Our Sports Potentials are Wasting — Vincent Okeke

. . . Up Close with the Pillar of DOSAD Sports Engr Vincent Okeke

By Uche Enem

Hello readers. This Christmas Edition, we bring you Engr Vincent Ikechukwu Okeke, who is a philantrophist, manufacturer, entrepreneur, Chartered Accountant, Engineer, Sports Promoter and above all, a principled man. Vincent hails from Umuatulu Ifite Ani of Enugwu Ukwu, Njikoka LGA of Anambra State. He is a devout Catholic and he is happily married and blessed with children.

By education and training, Vincent studied Engineering to his Masters level. Also, he read Finance to Masters level. In 1992, he qualified as an Associate of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria and became a Fellow of the institute in 2007. He has a Doctoral degree in Business Administration and in a few months, he hopes to bag another Doctoral degree in Management. Presently, he is into diverse businesses and remains the Manufacturer of standout Intercolor Paint. He is an entrepreneur and runs diverse hospitality services and businesses.

Engr Vincent is currently championing a revolution of grassroots sports through DOSAD Sports, where he is the Grand Patron and Chief Financier. In the last four months alone, he has sent not less than twenty one youth footballers to Europe through his sponsorship of football international scouting programmes at Abuja, Lagos and Nanka here in Anambra.

Can you tell us about your Early Education?
My Primary education started at Enugwu Ukwu after the war. I attended Council School Ifiteani, where I did my Primary 1-3 between 1970-1972. I attended St. Theresa’s Primary School Enugwu Ukwu where I did my primary 4. Because of the change in the educational system, I was able to do my primary 4 so quickly. So, when we moved to Abakaliki in late 1973, my father wasn’t satisfied with the change in the educational system, so I repeated primary 4 and finished my primary 4-6 at St. Clement’s Primary School, Abakaliki and that was between 1974- 1976.

In 1976, I entered Presbyterian College, Abakaliki (PRESCO) which is now called Abakaliki High School. I left the College in 1981. After I left the college, I did auxiliary teaching for one year which was between 1981- 1982. In 1982, I gained admission into Anambra State University of Technology. The university had campuses in Enugu and Awka at that time. The Enugu Campus gave rise to Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT) while the Awka campus later became Nnamdi Azikwe University (NAU). I studied Chemical Engineering and graduated among the top 5 students in the entire faculty of engineering in 1987. After that, I served in Exxon Mobil at Akwa Ibom State.

After service, I worked briefly and entered into production of glaziers putty, a paste used to hold glasses for metal-framed windows. I produced it at Enugwu Ukwu and was selling it in Onitsha. Along the line, I got a job with an accounting firm, called PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Lagos in 1989 as an audit trainee, and I was trained in auditing, accounting, and management consulting. While working for this firm, I passed my final ICAN exams in May 1992. In 1993, I left the accounting firm and worked for a finance conglomerate in Lagos as their Group Financial Controller. The conglomerate had a finance house, mortgage bank and also a trading company. In 1994 I was hired by the then famous tomato paste manufacturer- VEGFRU as corporate chief account based in Lagos. In 1996, I joined the commercial function of the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria in lagos and was later transferred to Port Harcourt as a Contracts Engineer. I worked in Port Harcourt for a year plus and was sent on cross posting to the Middle East as a Senior Contracts Engineer. I stayed in the Middle East for some time and when I got tired of the job, I resigned from Shell.

Working in the contracting department of Shell grew my interest and I realized that my interest was actually to work for a construction company. So when I left shell, I joined a construction company called Adamac group which had some subsidiaries in construction. I joined them as their Group General Manager for Commercial and Strategy and I stayed in the company for five years. When I left, I formed my own consultancy firm and I partnered with a French company. We were into providing technical services to companies in the areas of offshore construction. We worked very well with Total Exploration Nigeria. In 2010 I took up a contact employment in Lagos with an offshore construction company. I was their Commercial Director for two years and by the end of 2012, I was out of the company and I started running my own businesses. Currently, I am an entrepreneur with interest in manufacturing, hospitality, management consulting, and sports development

Can you tell us about your higher degrees?
While I was working for Shell, I did my masters degree in Chemical Engineering at the University of Lagos. I also did my Masters Degree in Finance at the University of Lagos. My two Masters degrees were between 1996- 1998. My Doctoral Programmes were all online and in residency. The Doctor of Business Administration was with Robert Kennedy College which is a Swiss based school with residencies in Switzerland; and my PhD in Management was with Walden University, USA. For PhD management, my residency education were in Paris, Barcelona, and London.

