61 GARLANDS FOR A CZAR
—Eze Festus Odimegwu at the age of New Beginnings.
~ By Ingram Osigwe
Many people go through life without attaining the purpose of their existence. Yet within the bounds of time and chance, limiting the ability of man to determine his own destiny, some people by mere dint of hard work, diligence integrity and depth of vision, manage to elevate the gift of natural intellectual endowment given to all men in varying measures, to the echelon of genius thus attaining a level of actualization and achievement that is almost superhuman. Festus Odimegwu is one such rare genius. As he celebrates his 61ST anniversary this year, one could not but marvel at the life of this super achiever.
Eze Festus Odimegwu was born on August 6, 1953, in Aba, currently in Abia State of Nigeria. He started his primary education in Christ the King School, CKS, in Aba, but it was interrupted by the Civil War, for three years. His parents had to relocate back to his village, Umuoka Ubirielem in Orsu Local Government Area in Imo State of Nigeria. After the war, his father was not sure that there would not be another civil insurgence, so they stayed back home and young Festus had to complete his primary education at St. Mary’s Primary School, Umuoka Ubirielem. He earned his First school Leaving certificate, making him the only Grade-I distinction at St.Mary’s then.
He enrolled into Community Secondary School Awo Idemmili in Imo State. His stellar performances in Chemistry, Mathematics and Physics earned him the title of “Prof”. from admiring teachers and students. He proceeded to University of Nigeria Nsukka from whence he graduated with a first class Honours in Chemistry and joined Nigeria Breweries PLC.
Within a career that spanned 26 years and five months, he progressed from Trainee Brewer 1980-1982, Shift Assistant Brewer in Training April-July 1982, Shift Brewer I/c Bottling 1982-1984 Brewer I/c Brewing 1984-1985 Technological Controller 1985-1987 Production Manager 1987-1988. From 1988 till 1989, he proceeded to Heriot Watt University Edinburgh for his MSc and coming back home, he resumed as Brewery/Senior Technical Manager 1989-1992, Sales Director 1992-1993 Food Coordination AMEG Unilever London 1993-1995 Marketing Director Lever Brothers Ghana 1995-1997 MD/CEO Nigerian Breweries 1997-2006 .
He also attended Stanford University Graduate School of Business, Wharton Business School and Unilever Four Acres Training Centre. Apart from his basic background in Chemistry and the Natural sciences, he has amassed a panoply of knowledge and certifications in Business Strategy, Business Planning, Change Management ,Turn Around Management, Leadership, New Business Development Strategy, Strategic Planning, Team Building, Entrepreneurship Management, Negotiation and Marketing Strategy.
In 2006, he left the management of Nigerian Breweries PLC. He was billed to proceed to a new appointment with the Heineken Company in Germany, but he elected to stay back in Nigeria to pursue other personal business interests. He then set up the Royal Lifestyle Services Group of Companies Ltd and other strategic business units of the group like Quintessentially Nigeria, Recherché signature Events and Gifts and Palatially sole marketers of Angel champagne, for which he now acts as a non Executive Director.
On Tuesday 26th June 2012, Eze Festus Odimegwu was appointed Chairman of the National Population Commission (NPC), by President Goodluck Jonathan. In appointing Odimegwu to the head of the NPC, the president went for a twin goal of diligence and integrity, both choices that characterize Eze Festus Odimegwu. He was the spirit behind the partnership that resulted in one of the world’s biggest breweries, and which made Nigerian Breweries PLC, the most capitalized company on the Nigerian Stock Exchange. His modernization programme at NB PLC, lengthened the gap between Nigerian Breweries and its competitors. An uncompromising stickler for excellence and a goal getter, Odimegwu distinguished himself as a primus inter pares within the role call of Nigerian corporate czars, serving on the boards of other companies such as Dangote Cement PLC, Union Bank of Nigeria as well as Transnational Corporation of Nigeria, as a Director.
President Jonathan in entrusting the sensitive position of Nigeria’s Chief Population enumerator unto Odimegwu was undoubtedly guided by the brewer’s solid foot prints in the sands of corporate management.
The National Population Commission, NPC, was created to give life to the nation’s population policy, thereby assisting in the achievement of sustainable development and a higher quality of life for the people and to promote policies to meet the needs of the current generation, while not compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Upon the appointment of Eze Odimegwu as the new NPC chairman, President Jonathan also charged the Commission to spearhead efforts towards the issuance of a national identity card to every Nigerian by 2015. Thus immediately rising to the task, the new NPC chairman, proposed a new biometric data capturing process for the country’s next census. According to him, the new biometric capture process will save the country billions of Naira by unifying similar projects, being conducted by various agencies of government. Already approved by President Goodluck Jonathan, it will also help in better economic planning for national development.
