By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
There is the popular proverb that goes thus: “A tree cannot make a forest.” I write here to refute that proverb because I witnessed the life of one man who represented a tree that made a forest. Chief Basil Okafor Umeozulu, aka Akuyie-Nwata-Egwu, who was interred at the ripe old age of 92 on Thursday, January 23 was one tree that made a forest. Chief Umeozulu, through his Amesi Commercial Enterprises (ACE) Limited, created more millionaires than many State governments in Nigeria.
Born on February 2, 1930 in Amuwo village of Amesi town in Aguata LGA, Anambra State, the young Basil Umeozulu was educated at the native St. Vincent’s Catholic Church School before being apprenticed to his uncle Peter Ozigbo to learn the art and science of trading.
He began his business career in 1954 in Aba, trading in bicycle parts. He then took his trading to Onitsha where he grew his business acumen until the outbreak of the Biafra War in 1967.
After the devastating war, he shifted his business venture to Enugu in 1971 and set up Amesi Commercial Enterprises that grew into a business empire trading in building materials, tiles, industrial hoses, white cement, terrazzo etc. A resourceful international businessman, importer, and exporter, Basil Umeozulu had business partners scattered all over the world in countries such as Italy, Greece, Germany, Spain, and the United States.
Chief Umeozulu’s personable daughter, Ifeoma, reminds us of the heyday of his lionized father when it used to be said: “If you are building a house and haven’t visited Amesi Commercial Enterprises, you have not even started.”
A devout Catholic, Chief Umeozulu got married to his beloved wife, Josephine, on September 4, 1957, and they have been married for all of 65 years and blessed with eight surviving children made up of five boys and three girls, namely, Joachim, Robert, Ifeoma, Nkechi, Amaka, Tochukwu, Chinedu, and Uchechukwu. The handsome and beautiful grandchildren are 32 and counting in number.
Chief Umeozulu was an unstoppable philanthropist who had a home for all where I used to enjoy above my means in the company of my schoolmates Joachim and Robert. My bond with the family is such that I in fact I spent my holidays in the United States in the Baltimore home of Robert from where he regularly drove me to Maryland nightclubs, movie theatres and cultural soirees.
Joachim, my classmate and first son of the family, addresses his father thusly: “Growing up as your children, we never lacked anything as you made sure all our needs were provided for.” The second son, Robert, who happens to be the classmate of my younger brother Isidore, says of his father: “Through your company, Amesi Commercial Enterprises Limited, you introduced Amesi Town to the whole world.”
Popularly hailed as Akuyie, Chief Umeozulu had a close shave with death in 1990 which his daughter, Ifeoma, narrated this way: “My family and I cried like babies when he took ill in 1990. The thought of losing our dad terrified us, but thankfully, God gave him a second chance at life. Upon recovery, he had to relearn how to walk and use his hands and got to live for another 30 years.”
The 200-plus Old Boys of Amesi Commercial Enterprises are scattered all over Nigeria, from Enugu, Onitsha, Sokoto, Lagos, Abuja, Jos, Kaduna, Gusau, to Ibadan.
It was indeed akin to a carnival celebrating the life and legacy of Chief B.O. Umeozulu (Akuyie) in the company of old-time friends and personages such as Igwe Raphael Okpaleke (Akalabo III of Amesi), the Orizu Royal Family of Nnewi, Valentine Chineto Ozigbo, AIG Chris Okey Ezike –rtd- (Onwa Ogboji), Rev. Fr. Dr. Jude Ezeanokwasa, the Ezeabasili family, the Azodos, Chuma and Vivien Osuorah, Dona Azubuike, Dulue Mbachu, and the riveting tribute of the front-running Presidential Candidate Peter Gregory Obi.