How did your passion for sports start?
It all started from the family. My father played football at the National level. He was a strong footballer and he played the NFF Cup which was then called Governor’s Cup during his days in the 60s. My father played for the Old Ogoja Division which is the present day Ebonyi State and part of Cross Rivers State. He played Governor’s Cup to the National level and was a great Sports Man who studied Physical and Health Education. He was really good in almost all the Sports. I used to have three male siblings and one sister but we lost one male later. Among the four kids, three of us did competitive sports from primary school level.

Personally, I played football till the zonal level during my Primary School Days. In my Secondary School days, I played Academicals and we won at the Zonal Level so many times. I was in Abakaliki zone which is the present Ebonyi State. At that time, we had three zones ( Abakaliki, Enugu and Onitsha) but later it became five zones (Onitsha, Awka, Enugu, Nsukka, Abakaliki). Academicals ends at the state level and in my Secondary School, I played Academicals to the highest level.

For athletics, I competed at Secondary School only. I participated and represented my hostel in 100 Meters, 200 Meters in interhouse sports. I also participated in Sprints associated relay races and long jump. My late younger brother played Football at the club level. He played for Proda FC. In fact, my male siblings played competitive Football to the state level. I have another sibling who was a sprinter. He was so exceptional that he was nicknamed TRACAS in Abakaliki. He was the fastest in sprint at Abakaliki and probably the second overall in the old Anambra State. The sports blood is in the family. I played some other games but not at the competitive level like squash, table tennis, lawn tennis and today the sports I am regular with is Golf. I enjoy playing Golf.

What position did you play?
I played left half back. Some other times, I played as center forward.

You have been a major sponsor in DOSAD, so what is the drive behind this?
I usually see DOSAD as a platform for some kind of philanthropy basically because it deals with young people. Football provides opportunity for potentials and helps in the transformation of people. There are people who were picked from the streets and today they are stars and celebrities earning huge money because of playing Football. I believe it is the best way to invest in young people as a philanthropist. This is because it not only involves feeding people but opening opportunities for them to become great by providing huge economic empowerment.

My relationship with DOSAD didn’t start with sponsoring scouting programmes. It started long ago when they approached me to be their patron. The Director of DOSAD, Rev. Fr. Obinna Dike, came to my house in the village and explained to me the prospect and vision of DOSAD. He invited me to DOSAD training ground at St. Anthony’s Enugwu Ukwu and I saw a lot of young men in the field as I watched them play. I went to inspect the open hall where they slept and noticed they slept with mats. I immediately provided funding for beds for them and we made beds and bought mattresses, and constructed mosquito nets to give them a bit comfort. This is what gingered me and to the best of my abilities, I have been supporting and contributing to them.

I have been receiving good news of their performances and exploits which is very encouraging. For example, I heard that their goalkeeper who is incidentally from my community is already in Europe. Personally, this is basically an avenue to support young people. It is very fulfilling when you provide help to young people you may not know. I feel good that they are doing well and that their lives are changing gradually. I also feel fulfilled that I am able to make them happy.

How do you think football can be improved with the aid of Football Lovers and Sponsors?
Personally, sports is one of the most lucrative opportunities where you can help transform the son of a widow, a villager or even a street boy who has no hope or opportunity for tomorrow.

It can suddenly transform him into a great person. If their skills can’t be harnessed, it could waste. It is just the same way with a beautiful woman who is like a flower that withers as she ages. Her beauty gradually fades. So it is for sports. Sport has its age. If a footballer is 18-19 years old, people rush him but when he clock 30-35 years, nobody will hire him for their club anymore. So I believe that potential and latent skills have to be harnessed properly through the aid of sponsors and sports lovers. If the skills of these young men and women are not fully exploited, it will remain dormant just the same way as our unexploited natural resources and minerals in Nigeria.

