FOR GOD AND HUMANITY – A TRIBUTE TO ABC ORJIAKO AT 50
It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, declares Jesus Christ, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Like many statements and things in the scriptures, this declaration should not be taken literally or on the face, especially by those who read the bible only in English.
'Eye of the needle', for instance, is a metaphorical reference to a small gate common in ancient Israel which was big enough for a human being to pass through, but not for an animal like the camel. The biblical Jews were a pastoral people. Suffice it to say that the statement about how tough it is for wealthy persons to gain eternal life should not be seen as a blanket condemnation of the rich. It is merely a sad reminder that materialism tends to make people relegate God to the background, if not utterly banished from their lives.
With the spread of stupendous prosperity in the western world since the end of the Second World War in 1945, religion has been declining rapidly. Conversely, when the Southeast Asian economies went into a tailspin in 1997, a number of executives in financial institutions whose businesses collapsed overnight turned to religion suddenly, with some ending up as monks.
Ambrosie Bryant Chukwueloka Orjiako, Fellow of the West African College of Surgeons, Fellow of the Nigerian Post Graduate Medical College, a humanist par excellence and an eminently successful entrepreneur by any standard in the world who turned 50 on October 1 as Nigeria was celebrating its golden jubilee as a free nation, is a dedicated servant of God and humanity.
If despite his wonderful accomplishments he is not a household name in every village and hamlet in Nigeria, it is understandable. He is self-effacing and stunningly humble. When the military government lifted the ban on political campaigns in the late 1990s as the first step in the restoration of democratic practice, Orjiako practically financed singlehandedly the most expensive gubernatorial campaign in Nigeria, but the press has been giving the credit to another person. He has not made any effort to correct the error.
He is so humble that a foundation that he established well over 13 years ago to provide education and healthcare is not named for himself but for his own late father, himself a successful entrepreneur in his own right. Thousands of people have benefitted from the foundation. The beneficiaries include not just my own in laws who hail from Uli town in Anambra State as himself, but also members of my own family from Ihiala. Chibuzor Nzeribe, my wife's younger brother who is today a petroleum engineer with an oil servicing firm in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, won a scholarship from the foundation no sooner than he entered the university.
His uncle, a retired but not tired school principal, has been engaged by the Daniel Orjiako Foundation as an educational administrator to ensure that all schools in Uli are up to scratch. The expenses for the medical treatment of Mrs Theresa Onyeka, my father's immediate younger sister, were in the last two years of her life borne by the foundation. The magic of all this is that ABC Orjiako was blissfully ignorant of the fact of these considerable bills picked up by the foundation he finances 100% until a few years ago when I mentioned it. The reason: there are so many beneficiaries.
Orjiako is arguably the biggest private individual benefactor to the University of Calabar, from where he graduated in 1985 on top of his medical class. He built the magnificent ABC Orjiako Information Technology and Communication Centre which the student union insisted, against his wish, on naming for him. At the Silver Jubilee celebration of the University of Calabar Medical School in 2004, he kept on donating huge sums to the university's teaching hospital in a way that made the master of ceremonies wonder if he was not emptying himself for his alma mater.
He truly deserves the honour bestowed on him as the first alumnus of the university to receive an honorary doctoral degree of the university. His love of education is infectious. He is the biggest donor to the Anambra State University where he has built quite a lot of infrastructure. And the university has accordingly given him its honorary doctoral degree in business administration. He is building a world class library at the Catholic University of Nigeria in Abuja for about 120 million naira. At the College of Medicine of the University of Nigeria, Enugu, he built the Information and Communication Centre.
The list goes on and on.
Orjiako's large-heartedness is remarkable. There are some people he came to their rescue at the most critical points, only for them, on running into sudden wealth, to stab him in the back or turn against him generally. He displays uncommon grace anytime he has cause to speak about them even in their absence, accepting their conduct with philosophical equanimity and Christian charity. Some elements consider this attribute a mark of naivety or a sign of weakness. But it is actually Orjiako's strength. ABC does not want to be held hostage by either the past or negative emotions.
At the centre of his being is a fierce dedication to God, conditioned by his Catholic upbringing and his own voluntary immersion in Catholic social teachings. In his hometown of Uli there are always over 150 people waiting to see him anytime he is around. Many of the visitors are poor village folks asking for money to buy foodstuffs or to complete their houses or to marry or to start one business or another.
They come every minute of the day because they know he is committed to what Pope John Paul II called solidarity with the human family. Far from showing discomfort at the incessant requests, he treats the people with incredible courtesy. A complete believer in the Catholic teaching on the dignity of the human person, Orjiako is convinced that each person is created in the image and likeness of God, no matter his or her station in life. Each person is, therefore, entitled to be treated with dignity.
Like Mother Teresa, ABC believes that the lepers, beggars and the downtrodden we see in the streets daily may not be ordinary human beings but Jesus Christ disguising like the wretched of the earth so as to test our reaction. The theological basis of this belief is easily traceable to the scriptures. 'I was hungry, and you gave me food,' declares Jesus Christ in Matthew 25:35. 'And I was thirsty, and you gave me water. I was homeless, and you sheltered me. I was naked, and you clothed me.
Whoever did this to the least of the children did it unto me'. (See also Proverbs 11:25). In the same sermon, Jesus made it clear that eternal life is not for religious hypocrites who performed 'miracles in my name' or cast out demons in my name', or 'preached in my name, but for those who did the will of my father in heaven'. Christ asked rhetorically on a different occasion: 'If you don't love your fellow human being whom you see, how can you love God whom you have never seen?'
Made two years ago a Knight of St Sylvester and St Gregory, the highest honour which can be bestowed on a lay Catholic, ABC Orjiako recites the rosary regularly and attends the mass everyday. In 2007, he attended a mass in my countryside and was a few minutes late, so he undertook the self-imposed penance of kneeling down on both feet throughout the two-hour service. He challenges and inspires us all. As he marks the 50th anniversary of a life that has been dedicated to serving God and humanity, we say Ad multus annos.
Adinuba writes from Lagos.