Friday, November 8, 2013

CHIEF FESTUS SAM OKOTIE-EBOH: NIGERIA`S MOST FLAMBOYANT POLITICIAN THAT EVER LIVED AND THE WATER-SPIRIT "OMOMI EJO" OF ITSEKIRI PEOPLE

Chief Festus Sam Okotie-Eboh (1919-1966) was a prominent and most flamboyant Nigerian politician of all times and former minister for finance during the administration of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. Okotie-Eboh  an Urhobo native turned Itsekiri man was most expensively well-dressed Nigeria political figure as far as exquisite taste in traditional African wear and Western dressing are concerned. Okotie-Eboh was the target of bitter criticisms, he certainly was very rich. He was a man of influence and power, with considerable financial strength and know-how

Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh and his wife during the Queen’s visit to Nigeria in 1956. His dress is in flowing garments with a chain a yard long being held by a boy.

 As a flamboyant dresser and fashionable stylish impressionist he was given  the nickname , Omimi-Ejoh, Ejoh bilele, translated as ‘the man with long feature and flowing wrappers’.  He spent his money lavishly in support of political causes and at the time of the 1959 election was ferociously attacked by Action Group leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and accused of corruption.
Nigeria’s political history attained a remarkably eventful crescendo on January 15, 1966, when Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh was assassinated along Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the prime minister of Nigeria, Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief Akintola, prime minister of Western Nigeria etc., in a military pogrom and putsch led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu. Major Nzeogwu was quoted as saying in a Radio Broadcast that: “…Nigeria will never be the same again …”
"The moralistic and Victorian grundnorm that precipitated the Nzeogwu-led putsch became rubbished by the July 27, 1966 counter-coup with Aguiyi-Ironsi as the arrowhead. This action plunged Nigeria into a precipitous political and ethnic epicentre. Truly, Nigeria has never been the same ever since the Nzeogu-led coup and the Nigeria/Biafra civil war. Historians of various genre and colours have tried to look at the justicability of history as a basis for moving Nigeria forward. Any attempt is treated as an epochal historical fraudulence, festering sore, nauseating gesture, parochialisation of history and the mere intellectualisation of trite matters." (Bobson Gbanjie,2013)

Minister of Finance Chief FS Okotie- Eboh responded to charges of accumulation of wealth by government officers by quoting from the Bible, “To those that have, more shall be given. From those that do not have, shall be taken even the little they have.”

Some critics of Chief Okotie-Eboh aver that he was  "a thief and corrupt public officer." Some even described him as a first most corrupt Nigerian minister of state hence why was killed in the first 1966 military takeover. However, evidence shows that the man was very rich before he assumed public office and that he was a "victim of circumstances."  Gbanjie (2013) asserted that "Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh was killed because he was a meteoric star from the minority Mid-West Region, bluntly, the Niger Delta. He was a victim  of the despotism of the majority triumvirates in the then  military institution and a guinea pig in the laboratory of military politicians. He was never found guilty of corruption by any court of competent jurisdiction and by any interventionist body of graft. The military juveniles who carried out the coup and the killings have now been proved wrong and found guilty by the justicability and  verdict of history."

From Left Festus Okotie-Eboh the ever-flamboyant man with Eboh Johnson, celebrated sculptor Ben Enwonwu and others

Okotie-Eboh was born to an Itsekiri Chief, Prince Okotie Eboh in July 18, 1912 in Warri Division, a town along the Benin River in Niger Delta.  He was named Sam Edah but later changed his name to Festus Sam Okotie-Eboh. It is believe that his father was of Urhobo parentage and had settled in Itsekiri land for eons. The name Ekotie is said to be Urhobo name.
Festus had his elementary education at  his hometown and proceeded to Sapele Baptist School in Sapele for his secondary education. In 1930, he took up an appointment as an Assessment Clerk in Sapele Township Office. After a brief stint with teaching, he joined the Bata Shoe Company Limited, where he rose to the post of Chief 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. He took business courses as a private worker.

Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh and his wife during the Queen’s visit to Nigeria in 1956.

At a time when most of his Nigerians  peers were traveling and only interested in studying law and politics, this man had the intelligence to have studied business administration in far away Czechoslovakia. With his Diploma in Business Administration and Organisation, he resolved to go into business on his own.
So on returning to the country, he quit his prior position and started a successful business, selling timber, rubber and owning a few schools. His business conglomerate included the Okotie Eboh Grammar School and Omimi Plastic and Shoe Factories. He was a wealthy businessman. According to some Nigerian writers Ekotie-Eboh "was as rich if not richer than Dantata who owned 40% of the groundnut pyramids in Kanu and was wealthier than Ojukwu father and the Orizus."

             Chief Okotie-Eboh, before he became a politician

He set up the Rewanes whom he encouraged 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. He is said to have 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... All this he built before he stepped into government. It is said said that the Old Ogorode road that his pal Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe drived along  to solicit for finances for NCNC was tarred by Okotie-Eboh with his personal money.
After making it big time in business going into politics in 1948 was just the icing of the cake after all he was a financier of NCNC. 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, he 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.
A chieftain of the National Council of Nigerian Citizens, 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
In 1951, after some influence from Azikiwe, he contested for a seat and was elected into the western region House of Assembly. Okotie-Eboh was appointed Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, having excelled in the art of governance.

