Chris Okoye: A life dedicated to the common good
Chris Okoye, serial entrepreneur, Nigeria’s foremost civil engineer and social activist, attained the biblical age of three score and 10 on December 21, 2021. His contributions to the development and teaching of engineering in the country are profound, just as his interventions in social affairs. Still, his is not a household name. It all boils down to his style: he is so self-effacing.
How many Nigerians know that Okoye is one of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) founders and, in fact, was the first person to make a huge financial contribution to the party? “He spent a fortune on APGA at its formative stage”, stated the late Ben Obumselu, regarded by many scholars to be the most scintillating literary researcher from Africa.
“Okoye is a strategic thinker and man of action,” says APGA erstwhile national chairman Victor Umeh, “whom a person can underrate to his or her peril.”
Sadly, this great son of Anambra is not into partisan politics.
Chris Okoye played leading roles in the birth of the new Ohanaeze Constitution at Abakiliki where he worked closely with the late Admrial Ndubuisi Kanu’s led transition committee of Ohanaeze, alongside Umah Eleazu, Prince Emeka Onyesoh, Late Barr Elechi Onyia to re-engineer and remake Ohanaeze during the misguided era of Irukwu’s administration. He went on to found the Ohanaze Anambra State and thereafter became the Chairman, Planning and Strategy Committee during Ikedife’s Presidency.
He was equally a representative of Anambra State at the 2004 Political Reform Conference as well as a member of the Patriots led by Prof Ben Nwabueze. Chris Okoye is also the key initiator and founder of Anambra State Elders Council, currently led by His Excellency, Chief Emeka Anyaoku.
Okoye may be a political activist, but he is certainly not a politician in the partisan sense. So, why his massive support for APGA long before the party was registered? The answer lies in his lifelong commitment to the common good.
Disenchanted by the activities and visions of the big political parties like the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Peoples Party (APP) at the inception of democratic rule in 1999, Okoye joined forces with people of like-minds to attempt the formation of a development-driven party which could transform Nigeria from a typical Third World nation to a First World nation within a generation. They were inspired by the examples of Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea, which have practically no mineral deposits, but through the development of their human resources have within 30 years risen to the pinnacle of global development. Even Dubai, an Arab and Muslim territory, has joined the league, with such nations as Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand on the way.
“Africa and the entire Black world have unfortunately remained at the bottom of the ladder of development, hence the conceptualisation and formation of a party to drive Nigeria’s rapid development”, Okoye often explains.
“This is the most effective way to lead Africa in the 21st century.”
Sad to say, however, a development and issue driven political party is yet to appear on the Nigerian horizon.
It is not surprising that Okoye was appointed by Governor Willie Obiano a member of the Anambra Vision 2070 when it was established in December, 2019, to develop a strategic plan for the state to attain the status of a fully developed economy in 2070. The committee is headed by Chukwuma Charles Soludo, a retired economics professor who has been a most successful Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor. Soludo, who won the November 6, 2021 Anambra State gubernatorial elections, is in the process of leading the 2070 Committee to turn in the development report. Chris Okoye heads the sub-committee on Economic Transformation, which is targeted at achieving inclusive growth and sustainable development for the 4th and 5th Industrial Revolutions of Anambra State. According to Chris, his sub-committee’s selected sectoral thrust of transportation; agriculture, industrialisation/manufacturing; trade and commerce; oil, gas and solid minerals as well as tourism is certain to develop Anambra State at a very rapid pace.
The South East Nigeria Economic Commission (SENEC) and the South East Nigeria Development Fund (SENDEF) are two salient initiatives easily linked to Chris Okoye in his avowed drive for the common good of his people. Both documents were ratified and signed in 2009 (with a CAC certificate to booth) by the four governors of the South East geopolitical zones who were “desirous of creating and modeling a joint independent agency of the five cooperating South East States, the private sector and the entire people in the zone.”
The establishment of these agencies was predicated on the paucity of “an institutional framework to drive the development of shared infrastructure, common services and coordinated economic development. However, in fighting and political power play have ensured that both laudable endeavors are still in their teething stages. Nevertheless, a template for the future growth and development of the zone has been firmly laid by these two initiatives.
