It was roughly one decade ago when I met Nigerian billionaire Captain Idahosa Okunbo when I was tasked by him to introduce his film Black November to America.
Okunbo financed the film that depicted the human injustices of oil spills in Nigeria that impacted the region but was against to his own business interest as Chairman of Ocean Marine Solutions Limited.
Then Nigeran President Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan attempted to sway Okunbo at the United Nations Assembly in 2012 to not finance the project that was promoted by boxing icon Don King.
After carefully deliberating, Okunbo went ahead and contributed in excess of $10 million to produce a film that essentially should have cost a fraction of that.
He formed a company in Los Angeles Wells & Jeta Entertainment that had the potential to establish a major footprint in the film industry that would have benefited Nigerian filmmakers and the American economy.
Black November starred American actors Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke alongside Nigerian actress Mbong Amata and was screened at the Library of Congress before six sitting members of the United States Congress, as well as the Kennedy Center.
Mbong was shocked and hurt by his passing.
“Captain as he was fondly called by many…myself inclusive. He was an outstanding human to say the least. My personal experience with Captain was nothing short of life changing, he was the father figure in my life, a mentor and great business partner with a big heart,” said Mbong.
Okunbo succumbed in London after a 12 month battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 63.
His death saddened the hierarchy in Nigeria and even here in the United States where many Nigerian born Americans reside.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has expressed grief saying the late business mogul contributed immensely to the development of Nigerian economy.
Also, Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State and immediate past National Chairman of All Progressives Congress, APC, Mr Adams Oshiomhole, have described Okunbo’s death as a loss to Edo State and humanity.
Similarly, doctors in the Commonwealth of Nations, Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Prince Clem Agba, have mourned Okunbo.
Buhari in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Chief Femi Adesina, in Abuja, yesterday, said: “The President notes that the late Okunbo with investments spanning the petroleum, telecommunications, maritime, and power sectors, among others, contributed immensely to the development of the Nigerian economy, providing sustenance to many families in the process.”
Here in America, he Okunbo had been honored by Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Congressman Bobby Rush, former Congresswoman Laura Richardson and many others for his courage in combating the human injustices in his native land.
Nigerian-American and USC graduate Wilson Ebiye, President/CEO Redstone Development Company LLC, was one of the producers and the first financers of the Black November project hailed Okunbo as his mentor.
“Captain Okunbo was my business mentor, friend and big brother. He was a great man who worked hard to create job opportunities for his Edo State people, Niger Delta and Nigeria as a whole,” Ebiye explained. “I never met a billionaire as humble as Captain Okunbo. My condolences to his son Osahon, his wife Nosa, his cousin Bayo Sorungbe and the rest of his family.”
In 2012 he received the prestigious Congressional “Titan of Business in Africa’ award in Washington DC.
His Nigerian Lawyer Lorenzo Omo-Aligbe, who also served as associate producer of the Black November film project shared his grief for his friend.
“He was rare personage who combined fantastic profound business skills with a deep sense of compassion and care for others. He was a giver to many worth causes, a man with a heart of gold who rarely refused any opportunity to offer help to any friend in need,” stated Omo-Aligbe.
I can personally attest to his generosity.
When he sponsored a group of Americans to visit the Nigeria and see in person the atrocities that inspired Black November, he greeted us at his home and presented us with envelops of the equivalence of $3000 in naira to spend during the 10 days while there.
It is still the greatest and most profound experience that I ever had. Ironically, I felt more at home in Nigeria than I do in the United States.
One of his profound statements during the many occasions I was with him was when he told a group of arguing Nigerian producers on his film project.
“We are Nigerians! We need to be proud of who we are.”
It made me ponder introspectively, I wish I knew who I was.
Inglewood Today coverage of local news in Los Angeles County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support minority-owned-and-operated community newspapers across California.