The US based business mogul, philanthropist and politician, Dr. Kemdi Chino Opara is a man of repute and integrity, who is passionate about helping people to achieve their goals in life. Through his foundation, he has being discovering fresh talents within and outside Imo State as well as providing unique opportunities for youths interested in making a career of their talents, thus his idea of not feeding them but teaching them how to fish. And he is of the belief that with good governance and national unity, Nigeria will be a better country for all. In this exclusive interview with the Lush Team led by the Editor-In-Chief Tricia Iwuoha, he speaks on how social vices can be curbed in our society, the need for well-meaning leadership and why restructuring is important for national unity.
Can you tell us about yourself?
I am High Chief Dr. Kemdi Chino Opara from Umuchoke Obazu, Mbieri in Mbaitoli Local Government Area of Imo State. I am the first child of Chief (Sir) Louis and Chief Lady Christiana Opara out of eleven children. I had my primary education at Obazu Central School and my secondary education at the Government Secondary School Owerri, after that I proceeded to the United States, New Jersey precisely where I obtained my bachelor’s degree in College of New Jersey after studying Industrial Engineering then went further to Morgan State University in Maryland, where I obtained my master’s degree. I have two actually from there one in Marketing Research and in Finance where I specialise. After I obtained my master’s degree, I went back to the College of New Jersey where I became a lecturer for a few years. I also proceeded to get my doctorate degree in the same school in Education and Social Policy. After that, I gained employment at a newspaper company called Trenton Times and I worked there for seven years as a circulation manager. Thereafter I gained an employment with the government at State of New York, basically their executive level cabinet before I gained a promotion to bigger and better things. So I worked in New York for twenty-one years with different governors then I took an early retirement at the age of fifty-five years thereabout and decided to go into private ventures. I formed my construction company, then I went into real estate investment, annexing properties and that was not enough, so I ventured into health with a partner and we formed a health care agency resident in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. We started with five clients and twelve employees and today we have one hundred and forty employees and over a hundred clients.Well we are doing good. Recently, we diversified into another area, which is the weight loss programme (noninvasive). We went to the Caribbean Island, where we are actually putting up one outfit and another in New Jersey. Apart from all these, I have been coming back and forth to Nigeria, I thought about running for an elective position, which I did. I ran for Federal House of Representatives at least four times, the second one I actually won the election, I was robbed and you know you can’t cry over this thing but I kept on trying. Now I am abandoning that bid for the Senate in Owerri zone and that’s where I am now.
Let us talk about your foundations, what inspired you to start KCOF and what does it stand for?
I am passionate about charity work, I started charity work as far back as 1999 and the foundation then was called Medical Aid Rural Africa (MARA), which is still on. At MARA, we bring a lot of medical apparatus, medical supply, medication and things like that. We work with a lot of local government agencies and healthcare facilities and we are also advancing into other African countries.Recently, I went into another one knowing how the poverty level and the COVID-19 pandemic ravished everything that a lot people have here,also realising that the youths are the fabric of the nation.Seeing a lot of them roaming the streets with no direction something came up to me and I was wowed at the fact that we have a lot of the Ababannas, Shama Melodys and people that can actually become the likes of Ini Edo, Monalisa, Genevieve on the streets but nobody is actually directing them.Also I went to some of the clubs to watch the comic relief shows, I mean the comedians and realised that there are a lot of talents there. I now came up with a foundation called Kemdi Chino Opara Foundation (KCOF), and the aim is to go after these raw talented youths out there on the streets looking for assistance. The foundation office is resident at 118 Okigwe Road, beside the Glass House and our website is kemdichinooparafoundation.org.
Recently your foundation organisedayouth empowerment programme, which witnessed a huge participation. Can you tell us about the programme and what you achieved?
We organised a talent hunt where we had an audition not too long and the turnout was great. It had people auditioned in the music category and some were picked while the rest will be for the next batch.Then in the movie category, everyone was picked because a lot of them became the extras in the movie and others for comedy skits. So if you go to our website, you will see where there is connect and watch that is my TV, it’s called KCOFTV and you will see some of the comedy skits for you to watch.Then on my birthday, January 21, 2022, which was celebrated at my residence in Obazu, we had the unveiling of the movie titled “Ebube” and all the record labels, also all the upcoming artistes performed live at the occasion. Now that we have unveiled the movie,we will hit the radio stations with some of these record labels and of course the movie will be going to Netflix, Movie Magic, Youtube and the rest of them. Also we produced some music videos as well, so this is where we are, we are pushing on, trying to teach people how to fish and not to give them fish. Talking about what we achieved, my youth empowerment programme is very engaging because it is very tasking and takes time. For example, the Ihiagwa Film Festival took about three months after that check out the time spent in the studio trying to fix things. You see people are happy when they know somebody is thinking about them, it inspires hope and takes away despair especially when what they are doing is constructive. We have to build hope instead of building incarceration centers. When you know you can get up and do something that could lead you to stardom, you would not have time for idleness.
What piece of advice would you give to the youths?
