Mr Godwin Chukwunenye Ezeemo is the publisher of Nigerian OrientNews magazine and Nigerian Orient Newspaper, which will hit the stands in June 2012. He is also chairman, Orient Export, a UK-based organization that deals in manufacturing, production and distribution of agricultural-related products and shipping services; chairman, Sokka International Nigeria, exclusive distributors of Carlton Saw Chain and accessories, Tiger products, AET ignition components, genuine chain saw and spares, garden equipment and general hardware, Tillotson Carburettor, ODII products, etc; CEO, Orient Shipping Worldwide; CEO, Union Haulage Worldwide and Oil Mills; and president, Charity Ezeemo Trust for the Less Privileged – an organization concerned with the welfare of the poor in various communities in Nigeria and abroad. Beyond these, he is also establishing firms that will assimilate the teeming unemployed youths in Nigeria, particularly Anambra, his home state. In December 2011, the Anambra chapter of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, recognized him as “The Entrepreneur of the Year”. Recently, Ezeemo spoke exclusively with our Anambra Bureau crew on a number of issues, including an international conference his media firm intends to organize, his move to complete the NUJ Press Centre in Anambra State, his vision for the youths and for Anambra State, his recent visit to the families of Boko Haram victims, and so on. Excerpts:
As the president of Charity Ezeemo Trust for the Less-Privileged, you went to Adazi-Nnukwu to condole with the families of victims of the Boko Haram attacks in Mubi. Is this what the Trust is all about?
Before I tell you about the charity foundation, let me say that I went to Adazi-Nnukwu because it is a culture in Igboland that whenever your brothers and sisters lose a soul, you have to feel for them. That is why we went there to commiserate with their families and Adazi-Nnukwu as a whole, because losing 12 illustrious citizens in a swoop is a big pain.
Boko Haram is a sect which exists in the North. I don’t think they are here in the South at the moment. I think the major problem we have is that of education. Ninety percent of Nigerians are not educated. I don’t mean going through the four walls of the university or polytechnic; I mean being knowledgeable or knowing the basic things we need to know. Believe me, if everybody knows what they are supposed to know, nobody will accept to do a job that will endanger their lives or eliminate a life that does not belong to them. But because we are not knowledgeable, some people are being used because they don’t know what they are doing. That is why the Bible says my people are dying because of lack of knowledge.
My advice to them is that they’ve got to take it. We came here and we will definitely go one day. We don’t know how we will go. As I am standing here talking to you, I don’t know how I will die. Is that not true? One way or the other, nature knows that these guys would die that way, that is, if we all believe in God. We know that one day, something will happen, and somebody will not be here anymore. So, I believe that is the way they are destined to go. And that is what I want to say.
To your question, Charity Ezeemo Trust is about charity. We thought of it and founded it some years back for the purpose of helping any willing but less-privileged child to actualize his or her academic pursuit through the award of scholarship for study in any institution of higher learning in the country. We are committed to helping the less-privileged youths to start life meaningfully. We also help youths to discover their talents in soccer by organising and sponsoring football competitions among primary schools and fishing out talented footballers who would not only do the state proud but the nation at large, if properly groomed. Charity Ezeemo Trust believes that sports, especially football, is underdeveloped and that Nigeria needs to develop here because it will create massive employment opportunities for the youths and make them think less of involvement in crimes.
Periodic visits to motherless babies’ and destitute’ homes to put smiles on their faces are part of our mission. We also teach them virtues of love and straightforwardness in whatever they are doing in life. We encourage them to shun injustice of any kind and realise that their future lies in their hands and all have got a role to play to make our religiosity strong. We believe that wealth comes from God and should be used to look after others; hence, we constantly call on the privileged class to help the less-privileged, in conformity with our Lord’s commandment that we should love our neighbour as we love ourselves.
Is that part of why you are organising an international conference/workshop on value re-orientation for the people of Anambra State come May this year?
