Nigerian troops bombed Aba church hours after our wedding – Okoro

Where and when were you born ?

I was born in Egbu Owerri in the present day Imo State on February 26 , 1931.
How did you know your birth date ?
The Anglican Communion settled in Egbu long before my father was born.

People in Egbu were educated. Some of my uncles were court clerks and interpreters in those days . The day I was born was recorded in the diary of Johnson Okoro , my father ’ s elder sibling.

Tell us more about your family background .
I come from a very simple and progressive family . My father was a fitter in the Signal and Communications Department of the Nigerian Railway Corporation .

He was in Jos when I was born . Later, he came to Enugu and to Umuahia and later to Aba to look after the Signal Department of the NRC in the then Eastern Nigeria . My mother was a seamstress . My mother had four sons .

What is your position in the family ?

I am the first of my parents’ four children . The second was an architect. He was an architect in the then Eastern Nigeria . When they created Imo State, he was in Imo to establish the Ministry of Works as well as the airport in Owerri.

The third child was a lecturer at King ’ s College , Lagos . He retired as a director of education and the last one worked with the Royal Exchange Insurance . We thank God .

How much can you recall about your early days ?

I have very little education in the sense that my father was not in a position at a stage to pay for four of us in the secondary school at the same time .

I dropped out in class four . I did not tell my parents of my decision because they had very high hopes that the way I was carrying on in school , I could be an engineer to take over from my father at the Railway .

But I did not want them to know that I had decided not to return to school . Our home help came the next morning and took my immediate younger brother and me to the Aba motor park , to go to Owerri.

Immediately we got to the park , I asked the home help to go back to tell our parents that we had boarded a bus ( God will forgive me for that lie ).

We had not boarded at the point where I told him to go because I wanted to deceive him and my parents. When he left , I made sure I paid my brother’ s transport fare to Owerri to go and resume school .

I told him not to tell anybody and that I would try to get to Owerri in two days’ time to start school .
That was not my intention .

Immediately they left , I boarded a lorry to Port Harcourt. When I got to PH, I found out that the NRC was looking for clerks to attend the Traffic Training School.

I noticed that the qualification for the training school was Cambridge school certificate Grade 1 or 2 or if one was a child of a railway worker with middle class four or junior Cambridge .
I took advantage of being the child of a railway worker and in middle class four .

We sat for the exams in Port Harcourt . After about a week , the result was released and I passed . We went to Enugu for the interview. I stayed with a family friend there .

When the result of the interview came out, I was one of the two persons that passed from the East. They sent us to Lagos to start school at the Traffic Training School at Ebute Metta .

I was at the TTS when my father learnt that I had run away from school. He asked the principal to send me back to school . By that time , I was almost 18 years and I couldn ’ t be forced to do that against my wish .

What happened next ?

At work , I started taking exams . I went for higher training and later , I left for England . Before my colleagues could enter university, I had already gone to England as a federal- sponsored student . In England ,

I was attached to the railways . Eventually, I came back after my higher training .
How was Nigeria then ?
Nigeria was a very wonderful country at the time .

Those of us who returned from Europe were provided with good accommodation. We were given cars and could go to any shop to buy anything on credit and pay back later .

That was the Nigeria I met. It was in 1959 a few days before the country’ s independence because I went to England in 1956 .

What certificate were you awarded in England ?

I was awarded certificate of the Chartered Institute of Transport in England.

What did you do after that ?

I went to the University of Lagos to do part- time . By the time I had done Accounting part one, they posted me out as District Superintendent in Enugu . I did not complete the degree programme .

I did London matriculation and had a reference in one subject – Geography – and I did not complete the programme . I did secondary school , I didn’ t complete. I entered for BA , I did not complete. I did not complete some of my academic works .

But the good thing I found out over the years was that there are two things that can happen to a man – one either goes through school , shows certificate for it , or the school goes through one and one has the skills to show for it .

Everywhere I went to , the school went through me . I did not go through the school but I got enough knowledge , understanding, proficiency and competence to be able to stand .

When others talk, I talk. I became professionally settled . Eventually , I became the President of the Chartered Institute of Transport and Logistics in Nigeria for seven years.

