I feel very fulfilled, happy and elated; I am very relaxed and thankful to God for the honor, favour and grace he has given to me all these years. Because I have always been very conscious of His presence in my life while I passed through the valley of the shadow of death. I have had many health challenges, many political challenges, many business and financial challenges but in all of these, God was always by my side. I feel comfortable and relaxed, even people who suffer diabetes and are hypertensive like me go into very serious complications but I have never encountered any of these.
I have heard that none of your siblings ever lived beyond 60 years. Knowing this, how did you feel when you reached 60?
Initially at 60 when I was ill, there was a story that I had died in a hospital in London. It was a wild rumour. People called me from Nigeria, including the Head of State. When he heard my voice, he thanked God. That has been one of the eventful things God did for me. Even when I had a plane crash, a photograph of the crash was brought to me the following day. I looked at it and I asked God, why did you keep me alive? Show me the purpose why you kept me alive.’ I’m still waiting for that purpose. I believe that because I have not died, I have not fulfilled it. Any illness that came to knock me down, all I say is God help me and one way or the other, miraculously I get healed. I made a vow at 70 that if I get to 75, I would thank him and praise his Holy name. Thursday, May 8 was my birthday. That day, I went to church and testified of God’s faithfulness in my life. The next day, family and friends came to celebrate with me in my house and the third day, which was Saturday, the state had a party for me. The government and people of Rivers State deemed it fit to celebrate their son. I made a vow at 70 that if I get to live longer I would like to build a church, because I realized the Niger Delta area is very fetish and full of all kinds of demonic influences. We have this satanic deception in terms of religion.
So what precautions did you take to ensure you reached 75?
I was very cautious about what I did and avoided anything that could threaten my health. I was quite conscious. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t fool around with women and I mind the type of food I eat and I have no enemies. Many things would happen, people would owe me, take my land, and expect me to go to court. Although I have all the incentives to get the police or even the militants but I don’t use them. I let everyone be, some people think am a fool, but I am not a fool; I just choose to obey God.
Looking back to the past 75 years, what has life taught you?
I have grown to understand that living is not of your own making. There may be some supernatural force, which we don’t see that protects and guides our lives. If you are able to attune and synchronize your life, living is smooth; you will be able to regulate and discipline yourself and have an organized way of life. I have learnt to be very disciplined, learnt to be very sympathetic, and learnt to be my brother’s keeper. I don’t have but if today, somebody is in dire need and difficulty and I have N100 and he wants N90, I will give him the N90 and possibly give him the whole N100. God has shown me stupendous kindness. If I give out money like that to somebody, I get it back the way I don’t expect. Somebody will just call me on the phone and say, ‘I am owing you this or that amount and am ready to pay it back.’ There is this mystery about my life. I can’t eat alone, even if I have groundnut to eat, I have to share it. I cannot eat it alone – it has been like that all my life. There was a time my brother gave me money for my school fees, but my good friend was driven away from school because he did not pay school fees. When I was at school, once my brother gave me money for my school fees and they drove a friend I was moving out with away, he had no school fees, I used the money my brother gave me to pay the school fees of my friend, and the school sent me away. My brother was very sad. I was a bit petrified to tell him. Eventually, when he heard about what I did, of course, he paid back, and from that moment he started paying my friend’s school fees. This was the upbringing I had and my children have the same attitude, all of them.
What do you want to be remembered for?
I want the will of God to be done in my life. Anything He wants me to do is fine by me. Anything He doesn’t want me to do is fine also. I am not looking for extraordinary riches. Is it houses, I have; is it investments or children? All my children are geniuses – they went to good universities. Is it family? I am the head of the family. I try to regulate my family and they all fall in line. For the purpose of the birthday celebration, I said all my children, nephews, and everybody I have trained should come so that I can see them. From UK, America, they all flew in, all relations from far and near. I call this day a blessing.
What was it like growing up?
I was the last of my father’s children. I was a spoilt child, everything I needed in life was provided. I went to school and was pampered by my elder brothers who were professionals. So from the day I was born to the day I graduated, I had a very soft life and I was given very serious protection. One thing was obvious with such a pedigree dating back to 16th century, one had standards to follow and perhaps that has guided me all through my public life and offices whereby I tried to meet the decorum of being very honest and keeping to all the regulations and laws of the country. We grew up as a Christian family. My late brothers were chancellors of the Anglican Church, my father and mother were very devout Christians; our grandfather brought in Anglicanism into my town, Abonema. He gave very large parcel of his land to the missionaries (Bishop Ajayi Crowther) when the church came over to this part of the world. That affected our upbringing. I think I am the least of my brothers in terms of achievements in the family. My elder brother, the doctor, set up the Nigeria Medical Council, he was the first secretary. He was a great surgeon in Hammersmith University in London. The second one was the Attorney General to Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu. When Rivers State was created, Gowon called him to set up the Justice Ministry. My other brother was the Chief Judge of the State, another brother was chancellor of the church. Two of my brothers were SANS. One was the first on the roll of SANS in Nigeria. Today, in the family, there are over 10 doctors, over 38 graduates, so it’s a great family.