Yes. The value re-orientation conference would last for five days and it would be all-encompassing, with different sessions that touch on our values as Ndigbo and as true Anambra citizens known for hard work, discipline and dexterity. It would re-awaken our youths from slumber and enable them to resist the pursuit of material things and seek knowledge which is power. And the appeal I want to make is for all hands to be on deck. The government is not doing enough. Nobody in Nigeria is doing enough to get everybody to be in the know. Majority of the people are still keeping information away from other people. They don’t want people to be liberated. They want them to be closed up in such a way that they don’t know anything. You tell them to go this way and they do it. I ask the government to make information neutral and liberal so that everybody will be knowledgeable, so that people cannot be conscripted into doing havoc to their fellow human beings.
The concept of the international conference is being articulated by a couple of people and NUJ Anambra State chapter as well as my company, Orient Communications Limited, which is sponsoring it 100 percent. The reason I am doing it is that I want to give back to the community and state where I started as a little boy – from primary, secondary to polytechnic – since God has been benevolent enough. I want to give out to help educate the people so that our people that are in bondage will be liberated. They are suffering because they don’t know. And then, you know the problem we are having here. Even people that are actually there that are knowledgeable do not want things to go the way they are supposed to go. The value has gone haywire and nothing is working. So, that mindset needs to be changed.
Are there similarities between the kind of orientation we have here and what obtains in the UK? Are there areas we must reject?
Well, I can tell you that the Western world is more organised than us. There, it is a must that every child that comes to a family must go to school, at least primary and secondary school, before the child drops out. But here, these kids don’t have these opportunities in the family. You can see they are two different worlds. You can’t even compare them, though bringing a child up depends on the parents. The way a child behaves reflects the way the parents handle them. If the parents are loose, the child would be loose; but if the parents are strict and invest in training the child, of course the child would definitely do better. In the Western world, their children are so important to them, but here, it is a different thing altogether as many parents won’t like to put in anything. The child is born and that’s all. Soonest, he would be given a tray full of oranges to sell in the market for money. What do you want that child to learn? Nothing but the rotten part of the society, and what do you expect when he grows? But in the Western world, you are made to follow a stereotyped way of life and when you get to age 18, you are assumed to be an adult. They don’t smack the children but that does not mean they don’t speak to them. They speak to them but they don’t put much pressure, like good families here do. You may put a bit of pressure on a child there but corporeal punishment is not allowed.
You have a magazine and soon your newspaper will hit the stands. Is that a way of creating employment for our unemployed youths?
Actually, apart from creating employment by establishing a magazine and the newspaper, which is about to debut, everything is geared towards education. We provide employment for our teeming youths that are graduating out of school in thousands. They are developed minds; if you don’t get them something positive to do, they will start doing something negative. So, in my own little way, whatever I can do to solve that, I will happily do it. We are committed and dedicated to fighting unemployment. That is why we are opening up industries here and there for our people to be engaged. God has blessed us in his infinite mercy and now is the time to give back to the society. I won’t shy away from that responsibility.
I will like to urge you, the press, to help in educating the people. You need to help because if you do not help, things will go wrong. As soon as you educate people to know their left from their right, life will be good here for everybody. For instance, if someone is given a cash of N5,000 to cast a vote, what is N5,000 to make him go hungry till after four years? The person that gives you the money will be in office for 4 years and say, “Ok, I have settled you already.” You will not have any moral justification to complain because the person owes you no obligation. Your grudges will not affect the person for not providing basic amenities because you got your pay before the election. So, I am not really blaming the politicians alone; I blame the electorate as well. But some of the populace are doing what they are doing because they are hungry while politicians are doing theirs deliberately – impoverishing the people in order to spoil them.
Again, we have a lot of talented men who are capable of doing some great jobs but could not find any. Not everybody can find job with Sun, Champion, Nation, NTA, etc – only very few can. So, we are trying to create employment for some of those who can’t. But our paramount aim of creating the avenue is to give our people a chance to understand what is going on in our society, within the whole wide world. The problem we face here is that our people are suffering because of lack of knowledge, but our stable Nigerian OrientNews magazine and Orient Newspaper will contribute their quota. If you look at our catchword, we say we are disseminating information: we seek information and make people understand what is happening in the society. For the Nigerian Orient Newspaper, we say: setting the bound free. What this means is that we want them to know what they didn’t know before so that nobody can trick them; so that nobody will play on their intelligence, deceive them and go away with it. But if everybody knows what they are not supposed to do and what they are supposed to do, then our problem would be less. But as far as you keep the people in the dark, you can bamboozle them and get away free. That’s the purpose of that arm.
