Chief Sony Iwedike Odogwu: A tribute
By Hugo Odiogor
For those that the bell tolls, only they could tell the pangs of the pains and emotional topsy-turvey that swirls around their head in the heat of the bereavement.
The chaos and stormy embattlement that they go through require grace and fortitude to overcome. We therefore, send messages of condolence to his or her family, close friends and associates in this difficult stage of life, regardless of the age, circumstance, social and economic status of the deceased.
The sense and realisation that we have lost a loved member creates a void that is so difficult to fill.
For the family of Chief Sony Iwedike Odogwu, the Ide Ahaba and Chairman of SIO Group of companies, the bell tolled on November 5, when the patriarch of the family took a bow.
When the news of his demise broke via the social media, the first natural reaction was to get a confirmation from the family. Then it came from his son and heir to his vast financial empire, that the inevitable has happened.
From here, my mind flashed back to some memorable encounters with this illustrious son of Anioma nation.
These are memorable encounters that spanned from 1987 to 2016, under different circumstances. A statement issued by the family in Asaba shows that the funeral arrangements will commence in Lagos on January 16th, 2019, with the service of songs and night of tributes at Harbour Point No 4 Way Point Road, Victoria Island, Lagos from 5pm- 9pm.
On January 18, the lying-in-state will take place at his residence on No 54 Queen’s Drive Ikoyi Lagos state from 8am- 9am .
This will be followed by a requiem mass at Catholic Church of Assumption, Falomo, Lagos from 10am . The statement also said the funeral at Delta State will commence in Asaba on January 24th, 2019 with the service of songs at St. Patrick’s parish, Nnebisi Road Asaba from 5pm-7pm. The lying in state will take place at Ide Ahaba Villa on King’s Street, Umuaji quarters Asaba from 8am-9am to be followed by the funeral mass and interment at St. Patrick’s parish Nnebisi College road Asaba at 10am.
The statement also said the venue for the reception will be announced through the website www.siofuneral.com. From January 26th , there will be Egwuota traditional rulers rite at the Odogwu family compound on King’s Street Umuaji quarters Asaba at 2pm. The outing mass will take place on January 27th 2019 at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Nnebisi road Asaba
A personal reflection. Back in 1987, I was sitting in the balcony of Corpers’ Lodge on this fateful weekend and suddenly, the street came alive as a white stretched Limo snaked its way through the ever busy Whetheral Road, Owerri, the Imo State capital. It was heading towards Ikenegbu.
Before I could fathom what was going on and who was the “big boy ” displaying such opulence, a white Volkswagen Beatle pulled up in front of the lodge of corps members posted to Alvan Ikoku College of Education. It had the inscription of Imo Broadcasting Corporation (IBC). That was my place of primary assignment, I was putting up with colleagues because IBC had no accommodation for its corps members. This was strange because members of the National Youth Service Corps are allowed to enjoy amenities and above all, to enjoy their weekend except those posted to organisations that provide essential service.
The car had called to pick me up to report a meeting taking place in the mansion of Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu in Owerri, the Chairman of Hardel & Enic. Though there was still embargo on political meetings and activities in the country, there were series of behind-the-scene meetings by the elite and leaders of thought, business leaders and captains of industry on the future of the country in a post-military political era.
The military government of President Ibrahim Babangida, was tinkering with the political system and space with his open-ended political transition programme, to restore democratic rule in the country.
This was one of the reasons for his visit to Owerri. It was at this event that I got a little more about the man who came with the Limo. He was introduced to me as Chief Sony Odogwu, the Ide Ahaba in the defunct Bendel State, one of the movers and shakers of Nigeria’s business world.
Ide Ahaba, Chief Sony Iwedike Odogwu, has passed on to eternity at the age of 91. The Ide Ahaba was born on March 20, 1927 into the royal lineage of Obi Odimma Odogwu, the first paramount Chief of Asaba.
In his life time, he was a man who touched the lives of millions of lives positively.
I had another memorable encounter with him in 1995, when he was mulling the idea to start up a newspaper project known as The Post.
