By Ikeddy ISIGUZO
CALL him Tonimas if you want people to instantly know who you are talking about. If you use his real name, Sir Anthony Obiagboso Enukeme, you would be talking to yourself. He interred on 15 August 2020 and the attention has been on the N34 million hearse that ferried him to final resting place.
The question would be more on who ordered that hearse. If the truth is to be told, Tonimas – the name for his business became his name – was unlikely to be so minded.
He deserved more than a hearse that means nothing to him. He invested his resources in people, his Neni people for whom he cared especially, as if it was his entire business, and the sole purpose of his life. Almost everybody in Anambra State knew what he did in Neni. The landmarks are out-living him.
Tonimas, who passed at 76, fixed his own part of the world. Is anyone willing to take up this challenge which is the need of the hour all over Nigeria? Would Nigeria not be different if those who have the resources undertook the building of their parts of Nigeria?
Would repairing Nigeria, in this manner, not be a more beneficial conversation than the expenditure on a hearse? How can we get back a society where the haves feel for the worsening plight of the have nots? The needs are on the increase with dwindling interest of the authorities in the welfare of the people. We are down to those who have the resources catering for their people.
Tonimas excelled in this rare sphere. For him, it was not money, which he had in abundance. The humility around him was legendary for a man of such means. His devotion to the welfare of others stood him out.
He was mostly an anonymous man. If you never heard about until now, it was in keeping with his mode of operations. He was not loud. Only his deeds spoke for him, and they were many.
Tonimas was born on 21 January 1944. He had a rough journey earlier in life. He was a fuel station attendant at a motor park in Enugu, and Lagos. The Civil War disrupted his stay in Lagos. At the end of the Civil War he went back to school, combining his studies with business. In 1985, he passed GCE, ordinary level. He studied for a first degree in Political Science at Abia State University and had a Master’s in International Relations and Diplomacy. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University’s honorary doctorate in Business Administration was among his many awards and honours.
“A good man has joined the Saints. Since I met him it has been one good act or another recorded for him. He single-handed built a church in his hometown, Neni; celebrated annual yam festival for his people, and gave generously to numerous church and philanthropic causes,” said National Chairman of All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, Ozonkpu Dr. Victor Ike Oye in a press statement on June 9, a day after his passing. Tonimas was a member of the Board of Trustees, BOT, of APGA.
He may not have been listed among Nigeria’s richest yet he had reach that counted for those who knew him. In the hearts of many he was their richest man. Does that not matter more than if he had millions or billions?
Tonimas successfully constructed a state-of-the-art church, St. Agatha Catholic Church, at Umuarakpa Community of Osisioma Ngwa Local Government Area as one of the corporate social responsibility projects of the organisation. There were other projects like police barracks, and electricity in its other host communities.
Perhaps, what touched those communities most was the number of their indigenes that Tonimas employed. Tonimas created local economies wherever he operated. The neatness of his business premises was another signature of his operations.
His native Neni, in Anaocha Local Government of Anambra State, has lost a worthy son. He left shoes too big that they could hardly be anyone’s size. The range of philanthropy that he pursued with its results evident all over Neni is challenging to replicate. Moreover, the gestures were not trumpeted. Only those he helped, and the communities he developed told others.
Who would cater for Neni and its peoples the way he did? His generous spirits spanned education, health, culture and services to the church and his God.
The Neni Education Foundation which he ran and the network of asphalted roads at Neni he built with his own resources are only some of the ways he served his community.
Some remember him for the personal touch he put to his philanthropy. He reportedly would visit Neni people who were in hospital if he heard about it.
Tonimas sprinkled his business all over Nigeria. He never fell to the temptation of moving the hub of his business out of Aba from where he grew his affairs even at times that people thought that businesses survived only in particular locations.
His challenging life and how he pulled through to the height at which he died should be of more interest than his burial. That he retained his humanity not minding his earlier travails is a challenge that leaves us with no excuse for not helping others.
Who is willing to be the next Tonimas?
His company, Tonimas Nigeria Limited, was incorporated in 1982. He started his business with one filling station and it grew. It has remained a leader in the marketing and the distribution of refined petroleum products throughout the country. Its lubricants are its niche.
Over time, the group’s business expanded to manufacturing of lubricants, aluminum roofing sheet and nails, drinking water, haulage and shipping, oil, property development, and insurance brokerage.
He was the Grand President of the Knight of Saint John International, Owerri Grand Commandry. Enukeme was a Papal Knight of Saint Gregory the Great, KSG. He was the Founder and President, Anambra State Council of Traditional Prime Ministers, Ndionowu. Iyom Mary Uzoaku Enukeme (Mmiriaku), the widow, and the six children – Azubike, Chike and Nkene, sons, and daughters Ifeoma, Nkiru and Chinyere – are the chief mourners of the departed.
May the Almighty rest Sir Anthony Enukeme who understood what it meant to be a brother’s keeper with a spice that made charity a part of his essence.