Obi Patrick Isioma Goodluck Onyeobi: Unfolding A Unicorn

By Monday Uwagwu

Medieval-era European write, William Shakespeare (real name Francis Bacon), it was who held that there exists in humanity a rare breed of men he classified as natural leaders. He also held that they rare are as scarce as the initimitable unicorn.
And how true he remains, in relation to his submission.
In contemporary Africa, particularly for climes that underwent the harrowing experience of colonialism and its evil effects, it is difficult to find people who, inspite of the overbearing influence of their colonial vestiges, are able to hold, fast and firm, to the vital essences of their rich indigenous culture. One such person is Obi Patrick Isioma Onyeobi, Iyase of Asaba, and, until his recent death, Diokpa (village head) of Idumuojei village, Umuezei Quarters, Asaba.
Onyeobi, in spite of his long practical exposure to western style education, civil service and the like, remained a staunch follower of the rich traditions and customs of his people of Asaba, now seat of Delta State, where he held various traditional titles as Ihonor of Asaba, Iyase of Asaba, an Olinzele and member of Asagba-In-Council, an Obi as well as Diokpa (village head) of Idumuojei village, Umuezei quarters, Asaba.

Born on August 7, 1933 in Asaba without the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, Obi Onyeobi, though dint of providence, honest hard work and resilience, rose from an ordinary civil servant on Grade Level 08, to become not only Permanent Secretary, but also the Head of Service (HOS) and Secretary to State Government (SSG), of the defunct Bendel State (now Delta and Edo states).
Onyeobi attended Government School, Asaba, for his basic (primary) education, 1940 – 1946, and Government College, Ibadan, for his secondary education (1947 – 1952). He later attended the prestigious University College (now University of Ibadan) where he earned the Bachelor’s Degree in Modern History, between 1954 and 1959.

His working career depicts a steady, if not meteoric, rise from the lowest rung of the career ladder to its echelon, thanks to his uncommon diligence and ceaseless positive self-application.

He was employed into the civil service of the now defunct Western Region in 1952, but relocated to Midwest Region in 1963, following the activation, that year, of the result of the plebiscite of the minority ethnic groups in the then Western Region for self-determination.

It is said that even on the darkest of nights, the experienced teeth can still identify the inimitable Yellow Yam (the King of yams and crops) by its unique texture and taste. So it was with Onyeobi.

In no time, he rapidly ascended the ladder of the civil service career by dint of honest hard work and uncommon diligence which earned him the enviable position of Permanent Secretary in 1974. He remained in that position, across many ministries, until October 27, 1983, when he was named Head of Service (HOS). Onyeobi held that position for just roughly three months before, like the gold fish without an effective hiding place, his good works set him out for good, on account of which he was elevated to the twin positions of Secretary to State Government (SSG) and Head of Service (HOS), Bendel State, now defunct. He meritoriously held the positions between January 1984 and March 1987, before he retired.
Given his immense reservoir of relevant experiences and his well oiled virtues of diligence, resilience and honest hard work, it was no surprise that, even after formal retirement, the Nigerian state found him worthy and suitable to be appointed into several key public institutions and agencies. He was member, Board of Directors of what was then Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) between January 1989 and April 1990, and Chairman, Nigerian Gas Company, (NGC), a strategic subsidiary of NNPC, between January 1989 and August 1994.

Onyeobi became a Justice of the Peace (JP) on August 26, 1991, and later, chairman of the giant oil palm conglomerate, Presco Plc, between April 1992 and December 31, 2009. Under him, Presco, which is a transnational corporate group, grew its Nigerian portfolio exponentially, with vast holdings in and around Obaretin, Edo State. The firm produces the highly sought Prestige vegetable oils, among other products.

Despite his numerous public engagements, Onyeobi never ever, even for the briefest capsule of time, forgot his roots as an indigene of Asaba,the ancient historic city west of the majestic River Niger.
In fact, so diverse and far-reaching were his contributions to the traditional administration of Asaba that he became a member of Asagba-In-Council and Asagba’s cabinet in 1991. He remained an active member of the council and cabinet until his death earlier this year.
Onyeobi was installed Ihonor of Asaba on February 14, 1987 and held the post until September 14, 1991, when he was elevated to the position and office of Iyase of Asaba, by which appointment he became the Chief Adviser to the throne of Asagba of Asaba on political, social, economic matters and general administration.

