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Come Easter Sunday, March 31, attention would be focused on Christ Anglican Church, Umuhu Umuezem, Otulu, in Oru West Local Government Area of Imo State. That day, friends and associates of retired Lay Reader, Sir Dr Solomon Okonkwo, and his wife, Lady Janet, will gather to appreciate God for His grace in their life. The day becomes very significant, especially to members of the church community as the Bishop of Oru Diocese of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), His Lordship, Rt. Rev. Geoffrey N. Chukwunenye, will storm the church with other top clerics, for the dedication of their parsonage built for the church solely by Okonkwo and his wife.
Since Okonkwo, a prominent Igbo leader, is a High Chief and a member of the Eze’s cabinet, the event will also attract the royal presence of His Royal Highness, Eze F.I. Orji Duru (JP), the Iheoma V, the Obi of Otulu, as well as His Royal Highness, Eze S.B. Nnabue (JP), the Omeroha 1 of Umuhu Umuezem. Many sons and daughters of the community church at home and abroad will also be present to witness the event, which will also give them insight into the challenges confronting the church in particular and the community in general.
For the Okonkwos, the event will be a double celebration, as Bishop Chukwunenye and his entourage will also officiate in the dedication of his estate.
In a chat with our reporter, Okonwo, 72, who stressed his love for God, disclosed that he also donated the large expanse of land on which the main church auditorium was built and contributed the major fund for its construction. He recalled the time when the rented apartment where the church’s Pastor-in-Charge was living in the community became bad and the condition of their preacher became an embarrassment to the whole church. Okonkwo added that in a dream, he was instructed to do something about the condition of the pastor’s residence. When he woke up from that dream, he resolved to put up a befitting parsonage for the church.
He testified that as soon as he started the parsonage project, he began to witness break through in his businesses, which include hotel business, fish farming and piggery. With the huge profit that continued to accrue to him, he was able to complete the project and started his own personal edifice in his country home. This, he attributed to the faithfulness of God to those who serve him diligently.
“I was born a special child. For several years, people in our lineage found it difficult to have male children. Even my father, Chief Francis Okonkwo, who was one of those who brought Anglicanism into our community, because of this problem, against the Anglican doctrine, married a second wife, who also did not give him a male child. He married the third one, my mother. She gave birth to me and two other sons as well as five daughters.
“After my secondary education, I enrolled at the Federal Government’s Hotel and Catering College, Ikoyi (now in Jos). Then the war started and I joined the Army on the Biafran side. In spite of the risks, I survived the war as a Military Police Captain. I later returned to Lagos and started life afresh. God showered me with a lot of blessings. I was a Catering Officer with Nigerian Airways. I later entered private business as a hotelier and general contractor and prospered.
“Having seen how God saved me during the war, I left my businesses and opted for God’s service. I entered Anglican Bible College and graduated to become a Lay Reader. I served in many branches of the church before I returned to my businesses several years later.
“God also blessed me with a good wife and several children, sons and daughters and grand children. My business witnessed tremendous expansion. So, it is not too much to do something for God and the church community of which I am part of”, he enthused.
Okonkwo, who has bagged several chieftaincy titles in his home town and in Lagos where most of his businesses are, is the Founder and National President of Igbo Forum, a Pan-Igbo socio-political organisation. He stressed that it is due to his love for the Igbo that he and some others founded the body as a support group for Ohanaeze Ndigbo and other true Igbo organisations for the uplift of his people.
Back to the church, Okonkwo said he also established two other branches of the church in Lagos. To his surprise, the church showed its appreciation in several ways, even as God continued to bless him. As a philanthropist, he has been supporting widows in his local government area and provides them with food, clothes and cash every Christmas and New Year.
He disclosed that the Owerri Ecclesiastical Province of the Anglican Church, Diocese of Orlu and Oru had given him several awards. Prominent among the awards are Citizen of Heaven Award, Knight of Saint Christopher (KSC), and the Ezinna (Good Father) Award, and several others. In Lagos too, the Anglican Church has given him several awards too.
Okonkwo said what he is doing in his community, the Anglican Church and to humanity in general is not because he has money, but because of the love of God in his life.
He added: “I also want to give back to the church for what the Lord has been doing in my life, my family and business. I want to call on all well-meaning people to know that no matter what they are, the services and good works for God and community are what will justify them before the Lord.
“I therefore urge people to use the blessings of God to promote things of God instead of self aggrandisement. As they work for God and humanity, they will continue to witness tremendous uplift by God. I therefore urge Nigerians to continue to glorify God for His mercies on the nation even at these trying times, even as I call on leaders at various levels of governance to think deeply about the welfare of the poor and how to impact positively on the society and the people”.