– DELE MOMODU
Friday, October 8, 2021 was a day of a mixture of much sadness tinged with little joy for the multitude of family and friends of Captain Idahosa Wells Okunbo, the former ace Nigerian pilot who had made giant strides on the Nigerian economic, social and political firmament, established a credible name, amassed great fortune for himself and performed stellar charitable works during his lifetime. He was laid to rest in his beloved Benin hometown amidst tears, wailing and celebration of a good life indeed.
The death, on August 8, 2021, of one of Nigeria’s great entrepreneur, philanthropist and detribalised individual, Captain Okunbo, who was simply addressed as ‘Captain; or ‘Captain Hosa’, was like a thunderbolt out of the blues, and it hit many of us real hard. For me, it touched my very essence, and made me ask the question, why Captain? But on the other hand, I also asked, why not Captain? After all, Angels are usually ferried home on the wings of love with great and thunderous applause from those whose lives have been touched. And so it was with Captain, who was blessed with many enterprising parts and gracious acts and deeds.
I had known Captain for three decades and our relationship involved the best of cordiality and conviviality, not forgetting the mutual respect that endeared me to his heart and vice versa.Our relationship was to take a dramatic turn and bring us even closer, when a few months ago, after a long time, he gave me a call, and prompted me to join him in Abuja ASAP as he needed my assistance. He understood the kind of busy person I am, and so hastily added that he would send a plane for me. I had very high respect for him, as I still have today for him even in death and assured him that I would join him in Abuja even without him sending a private jet to convey me there. Captain in his usual firm, assured but polite manner insisted, and my trip was assiduously planned.
On the same day, I hurried through my previously planned itinerary, and was at Abuja as quickly as he had made the demand. Our meeting was one of the briefest I had ever done giving the amount of ground that we covered in such a short space of time. The content of our meeting was highly cerebral and prolific. My respect for him from that day assumed a higher dimension. He was a man of very few words, but each letter, each word, each expression made a kind a mark that a weeklong lecture will be jealous about.
Captain was many things to many people. He was much more than a bread winner, an astute businessman, an entrepreneur of gargantuan capacity, striding the business world like a Colossus. In fact, Captain’s achievements in his short life, as many of us who loved him dearly attest, are veritable subjects of significant and interesting academic research. He was a leader’s leader; a hero’s hero and an epitome of straightforwardness.Captain’s mark of greatness is visible and physical as people point in his direction, and confirm that their lives were touched, impacted and given a new lease of hope by his ample generosity and affection. These people who felt the wind of positive change and good fortune blown their way by Captain abound and cut across the entire length and breadth of the country and beyond. From Benin to Asaba, Ife to Oyo, Lagos to Ilorin, Kogi to Abuja, Kaduna to Birnin Kebbi, Kafanchan to Katsina to Port Harcourt to Owerri, Enugu to Calabar, Yenagoa to Onitsha, Kaduna to Sokoto and unto the uttermost and innermost parts of this nation, his image loomed large, and I predict will remain for eternity as long as men still have their breath in them.
Captain Hosa’s benevolence, philanthropy and graciousness spoke volumes, loud and clear, and became reference points in admonition and encouragement of other wealthy Nigerians. He was extremely tolerant, patient, humane and excessively accommodating. He fought several battles but still remained focused.Born on January 7, 1958, in Benin City, Captain Hosa was a business magnate, investor, philanthropist and trained commercial pilot of repute. He was a proud progeny of the Reverend Robert Amos Okunbo family, his father being himself a much respected and benevolent clergyman, teacher and community leader.
Okunbo started his path to a glorious career when he was enrolled at the Government Primary School in Benin City, old Bendel State, now Edo State for his elementary education. He proceeded to Federal Government College, Warri, in 1971, where he sat for the West African Senior School Certificate Examination and came out in flying colours.Okunbo was a brilliant student but was not confused as regards the path he wished to follow. He could have been an academician but chose early in life to follow his first love and become a pilot. Consequently, he nurtured his desire by studying at the Nigerian Civil Aviation Training Centre, Zaria and became a professional commercial pilot at the age of 21. He thereafter attended ACME School of Aeronautics, Fort Worth, Texas in 1983, where he obtained his Airline Transport Pilot License.
In 1983, at the age of 25, Okunbo was made a captain. He practiced his trade as a flight captain with Intercontinental Airlines for about two years, before moving over to Okada Airlines where he served with honours for another three years.In 1988, at the age of 30, he retired from commercial piloting having recorded over a whopping 7,000 hours of flight time and ventured into private business. This was the foundation from which he was launched and propelled into the cycle of philanthropy. He could not see himself as holding on tenaciously and in a miserly manner to what God had chosen to freely bestow on him with grace and mercy.
