The Man Who Lived to Love
When Luke Ekwemnachukwu Okafor passed away peacefully in his sleep on the 27th of December 2021, the world stood still for his family and friends. For we all knew that earth was suddenly bereft of a singular and magnificently rare specimen of a human.
While many have come to ascribe him attributes such as a true gentleman, others will fondly remember his deeds as a philanthropist, consummate professional and an upstanding citizen with a sharp moral compass. By virtue of his name Ekwemnachukwu - I believe in God - he perhaps led the predestined life of a man gently guided by his unflappable faith in the will of God.
Born the first of seven children to Chief Jonas Anarenye Okafor (Nzeduba l) and Mrs Virginia Matagu Okafor in Ire Village, Abba Town, Luke’s early education began at St. Paul’s Catholic School, Abba, which at the time was situated just behind his grandfather’s house. Tremors of the Second World War saw him move from Kaduna to Aguleri and then to Onitsha where in 1952, he was enrolled into the prestigious Christ the King College (CKC). In addition to his fierce competitiveness with studies, he thrived as a track and field athlete and made the most of his education, ever mindful that he was the first of many to attend this school from his hometown.
Early Banking Career
His hard work paid off following his graduation in 1957, as he began a long and illustrious career in banking with the British Bank of West Africa (popularly known now as First Bank of Nigeria Ltd). Placing a premium on continuous education, he aced his Chartered Institute of Bankers examinations, qualifying as an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Bankers, London in 1967. This was followed by another successful accounts course in Lagos, after which he was appointed the first Nigerian Manager of the Standard Bank of West Africa Ltd, Bright Street Branch, Onitsha - being only an impressive nine years in the industry.
However, soon after this, the Nigerian Civil War erupted and again his mettle was tested. Protecting his branch from the ensuing devastation, he relocated their operations to Aba, then Nnewi and finally to Orlu in Imo State wearing multiple hats such as operations lead and crisis manager. His tales of physically hauling stacks of bank books and ledgers to safety in the middle of chaos will always be remembered. And when after the war in 1971, he re-established the Bright Street branch and later the New Market Road branch, it was remembered as the first post-war branch in the entire city, re-invigorating the business and commercial life in Anambra state.
The Banking Aficionado
In 1974, Luke was appointed Standard Bank of Nigeria Ltd Area Manager, East Central. He was deployed to the Head Office, Lagos in September 1976 where he served briefly until his appointment in 1977 as Principal Area Manager, Lagos.
In between, he had brief spells as Manager, Apapa and Ikeja Industrial Estate branches. He was appointed Manager, Marina Branch (the largest branch of First Bank of Nigeria Ltd) in 1980 and Deputy General Manager, (Administration, Head office) in June 1983.
In 1985, Luke Okafor pioneered the establishment of the East Regional Administration as Deputy General Manager with responsibility for the 47 branches in that area of the country.
In January 1989, he was again redeployed to Lagos as General Manager (Finance and Admin), and eventually appointed an Executive Director of the Bank in July 1990. In 1991, he was moved to International Merchant Bank as Executive Director, from where he was retired by the Federal Government in 1992. However, the Federal Government recalled him from retirement shortly after and made him the Managing Director and CEO of United Bank for Africa, from which position he served diligently before disengaging in January 1997.
He was the founder, Managing Director and then subsequently Chairman of the stockbroking and investment company, Valmon Securities Limited.
Luke Okafor is an alumnus of University of Manchester Business School, the International Institute for Management Development, Lausanne, Switzerland, and the International Summer School Christ College, Cambridge. He was a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Bankers, London, Fellow of the British Institute of Management, London and Member of the Nigerian Institute of Management.
Luke Okafor played a very active role as a Professional Banker in the affairs of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria. He was Member, Finance and General Purpose committee and became Chairman, Chairman Corporate and Public Affairs committee, Chairman Board of Fellows, and finally President and Chairman of the Council of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria in the years 1998 - 2000.
