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After long quest, Umeh discovers treasure in farming



NOT many persons represent stories of treasure in homeland and agriculture as Nehemiah Okezie Umeh. He is an epitome of what Anambra State government regularly projects that youths should look inwards to farming to discover the wealth they vainfully seek elsewhere.


If Nehemiah Umeh, Head of Operations Okezima Rice, knew what he knows today, he wouldn’t have yielded to his elder sister’s advice to discontinue his study after his first year at Anambra State Polytechnic, now Federal Polytechnic, Oko, Anambra State, where he studied Business Administration. For a while his voice taints with pinch of regret for towing that path. Though successful today, he believes that completing his studies before venturing into business holds greater edge.


Being the only son, his eldest sister, in her native wisdom and due to prevailing circumstances, urged young Umeh to pull out of school to learn a trade and make money to take care of the family. In traditional Igbo society and as it was common place then, beside marrying early, to further the family linage, the only son is admonished or supported to earn income to live comfortably to protect or preserve his father’s heritage.


“If I had insisted then that I wanted to continue with my education, my fathered would have trained me. My father was ready to train me. It was the issue of the only son that messed the whole thing up.”


Mazi Umeh’s parents were married for 18 years without his mother conceiving. When the babies began to come, the first three children were females. He came as the fourth child; a male, the only son and the last child of the family.


Unlike in some homes, he never heard that his parents quarreled over his mother’s inability to conceive on time. “I only heard that when my father sought a male child, he promised God that he would dedicate the child to serve Him and that means that I’m a covenant child and that promise was fulfilled by God’s grace.”


Young Umeh, who dreamt of becoming a medical doctor, started his primary education at Ndiokpalaeze Community Primary School, in Orumba North LGA. He had his secondary school education at Bubendoroff Memorial Grammar School, Adazi Nnukwu in Anaocha LGA. But for JAMB’s cut off mark and other impediments, he opted to read Business Administration at what’s known today as Federal Polytechnic, Oko.


“After a year at school, my elder sister, said I should discontinue; being the only son, to go into business to make money and take care of the family. She wanted me to be close to her so that she could nurture me. In other words, she wanted me to serve her husband so that  he would settle me with enough money to start business thereafter. I accepted the offer, hoping that all will be well.”


He never bothered to kick against that. As at that time, he had in mind that going into business to make money could have been the best option. “It was later that I began to regret why I didn’t continue with my education. It never occurred to me that I wasn’t doing the right thing. My sister didn’t see it from that angle. She was only interested in my making money to start my own family.


“I quitted school and followed her to Lagos. She was married to a pharmacist, who operates a pharmaceutical shop. His name is Mr. Martin Ebido of Marbido Pharmaceutical Company Ltd. I learnt the operation of the business within three months and he opened another big pharmaceutical shop, placing me as its manager. The business really boomed.”


He was there for close to two years. One morning, without notice, Mr.  Ebido sent him packing.  Mr. Ebido had issue with his sister and transferred it to him. “He woke up that morning and said I would be leaving, just because he had issues with my sister. I lived with them in the same house. I wasn’t happy because I felt I was getting what I wanted.


Going to the village, I had nothing in mind to do there. After staying in the village for three weeks, he came down to the village and offered me a cheque of N10,000 as settlement. That was around 1992. The money didn’t amount to my effort in growing his business but I had no choice than accept it. I never said anything to him, my parents weren’t happy either.”


That very week he came back to the village, he went into farming, cultivating rice, maize, and cassava in low capacity. He’s not the type that waits for manna to fall from above. “I don’t fold my hands and watch things. I like getting myself busy.


That was how I went into farming. I leased land from Isulo and Nawfija communities to farm, through the Agricultural Department. We used to call it World Bank Rice Project but now Anambra Rice Project. Though on a low scale, the farm sustained me and my family for that period. It was within this period that I got married to my wife Chinonye Okolo from Nawfija. It was the rice from my farm that was used during our wedding.”


“In the third year of my marriage, I left for Port Harcourt to continue from where I stopped, I have been trained on sales of pharmaceutical products, and wanted to continue on that trade. Though, I never had anything in mind before going to the village, but I resolved to save enough money to go back to the city. Since I wasn’t a pharmacist, in Port Harcourt, I opened a chemist shop. For the four years of doing business in Port Harcourt, it flourished.”