I suggest that people who are looking out for areas to carry out philanthropy should look at sports. It is not what the government can do alone, individuals could come in. Sport is enterprising and individuals should invest in it. Our sporting system is underdeveloped in the country. You could build a sporting team and it could die off tomorrow because of the nature of the country. The worst of all is that Nigeria competitions are no longer transparent. I hear about Football competitions that were played into the dark because the home team didn’t score. When I was the Chief Accountant of VEGFRU, I had an experience in Gombe. I watched a match between a Gombe-based team and another team from the Eastern part of the Country. The Eastern players had to be smuggled out of the stadium because the supporters of the home-based team were so furious that they didn’t score any goal notwithstanding that the referee allowed the game to be played well over regulation time.

Sports infrastructure is a huge problem in the country. For example, when I attended Council Primary School in Enugwu Ukwu, we had decent standard size Football field. The same thing with St. Theresa’s Primary School, we had a decent standard Football field too. When I went to Abakaliki for continuation of my Primary School in the rural area, we had two massive Football fields. This is the way the colonial government structured schools to be because sporting interest and skills are built up from the grass root. A child who wants to play Football will start showing the signs from his Primary School and a child who didn’t participate in sports in both Primary and Secondary School is not likely to excel in any sports at the university and beyond.

Today, the government approves schools in one plot of land and so it becomes very difficult for children to do sports. Many private schools have interlocked compounds which don’t even pave way for any sporting activities. Sports infrastructure doesn’t mean building massive stadium, it means doing the basic things like providing a playground or subsidiary fields for Children to train and play.

While growing up, we only needed two poles and a rope to play badminton, volley ball and even high jump in the field. Almost all the private schools lack field or playground. Before now, you dare not build a school without a field. Every school should be able to have fields for football and even farm land where students will go to farm especially at the Secondary School level. Today, international schools are in three plots of lands and everywhere are built up. This kills the inner skills of a child. The fundamental thing of sports is that it has to start from the grassroots. Kids have to experience sports as kids.

What is your advice the State and Federal Government on sports?
The government has to go back to the drawing board and look at the sports architecture that was set up in schools by the colonial government and missionaries. They should go back to that architecture and make sure that every school approved or licensed should have sufficient land to accommodate sporting facilities. I know that one of the conditions for National Universities Commission (NUC) is land. There must be a minimum size of land that is presented to them before they give approval for a university. This should be the same thing for the Primary and Secondary Schools. Because the public sector is not providing education, it has led to the massive opening of many mushroom private schools and these private schools do not have the capital that is required to own sufficient lands that can support sporting facilities.

The government should have that policy that every school should at least have 20 plots of lands and that minimum of 50 percent of those lands must be allowed for playing and sporting activities. If private schools don’t have the money for such, they should go into cooperatives. Schools could merge in order to meet up with the requirements. The government should work on making such policy.

Some states have done well by handing over the schools to the mission and they are running it much better. I wonder why some people will leave a school like St. Theresa’s Enugwu Ukwu to bring their children to a School in Awka that might not even have space for sporting activities? Government have to make sure that these old infrastructure are put to use. Also, teachers should be paid well and if not the students won’t get the best result from them. It is a policy thing and the government has to be committed to it by making sure that government-owned schools and private schools have the right sporting infrastructure.

In the schools where your children study, do their schools meet to the land requirements?
Yes. A party was recently held for Enugwu Ukwu people living in Port Harcourt and the field that was used for the party was the school field my six kids did their Primary School. It has a huge field with goal post. Once you have a field, all other sports can be done in the same field.

My daughter would have attended a Catholic Secondary School in Asaba but when I went to the school I didn’t like it because they didn’t have field. Although, she passed the exams but I didn’t allow her to go to the school. We found another school at Enugu with elaborating sporting and play areas for the kids and that’s where she went. Personally, I select schools for my children because of the infrastructure and not a school that looks like a prison yard for them. For example, at the school that my daughter attended in Enugu, from the hostel to the sporting areas is about 300 meters and to go to the medical center is another 300 meters.

The first two of my kids went to this Enugu school while the rest went to a Catholic school in Port Harcourt located on over 20 hectares of land.

What other businesses are you into and how do you compete business wise?
I am a manufacturer. Before I go into any business, I ask myself these questions. Who are in this business already? What are the various segments or sections in this business? What difference are you trying to make? If you can’t find a difference you can make, in the business, then don’t go into it but if you can make a difference, then that will be your competitive advantage and you could build on that. To be exceptional in your business, you will need to keep seeking for those things that will make you different and unique. You need to define your competitive edge over others. By this, you could bring the fight to those who have existed for 100 years because you are bringing something new and unique.

