WITHIN the Nigerian community in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, there is one name that strikes an instant chord in every ear. It is a name that has become a constant refrain on many lips.
The name is Okey Paulicap Okeke, a Nigerian-born writer, theatre artist, clinical social worker and entrepreneur who has been domiciled in the North American country for close to two decades.
But his stay in Canada isn’t what makes the name and its owner the major theme in many conversations across that country. It’s not even about his book, Biribamba The Lonely Elephant, a children’s storybook published in the United States and over which he is in court with Macmillan Nigeria, a firm that allegedly published the book here without the writer’s authorisation.
Okeke, an Igbo man whose parents hail from Enugu State, is the president of Ijesa Progressive Association of Canada (IPAC), the umbrella association for sons and daughters of Ijesaland in Osun State living and working in that country.
An Igbo man as leader of an association comprising only Yoruba men and women? That is not only impracticable in Nigeria, it is absolutely inconceivable. Indeed, anyone harbouring such an implausible, far-fetched notion would be seen as suffering from the after-effects of excessive alcoholism, or having been untimely roused from a nightmare-riddled slumber!
But what many would have considered impossible in these shores became a reality in Canada. The Ijesa men and women in that North American country taught millions of their countrymen and women at home some great lessons when, in January 2017, Okeke was sworn in as president of Ijesa Progressive Association of Canada. And since then, he has been steering the ship of that association, alongside his executives.
On Saturday, September 16 last year, IPAC, under Okeke, held its annual “Ijesa Night” celebrations at the Manhyia Palace Convention Centre on Eddystone Avenue, Toronto. The event, which was chaired by Chief Isaac Ige, Odofin of Atorinland, was attended by many Nigerians, a number of who were there simply to confirm the rumour that the leader of Ijesa people in Canada wasn’t a Yoruba man.
At the event, the chairman expressed gratitude to Okeke for his leadership and for taking the group to lofty heights since his inauguration as president.
“This occasion would not have been possible without the efforts of Mr. Paulicap Okeke and his team, and for that I express my very sincere appreciation for the efforts you all have put in since you took over the mantle of leadership of IPAC this past January. You have done marvelously well,” the chairman noted.
He asserted that it was Okeke that made the night a hugely successful one: “In Jesus name, the glory that God has given you will not be destroyed. For remembering your roots, your foundation will never crumble,” he prayed.
But what would warrant an Igbo man to enrol in an association comprising only Ijesa men and women, and eventually become president of the group?
Okeke was in Nigeria recently for the Christmas and New Year holidays. And during the trip, he undertook a tour of Abeokuta alongside two of his friends and classmates at the University of Ibadan, this reporter and Ademola Ojolowo. And, over drinks and pepper-soup, shortly after a pulsating tour of the popular Olumo Rock in the Ogun State capital, Okeke explained how he joined IPAC and later got elected as the group’s president.
Born and raised in Ilesa, Osun State, Paulicap’s parents, Chief Okeke Chumba and Mrs. Janet Okeke-Chumba, are both from Ndeaboh, a community in Aninri Local Government Area of Enugu State. Okeke and his siblings attended elementary and secondary schools in Ilesa.
But right from his childhood, Okeke discovered that his dad, a very liberal and totally detribalised Nigerian businessman, ensured that his children had a robust, sophisticated and liberal worldview.
“My father was a Christian and an Igbo man, yet he enrolled me in a Muslim school. He believed that the school was good in academics and in sports, and it was also close to our house along the General Hospital Road in Ilesa
“My dad was living in Bukuru, near Jos, before the civil war. He had his businesses there. During the war, he left for the East and joined the Biafran Army. After the war, he went back to Bukuru and discovered that all he had there before he left was gone. So, my parents relocated to Ilesa and started again from the scratch. But God favoured them and they prospered.”