I had gone on a social visit with a cousin of mine to his palatial country-home, Ide Mansion, Kings Street, Umuaji Quarters, Asaba. It was an informal meeting where guests mingled freely. We spoke about the renascent West African Pilot (WAP) newspaper which he was among the money moguls that assembled and got the approval from Rt. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe to restore the publication of the newspaper.
The next time we met was in 2002, when as the Chairman of the National Planning Committee of DTN Miss Nigeria Beauty Pageant, when members of the planning committee had approached the Ide for sponsorship of the Western zonal finals.
An oil and gas service company that had originally offered to bankroll the event chickened out in the last minute. We had just one week between the Eastern zonal finals which took place in Port Harcourt, a day before the Ikeja Cantonment bomb blast that rocked Lagos on January 27, 2002.
Amid the atmosphere of uncertainty, we approached Ide and he obliged us the use of Nnebisi Hall of Grand Hotel, the flagship hotel in Delta state. The event lived up to expectations and gave us the momentum to stage the finals in Lagos.
Chief Sony Odogwu was among our eminent VIP. He went further to host the eventual winner, Miss Slyvia Edem, for one week. I was part of the Anioma state creation delegation led by Prof. Chike Joseph Edozien, the Asagba of Asaba to Abuja on June 10th 2010. I was invited as the Deputy Politics editor of Vanguard newspapers to report the event. We met with leadership of the National Assembly namely: The speaker of the House of Representatives in the person of Rt. Hon. Dimeji Bankole and the Deputy Senate President in the person of Chief Ike Ekweremadu. I had another opportunity to meet with Chief Sony Iwedike Odogwu in July that same year when he invited me to his big house at Queen’s Drive in Lagos state.
I had sent him a text message that morning in respect of a special report that I was working on to commemorate the 85th birthday anniversary of Obi (Prof.) Chike Joseph Edozien, the Asagba of Asaba. On receipt of my text that morning as early as 4:30 am, he responded and requested that I should come over to his at house at 9:00 am where we discussed the Asagba project. He had planned the visit to coincide with his breakfast and I was right there on time.
The reception was cordial and the formalities very simple. It turned out that the visit to Abuja to present the demand for the creation of Anioma state was of great interest to him. He wanted to get an independent report on the visit led by his first cousin. He was a fervent supporter of any issue that concerns Anioma people and their quest for political identity.
He invested his energy and financial resources, without being obtrusive.
Since I knew him in 1987, he has been part of the struggle. He was in the thick of it before Babangida created Katsina and Akwa Ibom, contrary to all expectations. It came as a surprise gift to the people of Akwa Ibom when the Ibibios were the dominant ethnic group and the hegemons in the old Cross River State. In 1991, instead of creating an Anioma state as demanded by the Igbo linguistic group in Delta State, General Babangida cloned a state that put two groups that wanted their own separate states together much to the displeasure of both people, but Chief Odogwu got something when General Babangida, acceded to his request to make Asaba the capital of Delta State. He was not a happy man and felt short-changed.
His vision was that Anioma which is Delta North would be an Asian tiger, to be economically self-reliant to actualize the goal for political identity within the Nigerian state.
In 2010, when the issue of Anioma state movement came up again, he had his reservations about the strategies that were being deployed into the new demand but as usual, he was ready to support it with all that it required.
At age 84 then, you work at his own pace. He behaved like every senior citizen, taking his time to arrange and organize himself. He took his bath, and then we had breakfast together while discussing after which he said I would accompany him to his office which I obliged. He cancelled some of his early morning appointments and rescheduled others. After the breakfast he said I should follow him to his office in Boyle Street, behind Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos. He asked me if I drove and I told him I boarded a taxi so as to meet up with the appointment and he said it was fine. He took me in one of his American spec of exotic cars to his office. While in the car, the conversation continued; he told me about his early struggles in life, how he made it in the insurance world, his numerous investments within and outside Nigeria, his philanthropic and economic empowerment programmes within Nigeria, Africa and Europe. As he tells his story, he smiled intermittently; his voice becomes stern when he’s making a serious point. He laughs when he needs to. One point of regret, he said “our Igbo brothers across the River Niger have not or do not see us as part of the Igbo nation except when they need us to fight their battles and when they need our votes in elections.” He said the area of the Mid-West especially, “the Igbo-speaking part, suffered heavily during the war as they were led to the battle front. Asaba people were massacred.
