By Ogaga Ifowodo
ON Saturday, June 14, 2014, the remains of Dr Abel Kprogidi Ubeku, former Managing Director of Guinness Nigeria PLC, were returned to Mother Earth. Although better known to Nigerians, especially those for whom alcoholic beverage is synonymous with the dark stout he turned into the most popular beer in the country — “black thing good ooo!” — he was also a sound scholar and notable politician.
His book, Principles of Personnel Management in Nigeria, I am told, was (and, I hope, remains) required reading on the subject of labour relations and human resource management.
But it is in his role as a principled politician who at a time represented the best hope of the Isoko people, a Niger Delta minority mindlessly exploited and “ostracized” from Nigeria, to aspire to the presidency, or even be “considered” for a ministerial position, that he is more justly celebrated in Isokoland. When news broke of Ubeku’s death after a long but brave battle against the debilitating effects of a stroke, I had published an online tribute in which I seemed to have wrapped his still-warm body in a cloth woven almost entirely on an ethnic loom.
I had tended to take too much local pride in Ubeku as politician and pillar of the community of Isoko people. I am happy to report that I was promptly reprimanded by my good friend and comrade, Denja Yaqub, of the Nigeria Labour Congress who accused me of diminishing Ubeku in death. Indeed, Yacub it was who first informed me of the indispensability of Ubeku’s book to students and scholars of labour relations and personnel management in Nigeria.
Yet, at the risk of perpetuating the error for which I was justly rebuked, I find it is Ubeku the politician that occupies my thoughts four days after many thronged from far and near to his hometown of Araya in Isoko South Local Government which came to a standstill for his burial.
I hope I will be forgiven, as I have recently been thinking politics to the point of deciding to run for office in order to play a more direct role in the gargantuan effort to salvage our stunningly misgoverned and plundered country.
All politics is local, it is said, and to me this is an indisputable fact. In the local is the universal, which is why I have elected to run for a seat in the House of Representatives, an office that visibly combines the local and the universal (national, if you will): representing the Isokos who happen to be in a single federal constituency and being a federal legislator with the entire country as his constituency.
In any case, so many glowing tributes have been paid to Ubeku since his death that there is clearly nothing more I can say to brighten further the shine and lustre of the gilded stool on which he now sits in happy communion with the departed ancestors of his ilk.
Perhaps my current cast of mind, which I suspect is the same one I have had since hearing the news of his death, is primarily due to the appalling state of the Isoko nation. I have lately added my voice to the anguished cry of the Isokos over their extreme and spiteful marginalisation to the point of ostracisation from Nigeria.
The particulars of this plaint, this unanswerable claim of oppression and injustice, are many: the exploitation of their oil and gas wealth with zero returns by way of development; the absence of federal presence in their land beyond decrepit police stations and moribund post offices; the fact that no Isoko son or daughter has been deemed worthy to be a minister, chairman of a board or headship of a ministry, department or agency (even of those set up to address the historic grievances of the Niger Delta); the sore matter of their having only two local governments whereas they are the most populous ethnic group of the three ‘I’s — Itshekiri, Ijaw, Isoko — in Delta State, among others.
As is invariably the case in a dispassionate exercise of this kind, my ruminations on the agony of the Isokos led me to one conclusion: the dearth since the death of the immortal James Ekpre Otobo of principled, visionary and courageous leadership in their land. As Shakespeare had Cassius remind Mark Antony in his great tragic play, Julius Caesar, “the fault” is sometimes “not in our stars but in us that we are underlings.”
For it seems to me safe to say that Ubeku, with the exception of perhaps only Senator Okpozo, marks the end of visible and credible Isoko leaders that the rest of Delta State, in particular, and Nigeria, in general, could take seriously. If this is an outlandish claim, I would be more than happy to be corrected. In the meantime, I have been engaging in a thought experiment: what would Ubeku have wished — his human failings or imperfections notwithstanding — that the Isokos do as 2015 approaches? Continue with the current state of things in which a few individuals, so few they can be counted on one hand, boast of their absolute dominion over all and sundry in Isokoland?
In which they brag of their ownership of the communal yam, together with the knife to share it, and so of their imperial right to decide who and who gets a piece and how big or small that piece must be? What might he, a man of exacting, even vexing, principles — to say nothing of a high self-esteem bordering on hubris — have said of the state of our civic life and public health, so deplorable that the invasion of our streets and main roads by heaps and heaps of refuse speaks loudly and foully of the state of health of our local polity? What kind of “progress” would he have thought we have made since we attained the status of municipal self-governance from the Urhobos to whom we were earlier on a mere appendage?
I have a good guess: had debilitating illness not denied him the strength and vigour of his irrepressible spirit, he would have railed against it and gone on to DEMAND AN IMMEDIATE CHANGE of the kind of self-serving and corrupt leadership that has turned Isokoland into a laughing-stock even within the already laughable Nigerian nation.
Adieu, Dr Ubeku. May your best dreams inspire us to a new awakening for change in our long-suffering land.