As expected, Okoye was in the forefront of ensuring fair and credible electoral activities at the recently held Anambra State gubernatorial elections as he had done in several national elections too – with his Orient Foundation for Social Justice and Civic Education serving as a vehicle for mass mobilization and civic education for the electorates.
According to Chris Okoye, Soludo and the other leading candidates of the elections were beneficiaries of the activities of his foundation that engaged electorates in the 179 communities in Anambra State on the need to have a peaceful and fair election where everyone is free to vote his or her choice.
However, while not being a politician himself, Chris Okoye has been known to remark that Soludo’s victory is not for just Anambra people or the Southeast, but for all Nigerians eager to get our country cracking on the right development trajectory, after decades, which the locusts consumed. He believes, like many Nigerians, that
“Soludo came fully prepared by first class education, international exposure, personal integrity, sound health, unrivalled energy and commitment to the public good to offer transformational leadership, the type which Nigeria or any part of it has ever experienced.”
With Anambra State getting it right, according to Okoye, “it is a matter of time for the rest of the old Eastern Nigerian Region to also get it right. And, of course, the rest of the country. One good thing, which the massive Soludo victory has demonstrated to all Nigerians is that the very best among us should go into not just public office but also party politics.”
The chairmanship of the governing council of Paul University, Awka, is one position Okoye accepted out of sheer devotion to the public good. Following the death on November, 2017 of former Vice President Alex Ekwueme, the institution’s main benefactor, things have been topsy-turvy for the university. Okoye has in the last two years devoted much of his time, goodwill, social network and resources to ensure that the university, owned by all Anglican dioceses in the old Eastern Region, remains afloat. Okoye is a knight of St Christopher in the Anglican Communion.
Much as Okoye is committed to worthy social causes, he is also devoted to engineering growth in the country. A graduate of both the University of Wisconsin, Madison and the University of Houston, Texas where he also taught briefly, he is a Fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, Fellow of Nigerian Institute of Civil Engineers and Fellow of Nigerian Institute of Highway & Transportation Engineers. He is also a Fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers and Fellow of the Metallurgical Society of Nigeria.
Sent to head the London office of Harding Lawson Associates of the United States in 1978, he insisted, out of a profound sense of patriotism, on working for the company overseas only on condition it opened a Nigerian office. Eager not to lose one of its brightest and most innovative young managers, the firm acquiesced. He thus led a number of key engineering projects in the Rivers State and then left to establish his private businesses.
As a consultant to the Federal Ministry of Power, he got the Ministry to adopt the policy of making its key departments headed only by engineers for efficiency and effectiveness. He chaired the Nigerian Content Committee of the Nigerian Society of Engineers as well as the Board of Fellows/College of Fellows of the NSE. Acutely conscious of the criticality of Akanu Ibiam International Airport in Enugu to the Southeast, Okoye worked closely with the Ministry of Aviation to deliver the rehabilitation and upgrading of the project on budget and time, in spite of the severe challenge of COVID-19. The airport was reopened last year.
Despite his national attainments, Okoye is a committed grassroots/community man as he is deeply involved in the affairs of his Enugwu Ukwu town in Anambra State. A past President of Enugu-ukwu Community Development Union (ECDU) and President, College of Patrons of ECDU, Chris Okoye is the pioneer chairman of the Enugwu Ukwu Colloquium Annual Lecture series; where he single-handedly attracted the multi-national telecommunication company MTN to partner with the Enugwu-UkwuAnnual Igu Aro ceremonies – a partnership that is still active till this day. He is equally a major promoter of the town’s microfinance.
Married to Ifeoma Okoye, an elegant professor of medicine at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Okoye is blessed with lovely children and grandchildren. On the occasion of his attainment of 70 years, we say to Chris Okoye, FNSE, F.ASCE, FNICE, FNHTE, FIMC, FIoD, etc, a man dedicated to the common good, ad multus annos.
• Adinuba is the Anambra State Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment.