Nigerian chief encourages community involvement with gift

At age 13, Chief Emmanuel Mbulu (BA ’77, BA ’80) was forced to grow up quickly when his father Edmund, a former schoolteacher, was killed just prior to the Nigerian civil war. As the eldest in the family, he promptly assumed the role of guardian and provider for his younger siblings in their hometown of Igbodo in Delta State, Nigeria. This experience set a pattern of caring for others that would continue throughout his life.

Right: Chief Emmanuel Mbulu

From international student to Nigerian chief, life has been an inspiring journey for the York University alumnus. The successful business owner earned the title "chief" for his extensive charitable work in Nigeria. The role affirms a lifelong commitment to community involvement and represents a tremendous responsibility as well as an honour.

Mbulu is giving back to the York community by establishing the Chief Emmanuel Mbulu Award through a $12,500 gift to the York University Foundation. The endowed award, which will receive dollar-for-dollar matching through the Ontario Trust for Student Support program, will reward one exceptional student in need each year, in perpetuity, beginning after May of 2008.

The award will support a student who demonstrates financial need, with preference given to those who are actively involved in the Nigerian and/or Nigerian-Canadian communities and are fluent in Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa (languages spoken in Nigeria). "It is my pleasure to extend our appreciation to Chief Emmanuel Mbulu," says Susan Mullin, vice-president development for the York University Foundation. "He is a shining example of a proud York graduate inspiring others in the York community to redefine the possible."

Mbulu hopes the scholarship reaches students who are passionate about education and committed to community involvement. His father, who received scholarships to complete his teacher qualifications, taught Mbulu early on about the value of education and its power to open doors. Above all, he hopes that students who receive the award will think about giving to the next generation when they are successful.

"The Chief Emmanuel Mbulu Award is very important to encourage those students who have discovered hidden capabilities and talents, which they can harness to improve their performance in school, their community and all aspects of life," says Abayomi Olukanni, president of the Nigerian Students’ Association. Olukanni believes there are many students involved in the Nigerian community that would greatly benefit from the financial assistance.

"It is exciting to see an award that encourages students to reach above and beyond their academic involvement to enrich their York experience," says Robert Tiffin, York vice-president students.

In 1973, Mbulu left Nigeria, travelling to Canada to study economics at York and find better opportunities to support his family. As an international student, he struggled to pay his school fees and bills. "There were not many programs (for international students) at the University at that time," says Mbulu, "so you had to fend for yourself." He juggled classes and jobs, working as a dishwasher and taxi driver to make ends meet and send money to his siblings back home. He is grateful to his York professors for the role they played in helping him to become self-sufficient.

Mbulu went on to complete a Master of Business and Public Administration degree in the United States, later returning to Canada to settle down with his wife Annia (BA ’80), also a York graduate. With his formal education complete, he founded the company Tone-A-Matic Inc., which manufactures and distributes health and fitness products. Now a thriving company, he remembers a time when he and his wife had to decide whether to spend their last cheque on a mortgage payment or on machines that could launch the business. They took the risk, and as sales took off, they were able to focus on enjoying family life with their two children and giving thanks for their success.

A few years ago, Mbulu established the Chief Emmanuel Mbulu Foundation to ensure that his family could continue their philanthropic efforts here and abroad. "Any community that does not have the ability to move forward will defeat itself," he says. He continues to build schools, houses and hostels in Nigeria, while in Canada he is establishing educational awards. Endlessly motivated to continue this work, he wishes to serve as a positive role model to others, particularly those from disadvantaged communities.

Mbulu wants young people to understand that anything is possible with hard work, belief in themselves and faith, remarking gently, "What you give is what you get back."

This story was submitted to YFile by Earleen Dover, communications officer, York University Foundation.