Thursday, January 10, 2013
IN DEFENSE OF CHIEF FESTUS OKOIE-EBOH (The article I wrote about a year ago that went viral aand has provoked a new movement to take a closer look at a great man who history has been unkind to)
It is time to unlearn what u know of Okotie-Eboh, and open your minds to history as it truly is and know a man whose name and dead body have been practically dragged in the mud.
The picture u are seeing of this resplendent son of the Niger Delta was taken before he ever held a single government office. He was one of the wealthiest Nigerians and this he became by dint of hardwork, intelligence and a difficult-to-match entrepreneurial spirit.
Okotie-Eboh is Itsekiri, make no mistake about that. Yes perhaps he was born to an Urhobo family (Okotie remains an Urhobo name and he is said to be an Edah which is also Urhobo) but he was raised an Itsekiri and it is to this minority tribe of the Niger Delta and Delta State that he owed his loyalty and shows to belong. We may never know why except his children and grandchildren like Ginny Okotie-Eboh choose to tell us why he is Itsekiri, though we understand that they actively deny any link to the Urhobos.
Be that as it may, Festus Okotie-Eboh was Itsekiri and as I write this being an Urhobo man, I should not love this man for it is said that he got his long-time friend and ally Obafemi Awolowo, though being of a different party to in 1953 rename the traditional title of Olu of Itsekiri to Olu of Warri, thus making a paramount chief of one of the settler tribes of Warri (others being Ijaw and Urhobo, though unlike the movement of the Itsekiris and Urhobos to Warri, that of the Ijaw cannot be dated nor is it recorded in history...or at least I am yet to receive it. We all know of how recent the whole Prince Ginuwa, first Olu of Itsekiri history is) to now Lord over other tribes, and which is the cause of the continued unrest in the City of Warri.
Indeed Festus Okotie Eboh's history will not be complete without mentioning the endless struggle for the tribal ownership of Warri. He dedicated his life's work to it. He was said to have stated along with an Olu that the Itsekiris owned all land along the rivers of Delta State and that the Kingdom of the Olu ends only where that of the Oba begins (Though the Olu was later to agree it was not true). But for the legal tussle of the Urhobos led by the DD Mowoes, Marieres, etc, this great injustice and historical untruth would have been taken as a given. Such was Okotie-Eboh's love for the Itsekiris.
Now you might be asking, how come even the Itsekiris do not honour someone who fought on their side so strongly? Is it because they know biologically he is not Itsekiri? Well, perhaps. But more aligned to the truth is that Festus Okotie-Eboh is said to have taken a machete and chased a sitting Olu from his stool and deposed him. Because our history is at best hearsay, we can not confirm this, but what we can confirm is that his actions led to the removal of an Olu and for this, he has not been forgiven and we hear it is why his scion, Adolo Okotie-Eboh is still not an Itsekiri Chief despite his many scholarships to students of Itsekiri descent and other laudable achievements by him.
Having established that as an Urhobo man, i am not supposed to love this man, that as one who seeks peace in warri, I hold him and Awolowo as root causes of the tribal wars in Warri, yet the truth must be told and the truth is Nigerian history has been unfair to this man.
You cannot gainsay the fact that the name Okotie-Eboh is synonymous with thief and corruption etc. that is what our revisionist history has led us to believe. But if you think that this man pictured here in such Itsekiri resplendence made his money from his tenure as finance minister, then you know nothing about this man.
Wikipedia has this to say abt Okotie-Eboh "Festus Okotie-Eboh (1919-1966) was a prominent and flamboyant Nigerian politician and former minister for finance during the administration of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. Born to an Itsekiri Chief, in a town along the Benin River, he attended the Baptist School, Sapele for secondary education. He later joined the British Bata Company, as a clerk. After working at the British Bata Company for a while, he became a deputy manager in Sapele, during this time he was also member of the Warri Ports Advisory Committee and the Sapele Township Advisory Board. In due time, he traveled to Czechoslovakia and studied Business Administration. On returning to the country, he quit his prior position and started a successful business, selling timber, rubber and owning a few schools. In 1951, after some influence from Azikiwe, he contested for a seat and was elected into the western region House of Assembly. In 1954, he was elected treasurer of the N.C.N.C. and in 1957, was made Minister of Finance."
From the foregoing, it is obvious that he was co-opted into contesting for office by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. before then he was a financier.
Yes financier for he already was stupendously wealthy. This man had the intelligence to have studied business administration in far away Czechoslovakia when most of his peers were studying law.
Also understand that Sapele was perhaps the most properous town in Nigeria along with Lagos, Ibadan, Calabar and Kanu and Kaduna. Early maps of Nigeria shows sapele and it was supposed to be the Capital of then MidWest State which morphed into Bendel State but for the Centralized Benin and of course the respect for the Oba and the great ancient Benin Empire.
