By Mercy Hill
In a society where incompetence is highly rewarded and fraudulent lifestyles are celebrated by men who claim to be gentlemen; at a time when hardwork is seemingly relegated to the background and quick wealth is desired by many, a voice speaks out against the ills of the day and urges the people to live right.
Dr. J. K. Okoye bares his mind in this edition of Inspirational Personalities on the secret of true success. He further advised the youths to live sincere lives while pursuing any meaningful way of life.
May we know you?
My name is Sir Dr Josephat Kanayo Okoye, Onwa Obeledu, Dike Eji Eje Mba of Anaocha,and papal Knight of St. Sylvester and St. Mulumba. I am also an engineer by profession.
I was born in the 1940s right around here in Obeledu, Anaocha LGA, in Anambra State, here in Nigeria. My father died about a week after my birth, so I didn’t know him. My mother also died when I was thirteen years of age, from then I became essentially an orphan. After that I had to face my life squarely with the help of people around me, most especially my elder brother, Chief G.U Okoye, who trained me. He was the first tailor in Obeledu, who sewed the soutane of all priests and Brothers. As a matter of fact, every Rev Father in Nigeria used to come to No 6, Ogbunike Street in Camp, Enugu State to sew their soutanes. He was the first person to own a car, and built the first storey building in Obeledu that time. So, I continued with my education at St. Paul’s Obeledu and St. Andrew’s Adazi Nnukwu.
After that, I got admission to College of Immaculate Conception, CIC, Enugu, and went to CKC for higher school, where I was made the senior prefect. We then took scholarship to travel outside Nigeria, I had several opportunities to study in Israel, the United Kingdom and in the United States of America. I decided to pick that of the United States. I went to Purdue University in Indiana on scholarship and after that, I did my Masters and Doctorate at California Institute of Technology, where I studied Civil Engineering, specializing in Water Resources. When I finished my Doctorate, I worked there and practiced as a Consulting Engineer with a Consulting and Engineering firm, called Lindson and Juwelts and other firms in San Francisco for seven years. I also worked in Boston, Massachusetts before I came back to Nigeria and based in Lagos to work with an Engineering Firm owned by a man from the Calabar area. From there I started my own firm called J.F Appio and Associates. I started my own consulting firm, Water and Dams Servicing Company. We are consulting Engineers for water and dams, irrigation, pipeline system, underground development, etc.
Since then I was on my own, have up to twelve offices scattered around Nigeria. And at one point, I had the best consulting Engineering Firm in the field of Engineering in Nigeria, with the headquarters in Abuja. I have this company called CIAC,Centre for Igbo Art and Culture, which investigates the cultural aspect of the Igbo people, we also publish magazines which are circulated all over the world. We launched it in London, Los Angeles, Sydney in Australia, Huawei and in Nigeria. It’s goes to all the Universities in Nigeria. It a publication that is published in English and Igbo languages. And we have different sections there. We also incorporate competitions in Igbo for kids in primary and secondary schools. Next month we will have awards and books on artifacts, dictionaries in Igbo would be given to them also.
What is Okwuanyionu Foundation all about?
Okwuanyionu, is my father and I didn’t know him, so I established the foundation in his honor and beneficiaries are students from junior secondary schools and senior secondary schools. And I want to have ten students each year under that scholarship and we will have a total of sixty students. Right now, we have about fifty-six because some people dropped off on the way.
I also try to be active in church. I built the first Catholic Chapel in Obeledu, St. Paul’s Obeledu, that was like thirty years ago. I built the first Microfinance Bank Building at Obeledu Microfinance Bank. I also built the first primary school, Okwuanyionu Primary School.
What was your motivation then?
I was motivated by the gestures of a young priest then at Obeledu, Fr. Charles Onugbogu, a former Parish Priest at St. Paul’s Obeledu, that was working so hard to get things moving, visiting the poor and doing many other things. So, I was impressed that I volunteered to assist him. He was the one who encouraged me to build the chapel and do many more. So, I can give that credit to him. That’s why I finally sponsored him to go to the United States. So, it was Fr. Charles who got me excited about doing a lot.
