*Building 10,000 capacity church in his town
*Transition of Nwankwo Kanu, going into soccer
*Fighting in civil war, being among those who produced armaments
*Imo Airport once rejected by FG for being close to PH
*USA ’94 World Cup
By Fred Iwenjora
Chief Dr. Engr. Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu means several things to many people. The respected Igbo elder has played at the very top of all sectors of Nigeria’s economy from construction to aviation, sports, media, politics and all.
FRED IWENJORA engaged the Atta, Ikeduru Imo state high chief whom many love to call Aha eji ejemba Ndigbo (the name that opens all doors.. a name to bank on) and he threw more light on his life of philanthropy amongst other issues.
You have been involved in all sectors of Nigeria and played at the very top…what’s the feeling like?
It is the Lords doing. I continue to be grateful to God Almighty for his blessings, preservation and hand in my life. My contemporaries know me to be brilliant. I was good in academics, engineering, sports, business and leadership. It is God that takes all the credit not me.
Under nromal circumstances, it wouldn’t have been possible because I do not come from a rich background. I feel so fulfilled at 79 years having affected my home community, state and country and touched many lives in many ways than one.
Many people only remember your excapades in business and tend to forget your philanthropic side.
Philanthropy is my main essence because I see myself as a big beneficiary of God’s love, so I must share this love around at every opportunity.
Through Iwuanyanwu Foundation, we have given scholarships to over 5000 people who usually say ‘thank you sir’ when our paths cross one way or the other. I tell them to do unto others like I did to them. Happiness would spread by so doing. Let me tell you honestly speaking, philanthropy gives me the greatest joy.
Why should I not give to others when God has given me so much? I was best student at UNN and was co-opted into Biafra Research and production unit(RAP) led then by Professor Gordian Ezekwe. We produced armaments for the war which we saw as a war of survival.
Why should I not be grateful to God when he saved me from all dangers during the civil war in which I was very well actively involved?
I trained as an infantryman at the school of infantry and fought in many sectors of the war until I was injured and was seconded to advanced military intelligence unit. Many of us who fought the war have died either during the war or after, yet I am alive.
Many are still suffering the scars of war. Several people who talk about the Nigeria civil war may not have seen the war. That is reason we always warn the younger generation about war so they beware.
Having been involved in all aspects of philanthropic activities; which act of giving back touches you the most?
I have been involved in many forms of philanthropy that I may not be able to say which one touches me most. I have been involved in sports, health, etc.
When accident victims and other patients were dying because of the lack of blood bank, I built and equiped the blood bank that many consider of high standard in Owerri. It has served the entire south-east of Nigeria for many years. I also built executive wards at the hospitals.
In sports, it was the area of youth restiveness that inspired me to venture into sports philanthropy to raise talents in soccer. You must recall that at a time, Rangers were the biggest soccer club east of the Niger when it was East central state and rekindled the sports prowess of Igbo people after the war.
When Imo state was created, Spartans came about. I had to take it over and it became Iwuanyawu Nationale. With more funding and boosted morale, we were soon doing continental tournaments like the WAFU and African club Championship cup etc.
We also won leagues and once lost to Algeria at the Championship cup tournament final because of poor officating. We won’t forget that Iwuanyanwu Nationale ruled the soccer waves in Nigeria at a time until I handed it over and it became Heartland.
One of the unforgettable moments in my sports interests was when I saw one of our boys at Iwuanyanwu comets, the youth feeder academy of Iwuanayanwu Nationale rising to become Captain of Nigeria Under 17 team and not long later became Super Eagles captain winning the Olympics.
I am talking about Kanu Nwankwo. Kanu as well as others have not stopped showing their gratitude for all that had happened. As chairman of the fundraising committee for the Super Eagles campaign to US 94, I was so happy to see that Iwuanyanwu Nationale had 7 players on that team. It made me so proud.
Another area that makes me feel most proud is when on a Sunday morning, I go and take a seat at the Anglican Cathedral I built for my community in Ikeduru. It is a 10,000 seater edifice that was dedicated to God on December 28, 2019.