You are building a press centre for the NUJ in Awka. What informed that decision?
I am doing that because right from the time I was a child, I have always loved giving out. But NUJ’s case is a special case. They visited me and told me that the building had been there for a couple of years. They started it and couldn’t go far. They have gone to various people, nobody helped and I was so surprised. I cherish Anambra State so much because this is where I come from and if I should do anything for anybody, I should start from my state before I go to some other states. That was why I decided to make my contribution by making it happen for the NUJ so that our people can be informed, for without the press, the knowledge will not go anywhere. So, I want to encourage the NUJ to do what they can do to help this liberation train that is much needed in this state and nation in general.
There are speculations that you embarked on building the NUJ Press Centre because you have ambition of becoming the governor of Anambra State. How do you react to this?
That is what people will say. I have encountered that kind of thing a couple of times in my life. I can give you about five instances where people read meaning into my activities. I am building the NUJ Press Centre for Anambra State not because I have political ambition or because I don’t have political ambition. This is a project that is worth doing and we need to do that because Anambra State is supposed to be one of the best states and we are supposed to have a press centre. So, it shouldn’t be mixed up with politics.
When I was given the NUJ award as Entrepreneur of the Year 2011 unconditionally, some people read meanings into it, but my own is to do what is right and believe God that it would impact positively on the society. Whatever people say is their opinion and they are entitled to such. Why will building an NUJ press centre that is overdue be attached to my political or no political interest? Yes, the NUJ said they would name the project after Ezeemo – as Godwin Ezeemo NUJ Press Centre, Anambra State – but that wasn’t our asking. They said that. Again, the project has been there and they said they have entered every office and every home asking for somebody to build it and have it named after him or her before I was put in the know. How then can this concern my governorship or no governorship ambition? I am a businessman, even though a political being. I am not doing anything – either for charity or for the sake of contributing to the societal development – because of politics.
We will like you to be specific. Do you have any political ambition?
I don’t have any political ambition at the moment, but in the course of time, if we cannot get the people that have the ability to help, then people will have to help in one way or the other to get things moving. But at the moment, I don’t have any political ambition – none whatsoever.
So far, what would you consider the achievements of the Charity Ezeemo Trust for the Less-Privileged?
The Charity Ezeemo Trust for the Less-Privileged was principally established to provide help to the less-privileged in their academic pursuit. The successful completion of their academic programmes will help them to be gainfully employed and integrated into the mainstream of the economy in order to make them self-reliant. We are exposing the less-privileged to good things of life and putting smiles on their faces as well as giving them hope in life. We are also catching talented footballers at their prime with the intention of encouraging and helping them morally and otherwise to achieve their life ambitions of becoming great footballers of international repute is also involved. Great Nigerian footballers like Kanu Nwankwo, Austin Jay-Jay Okocha, Finidi George, Taribo West, Christian Chukwu, etc, were discovered by green-eyed coaches through this type of competition. Today, they are the pride of our dear country in view of their exploits in football.
The Charity Ezeemo Trust incorporated in October 2006 is at the moment being financed solely by my wife and I, and we have in the last five years sponsored over forty students to successfully complete their various academic programmes in institutions of higher learning across the country. We have more than that number now in various courses of study in tertiary institutions across the country.
We would be doing another fiesta this Easter and we have enlarged the coast. Before now, it was Umuchu, but now we have extended it to old Aguata Local Government Area – comprising three local government areas of Aguata, Orumba South and Orumba North. The competition shall be on league basis and four schools that come tops shall vie at the semi-finals and finals of the competition. Modalities for the competition shall be worked out by the management of the Trust in conjunction with the sports department of the Aguata Zonal Office of the Universal Basic Education Board (UBE) and the Local Government Education Department as well as the Anambra State Ministry of Sports. And soonest, we would extend it to Anambra South Senatorial zone before finally bringing it to the state as a whole and further to the South-East and even Nigeria as long as God keeps us alive.
What impact has this programme had on the society?
We have been doing it and the impact on the society is that every child in the community is looking forward to the event, especially now that we introduced football competition for primary schools into it. In the course of the ones we did in the past, some of them have been picked up by the Anambra State Sports Commission and they are competing in the state football competition from where they will excel in the world. Before now, that was not possible.