The Prime Minister Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa arrives Lagos Airport after a private trip. With him is Chief Festus Okotie Eboh (left) and other Officials.

In 1954, he was elected treasurer of the N.C.N.C. and in 1957 following the alliance between the NCNC and the Northern People Congress (NPC), Ekotie-Eboh was made Minister of Finance by  the prime minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa."  He held the office of the finance ministry until the 1966 coup which eventually ended his life.
 His reform programme in the Finance Ministry gave a new lease to the Nigerian Customs. He delegated responsibilities to the unit, instead of asking the ports to collect duties. He established the Preventive Services Unit to confront, combat and prevent smuggling, and protect local industries.
The introduction of the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system of taxation during his tenure was a novel idea. It jerked up the revenue base of the government.
Okotie-Eboh insisted that Nigeria should issue her own currency and have her own Central Bank instead of epending 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.
He always displayed the noble characteristics of a statesman and patriot. When the country was still grappling with post-independence challenges, and the government wanted to build the Eko Bridge, he personally sought the assistance of Britain and America for grants to execute the project, but they refused.

Chief Okotie-Eboh and his wife

As a diplomat, his passionate appeal received favourable consideration from the German government which paid Julius Berger for the project.
His benevolence was enjoyed by his party, the NCNC. He sourced for grants for the party when it was broke. His colleague, Chief Richard Akinjide recalled: “In the NCNC days, Okotie-Eboh was richer than the party and everybody. He had made his money before coming into politics and whenever the party was broke, it was to him we went to collect some 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 very because of the cordial relations between Balewa and Okotie-Eboh. The Prime Minister believed that he was a loyal minister.
A well-travelled 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 voyage. He also visited the Israeli statesman, Mr. David Ben Gurion.
The former minister was not happy because of the lingering crisis in the Western Region. He believed that it would engulf the country.
He warned that the crisis was spreading to Lagos and its repercussions were being felt throughout Nigeria. He said across the four regions, innocent people were being killed during electioneering.
Okoti-Eboh, added: “We are worried and we believe that, you the Prime Minister, who has the overall responsibility for law and order, are more worried. Although the maintenance of law and order in the Western Nigeria is the primarily responsibility of the Western Regional Government, the activities of the Nigeria Police, particularly those drafted to the West from other parts of the Federation, have brought the federal government more closely into the picture”.
Okotie-Eboh stated further: “Something must be done immediately to bring peace to the Western Nigeria. If immediate action is not taken, good government in any part of Nigeria will be endangered. Fanatics, hooligans, armed robbers and irresponsible elements will be given the opportunity to consolidate their positions and remain a perpetual danger to all governments and political leaders. Everybody’s life will be in danger.”

At community level Ekotie-Eboh was seen as number one facilitator, middleman and dealer who fixed things for his people. He was known to have employed many Urhobos which included millionaire and boardroom power-broker Michael Ibru and late Edewor. These men 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.  At that time people refused to eat the fish but preferred the fresh fish in their pre oil-pollution waters, the young forward-looking Michael Ibru asked to be given the fish. He took it to other areas including Cameroun and thus Okotie-Eboh gave Nigeria and Urhobo one-time wealthiest man in Africa in the person of Olorogun Michael Ibru whose fishing conglomerate was feeding many countries in Africa and money from which has given birth to Oceanic Bank, Aero Contractors, Guardian newspapers, Eko Le Meridien (sold off) Sheraton, etc.
Chief Festus Samuel Okotie-Eboh (the 1966 coup leaders cited this kind of flamboyance as one of the reasons for staging their coup)


When Major Nzeogwu was to take his coup in 1966, among those pencilled down to be killed was a 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 beyond recognition. It is said that his grave in Okotie-Eboh baptist Church which borders Zik Grammar School is still empty of his remains.
At the time of his death, Okotie-Eboh, was survived by a wife and 14 children.They now keep his memory as a loving father and a patriot who paid the supreme price for his country and died as a “victim of circumstance”.
Chief Okotie-Eboh still remained the popular “Omimi Ejo” – the Water Spirit – to many Itsekiris, particularly in the Benin River villages. His respect for the elders was spoken of and particularly his generosity. He himself boasted that he had spent over £3,000 in paying other peoples’ fines, usually imposed for non-payment of taxes or a breach of customary law. It was said that he had paid for a new corrugated-iron roof for the chapel of the Cherubim and Seraphim sect in one village and that he was paying for the rebuilding of the Diare family shrine, although he was only remotely connected with the family. His State-of-the-Art Pipe Organ in the church with which he serenaded God to beautiful music much as david did with his harp is still kept sacred by his people.
Source:http://thenationonlineng.net/new/okotie-eboh-victim-of-circumstance/
http://www.vanguardngr.com/2013/01/tribute-chief-festus-okotie-eboh-and-the-justiceability-of-history/

2 comments:

  1. He made history for the Delta region. Purported richest in Nigeria. An astute biz mogul. Possibly MKO studied him. May his sagacious soul rest in peace.

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  2. Surely this man is a great man to be remember.

    ReplyDelete