My counsel for the youths is for them to always come up with good business plans and get themselves together to share ideas. An example is the NYSC programme, which the essence is for the unification of the country but today the times have changed because of technology and I think that scheme needs to be revamped to make room for meaningful engagements and project orientation.
Which other ways have you been touching lives through your foundations?
I am just a philanthropist to the core, I have helped pregnant women, widows, students acquire their WAEC registration and given them scholarships too. I have empowered a lot of indigent people by financing them in whatever trade they do or desire to start in terms of skill acquisition which is also part of the programmes we are going to do but we are actually fashioning the programme as we go along which will be a form of mentorship. You see sometimes when you find yourself in something you are not passionate about you can’t do well in it.It has to be something from the heart that you know you will excel in it so we are eager to find out that of which you are good at before we can say come because we want you to succeed and that is how I have seen people do empowerment and things like that.We intend to do something a little different, an empowerment that has a lasting legacy and that is what we are trying to do, we are careful and thorough about what we do and the sky is the limit.
What other things are you into that you would like to share with us?
I am an author. I have also written so many books, if you go online and type Kemdi Chino Opara you will see me. The first book I wrote was in 2013, that was during the course of my election and you will find out many people don’t have a clue about what their representatives are all about and what they are supposed to do.They don’t even know about what the constitution of Nigeria says so I came up with that book. It’s called“The National Assembly Federal Republic of Nigeria, what you should know and why you should know that”. The book was published in the year 2013 and that book actually is like a prophecy, everything happening in Nigeria today is in that book as if I knew. Currently, I have written three journals, each of those journals have thirty articles that are capable of forming a bill, it has pictorial illustrations and everything you can think of, it is like an X-ray of issues and the way forward and there are coming out very soon. The one for National Assembly, the publishers got a hold of it and said let’s rework this book so we have done that, renamed it and it’s going to be called” Nigeria an X-Rays of Issues and The Way Forward”. I wrote a storybook, which I actually localised with Ngor-Okpala and the rest of them in the areas which people are familiar with and has to do with me as well; it is called “The Man and His Destiny”, It’s online just type my name and you will see it.In addition to that, I am the Founder of Grassroots Alliance for Good Governance (GAGA), one of those people who also pioneered for the unification of this country. I love peace, I love unification and I believe love is everything and there is nothing in chaos and anarchy as far as co-existence is concerned. So as one of my national works, what we are saying is that we are better united and that secession has no place but restructuring yes, because restructuring is sacrosanct but first let us unite and we can talk about that.
Can you tell us which of your empowerment endeavours you proud of?
Human development and I think that is the best. If you watch anybody who is great in this world, they never say how much money they have,it is about how they impacted other people’s lives and you can go along the story line of what people have done from Nelson Mandela to Martin Luther King Jnr., Mother Theresa, Princess Diana to every one of them including Barack Obama. You see the journey of life is about asking yourself how do you fill these gaps? What were you able to achieve? How did you reach out and touch somebody’s life? It is not by how many billions you have in your account because that is not what counts. I have been in this journey of uplifting humanity, there is a whole lot of social vices and people need help and I say wherever you see such, call me so long as it’s something that will put smiles on people’s faces, make them know that they are somebody and give them hope. I say without hope and faith everything is useless, you must have faith and you must be hopeful that tomorrow will be better because if that doesn’t happen despair will set in and the next thing everything will go, so that’s who I am.
Talking about politics, do you still have the intention to run for any political office?
Yes,I intend to run for the Senator gearing towards Owerri Senatorial zone.
Do you think Owerri Senatorial zone is enjoying effective representation and delivery of dividends of democracy?
I am not the kind of person who likes to bash anyone, but if I may ask, are we getting what we ought to get right now? My answer will be no.Can it be better? My answer will be yes.That is why I am jumping into it, so whoever that is there is doing within the extent of his knowledge.
So what would you do differently if elected?
I will do so many things and I think you might even answer some of these questions yourself. Do we have a befitting constituency office that we can say this is where your senator is for people to visit?And if there is, is it functional? So my first year of being in office, we will buy a land and build a befitting constituency office that will have representation of the nine local governments in the senatorial zone and those offices will be manned by the local government chairmen as the point persons for their local governments in that office. I will also bring Owerri zone leadership and ceremonially handover the place to them and anybody who comes after me will be escorted into that office so that people can have a place where they can call their own. As a sitting senator, I will have an office there, that is a day of office work for me where I will interface with my people once a week which will be four times a month until I leave that office.And another thing the office will do is something as simple as denial of visa at the embassy, where do you go for help? That office will stand in the brief and nine times out of ten there will be a reversal for you.I have enjoyed this in America you know that and that is what representation is all about.
Our people are not knowledgeable about the duties of a senator because people expect a senator to build roads and the rest of them, looking at where you are coming from and your vast knowledge about governance and legislation, what are expected of a senator?
