It was a Sunday morning of anguish as the pastor sermonised on the 40-year travails of Israel-nation in the wilderness after they scurried off Egypt in a journey that ought to have lasted only 11 days.
Even the stone-hearted were unable to fight back the tears as he adumbrated their near-death predicaments – thirstiness, pestilence, snake bites and hunger. The shout of thunderous amen rented the air as he forbade such horrendous experience for persons living in the modern age.
I chuckled as I made my way to the exit door because a state in modern-day south-eastern Nigeria is just a few years shy of breaking this age-long record set by ancient Israel in the wilderness. Compared to Israel, the state has suffered worse scenarios in the past 21 years and counting.
If the abovementioned quandaries were parameters to judge misery, then, Israelis were better off because they never suffered hopelessness while wandering in the wilderness. The reason is that they had astute leadership until they made it to the promised land.
For 21 years and counting, Abians have lived in the wilderness defenceless like vagabonds. Devoid of perspicacious leadership, the cavalry comes galloping, attacking and destroying their tents in every quadrennial period leaving them in a constant state of despair. While they have embraced pie in the sky as opium, their immediate neighbours and kid brothers — Akwa-Ibom, Rivers and Ebonyi states — are at the threshold of utopia.
But as the saying goes, “what we are looking for in Sokoto is inside ṣòkòtò”, in their midst is a rare gem. A World Bank and United Nations (UN) expert who stands shoulder high among the Abia founding fathers such as the late M. I. Okpara, Jaja Wachukwu and Alvan Ikoku. He is the Elephant of Abia, Professor Gregory Ikechukwu Charles Ibeh, OFR.
It took a disturbing World Bank discovery and assessment of the abject living conditions of people in six Abia LGAs for Governor Okezie Ikpeazu to tap from Prof Greg Ibeh’s wealth of wisdom and problem-solving aptitude.
The World Bank identified six critical Abia LGAs they classified as “the poor of the poorest”. These are Ohafia, Umunneochi, Isiala Ngwa North/South, Ukwa East and Osisioma.
“I felt so sad after seeing that report. The only thing happening in these local governments is a few people building one or two houses in a year. Restaurants and drinking parlours are other visible things there. There are also high cases of teenage pregnancies.
“The only solution was to address these issues. So, the World Bank brought money, Governor Ikpeazu also gave some funds and sent these people to me,” Prof Greg Ibeh said.
He said the first batch he gathered and started to train were 2,000 young persons, amongst them, illiterates, young fathers, husbands and wives suffering.
According to him, at the end of the training in December 2019, when they heard that the program would be ending, the trainees started weeping, asking where they would go once the training was over.
“They were asking if there was any way I could keep them here. So, I retained 50 of them for an internship. I gave another 100 among them scholarships to attend Gregory University. It would cost me over N450 million. Did I announce it? It was like God had visited them. I expanded the scholarship to different local governments,” he added.
That is awesome. The good news is that what Prof Greg Ibeh has achieved through his benevolence is that poor youth who lost hope of being educated are now thriving in an academic family. As you are reading this piece, he has 165 of them on scholarship.
Of course, his goodwill has started altering narratives. One of the beneficiaries of his scholarship, Mr Prayer Emenike, a 300-level Electronic/Electrical Engineering scholar, has produced a gas flaring harnesser, a hybrid generator that needs no petrol and a device he called “U-BOS” – a current stabiliser that absolves an electrical current passing through 2.5 or 3kVA generators to enable them to carry demanding appliances like pressing iron.
“When I came here, Prof Greg Ibeh proved to me that there are some people out there who value the dreams of young and talented people like me. That gave my dreams a boost. The facilities are excellent, and the environment very calm. You can calm down and think. It is helping me a lot,” Emenike said.
Now, you can see that no moniker can befit Prof Greg Ibeh’s imposing status. His deeds compared him to the biblical Pool of Bethesda that healed all that came in contact with it. Wow! What an elusive treasure other states wish they had. Thank God something more than good is in Abia. Chai! See as my body dey totori me.