Chief Okafor was also two-time Vice President, Nigerian Bankers (Employers Group), Vice President, Nigerian Bankers (Employers Group) Member Governing Council, Nigerian Employers Association of Banks, Insurance and Allied Institution and Vice Chairman, Nigerian Employers Association of Banks, Insurance and Allied Institution.
Omelora Abba 1
Luke Ekwemnachukwu Okafor was a man for whom his heritage and kinship was incredibly important. He consciously contributed immensely towards the development of his hometown, Abba.
In 1987, the then Anambra State Government under Col. Robert Akonobi appointed him the Chairman of a twelve-man Caretaker Committee of Abba Town Union whose terms of reference included the restoration of peace to this town torn apart by quarrels and bitterness. For two long years, he toiled at the head of this Committee. He spent colossally in personal time, energy and material to restore normalcy to Abba town. Finally, in December 1989, he set the peace ball rolling again in the town, having resolved all outstanding intricate issues. He presented to the town a well-articulated Town Union Constitution, conducted elections and handed over the Administration of the town union to a properly elected Executive Committee.
A strong advocate of peace and progress, he has been at the forefront of all developmental projects in the town and indeed in this area. He was instrumental in the citing and commissioning of the branch of First Bank of Nigeria PLC in Abba. In December 1994, the Njikoka Local Government awarded him a Certificate of Merit in recognition of his many contributions to the area. The following year, he was conferred upon with the chieftaincy title Omelora Abba - the one who gives to all.
A principled believer in enterprise, hard work and merit, he has encouraged many indigenes into securing rewarding careers in the financial sector, in Government and in various trade industries. Many of such beneficiaries and mentees have risen and are still rising to enviable heights in their various fields of endeavour.
A Man of Faith
Sir Luke Okafor led a robust Christian life. He was proud to be a Member of the Order of the Knights of Saint Mulumba of the 4th Degree. He was also the Patron of St. Anthony of Padua, Deanery Patron of Divine Mercy Prayer Group, Deanery Patron of St. Pio Prayer group, Patron St. Anthony of Padua, and Grand Patron of CMO for the Catholic Church of the Nativity, Lagos.
He was a firm believer in anonymous charity and invested extensive time and resources into building the physical Body of Christ, extending his hand in help to anyone in need. But most importantly, he cloaked himself everyday with prayer and the conviction that one with God on his side will never be disappointed.
The first time Luke spotted an unsuspecting Victoria (and her legs) through the ajar door of his bank office, he knew that Dr. Tim Menakaya’s companion was his missing rib. He was ready to risk it all to ‘secure the bag’, even if according to him, it meant making two arduous journeys to discuss her hand in marriage.
From the moment they said ‘I do’ in 1972, they were inseparable. He saw her as not only a soulmate and trusted confidante, but a life partner in every way. He treated Chinwe with utmost respect, tender affection and undying devotion. Their union was blessed with five children whom he doted on and loved fiercely. To them, he was their hero, life coach, mentor, financial consultant and undisputed cheerleader.
He mirrored these emotions towards his parents, with whom he held the highest regard and deepest tenderness for. He was particularly fond of his brothers and sisters, and as his parent's first son, he took every care to see to the welfare of his family and loved ones.
In his prime, L. E., as he was lovingly called, enjoyed various physical pursuits such as tennis, jogging, golf and swimming. From Lugano to Pattaya, he toured the world on business and leisure, often accompanied by his beautiful wife. In his free time, he enjoyed watching British comedies, was an avid reader fascinated by history and biographies and possessed an unsurprising flair for writing and a wicked sense of humour. He valued a quiet, simple life and devoted his days in retirement giving back to his local community and spending time with his wife who he proudly credits as the backbone to the successes in his life.
And when the rigours of age and sickness increasingly began to overwhelm, he bore his latter days patiently with quiet dignity, in prayer and contemplation. His sense of humour never failing, often finding a way to lighten the mood just to keep everyone smiling. He was meticulously nursed and cared for to the very end by his devoted wife with whom he would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary this year.
He will always be remembered as an advocate of peace,
Omelora, the man of the people,
and indeed Ekwemnachukwu,
the man of faith who lived to love.