His name is Chief Benjamin Okolo; he was born on July 21, 1926.
On Sunday, July 24, his family members and friends gathered at the Civic Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos, to celebrate the senior citizen whom they described as a living legend. It was a day of glowing tributes for a man, who spent 34 years as a media professional. From 1951 to 1984, he traversed different parts of the country, working as a broadcaster.
A devoted Catholic, Chief Okolo’s celebration started from the Ave Maria Catholic Church, Ikate-Elegushi, Lekki, Lagos. He said the day wouldn’t be complete without thanksgiving to God, who had guided him thus far.
The celebrant came to the church in a white agbada, black loafer shoes and a small black cap. He wore a broad smile and nodded intermittently, as the sermon went on.
When he was called out for a special thanksgiving, he walked briskly to the rear of the church, from where he danced to the altar, to the admiration of the parishioners. Indeed, he was the centre of attraction throughout the mass that lasted about two hours and 40 minutes. The congregants watched him in amazement, as he chatted and exchanged pleasantries with friends and relatives.
Special prayers were showered on him by the presiding priest of the parish, Rev. Father Simon Okelezo. Immediately he announced that Okolo was marking his 90th birthday, again, all eyes shifted to the celebrant. Then the priest admonished the members to have a handshake with the celebrant so that they could live up to and beyond 90 years.
Rev. Okelezo commended Okolo for living for Christ, adding that the elderly man had never joked with anything that concerned the work of God. He said Okolo’s long life was not unconnected with the fact that the celebrant always considered God first, as he always lived a simple approach to life.
He urged the congregation to always live to affect others positively, reminding them that they brought nothing to this world and would take nothing along while returning to meet their creator.
He said: “If you want to live above 90, go and see Chief Okolo. Many Christians want God to perform magic in their lives, forgetting that He works with the right time. They command God and give Him ultimatum, as if He is their houseboy. And that is why many prayers are not answered because many people are not doing the right thing but want God to perform magic in their lives.”
As he prayed for God to continue to give Chief Okolo good health and long life, a resounding amen reverberated round the four corners of the church.
Immediately the Mass ended, all roads led to the Civic Centre where the reception was to take place.
Daily Sun gathered that Pa Okolo, who attended the Christ the King College (CKC), Onitsha, Anambra State, did not bargain for a birthday party from anyone. To many of his admirers, simplicity has always been his way of life – a doctrine he had bequeathed to his children and others who came across him.
The nonagenarian told the reporter that he felt on top of the world, as he marked his 90th birthday in good health. He said the large number of people that attended his party humbled him the more. Among the attendees were old boys of the CKC, church members, in-laws and those he had mentored
“Today is so wonderful in my life. I was not expecting all this, so, I thank God for keeping me alive and in good health to see this day. How many people are up to 90? They must be very few. Even in China, those that live up to 90 are not many, let alone Nigeria where people struggle to live up to 50,” he said.
President of CKC Old Boys Association, Lagos branch, George Onwuya, who opened the floodgate of accolades on Okolo said though the celebrant was many years ahead of him, he was attracted to Okolo by his level of intelligence and honesty.
He recalled that when Okolo gained admission into CKC in 1946, one Rev. Flanagan from Iceland, a very strict man, was the principal of the school.
“You must be extremely brilliant and well-behaved to survive Rev. Flanagan’s time. That was the time you got admitted into the school strictly by merit. I am not surprised today that our daddy has done very well in life. He received the right education and moral values,” he said.
The Chairman of Catholic Men Organistion (CMO), Ave Maria, Mr. Nnamdi Onyeka, said Okolo had been very helpful in developing the local parish. According to him, the old man was very strong, simple and blessed with a sharp memory.
In his words: “He is a man who believes in due process and hates those that cut corners. We have been tapping from his wealth of experience and we shall continue to benefit from him.”
A family friend, Mr. Chukwuka Olisakwu, who described Pa Okolo as his mentor, said he knew the disciplinarian many years ago when he went to his house to see one of the celebrant’s children – Emeka. He later stayed some years with the Okolos in Lagos.
“I remembered those days when I started going to chief’s house. His children would be running around but the moment they heard their father’s footsteps, they would get stuck to their books. I would be wondering what was happening. It was later l realised that he was giving all of us the best in life. Ever since, I have remained a member of the family because I saw in him the true meaning of a good man.”
One of her children, Nkechi Okolo, said it was then an abomination before her father for any member of the family to attend a party, recalling that all the man wanted was for them to always read their books.
The man himself explained further: “We started Radio Nigeria in Kano; that was in 1951. It was called Radio Diffusion Services (RDS). I was employed as a wireless monitor and announcer. We would relay British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) through wireless gadgets. Then, in 1952, Nigeria Broadcast Service was set up, I was transferred there. Our boss was an expatriate.
“From Kano, I went to Katsina, Zaria, Kaduna, Jos and other states in the north. l spent 12 years in that region before l later asked for a transfer to Enugu. Later on, the late Chinua Achebe joined us and he was our comptroller. Lagos was our central office. We were going to Lagos from time to time for some training. We started commercial advertising, having undertaken a course in that field.
“When I came to Lagos for another course in 1964, I was exposed to a lot of opportunities in the state. l then begged to be transferred from Enugu to Lagos. When I got to Lagos, I became almost a complete businessman. I would have loved to be a journalist and that is why I read many columns and relate with the columnists till date.”
He said he was delighted that his five children had graduated from top Nigerian universities and were at the moment doing well in their chosen fields.
On some of the secrets of his youthful look, he told the reporter that he socialised and read newspapers, though he didn’t have plenty of money. Attending church programmes and listening to sound doctrines also gave him a new way of life, he revealed.
He regretted that virtually all his colleagues were dead, virtually those he served with in north, east and west. He said anytime he saw people that were not as old as him but were being assisted to walk, he thanked God for giving him sound body and mind.
“I have always been a happy man, especially as a media person. When you fraternise with the right people and overcome dull moments in your life, you will live long. It was a unique experience working in the media. Though I was not a journalist, we were accorded a lot of respect,” he said.
He said he had a passionate love for vegetable soup. The senior citizen informed the reporter that maintaining personal hygiene was also part of his youthful look. Above all, he said he was indebted to his wife, Pauline, for being such a loving and supportive wife.
“I must confess that I have a very nice family. The kind of support that my wife and children give me everyday makes my heart leap for joy. Generally, I watch the television and read newspapers for current affairs, and all these keep me going,” he said.
He also compared the Nigeria of the past with the one of now. He said the difference was palpable and disturbing, regretting that unity and peaceful coexistence had far disappeared into the thin air.
According to Okolo: “The Nigeria we saw during the colonial rule is not what we see now. Nigeria was far better then. We were happy as workers. You were promoted based on your competence. I lived in the North and the Hausa saw me as their brother. Sincerely, we were better under the colonial rule.”
culled from SUN