Are some of the students in the various teams on scholarship?
The students that are on scholarship are not necessarily the ones playing in the competition because our scholarship scheme is a different ball game from our football competition. But as for the students in the competition, if any of them is handicapped when he gets to the secondary school and the charity foundation is informed, we can pick the person up. There is nothing wrong with it.
Does it mean you have different organs for different purposes?
Yes! Our football arm is meant for pupils in primary school, to catch them young and unite our children better for future prospects. We are showing them early enough that football is a way of life, a profession they could choose. Our academic scholarship is for people in tertiary institutions and our criterion for it is not only when you are the best student in your class. The qualification for it is your preparedness to read and if you come from a family that cannot afford to pay your school fees. These are the major schemes, aside from our businesses that affect the society positively in terms of job creation and other multiplier effects. Then we go out there all the time, state-wide, to give alms to other charity homes. We coordinate with them and we assist them by donating to their inmates. Like last December, we visited almost all the homes in the state, from Awka to Onitsha to Ihiala to Nnewi and Aguata. We have slated time to visit more homes this year.
Do you have any future plans to extend your football programme beyond primary schools?
At the moment, we are dealing with primary schools, but expansion is not ruled out. But our major concern immediately is to extend the primary schools competition to the old Aguata Local Government Area. That is what we are looking at next year, even though the one of Umuchu would not be disturbed. That’s our plan and we would be looking into the other groups of our children, maybe those in the secondary school.
You are from Umuchu, and your community is reviving its culture. What is your advice to those who want their culture to go into extinction?
My advice is that the culture that is inherited can be modified when it is not too good. We keep them going because it is one of those things that still keep us together. Every community should strive to revive its culture because it is what our children will look at and say yes, we are together. So, I encourage every community not to cripple its culture for it could mean losing its identity. I am quarrelling with our people, particularly those who are living in Lagos. For instance, my family, my nieces and nephews don’t speak Igbo language. When you speak Igbo to them, they respond in English. Some Igbos are performing marriage rites, like wine carrying, in Lagos. Look at that! It is shameful. So, the language, as our culture, is universal as far as the Igbo nation is concerned and if we lose it, believe me, we have lost everything and nothing will ever bind us together again.
Talking about culture, what is the significance of “Ulo festival” in Umuchu?
The festival of houses is done in this community to mark the beginning of the farming season. Once we are through with harvest around November, we have a short break and start planning for the next planting season. We use it to thank God for the time he has kept us and for letting us see another full year. We use it to thank God for his blessings, for his protection, for our lives, for our children and in all our efforts to sustain ourselves and also to promote culture in Igboland.
You went to Obosi to felicitate with those who were celebrating life. What does that signify?
They call it “Ito-Ogbo”, that is, celebration of age or long life in Obosi. They celebrate that at the age of 80. In my own town, Umuchu, we do it once in 20 or 25 years of age so that at that youthful age, we aggregate and work together so that we will show to the society that this is what we were able to do during the time we were young. But Obosi people do theirs when they have done what they are supposed to do here on earth. It’s all their children that are doing whatever they do in the event. They are no more doing it by themselves. I love it; I thought of introducing it in my town so that after doing the one we do at the age of 25, we do it again at 80 when we will now celebrate our lives to show that we did a lot when we were young and we can do it again now that we have got to the age of 80. I will like to encourage all communities to do so because it is one of our cultural heritages. So, we have to keep them up as people that live together and speak the same language. We know that our universal culture here is Igbo language and we have to keep that and make it palatable.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. What does this mean to you?
Actually, physical education is important in every person’s life. Every morning, I find time to do some jogging. I come out great and any day I don’t do that, I won’t be as fit as I am when I do it. So, physical exercise is very essential to the overall well-being of the human person, particularly students.
Do you have any regrets?
I have no regrets because all I do are things that gladden my heart. When I do them, I feel good within me that people have given me the opportunity to be part of their lives. If I don’t do it, I don’t feel good.
What other things have you done that stand you out in the crowd?