With his hands in many pies, he established Hoslyn Ventures Nigeria Ltd., a company that was saddled with procurement in the Nigerian petroleum sector. Hoslyn Ventures was an indigenous oilfield service company that was responsible for the Early Production Facility (EPF) project at Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) between 1998 and 2001.A man of great intellect and capacity, who had investments in many businesses, Okunbo founded or co-founded the following companies during his lifetime including the following:
Wells San-Carlos Agro Farms Ltd., which, in March 2016, unveiled a $750 million, 9,000-hectare (22,000-acre) farm intended to “create 85,000 jobs in Edo State”.Ocean Marine Security Ltd., an offshore asset-protection company, rendering services to major oil companies in Nigeria, including NNPC. Wikipedia reported that the company recently completed the building of the 46-kilometre (29 mi) Escravos–Warri Crude Pipeline, which was inaugurated by Nigeria’s Minister of State for Petroleum, Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu. OMS Tankers Ltd., which owns Nigeria’s first marine tankers.
PPP Fluid Mechanics Ltd., a marine and logistics company. Westminster Security Solutions Nigeria Ltd, a franchise of Westminster Group Plc UK, of which he is major shareholder.Wells Group of Companies, which include Wells Dredging Ltd., Wells Property Development Company Ltd., and Wells Entertainments Ltd. – through which Okunbo financed the movie Black November. Hoslyn Habitat Ltd., which is a design, construction and landscaping company.Gyro Air Ltd., operators of charter flight operations.
Captain served in many capacities including chairmanship or directorial position on numerous company boards in Nigeria in various business sectors such as the agro-allied, petroleum, telecommunications, power, real estate and banking industries. He was also a director in the following companies:Joint Marine Environ Guard Ltd. (JMEG), Secure Anchorage Area Ltd. (SAA), Digisteel Integrated Services Ltd. Phil Nugent Nigeria Ltd. Integrated Energy Distribution and Marketing Ltd. (IEDM), which is a core investor in Ibadan and Yola Electricity Distribution Companies.
Okunbo was a member of the Board of Directors of NatCom Development and Investment Ltd., which is the holding company of Nigerian telecommunications giant, NTEL.In 2012, Okunbo received the Africa Titans Award from the Congress of the United States in collaboration with the African Society Summit, in recognition of “strides on behalf of Africa in the international arena.” He was honoured for being one of those “who seek to project a new and hopeful light on Africa.”
In November of the same year, the University of Benin conferred him with an honorary Doctor of Science degree.On October 2, 2014, the Oba of Benin, Oba Erediauwa, gifted Okunbo “with the ‘Traditional Beads’ for being a worthy son of the ancient Kingdom.”He was granted the “Worthy Ambassador of Unity Award” as an old student at Federal Government College, Warri in March 2016.In 2020, he was named amongst Forbes Best of Africa awardees in recognition of his selfless service to his immediate community, and humanity in general.
Hosa’s act of philanthropy was congenital, innate, expansive and without boundaries and limitations, surpassing even that of his father, Reverend Okunbo. Captain was known and reputed for having expressed and extended his benevolence and generosity to as many as came his way. He turned nobody back. Many have given testimonies to the fact that no one who comes in contact with him goes away without a big smile on his face. He was known to be nice to a fault. Captain contributed immensely to the academic development and proficiency as well as profitable entrepreneurial empowerment of hundreds of people.
President Muhammadu Buhari, while visiting the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II, in his palace, singled out Captain for praise, because of his ground-breaking and novel achievements at Wells Hosa Greenhouse Farm in Edo State. The establishment of this biggest and most successful farm, which has now become a benchmark in Greenhouse farming in Nigeria is one of the outstanding pillars of the Captain Hosa Okunbo legacy.The honours, accolades and plaudits he received were a direct consequence of dint of hard work, faithfulness, honesty, consistency and magnanimity. He exuded all these attributes enviably. He made huge sacrifices to put smiles on the faces of his people,
He is survived by Nosa, to whom he was happily married, and his memory is blessed with 12 children who are themselves making a mark of their own. Among them is Ivie, the Olori Atuwase III, who is married to the Olu of Warri.Captain was a very good man, and I will miss him dearly. However, we are all consoled by the enviable legacies that characterised his 63 dutiful years of existence on mother earth.
Adieu Captain Hosa Okunbo!