We had earlier taken a break last week on the above discourse, to discuss some urgent national issues, bordering on the “Power of the people: The recall process” and the “Legal issues surrounding the president’s prolonged absence.” This week, we shall continue and conclude our searchlight on one of Nigeria’s nationalist, Dr. Michael Okpara. Thereafter, we shall explore the life and times of other nationalists like Dr. Dennis Osadebay, Jereton Mariere and Samuel Ladoke Akintola.
Dr. Michael Okpara
With an infectious zeal, Dr. M.I. Okpara pursued other components of the real sector of the economy, industrial development. He played a crucial part in the development of the Emene Industrial Layout in Enugu and the Trans-Amadi Industrial Layout, Port Harcourt. He developed the Independence Layout, Enugu. He built a large number of flourishing manufacturing concerns throughout major towns and cities in Eastern Nigeria, like Calabar, Owerri, Umuahia, Aba, Onitsha, Port Harcourt and Enugu. Dr. Okpara’s devotion to the real sector of the economy was essentially responsible for Eastern Nigerian phenomenal growth in the 1960s, making experts regard it as one of the three fastest developing economies in the world up to January 15, 1966, when the First Republic was brought to an abrupt end by a military coup d’etat.
Surprisingly, unlike now, he never allotted a single plot of land to either himself or any member of his family. Though, he was the Eastern Nigerian Premier from 1959 to 1966, a whole region which has now metamorphosed into nine states, Dr. Okpara had no house anywhere in the world, including his village of Ohuhu, Umuahia, Abia State. It was not until the early 1980s, when he returned from exile in Ireland, Europe, that his friends and admirers built a house for him in Ohuhu after a fund raiser for this purpose was launched publicly.
Okpara, who died 17th of December, 1984, was a member of the Royal Academy of Physicians of Great Britain. Michael Okpara Way, in Abuja is named after him, as is the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture in Umudike, Okpara Square in Enugu; Michael Okpara College of Agriculture in Imo State (since renamed the Imo State Polytechnic). He received the award of GCON (Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger), one of Nigeria’s highest honours, in 1964. There is a statue of him in Enugu, Enugu State, and also another statue of him in Umuahia, the capital of the present-day Abia State.
Dr. Dennis Osadebay
Dr. Dennis Chukude Osadebay (29th of June, 1911 – 26th of December, 1994), was a Nigerian politician, poet, journalist and former premier of the now defunct Mid-Western Region of Nigeria, which now comprises Edo and Delta States. He was one of the pioneering Nigerian poets, who wrote in English.
Even as a politician, he detested party politics and tried to form unbiased opinions on important matters of the period. He was also one of the leaders of the movement to create a Mid-Western region during the Nigerian First Republic.
Osadebay’s beginnings and imperishable strides
He was born in Asaba, Delta State, to parents of mixed cultural backgrounds. He attended Asaba Government School at Asaba, the Sacred Heart School in Calabar and Hope Waddell Training Institute. He joined the labour movement in 1930 as a Customs Officer, working in Lagos, Port Harcourt and Calabar. He subsequently went to England to study Law during the 1940s. It was while studying that he started publishing poetic verses. He was then known as a newspaper poet, as most of his writings were published in the West African Pilot and some other newspapers. In his writings, Osadebay used both his personal life and public events as inspiration. In Africa Sings, a collection of poems, he dwelt on themes from a personal point of view, such as a sullen poem written about his 25th birthday and the coming of middle age. However, his best works in the volume were poems written from an impersonal viewpoint. In his adventurous poem, “black man troubles”, he used pidgin English to lament the status of black Africans in colonial Africa and injustice in the society. His poems were also notable for faithfully representing modern poetic rhythm.
Osadebay was one of the founding members of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), in 1944. He left the country to read law a few years later. After completing his studies, he returned to Nigeria and established a law practice in Aba and was also made the Legal Adviser of the NCNC. In 1951, he contested and won a seat on the Western Region House of Assembly, which was dominated by the rival Action Group (AG). He soon became the leader of opposition in the region, from 1954 to 1956, but gave the mantle to Adegoke Adelabu in 1956. After the death of Adelabu, he took on his familiar oppositional role in 1958. In 1960, he became the president of the Nigerian Senate and upon the creation of the Mid-Western Region on 9th of August, 1963, became the pioneer premier of the newly created region at the expense of Chief Humphrey Omo Osagie. He was a great nationalist, a focused and detribalised Nigerian. He died in 1994.
Samuel Jereton Mariere (1907 – 1971) was the first governor of the former Midwest State of Nigeria from February 1964 to January 1966, succeeding Osadebay. He was also the first Chancellor of the University of Lagos, Akoka, Lagos, and the first president of the Christian Council of Nigeria.
