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For Senator Pius Ewherido, a tribute

OUR  paths crossed. We were friends but our bond was brotherly. He was a senior and ever counselling brother. He was always ready to make the age argument.  Hence, it was his entitlement at some point when we shared a room in Fajuyi Hall, OAU, Ife, to sleep below while I slept atop our double bunk bed.

We entered the University of Ife together, did all our 101s, 102s and all 100 level courses together. We attended all the great Jingo (Dr. Dipo Fasina) lectures, the Dr. Geoff Tangwa lectures, etc, in philosophy. Pius left the university earlier than me, graduating in B.A. Philosophy; I followed shortly with LL.B.   We graduated from Obafemi Awolowo University, even though we were admitted into the University of Ife by JAMB.

Our times together, which continued after Ife, were great and memorable. We were Catholics and did share many other bonds beyond books, politics and academics.  He was highly cerebral, articulate, focused, organised. A role model; a great strategist and a futurist.

A philosopher, indeed and in truth. We did “practise” and certainly had some stint in campus journalism as freelancers. We “anchored” at The Bee (a campus newspaper), did our pranks, stung, bugged and buzzed in accordance with the best ethics of campus journalism.

This was during the anti-intellectual Buhari-Idiagbon military dictatorship when our teachers were hounded as those who were “teaching what they were not paid to teach”. At that time, even our rival and perhaps more known publication, The Cobra, was catapulted into national limelight by the military junta which described it as “a subversive publication” in a nationwide broadcast.

Pius went ahead and won election into the Students Representative Council, SRC, where he distinguished himself as a great debater.  He cut his political teeth in the Great Ife tradition. Activism was in his blood; responsible and purposeful activism, that is.  He took time to equip himself for service. He obtained a law degree at Uniben after graduating from Ife while cutting his teeth as an entrepreneur.

He made his entrepreneurial debut modestly in  entertainment, catering, rental and hospitality services. Plying his trade in business and services his contacts spread quickly, fuelled by his public-spirited disposition to clients and patrons. He lived with his people in the Warri axis and got to know them extremely well while serving them. Whenever he visited me in Little Road, Yaba for Lagos weekends, he was the same big brother, humble, full of vision and passion for service.  We reminisced over our days in Ife. We were most pained and challenged by the injustice of June 12. He admired my occasional newspaper commentaries on the raging subject of June 12. We said “never again” together.

It was hardly surprising that when the opportunity beckoned for him to run for the Delta House of Assembly to represent his native Effurun, no one else stood a better chance. He had warmed himself to his peoples’ hearts. He knew them, they knew him. He was genuine and generous, caring from the heart of service and not out of opportunism.

A politician with non-severable bond with his constituents was born. It is rare in Nigeria, but Senator Ewherido demonstrated that such a genuine connection was possible.  That was the very secret of his strength as a legendary politician.  That was why he was able to “kill” giants and became a cat with nine lives. But it is a lesson that those who kept courting and who are presently mourning him would not learn.

His infectious personality, charm and charisma had no hiding place in Delta State House of Assembly. Rather, they came to public affirmation from that Chamber, where he served for eight years, and spread across the state. While officially the Deputy Speaker, he was the Acting Speaker for most of his tenure, owing to the ill-health of the substantive speaker and to all the impeachment dramas that marked his tenure.  As a speaker, he steered the Delta State House of Assembly into a forum for constructive debate.

He did not miss the opportunity to draw from the wisdom of Nigeria’s genuine patriots (even our own WS) whom he occasionally invited to address the House. I had opportunities of personal visits to him in Asaba at the height of his provincial legislative career. As a confident strategist and pragmatist, he already had a clear vision of his political career after the House of Assembly.

I was struck through one of the nights we spent together on how he talked with genuine concern and sympathy about the ill-health of his boss, the then speaker. After the speaker’s death, he ably survived all the intrigues and banana pills of his office and did not hesitate to play the game of survival whenever that was inevitable.  This was the time when James Ibori called the shots in Delta State.

Ewherido was truly a Deltan, a true Urhobo son and lover of Urhobo language, an Isoko grandson, and a worthy Ijaw in-law; at home with the Itsekiri and a good friend of the Anioma peoples.  He was always conscious of his broad support base.

His desire to rule Delta State was motivated less by ambition than by a sense of duty and a commitment to right wrongs; to empower the weak. But such motivation was a wrong one in the eyes of PDP.  A sense of duty, service, merit, justice and competence proved too ideal to thrive in the party Senator Ewherido then belonged. Those were the reason that the PDP could not trust him with the governorship of Delta State.  Having been denied the opportunity to serve from the State House in Asaba, Ewherido bided his time. He was not manifestly bitter and was hardly malicious.

He spoke no ill of his adversaries. At the right time, he mobilized his people and got their consent to serve them in Abuja as a Senator. But he kept his eyes on the State House. He believed in the power of the executive to make tremendous and lasting impact on the people.

Prof. CHIDI OGUAMANAM wrote from Ottawa, Canada.


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