On January 28, 2022, I had a pleasant encounter, at dinner, with the Chairman of Setraco Construction Company, Chief Abu Inu-Umoru, the Kauthar of Auchi Sacred Kingdom at the Uneme-Uzanu country home of the Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Prince Clem Ikanade Agba, who would on the following day, January 29, 2022 be conferred with the customary title of the Oduma of Auchi Sacred Kingdom by the Otaru of Auchi, His Royal Highness, Alhaji H.A. Momoh, Ikelebe III, in his palace.
The January 28 dinner encounter with the scion of the remarkably wealthy family of the late Alhaji Inu Umoru of Warrake in Owan East Local Government Area of Edo State has continued to provide an obligatory context to interrogate and compare the essential persona of Abu Inu-Umoru with those of other consequential Nigerians that I had opportunities to meet and those whose paths continuously and in a quotidian manner cross mine up till now.
I sighted him at a table not too far off from where I was seated. He was eating as I stepped forward to greet him. On seeing me, he did what many in his class would not do, given their resources, accomplishments and all other contemplations: he simply abandoned his food, stood up to exchange pleasantries with me. This, I must confess, was touching and well appreciated. It counted for something at that intersection and it continues to reverberate with the magnitude of the halo of genuine humility, not practised pretentiousness. I must also point out that he was effusive in his commendation of my effort in accomplishing a media assignment on his behalf, which he described as brilliant. He did all that on his feet. Nothing could be more heartwarming. Thank you, the Kauthar of Auchi for who you are!
There were two great Nigerians, who showed me the Abu Inu-Umoru kind of respect, all through my relationship with them, without allowing the huge age gaps to constitute wedges in between us as to obstruct free flowing inter-personal conversations and mediations before they answered the obligatory final call, which all humans are inextricably bound to answer at one time or another. The first was a former super Permanent Secretary and one-time Chairman of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), the late Chief Sunday Bolorunduro Awoniyi, the quintessential Aro of Mopa in kogi State; and, the second, believe it or not, was the late Chief Tony Anenih, the inimitable Iyasele of Esanland, for whom I worked as a media consultant/adviser, handling for him, so to speak, all issues that had to do with his media exposures and management, from August 2010 when I resigned from THISDAY newspaper until October 2018 when he passed.
Significantly, Chief Awoniyi, a Yoruba man from Kogi, always conversed with me in Yoruba, after he realized that I speak and write the Yoruba language like a Yoruba man or woman would do. So, he always addressed me with the Yoruba plural pronoun(s) instead of singular pronoun(s). That was a mark of respect by an elder, which I did not take for granted. In the same vein, the late Chief Anenih had characteristically addressed me as Mr Ojeifo, not Sufuyan or Ojeifo in our numerous one-on-one conversations. That, also, I never took for granted.
I have continued to ruminate on these two Nigerian greats in the context of multiplicity of encounters in a society that quite easily deifies and breeds little gods. But I have been extremely glad and I remain eternally grateful to the duo of Chiefs Awoniyi and Anenih, who demystified the myth of self-deification and/or the culture of personal aggrandizement in relating with subordinates.
They considered it apropos to show me love and respect in our relationships without asking for a quid pro quo that was more than my behaving responsibly as a son to them, while accomplishing my media mandates and assignments. Lest I forget, the late Chief Awoniyi either ensured that any journalist who wanted to interview him especially during and after his unsuccessful bid for the national chairmanship position of the Peoples Democratic Party passed through me or he would let me know about the interviews he had granted behind me and to which media organization(s). Such was the respect I enjoyed from him.
It is against the backdrop of these experiential demonstrations of respect not condescension; affection, not affectation, that I have considered and applauded Abu Inu-Umoru’s self-effacement in the entire gamut of social interactions, the circumference in which I have been accommodated, somewhat. He reminds me of how Chiefs Awoniyi and Anenih treated me with respects in their vast flourish. Those numerous encounters are being compiled for posterity.
To be sure, it is the humility component of Abu Inu-Umoru’s essential character that I have chosen to celebrate on the occasion of his natal day, having been born on May 9, 1963. If anyone is in doubt about what humility can do in the life of a great man, I call his or her attention to the life of Abu Inu-Umoru, who is also the Chairman of Hartland Civil Construction Company, which had been very successfully run even while his father was alive, running side-by-side with Setraco, the family business.
