Eighty-two-year-old Humphrey Wokokoro Woko talks about his experiences as a politician and businessman with CHUKWUDI AKASIKE
Where and when were you born?
I was born on April 15, 1934 at Rumuagholu town in Obio/Akpo Local Government Area in the old Rivers State. I was not born in a hospital but at home because at the time, there were fewer medical facilities. The hospital was in Port Harcourt and Port Harcourt was very far. Getting a medical facility to give birth was not easy at the time. There were local midwives and child delivery was easy. My mother told me that she was delivered of me safely.
What was your childhood like?
My parents had many children but they died. That made my parents to take proper care of me because they feared that I would die like others.
Which schools did you attend?
I attended Holy Trinity School in Rumuapara in the same local government from 1945 to 1952. I did not attend secondary school. It was my experience that gave me further knowledge. I passed entrance examination in 1952; I took 12th position out of the 36 people who sat for the examination. But my father told me that I would join him on his farm. I obeyed him. We started with clearing the bush and cutting of trees because there were big trees on the land then. We planted yam in February and in July of that that year, my father died. It was in 1953. When he died, my mother could not continue taking care of me alone. I had no other option than to go into farming. Through farming, I acquired over 500 plots of land even till today.
Before you fully went into farming, what did you do?
I joined the Nigerian Produce Marketing Company. I worked there as a labourer till Nigeria got independence in 1960. I was promoted as acting tally clerk. During the war, as a tally clerk, I was working 48 hours because workers were not many. I had many children then because I was already married to two women. There was no way I could run away during the war. After the war, there was no promotion. So I decided to resign. I worked as a civil servant from 1954 to 1972. I decided to resign because I discovered that I was wasting my talent serving people. When I resigned, I started up a business. My salary was five pounds before I resigned. I later ventured fully into farming. My parents died within the space of two years. I was 21 when I lost my mother.
How would you compare civil service during your time and now?
People were impatient and wanted to get rich quick then but dishonesty in the service was not as it is now. There was corruption then but people were fearful about it. It was not as it is now.
What did you enjoy most in your career?
I enjoyed being honest. If one is honest and content, one will make it. I know some people who were not sincere. I am the third oldest person where I am. If you ask people that you need a sincere person, they will always refer you to me. I enjoy that. I have four wives and over 90 children, and grandchildren. I cope well with my four wives because I am a good mathematician. In my school days, my mates called me Chike Obi. A good mathematician will chart what will happen in six years. I have empowered all my wives. There is none of them without three to 10 flats. I did that because I do not want those still alive to suffer after my death. The wives of some people suffer after their death.
How do you think Nigerian businessmen can get it right?
Some Nigerian businessmen do not learn a trade; they go into a business because they have money. One cannot go into a business only because one has money. One cannot go into a trade without undergoing training under somebody who has been in the business before one. What I do is that when others have fixed their prices, I always reduce mine to attract customers. I value turnover more. It is important in business.
What is the secret of your good health at 82?
The secret of my old age is honesty. No matter what happens, I will always be honest. Whenever one cheats others, one will pay the price. There is no need to rush because this world is like a market place; when one finishes buying everything one needs, one must surely go back home. Some people love to acquire everything. When they finish acquiring everything, they must leave it behind when they die. It is not up to six years that I completed my residential building. As a timber dealer, I bought my first lorry in 1974. It cost me N12, 000. In 1978, I bought another one for N15, 000. I bought my first car in 1976. Till now, I am a businessman.
What is your favourite food?
From childhood, my best favourite drink is tea. But now, age has set in and I have now reverted to what children like to eat because of some issues of diabetes and high blood pressure. Also, it is not good for a man to be eating anyhow. Till date, I do not eat outside my house. Local food makes people weak. ‘Hot drink’ affect elderly men who take them. I do not wear eye glasses too. I can write without my hand shaking.
When was your first marriage?
I got married in 1957 and I had my first child in 1959.
Although, some of my wives died, but what makes marriage to succeed is that one has to keep the secret of marriage secret. Anything one discusses with one’s wife should be kept a secret. Let it be between both of you. The secret of a successful marriage are privacy and secrecy. Do not act when you hear any information about your spouse; always investigate. Rumour is always there to divide homes.
Did you hold any political position?
I was a councillor in Port Harcourt City in 1988 under zero party. I was the pioneer councillor of Obio/Akpor in 1989. I was the first supervisory councillor of Agriculture and Development in Obio/Akpor. I was the person who initiated the planting of trees for Eleme Junction to Toll Gate in 1989. Politics makes somebody’s career to go high. I went there to make name and not money. Today people go into politics to make money and not name. Then, I was paid N400 monthly when I was in Port Harcourt City. But when I was in Obio/Akpor, I earned N1000 monthly. But today councillors earn more than N100, 000. They are only there to make money. Today’s politicians are not in politics to serve the people. They do not care about those who voted for them.
What motivated you to quit civil service and venture into business?
It is good for somebody to know that he is troubled and work towards solving his problem. There is no civil servant that can use his salary to take care of his children. By now, I would have died if I had remained a civil servant.
What kind of music did you enjoy in the past?
I was very busy at the time. Having known the problem I was facing, I had no time to listen to music. When one has problem he is battling with, such a person will hardly have time for leisure. It is now that I have time for pleasure.
Why do you think Nigeria is facing many challenges?
Nigeria is suffering today because some people are so eager to attain a position that God has not prepared for them. They want to make it at all cost even to the detriment of another person and the whole country. Killing is rampant today because they want to make it overnight. People are looting public funds to make it. People are no longer honest. They no longer have the fear of God. People should fear God. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.
Tell us about your most memorable moment.
My 80th birthday was my best day in life. I went to Obosi community sometime to honour one of my tenants who clocked 80. When I was at the occasion, I prayed that I would be happy if God should make me attain 80. When I clocked 80, I travelled to Kano State to buy clothes for the occasion despite the rage of Boko Haram in the northern region. To be sincere, there is nothing like doing everything with the fear of God.