come to me and say “Daddy I want to go and see Aunty Gina (My sister) in Nigeria and I will say “No, you can’t go there now. Sit down let me tell you why, you can go next Easter”. And she understands why. We as children in those days just did things without knowing why. People picked their majors or course of studies, because their father’s said so, without even knowing what they were doing. In all, it’s easier in the west. I won’t put the Nigeria culture down, because it’s just the way we are.
I am not on the ground, but I have very close friends who are occupying government positions. I don’t think I will rate any Nigerian politician above 6/10. I personally like the governor of Delta state. It’s only in Africa and Asia where you have politicians being rated 10/10. Even in the West, the best of leaders gets 5/10. So, you are not going to hear me rating Governor Okowa or any African politician, 7/10. That would be a lie. I will rate him as of one of the best, he is doing very well. A lot has been done and a lot still needs to be done. I like Governor Okowa of Delta State and Prof. Ben Ayade of cross River State. Those two are the best in PDP. I have never heard Governor Okowa say anything bad against Buhari. I have never heard him saying anything negative about Cairo Ojugboh Akinuwa of the Agbor Land. He is just there, delivering the political dividends, and doing well. So, I like him. Is he really doing well, yes I think he is going well: are there is room for improvement, yes there are; do I support him for a second term, very yes! Do I support him because he is an Ika man, No! I support him, because I think that based on meritocracy, he is the best. After the Uduaghan regime, I knew that we were in need of someone, who understood government, its dynamics and its systems and that can steady the ship. That is why I supported Governor Okowa. I get annoyed when people say; let’s support Okowa because he is Ika. That is very parochial. I support Okowa because he is the best governor. I am not supporting him because he is an Ika. If I find someone else who is better than him, whether he is an Urhobo or Isoko, I will support that person. As of today, there is no one better than Governor Okowa, so he has my support. So, I wish him all the best of luck – Ekueme.
What is your take on the tithing?
I am a Catholic and I give. The reverend father never preached about tithing and they don’t disturb us. We give our best. Catholic Church is about the richest, they’ve never forced us to give. We give the way we like. Our priests don’t have jets. His Holiness- Pope Francis does not have a jet. Cardinals don’t have jets, yet we give. So you begin to ask yourself; is it time for Pentecostal churches to borrow ideals from the Catholic Church? Tithing has never been an issue in the Catholic Church. Nothing like, “Give unto the Lord”, “you must give ten percent”. Those things have never been an issue for Catholics.
It is a Pentecostal issue, thus I will leave it for them to discuss. I have been to Catholic Churches in Nigeria, India, America and Ireland, not only has no priest ever asked me to bring money, but also none of them have ever preached about tithe. We don’t do bazaars or harvest in the western world. I give the way I like. Sometimes I give five dollars, at other times, I give I dollar. Sometimes I don’t give. When I’m happy, I give more. For instance on Sunday, I intend to give fifty dollars or 100 dollars because yesterday was my wife’s birthday. When it’s my children’s birthday, I give fifty dollars. When it is a normal day, sometimes I give 5 dollars, or less or more. So that is the Catholic Church. I am going to leave the Pentecostals, to solve their problems.
Do you have any award in your collections?
Obviously, I do have awards. In 2006, the Igbo Union in Edo State gave me an award as the man of the year. In Ireland, I have received many awards from the Irish Senate, the mayor of Cambridge and the Mayor of Dublin, as a distinguished ethnic minority leader and as an adviser to the Newbridge City Council, Community leader. I have been recognized by the Vinod Kuma I.T College in India as an Honorary Chancellor. I have been recognized by the South Carolina state government, the South Carolina Senate, The Major of Columbia, as a distinguished personality of the year. Ika Village Square (IVS) recently celebrated me as their Personality of the week. So, I have received numerous awards. Some of them, I can’t even recall right now. However, awards are not my priority.
What are your worst and highest moments thus far?
My worst moments were when I lost my two brothers, my brother in-law, my aunt, my cousin and others dear to me. My highest moment was when my father was made a commissioner in 1988. I remember when Delta State was created; my dad was the commissioner for health and education. Also, when I ran for a councillorship position in Ireland, I saw my name on the ballot paper and whites were voting for me. Although I lost the election, it was a great moment. I was made special adviser to the Lord Mayor and the Senators. I was the first Nigerian to be appointed into the South Carolina Cultural and Linguistic Committee. Those have been my highest moments thus far. I have addressed Prime Ministers and Presidents.
Who are your role models?
My father, uncles, I took after my father, in that I do not drink and smoke and his administrative skill. I took my mother’s social skill. My Uncle John Ehikwe, the late George Orewa. My late Aunty, Margaret Orewa. I love Tinubu. This is because I hate people that are not ideological, people that jump from one party to another. I love people like that; people who are committed, faithful and loyal. One thing we lack in the world today is men who are faithful. I like Buhari, because he is disciplined (also one of the reason I love my dad), I love the late Idiagbon. I love men who are disciplined. Men like Dr. Ben Orewa son of Dr. Gorge Orewa and even women that are disciplined, not your money, not your fame or your beauty. If I find that you are morally disciplined, I will gravitate towards that person. I love to have people like that around me. People like Wole Soyinka, the Late Tai Solarin, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Walter Susulu, and Oliver Tambo. I read about these men, as well as the books they wrote. I love Salif Kaita, the Albino. In short, I love morally upright and disciplined people. Oshiomole said something I like. He said “For the first time, I can say that my president is not a thief”. That is what I like about Buhari. He may not be too good in some sectors, but I can say that “my president is not corrupt”. Nothing is more than that, these are the people I look up to, these are my heroes, and these are my role models. When I join my ancestors, I need people to say that this man was disciplined. I also love punctuality, when I met my wife, I told her that, “if you don’t cook for me, I will forgive you, if you curse me, I will forgive you, but if you make me go late, I will not forgive you”. I have never been late to any occasion. That is another thing I took from my dad and I always stick to that.
