Embodiment of success and humility 

Mon, Jun 10, 2024
By editor
6 MIN READ

Africa

By C. Don Adinuba

Despite founding Nigeria’s most successful hydrocarbon geophysical consulting firm and contributing significantly to the development of the oil and gas sector, Boniface Madubunyi, who died at 90 on May 13th in London, was practically unknown to the Nigerian public. That’s the way he wanted it.

Very few persons anywhere can be so successful and yet so self-effacing, almost monastic in their lifestyle. Madubunyi, an engineer trained at the University of Manchester in the early 1960s who was given the Member of the Federal Republic (MFR) national honour under the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration, set up a geophysical firm, Mabon Geophysical Surveys Ltd, that competes effectively with Western ones. Statoil of Norway, now Equinor, Shell, and Chevron to name and some others invested in Nigeria’s offshore in 1992 based on data and analyses from Mabon. Madubunyi was the first Nigerian person to own oil blocks in both the United States and Europe.

He invested across various sectors, from power generation to real estate to oil exploration and production, yet he shunned labels like a ‘wealthy man’ or ‘entrepreneur.’ He preferred to be seen as a professional consultant. He embodied humility and professionalism.

An indigene of Ihiala in Anambra State, Madubunyi was cosmopolitan through and through. He accepted the challenge from the Federal Government to build and operate a 40-megawatt hydropower plant in Gombe State in the most difficult period in the country’s history. Since January 2020, this plant has supplied uninterrupted electricity to the national grid, with six states benefitting directly from it.

Soft-spoken, strikingly good-looking, and reserved, Madubunyi worked extremely hard. Researchers in applied psychology and management science can use him as an example of success brought about by deliberate practice, or the 10,000 hours principle, the concept that most people who have attained global excellence, whether in sports, music, or business, have put in about 10,000 hours of practice.

He was still working even in his last days, though his son, Richard Kenechukwu Madubunyi who trained at Imperial College in London and the University of Leeds, had assumed control of much of the Mabon group in the last couple of years. His style is reminiscent of that of Warren Buffet, founder of Berkshire Hathaway and one of the world’s richest investors who at 93 is still immersed in work.

A devout Catholic and son of a catechist and teacher, Madubunyi would retort anytime I inquired when he would retire: “The pope, who has the world as his constituency, still works!” He and I would discuss at 2 am on the phone, say, on Sunday, and before 7 am he would call again even when he was in his 80s, dead busy at work

In Madubunyi I saw the personification of the elegant statement popularised by Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder and chairman: simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. There was nothing flamboyant or extravagant about him or his style, but his houses, and his dress sense,  for instance, reveal a man imbued with taste, class, and sophistication.

His wife, Nkiru, though born into a wealthy family, is equally modest and adapts easily to any environment. She and the husband always felt at home in my regular Mercedes Benz cars in the 1990s and early 2000s even they had specially crafted vehicles.

Mrs Madubunyi’s father, Chief GE Okeke, built the Abbott group of schools in the 1950s in Sapele in today’s Delta State and in Ihiala, Anambra State.  He became the Minister of Education and later of Economic Planning in the old Eastern Nigerian Region.

The Great Zik of Africa trusted him and gave him a free hand to lead the team that built the University of Nigeria at Nsukka. Chief Okeke later conceived and built the Enugu campus of the UNN as well as Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education, Owerri, in Imo State. Proprietor of the Nigerian Starch Company who was to serve on a bank board, Okeke contributed to the development of Ihiala, his hometown, more than any other individual, dead or alive.

Though much of his life was spent abroad, Madubunyi was quite home-conscious. He was the first person to construct a major road in Ihiala, after Victor Okafor who built Ezego Road. Madubunyi singlehanded rebuilt the famous St Martin’s Catholic Church with strict instructions to the church authorities not to reveal the person behind it.

He donated generously to the iconic Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Ihiala, also with an instruction to the owners and managers not to disclose his role. He bought a large swath of land to build an industry in Ihiala, but, owing to market headwinds, donated it to the Catholic Diocese of Nnewi. He also bought a large parcel of land to build a private university in Ihiala, but the project didn’t take off for some reason.

In appreciation of his generosity to the church, the ecclesiastical authorities offered to reward him with a knighthood, which he turned down with a customary smile. His Ihiala people did their best to bestow honorific traditional titles on him, but he rejected the offers politely; I used to call him Ugochinyere Ihiala, a “greeting” name given him informally by my cousin, Nick Mbaezue, on December 31, 2000, in the residence of Chief Charles Madubunyi,  his lifelong friend who retired from the Customs Service as number three man without a house anywhere.

Unlike many men carried away by the riches of the world and pleasures of life and so became Epicureans, Madubunyi was ever conscious of what the English poet described as the inevitable hour.

For about two decades, he prepared for the final hour, attending the mass daily and participating regularly in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Days before his departure, priests were visiting him in the hospital to administer the viaticum, the Eucharist given to a person about to leave this world.

Yet, we must pray for the repose of the noble soul of Boniface Madubunyi and the souls of all the faithful departed. To Boniface Madubunyi, MFR, a most uncommon Nigerian, we say Requiescat in pace.

***C.Don Adinuba was Anambra State Commissioner for Information & Public Enlightenment (2018-22).

F.A

June 10, 2024

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