What are your fulfilling moments that give you joy or inner happiness or that makes you smile?
Well I would say that DOSAD has overshadowed many other things and fulfillment I had done earlier for people. When I was driving this morning, I received SMS Chat that I should check my watsapp messages. When I checked my watsapp, I saw 11 young men that have gotten visas to travel to Europe or the Middle East in December 2018 to better their lives in Football.

If these players tried on their own, it would have been difficult or even impossible to get these visas to travel. The news was great and unbelievable. DOSAD has been a good platform for them to grow and with sponsorship and support, they are soaring higher. It is really fulfilling and I feel great about it.

Of course, the organizers did a great job and people who came for the scouting programme found the process credible, worthwhile and fruitful because they have found what they are looking for. I have sponsored so many young men but this DOSAD experience is very remarkable. To me, the most fulfilling outcome I have seen is the ongoing DOSAD scouting programme running for three months now from Abuja, Lagos and to the East. I have seen some physical results added to the earlier inspiration that DOSAD will help young men rediscover their dreams and talents.

Another thing that makes me fulfilled is whenever I remember those I have helped who are doing very well. I have sponsored many sporting activities many times and I feel good doing those things knowing fully well that I am touching lives. I feel fulfilled that across the country, I am able to employ over several people and I pay them every month.

You sound so much fulfilled, happy and overwhelmed, could you share some of your challenges if any?
Our local environment is a challenge already because you wake up and face a government that is not working. The first priority of government should be to provide job for the people because if you don’t give them jobs, they engage in all sorts of juvenile delinquency that hurt innocent lives. It is very challenging that I try to employ a lot of Nigerians in my businesses and still you don’t get the support you need from the government. Though I think things are beginning to improve in terms of Government support to small companies, but a lot still needs to be done.

God didn’t create everybody intelligent and wise but God expects that those he has given wisdom and intelligence should use it to transform every other person. It is biblical. One person can change the lives of a whole community or country. One person’s ingenuity can change the lives of a whole country. Doing business in this country is a huge challenge and this is why it may be difficult for some of our youth to emulate us as manufacturers because corruption has provided other illegal means of acquiring quick wealth.

Also, there is the challenge of extended family issues. If people think you are doing well, the burden is too much. Some of them are financial burden. Some of them are psychological burden that you have to help carry. In this country, money buys everything except the Grace of God. Corrupt politicians and civil servants make a lot of money, but such people do not feel the challenge like entrepreneurs and productive people who worry about employees’ salaries and welfare. It is not easy paying salary for over 15 years to people; but in all, it’s fulfilling. This is what I call spiritual investment.

What are your likes and dislikes?
What I like most is the love of God and I know he loves me a lot. Secondly, I like good people. The bible said it, ‘ Glory be to God in the highest and on earth, peace to men of good will. I love men of good will. Someone that is reliable. Somebody that cares about what he does and how it impacts on other people. I also like someone that is substantially truthful. Nobody is 100 percent truthful. You could tell a lie because you want to avoid a problem.

I have a way of knowing a good person. If I interact with people, I know those who are good and I don’t play with them. I don’t think I have parted ways with any good person that I have met in my life as a friend. I treasure good people just the same way people treasure wealth. I love people who have shown love to me or shown love to someone that I know or someone close to me. I don’t forget them. There are so many people I have helped and they don’t know why. There are some people I saw from childhood and that showed love to my father and today I reciprocate but they don’t know why.

In 1980, I was in secondary school and we did the burial ceremony for my grandfather and we bought two cows and our neighbour in the village owns a Pick Up Van that has tarpaulin-covered body frame. The man offered his pick up to bring the cows and loaded the two cows in the van. In the process, one of the cows pieced the tarpaulin and damaged it. I was there and my father felt so bad about the damage. The pain was so glaring that the owner of the van noticed it and rushed to him to tell him not to worry about it. This young man was doing precious stone business that was being harvested in Jos and sold in Port Harcourt to Oil Companies. So one morning in the year 2000, my wife told me that someone was looking for me and when I met the person, i noticed it was the man who owned that van.

