By Emeka Obasi
The world they say is made up of people who accomplish things and those who get all the credit. I doubt if Federal Government records will devote any space at all to the man who brought peace to the Niger Delta. His name is Allen Ifechukwu Onyema.
Knowledge is power. I must confess I did not know much about this man until I read the comprehensive interview conducted by Saturday Vanguard Editor, Onochie Anibeze.
While our politicians were busy fleecing government and enjoying the destruction of oil installations in the Niger Delta by militants, Onyema took it upon himself to spend time, money and risk his life for normalcy to prevail.
It began right from cradle. He was born in Benin city to Igbo parents, Michael and Helen, from Anambra. Dad was pleasantly surprised when his eight–year old boy left for the village to live with an uncle in a far flung area along the River Niger.
The senior Onyema and his brother were involved in what could be described as family war. He could not understand why his own son should leave his comfort zone and pitch camp with this ‘foe’ of a brother. That was how the strife ended.
The charity that Allen cultivated at home was going to lead to other parts of Nigeria. As a Law student of the University of Ibadan, he traveled to Kaduna to make peace in one of the ethnic crises.
That was the beginning of recognition by the traditional institution in Northern Nigeria. Sultan Maccido, a strong believer in one Nigeria and lover of the Igbo, was impressed.
One of Maccido’s younger brothers, Sadiq, who is presently the Sultan, was an Army officer and his first posting was Nsukka in the South-East. Among his Igbo friends and military course mates were: Azubuike Ihejirika, E.U. Nwanguma and Ofi Ihenacho.
Another course mate, Bala Shagari, was son of Second Republic President, Shehu Shagari. Sokoto welcomed Onyema and he was also invited by the former president and commended for his peace efforts.
When the Niger Delta was boiling, the danger in relying on one resource became even more glaring. Crude oil production fell to an all time low.
Onyema moved in, spending his money. The flash points did not scare him. He made friends with the warlords and began to transform the different camps to meaningful grounds.
He brought in American scholars. Shell Petroleum Development Company[SPDC] was shocked to discover that just this one man brought them back to continue work.
Timi Alaibe was the Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission[NDDC].The militants wanted his head. He tried all means possible to get in touch with Onyema.
It looked like mission impossible until his wife met the peace crusader aboard a flight to Abuja. The woman was delighted to plead with Onyema to contact Alaibe as a matter of urgency.
The militants did not trust government officials. They also were wary of some of their Niger Delta brothers, but they believed in Onyema. At the same time, President Umaru Yar’adua wanted peace in the region.
It was when Alaibe took Onyema to Aso villa that the tide turned. At last, they found somebody who related with the dreaded militants and could also be trusted by government.
That was how amnesty was achieved. The hype of flying fringe self decorated militant generals to Abuja was not what sealed the Peace deal. It was Onyema’s earlier moves that restored calm.
And this man who spent so much from his pocket before Shell and the Federal Government intervened, did not walk a street paved with gold. He began as a squatter in some squalid part of Oshodi, Lagos.
When Onyema left Law School in 1989, there was an opportunity to join Shell. Another uncle, worked with the oil giants. He chose to move to Lagos instead without guarantee of a job, in 1990.
The unemployed graduate could have won a medal in the Olympic Walk event for he walked all over in search of gainful employment. His shoes bore the brunt of the ‘Great Trek.’
That lasted until Chief Vincent Nwizugbo hired him as a pupil lawyer on a monthly salary of 500 naira. The Marina office quaked when the new employee won his first case in court, flooring very senior lawyers.
It did not take long for cash to flow. Property was attractive and yielded more than enough to go solo. The young man also found a wife.
His love, Alice Ojochide Ejembi, is Igala, from the North Central part of the country. They are blessed with four children. The story of this man, born in the South–South, gives credit to national unity.
Onyema attended Urhobo College, Effurun and Government College, Ughelli respectively. He graduated from a university in the South-West. This experience has also kept him going.
Many thought that he set up Peace Airlines because Sultan Maccido died in an air crash in 2006. No. The driving force is creation of job opportunities for thousands of unemployed compatriots.
We can conveniently call Onyema, Mr. Nigeria. The man who helped Air Peace to get the Air Operator’s Licence was Director General of NCAA, Benjamin Adeyileka. Some of the people who helped on the way up include Gbolahan Abatan, Evelyn Tanko and Yakubu Dhazia.
Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was president yet it was difficult to get the licence. His wife, Patience has an Igbo mother. That did not help. Strange enough, the story was that Air Peace was owned by the woman because she was called:‘Mama Peace.’
Onyema has kind words for President Muhammadu Buhari for suspending the Air Nigeria project. It is good to hear something good about Mr. President. He saved jobs and local airlines.
“ I feel it was government involvement that killed Nigeria Airways. Government is only to regulate and take taxes.” This is coming from August Okpe, Chief Pilot, Biafra Air Force who retired as Deputy Chief Pilot, Nigeria Airways.
Onyema did the unimaginable. He brought IPOB, Fulani Herdsmen and OPC together for good. This prophet, decorated by the world, deserves honour in his own country.