The internet was practically shut down on Sunday August 16th 2020 as eminent Nigerians from all over the world scrambled for space to pay tribute to Mazi Sam Iheanyichukwu Ohuabunwa who turned 70. The event held in Lagos was also an opportunity for family members, friends and well-wishers to extol the virtues of a man many in this kingdom, simply call Mazi Sam, unaware of his national and global status. As an Aro man, I watched the proceedings of the online ceremony with pride from the comfort of my Abuja residence through the zoom link technology.
The occasion began at exactly 2pm with beautiful rendition by a Lagos classy band. A great moment of self-actualization, it was indeed, for the celebrant and his amiable wife of forty-four solid years. Mazi Sam in his sparkling, flowing, well designed white-agbada, with his lovely wife, Stella in white blouses, a blue wrapper to match, danced to the music in cheerful memories of life, its opportunities, challenges, its ups and downs over the years. The couple was supported by Senator Mao Ohuabunwa who was among those physically in Lagos on behalf of the family. The atmosphere became quite solemn with opening prayers offered from three powerful sources. The President of Full Gospel Fellowship in Nigeria, IfeanyiOdedo, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Mathew Hassam Kuka and the Primate/leader of the Church of Nigeria Anglican Communion, Henry Ndukuba.
The Chairman of the Occasion, elder statesman and former Nigeria High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Christopher Kolade began the stream of eulogies on the celebrant. All but none, spoke eloquently of Sam Ohuabunwa’s valued contributions to the development of the pharmaceutical industry, the Nigerian economy, the private sector generally, the church, his community and nation building. Other tributes poured like rainfall from politicians, state governors, former ministers, captains of commerce and industry, the organized private sector, the university of Ife alumni, Okrika Grammar School and the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria where Mazi Sam is currently the President. The Arochukwu presence at the event would have been swallowed by the large assembly of dignitaries but for timely interventions of the dean of Nzuko Patrons Prof Okoro Ijoma and the excellent oratory of Mazi Nnamdi Udoh. While Prof Ijoma delivered a powerful short message that left no one in doubt, that Mazi Sam is Aro’s gift to Nigeria, Nnamdi Udoh who moderated the ceremony, took chances intermittently, during the event, to throw-in the Aro identity and ownership of Mazi Sam, respectfully, but directly at the face and consciousness of the august assembly.
On quality attendance, it was simply easier to count “those who did not, than those who attended the virtual event. The presence of who is who in Nigeria was a clear positive statement on Sam Ohuabunwa’s national reach, records of service to mankind, the church, community and his country. When Prof Pat Utomi was invited to review a book “Wired To Lead” authored by Mazi Sam to document his life so far and service to his country, the book reviewer took the ceremony to intellectual level with his incisive comments and analysis. As I wait for a copy, as at the time of writing this piece, I am told it is a must read, highly recommended for all those who chose to get involved in service above self. Samuel Ohuabunwa was born 70 years ago in Port Harcourt on the 16th of August 1950. He began his early education at Okrika Grammar School. At Okrika, his leadership skills were identified early, nurtured and incubated.The Nigerian Civil War of 1967 however interrupted his secondary education. He later joined the war and became one of the youngest Biafran Army Officers that fought the war and came home alive. It remains a miracle and a story on its own how he came back from a war front where millions perished. However, when the war ended in 1970, Sam transferred to Government Secondary School, Owerri to complete his education. He obtained his West African School Certificate examination from Owerri in 1971 and proceeded to the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) the following year to study Pharmacy. He graduated from Ife in 1976.
Sam’s professional career in the pharmaceutical industry started in 1978 when he joined a global conglomerate -Pfizer as Sales Representative. Through competency and integrity in the discharge of his assignments, he rose through the ranks to become the Managing Director and Chief Executive of the company in Nigeria. It was a huge career accomplishment which did not come easy. That trajectory is also another story on its own. But it is worthy of note that the exposure he gained in the pharmaceutical industry later positioned him and largely shaped his interface with nation building in a larger scale in many respects. For instance, in 1997, when the headquarters of Pfizer in New York, USA decided to reduce its business exposure in Nigeria, the company offered Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa the opportunity to lead a management buy over of their 60% equity investments. The exposure he had gained working with Pfizer equipped him to know who to contact, invest his reputation, professional and social capital to respond effectively and timely to the great offer. This is the story behind the birth of Neimeth International Pharmaceuticals Plc, a leading indigenous company today in Nigeria. It was Mazi that named Neimeth in honour of a Former President of Pfizer International, Mr Robert Neimeth. As the founder, MD/CEO he resisted the temptation to name the new company after himself as many Nigerians would have done.
In the private sector, Sam Ohuabunwa was at different times, Chairman, Board of Fellows of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, Foundation President, West African Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association, President Nigeria Employers Consultative Association and Chairman, Nigerian Economic Summit Group. Others include National President, Nigerian American Chamber of Commerce and Fellow of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria. He is also a Fellow of the West African Post Graduate College of Pharmacists, Fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Pharmacy, Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Management, Fellow of the National Institute of Marketing in Nigeria, Fellow of the Nigeria Institute of Public Relations as well as Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants among others.
In the public sector, he was a member of Presidential Committee on vision 2010 and Vision 2020 national development plans respectively. Mazi served on the boards of the National Manpower Board, sat on the Board of Nigeria Institute for Social and Economic Research, Nigerian Health Insurance Scheme; on the Board of Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI) and the Presidential Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P). This is in addition to his appointments into several Presidential Advisory Committees.
At the state level, he was Chairman of the Governing board of Abia State Polytechnic, Chairman, Board of the Abia State Teaching Hospital, and currently, the Chairman of the Council of Abia State Public Private Partnerships and investment Promotions Agency.
In his native community (Arochukwu Kingdom), his community service records are intimidating, quite clear, visible and impactful. He was at different times, Secretary General of Nzuko Arochukwu, President General of Nzuko Arochukwu, President of Aro-okeigbo Social Club of Nigeria, member Okpankpo Aro and currently sits on the Board of National Patrons of Nzuko Aro.
In the church, he is the current National Coordinator of the Strategic Outreaches group of the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship, and a pillar in the Church of Nigeria Anglican Communion in Lagos, Arochukwu/Ohafia Diocese and the national leadership of the church. In recognition of his outstanding services to his country, he is a recipient of three national honours. These are Member of the Order of the Niger (MON) in 2001, Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR) in 2011 and the National Productivity Order of Merit (NPOM) in 2018. These national honours were directly conferred on him one after the other by three serving Nigerian Presidents at the time.
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa is a complete family, wonderful husband and an amazing father. He is married to Stella, a Delta Ibo from Kwale. The marriage is blessed with five beautiful children, three girls and two boys. The children (all together) have already made their Dad proud with ten children for now. In the Ohuabunnwa dynasty, a well-established, respected family in Arochukwu Kingdom, Mazi Sam is held in such high esteem “as god the father, god the son and god the holy spirit”. In that family, he is no doubt “the end of discussion”.
When a roll call of men are called, especially those who were not born with silver spoons but through hard work, perseverance, honesty and God’s grace now dine with golden spoons among nobles, royals, queens and kings, Mazi Sam Iheanyinchukwu Ohuabunwa deserves a permanent seat in the front row. At 70, Amaikpe believes that if Mazi Sam still has any other point to prove, it is certainly not to any human, only to the Mighty and Almighty.
Happy Birthday Ugwu-Aro !!!