The new NPC Chairman needed no clairvoyant to tell him that the task of conducting a country-wide acceptable census in a diverse and politically charged country like Nigeria was no mean one. The President who appointed him also knew this. The importance of a credible census to an emerging economy like Nigeria can’t be over emphasized; A population and housing census is the total process of collecting, compiling, evaluating, analyzing and dissemination of data on demographic, economic and social conditions of the people as well as the conditions under which they live at a specific period of time. Censuses are primary sources of basic benchmark statistics on the population and housing characteristics of the nation. They provide information on population size, age and sex composition, geographic distribution and housing characteristics and facilities that have bearing on the social aspects of the housing.
The fundamental purpose of the census is to provide the facts essential to government for policy-making, planning and administration. The characteristics of the population drive the decision-making that facilitates the development of socio-economic policies that will enhance the welfare of the population. Additionally, the population census provides important data for the analysis and appraisal of the changing patterns of rural/urban movement and concentration, the development of urbanised areas, geographical distribution of the population according to such variables as occupation and education, as well as the socio-economic characteristics of the population and the labour force. These variables also provide the basis of questions of scientific interest that are of importance both to pure research and for solving practical problems of industrial and commercial growth and management.
The findings of the census are also critical in the decision-making processes of the private sector. Population size and characteristics influence the location of businesses and services that satisfy the needs of the target population. Population censuses also constitute the principal source of records for use as a sampling frame for the household surveys during the years between censuses. Population Census is an important exercise because it provides the most comprehensive picture of the social and living conditions of the people.
The appointment of Eze Festus Odimegwu as the nation’s chief enumerator is a perfect fixation of round peg in a round hole as his versatility as a strategist and his excellent qualifications and experience will ensure a state of the art census and demographic information management for the country.However,Odimegwu, principled and a believer in thoroughness had his tenure as the NPC boss abbreviated by his insistence on bringing to bear on the 2016 census, certain far-reaching re-inventing of the process.His principled stand on the issue ruffled political feathers in a part of the country, threatening age-long vested ethno-religious and demographic interest. Rather than stay on as the boss of the NPC and pander to the above interest, Odimegwu in October last year chose the honourable part of resigning his appointment.He thus left the NPC with his head unbowed.
On Saturday 27th of July 2013, Eze Festus Odimegwu CON, was honoured with a Professional Leadership Award at the 2013, Leadership Awards, which took place at the Civic centre, in Ozumba Mbadiwe Road, Victoria Island Lagos. The Prestigious award, named the ‘Zik Prize in Leadership Awards’ after the legacies of one Africa’s greatest and foremost post-colonial leaders, journalists, publisher, and independence crusader, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Owelle of Onistha, second and last Governor-General of Nigeria, first President of Nigeria as well as a foremost Nigerian Nationalist, Pan-Africanist and publisher of the West African Pilot Newspaper, was an inimitable platform, for the acknowledgement of leadership merit to deserving Nigerians.
The Award to Eze Festus Odimegwu, was not only perfectly deserved, but also perfectly timed. It offers tremendous hope to millions of Nigerians whenever it is brought to light, the fact that the country still has a crop of superlative achievers, sitting quietly in strategic positions within the country’s socio-economic machinery, ensuring that all ramifying advancement is wrought in the country’s civilization system, despite every appearance to the negative.
Some notable past recipients of the awards include former Ghanaian President J.J. Rawlings (1995); President Nwalimu Julius Nyerere of Tanzania (1997); former Secretary General, Organisation of Africa Unity, Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim (1998); Zambia President Sam Nujoma (1999); former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa (2000); President Yoweri Museveni (2003); the late Ghanaian President John Kuffour (2008); President Seretse Lan Khama (2009); Senator David Mark, Alhaji Yayale Ahmed and Otunba Subomi Balogun (2010); President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia (2011).
History is made by the passage of time and events, but certain men hold the wheels and steer its course. They champion the events that mark the epochs, they define the defining moments. The list is endless: from Tutankhamen and Moses, to Achilles; from King David to Julius Caesar; from Oliver Cromwell to George Washington; from Winston Churchhill to Mahatma Gandhi; from chairman Mao Tse-Tung to Ben Gurion; from Martin Luther King to Nelson Mandela to Barack Obama. These are men who by their genius and destiny, were depended upon by the rest of humanity to foster form and direction in a formless directionless situation; Odimegwu is a man within this cadre of history makers.
As he marks his 61 birthday, the world attests to the brilliancy,sagacity and shrewdness of this first class brewer and illustrious son of Imo state as he continues to avail the nation his energy and experience in the spheres of social,economic and political development of his fatherland.
Ingram Osigwe Consults for Quintessentially Nigeria.