Okezie got a call to come home and vie for councillorship. He had to shuttle between Port Harcourt and Anambra State. He frequents home hoping that the person that called him had good intention for him, not knowing he had ulterior motive. In the space that this happened, he pumped his time and energy and spent more than N2.5 million from his pocket on the project.


“At a point, I was coming to Anambra State three times in a week. This happened around 2004 and behold, no election was conducted. They kept calling us for seminars and workshops; collecting money for party, INEC and sundry things. I still have all the receipts of those transactions with me. At a point, the bid to contest for councillorship began to affect my business.It got to a point that my  business collapsed.”


In that predicament, he could no longer measure up to house rent and his children’s school fees. He resorted to riding Okada that somebody bought for him on higher purchase to fend for his family, which he recalled as a painful experience. “While I engaged in Okada riding, I dug soakaway alongside it for people to ensure that I put food on the table.


What I did was that I rode Okada from 6am -10am, dug soakaway between 10am-4pm, rest thereafter, and by 6pm, continue with Okada business until 10pm. While I engaged in Okada riding and digging of soakaway, I enrolled in a theological college, called Fulgobi Bible School in Port Harcourt in 2006. I attended the Bible School between 12pm-2pm, which I then combine with Okada riding and digging of soakaway.”


He decided to attend Bible School because he is a ‘covenant child’ as he puts it. For his mother’s inability to conceive on time and search for a male child after three children, his father had vowed that if he had a male child that he would dedicate him to God. Often, when he attended Christian events, he kept hearing that he was a covenant child, that he should serve God.


On graduating from the Bible school in 2009, he was ordained a pastor. As an ordained pastor, little favour began to come his way that he stopped digging of soakaway. In its place, he began selling bread, not by hawking.


He had a spot where he sold the bread. “I got the bread very early in the morning, put it on the shelf for my children to sell. I pastored many churches for three years, before moving to Aluu, an outskirt of Port Harcourt, which is cheaper to live in than Port Harcourt metropolis.


This happened because by this time, Rivers State Government had banned Okada within Port Harcourt metropolis, and I had to look for cheaper place to live with my family. That was my reason for moving to Aluu. At Aluu, I continued with my Okada business.”


It was at Aluu that he started Gracious Gift Prophetic Ministry. He ran the ministry for four years before the vision came that he should go back to Anglican Communion, where his father covenanted him. He had to give the church to St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Aluu, which renamed it the Church of Pentecost, Aluu.


While this happened, somebody in his village contested the ownership of his family’s land with his parents. In 2011, his father passed on and his mother followed suit three months later. The man dragged him to court.


“We were in court for three years before he pulled out, because he couldn’t provide certain documents the court demanded. “As I was taking a fresher breath, another set of people came laying claim to the land, the case is still in the court.


I was plying Port Harcourt to my town and vice versa; the financial constraints was a difficult one. It was then that I made up my mind to leave Port Harcourt finally, coupled with the fact that there was nobody to look after my family’s property at home.”


While in the village, he took to farming, combining it with Master of Ceremony and DJ’s job, which gradually grew when people began recognizing his skill at anchoring events. Bit by bit invitations poured in. Today, he has invested over N2.5 million in equipment to facilitate that.


In 2017, he went big into farming through the FADAMA project. He  went into rice cultivation in a big way. “In 2018, I began packaging Okezima Rice. I plant, harvest, process, and package. I’m a year old in the business and it’s thriving. I pray to meet demands as it increases every day. I dropped cassava and maize and focused on rice. Even if cassava will yield more money, I prefer rice.” Mezi Umeh who is also a lay reader at St Michael’s Anglican Church, Ndiokpalaeze, enjoined people, youths in particular to embrace agriculture to make money and help reduce unemployment.


“Life is not a bed of roses. If things don’t work according to plan, don’t bemoan the situation. Look for alternative solutions. When I came back from Port Harcourt, I had a machine which I used to grind maize for people. I had nobody to help me. I swallowed pride to do some of the things that I did. What life teaches is that if you are not here, you are there. I don’t rest to make sure I put food on the table, doing everything I could.”


Mazi Umeh, appreciates his wife, Chinonye, who stood by him in his trying periods. “My wife is a role model. In my trying periods, she never complained nor grudged. Even when I dug soakaway for a living, she rather encouraged me. There were times we drank garri without sugar, she never complained.” They are blessed with three children.


He wouldn’t mind if his children take after him but they must be graduates. One of them is a graduate already. “A soon as my last two children gain admission into the university, I will go back to school because I want to be a graduate. The way I planned it, it will take place next year.”

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