How was your time in the corporation ?

I rose to the zenith in the corporation. Remember I said I began with class four . Remember I did not have any degree but I went through it all.

I discovered that in a skilled job , one’ s certificate does not matter much . It is the application of what one has that matters . I was the MD of the NRC from 1985 to 1987 .
Were you appointed?

I was never appointed . I did oral and written examinations with other directors of the corporation. By the stroke of luck or by the supreme guidance of the Holy one, they said I was qualified .

I scored 87 per cent during the exams . The next person scored about 70 per cent . I was appointed under Decree 4 of 1985 .
When did you leave the service ?
I left in December 1987.

Did you retire ?

I still had two years of my service. I was 56 years old then. I was two years in my first tenure . We have two tenures.

I never had the opportunity of completing it because there was a change of government .

What do you do in retirement ?
I keep myself busy reading , writing and as a Christian elder , I am a teacher .

When did you marry?

I was one of those playboys around town. I did not marry until I was over 33 years old . I was already an equivalent of level 12 by the time I married . It was because of the civil war that made it possible .
I ran away from Lagos in 1967 when the civil war began . Thanks to F. A. Philips , our general manager. Even when I escaped, he could easily have counted me among those who escaped, but he posted me to Enugu officially .

That was how my job was preserved. It was during the war that I married and no sooner we had our marriage at St Michael’ s Church , Aba , than the

Nigerian troops bombed the place.
Was it the same day you married?

Yes , but we had left the venue for the reception when the bomb rocked the place.

Where is your wife ?

My wife is with me . She is the only girl in my life . We have five children.

What do your children do ?

They are doing well . Two ladies are in the United States of America . One is married .

The second has yet to marry ; she is a nurse in the US. The three men are in Nigeria. The one who built the house I am living is my fifth and last child .

He is into estate development . The other man is an industrialist , manufacturing solar panels and the other one is doing fantastically well .

They are the ones taking care of me . My pension is only N 100 , 000 per month. It is not enough to pay my driver and guard . That is Nigeria for you .

What is the secret of your good health ?

The health I enjoy is a divine gift. Not because I qualify for it , it is by His grace. I am very fit . I don’ t have blood pressure ; I don’ t have diabetes.

I don’ t go to bed with any burden. When I go to bed, I die and I wake up the next morning . I do not think of anything . Again, God has blessed me with wonderful children . If not for them , perhaps I would have died .

What is your favourite food and drink ?

I take non – alcoholic beer . This is how I got caught up with this drink. We were going to New Zealand for the executive meeting of the CILT, London. I left London for Amsterdam to get a connecting flight to New Zealand .

Between Amsterdam and Singapore, in the first -class , they used to serve champagne and other wines . When they came to me , I said I don’ t drink alcohol. They asked what I needed .

I asked if they had a non – alcoholic beer and they said yes . That was the first time I had heard about that. I said , ‘ okay , let me see the beer that has no alcohol ’ .

I got two cans and he asked if he should open it , and I said yes. It foamed like beer with the colour of beer , but there was no alcohol and sugar . Since then , I have been taking it .

That is my drink.
My wife and family know that I am choosy about food . One , the kitchen has to be clean ; the right salt , pepper and my wife knows always what to give to me . My wife has never worked for anybody . She looks after me and I look after her well .

We are best of friends.
Do you have any favourite game or sport ?
If I have a problem with my family , it is a problem of neglect and I neglected them during my hard working days , because after work , I ended up at the Railway Institute playing billiards and snooker and on Saturday , I played golf .

That was one of my weaknesses. At school , I played football; I was a good athlete and I also took part in boxing .

Do you still have any wish at 87 ?

I wish that the world know Him (God ). My worry now is that my friends , family , everybody should know the purpose for which God sent them on earth .

It is said that the richest place in this world is the graveyard . I have made up my mind that I will not leave my riches in graveyard. I have four books for presentation when I clock 88 because I do not want to bury what I know when I die .
Do you have any regrets ?

One only nurses regrets when one starts comparing oneself with others. I am the only me ; no other person has my fingerprints .

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