A senator is not an executive position; we are only legislators so we can only attract constituency projects to the areas. Also to have effective representation, we need to work with these people to see what is needed most in their areas and that’s why the constituency office should be there. We can fast track a lot of things, like monitor projects, lobby to make sure those projects are included in the budget and when there are included in the budget, you have to lobby for funding of those projects after that is done and gazetted, it doesn’t stop there because there have to be follow-ups to make sure that those projects are awarded to reputable contractors who can do the work and you ensure that the projects are executed. So having attracted the projects doesn’t mean it’s all you because the councilor, local government chairman, House of Assembly member, House of Reps member of that constituency, governor and other critical stakeholders have to be involved and so it become “We” not“I” because when people see themselves reflected in the process, you have given them ownership as well so everybody is working to make sure it is done right because their names are on the line so those are the little things I will do differently.
Talking about the quota system, employments, appointments we think the South East is marginalised, what do you have to say about this?
That is what a senator and the member at the Federal House of Representatives does as well to look out for those federal government jobs that are there and you asked for your quota, you must fight to make sure you get them for your people. There is something they call pork barrel politics, that is when you are roasting the pork and its dripping with oil and then they say everybody should go and cut what you can eat when you know its fat you avoid fatty areas so that’s how politics is, who wants it the most that is who will dig in and that is what the senator should do. You can’t go in there and become a yes member, you have to scream and scream the loudest and they will only give you attention. If they like let them call you a crying senator, what is more important is what you get for your people.
Looking at the height you have attained, do you see yourself as a fulfilled man?
Yes, but let me say something you get to some point when you want other challenges as well because that’s the essence of living you can’t say I am fulfilled. Life is about new challenges and this challenges come, even after achieving something you still want to achieve more so when you say you are fulfilled that’s to say you have stopped and retired so I am not retired.
In few words, can you describe yourself?
I am charismatic, emotional, people’s person, I have good public relation, I like to embrace people and share in their pain, not a quitter and stay focus on my goals no matter how bumpy the road may be and like to educate people.
Taking your aspiration into account, are you satisfied or disappointed with the manner the Nigerian society is run today?
Well disappointment hmmm! I will tell you something other nations that are great today went through this and that’s the truth but the thing we must not do is to let it get to an abuse level whereby it’s not manageable anymore which some people are doing and you hear people say forget that then if you forget that, who is going to correct it? The fight is on, if you watch we are actually developing, the social media, everything we have today we never had it yesterday. You see the problem here is the morals, the etiquette; teaching people the ways of life. When Covid 19 came, we taught them how to improve their sanitary level and people started washing their hands because they don’t want to die. We also have problem of enforcement; we make laws but we don’t enforce them. We need behavioural modification, look at the traffic lights, some drivers still drive through it but once they see the police around those areas, they obey the traffic lights. So maybe we should do more of mounting all these uniformed police officers where the traffic lights are and begin to punish people who default.
When you talk about behaviourial modification it is more like orientation which our people need so as a senator do you intend to play a part in that area since the state capital falls within your senatorial zone?
Yes, I will even do beyond the responsibilities of a senator to help in other areas like meeting with civic groups, work with the commissioner for environment and some of them in the parastatals also with the governor. For example, people drinking pure water and littering the sachets. But we cannot start punishing people when you don’t have a system in place, so you have to provide trash cans all over tied to a pole where they can actually walk up. Then trash collection here is nothing to write home about but personally I can handle that. You see appointments here are always made with people who don’t know the job. A leader must have a vision and you don’t just give out positions because they are my boys rather give out positions because there are track records that have proven that they can do something along that line and when you put the person in that job you have to give them specification of that job and what is expected of them within six months after which the appointment will be reevaluated. If you are firm about it, I bet you within six months you will get results.
Aside God, are there role models that influenced the man you have become today?
Yes, Dr. Sam Mbakwe of blessed memory, he was a good governor, former governor of Cross Rivers State, Donald Duke who had a vision of setting up Tinapa others are the former Governor of Lagos State, Akinwumi Ambode, Godwill Akpabio, Dave Umuahi, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, Senator Pius Anyim, Late Dr. Dora Akunyili, Peter Obi and the list goes on. These are leaders who did well so good leadership can be realised even among our people if we take away greed and focus on ensuring that only the right people get into office.
How do you unwind?
I read a lot and relax well with good music like jazz, soul, gospel and I also indulge in prayer which is very important.
What is your favourite quote(s)?
Wow! Nice question, my most favourite quote is by Nelson Mandela and it says, “When you are at the top, be careful of the monster called Pride. Pride will make you look down on the people who haven’t attained your level of success. When you are at the bottom, be careful of the monster called Bitterness. Bitterness will make you jealous and think that other people are the reason you have not made it. When you are on your way to the top, be careful of the monster called Greed. Greed will make you impatient and make you steal or seek short cuts. When you are on your way down be careful of the monster called Despair. Despair will make you think it’s all over, yet there is still hope.”
What piece of advice would you give to those who aspire to follow your footsteps?
My advice to those aspiring for good leadership and wanting to be like some of us is to envision good leaders they can buy into their concepts.
When you disengage from active business, what would you like to be remembered for?
I want to be remembered for my achievements which of course are my