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Igbo presidents and Yoruba Chief Justices

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By Emeka Obasi

Those who think that the South must continue to play second fiddle in the scheme of things must be told the truth: There is every reason to give honour to those below the divide.

While dirty politics continues to determine who gets worth, with square pegs dominating round holes, I want to let compatriots know that the South has produced more great men outside our shores than those who believe that the country is their eternal property.

This piece is not about Justice Adetokunbo Ademola serving under Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Gen. Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi as Chief Justice of the Federation. It is about great Nigerians who have held prime positions outside Nigeria.

Those who want to doubt the background of President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon are free to debate it till thy kingdom come. I want to assure them that he has a home in Imo State.

Igbo Chiefs

We cannot stop talking of Biafra. Ondimba’s father and predecessor, Albert-Bernard Bongo, named him Alain. When the Gabonese President converted to Islam in 1973, after a visit to Col Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, he became Omar Bongo. Alain changed to Ali Bongo.

It is stale news that President Bongo supported Biafra during the crisis. Relief organisations like the Red Cross, World Council of Churches and Caritas defied attacks by Russian and Egyptian pilots, to send food to Biafra through Uli Airport.

When some of the humanitarians from Germany and Sweden noticed that the aircraft always left Biafra empty after off loading relief materials, they decided to fly out kwashiorkor ravaged children to Gabon, Sao Tome and Cote D’Ivoire.

President Bongo, in his magnanimity took in about 3,000 Biafran children and even built a school and hired. At the end of the war, Gen. Yakubu Gowon sent an aircraft to bring back the kids. Some of them had been adopted and were comfortable in their new homes.

President Ali Bongo’s story should fit in here. It almost cost him the last Presidential elections when a French journalist unearthed his Biafran past. In Biafra, we knew of Garri Gabon. There was Gabon in Biafra. Today, there is Biafra in Gabon, from Libreville to Port Gentil.

The First President of Sierra Leone was an Igbo man known as Christopher Okoro Cole [1921-1990]. He had another First to his name: First Permanent Representative to the United Nations and Ambassador to the United States.

Okoro Cole was Chief Justice of Sierra Leone in 1970. He was the country’s last Governor General in 1971 before he became President on March 19,1971. The jurist acted as Chief Justice of the Gambia in 1962. We shall come to the Gambia shortly.

The Fifth President of Liberia, Edward James Roye, [February 3, 1841-February 11,1872] was Igbo. He was born in Newark, Ohio, United States to a wealthy father.

Roye relocated to Liberia in 1846 and within a short time, became Speaker of the House of Representatives. He was also the Fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, from 1865-1868.

Nigerian judges have continued to follow the footsteps of these great men by presiding over the Supreme Courts of other nations. From Liberia, to Sierra Leone, The Gambia, Uganda, Botswana and Seychelles.

Egbert Udo Udoma, once acted briefly as Governor General of Uganda where he served as Chief Justice from 1963-1969. He only became a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria after leaving in East Africa.

Timothy Akinola Aguda, became the First African Chief Justice of Botswana on February 3, 1972. That was Roye’s 157th post humous birthday. He also doubled as a Justice of the Court of Appeal in Botswana and Lesotho.

James Omo Agege, was Acting Chief Justice of the Gambia, between 1976 and 1977. He had earlier served as Magistrate in Tanzania from 1963-1968.

Emmanuel Olayinka Ayoola, [the First ICPC boss] moved to the Gambia in 1980 as Justice of the Court of Appeal. Promotion came in 1983 when he became Chief Justice, a position he held for nine years. The Judge was also in Seychelles. Another Nigerian, Akintola Ejiwunmi, was a Supreme Court Judge there.

Emmanuel Akomaye Agim, from Akanbi

village, Obudu was Chief Justice of the Gambia in 2009. A year later, Joseph Wowo was head of the Court of Appeal. Agim was a Technical Aid Corp member in 2000.

Okoi Itam was also Chief Justice of the Gambia. Esther Awo Ota, served as President of the country’s Court of Appeal.

Nkedilim Amelia Izuako set a record when she became Solomon Island’s first female judge. She also worked in the Gambia and the United Nation’s Dispute Tribunal [UNDT] in Nairobi, Kenya.

Historically, there is a lot between Nigeria and Sierra Leone. And credit must go to the Igbo and Yoruba. The First African Anglican Bishop, Samuel Ajayi Crowther, was a Yoruba Krio. So were the first West African Medical doctor, William Broughton Davies[1831-1806] and the first Nigerian lawyer, Christopher Sapara Williams.

Father of Modern African Thought, Africanus Horton[James Beale], 1835-1883 was an Igbo Krio, like his wife, Marietta Fanny Pratt.

The First West African Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, England, Robert Benjamin Ageh Wellesley Cole, had a Yoruba father, Wilfred and Igbo mother, Elizabeth [nee Okorafor-Smart].

We have had soldiers from the North heading the Armed Forces of Liberia. There was Luka Nyeh Yusuf and later Suraj Abdurahaaman. Maxwell Mitikiski Khobe died of bullet wound sustained after leading the Defence Forces of Sierra Leone.

We should not forget that a Yoruba man, James Pinson Labulo Davies, a Lieutenant in the British Royal Navy was on the ship, HMS BloodHound, led by Commodore Henry William Bruce, that attacked Lagos, sacked Oba Kosoko. That led to the rise of Oba Akitoye.

JPL Davies later settled in Lagos after marrying fellow Yoruba, Aina Sarah Forbes Bonetta, an Okeado, Egbado girl who was captured by King Ghezo of Dahomey and later adopted by Queen Victoria.

People of the South are born great and have the capacity to fix Nigeria.

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