TRIBUTE: Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh and the justiceability of history

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By BOBSON GBINIJE

THEY have stabbed themselves for freedom – jumped into the waves for freedom – fought like very tigers for freedom! But they have been hung, and burned, and shot-and their tyrants have been their historians—Lydia Maria.

Where does the pendulum of objectivity swing in respect of the life and times of Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh (Omimi-Ejoh) who was killed on this day?  Nigeria’s political history attained a remarkably eventful crescendo on January 15, 1966, when Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, Chief Akintola, etc., were assassinated in a military pogrom and putsch led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogu.

Major Nzeogu was quoted as saying in a Radio Broadcast that: “…Nigeria will never be the same again …” The why, where, when, how and the justification for the assassination of these crop of Nigerian politicians and its subsequent causative and bandwagon effect on the Nigerian/Biafra civil war (1967-1970) remains a riddle in a conundrum superimposed in a riddle.

*Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh (with his flamboyant wrapper) and his wife during Queen Elizabeth II visit to Nigeria in 1956

*Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh (with his flamboyant wrapper) and his wife during Queen Elizabeth II visit to Nigeria in 1956

The thematic thrust and the kernel of the mission of the Nzeogu-led coup was the hook, line and sinker expunging of prebendalistic graft, psychotic corruption, tribalism, nepotistic idiosyncrasies amongst politicians and a call for the rekindling of national and patriotic zeitgeist amongst Nigerians.

The revolutionaries’ redoubtable intrepidity became obstructed by the trajectory of political back stabbers, ethnocentric prejudices and the killings and massacres were skewed in favour of one major ethnic group, the Igbo or so most historians adjudged it to be. The Great Zik, Dr. Okpara, Mbadiwe, Mbonu Ejike and Nwafor Orizu, etc, all of Igbo extraction, were left untouched.

The likes of Abubukar Tafawa Balewa, Ahmadu Bello of the North, Akintola of the West and Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh of the then Mid-West Region or today’s Niger Delta were hacked to death in cold blood. These killings and massacres set the stage for the Nigeria/Biafra civil war.

The moralistic and Victorian grundnorm that precipitated the Nzeogu-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.

Chinua Achebe’s attempt to put the Nigerian civil war in obverse and reverse perspective in his book entitled There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra is now suffering under the same sledge-hammer of jingoistic historians and some informed commentators.

The multi-dimensional submissions of Mr. N.U. Akpan in his book entitled The Struggle for Secession, Adewale Ademoyega’s Why We Struck, Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s Ahiara  Declaration and Because I am Involved, Ben Gbulie’s Nigeria’s Five Majors and The Fall Of Biafra, Dr. K.O. Mbadiwe’s Rebirth of a Nation, Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Travails of Democracy and The Rule of Law, Olusegun Obasanjo’s My Command and Not in My Character; and Biafra’s Government Press Enugu Release, Vol. 1-7 entitled, January 15 – Before and After 1966 Nigerian crisis, etc.

All these publications shows that there are protean views on the political schism of  January 15, 1966, the assassinations and the subsequent Nigerian/Biafra Civil War (1967-1970).  It is a truism that, in the political engineering process of making Nigeria metamorphose into political adulthood, I dare say that the Nzeogu-led coup was imperative at that point-in-time of Nigeria’s political history. But were the assassinations justified? I say capital NO! Nigeria would have been a different nation today, if all the innumerable coups and killings  were calculated at making  Nigeria a different  and a better nation.

One school of thought posited that the architectonics of the political and power pyramid within the military institution was skewed against politicians in the NCNC, UPGA, UMBC, MDF, NNDP and that  of the NNA. Hence, the coup was calculated at eliminating politicians from other parties other than theirs.

Patriotic bent and cerebral soldier

But some argued that Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogu was a cosmopolitan citizen, a great revolutionary, disciplinarian and a cerebral soldier. His co-revolutionaries were soldiers of the same patriotic bent and ideology. They would have, therefore, opted for nothing-less than the fight for a corruption-free and a greater Nigerian nation. But these are parts of the vagaries of history.

These killings over corruption and nationhood compared to the atrocities of present day politicians and our leadership remains unjustifiable. If corruption was the gravamen of the coups and killings, we have now learnt that our today’s politicians and bureaucrats are defiant in prebendalistic graft and have upped corruption into an art and a religion.

Our nation has now apotheosized mediocrity as our totem of honour and created the fecund field for the rise of Democratic Tyrants. Hence, the late Alfred Rewane grimly refrained “Yesterday, we yearned for a better tomorrow. But today, we mourn the loss of a glorious yesterday. How sad!” The killings were unwarranted and an act of bestial military savagery.

As we mark the tragedy of January 15, 1966, we recall with a heavy heart the death of our own Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh who would have marked his centennial and was killed at the age of 54 years. He remains the lodestone of the Niger Delta as a pioneering Minister of Labour and welfare and later the Minister of Finance. His achievements are still pragmatically tangible in Education, Industrial, Economic vide Central Bank of Nigeria for all to see.

History vindicating the just

Not even one dim of pangyrical evocation by  way of designating one university, college of education, street, town or airport after Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh has been eventuated. But history will vindicate the just.

I assert with unequivocal clarity, 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.

But, we take solace  in the words of John Donne, essayist and poet, “Death be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful. But thou arth not so, for those  whom thou thinkest thou dost destroy, die not, poor death. Nor yest can thou kill Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh. One short sleep past he shall wake eternally and death shall be no more. Death thou shall die”.

The truth and absolute anatomization of the facts of the killings, pogroms and massacres  that took  place on January 15, 1966 is yet to be exhaustively surgeonised. The ghost of that politically tragic and remarkably eventful day will continue to hunt Nigeria and its leadership until the time of the Nigeria’s political Armageddon and social earthquake.

CHIEF BOBSON GBINIJE, a social critic, wrote from Warri Delta State.

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