Do you consider yourself successful?
Hmmm I have a lot to thank God for. As it is, I don’t think I can ever be hungry all my life. I have a good family, my children on their own are doing well. My sons receive awards from the top universities in the world. I have gotten where I never expected in life. When we started I never knew things would turn out this way, but I got involved with every opportunity in front of me. I put in a lot of efforts and commitments, many atimes it worked. From my primary school days, I came out with distinctions, evenin my University in the United States, I was the best graduating student my set, even though I was the only black student my set.
What factors contributed to your success?
Hardwork, commitment and God. I was truthful to myself and never tried to cheat on anything. I don’t borrow to do anything or meet an expectation. If I cannot afford something, I don’t do it. I make every effort but if it doesn’t work, I wait for the time. I remained contented in whatever I had.
There was a time I was telling a friend that I don’t need anything anymore and I had gotten whatever I wanted, but these things keep coming because I had worked for them before now.
What do you regard your major achievement in life?
Being able to gain education to the very top. I got my Doctorate Degree to the very top and I was able to practice all over the world. I practiced in Switzerland, Australia. I lived in Alaska. In fact the Alaska Governor offered me a job there so I can be a citizen, I refused. Because I did some work there at the Alaska Pipeline, River Crossings. I have lived in almost all parts of the world.
Yes! When I was very young, there was a time I was supposed to go study in one of the Government colleges, that time there were only three government colleges, in Umuahia, Afikpo and Owerri. So, I was not able to go study in those schools,instead I went to CIC, Enugu and later CKC Onitsha. I felt so bad, but it later went on fine there.
Aside that, nothing more, if I wanted something I put in commitment and usually it works. The thing also is that I don’t wish to have too much but for some reasons, I usually get more than expected.
A great lesson your life and endeavours has taught you?
Well, what I see that will make somebody’s life is to be truthful to himself. Tell yourself the truth, when you see a problem tell yourself it is, don’t go on pretending it is not, face it as a problem.
Take for example, Nigeria. what is holding this country is the fact that we do not tell ourselves the truth. We live in falsehood. That is why the white man is making progress. When they fail, they face and look for the best solution to solve that problem. But Nigerians keep living in self-deceit, insecurity and pretense. That’s why Nigeria is a failed state. And we end up not contributing anything to the world because we don’t find solutions to our failures.
For things to be better, we must tell ourselves the truth, work with the truth and face the facts of life.
I had people I looked up to right from my junior school days, one was brother Aloysius who was our Principal, English and Additional Mathematics Tutor. He was a wonderful guy and highly disciplined. He contributed to the discipline of our minds. You could hardly hear him speak but he believed in discipline. If you failed you will be suspended, even if your parents were Federal Ministers. Throughout the years he was at CIC, Enugu, none of the students failed school certificate exams. The guy was just fantastic, and his word was his world. So I looked up to him and that discipline he impacted made life for me.
Soon you will be eighty and you are still very active with life, can we know the secret?
I just wake up and do things as well as I can, that’s all. Some of my friends my age have broken down. Age has really taken its toll on them, but that’s what happens when you get older. So, I thank God am still this way. On my eightieth birthday, I want people who want to recognize me while I am alive, not when I am dead. So, my eightieth birthday will be the point, where people would be around to celebrate life.
Any Publication and Award?
My technical publications are through my companies. I also had award for my performance in the University, more on my professional projects; on Centre of Igbo Arts and Culture and for my work in the Church.
Any advice for young people?
Young people should be truthful to themselves, work hard, get committed to the true things not fraudulent ones. Try to live not faster than your life. God has blessed Africans especially the Igbos of Nigeria, so we should try to channel it to the true things not the wrong things. Young ones should try to be humble, stop being too loud and stop showing off too much, because with that, you expose yourself and attract the wrong eyes.
Our people make too much noise and they tend to attract the attention of their contenders who then resort to fighting them.
Young people also, should shun fraudulent acts and wait for their time. Most people plan to invest here in Nigeria, but our young people bring these companies down through cheating and a lot of theft.