Humility, like sweetness attracts bees, has attracted prayers, commendations and positive comments from people which the Almighty God has aggregated into answered prayers. It is now also obvious that Abu Inu-Umoru is well advised by the Igbo proverb that was well deployed in Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” that “those whose palm kernel had been cracked for them by the benevolent spirit should learn to be humble.”
Abu Inu-Umoru is defined by his writ-large humility and not by the scale of his accomplishments-especially financial breakthrough. He is also remarkably defined by his eleemosynary acts. He must have realized that life is only worth living to the extent that it is lived in the service of mankind. He must have been a follower of Germany Kent, American print and broadcast journalist, television personality, former beauty queen, actress, businesswoman, producer, philanthropist and author, who once said: “Live your life in such a way that you will be remembered for your kindness, compassion, fairness, character, benevolence, and a force for good who had much respect for life, in general.”
Without a doubt, Abu Inu-Umoru is also acting out the words of Michael Bassey Johnson in “The Book of Maxims, Poems and Anecdotes” to wit: “A fulfilled life doesn’t point to the number of years, awards, wealth and followers someone amassed for himself, but the number of faces that smiles because of him.”
“Chairman”, the moniker by which he is widely addressed, fits perfectly, for all times and purposes, into these significant nuggets of how to live a meaningful and fulfilled life and leave behind a body of legacies for posterity. Regardless of how importantly he affects your life, he does not want references to be made to the gesture. I wrote in my tribute last year, and I still stand by my position, to wit “Although, he is taciturn, yet when he speaks, he carefully chooses his words, perhaps not wanting to hurt anyone. In a much more profound way, which he is perhaps not even acquainted with, he gives expression and explication to the Yoruba proverb, which is transliterated: ‘Good words bring out kola nut from the pocket while bad words bring out sword from the sheath.’
“Indeed, on both scores of being taciturn and carefully choosing his words, his gravitas in a world in which his being has found vast expressions, despite his humble background and largely inexplicable humility, is made even more instructive by his almost shy disposition. Unlike many wealthy people, who flaunt what they have in the faces of others by their signature and archetypical styles, Abu Inu-Umoru’s self-effacing, affable character is such that it is difficult to know him by his gait.
“In fact, his self-restraint is unmistakable. Therefore, referring to him as Chairman in all situations and circumstances is in pari materia with the content of his character. No wrong characterization is contemplated here in this deliberate enterprise of penning a writ-large assessment of his individuality or alternatively in the task of constructing his portraiture, remarking the “warts and all” to borrow the phrase of Oliver Cromwell to his portrait painter, Peter Lely.
“To be sure, Cromwell’s “warts and all” means including features or qualities that are not appealing or attractive. That simply means that no man is perfect after all. Therefore, in painting Abu Inu-Umoru’s portrait, especially the components of his corporeal configuration that harbours his humanitarian essence, I am consensus ad idem with a friend who knows Chairman very well that he (Chairman) is a special handiwork of God’s creation.
His kinds are very few on this terra firma. Having done so much to positively affect humanity, he continues to remain humble about it. Whereas, he has all it takes to court the media, hug the limelight and etch his image in the consciousness of the people, he has chosen the ennobling path of quietude, almost verging on solitude. But, make no mistake about it, Abu Inu-Umoru is on top of his game in the intercourse between business exertions and social life. He knows how to conduct and strengthen his businesses through utilitarian networking without adverting to himself unnecessary attention and/or generating needless hoopla around himself or his business concerns.”
In rounding off this tribute, I summon Edward J. Stieglitz, author and doctor for his remarkable intervention: “And in the end, it is not the years in your life that count; it is the life in your years.” May the good Lord bless both the years in Abu Inu-Umoru’s life and the life in his years. This is wishing “Chairman” a happy birthday and many happy returns in good health as he reflects and thanks the Almighty God for the gift of life.
Although he is characteristically spartan, trying to shun the song and dance that should normally attend the Especial Day, family members and friends should do the needful to celebrate this beautiful soul. I have done my bit.
● Ojeifo contributed this piece from Abuja via [email protected]