Events marking the final home call of Captain Hosa Okunbo have commenced in Benin City with the Night of Tributes and Service of Songs, with the interment coming up on Friday 8th October, exactly 2 months since he breathed his last in the UK.
He was a man who did so much for family, friends and even foes that the world was like one unit to him, even though his devotion to his beloved Benin Kingdom was unparalleled. Also unparalleled was his humility, respect for elders and position, which surprised many who expected a man of his standing to be unreachable. Having known him all his earthly life – I, being about four years ahead of him in an extended family-like stable – I knew the kind of person he was, and our two fathers were like brothers, who ensured that discipline and respect for one another flowed in the Okunbo and Eboigbe families. He carried that self discipline and mutual respect for seniors and juniors till the end.
The last time Hosa and I spoke was 22nd January 2021. He called. He had seen my missed call earlier and was responding. He confirmed that things would be okay and I promised we would be praying for him to return home soon. And to keep in touch.
From the call, I felt WhatsApp messages would be better for him to respond to, so we were exchanging messages. I made it a duty to send an inspiration and prayer every Sunday but there were weekday interactions too. I acquired several Edo videos and audio music files from him which he seemed to cherish, especially the gospel music idiom. When I was lost as to the artistes, I would ask him and he provided me with names and music of many Benin musical groups I didn’t know of before now. A couple of times I called when he didn’t respond to some messages in a row, and although we didn’t speak, he will send a message in response to my last.
The last time he responded to my inquiry and the ‘Sunday Sunday’ inspirational message I send to him every week was at 6.55am on 25th June. He wrote in caps, ‘IT’S WELL’. And at 6.57am he responded with an ‘Amen’ Emoji to my exhortation to stay strong.
I continued to send him my Sunday prayers and sent the last one on 1st August and would have sent another on 8th August, the day he passed, even though I noticed that the last one he opened was 18th July 2021.
No eulogy can best describe what he was to many people – benefactor, philanthropist, breadwinner, employer, brother, friend, son, father and father figure – the void will be difficult to fill. We thank God for his life. He has run his race, even though we humans consider it short at just 63. Whatever role is left to be played is ours. Can we fill the shoes he left behind?
We pray God to comfort the entire family, including Iye, his dear mother, his children, siblings and all of us. The pain is great. But who are we to ask God, ‘Why?’ It was Hosa’s turn on 8th August 2021. We pray that God will grant him mercy for his faith and good works because he always gave and did not count the cost.
Hosa’s philanthropist activities were legendary and he received accolades from home and abroad but he did not broadcast this. At the Philanthropic Roundtable and Forbes Africa Awards 2020 presentation held on 11th September 2020, he publicly emphasized that giving to the poor and expecting accolades was not the type of philanthropy he would like to be associated with. As the first of the recipients to speak on their activities before the worldwide audience, Hosa said he prefers to do ‘quiet philanthropy’, unlike the noisy one associated with foundations that people set up to drum up publicity about themselves and their business.
He said then: “God told me not to set up foundation so I am not the type to celebrate the philanthropy that I do; therefore I do it in a quiet way. I believe that whatever one does in secret will be rewarded by God. When God blesses you, it is not for you to keep it to yourself but to also use it to bless others. Beneficiaries may talk about my philanthropy but I do not need to talk about it myself because it is not by my power but by the grace of God that I have achieved all I have in life. It is good to leave a legacy within the community and environment we operate”.
On that day, Capt. Hosa said that a lot of philanthropy he does was in providing employment for people, especially youths and women, in the area of agriculture which he has embarked upon in a big way. By employing them, he explained, they are empowered and they can then take care of themselves and others.
The 2020 Forbes Best of Africa award was just one of the many honours this our dear brother received. Capt. Hosa was a multiple award winner in many spheres, including as philanthropist and investor and employer of labour. He began his career as a professional commercial pilot and then went into business in the oil and gas sector. His business portfolio spans Maritime Solutions, Real Estate, Construction, Hospitality, Aviation, Entertainment, Power, Telecommunications, Banking and Agriculture.
In 2012, the American Congress honoured him with the “Black Titan” Award for being a voice of the Niger Delta people through his movie, “Black November”, whose production he funded. And in September last year, he was conferred with a peace award in Geneva on the United Nations’ Day for Global Peace by the Order of Lafayette.
In July 2020, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, NAPTIP, presented Captain Hosa with another award and recognition as its anti-human trafficking hero on the occasion of the 2020 World Day Against Human Trafficking.
A lot has been written about his background, family, education and business but Idahosa Wells Okunbo, from childhood, always showed a unique independence, strong will and astuteness that marked him out as destined for greatness, as testified to by those who grew up with him or had known him for years. It was clear that he, as early as when he was a child, washed his hands very well and so could eat with kings, according to our proverb. But he did not keep this dining with kings to himself. He was always a ‘sharer’.
To family, friends and even those who considered themselves foes, he always extended his hand and largesse to make their lives better, sometimes to his own detriment and disadvantage; but this has not always deterred him. And while doing the giving, he is even the one to show respect to the receiver because he knows that without the grace of God, he would not be in a position to give cheerfully. Sometimes his friends joke that his middle name should have been ‘Charity’!
Capt. Hosa was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He got to where he is today through dint of hard work, enterprise and the ‘can do’ spirit that his disciplinarian parents inculcated in him and his siblings while growing up.
Business associates, even strangers and politicians on different sides of the divide from all parts of the country would court him and he never failed to render assistance, unless the plan of those asking for the help were either malevolent, or not for the common good or was capable of endangering the lives of others, including and especially his dear compatriots of his beloved Benin Kingdom. His coast expanded far and wide undeniably and his reputation as a man to be trusted in doing good spread far afield.
An employer of labour and resources that contributed hugely to Edo State and national development, his focus was on the welfare of his people. His firms provide employment to Nigerians and foreigners in the areas of aviation, agriculture, construction, real estate, construction, telecoms, power, hospitality, performing arts and banking and you will need to search far and wide to see any other Nigerian who provides employment to persons in all these sectors as much as he did.
Adieu, Hosa. May your dear soul rest in the bosom of the Lord, Amen!
Epa Ogie Eboigbe, veteran journalist, broadcaster and public affairs specialist, writes on, and analyses current and historical issues with a ‘wise pen’.