January 27, 2023

Vanguard Awards: Bishop Mike Okonkwo, icon with heart of a good shepherd

Bishop Mike Okonkwo

By Ishola Balogun

HONOURS and awards are always bestowed upon fewer people than those who deserve them. A lifetime award is not just for everyone, it is meant for rare individuals who have made outstanding contributions to positively impact the lives of others. The Presiding Bishop of The Redeemed Evangelical Mission, TREM, Dr. Mike Okonkwo, is one of those who repeatedly give themselves in service to others. He exemplifies the qualities of compassion and selfless service.

Annually, he lifts an average of 500 needy people out of poverty, giving them succour and changing their lives from despair to the path of hope, from inactivity to productivity, and from stagnation to progress. This he does through the foundation he founded 40 years ago, Empowerment for the Less Privileged, ELP. Since the formation of this foundation, over 20, 000 people have benefited from his big heart.

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The Foundation, whose sole aim is to alleviate the plight of the underprivileged in society by providing skill acquisition and training with a view to empowering them and putting food on their tables, has continued to grow in size and capacity, with the number of beneficiaries swelling every year. He ministers to the less-privileged through the provision of relief items, food, free basic medical care, soft and short term loans, and encouragement of petty trading in order to make every needy individual that comes his way self-sustaining.

Apart from attending to the needs of the poor, Okonkwo, through this same platform, also offers free medical checks to members of the public, regardless of faith or tribe, donates items such as wheelchairs to hospitals across the country, provides free vocational training centres, runs free preparatory schools for students in secondary school, and facilitates regular public enlightenment campaigns on health issues, amongst others. Areas in which he provides vocational training are, desktop publishing, which includes graphic design; fashion design, hair dressing and barbering, soap making, beads and jewelry making, catering services, tie-and-dye, adult education, SSCE and JAMB tutorials, among others.

He has also provided scholarships to brilliant but financially challenged students, many of whom are now successful graduates from various tertiary institutions in Nigeria. The major challenge facing the country, according to him, is unemployment. In one of his media interviews, Okonkwo said: “In order to reduce the scourge of unemployment, investment in vocational education and youth empowerment is key to reversing the trend and consequently enhancing the nation’s development. A lot of our people, after leaving school, have no job. Can you imagine a doctor who, after finishing school, is struggling to take up a job paying N10,000 per month? That is frustrating! Nigeria is a developing country; we have not even scratched the surface of the resources that are in the country. So, we want to be able to train people who can use the gifts that they have to become entrepreneurs and employers of labour. And that is one of the things my mind is going into concerning the education sector.”

Okonkwo demonstrates active involvement in education and youth development by not only doling out scholarships but also instituting essay competitions among students at public and private schools, thus stimulating interest in research work, extensive reading, and constructive writing. His words: “It (essay competition) has also contributed to ICT development in secondary schools, especially in government-owned schools. Winners have emerged from both government-owned schools and private schools, and they have always been encouraged with gifts both in-kind and cash, and I am confident of the fact that Nigerian youths can compete favorably with their counterparts in developed nations.”

In order to deepen the success recorded within a few years and derive pleasure from the joy and hope the programme has given thousands of beneficiaries, Okonkwo partnered with his wife, under the aegis of the Women of Global Impact, to sponsor free cervical screening for women in rural areas and annual donations of food and clothing to the less-privileged women, particularly widows. Aside from his ecclesiastical activity as a bishop and philanthropy, his love for peaceful coexistence and duty to humanity manifested itself during a protracted land feud in Anambra State’s Ogbunike, Oyi local government. Despite the dangers that role entailed, the peace-loving Bishop played an important role. He worked with others to ensure the reconciliation of warring parties, which invariably led to the sustained peace the town enjoys today.

Even in his evangelic mission, a substantial part of his time is dedicated to crusades tagged “We Care.” One of the leading pastors of the church said: “The ministry has several arms all geared towards reaching the ‘unreached’ wherever they can be found. “We have a Prison Outreach, which ministers to inmates in various prisons and remand homes; Word Ambassadors, which organize crusades in various towns and villages; and the ‘We Care’ Ministry, which takes care of the immediate needs of people.”

This sense of selflessness and compassion in the service of humanity has endeared him to many, including his colleagues on the altar. Recently, the National President of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN, Bishop Francis Wale Oke, described Okonkwo as a global icon, and a true father with the heart of a good shepherd. He saluted the TREM Bishop as a worthy example to Nigerians on multiple fronts: as an exemplary patriot, peacemaker, voice of grace, and a man of impeccable integrity.

He hailed Okonkwo’s force of vision, stressing that, as one of the founding fathers of the PFN, his strength of character and unceasing support for the Fellowship over the years stand out with an unblemished record of service. Oke, however, called on Nigerians to imbibe the culture of celebrating icons and leaders while still alive rather than resorting to eulogies after their deaths. This partly explains why the clarion call for his nomination for a lifetime award has met with the approval of the Vanguard Board of Editors.