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Accord concondiale: The continuous search for Nigeria’s elusive unity (12)

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Accord concondiale: The continuous search for Nigeria’s elusive unity (12)

INTRODUCTION

As Anthony Carmona rightly theorized, empowerment is not about doing the same thing the same way in the same environment. It is about building the man and the woman and doing so with a view to creating better citizens and, by extension, better patriots in the society. On this note, we continue today our searchlight on great Nigerian icons that had raised the bar of good governance that led to creating better citizens and patriots in our nation.

The writeup on Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa ends today, while that of Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh debuts.

BALEWA’S GIANT STRIDES (concluded).

Balewa consequently proposed that “Nnamdi Azikiwe shall be deemed to have been elected President and Commander in- Chief of the Armed Forces”, because “Nigeria can never adequately reward Dr. Azikiwe” for the nationalist role he played in building Nigeria and achieving independence.

Azikiwe was specifically referred to by name in section 157(1) of Nigeria’s 1963 Republican Constitution, and to my knowledge, Azikiwe is the only individual, living or dead, that has been constitutionally enshrined by name in his democratic country’s Constitution: “ Nnamdi Azikiwe shall be deemed to be elected President of the Republic on the date of the commencement of this Constitution”. (section 157(1) 1963 CFRN).

On January 15, 1966, Balewa was kidnapped from his official residence by armed soldiers who were executing Nigeria’s first military coup. Balewa was missing for several days and a search for him was ordered by the new military regime headed by Major- General Aguiyi-Ironsi.

His family and friends continued to believe Balewa was alive. Rumours claimed the rebel soldiers were holding Balewa alive and that he would be released as part of a prisoner swap involving imprisoned Chief Obafemi Awolowo. However, these hopes were dashed when Balewa’s decomposing corpse was found a few days later, dumped in a roadside bush.

His corpse was taken to Ikeja airport in the company of Police Commissioner, Hamman Maiduguri, Inspector-General of Police Kam Selem, Alhaji Maitama Sule and Balewa’s wives, Laraba and Jummai, who accompanied it as it was flown to Bauchi where he was buried. Balewa’s body now lies inside a tomb declared a national monument.

The tomb includes a library and a mosque.

The famous Race Course square in Lagos was renamed “Tafawa Balewa Square”, in his memory. His image appears on the 5 Naira note. The Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in Bauchi is also named in his honour, just like a big street in Abuja, FCT.

CHIEF FESTUS OKOTIE-EBOH

Chief Festus Sam Okotie-Eboh (1919 – 1966), “Omimi-Ejoh”, was born to an Itsekiri Prince, Okotie Eboh, on July 18, 1919, in Warri Division, in the Niger Delta.

He was named Sam Edah, but later changed his name to Festus Sam Okotie-Eboh. He had his elementary education at his hometown and proceeded to Sapele Baptist School, Sapele, for his secondary education. After this, he worked for a year as a junior Assessment Clerk in the Local District Office. Thereafter, he joined his alma mater as a teacher.

OKOTIE-EBOH’S ARRIVAL ON THE NATIONAL SCENCE

In 1937, at 18, he joined Bata Shoe Company as an accounting clerk. While working as a clerk, he studied Book Keeping and Accounting. In 1944, he was transferred to Lagos as Chief Clerk and West Coast Accountant.

A year later, he returned to Sapele and he was appointed Deputy Manager of Sapele branch of Bata. In 1947, he was sent to Prague, Czechoslovakia, for further training, where he obtained a Diploma in Business Administration and Chiropody.

He left Bata Shoe to establish a timber and rubber business. He was involved in a rubber exporting business, trading under the company name of “Afro-Nigerian Export and Import Company”.

The firm exported ribbed smoked sheet rubber to Europe and North America. In 1958, he opened a rubbercreping factory and later in 1963, he started Omimi Rubber and Canvas Shoe factory. He also started a few ventures with two foreign partners: Dizengoff and Cutinho Caro.

The partners promoted Mid-West Cement Company, a cement clinker plant in Koko, and also Unameji Cabinet Works. Okotie Eboh got married in 1942 and together with his wife, started a string of schools in Sapele. The first school was Sapele Boys Academy, followed with Zik’s College of Commerce.

In 1953, he started Sapele Academy Secondary School. In the 1940s and 1950s, Okotie Eboh was a Board member of Warri Ports Advisory Committee, Sapele Township Advisory Board and Sapele Town Planning Authority. Going into politics in 1948 at 29, proved the icing. He played his politics with the same enterprising spirit as he did in business.

He won a seat in the Warri Divisional Council, following a hectic election. As a grassroots politician, Okotie-Eboh was a Councillor in the Warri Provincial Council.

Later, he served as a member of the Sapele Township Advisory Board, Warri Provincial Ports Authority Committee and Warri Divisional Committee. Okotie-Eboh was never defeated in any election, either in Warri or Sapele.

In 1951, after some influence from Azikiwe, Okotie-Eboh contested for a seat and was elected into the Western Region House of Assembly.

He was appointed Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, at just 32, having excelled in the art of governance. A chieftain of the NCNC, he became the Chief Whip of the Western House of Assembly dominated by the Action Group (AG) in 1959.

His parliamentary contributions shaped major decisions. Okotie-Eboh insisted that Nigeria should issue her own currency and have her own Central Bank, instead of spending on the then West African Currency Board, which was responsible for issuing currencies for the colonies.

This was how the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), was established in 1958. Chief Okotie-Eboh could therefore, be rightly described as the founding father of the CBN. In the alliance between the NCNC and the NPC, he became the Finance Minister, the office he held until the 1966 coup that killed him.

HIS UNRIVALLED ACHIEVEMENTS

As a diplomat, Okotie-Eboh’s passionate appeal received favourable consideration from the German government, which paid Julius Berger for the Eko Bridge project. Okotie-Eboh’s benevolence was enjoyed by his party, the NCNC.

He sourced for grants for the party, when it suffered paucity of funds. His colleague, Chief Richard Akinjide, recalled: “In the NCNC days, Okotie- Eboh was richer than the party and everybody. He had made his money for party activities. Nigerians should be grateful for having somebody like him; he was generous to a fault and did not discriminate against tribe or tongue”.

The NPC/NCNC alliance worked excellently, because, of the cordial relationship between Balewa and Okotie-Eboh. A welltravelled man, Okotie-Eboh was a personal friend of the late United States President, John Kennedy, in the sixties. His visit to the Papacy, where he met Pope John XX111 twice, became his greatest religious pilgrimage. He also visited the Israeli statesman, David Ben Gurion.

When there was crisis in the Western Region, Okotie-Eboh was worried, because he believed it would engulf the whole country. Okotie-Eboh warned that the crisis was spreading to Lagos and its repercussions were being felt throughout Nigeria.

He was proved right. Although, the maintenance of law and order in the Western Nigeria was the primary responsibility of the Western Regional Government, the activities of the Nigeria Police, particularly those drafted to the West from other parts of the country, brought the federal government intensely involved in the conflict. The crisis finally snow-balled into the Nigerian Civil war.

At community level, Okotie-Eboh was seen as number one facilitator, middleman and dealer, who fixed things for his people. He was known to have employed many Urhobos, who included millionaire and Boardroom power-broker, Chief Michael Ibru and late Chief James Edewor.

These great men were mere employees of Okotie-Eboh. While Edewor was his “houseboy” and trusted servant, Ibru was a manager of sorts at a time Okotie-Eboh decided to import frozen fish. At that time, Nigerians refused to eat “ice fish”, but preferred fresh fish in their pre oilpollution waters.

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