About the Book Footprints of A Statesman: The Life And Times Of Chief Daniel Okumagba
Chief Daniel Okumagba, who lived from 1922 to 2000, was widely acknowledged as a man of truth, courage and discipline. From 1960, when he won election to represent Warri East Constituency at the Western Region House of Assembly in Ibadan, Chief Daniel Okumagba played major roles in Nigeria’s national development.
He was a member of the National Council for Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), a foundation member and foundation national executive committee member of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in the Second Republic, governorship candidate of the party in Bendel State (now Edo and Delta states) in the 1979 general elections and pioneer chairman of Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited.
Chief Daniel Okumagba was a teacher, legislator, politician, businessman and frontline Niger Delta leader.
In all, he was a man of peace, who believed in peaceful coexistence among various ethnic groups, a statesman and nationalist.
In this biography of Chief Daniel Okumagba, Bernard Okumagba (former Delta State Commissioner for Finance) tells of a father whose life has not been fully chronicled and of values and circumstances that shaped the public identity of his father.
Bernard’s story of one of the key players of the First and Second Republics in Nigeria is a compelling narrative. Footprints of a Statesman: The life and times of Chief Daniel Okumagba, is a son’s appreciation of his father, and the lessons therefrom.
Chief Daniel Okumagba, my father, was born on January 1, 1922, the 12th child of Chief Okumagba Eboh, a paramount chief of Okere-Urhobo in Warri, present-day Delta State of Nigeria, and the 6th child of his mother, Mrs Ekeye Okumagba of the Urumaro Quarters of Effurun, in the neighbouring Uvwie Kingdom. The Okumagba Eboh family typified the families of early Twentieth Century Urhobo, nay Africa – large, yet close-knit – and so the family welcomed 13 more children into the household. My grandfather’s lineage dates back many centuries, to Otor-Okpare, in present-day Ughelli South Local Government Area of Delta State, from where the three progenitors of Okere-Urhobo migrated to found the virgin land, which is currently called Okere-Urhobo Kingdom in Warri South Local Government Area of Delta State. The three brothers – children of Okpeki – were Idama, Sowhoruvwe and Ohwotemu. My grandfather, Chief Okumagba Eboh, was from the Idama lineage.
Chief Okumagba Eboh was born in 1853 in Otor-Orere, in Okere-Urhobo, to Chief Eboh Olodi of Okere-Urhobo and Mrs Aye-Oluwe Eboh of Otien family of Edjeba, Agbarha, both in Warri. His grandmother was Ijaw from Kiagbodo, Burutu Local Government Area, also in Delta State. Chief Okumagba Eboh rose to become Head of the Olodi, Oki and Ighogbadu Families and Leader of Okere-Urhobo. He had eight wives, some of them younger than his older children; it was not fashionable to have a monogamous family in those times. The reasons for this family size are well documented in African history as necessitated by the essential nature of the family enterprise, the main activities being farming and commerce. Writing in Professor Peter Ekeh’s Studies in Urhobo Culture, Very Revd (Professor) Samuel Erivwo, retired Provost of the Anglican Diocese of Warri and a noted cultural historian, observes:
“A multiplicity of wives constituted the wealth of a man in the olden days; they helped him in his farm, in oil palm trade, etc., and consequently increased his wealth. Many wives were also of prestige value: their husband was deemed a resourceful man who was able to command the respect and obedience of many and so would be given a place of considerable importance in society.”
The reasons and, perhaps, the excuses are limitless; still, there may yet be some more explanation for the large size of the polygamous family into which my father was born.
My grandfather was a merchant who also wielded political power and tremendous influence as a Warrant Chief in the colonial administration of the time. The position my grandfather held, attracted favours, allegiances and pledges of loyalty. As Chief of Okere-Urhobo, my grandfather was a prominent leader in the Warri area, relating as it were with the neighbouring Urhobos of Agbarha Warri, the Ijaws and the Itsekiris. With relationships like these, and on the basis of the friendships that defined the times, oral tradition has it that he kept an open mind and an accommodating spirit, having friendships that straddled the coastal communities. The various communities lived as good neighbours. Some of the most enterprising farmers of the time owned plantations that farmed cash crops, especially oil palm and rubber, the major exports of the area then. My grandfather had one of the big plantations in the Warri area. The Eboh plantations, measuring several hectares of what is today the Warri conurbation, were well regarded as some of the biggest in the Delta area.
