Saturday, February 28, 2009

Interview: What I have passed through at 80

BY Uduma Kalu

As the drums roll out for the 80th birthday celebration of Chief Stephen Njedeh Ebinum today at the Multi Purpose Pavilion at FESTAC, it is not only the eight decades of life is being celebrated but also the monumental achievments of a man who lost his father at a tender age. In an interview with Saturday Vanguard the octogenerian spoke on the rough roads to his success. Excerpt.

How did you rise from your limited background to your present position?

I started very small like any other person. I was a clerk in Panalpina World Transport where I grew to become a manager. I was only manager left in Port Harcourt during the civil war because I am an Igbo speaking man. So I was in the East...

And I was a manager. Then I came back. Immediately after the war, towards the end of the war, I came back and started working at Panalpina as a manager. From there, I started on my own and so on.

As a fresh man, from the suburb to a major city, how did you cope?
I started working in Lagos in 1955 in Panalpina. I was transferred to Port Harcourt.

As a father, how did you train your nine children?

I was lucky. Before I got married, I had already started working in and I knew I could feed my wife. And I started getting kids and I was going up in my company. I was getting promotions. At a certain point, I wanted to stop but unfortunately, I had only girls at that time.

I wouldn’t like to think of having only women without men. So that was the problem. Incidentally, I had my boy after the four girls. So that was the situation. That is why they are nine. And luckily enough, as I was getting them, I was getting more to feed, to school them. That is how I managed.

You had a large family?

He had a large family. My uncle I was staying with. So were so many he was training. Not even his children. We were about 10 or so in his house.

In Asaba?

in Asaba. We fed from one pot. So you can imagine what it was.

How Triana, his shipping company, began?

But the fact is that we had a Swiss boy who was much younger than myself. He was in his 30s. And I was in my 40s. We had the oldest, Pius Olugbesan. ex customs secretary to the director of customs in those days. Apart from that I am second to him in age. But apart from the working class, I was the oldest. I was in my early 40s.

We weren’t so young, and the Swiss man was very knowledgeable about the job we were doing. We were all very knowledgeable about the job but everybody has his own section in the company we opened. It grew very fast.

How did you get funding?

All those industries, if you know your job, people will like to give you job if they can trust you. The trust is number one thing you should have that people will have confidence to give you the money, bring out the cargo.

And so on. We didn’t borrow. We didn’t borrow until even the time the Swiss man left. Up till now, my company, we are not owing anybody.

Business in Nigeria now
Oh, there is a lot difference. Before, it was so easy. If you get into that place to start now, it is a little bit difficult for you to start, except you are a professional. But if you are a professional now, to get people to trust you to get a real good job is difficult.

Lack of trusted now
Well, if you are in the industry, you build up trust. For instance, because, you have a degree in the industry. You want to start but they don’t trust you, and to deal with a Nigerian, you have to deal with him for sometime.

We are happy because they know us from where we started, that’s Panalpina. The confidence was the real reason of the path to our growth. People trust in us.

Are you happy with things in your community?

I am not. I am trying to see whether we can develop it. But it’s difficult when you are not a politician.

What are the problems there?

The problems no water, no road, except now that PDP government was able to give us, through NDDC a road. Even when I was doing poultry, there was nobody to buy. I couldn’t increase. That was what the poultry stopped that time. Because of bad road. Now we have road but because of the small light they bring, they didn’t even give me any transformer. They just passed my place. May be because I am not a politician.

Is there any school?

The problem in my place, even in Ndokwa where I come from, except the private university we have now, no government impact in the whole of Ndokwa nation. We have three local governments. We are supposed to have seven or more because we don’t have people in front to fight for us in those days. We have only three LGAs-Ukwani LGA, Ndokwa West and Ndokwa East. We need at least seven because it was an old Aboh and Asaba division in those days. Asaba has more than seven now, three in Oshimili, three in Aniocha, and three in Agbor now. We have only three. You can imagine that.
I hope the world will hear. We want more LGAs in my area. We are very seriously looking for it. I hope the politicians are hearing me.

Any message for anyone who wants to stay up tp 80?

My message is, if you live a life, eat averagely, don’t eat so much, don’t starve yourself. Don’t drink more than you can. Drink doesn’t kill but you have to moderate it. Everything you do, if you do it averagely you live a good life.

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