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Conspiracy against Festus Samuel Okotie-Eboh (2)
A political giant and titan from the Niger Delta, Chief Festus Samuel Okotie-Eboh was indisputably the most outstanding political personage from that
region; in fact, he still remains so despite the sad fact that the region lost him at a time it certainly was preposterous for him to be lost. And I have no doubts whatsoever in my mind that history shall give him his due full honours and chapters and essays and books despite the evil envies and conspiracy born of initially un-vendible vendetta which ironically became vendible over the years. Yet time, to reiterate the point, shall conjure up for him and determine eternally his due recognition and worth as Niger Delta’s pre-eminent politician.
Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to call Chief Okotie-Eboh the consummate politician and the politician’s politician.
Although he was a core N.C.N.C. (National Convention of Nigerian Citizens) party man and treasurer/chieftain, he was a true friend of several front-liners and leading lights of the then ruling Northern Peoples’ Congress. He was a great friend of the leader of the NPC, the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello and Sir Tafawa Balewa, the first and only Prime Minister of Nigeria till date. Chief Okotie-Eboh was also a very close friend of the then Minister of Defence, the late Alhaji Ribadu of the NPC. He also had a healthy political relationship with Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the great leader of the opposition party, the Action Group. His political relationship with Chief Awolowo’s deputy in the person of Chief S.L. Akintola was also a robust one. Of course, among members of his own party, he was a very loyal, faithful and steadfast friend of the leader of his party N.C.N.C., the great “Zik of Africa” and was similarly close to other outstanding members of the party such as Dr. K.O. Mbadiwe, Dr. Michael Okpara, Chiefs Dennis Osadebey, Humphrey Omo-Osagie, Jereton Marierie, and Omo N’Oba N’ Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba of Benin, Akenzua II, all of blessed memory. The much younger Richard Akinjide of N.C.N.C. and Maitama Sule of NPC were also his friends.
What Chief Okotie-Eboh’s inter-party and intra-party friendship and alliances, even outside his international connections and relationships, fetched him was influence of huge dimension and tall proportion. On Monday, November 1, 2001, I said of him in this column, as fellows: “he was a first-rate defender of minority rights and interests. His spheres of influence were vast, and he used them progressively and as best as he could in accordance with his destiny and along with those of Niger Delta minorities in particular”. I still maintain this perspective. Ironically and unfortunately, however, Chief Okotie-Eboh’s destined trouble which led to his death could primarily be traced to his unbounded and boundary-less influence. (More on this later when I shall focus or draw upon unknown or neglected fragments of history relating to the inimitable “Omimi Ejoh bi lele”, the great and mighty “feathered god of the waves”).
For one who would wish to understand the political culture/heritage of the Niger Delta region, including the uppermost part of the area that fell within the geographical/political sphere of the then Mid-Western Region (now Edo and Delta States), to appreciate and to grasp the heterogeneous attitudes of the region and its civilization, a knowledge of the political thought of Chief Okotie-Eboh seems essential.
Many will agree that he is the greatest minority politician and thinker of all time, despite the “misinformed and false impressions about his abilities”. Others will admit his preeminence among Niger Deltan and Mid-Western political figures of the pre- and post-independence years of our country. In no great mind of the Niger Deltan or Mid-Western political thought will we find greater evidence of the synthesis of Itsekiri philosophy, Benin character, Urhobo thought, Isoko ethos, Ijaw tradition, Edo attitude and Igbo belief than in the papers and works (which include speeches of political campaigns) of Chief Okotie-Eboh. He tried to understand the motives, passions and prejudices of the different ethnical groups so as to be conscious of his political duties. As Lindsay Barrett correctly said of him: “He was a complex and outspoken individual. He was also a skilful manipulator of issues and people, with a deep interest in improving the welfare of his community. His real motive for entering politics went beyond the desire for personal gain”.
All the above attributes and more, enabled Chief Okotie-Eboh to win all the elections he nationalistically contested for in his destined years of glory and preeminence. He was perhaps the only politician of his era who was an election winner all through.
His feat in this wise could only be appreciated and understood better if only one would make the least effort to embark on a historical and intellectual ride to the period in question. At that time the political situation in the Niger Delta, the Mid-Western Region and the Warri area and other parts of Nigeria was never stable, and it was like the vendettas went on eternally, ethnical group against ethnical group, party against party, town against town, village against village, kingdom against kingdom, family against family.
The rivalry between parties not only set one ethnical group against another but also divided the same ethnical group and the same family into factions. In time the initial alliances and allegiances became perplexed and broke down in unfamiliar ways. For example, Chief Okotie-Eboh, a prince and a passionate Royalist, almost became a Republican, and some of his friends and some of his relations became not only diabolically envious of him but were also fiercely opposed to him. Yet the first class politician and very brilliant man shrewdly soldiered on to “raise the recognition of the contribution of the minority (ethnical) groups to governance at the centre”. It would be fraudulent and immoral to deny or overlook or devalue his immense political development of and contribution to our country and region in any modern day political conference and discussion. It would also be politically indefensible for the helmsmen of our political affairs to keep on denying him his due honours. Chief Okotie-Eboh was one of a kind who meant so much to his Region and who had a capital importance in its development and that of Nigeria.Share