Dr. Ajoritsedere Awosika served as the permanent Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Federal Ministry of Science & Technology and the Federal Ministry of Power respectively. In this chat, Dr Awosika, who is the sixth child of the late federal commissioner for Finance, Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, says she is not bothered whether or not the Federal Government immortalises her late father. Excerpts:
By Dapo Akinrefon
FIFTY years after his death, how are his children planning to remember him?
We remember him every day but hold a memorial event annually. Fifty years after his death, his principles and the issues he fought for still need to be examined. Fifty years after his demise, there is a need for history to make room for him as an enigma. It is to this extent that we intend to launch a book in his honour titled, ‘Chief F.S. Okotie-Eboh; CMG/MP: In time and space.’
My father should be remembered as somebody who was brave, honest and made his money from hard work. This is a country where people believe that anybody who has money stole it. My father was raised by poor parents and he worked very hard for his country. He never stole Nigeria’s money; rather, he gave his money to the country. Before he became a minister, he owned shoe, plastic, cement and rubber factories and never made a noise about free education. He practised it.
Noise about free education
He was accountable and a man of great discipline.
How would you want the government to remember him?
The government will need to choose how best to honour a man with the aforementioned feats and qualities. Efforts have been made to ask the federal government to immortalise him, but I want God to put a stamp on the book we would be launching. I want people to remember him for the impact he made while alive. The government has not been fair to him.
Did he not encourage any of you to take after him?
My father died when we were very young. I was 13 years old when he died. But he drew some of his sons into his business enterprises.
What memorable times did you share?
To be honest, the major memory of him was his disciplinarian and prudent attitude. I attended a boarding primary school at age five and whenever I was home on holiday, he made sure that I interacted with his cook, driver and steward including their children. He treated everybody equally. I grew up in that way without seeing myself different from others. There was no difference between me and other children in our environment.
Besides, he did not allow us to know that he had money. But I heard it from my school that my father was rich. He used to neatly arrange some pennies on a table in his room. Each time he asked me to go and tidy his room, I used to see the pennies. But if anybody took one of the pennies, he would know.
Before he joined politics, he was involved in many business activities. How did he create time for his family?
My father created time for his family. The way we work now is not the way that people worked during his time. He always left his office in the Ministry of Finance located at Mosaic House, Tinubu Square, Lagos, at 3:30pm and by 3:45pm, he was home. We always ate lunch together with his guests.
Some people believe that he changed his name after marriage. Can you shed light on this?
No, he was first Festus Samuel Edah. He later discovered that Edah was an adopted father and that his biological father was Okotie-Eboh. That was why he changed his name. He had nothing to lose answering to Edah because he was already a success at the time. He did what he knew was right which had been part of his character. He was never one to do otherwise once he knew he was doing the right thing.
What kind of father was he?
He was a comet and a very rare person. I can confidently say that because I have worked with top executives in the country. Thus, I often wonder how my father still had the time to pack my loads whenever I was returning to school, read my letters and reply them and how he achieved all he did at his age.
Where were you when he died?
I was in Sapele. Sir Tafawa Balewa sent for him on January 12, 1966 to return to Lagos and cut short his leave. Before he left, he commissioned the Asaba-Onitsha Bridge. He wrote a letter on January 13, 1966 that the prime minister should declare a state of emergency or they would all be killed. My birthday is January 15 and I was in Sapele celebrating it.
He called me a day before my birthday to tell me to have a big birthday party. We were celebrating when the message came that there was a coup and that he had been killed. We did not believe the news initially especially as we had to search for him for a year. It was after a year (in 1967) that his corpse was brought in before the civil war.
Honesty and hard work
I was young and did not know what they told the family. There were many soldiers deployed in Sapele when the corpse of my father was brought in that day. Perhaps, the government felt that the people would react violently to the reality of his death.
I got the idea that my father was a comet that day. As his corpse was brought to Sapele in the afternoon, everywhere became dark. There was no rain but the whole town was engulfed in darkness.
How have his children been coping since his death?
We are coping well. We have some issues as children but some of the issues are individualistic based on the principles some have imbibed.
What values did he teach you?
My father taught me honesty and hard work. He also taught me to be detribalised. I married a Yoruba man and I have friends in all parts of the country. My home is home to all. When I was a Permanent Secretary in the ministries of Internal Affairs, Power and Science and Technology, I never had an Itsekiri person either as a special or personal assistant. They came from other tribes.
What do you miss most about him?
I miss the fact that he did not live long. I also miss the fact that he was unable to consolidate on the great foundation he laid. I miss his fatherly role but I must add that my husband has done well for me. In all, I am happy that I married a good man.