By Eric Elezuo Photos: Ken Ehimen
He is the Ojomo of Ekpoma land, and by extension, a revered traditional ruler in the whole of Edo State, where tradition is a force to reckon with. He is Chief Ezekiel Ainabe, a man made from the proverbial grass.
The crew of TheBoss was privileged to encounter him in his Apapa, Lagos palatial home where he explained that his life is a testimony, recounting how he was made from absolutely nothing to becoming a giant in various areas of business and human endeavours. In this interview, Chief Ainabe went down memory lane, recollecting what life used to be, and what life is now, noting that anyone can make the best of life if he is so determined. Excerpts:
How best could you describe yourself
I am Ezekiel Ehinyome Ainabe with appendages like Chief, Dr, Sir, depending on the one an individual is disposed to using at a particular time. As a worthy son of Jume, Ekpoma in the present day Edo State, from the humble family of Ehinyome, I am also privileged to be the Ojomo of Ekpoma.
Interestingly, the Jume people are known to have brought Christianity to our land, in other words, Christianity started in my village.
I was born into the home of Christianity in year 1946, April 18 to be precise, few years after Christianity started in this community in the year 1908, and since then I have being doing my best to grow and live by the dictates of the Most High God.
What was your early days in education like
Much as it was not ‘okay’ for my family financially, I was still exposed to education like other kids while growing up. In the first instance, I had my primary education at ………before proceeding to St. Peter secondary school in Ekpoma, Benin City. Thereafter, I gained admission to the Yaba College Technology from where I left for the United States and then to the Clifford University, United Kingdom, for a Master Degree, all in search of quality education. It is worthy of note that with all my education, the best I could get was the job of a petrol station attendant. I blame it though on the Civil War ravaging the country at that time.
At that time, many people had to leave the north because of the civil war but I trusted God for protection. Though the war was raging, I still took the risk and left for the North where I became petrol station attendant, and functioned at a location from where fuel was taken to the war front. After my employment and subsequent training in Kaduna Shell office, I was elevated to the position of a supervisor.
With that, I returned to Lagos, Apapa precisely, working with one of the biggest dealers of petroleum products in West Africa.
I was to spend the next 40 years of my life there rising in between portfolios before retiring to establish my company, which is into oil and gas aluminium services. This is enabled considering my vast experience from Halliburton.
With your kind of growth, politics would have been the next thing, naturally…
I have been into the technology of gas and aluminium services all my life. I couldn’t go into politics because I was just too busy with my business. However, I regularly vote for the candidates of my choice.
Considering how you grew up, giving assistance should be your second nature
By the grace of God, you are right. I have not only helped myself, I helped the community where I came from, built churches as well as a Theology school, the only one in the entire South-south region, to train pastors and spiritual workers.
I was motivated by my desire to see people grew spiritually, and I felt what could be okay to give the land where I grew up is Theology college. There was only one in Umuahia before then. So far, the college has produced three bishops and an arch bishop. The first arch bishop became the dean in the college, and subsequently became the first bishop in Isan land among other products of the college. The college itself is in close association with Ambrose Ali University.
How has it been on the home front
I am blessed with a beautiful wife, and have eight children together. All my children are doing fine, and are different parts of the world – UK, Canada, US, and Dubai. I thank God. The least of my children is a Master’s degree holder.
You higher education was at Yaba Tech as you said, even as you had your early schooling in Ekpoma. How and why did you make the switch
I had it rough growing up, but I knew what I wanted. I was not derailed in my quest. I actually went through hell, but God help me. Everything happened so fast, and I saw myself at the top. Coming to Lagos from Ekpoma was devine. I just had to come because Lagos was considered where it is happening. So when the opportunity to go to Yaba Tech came, I did everything I could not to miss it. And because of my faced trying to acquire education, I vowed none of my children or anyone I know will go through such. So I trained all my children in the best of schools.
In many places, you have been described as a philanthropist. Did you become a philanthropist based on the nasty growing days or is it in your nature to be good
Both! Much as it is based on what I went through, but no one can do good if he is not endowed with the spirit of goodness. I have seen people who refused to help others just because they suffered to get what they have, and they want you to go and suffer your own. But God has blessed me, I believe I should bless others too.
