By Sam Eyoboka
Barrister Kenneth Imansuangbon (aka Rice Man) is the proprietor and Chairman of Abuja-based Pace Setters Group of Schools, lawyer, businessman and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship aspirant in Edo State. He spoke in Benin-City shortly after a thanksgiving service at the Rev. Dr. Felix Omobude-pastored New Covenant Gospel Church to thank God for saving his life in a motor accident last November 13. Excerpts:
Congratulations for surviving an accident late last year. Did you have any premonition?
Yes. I knew somehow that there were evil persons who were not happy with what I was doing for the masses. I felt somehow that they were not happy with the good I am doing, like sharing rice, giving scholarships, sponsoring essay competitions, football competitions in Edo and across the country, reaching out to widows and orphans and so on. I knew that some people don’t like such good things. But there are also some people that love it.
Each time I do such things, it is because of my faith in God. The background I came from is very poor. I lost my father in 1983. From that point in time, mama (his mother) toiled day and night to provide for our needs. Mama trained me in black clothes (mourning attires). I am the first of six children. My mother, Elizabeth Imansuangbon, is a wonderful woman; very resilient and courageous.
When my father died, she didn’t abandon us to marry another man. She was very beautiful. She stood by me. I actually benefited from the sympathy of the public. So, that is why you see me giving. I can give my knickers, shoes and even pants and go naked without batting an eyelid. It is in my DNA to have sympathy for the poor. People think it is because of politics that I feed people, but if they know where I am coming from, they would know that nothing can be farther from the truth. My guiding principle is that politics should have face of humanity.
When I give, I give selflessly; even when I give in pain. There are certain giving you do, even when you don’t have. But you’re constrained to give because you could see the weakness and begging of the people with their eyes and body language. So, you’re left with no option than to bend over backward to give. At times, I feel pain. It is not easy to give. At times, I feel, this money that I am giving, why don’t I keep it for my children? Or why don’t I use it buy big cars, expensive wristwatches and build a big house? This house I live in (in Benin) is a rented apartment.
What are the lessons you have learnt from that accident?
That life is vanity. It’s like a vapour. November 14, I would have died were it not for the mercies of God. I must say that as a result of the accident, two things have happened. I have taken two decisions. As a result of this accident, I would hold on to God the more, serve Him more than ever, serve the community and the people. I will serve Edo people, serve Nigeria, serve the world.
Let me also add that the accident has brought unity to the state. It has synergised both PDP and APC. We should take politics beyond hatred. Politics is not hate. If you hate because you’re a politician, then, you’re not a human being. Politics is love; and that was demonstrated by Edo people the day I arrived from the overseas treatment. Over 20,000 people were at the airport to welcome me.
Everywhere was jampacked. For four hours, they waited-old, young, men, women, children. From the airport, they trekked with me down to my house (at GRA). It is only love that can make anybody do that kind of a thing. Those who I never knew prayed for me. Muslims prayed for me. Imams prayed for me. Christians prayed for me. Everybody prayed for me.
What was the thought that came to your mind when you lost your dad?
His death was a huge shock. I felt that it was the end of the world for me, that I was finished. I thought there was no hope left. Immediately the doctor pronounced him dead, I felt hopeless. But after his burial, I knew that I had to hold on to my creator. God gave me hope. God inspired me. He fired me up. And the Edo people and Nigerians as a whole fired me up. His death was also a tonic for success.
You rose from rag to riches, grass to grace. What was the turning point?
From Ewohinmi, my mother would come to Benin when I was in ICE, wearing black clothes. I am sorry to say this, part of our culture is unfriendly and unkind to woman. If a woman loses her spouse, for three years, she is made to wear black clothes. She would come to Benin in her black clothes to give me foodstuff and other necessities. I knew that the only way was to succeed. I would tell her, ‘Mama, don’t worry. If it pleases the God almighty, the end would justify the means’. Today, I am grateful to God and to my mother. Also, I have a very great wife, Kate. She is like a bulwark. She is my brain. God gave me a good partner.
Whatever I am today, she is very instrumental to it. And she is a God-fearing woman.
What attracted you to your wife?
Quite honestly, I don’t deserve the wife I got. Yes, I wanted a God-fearing woman, a woman that would love the poor. My wife said to me that when she was young, she used to dream that she was helping the poor on the street, sharing rice, noodles and all what not. And today, that’s what we’re doing.
In Edo State, they call you the Rice Man because of you philanthropy. You’re are also a lawyer and politician. What drives you?
What is dear to me is that I am Kenneth Imansuangbon. I am an ordinary man. I am like any ordinary Nigerian on the street. But what drives me on is that one day, we would realize a country of our dream, where everyone would have job, peace, security, good water system, good educational system; a country where we would not emphasise tribe, but that which strengthens us.
Where there would be justice, fairness and equity. That is my hope for the country. That is actually what drives me on. Each time people ask: ‘Ken, why are you in politics?’ I am in politics because I want a better nation. I want a better life for my fellow Nigerians. What I have seen on the streets of New York, what I have seen at the Heathrow Airport, what I have seen in Dubai, what is happening in South Africa can happen in Nigeria, if we have the men with good heart in government, if we have people in government that would see themselves as servants of the people rather than as the Lords of the Manor.
Every chance we have in government is given by God. God would ask questions. Life is very frail and temporal. On November 13, 2013, I was coming from Akure where I went for the burial of my very good friend, Deji Falae. Deji had died. Back home, I was almost gone. But the finger of God stopped death and Satan, and gave me life. God said, ‘No, touch not my anointed and do my prophet no harm.’
That was what saved me. And because of that safety, Edo people are together now. The safety God granted me has bonded the two dominant political parties (APC and PDP) in the state. The governor and I are friends now. We’re brothers. Everybody is one now. The accident that almost claimed my life has unified Edo people. What makes Edo strong is not PDP. What makes Edo strong is not APC.
What makes Edo strong is not the rich oil or vegetation in the state. What makes Edo strong is the spirit of forgiveness, the spirit of unity, the spirit that I can criticize the Comrade Governor, and the next day, he can come to my thanksgiving. That’s love. What strengthens us is that the Comrade Governor knows that I can be the next governor. That he can hand over the key of Government House to me. And he said during my thanksgiving that God and the people would determine who would be the governor (of Edo State) after him in 2016. To quote him, ‘It might be Kenneth, it might be Imansuangbon.’ He’s checking out, I am checking in.
Rumour has it that you weep each time you travel abroad. Why?
It is no rumour. The first time I got to the US, I was crying. I wept. The American Customs office asked why I was crying. I told him I was crying because I didn’t know why my country, Nigeria, was not like this (US). Where did we miss it as a people? That was actually what triggered my interest in politics. That is the reason I said no matter the hazards in politics, some of us are ready to live and die for what we believe in to make a change in our country. This change is coming. This change will come.
This change is here.