How do you relax?
I sit at home, watch youtube. I love music, so I play Queen Helen azaka, Joe Morgan, Obuagu Okonji, The Old Igbo songs by Chimezie, I love traditional music, Urhobo gospel songs, Egu ndi Yoruba, Ebenezer Obe, I love any music that is not English. I love my tradition. My kids think am an old school, I don’t blame them. I love anything political and religious. I can watch a Nelson Mandela film for five hours, but if you put one of these movies or music’s by musicians like flavor, I won’t watch it. But if you put Oliver the De Coque or Bright Chimezie, I will watch it. I can even pay cinema fees for my wife and children, but I won’t go to the cinema. But if you tell me that there is a movie on religions, Jesus Christ or political issues or movies concerning the life of Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, I will go and watch the movie.
What are your words of advice for Ika people?
In Ika land, we need to come together and start talking. People should drop their ego for the good of the community. Chinua Achebe once said “it is good for Umunna to talk. It is not that they can’t eat or that they can’t see the man from their respective homes but it is good for Umunna to come together and talk”. So, it is good for the people to be open, to come together and talk, and not when you are asked a question, you quickly close it by saying that –“I am senior to you, or that I am this or that”. For the first time, we have a state governor, we have Central Bank governor. Yet, I don’t see what we are doing, we can do better.
What are your solutions on youth restiveness?
Regarding youth restiveness, I don’t blame those boys who are stealing, or those girls who are into prostitution. There are no jobs. Philo the Iranian lady once said, “Work nor dey”, when a girl finishes her schooling, she enters into the kitchen and begins to cook, with her mother”. Thus, what I am saying is give the boys jobs, and they will do something. I don’t think that our government is doing enough. I want to see them provide the enabling environment for the private sector to flourish and to empower people. Let our youths be gainfully employed. They will pay tax and everybody will be happy.
My advice to our youths is that they should remain civil, remain ambitious, that they empower each other and that they look to the future. Go away from cultism, prostitution, yahoo, 419, short term gains, short life. Youths should be law a biding and respectful. They should study very well and be ready to give back to the community. They should not strive to acquire wealth overnight. It doesn’t work that way, even in America. Be patient, look to collaboration and networking with friends. Hold your leaders accountable. Don’t fall for their tricks; stop collecting five naira when it is election time. Be firm, be bold and strong. If all the youths come together, they will vote out all these criminals.
What is your favourite African delicacy?
My favourite African delicacy is over ripe plantain with stew. You can win me anytime with that. If beans are added to it, it is also fine. I like pounded yam and any good soup too.
Do you have any regrets in life?
I don’t have any regrets in life. I take responsibility in life. However, I wish my brothers never died. I wish I listened to my father better. If I listened to my father more, perhaps I would be 10 times better than I am today. I wish youths can listen to their parents. In all, I think that my greatest regret is that I didn’t listen to my father, as much as I ought to have listened while I was growing up. This was because I thought I knew more than him.
How do you think Ikas in Diaspora can help in bettering Ika land?
Ikas in Diaspora can help to improve the land by collaborating with our people back home. But our people at home will have to be fair. We’ve noticed that when it comes to money, they want the Diasporas to handle it. When it you don’t live in Nigeria. For example, during our Agbor Community meeting, I was speaking the Ika Language. I was not born and raised at our place. But, I speak Yoruba, Igbo, Ika, Ndokwa, Urhobo and instead of my people to encourage me some said “stop speaking Ika, your Ika is bad”, How are we going to learn, we should learn to work well with the Diasporas. The Diasporas are not your enemies. They are not in competition with your rather, they have only come to complement you. We all should understand that we are all one, that we are all Ika people. That we’ve travelled out doesn’t make us stupid or foolish or visitors or strangers to Ika land. We can work together. When we start talking, we can do better. Ikas are doing better all over the world. We just need to find that framework, where we can sit together and plan ahead for the good of our people.
How can the private sectors help to better Ika land?
Private sector can work with the government, if the government is willing. The government should create the enabling environment; government must ensure security; government must give them juicy deals to make them come. Private investors are not Father Christmas. I don’t think that the government is doing enough; they need to increase their tempo. It is not the duty of government to create jobs. Rather it is the duty of the government to create the enabling environment. Private investors want profit. They will come, only if the government can guarantee profit and security.
Countries like South Africa, Dubai and India are not stupid. They are watching you. When there is no consistency in government, noise making won’t attract private investors to the country, let’s stop deceiving ourselves.
Thank you for your time
The pleasure is mine.
Tonna Okei,what are your philosophies of life?