I started with the charity and we are looking forward to doing a few great things. We have organizations and companies that have employed a good number of Nigerians, both here in Nigeria and abroad, and we are in the process of still doing more locally so that all of us don’t need to run to Lagos or Abuja or Enugu to work. We have to do it locally so that local people would have opportunity to means of livelihood.
Whenever we are in Anambra, people troop in to ask for help and that actually made us (my wife and I) to start thinking of what can we do to start something here that can give people opportunity to work and earn money at the end of the month. Good effort is in place now to actualise this dream. We have acquired land and we are working on it, trying to establish small-scale industries of different kinds where people can work.
Is your charity work limited to Anambra State alone?
To be candid with you, our charity is for the whole Nigeria but it depends on the situation. Like now, we have a visit scheduled for Sokoto around June. We don’t need to say some of the things we do. We have another charity organization in the UK that we are partnering with to assist people who have one problem or the other. We are doing our charity all over the world depending on the situation at hand and we partner with other organizations in doing this.
Have you received response from the government about your charity work?
Not at all! Since we started, we have not heard any response from anybody but only recently, one physically-challenged girl came here and saw me. She said she wanted to see Goddy Ezeemo and I asked her to sit down while I go to call him. When I finished what I was doing, I went to her and said, “This is Goddy Ezeemo.” She said she went to Awka to ask for assistance to fund her university education and in that office, they told her to go back and meet one Goddy Ezeemo from Umuchu who would assist her. So, that’s the kind of response I get, but I am happy. I have asked her to bring her papers so that we can give them to the managers of this charity. Definitely, I have taken her because there are no two ways to it.
Do you have any appeal to make to the government concerning sports?
My call is to all the state governments and the federal government. They have to handle sports as a priority area. Football is now a job somebody does for a living; same for all other sports. If you commit your life in that area, you make a living from there as a sports pundit. Now, if we can organize our sporting competition here in Nigeria, believe me, some millions of Nigerians would be employed. Let me use the UK as an instance. In the UK, you have a lot of football teams. Do you know that each of these football teams employs loads and loads of people because each of them has got a stadium as big as the National Stadium at Surulere. These are sporting events owned by individuals, anyway. They are like corporate organizations now. Not that the government doesn’t make input; the government can still subsidize such ventures so that people would have the courage to go into them. I have friends who have been in this in the past, like my cousin, Jasper United. He invested a lot in that and at the end of the day, the investment went down the drain. It is not supposed to be so. If the government was helping in any way, it wouldn’t go down that way. The government should partner with the private sector for sports to thrive in the country. The government won’t be able to manage it because of this attitude we have in Nigeria – this is government stuff – and everybody does what he likes. This cannot help businesses to thrive but if individuals take them up, the government should find a way of supporting their growth and not crippling them. If there are matches between one foreign club side and the other, people would be stuck to their television sets because they fancy the foreign teams, but I once asked people why they don’t hail the local teams. All they said was that the local teams are not doing well. They said NFA has killed local leagues and the spirit of football is dead here. But it is not supposed to be so because football is something that ought to promote growth.
At your age as a Nigerian, having empowered many people both at home and abroad, what would you tell today’s youths?
Life is all about people having opportunities. Opportunity comes and goes; nothing is ever permanent. The country is in trouble due to certain things today but I can tell you it is not going to be like this forever. Life will keep on changing and definitely one day we would hear a different story. This may not happen in our time but God created us with hope and when we have hope definitely it will come one day. I can tell you, even though I have not been able to air this before, but on one-on-one basis, when the youths come to me for help, I sit them down and give them time such that they start wondering. I have always told them that there is no easy road to success and nobody wakes up the next morning and makes it. That man that they are pointing at didn’t make it overnight. He went to school, possibly, and maybe did apprenticeship with somebody, and maybe learnt a trade from somebody, before starting his own venture, with the attendant ups and downs. Maybe one day, due to his persistence, he ran into luck and God’s will. I advise our youths to know that all play and no work makes Jack a toy. If you must have any good thing, you definitely must work to make it. If you don’t work, there is no food for a lazy man. It is in this line that our news media are aiming to educate them more for them to understand how life is really running. That it is not going to be an easy stuff. “Oh! I want to be like Bill Gates or Virgin, etc.” You have to start somewhere and do a lot of things.