By Ojo Maduekwe
For years, during election campaigns, young people in Nigeria were comfortable with older politicians belching the refrain: “The youths are leaders of tomorrow”. Lately, not content anymore, many appear to have become tired of it.
Realizing that they’ve only been tools to attain power, many young Nigerians are readying to challenge the older politicians at the poll. Tired of waiting for a future that never comes; they’ve decided to seek elective office in 2019.
There are those whose only claim to seeking office is their age. Entitled, they feel since they are “young” and haven been ‘promised’ leadership positions for many years, then they should be given the chance to run for office freely.
An outlier, Chinedu Onyeizu does not fall into the above category. After a mutual friend introduced us, and following series of phone conversations, I requested for a meet. During the meeting, it was clear to me that Chinedu understood not just the responsibility at stake, but the many challenges he’ll have to face.
“I know it won’t be easy,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I do not expect it to be easy, but the time to act is now. The older politicians have failed us; we cannot keep sitting on the sidelines and be tools for their continuous hold on power.”
When you listen to Chinedu, you get this feeling of a man who’s had to surmount challenges in all that he’s achieved in life; beginning from his early school years in Nigeria, which culminated in him going abroad to further his education in some of the best higher institutions in the world, such as the Harvard Kennedy School, Heriot-Watt University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Born and raised in Aba, Abia state, Chinedu began his education in a village primary school at Abayi Umuocham. When he told me during our conversation that they were taught only Mathematics and English and that classes were held under mango trees, it sounded like something made out of folklore.
“Absolutely not; this is not those ‘tales by moonlight’ kind of stories; this is real. I schooled in the village and we had our classes under mango trees. This is the kind of humble beginning that was my childhood,” he assured me, chuckling.
But then, when you follow his life’s trajectory from such tough beginnings; how he finished secondary school with distinctions and graduated from the Federal University of Technology in Owerri, where he studied Petroleum Engineering, it becomes clearer the kind of person Chinedu is – the kind that can surmount such modest beginnings and turn it into one great success story.
Since his NYSC years in Bayelsa State in 2003, where his empathy for the poor and less privileged led to a humanitarian work that helped restore the sight of over 67 cataract-blind Bayelsans, it’s been one success story to another.
His desire to help the over 67 blind Bayelsans began with a relationship with a 75-year-old blind man. Normally many NYSC members before him would take the easier paths and do projects that didn’t require much effort, but not Chinedu.
To restore the sight of the people of his host community meant he had to invite specialists from foreign countries. Luckily he found an organization that does it free in the UK. But, he needed the state governments’ involvement; to help out with their transportation within the state and to ensure their safety in a region where militants are known to kidnap foreign nationals for ransom.
From this point, it became a slippery slope of challenges. Government officials that normally should be excited became stumbling blocks; with almost everyone wanting something in return before they could offer any assistance.
“Helping to restore the sight of those blind Bayelsan’s taught me something very important,” Chinedu said. “I learned doggedness and that when you want something, if you persevere, you will eventually get what you want.”
Having been stonewalled by difficult government officials and feeling frustrated, Chinedu kept pushing. His persistence eventually paid off on the last day when the specialists arrived at the Port Harcourt International airport and were on their way to Bayelsa. Someone linked him with former Nigeria president, Goodluck Jonathan, who was at the time the deputy governor of Bayelsa. Mr. Jonathan granted his request for transportation and security. The rest is history.
After NYSC, in 2004 Chinedu joined the Petroleum Trust Development Fund gas research group as a research associate, and for three years worked on innovative ways to harness Nigeria’s Deepwater stranded gas resources.
During this period, he developed a method to convert flared natural gas to hydrate balls and also proposed an innovative means of transporting the gas balls to shore for re-gasification and electricity generation.
It is no surprise that in 2006 he went on to win the Best Young Engineer in West Africa Award for developing a geospatial model for oil spill tracking in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger-Delta region. The award was given by UK based PennWell petroleum group, organizers of the Offshore West Africa Conference.
In 2007, Chinedu joined Chevron Nigeria as a petroleum engineer, and during his time there, he worked in 8 upstream petroleum asset development units, and led many multi-functional teams across the globe. He was also assigned to manage several multi-million dollar projects for the organization; and in 2012, he was selected to represent Chevron’s mid Africa business units in Louisiana USA, Gulf of Mexico, to lead her upstream workflow transformation project.
Nine years after joining Chevron, in 2016, and in an act of selfless service to Nigeria, Chinedu left the high paying job to search for a permanent solution to Nigeria’s frequent fuel scarcity and distribution problem.
This drive to help solve one of the country’s pertinent economic challenges led him to MIT where he was selected as a Sloan Fellow and in his research, again, suggested actionable recommendations that could solve Nigeria’s fuel distribution problems. His recommendations was published on the July 2017 edition of MIT’s expert blog, and passed on to the government for consideration.
The next year, in 2017, Chinedu co-founded an Africa focused think tank and strategy consulting group called Afri-PERA. The company works with national and regional governments in Africa to solve their policy and development challenges.
These days he spends his time on the board of Rhino Group of Companies and the Chinedu Onyeizu Foundation, COF, while remaining an active member of the International Society of Petroleum Engineers and represents Chevron on the Global Production and Operations Award committee of the organization.
You will agree that all these are no easy feat for a small-town Aba boy whose early education was under mango trees.
From his humble beginnings in the village of Abayi Umuocham, Chinedu has shown that with persistence and an understanding of urgency, anyone can be anything they set their mind to. For him, “there is no greater achievement to giving back to an Aba that made me what I am today. I am proudly an Aba boy. Aba has given me so much and it is only proper that I give back.”
When Nigeria holds its next national election in 2019, he hopes to represent the people of Abia South at the Senate. He is not only young; more importantly, he is vibrant, and a good replacement to the current old, recycled politician whose track record at the Senate has been poor, selfish representation.
As we rounded up the meeting, Chinedu seemed to remember something vital. “Before I forget, Bayelsa also taught me something about urgency. The future might be tomorrow, but the time to act is always now. One must persist in the present; only then will what we seek to achieve tomorrow happen.”