He was looking so tattered and wasn’t looking good at all. He told me that things had gone bad for him and that his business was just so bad and he told me he needed 200,000 naira. At that time my salary in Shell was not up to 70,000 a month. So i decided i was going to help him even if it means borrowing money to assist him. After month end, i gave him 200,000 and at that time i had no landed property of that amount. I did all the sacrifice because he showed love to my father 20 years ago.

There are four things you can’t betray. You can’t betray love, trust, hope and mercy. These four things are heavenly virtues. If there is a place you are supposed to show mercy and you didn’t, you have betrayed that virtue of mercy. The same thing goes with love, trust and hope and if you betray it, then you will pay for it.

Also, if I am in the company of bad people, I love to be on my own because I don’t like the company of bad people. I will not quarrel with you and I won’t fight with you, but we cannot be friends. I don’t like pretence. I don’t like artificial people. The things I don’t like are the opposite of what I like. I don’t like our Nigerian mentality of becoming rich without hard work.

I call it influence peddling and hand-out economy. I hate our societal culture of worshiping fake life and dishonesty. I don’t like people who are not real and live a fake life. That is why i don’t like too much make up in women.

From all you have said, I see a man of productivity and hard work. What is your advice to youths on entrepreneurship?
They need to work on their mind set. Unfortunately, the type of political setting we have is affecting the mindset of the people. They see a political thug suddenly building houses and possessing cars. They need to have a mindset that is replica to what Christ said: a labourer deserves his wages and not a lazy man. A young man has to understand that he has to labour to earn wages so that when you now say, God bless the works of my hands, and it will be blessed.

They shouldn’t have the wrong models like politicians. Stealing money and carrying money is going out of fashion in Nigeria gradually. They shouldn’t look at the wrong models rather they should look at people who are productive as their model. Everybody has creative minds. My son that is in the final year in the university is studying mechanical engineering told me that he wants to be a manufacturer and he wants to create jobs for people. That’s very encouraging!

Youths should change their mind sets and be productive. In my village, I pay salary to so many people. For example, there is a woman in my village who is on wheelchair. From the salary i am paying her, she started small poultry business in her backyard and still fries groundnut and sells. Three years ago when I came back home for Christmas, someone told me that if I needed a chicken, I should book it from that same woman I pay salary. They said she has the biggest chicken for Christmas. She had 1000 birds which is very impressive. She is on the wheelchair and she is doing great and taking care of herself. Now, a healthy young man is busy following politicians for money when he could be much more productive than a woman on wheelchair. There is no alternative to productivity. They have to focus on production and not on handout.

Is there any of your children who is taking special interest in sports?
They all love sports. My first son loves football. He plays football in school, though not at competitive level. They love sports and participated in inter house sports, none of them though has gone into competitive sports apart from the school inter house sports competitions. My first son loves football and he could end up becoming a football sponsor. He could partner with me. He has so many potentials.

What are your hobbies?
I play golf. I usually sit out with friends for evening outings but in the last ten years it has been cut slowly. I love outing when I meet good people and chat with them. The greatest thing I love in my life is people because it controls how you react to wealth. I value people a lot and I can’t hurt them in the process of acquiring wealth. It is not possible. Anywhere there is injustice, my spirit will react violently. I will react uncontrollably.

So why didn’t you go to study law?
You know as a kid, most people don’t really know what they want to be. But naturally, those who are top in class go to sciences. Most of the top in the class are in sciences. If i was raised up in the Western world, I would have probably studied law because I am very creative and one of my greatest skills is creative thinking. I didn’t study engineering because I dreamed of becoming an engineer but because I did well in Math and the Sciences

What’s your favorite meal?
I love yam. I love crispy fried yam or boiled yam with red oil. I love Abakaliki yam, it is very sweet and lovely.

Please tell me more about your hospitality business?
I am interested in hotel management and event centers. Some of the businesses in this area are doing well and some are still struggling. We hope the future will be better

What can you say about accessibility to path ways for the challenged?
It is very important. My event center in Port Harcourt has a lift for those who are physically challenged. Overseas, it is mandatory. If you don’t put it people will hold it against you and you cannot succeed there. It should be statutory and every building should have facilities for the physically challenged.

Thank you Sir for your time and this enriching moment.