Peter Drucker rightly theorised that effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results, not attributes. On this note, we continue and conclude our discourse on one of Nigeria’s great patriots, Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, while we explore the life and times of another great nationalist, Herbert Samuel Macaulay.
Festus Okotie-Eboh (continues and concluded)
Okotie-Eboh’s reform programme in the Finance Ministry gave a new lease to the Nigerian Customs. He delegated responsibilities to the unit, rather than asking the ports to collect duties. He established the Preventive Services Unit to confront, combat and prevent smuggling, and protect local industries.
His unrivalled achievements
Okotie-Eboh established schools and ventured into other businesses, including rubber and timber. His business conglomerate included the Okotie Eboh Grammar School and Omimi plastic and shoe factories. He was a wealthy businessman.
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 well-travelled man, Okotie-Eboh was a personal friend of the late United States President, John Kennedy, in the 1960s. His visit to the Papacy, where he met Pope John XXIII 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 Western Nigeria was the primary responsibility of the Western Region Government, the activities of the Nigeria Police, particularly those drafted to the West from other parts of the country, brought the federal government into 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 from their pre-oil pollution waters. The young forward-looking Ibru requested to be given the “ice fish,” which he later exported to other places, including Cameroun.
Thus, Okotie-Eboh gave Nigeria and the Urhobo one-time wealthiest man in Africa in the person of Olorogun Michael Ibru, whose fishing conglomerate was feeding many countries in Africa, and the proceeds from which gave birth to Oceanic Bank, Aero Contractors, Guardian newspapers, Eko Le Meridien (sold off), Sheraton, etc.
Okotie-Eboh’s colourful dress sense
Okotie-Eboh was one of the most expensively-dressed Nigerian political figures as far as exquisite taste in traditional African wear and Western dressing was 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.
During the Queen’s visit to Nigeria in 1956, Okotie-Eboh dressed in flowing garments with a chain a yard long being held by a boy.
As a flamboyant dresser and fashionable style impressionist, he was given the nickname Omimi-Ejoh, Ejoh-Bilele, translated as “the man with long feature and flowing wrappers”.
In the First Republic, colour and flamboyance were seen in the political turf. In that dispensation, Okotie-Eboh held the flag, as far as flamboyance was concerned. Fondly called Omini-Ejoh or Ejoh-Bilela, he stood out with his flowing wrappers and bowler hat. In fact, among the 12-man cabinet of Prime Minister Balewa, Okotie-Eboh hogged the limelight more than others because of his flamboyant dressing and political showmanship. When he was assassinated on the January 15, 1966, flamboyance in government was literally murdered. Only Chief K.O. Mbadiwe, the man of timber and caliber, caterpillar, iroko and obeche, dared to hold fort.
The painful exit of an icon
When Major Kaduna Nzeogwu played out his coup in 1966, among those penciled down to be killed was Niger-Delta business colossus, Chief Okotie-Eboh. Along with Ahmadu Bello, Balewa, Akintola, Okotie-Eboh was brutally assassinated. Rumours had it that bullets could not penetrate Okotie-Eboh’s skin, so they tied him to a car and dragged him on the ground. Reports of those who saw Okotie-Eboh’s body said he was mangled beyond recognition. It was said that his grave in Okotie-Eboh Baptist Church, which borders Ziks’ 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 circumstances.”
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 remotely connected to 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. Live on, great patriot.
Herbert Samuel Macaulay
Olayinka Herbert Samuel Heelas Badmus Macaulay (1864 – 1946), was a Nigerian nationalist, politician, engineer, architect, journalist and musician and is considered by many Nigerians as the founder of Nigerian nationalism.
Early years and education
Macaulay was born in Broad St., Lagos, on November 14, 1864, to the family of Thomas Babington Macaulay and Abigail Crowther. His parents were children of people captured from present-day Nigeria, resettled in Sierra Leone by the British West Africa Squadron, and became eventual returnees to their homeland, Nigeria. Thomas Babington Macaulay was one of the sons of Ojo Oriare, while Abigail Crowther was the daughter of Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther, a descendant of King Abiodun. Thomas Babington Macaulay was the founder of the first secondary school in Nigeria, the CMS Grammar School, Lagos.
Macaulay entered primary school in 1869 and, from 1869 to 1877, he was educated at St. Paul’s Breadfruit School, Lagos, and CMS Faji School, Lagos. From 1877 to October 1880, he attended CMS Grammar School, Lagos, for his secondary education. He was a student at the school when his father died in 1878. In 1880, he joined his maternal uncle’s trade steamer and embarked on a trade and missionary journey across the Niger River, visiting Bonny, Lokoja, Gbebe and Brass. After going to a Christian missionary school, he took a job as a clerical assistant and indexer at the Department of Public Works, Lagos. Thereafter, with the support of the colonial administration, Macaulay left Lagos on July 1, 1890, to further his training in England. From 1891 to 1894, he studied civil engineering in Plymouth, England, and was also a pupil under G.D. Bellamy, a borough surveyor and water engineer in Plymouth. In 1893, he became a graduate of the Royal Institute of British Architects, London. Macaulay was also an accomplished musician who received a certificate in music from Trinity College, London, and a certificate in violin playing from Music International College, London.
Macaulay married Caroline Pratt, daughter of an African Superintendent of Police in December 1898. Their marriage came to an end in August 1899, upon Caroline’s death during childbirth and Macaulay is reported to have vowed never to marry again. While Macaulay never remarried in the Church, he had mistresses from whom he had a number of children, as well as companionships, which bore no children (Sarah Coker, daughter of JPL Davies, and Sarah Forbes Bonetta lived with Macaulay from 1909 until her death in 1916). Macaulay was reportedly the first Nigerian to own a motor car.
Though from a family of devout Anglicans, Macaulay embraced indigenous African religious traditions, was superstitious, and dabbled in the practice of magic. His personal papers contain notes from fortune tellers and diviners with instructions around taboos, divinations, sacrifices and other occult practices. Macaulay was also a member of the Association of Babalawos (Ifa priests) of Lagos.
Macaulay was a great socialite in Victorian Lagos. He organised concerts at his residence (named “Kirsten Hall,” after his German Consul friend, Arthur Kirsten) on 8, Balbina Street, Yaba. Macaulay was nicknamed “Wizard of Kirsten Hall” because of his ability to obtain classified information. He ran a network of informants whom he paid handsomely. Many times, minutes from colonial government would be leaked in newspapers that Macaulay was associated with. Whole sections of colonial government files and telegrams can be found in the “Maculay Papers” at the Africana section of the Library at the University of Ibadan.
Thought for the week
“The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humour, but without folly.” (Jim Rohn).