The Eboh plantation stretched to cover much of what is today’s Okumagba Layout in the Warri metropolis. The plantation size defined Chief Okumagba Eboh as one of the biggest plantation owners at that time. The Okere-Urhobo people then were largely into trading and farming, but the impact of the British entry into the Warri area was already being felt. The river port at Warri, where trade and commerce flourished, was being developed, as the British, following in the footsteps of the Portuguese traders before, moved to establish a trading and administrative outpost. As Leader of the Okere-Urhobo people, my grandfather was in contact with the European merchants and the British political leaders.
It was into this tapestry of a rich traditional culture, a deep communal tradition and a shifting administrative template that my father, Chief Daniel Okumagba, was born, and it was this eclectic mix that shaped the life of my father, a man who later became a major figure in the politics of the Niger Delta and more than a footnote in the politics of Nigeria. My father’s siblings were two elder brothers, nine elder sisters and 13 younger brothers and sisters, sired over several years in the eventful life of my grandfather, Chief Okumagba Eboh, who died in 1963. So spread out in ages were the children of my grandfather, that his first grandchild and my cousin, the late Mr Forcados Wilkie, was older than my father, who was born when his father, my grandfather, was already in his 60s.
My grandfather was one of the early converts to Christianity. At about the time he was growing in influence as one of the leaders of the Warri area, the Catholic Church had made an inroad into the coastal communities of the Niger Delta. The premier Catholic Church in Warri was already active. It was no surprise therefore that his children, including my father, were baptized as Christians into the Catholic faith and the older ones schooled at the Roman Catholic Mission (RCM) School in Warri. As early purveyors of Western education, the Church also played a key role in the formative years of my father.
As a young child, the cares of everyday life were simple. Those who remember my father from his early years speak of a youth who was meticulous, neat and studious. In those days, the Church was the nucleus of the knowledge society and my father was particularly fond of this company. It was a different world in those days, my father used to reminisce, as he contemplated the technological changes that he saw as he grew older. The much that came close to entertainment was the radio; the television had not yet reached these shores and the internet, if it was ever anticipated, could have been science fiction taken too far. My father regaled me with the adventures of his youth. While a child, he would, as he told me, find time to be in church to watch the priests, partake in church catechism classes and listen to the organist at his practice sessions. Perhaps, it was here he developed his interest in the piano and classical music. Often, as he grew older, he lamented the degeneration of communal life and wondered if children still found time and space for the kind of adventure that were common in his childhood days: trapping birds and hunting small game.
His leisurely escapades seemed not to have interfered with his sense of duty at home, where he was treasured as a natural leader, a quick and bold mind. As a youngster he enjoyed the trust and confidence of the community elders, including taking early roles in leadership.
My grandfather may have seen a future beyond tilling the land. His relationship with the British and his witness to the growth of the colonial empire told him that the men who would rule the new world would be those who studied to get a foothold in the colonial administration; he was determined that his children would play key roles in the affairs of the new world. So, early enough, my father was dispatched to school, as were the other children. My grandfather may perhaps have been content with his son pursuing enterprise, the way he did, to build a formidable presence as a man of means. And that mindset may have conspired with other forces to determine why my father’s formal education terminated after obtaining his Teacher’s Certificate from St. Thomas College, Ibusa, though he passed his matriculation examinations. The community elders also played a critical role in determining the trajectory of my father’s career path and his lifework.
The world in 1950 when he began to take an active role in community administration was a whole lot different from the earlier years; the colonial administration had profoundly affected the community and political administration, throwing up new power equations that never existed and foisting, in the process, for its own convenience, new suzerainties. The elders met and chose my father to lead the Kindred Families.
In 1950, my father became Secretary to the Kindred Families of Olodi, Oki and Ighogbadu of Okere-Urhobo, taking over from Pa Gbamijolo Eburu, who was until then the acting Secretary. At this time, my father was already established as a teacher. He taught in schools in Adagbrassa and Warri and was part of the pioneer staff of Urhobo College Effurun when it was founded in 1949.
Urhobo College was just taking off as a secondary school established by the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU). The school became the furnace that forged some of the remarkable friendships my father sustained throughout his life. About the time my father began teaching at Urhobo College as a pioneer staff, some of the people who later became some of his closest friends and acquaintances also joined the staff of the school. Some of them were Dr Mudiaga Odje, Chief Demas Akpore, Chief Daniel Obiomah and later Professor Tekena Tamuno. Dr Odje, who later became a lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, was one of the close friends of my father and they enjoyed such a loyal relationship, especially in later years when Dr Odje returned from England as a lawyer and set up practice in Warri.