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Sir Marc Wabara: The Eagle strikes 73

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Sir Marc Wabara: The Eagle strikes 73

February 26 is a day everyone at Business Hallmark looks forward to, for it is often a day to hold an interview session with, and pay tribute to one of Nigeria’s best brains, Sir Marc Wabara. And as a flurry of congratulatory messages to him on various WhatsApp groups to which I belong brought me awake, I knew it was another day to enjoy the once in a year privilege of paying tribute to the icon, builder of men; banker of repute and boardroom guru in his day, who turns 73 today, February 26, 2024.

Well, actually, I did not always pay this tribute in my own capacity. I was mostly charged with typing and retyping the manuscript. But I loved every bit of it because it was always an opportunity to read glowing tribute to a man who once trod Nigeria’s corporate corridor like a giant, but who perhaps doesn’t get enough credit. Things have really changed. It was once impossible not to begin Sir Wabara’s birthday ‘celebration’ at least ten days ahead of time.

“Obinna, Chairman’s birthday is coming up,” that was Prince Emeka Obasi, my late boss’ voice piercing through the phone. “Come over I’m doing something to celebrate him. You will assist me.”

A beautiful essayist, cerebral, restless and deeply loyal to his close friends, Prince Obasi, who till this day, I struggle to refer to in the past tense, knew how to craft words and make them breathe. And celebrating Sir Wabara, whom he called “Chairman,” was one of his favourite pastime. His eyes lit up as he put pen to paper, and created tributes that literally came alive.

But as the ailment that eventually took him away to be with the Lord got increasingly worse, he relied on me more to craft his essays. He would speak into a recorder, and I would transcribe, print and give him to edit. Often a tedious process – for he would make me print and reprint the manuscripts – but I nonetheless loved to carry out the assignment. Wabara was special to him, and it gave me tremendous joy when we eventually produced a befitting tribute to a man he celebrated as, “a worthy role model, indeed!”

So, this time, his piercing voice was not there to remind me that “Chairman” had attained another milestone.

I remember vividly the first time I sat closely with Sir Wabara, in 2017. I had, along with the editor of Business Hallmark, gone to interview him at his Lagos office; the Victoria Island office of Overt Energy Limited, an integrated indigenous oil and gas company he chairs.

Versatile, intelligent and exuding youthful energy, yet maintaining his trademark calm disposition, he turned the interview session into a lecture of sorts, dissecting every question thrown at him as though he had rehearsed them all week. I could never have imagined he was 60, let alone 69.

Following a congratulatory message to him by Nigeria’s then president, Muhammadu Buhari, I reached out to him. First, to congratulate him on attaining age 69. And second, to find out how he has managed to stay so youthful, even as he danced on the ‘brink’ of septuagenerianism.

“The secret,” he told me, “is living a life of contentment and gratitude to God for His grace and trusting that with Him, all things are possible.”

Today, at 73, Wabara still stands strong. A giant every sense of the word. A man who has groomed many and nurtured numerous individuals into prominence, while largely shying away from the limelight.

Starring at his face then, and perhaps even now – for he was still his energetic self when last I met him at the Zik Prize awards last year- it was easy to mistake his age. But there was something unmistakable about him: his passion for motherland Nigeria. He had dissected the country’s challenges, expressed profound concerns about the spate of insecurity and proffered practical solutions to the economic and social challenges facing it.

In the course of the conversation I asked him what message he had for Nigerians at this critical moment in the nation’s history. He spoke with firm conviction and a sense of optimism.

“We must learn to love and accept one another as Nigerians,” he said. “And our leaders should lead and govern with the fear of God. Without God, we can do nothing.”

Having lived in, and assimilated the culture – including Language – of every major tribe in Nigeria, Sir Wabara is the highest approximation of a true Nigerian.

This much was acknowledged by Buhari, the the President, who in the congratulatory message to him, pointed out that he grew up in Yoruba land, schooled in Sokoto, and at the University of Lagos, thus making him a well-rounded Nigerian.

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Sir Wabara was born in Abeokuta, Ogun State, of parents who who hailed from Ohambele, Ukwa East Local Government of Abia State. He spent his formative years in the Ogun capital before going to Sokoto where he had his secondary school education at Federal Government College, completing in 1972. And from there he proceeded to obtain Higher School Certificate in June 1974.

From Sokoto, he moved to the University of Lagos where he read Banking and Finance in 1977; and between 1981 and 82, he bagged the Master in Business Administration from Adelphi University, Garden City, New York with another MBA – Finance which he obtained in January 1983 with Distinction.

In the course of the 2017 interview I spoke about, the issues of his home state of Abia inevitably came up. He expressed his disappointment with the poor governance in the state, regretting its hijack by forces not of good.

In the election of 2015, he had sought to govern the state under the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) platform. But he was crowded out by the hijackers of the party in the state. But today, even as a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, he would be proud of the rapid transformation of the state under Dr. Alex Otti OFR, the current governor.

Now an elder statesman who has earned his stipes, Sir Wabara has taken to consultancy, serving as Executive Consultant in Financial Services, Oil and Gas and Real Estate.

He is the Chairman of Overt Energy. Former Member, Governing Council, Federal University Gashua, Yobe State; former Member, Board of Directors/Chairman, Technical/Projects Monitoring Committee, Cross River Basin Development Authority. And with many awards to show, including the prestigious Zik Award.

As Prince Obasi wrote in his last tribute to him on the occasion of his 70th birthday, “Today, this great man has stepped onto the seventh floor; the platinum age of grace and wisdom. He has remained such an influential factor in my life as mentor, supporter and inspirer…”

As many who have come in contact with Sir. Wabara continue to speak glowingly of his generosity, commitment to worthy causes and passion for Nigeria.

For us at Business Hallmark, he has been a pillar of support and encouragement; a worthy friend, and we will continue to be grateful to him, even as we pray God to grant him many more years.
Happy Birthday sir.

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