When the polls will open at 8 am on Saturday, September 19, 2020, 14 political parties and their candidates would be slugging it out for the governorship of Edo State for another four-year tenure beginning from November 12. Idahosa Wells Okunbo would not be one of them. But paradoxically, in spite of not being one of the political gladiators jostling to unseat the incumbent governor, Godwin Obaseki, he had been the target of fierce political brinksmanship and victim of a pull-him-down syndrome. The kind of vicious umbrage and vituperations that had been hauled at him in the course of the electioneering campaign couldn’t have been worse if even he were to be on the ballot.
Okunbo, billionaire businessman and chairman of Ocean Marine Solutions, fondly called Captain Hosa by friends and associates, had had the heat turned on him initially, over mere speculation that he might be running against the incumbent. And even when it became crystal clear that he nursed no such ambition, he still enjoyed no respite from political actors loyal to government of the day. Suspecting that he might deploy his stupendous wealth to support the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Osagie Ize-Iyamu, pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, the attacks were sustained so much so that he feared for his life. At some pint, he instituted a Two billion Naira libel suit against the state government.
And at a time the former commercial pilot and multi-sector entrepreneur was battling to defend his name, integrity and reputation in the law court, and dealing with the irritant of a suffocating political persecution, came a breadth of fresh air with the cheering news of a prestigious international award. It was a welcome relief and a reassurance that his integrity remained intact, and he indeed commands the respect and confidence of the business community at home and abroad.
On Friday September 10, 2020, Okunbo bagged a distinguished Forbes’ America “Best of Africa” award reserved for outstanding leaders in Africa. The valued award was presented to him by the Chair of Foreign Investment Network (FIN), Olayinka Fayomi. Coming at a time Okunbo was being vilified at home, the award affirmed the scriptural dictum – the words of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ – that “A prophet is not without honour except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home” (Mark 6:4 NIV)
The presentation was done at The Wells Carlton Hotel and Apartments, Asokoro, Abuja, a subsidiary of his business empire, at a virtual low-key ceremony witnessed by just a few but quality invitees in compliance with the COVID-19 safety protocols. Fayomi said while presenting the award, that the honour was bestowed on Capt. Hosa for connecting Africa with the world.
According to her, “I am here to present the certificate from Forbes America. I always like to distinguish Forbes America from Forbes Africa. We are so pleased on behalf of Forbes to present to you Capt. Dr. Idahosa Wells Okunbo JP this certificate. Indeed, you are more than deserving of this award and I’m sure all of you who have watched the event today can testify from the numerous testimonies from various persons across the globe that our decision to honour him is worth it. You heard the testimonies from the former minister of industries; then the man from Dubai. Indeed, all of them have heard of your name.
“We are so proud to associate with you. I am really happy about the success that you have made. You are an illustrious son of Edo State. You have made not only your state proud, but you have actually made Nigeria proud. I am so happy that Mr. President himself acknowledges this award. I am pleased; congratulations”.
This was however not the first time Okunbo would be so honoured. The self-effacing business mogul is not just a notable player in the Nigerian economy, he is a global brand. And try as he had to remain anonymous, like a gold fish with no hiding place, he had often been spotted and dragged out for recognition. Okunbo received the Africa Titans Award in 2012, from the Congress of the United States in collaboration with the African Society Summit, in recognition of his “strides on behalf of Africa in the international arena”.
On Saturday, September 21, 2019, in Geneva, Switzerland, he was presented with the ‘Lafayette Award at the United Nations Day For Global Peace’ before a distinguished international audience by Robert Blum, the President and Chairman of Order of Lafeyette Awards “in recognition of his efforts in global peace and business innovations”.
The Order of Lafayette is a patriotic, hereditary, non-partisan, and fraternal organization established in New York City in 1958 by Colonel Hamilton Fish III (1888-1991), a former Congressman from New York and decorated veteran of the First World War. The Award was conceived to appreciate, support, and encourage harmony, peace and conflict resolution across the world.
At home, in March 2017, he was honoured with the “Businessman of the Year” award at the ‘2016 Vanguard Personality of the Year Award’ while in November 2012, the University of Benin conferred on him an honorary Doctor of Science degree. Okunbo was also a recipient of the “Worthy Ambassador of Unity Award” as an old student of Federal Government College, Warri in March 2016. An illustrious son of the great Benin Kingdom in whom the Oba was well-pleased, Okunbo was on October 2, 2014, honoured and decorated with the highly coveted ‘Traditional Royal Beads’ “for being a worthy son of the ancient Kingdom” by Oba Erediauwa of blessed memory.
The latest international recognition – the Forbes Award – is a bold statement and reward for the great impact he has made in nation-building, human development, and mentorship of the younger generation. In the words of Calvin Coolidge, a lawyer and former president of the United States of America, (1872-1933) “No person was ever honoured for what he received. Honour has been the reward for what he gave”. Christopher Marlowe, an English playwright and poet, (1564-1593) shared his thoughts when he also said “Honour is purchased by the deeds we do”.
That Okunbo had paid his dues to deserve the recognitions coming to him from highly esteemed national and global institutions is stating the obvious. They are indeed pointers to the immense value he has added to humanity locally and internationally, and an affirmation of the beautiful testimonial of his exemplary character, humility, and humane disposition.
Okunbo’s business interests are divergent, cutting across different sectors of the economy – oil and gas, water ways and pipeline security, hospitality, entertainment, agriculture, real estate, shipping, amongst others. It goes without saying that through these business concerns, thousands of Nigerians and even expatriates earn their living as employees. Some of his remarkable achievements are the credible credentials of his offshore Asset Protection Company – Ocean Marine Solution, OMS.
Recently, his company signed a Financing and Technical Services Agreement (FTSA) deal worth $876m with CMES-OMS Petroleum Development Company Ltd (CDPC) for the development of Oil Mining Lease (OML) 65, a Nigerian Petroleum Development Company Ltd, NPDC.
This epochal agreement would open up production potentials of the OML 65 from 9,000 to 40,000 barrels per day. There are projections that this particular deal holds the potential to explore, appraise and add reserves to base, and would rake in for the Federal Government more than $6 billion in taxes and royalties. The project is guaranteed to engage indigenous companies in the industry for ancillary services, thereby providing direct and indirect job opportunities.
Okunbo’s The Wells Carlton Hotel and Luxury Apartments in Abuja is a subsidiary of The Wells Carlton Hotel and Luxury Apartments in the US, also creating employment opportunities for Nigerians and foreigners alike.
Speaking at the presentation of the Forbes’ Award, an elated Okunbo who shared the limelight with other worthy Nigerians like the Managing Director, First Bank, Kazeem Adeduntan, Chairman, Innovate Pay 1, Dr. Ahmadu Mahmood, and Badria Al Mulla, said he was indeed very delighted to receive the award from Forbes, which he described as “a very revered institution”. He said “I only accept awards that are truly awards. Like I said during the interactions we had earlier, I would be dedicating this award to the less-privileged in the society, to the needy and teeming jobless youths”.
Okunbo thanked Fayomi, Chairman of FNI, co-organisers of the event, expressing his pleasure and privilege to receive the award. He said he was humbled by the recognition. Accolades have continued to pour in for the multiple award-winning Okunbo from family, friends, and admirers across the country pointing to his bridge-building and detribalised nature.