I did not want my own personal house to be better than the house of God so I gave it all I had in me. It cost over N1bn. I also have a foundation supporting the churches and men and women of God that is still running till today.
How do you feel when you hear that Sam Mbakwe Airport Owerri, which may have been rejected when you first mooted the idea, has become the first three most busy airports in Nigeria today? As one who played a big role towards its existence, kindly refresh our minds with history.
It is true I championed the building of Sam Mbakwe Airport when Gen Ike Nwachukwu was Imo state governor. Gen. Nwachukwu made me Chairman of the committee on the airport after I had defended the proposal that Imo state was landlocked without an airport.
FG did not look our way so we resorted to community fund raising. Imo state was then made up of parts of what later became Abia state. Not too long after, Abia was created and we got stuck again especially with a new administrator in Imo state Navy Captain Allison Madueke who did not understand what the plan had been.
I mobilised Owerri people to raise the remaining funds required. In fact, I repatriated some of my funds internationally to loan the committee the funds and the airport was completed. I rejected the refund of the fund later. I was asking myself like JF Kennedy what I could do for my state and Nigeria.
There must have been initial problems or did everything come so easy?
Nothing good comes easy as they say. There were initial problems after we surmounted the problems of funding to complete the construction. The FG refused to commission it for flights claiming it was close to Port Harcourt airport. I argued that New York City has many airports.
Some time later, Chief Tonye Graham Douglas became Minister for Aviation and gave it a nod to run. Again, Nigeria Airways, the only monopoly at that time said it won’t fly Owerri. I had to quickly deploy my private jet into owerri route. I also acquired four more aircraft to run Owerri.
That was how Oriental Airlines came about. During the first weeks, it was a hell. No passengers would dare fly Oriental. We were discredited and written off by many. We even had no funds for fueling. But about twenty days after, like a flood, passengers started streaming for our Lagos and Abuja route.
I feel thrilled in your words that Owerri Sam Mbakwe Airport is still in the first three of busy airports in Nigeria according to a 2019 survey.
The good thing is that these philanthropic gestures are bringing their rewards as I am alive to savour them. Nigerian engineers have instituted the Dr. Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu Annual Lectures to run in perpetuity. My study in Flexible Placements and Hydraulics is still a reference point in engineering.
On the lecture day, a young engineer with first class honors is honored. I was far young when I was made a fellow by the same engineering body so I give more glory to God and should do nothing but give back.
Again, Nigeria has awarded me national honors twice;I am MFR as recommended by Nigerian Society of Engineers and I also became OFR a few years later. Aside from being Pro chancellor of the University of Calabar, I have been founding Chairman of Raw Materials Research Institute.
I have also been chairman of the Nigeria National Merit award for industries where I moved that awardees must have been involved in much of job creation.
I can’t count the honors done me in my life. The faculty of medicine at University of Calabar is named after me. The institution said I resolved many thorny issues while I was Pro-Chancellor. Also my name is boldly inscribed at the Blood Bank in Owerri.
In Imo state, my name is in the Imo Hall of fame while at Addis Ababa, African Students Union has my name hoisted high.The Olubadan made me Balogun of Ibadan. I am patron of Igbo Ohanaeze youths, Arewa Youths as well as Oodua youths. Indeed I can’t count my blessings enough but can only thank God.
However, one of greatest honors done to me that I cherish so much is the title of ‘Aha eji eje mba ndigbo’ given me by the union of Igbo people from all the states that speak Igbo in Nigeria. They said this title is not inheritable.
Let’s digress from philanthropy a while; You are one of the proponents of restructuring of Nigeria…
Yes I am. I believe that if we restructure Nigeria, it will become a giant in the world. We are running a country that is defective in struture. There is no way Nigeria will move in the right direction without restructuring.
For instance, Boko Haram and other forms of insecurity will be dealt with urgently. Nigeria should not have everything centered at Abuja. We need a strong state and LG police to complement the FG to effectively run Nigeria. (To be continued)