Indeed such was the prosperity of Sapele town. It led in the production and exportation of Timber and AT&P was the biggest wood exporters in the whole of Africa. If u doubt me, look in your dictionary for the word "Sapele" and you will find that it is the genus name for one of the best woods.
Rubber too was booming. people came from far and near to work in the rubber factories
In all of these, guess the number one facilitator, exporter, middleman and dealer? YES OKOTIE-EBOH EDAH.
perhaps this was why he needed all areas to be Itsekiri as the British with their "indirect rule" and method of doing business, chooses a local and deals through him. Okotie-Eboh was that man. To be able to fully control all of these areas including the hinterlands, he employed many Urhobos one of whom is Michael Ibru and late Edewor. Yes they were employees of Okotie-Eboh. While Edewor was his "houseboy" and trusted servant, Ibru was a manager of sorts and when Okotie-Eboh decided to import frozen fish, and when the people refused to eat the fish preferring the fresh fish in their pre oil-pollution waters, the young forward-looking Michael Ibru asked to be given the fish and was to take it to other areas including Cameroun and thus Okotie-Eboh gave us one-time wealthiest man in Africa in the person of Olorogun Michael Ibru whose fishing conglomerate was feeding many countries in Africa and moneys from which has given us Oceanic Bank, Aero Contractors, Guardian newspapers, Eko Le Meridien (sold off) Sheraton, etc etc.
Also Okotie Eboh was to establish his own shoe-making factory which was sole contractor to the Nigerian army and made all the shoes and boots worn by the army...boots that were to later kick his teeth in and break his ribs.
the houses built by Okotie-Eboh pre 1960 stand till date.
This man built two primary Schools and two secondary schools, naming one after his friend Zik and the other Academicals which later became Okotie-Eboh grammar school...a school I am later to attend. All this he built before he stepped into government.
If we are to take away all the people that attended Zik Grammar school sapele and Okotie-Eboh Grammar School sapele, I wonder where Delta state would be because along with Urhobo College, Hussey College, Government college, Our Lady's, St Malachy, Itas and Chude's, St Theresa's, these schools are the brain-pool of Delta state and it is why I hit my chest to say we are perhaps the most brilliant people in Nigeria and JME cut off marks for Delta State have been the highest for years and years. (until Post UME or something akin to that )
Thus when Okotie-Eboh is considered a thief by all, it grieves my heart. This man was as rich if not richer than Dantata who owned 40?% of the groundnut pyramids in Kanu. He was wealthier than Ojukwu father and the Orizus. Azikiwe drives along the Old Ogorode road, tarred by Okotie-Eboh with his personal money, to ask for finances for the NCNC as it then was. he was richer than the Orizus.
He set up the Rewanes who he encourageed to open a Flour Mill near his residence in same Ogorode, a Flour Mill and Top Feeds and other corollary industries that was to employ thousands of Deltans and none Deltans.
Yet when his name is mentioned, all we think about is "thief". what more disservice to a man's name can there be?
When Nzeogwu was to take his coup in 1966, among those pencilled down to be killed was this Niger-Delta business colossus. Along with Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Belewa, Akintola, chief Okotie-Eboh was killed. Rumours say bullets could not penetrate his skin so they tied him to a car and dragged him. reports of those who saw his body say he was mangled beyong recognition and as someone who briefly attended Zik grammar School sapele when my father Fred Ofugara was principal there in 1987/88, I have been privileged to see his empty grave in Okotie-Eboh baptist Church which borders Zik Grammar School. I also have been privileged to see then State-of-the-Art Pipe Organ in the church with which he serenaded God to beautiful music much as david did with his harp.
No man is a saint, and few are total devils. Chief Festus Omimi-Ejoh Okotie-Eboh has been treated unfairly by Nigerians and their historians. The various governments too have refused to honour this man who was head and shoulders ahead of many of his peers who have today been honoured. All of those who were killed along with him have universities named after them, Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa, Ladoke Akintola. Where is the one for my Itsekiri brother? All of them are referred to as Nationalists and are honoured in many ways, where is that of Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh?
@Onos Ohwevwo and jakpo Pablo, two of my friends here on facebook are of the opinion that it is because he is from the Niger-Delta and like Pa Imoudu (First Labour Union Leader who led riots to stop imposition of draconian taxes) and other Niger deltans, will never be considered good enough for the annals of Nigerian history.
And why will they be honoured? Will our many tribal divides and ever allow us honour one from another tribe? How will the Urhobos see University of Abraka named after one who they believe took a lot from them and was an enemy till death?
That is food for thought is it not?
At least, I Ena Ofugara have today introduced you to Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh and I welcome all counter arguments