I through hell so I didn’t want any one that come across me to go through hell if as I could help it. When I see young stars I like to encourage them to make it, and they keep coming to me. I have given out so many scholarships. I need to be challenged – there is no one that has come across me that I have not helped, and if I can’t, I link you to the person who can. My gratitude remains to God for His faithfulness, and that forms the title of my book.
At 71, you still maintain a youthful look. What is the secret
My age I know is intimidating. You know, I try to live within my means. I don’t go all out to grab anything because I have the belief that whatever is mine is mine, and what is not mine cannot be mine. I don’t owe anybody, be it bank no individual. I do things within my reach, and I am satisfied with what I have. Nothing can push me to do what I don’t want to do, and I try as much as possible not to hurt anybody. I sleep well and don’t let anything disturb me. My house is the biggest in Ekpoma, and I try to accommodate all and sundry, even when I receive more disappointment than gain.
What inspired you to choose the profession you are in today, and what do your company do?
I was forced to take land mark decision by leaving Halliburton, and at the end of the day, God helped me. While working with the company as chairman, I was exposed to many things which later shaped my today. I experienced first-hand, technicians coming to do these job and I fell in love with what they were doing. There and then I told myself I was going to establish my own technology. Today, I have about 20 staff. We are into the distillation of assets designed for refineries, oil filling stations, oil plat form and tank farms and more.
In one of your profile you mention you have a team of professional engineers who deliver effective solution, sir I want to know some of those solutions that your team brings to the society
We give utmost service to the oil and gas industry via well developed technology. With the help of a computer or laptop, I can monitor what goes on in various fields just by a touch of a button. Our service is superb
So your service reduces the level of manpower
Yes, technology is meant save fund. So instead of making the trip, you can do it through your laptop in the office or home.
When was your company establish
In 2013, I worked with Shell and Halliburton for 40 years before retiring to set up my own.
Four years down the lane and you are this big, where do you see yourself in the next six years which will make it your 10th on your own
The sky will be our limit considering the kind of staff I have at the moment. My staff are drawn from every part of the country.
Father, husband, chairman and CEO – how do you combine all these and still come out good
I combine very well, and that is the joy in it. My family have never complained since I started working. I left the secondary school in 1964 and ventured into the unknown world. In 1971, I got married, and started having children. Since then, there has never been a complaint. I do everything I suppose to do when I suppose to do them, and my duties have never clashed or affected the other.
In your 71 years of existence, do you have any regrets
The major regret I have is the inability of my father who prayed very well me to live long and enjoy the fruit of his labour. He died too early; he died at the age of 75 while I was trying to get up properly. We suffered together, prayed together, and he told me there was a star, and when the star started to shine, he died so. And my mother followed 20 years later, though she tasted a little of the good times. I named a castle after her in my hometown.
Can you say one or two things about your wife
She is a very supportive woman, and it might interest you to know that she never worked in her life in the secular world. She had always worked for me in the house looking after the children. We work together. While she is in charge of the house as the CEO, I am in charge of the field. We have been together for 46 years, in another four years we will be celebrating 50 years of marriage. It has been easy, but God has seen us through. We have not separated for one day. I have not changed wife, and she has not changed husband. She has succeeded in raising very humble children for me.
Don’t you really have interest in politics
Not really, politics is very good for those who can do it. I don’t think it is my calling. However, if I am politically appointed to serve my people or my community I will do it with all pleasure. I am not against politics, but people should learn to do it the right way.
What advice do you have for the young ones who aspire to be like you
They should trust in God, have faith and sow seed of faith. God doesn’t discriminate. One also have work hard and be very honest. I started working in my progress him always coming to pray for me so he came to the village and they gave him chief title in the village. As a youth, whatever you do must be done well no matter the situation one finds himself. Never give up their! Always exhibit courage! Sometimes people abuse my generosity but I thank God.
What future do you see for our country Nigeria, do you see us staying together or going our separate ways
We should be together and continue to build on the structure. We are very intelligent people and people who are working with me are intelligent. I don’t need to know them before giving them assistance or job offer because they are intelligent. There is no mister right; we are all Mr. Right.
So where do you see us in 2019 because it is fast approaching
In 2019, there would be a change of presidency, yes I know.
Meaning Buhari would be voted out,
It would’ve been nice if Buhari want to go back but age is not on his side so I will advise him not to come back. He has done well for himself, shown accountability and discipline. The EFCC has been very effective. I see Nigeria more united provided we structure; we must be restructured if we must make progress. We are where we are today unfortunately because of the restructure issue.