In 1935, Mariere was elected Secretary-General of the Urhobo Progressive Union, a famous association created in 1931 to articulate and chart a direction for the Urhobo people. He was subsequently made a traditional chief, becoming the Olorogun of Evwreni in 1953. He was elected a member of the Nigerian House of Representatives for the Urhobo East and later Central District. Mariere was a leader of the agitation for the creation of the Midwest region out of the old Western Region, which was dominated by the Yoruba. The Mid-Western Region from which Western Region was created on 9th of August, 1963, after a popular plebiscite in which all the Urhobo Divisions voted unanimously in favour and Mariere was later appointed the first Governor of the region.
Following this, he was given two other aristocratic titles, that of the Onisogene of Aboh in 1964 and the Ogifueze of Agbor in 1965. Mariere died in 1971. A students’ residential hall is named after him in the University of Lagos, with a life-size statue at the entrance.
Mr. Francis Daniel-Okumagba, in honour of Mariere, at the unveiling of a statue at University of Lagos campus, said, “Chief Jereton Mariere was accomplished in the critical areas of life. Indeed, his impact transcended his immediate and catchment environments hence this ceremony is holding in the University of Lagos, which is about 400 kilometres from Evwreni, Delta State, the birth place of Chief Mariere.” The Atamu president said that in honour and in commemoration of Mariere’s glorious tenure, as first chancellor of Unilag, a student complex was named after him. This is the popular Mariere Hall in Unilag. He further described Mariere’s appointment, as chancellor at his time, as not a fluke but an honour that was rightly earned and deserved. We cannot agree less.
Samuel Ládòkè Akíntolá
Samuel Ládòkè Akíntolá or “S.L.A.” (6th of July, 1910 – 15th of January, 1966), was a Nigerian politician, lawyer, aristocrat and orator, who was born in Ogbomosho, the then Western Region. In addition to serving as one of the founding fathers of modern Nigeria, he was also elevated to the position of Oloye Aare Ona Kakanfo XIII of Yoruba land.
Akintola was born in Ogbomosho to the family of Akintola Akinbola and Akanke. His father was a trader and descended from a family of traders. At a young age, the family moved to Minna where he was briefly educated at a Church Missionary Society school. In 1922, he returned to Ogbomosho to live with his grandfather and subsequently attended a Baptist Day School, before proceeding to Baptist College in 1925. He taught at the Baptist Academy, Lagos, from 1930 to 1942 and thereafter worked briefly with the Nigerian Railway Corporation.
During this period, he became acquainted with H.O. Davies, an eminent lawyer and politician and joined the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM), where he assisted Ernest Ikoli and supported the latter to represent Lagos in the Legislative Council over the candidacy of Samuel Akisanya, who was supported by Azikiwe. He joined the staff of the Daily Service Newspaper and soon became the Editor in 1943, with the support of Akinola Maja, a shareholder, thus, replacing Ernest Ikoli as Editor.
Akintola was also founder of “Iroyin Yoruba”, a newspaper written in the Yoruba language. In 1945, he opposed the general strike led by Azikiwe’s NCNC and Michael Imoudu, earning the distrust of politicians like Anthony Enahoro. In 1946, he earned a British scholarship to study in the U.K. and completed legal studies by 1950. He started his legal career, working as a lawyer on land and civil matters. In 1952, he formed a partnership with Chris Ogunbanjo, Chief Bode Thomas and Michael Odesanya.
After he was trained as a lawyer in the United Kingdom, Akintola returned to Nigeria in 1949 and teamed up with other educated Nigerians from the Western Region to form the Action Group (AG), under the leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He initially was the legal adviser of the group before becoming the Deputy Leader in 1953, after the death of Bode Thomas. He defeated Arthur Prest in the primaries to succeed Bode Thomas. As the Deputy Leader of the AG party, he did not serve in the regional Western Region Government headed by the premier, Awolowo, but was the Action Group Parliamentary Leader/Leader of Opposition, in the House of Representatives of Nigeria. At the federal level, he served as Minister for Health and later, Minister for Communications and Aviation.
Decisions over the direction of strategic alliances by the party, the adoption of democratic socialism, as the party’s platform and the battle for supremacy in the party led to serious disagreement between Chiefs Akintola and Awolowo. Akintola disagreed with Awolowo’s decision not to join the coalition government. Akintola felt the Yoruba people of the West were losing their pre-eminent position in business, university and administration in Nigeria to the Igbo people of the East, simply because the Igbo-controlled NCNC had joined the government and the AG had not. He also opposed the party’s decision to adopt democratic socialism as its ideology, preferring a more conservative stance.
Akintola was accused by Chief Awolowo of trying to supplant him, as Leader of the party. In May, 1962, with the Western House of Assembly set to remove Akintola after the party had earlier passed a “vote of no confidence”, on the premier at a party meeting, crisis erupted on the floor of the House. The AG party broke into two factions, leading to several crises in the Western Regional House of Assembly, that ultimately led the central/federal government, headed by the Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, to declare a State of Emergency rule in the Western Region. Chief (Dr) M.A Majekodunmi, the Federal Minister of Health, was appointed as sole Administrator.
• To be continued
Thought for the week
Inspiring scenes of people taking the future of their countries into their own hands will ignite greater demands for good governance and political reform elsewhere in the world, including in Asia and in Africa.
– William Hague.