He said each time the issue of “creation of Anioma state comes up that is when our brothers on the East of the Niger will throw up the issue of the creation of Njaba, Ada Ada or Wa-Wa states etc. while all these were legitimate demands, they take the sail off the momentum for the demand of Anioma state which will be a plus to the larger Igbo nation.” He told me the role he played in making Asaba the capital of Delta state, the resources he has committed into the quest for the creation of Anioma state and his hope that the vision of Anioma state will become a reality. This meeting lasted for six hours.
In December that same year, I had another opportunity of meeting him again. This was after the election tribunal sitting in Benin annulled the 2007 governorship election of Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan as the governor of Delta State. He held series of meetings at his house in Lagos and his Grand Hotel in Asaba to mobilize Anioma people’s continual support to Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan so that power will shift to Delta North in 2015. When Dr. Uduaghan broke his promise to support an Anioma son or daughter from Delta North to become governor after him, I put a call through to him and as usual he invited me to his house and we discussed extensively on the prospective from Delta North and who is the most formidable to support Delta North. All through my encounter with him, Ide Ahaba often made it known to me that he does not make political statements or dabble into controversies. I also noticed he carries on his business without scandals or controversies. Before I left, I made it known to him that the odds favour Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, then serving senator from Delta North who has a worthy pedigree to hold together a multi ethnic state like Delta State. I told him that Dr. Okowa had the administrative and legislative experience to serve the state well, having been a Local Government chairman, commissioner in three different ministries, Secretary to State Government and a Senator of the Federal republic. He said his mind was made up. I smiled for the salesmanship.
All through my encounter with Ide, he has always turned down my request to write his biography and he never gave his reasons and I also did not exert pressure on him.
Chief Sony Odogwu was the Chairman of SIO Group, which is in real estate business, sales of exotic automobiles to high networth persons in Nigeria and one of the pillars of Insurance business in the country.
He stayed away from partisan politics but kept tab of development that might his affect his business and Anioma people. Interestingly, his cousin, the late Chief Dennis Osadebey, was the first Senate President of Nigeria from 1960 to 1962 and the first Premier of Midwest region from 1963-1966. He grew up in his home town, Asaba, where he had his early education. Late Chief Sony Odogwu was an alumnus of Church Missionary Grammar School (CMS), Lagos and Ilesha respectively, where he had his secondary school education. He started work as Insurance trainee at the age of 17, with the Norwich Insurance company, Lagos. He worked with them for two years, before he resigned to start his own company, Dyson and Dyket Insurance Brokers. He extended his activities into commodity brokerage services.
He later moved to London to advance his education and obtained degrees in Insurance business management from City University and London Chartered Institute of Insurance, respectively. All through his life, Ide Ahaba was not given to shopping for front page report of political events. He minded his businesses and worked effortlessly to give back to society, through his philanthropic works without drawing attention to himself. Even in his commitment to the search for political identity and self-actualisation by Anioma people, he remained in the background, but support to drive the process.
He was a firm believer of greater collaboration among the Igbo speaking people in Nigeria but was disappointed with the attitude of the political orientation of Igbo leaders that treat Anioma people as vassals and appendages to the lager Igbo nation on the Eastern end of the River Niger. Even from the touchline, he paid closer attention to the political actions and statements by Ohaneze Ndigbo. In my various encounters with him I did not see him as an opportunity for social climbing, rather, we respected each other and that was all. He was a man I admired for his simplicity, ebullient spirit, ethics of hard work, discipline and a heart to give. He was a lady’s man and totally a detribalised Nigerian and a worthy role model in business. He died a respected White cap chief.
Sleep well, Ide Ahaba.