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Obi Achebe: 80 bouquets of universal honour for rare king

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MOST times when stars shine among humans, they manifest in the form of outstanding leaders who stand out in the ranks of royalties, elites and such vangurads of society. Should they be kings, they radiate power and splendour in comly mien without snubbish demeanour and uncanny sassiness. You behold them and feel the presence of a father, an authority and a lord who is still a human.

     Indeed, there are leaders who wisely seek respect not attention because the earlier lasts longer.

   His Majesty, Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe, is a traditional ruler and the 21st Obi of Onitsha, in Anambra State, Nigeria. He has been the Obi of Onitsha, a position which puts him in the elevated thrones of his ancestors since May 2002. Yet the crown has not turned him into what some other men would have been if they were in such a high stool. That is why I join the world to hail him as he marks his 80th birthday this month.

   Born May 14, 1942,  His Majesty Obi Achebe (Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic, CFR), is resplendent, sagacious and ever calm. Imbued with the qualities of great kings in huge dose, his integrity goes far beyond his kingdom on the shores of River Niger, beyond Anambra State, Igbo land and Nigeria. He is openhearted, trustworthy and very proud of their kingdom and country. Like typical great kings, he works very hard even at 80 and has a very strong personality, yet he neither pushes paupers or elites out of his vicinity, be it in private or public.

   Notwithstanding his down-to-earth personality, the beams of smiles that mark his face and occasional jokes, his duties as Obi of Onitsha; the chairman of the traditional rulers council of Anambra State; a trustee of the National Traditional Rulers Council; chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University since 2015; chairman of the board of Directors of Unilever Nigeria; Chairman of International Breweries (ABInBev) Nigeria and many others have been executed in high standard.       

   Before emerging the Obi of Onitsha, in 2002, he posted an illustrious long career in the Royal Dutch Shell Group where he served as Director in various companies of the international group.

   Courage, sagacity and wisdom have marked his career path from the 1985 through 1987 period, during which he served as a director of several other Shell companies in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, the Gambia, Liberia and Angola to the occasions he served in several panels of inquiry in the petroleum sector in Nigeria. Even in 1976 when he was a member of the Administrative Panel of Enquiry on the Port Harcourt Refinery and 2004 when President Obasanjo called on him to be Chairman of the Presidential Enquiry into the February 2003 Fuel Shortage in Nigeria, his high integrity and ability to wade through challenging developments were hallmarks of the epochs.

    His leadership know-how transcends the norms of monarchy and the nuances of traditional institutions. He is a boardroom king too. His periods in the governing councils of the Petroleum Training Institute, Effurun,  Delta State and the Nigerian Employers’ Consultative Association, as well as his service as chairman of Diamond Bank PLC and the Universal Insurance PLC and currently, the chairman of Unilever Nigeria PLC, Intafact Beverages Limited (SAB-Miller), and Omak Maritime Limited are marked by boardroom savvy instances.

   As a delegate representing the traditional rulers of South-Eastern States to the National Political Reform Conference in 2005, he became Chairman of the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources Management Reforms and coordinated the traditional rulers’ forum at the Conference.

   But beyond the brimming resource in corporate and socio-cultural leadership hived in him, his intellectual endowment is huge. Behold him speaking in conferences and public lectures and you would end up yelling: ‘Here is the philosopher king.’ In 2016, he held his audience of over 2000 listeners spellbound with his keynote paper, ‘Akulueuno’ in Awka, Anambra State in which he articulated a novel homeland-oriented economic renaissance for Igbo land and reaped a long-resounding ‘standing ovation’ after speaking for almost two hours.

   Despite his usual erudition, the monarch who had his high school education in Government Secondary School Owerri; a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry from Stanford University in 1966 and a master’s degree in Business Administration from Columbia University and in 1979, attended the maiden Senior Executive Course of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies in Kuru, near Jos, Plateau State seldom asserts himself. Like the biblical David, his humility is disarming. His style, on the throne, fits the anecdote, ‘people who shine from within don’t need the spotlight’.  

    His rare gifts in all-round administrative and arbitrative brilliance, even while in active corporate service was so evident that after his retirement from active service in Shell, the company retained him and posted him to Shell International in London as ‘ambassador at large’ for Shell Nigeria.

   By being a fellow of both the Nigerian Institute of Management and the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations; Life Member of the Nigerian Economic Society; Life member of the counter Britain-Nigeria Association (BNA); member of the Nigerian Institute of Personnel Management, the Nigerian Environmental Society; the Nigeria-Britain Association (NBA) and Vice-Patron of Island Club, Lagos; Vice-Patron of Lagos Country Club and Member of the Metropolitan Club, Lagos, among others. His Majesty’s professional and social reaches are without doubt, vast, international and deeply rooted. He is also one of the five patrons of the Africa Centre which had the late President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela as its Grand Patron.

   However, there is one part of His Majesty which not many know, and that is what gives him class. His taste for value and real treasure sets him wide apart. He is an avid art collector, an aficionado and lover of nature. Aside my having watched him with admiration in several art exhibitions, I have hosted him in two of my own shows, and he chaired one of my solo outings in 2009 in Quintessence, Falomo, Lagos. He is an awesome enthusiast of creativity. His collection speaks volumes of his broad worldview and thrills.

   Aside the spectacular Ofala festival which he holds yearly in his palace, the Chimedia Museum, unveiled in 2016, also in his royal courts showcases a collection worth the reserve of any royal trove.

Born to parents, Akunne Anthony Chinwuba (father) and mother Chukwuebuka W. O. Achebe in Onitsha, the husband of Chinwe Ngozi (née Ononye) and father of Odiakosa , Chinedu, Eziamaka, lfunanya, Uchenna and Chinwe who became an octogenarian last Friday and marked his 19th year on the throne, is a rare gem of a king.       

   If only I know the tunes that make kings dance, I will seek nature’s permission for just a moment’s talent in fluting and steal the best rhythm from the birds to play the best ‘Happy Birthday’ tune for His Majesty Obi Achebe, Agogidi. He deserves it.

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