The Sun News

Accord Concondiale: The continuous search for Nigeria’s elusive unity (10)


To be a great leader, there’s no such thing as a challenge too big to handle. Once you adopt this attitude, your people will follow suit, and every problem will present an opening for greater achievement. On this note, we continue and conclude our discourse one of Nigeria’s great patriots, Sir Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, thereafter, we will beam our searchlight on another prodigy of a kind Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh.

Early life and career (continues and concluded)

In 1945, Balewa and other northerners (including Aminu Kano), obtained a scholarship to study at the University of London’s Institute of Education (1945-1946), where he received a teacher’s certificate in history. When he returned to Nigeria, he said he now saw the world with “new eyes”. Balewa said he: “returned to Nigeria with new eyes, because I had seen people who lived without fear, who obeyed the law as part of their nature, who knew individual liberty.”

He returned to Nigeria as a Native Authority Education Officer. He was elected in 1946, to the Colony’s Northern House of Assembly, and to the Legislative Assembly in 1947. As a legislator, he was a vocal advocate of the rights of northern Nigeria, and together with Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, who held the hereditary title of Sardauna of Sokoto, he founded the Northern People’s Congress (NPC).

Balewa was widely admired for his simplicity, humility and oratorical prowess. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. In 1966, Balewa was killed in a military coup.

Balewa’s arrival on the national scene

Balewa was no firebrand political radical. He may have remained a teacher for the rest of his life had southern politicians such as the flamboyant intellectual Nnamdi Azikiwe not pushed for Nigerian independence earlier than desired by the North. Although not overtly political, he founded an organization, named the “Bauchi Discussion Circle” in 1943, and was elected Vice President of the Northern Teachers’ Association (the first trade union in Northern Nigeria), in 1948. Anxious not to be politically upstaged by the Southerners, Northern leaders sought educated Northerners to serve in political posts. Balewa helped found the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), which was originally intended as a cultural organisation, but by 1951 morphed into a political party due to the need to present a Northern response to the rapid and sophisticated political groupings emerging in the South.  Balewa was called into political service as the Bauchi Native Authority’s Representative to the Northern House of Assembly.  The House of Assembly also selected him to become a member of the Nigerian Legislative Council.

Despite political involvement, Balewa remained suspicious of Nigerian unification and feared that the Northern Region would be dominated by the better educated and dynamic South. He declared most epocally: “the southern tribes who are now pouring into the north in ever increasing numbers … do not mix with the northern people in social matters and we … look upon them as invaders. Since 1914 the British government has been trying to make Nigeria into one country, but the Nigerian people themselves are historically different in their backgrounds, in their religious beliefs and customs, and do not show themselves any sign of willingness to unite. So what it comes to is that Nigerian unity is only a British intention in the country.”

Balewa entered Government in 1952 as Minister of Works, and later  Minister of Transport. In 1957, he was elected Chief Minister, forming a coalition government between the NPC and the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), led by Nnamdi Azikiwe. He retained the post as Prime Minister when Nigeria gained independence in 1960, and was reelected in 1964.

Prior to Nigeria’s independence, a Constitutional Conference in 1954 had adopted a regional political framework for the country, with all regions given a considerable amount of political freedom. The three regions then were composed of diverse cultural groups. The Premiers and some prominent leaders of the regions later took on a policy of jealously guiding their regions against political encroachment from other regional leaders. Later on, this political environment influenced the Balewa administration. His term in office was turbulent, with regional factionalism constantly threatening his government.

Balewa’s giant strides

As a Nigerian Prime Minister, he played important roles in the continent’s formative indigenous rule. He was an important leader in the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), creating a co-operative relationship with French-speaking African Countries. He was also instrumental in negotiations between Moise Tshombe and the Congolese authorities during the Congo Crisis of 1960 to 1964. He led a vocal protest against the Sharpeville Massacre of South Africa in 1960 and also entered into an alliance with Commonwealth ministers who wanted South Africa to leave the Commonwealth in 1961. However, a treason charge and conviction against one of the Western Region’s leaders, Obafemi Awolowo, led to wide protests and condemnation from many of his supporters. The 1965 election in Western Region later produced violent protests. Rioting and arson were soon synchronous with what was perceived as inordinate political encroachment and an over-exuberant election outcome for Awolowo’s Western  Region opponents.

As Prime Minister of Nigeria, Balewa, from 1960 to 1961, doubled as a great foreign affairs advocate for Nigeria. In 1961, the Balewa government created an official Foreign Affairs and Commonwealth Relations ministerial position in favour of Jaja Wachuku, who became, from 1961 to 1965, the First substantive Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Commonwealth Relations, later called External Affairs. 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 N5 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, “Omimi-Ejoh” (1919 – 1966), was born to an Itsekiri prince, Okotie Eboh, on July 18, 1912, in Warri Division, in 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 scene

In 1937, at 18, he joined Bata Shoe Company as an accounting clerk. While working as a clerk, he studied bookkeeping 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 the 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 rubber-creping 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.

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 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.

Thought for the week

“To be a good leader, you sometimes need to go down the untraveled path. Being bold in the face of uncertainty will help give your team courage and motivate them to keep striving when the going gets tough.” (Anonymous)


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  1. Peter Okeke 16th August 2017 at 12:14 pm

    1966 coup was such a great disservice and a monumental wastes to this country. We are where we are today because of that terrible coup. The military has done incalculable harm to this country that they may not fully account for in thousands of years to come. Everything they have done till date has been destructive and more corrupt riddled than met the eyes.

  2. Emmanuel Chukwuma Umeh 16th August 2017 at 7:12 pm

    Tribal sentiments and undue jealousy, had really caused a great damage in the on-going marriage of the 1914 Amalgamation of the Southern and Northern protectorates, especially from 1945 to 1966!

    Unfortunately, the same historical scenario kept replaying itself in the NIGERIA zonal political theaters, but with more negatively, especially between the 2013 – 2015 general elections!

    The way forward is unbaised and all-inclusive democractic restructuring of NIGERIA on universal democractic social equity, equality, fairness and social justices!

    There must be no tribal or religious marginalizations and nepotism, as currently politically promoted under the Buhari’s administration, especially between 2015 till date!

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