Nkonadi Daniel Okanya (1934-2017) philanthropist per excellence
Nkonadi Dan Ogbonna Okanya, who died on Sunday May 28 at the age of 92, was born to the family of Ozo Egbuturu Okanya and Lolo Iyikwu Okanya (nee Nsude) of Lelegu, Nua village, Aku Igbo Etiti Local Council of Enugu State. He was the eleventh child of his parents and only one of the two surviving children.
Although, young Daniel’s parents were illiterates, they were keen on him acquiring basic education. And so under the tutelage and watchful eyes of the then headmaster, B.O.M Edoga, Daniel started his elementary school in 1937 and finished top of his class in 1946. Thereafter, he was employed as a pupil teacher by the headmaster. Daniel would have probably settled down to the ‘onye nkuzi’-teacher, had it been not for his father who, encouraged him after six months of teaching to explore other opportunities outside Aku community.
Being an obedient child, Daniel heeded his father’s advice. On October 22nd 1947, he travelled to the Northern part of the country in what has today become a 70 year odyssey of resourceful, resolute, resilient and God’s providential entrepreneurial engagements in over twenty towns and cities in North.
He first stayed briefly with a relation at the Utonkon area, but didn’t find the place as engaging as he had hoped; later, he moved to Zaria. While in Zaria, he initially engaged in trading and supply of construction materials to Nigerian Railway Corporation. Overtime, he was encouraged by the engineers to upgrade his services as a full construction contractor. A move he made and learnt the ropes over the years with utmost diligence. He worked with the Nigerian Railway as a contactor all the way from Zaria to Potiskum until the outbreak of the Nigerian Civil War.
After the Civil War, his company was one of those engaged to rehabilitate public buildings in Enugu and Nsukka axis. On completion of this assignment, he quickly relocated to the North, where he was engaged as a sub contractor by the Italian Construction firm Messers Boroni Prono (Nig) Ltd in 1971.
The working partnership with Boroni Prono saw him take residence in such towns as Akwanga, Keffi, Bukuru, Bauchi, Maiduguri, New Marte, Dikwa, Baga, Damboa, Kano, Malumfashi, Katsina, Daura, Idah, Ankpa, Okene, Akoko among others. The relationship proved to be profitable for him and the firm. And it lasted till his death.
Being a resourceful and well-organised person, he was able to invest in such other business enterprises as haulage under the name of Otito Dili Jesu (ODJ), printing under the name of MaryDan Printing press and real estate.
Nkonadi which means “where there’s plenty” was his chosen traditional “Ozo” title. In a nutshell, it aptly described who he was. He loved to give and took it upon himself to change the mindset that you only give in order to receive. To him, you give because there is need. And again, God knows why it is you that he blessed.
Testimonies abound of people he saved from withdrawal from school. It excited him to help and it encouraged him to give even more if he saw that his intervention was not being wasted. Expectedly, he had no patience for the indolent and anyone who chose not to work hard. In his opinion, there was absolutely no reason not to give your best at all times.
Apart from his business engagements, Nkonadi devoted considerable time and energy in the service of his community and the Catholic Church. He severally pioneered the building of many Catholic Churches in all the communities he lived in the course of his business engagements. He was a patron to several Catholic Organisations, including the Federated Aku Catholic Men’s Organisation.
Before St Anthony’s Parish Ogui New Layout Enugu became a full-fledged parish, he served meritoriously as the Chairman of Station Council and remained a committed parishioner. Having lived well over 90, it was no surprise that he emerged ‘Onye ishi Umu Okanya’-the eldest man in his kindred. He assumed the position officially on January 2, this year.
His job on construction sites meant many hours in the sun and many weeks away from his family. When he was encouraged by his family to retire, he argued and fought the decision. His dream was to go back to his job of building roads, even when it was obvious that he could not do so again.
Upon retirement, he complained constantly of aging faster. His belief was that if he remained hard at work, he would not get ill or age too quickly. Well, he aged for sure and of course his health condition also declined.
To bid him a final farewell, a Christian wake keep will hold in his honour at his Enugu residence, 3 Neni Street, Ogui New Layout. It will be followed by another wake keep at his country home in Egbugwu, Aku in Igbo Etiti council area on June 22, 2017. Funeral mass and interment will be on Friday June 23 by 10am.
He was married to late Osodi Mary Okanya (nee Enyi), and the union was blessed with 8 children, 23 grandchildren and three great grand children. He was a father par excellence and community leader known for humility, diligence, honesty and generousity.