The man Allen Onyema
If I have gold medal, I will, unreservedly, award it to Allen Onyema, Nigeria’s burgeoning world-class business tycoon, bestriding Africa’s aviation industry through his airline Air Peace, for his unprecedented patriotism in boosting Nigeria’s image to the world, by single-handedly evacuating over 300 traumatised Nigerian victims from South Africa. This could be among the largest peace time repatriation of Nigerians from anywhere in the world.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, extended the commendation of the House of Representatives to the Chairman of Air Peace, Mr. Allen Onyema, for offering free air services to the Federal Government in the evacuation of Nigerians under xenophobic attacks in South Africa.
The House recommended Allen Onyema to the Federal Government for higher honours in Nigeria. When called upon to address them, the lawmakers gave Onyema a standing ovation. “You have brought tears to my eyes again. I have never been so honoured in my life,” Onyema said in the opening of his speech.
Chief Allen Onyema deserves every honour and accolade. I am provoked by the selfless acts of this nationalist. Many Nigerians have equally been provoked. I have the privileged to honour him with this commendation in my column.
The decision by Allen Onyema, CEO and owner of Air Peace, to voluntarily evacuate victimised and troubled Nigerians from South Africa without charging a dime, is a feat that no one has ever accomplished in Nigeria. The act sets a historical landmark that cannot be erased. It takes extraordinary humans to accomplish extraordinary things. Mr. Onyema’s act has raised a new hope that all is not lost in Nigeria.
It is such extraordinary acts of love that provoke God to act in one’s favour. For instance, it was after the biblical Jewish King Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings at Gibeon that the LORD appeared to him in a dream by night and asked him to request whatever he wants. He asked for wisdom, which God granted him in addition to riches and honour beyond measure (1 Kings 3: 4-13).
The uncommon patriotic act by a truly patriotic Nigerian has inflamed passion for love of the fatherland. Nigerians are overwhelmed and could not believe that there are still good and patriotic citizens in a country that seems to have been written off because of selfish unpatriotic acts in high places; a country where the guiding principle is selfishness and primitive acquisition of wealth, to the detriment of the masses. As I said earlier, I am personally provoked, and this tribute is for Allen Onyema, an uncommon patriotic citizen.
Prior to 2013 when Air Peace was founded in Lagos, few Nigerians knew Allen Onyema. The steady rise of Air Peace brought Mr. Onyema to the limelight, as the new airline provides reliable passenger and charter services, serves the major cities of Nigeria and flies to several West African destinations and the Middle East.
There is no doubt that Nigerians are looking forward to the manifestation of goodness from whosoever could provide it. A good and reliable airline is needed to fill a gap in the wobbling aviation sector. Who is this Allen Onyema that has left indelible mark in the heart of Nigerians?
His full name is Allen Ifechukwu Onyema. A native of Mbosi town in Ihiala Local Government of Anambra State, Nigeria. He was born to fantastic parents who instilled discipline in him by their exemplary ways of life. He is the first of nine children, which in Igbo culture placed much responsibility on him, more especially, after he lost his mother at the age of 44 in 1991.
A lawyer by profession and a stylish businessman and conflict resolution expert, it was in recognition of his profound commitment to the common good that the 10 towns in Ihiala Local Government conferred on him with the prestigious traditional title of Ide (Pillar) of Ihiala.
The young Allen Onyema lived his early life in the old Bendel State, principally, in Benin and Warri, where he attended several primary schools. He also attended several secondary schools including St. Anthony’s Secondary School, Azia; Urhobo College, Effurun and Government College Ugheli.
He attended the University of Ibadan where he studied Law. Thereafter, he attended the Nigerian Law School between 1987/88 and was called to the bar in 1989. Allen resisted the pressure from his parents and uncle to work for Shell after Law School. Instead, he opted for a free life to be able to make decisions for himself, rather than remaining under parental care.
Consequently, in 1990, he left Warri for Lagos to seek “greener” pastures! According to him in one interview he granted a newspaper, while in Lagos, he had no money and could not afford accommodation. He squatted in Oshodi and could not even afford bus or taxi fare. He was going to Lagos by train and retuned by trekking to Iddo to join the overcrowded train back to Oshodi.
He wanted to practice his profession as a lawyer but couldn’t find a law firm to join. He was nearly frustrated before help came through the late Chief Vincent Amobi Nwizugbo, who allowed him to come to his chambers on Martins Street in Lagos to learn. Though, he was not on salary, he was very happy that he had a place he could go every morning.
By dint of hard work and brilliant performance, he was soon placed on a salary of N500 monthly after he surprised his principal by winning a high court case, which the law firm had regarded as a bad case. That case cut his teeth, being his first as a lawyer. He was then made head of the chambers after two years.
By that time, he had become big in real estate business, and so, he opted to resign to avoid conflict with the law firm. He left and floated his own law firm and other businesses. That was how it all started and he began to unfold to greater heights.
By 2008, Allen Onyema had garnered enough financial muscle from his businesses, which was yielding much interest on his deposits. The decision to float an airline, according to him, was “to create jobs for the people.” Earlier in 2007, he was informed that one commercial Boeing 737 could give jobs to over 150 persons. Trusting in God and his desire to touch people’s lives through massive job creation, he went on to found Air Peace. He said, Air Peace is for the welfare of mankind and not really for him.
Today, Air Peace has become the biggest airline in Nigeria and a household name. With 23 aircraft in its fleet including three Boeings 777, the airline offers very competitive fares and flies into the major airports in Nigeria, in addition to Ghana, Gambia, Liberia, Senegal, Sierra Leone and United Arab Emirates (UAE).
It was therefore not surprising that when the xenophobic attacks broke out in South Africa against Nigerians and other African countries, Chief Allen Onyema was ready to intervene. Thus, as soon as President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the evacuation of Nigerians, without providing aircraft, the man of the people, Chief Allen Onyema, immediately offered to use his Boeing 777 aircraft to evacuate the troubled citizens free of charge. He has accomplished this task to the chagrin of Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora. He said, when asked, that he put down over N280 million to do this job.
That there are still Allen Onyema’s out there, who are more interested in sacrificing their hard earned money to serve public interest, is most encouraging. All hope is not lost judging from Chief Allen Onyema’s act of patriotism.