The death of Dr Christopher Abebe marks the end of an era in Nigeria’s sphere of corporate governance. He did not have the benefit of blue chip education that is available to younger generations of today. But that did not deter him from achieving the goals he set for himself which saw him rise from a position of relative obscurity to high flying attainments in top level corporate management and public administration. He believed in the company he served so well and was deservedly encouraged by the expatriates of his days who saw in him attributes that, if nurtured, were capable of achieving the expectations of the British investors who that a time will come when they must hand over to local talents that will carry on with the building of a local business enterprise with international connections. That aspiration was realised when Abebe assumed the mantle of leadership of the company, the first Nigerian to do so.
The story of Abebe in the United Africa Company Ltd, which we know today simply as UAC Plc, is a study in hard work, diligence exemplary courage and proof that with determination as well as assiduous application of will power, it is possible for one to pull oneself up by the bootstrap to the commanding heights of power and affluence.
In his lifetime, he joined the United African Company Nigeria Limited as a young clerk and rose through the ranks to become the first Nigerian Chairman/Managing Director of the company. He was also the first Nigerian Personnel Director of UAC in 1959. He was at various times the Pro-chancellor and chairman of council of three Nigerian universities: the University of Benin, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and the University of Calabar. On his retirement from the UAC, he became the first Nigerian Chairman of the Nigerian Breweries. Dr Abebe was a committed and devouted Catholic, a quality that was acknowledged by the Catholic Pontiff who conferred on him the highly sought after Papal Knighthood of the Order St. Gregory the Great, one of the highest honours in the Vatican City’s Honours Roll.
Before this recognition by the Pope, he had been a member of the prestigious Order of the Knights of St Mulumba. He rose from the rank of an initiate through the various Degrees to become a Fourth Degree Knight and was elected the Supreme Knight of the Order of St. Mulumba, the highest position in the Order.
Since his death was announced by his family after due consultations with the elders- in- council of Iruekpen, Esan West Local Government Area of Edo State where he held the traditional title of Odionwere (community leader), the corporate world and, indeed, the government and people of Nigeria have been reeling in a feeling of intense loss.
President Muhammadu Buhari, in condoling with the Abebe family, as well as the government and people of Edo State on the death of this great man of achievement, at the ripe age of 99, recalled his qualities as an astute and dedicated community leader and business mogul. The president, in his message, said he ‘believed that as the Odionwere (community leader) of Iruekpen and first indigenous Chairman and Managing Director of United Africa Company (UAC), Dr Abebe was a shining light and worthy example of hard work, positive influence and patriotism to his local community, the private sector and the nation.’ He urged the family, his business associates and the Catholic Church in Nigeria to honour Abebe’s memory by upholding his lifelong dedication and passion to human development. He prayed that almighty God would grant the soul of the departed eternal rest and comfort all who mourn him.
For the deceased, life was a roller-coaster of sorts. His illustrious sojourn on planet earth was pockmarked by sad moments that would have crushed a less-morally stout individual. He lived to bury five of his seven children including the former First Lady, Mrs Stella Obasanjo. Dr Christopher Abebe, however, lives behind his wife of nearly 75 years, Mrs Theresa Abebe, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. This newspaper joins his family, relations, associates and friends in wishing him a peaceful repose in the bosom of the Lord.