By Ainofenokhai Isa
ACCORDING to the famous American poet, essayist and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, “Nothing can dim the light that shines from within.” Angelou’s compelling insight into the existential challenges that confront great men in the making fundamentally captures the life story of Dr. (Chief) Leemon Agbonjagwe Ikpea, who attained age 63 on December 19, 2019.
The daunting odyssey of Leemon Ikpea, the Adolor of Ewato, further goes to validate the wisdom that difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations. Today, he is the Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of the Lee Group of Companies, a conglomerate traversing oil and gas services, engineering construction, travels and tours, super market chain, tool and equipment fabrication and manufacturing.
Ikpea worked for expatriates for many years, before deciding to retire and start something for himself. In his words: “I work hard and I am honest. I was usualsly the first to get to work and the last to leave the office. I needed to check the books and work being done. I always ensure that I do my job properly.” In 1991, Lee Engineering was incorporated to provide engineering, procurement and construction services to the oil and gas industry.
Lee Engineering is now a leading indigenous oil, gas and power services company performing brilliantly and professionally in the league of multinationals. With just a makeshift office, at inception in Warri, Delta State, Lee Engineering & Construction, over the years, through dint of hard work and dedication to customer’s satisfaction, has acquired the necessary technical capabilities that have enabled it successfully execute major projects in the industry.
Even as he recently turned 63 years, up-close one could sense the vibrations of energy, a dimension that has driven his vision through thick and thin these past six decades and seen him climb the difficult ladder of success in different arenas of human endeavor. Significantly, his dizzying triumphs have not diminished his innate humility. However, behind his compelling trajectory is a story.
He was born on Monday, December 19, 1956, at Ewatto in Esan South-east Local Government Area of Edo State, into humble backgrounds. Eventually, his parents moved to Warri, where they settled down at Okere. He attended St. John Primary School in Ajamogha, Warri. He was subsequently admitted to Baptist High School, Orerokpe, about 30 minutes’ drive from Warri by car and up to two hours by foot. At a point in his young life, the current Adolor of Ewato could not afford to pay his school fees.
Though many may not believe it, young Leemon Ikpea many years back suffered the humiliation of being ordered out of his secondary school’s dining hall and his food confiscated because he couldn’t pay his school fees. A shoeless Leemon had to trudge over 50 km back home to give his parents the bad news. It’s something really better imagined than experienced – trekking from Orerokpe to Warri.
Eventually, he had to drop out of school and resigned himself to fate. That did not kill his deep interest in questing for knowledge. But then, God who discerns the inner man, took a hand. Today, he sits atop a multibillion-naira conglomerate with a private jet to boot. Recently, the Olu of Warri, HRM Ogiame Ikenwoli proudly honoured him with the chieftaincy title of Odolagbon of Warri Kingdom.
Ever willing to learn, Ikpea regularly attends business-related courses and seminars at the prestigious Harvard University, Boston, USA. He has a gift for identifying talent and brilliant ideas, a scenario reflected in the quality of his team who are top-class professionals in diverse fields – both indigenous and foreign.
With offices in Europe, USA, Lagos, Abuja, Benin, Warri, Port Harcourt and in other lands, Chief Ikpea is hardly far away from the thick of action. His physical presence is felt in all of these locations because of his non-static approach to running things. Seen in this light, his private jet is a necessity, not luxury.
Another defining feature of Ikpea is his statesmanship. He rides far above primordial and partisan interests, as his network of relationships cuts across tribes and races, both within and abroad. His work force is also balanced along this line. Chief Ikpea is also at the forefront of the promotion of indigenous technology, to take up the challenges of the oil and gas sector and engineering construction, jobs that were hitherto, the forte of big foreign companies. For example, the Utorogu gas plant, located in Delta State, was successfully constructed by his company, Lee Engineering and Construction Company, on a build-return-and- operate basis.
Another important dimension of the Ikpea persona is his passion for touching and lifting lives. His hunger to improve the lot of the less privileged persons cannot be quantified. He fundamentally sees it as an obligation, a scenario nurtured in the bracing furnace of lack and want during his formative years. Better than many, he deeply appreciates what it means to be deprived of basic needs, especially school fees for education. He set up the Agbonjagwe Foundation to take up issues that concern the less privileged, especially as it affects their education.
Not a loud personality, he has also made quiet donations to several educational institutions and social welfare programmes all-round the country. So many who have come in contact with him have had their lives touched positively, whether they are family members, friends, colleagues and the general public. It’s worth recalling here that during his 60th birthday celebration, the reception venue – Saint Leo’s Catholic Church Ikeja, Lagos – was built by him and donated to the church.
This would not have been public knowledge if the officiating priest had not mentioned it himself during the service. In his own words: “I concluded that since God has blessed me, I needed to be a blessing to others. My first priority are orphans, children that are passing the same road I took some years ago, because I know what it means when you cannot pay your school fees and when nobody cared for you. Somebody needs to comfort them and I feel that I should be that person. So, I established a foundation in 2012 called Agbonjagwe Leemon Ikpea Foundation (ALIF).
“As of today, we have 385 students that have passed through us. We are also taking care of widows, old people who do not have people to care for them and they need to eat. So, every month, my foundation gives them allowance, as we are paying our workers’ salaries. We draw up a scheme for the widows for them to have some trade to enable them care for themselves and their children.
“We train artisans on welding and electrical works, pipe-fitting and train women in some communities on sewing and hair dressing. We also assist some people with serious ailments like liver and kidney problems, and even cancer. We sent about 15 people to India but we lost one and the others are still alive today.” With all these, it was not surprising that an appreciative society tracking his humanitarian interventions move to recognize and fete him.
He was honoured with Doctorate Degree in Business Administration (Honoris Causa) by Benson Idahosa University; in 2004, Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma feted him with an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Business Administration (Honoris Causa) for what he is doing for humanity.
Chief Leemon Ikpea is a loving husband; dotting, big and dependable brother to his siblings, compassionate to his staff members and colleagues, loyal and faithful to friends, especially those he had known from childhood. From Ikpea’s life story, the essential truth of Maya Angelou’s insight that, “Nothing can dim the light that shines from within,” cannot be disputed or denied.
– Ainofenokhai Isa contributed this tribute from Abuja.
– Jan. 2, 2020 @ 7:46 GMT |