Like the giant feet of the tropical African elephant on wet soil, the great contributions of Obi Onyeobi both to the traditional administration of his ancestral Asaba clan and the civil and public services of Nigeria, especially the defunct Bendel State, did not go unnoticed and unrewarded, hence, long before his eventual demise on April 22, 2024, his neckline dripped with earned epaulettes and awards, which came in from sundry credible groups, organisations and institutions.

Onyeobi earned a Certificate of Recognition from Uromi Royal Palace in November 1991; Certificate of Excellence in Public Service by Delta State Government, August 27, 1995; Distinguished Certificate of Merit of the Asaba branch of the University of Ibadan Alumni Association (Nov 1997); Award of Merit by Nwata Nwelinkea Age Grade (Nov. 1999) and Certificate of Honour for Selfless Service to Asaba Community by Chidikeji Age Grade, Asaba, on November 28, 1999.

He also earned the Distinguished Service Award by Falcon, the Premier Club in Asaba, on December 25, 2000; Gold Medal of Honour Award by His Royal Majesty, Obi (Prof) Chike Edozien, Asagba of Asaba (July 7, 2001) and The Pillars of Development Meritorious Service Award by Delta State Government (Nov 28, 2002); Patron, National Commission for Museums and Monuments (May 18, 2003); Fellowship of the College of Education (Technical), Asaba, June 28, 2003; Award of Honour by People Helping People (May 29, 2004); Honourary Award by All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Nov 24, 2009; Distinguished Leadership Award by Association of Philanthropic Management of Nigeria (November 28, 2009); Recognition Award for Financial and Moral Support to the Growth of Asaba Development ,February 7, 2010; Meritorious Service to the Community Award by Anioma Friends (December 27, 2010) and Holder, “Most Distinguished Alumni (MDA) by the University of Ibadan National Alumni Association (August 6, 2011).

Yet, that is not all that Onyeobi, the worthy servant of both God and man, earned in his life of exemplary service to community and even the larger humanity.
For instance, on August 29, 2013, he was awarded the Integrity in Service by the South-South Guild of Grassroot Newspaper Publishers/Editors; Life Time Achievement Award by Niger Delta Wards (Nov 1, 2013); Ani Ahaba Olinzele Chief -of -the Year 2013 by Asaba Post News (December 27, 2013); Award of Excellence by Nigeria Young Professionals Forum (December 20, 2014); Award of Excellence for Agricultural Development by Agricultural Society of Nigeria (November 10, 2015); Award of Excellence by Community Newspaper Publishers Association of Nigeria (December 10, 2015); Merit Award for Excellence in Public Service by Association of Retired Heads of Service and Permanent Secretaries, Delta State, (January 14, 2016);
Life time Achievement Award by the University of Ibadan Alumni Association (June 11, 2016); Appreciation Award by Lions Club International, District 404A I Nigeria (January, 2017) and Letter of Recognition by Delta State Government (October 24, 2017) and Naming of a new secondary school – Isioma Onyeobi College, Asaba- after him, for his exemplary public service.

Obi Onyeobi became an Obi (Red cap chief) of Asaba on November 20, 2019; was installed Diokpa (village head) of Idumuojei Village, Umuezei Quarters, Asaba, (December 15, 2019); Ambassador of Peace Award by Circle News (January 7, 2020); Award of Excellence by Green Media Academy (October 19, 2020) and Award of Life Time Golden Achievement by Proudly Asaba.

Though strictly a traditionalist, Onyeobi was a staunch example of religious tolerance and was guided in all his undertakings and engagements by the wisdom in the ancient wise saying that the only true service to God is the selfless service to man, and that deference to justice, which Plato described as giving each man his due, is critical in building a progressive and safe society.
These two words – justice and service – marked his entire life from cradle to the grave.
To God be the glory.

News Reporter
Blank NEWS Online founding Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, Albert Eruorhe Ograka, is a Graduate of Mass Communication. He also holds a Post Graduate Diploma (PGD) in Journalism from the International Institute of Journalism (IIJ).

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