On 29th December 2015, I was in Abiriba to attend the burial of my late friend and businessman, Chief Otusi Kalu popularly known in social circles as Abbot. At the event, I was seated on the same table with Mazi Dagogo Okoronkwo of Atani. He also led his family to pay last respect to our fallen friend. While the event progressed, I observed that Mazi Dagogo was quite uncomfortable, largely unsettled as he looked at his wrist watch at every minute.
His restlessness attracted my inquiry on what might be wrong. He told me that he needed to rush to First Bank Abiriba to withdraw some money before the bank closes. He began a story of lamentation and anger “since armed robbers attacked First Bank Arochukwu on December 31st 2014, Aros especially those living at home have been exposed to untold hardship. The hardship compounded by the very poor condition of Aro – Ohafia road is better experienced than imagined. Can you imagine that except you travel on that bad road to Ohafia, you cannot have access to your money in First Bank?”. Mazi Dagogo took me into the long story of the importance of First Bank in Arochukwu, the pain and anguish the suspension of the service of the bank has imposed on our people especially those who live at home.
When his lamentations were distracting my attention from the on-going burial ceremony, I requested to know why First Bank had refused to reopen for business and what can be done. The response of Mazi Dagogo was shocking and humbling. “Orji” he shouted, “please, listen, First Bank gave a condition that adequate security must be provided by Aro as a community. We have waited for wealthy men among us to come with assistance but none took up the responsibility. Because of my love for Aro and the strategic importance of the bank to the community, I decided to take up the project as demanded by First Bank with funding from my pension. Mazi Okorafor Okereke (In A Way) and Mazi Kanu Ivi also supported. We built a multi-purpose security house close to the bank with basic facilities. Armed soldiers have been deployed to the security house to provide adequate security for the bank and the entire Aro community, as I speak to you, the only thing left, Orji, is for First Bank to reopen its services. I am sad that after my efforts, spending my pension on the project, nothing has changed’’ he concluded helplessly.
I was moved by the story and the individual spirit behind the exceptional determination to solve a community problem. At that point, I recommended to Mazi Dagogo to meet Dr. O J. Nnanna who I was aware was in Aro for Xmas. I assured him that as Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Dr. O J Nnanna was in a vantage position to influence First Bank to reopen its services given the work people like Mazi Dagogo had done. The meeting with Dr. Nnanna and Mazi Dagogo took place, First Bank has reopened, and the rest is history.
The story of Dagogo and service to Aro is not new. Those who are familiar with the history of self-help developments in our history have more information on his contributions. At 74, Mazi Dagogo is on pension for survival but has remained a philanthropist. Born in 1942, Mazi Kingsley Dagogo Okoronkwo was a businessman and a man who belongs to the generation that made Arochukwu the envy of Igbo land. People in his class at that time elevated Aro through generosity, culture, creativity, positive use of intellect and wisdom. With a basic education at St. Michael’s Primary School, Omoku and St. Patrick’s College Ahaoda both in Rivers State, Mazi Dagogo Okoronkwo returned to his ancestral to make valuable contributions. He was not the richest but has large heart to offer help in community interest. He was also among the few at the time who believed in Aro prominence dominance and leadership.
In 1982, he single handedly built and donated Arochukwu Local Government Secretariat to the community to ensure that Aro retained the headquarters of the Local government. He equally bought a brand new Peugeot 504 and donated to Eze Aro Cabinet in those glorious years when only but a few traditional institutions had access to such privileges. In Atani his village, the story of his contributions then and now resonates in every discussions of community development. It may be understandable if he did all these as a young man. What is unique with his recent intervention in the First Bank project is the fact that he funded the project with his pension at the ripe age of 74.
By all standards, Mazi Dagogo Okoronkwo has become an enigma, a positive case study in community development for all generations.