The Life And Death Of Festus Samuel Edah (Okotie Eboh) By Adedara Oduguwa PhD

Festus Okotie Eboh had made so much wealth before joining active Politics.By the time he joined politics, he became the chief financial of NCNC, by extension, ‘The Money Bag’ of his political party. 

Festus Samuel Edah who later changed his name to Festus Okotie-Eboh was born July 18, 1912. Okotie-Eboh was born to an Itsekiri Chief, Prince Okotie Eboh in Warri Division, a town along the Benin River in Niger Delta.

He was a Nigerian flamboyant politician and Minister of Finance during the administration of Alhaji Tafawa Balewa. He was a National Treasurer of the Nigerian First Republic party, NCNC, he was also a leader of the Federal Parliamentary Party of NCNC, replacing K.O. Mbadiwe. 

For his fashionable stylish, he was given the nickname, Omimi-Ejoh, Ejoh bilele, translated as ‘the man with long feature and flowing wrappers’. He spent his money lavishly in support of political causes and at the time of the 1959 election.

No wonder, Chief Richard Akinjide SAN (his colleague in NCNC) opined:

“In the NCNC days, Okotie-Eboh was richer than the party and everybody. He had made his money before coming into politics and whenever the party was broke, it was to him we went to collect some money for party activities. Nigerians should be grateful for having somebody like him; he was generous to a fault and did not discriminate against tribe or tongue.”

His actions and inactions, would not have gone unnoticed as everyone, including his colleagues saw him as a capable and indomitable threat. 

At 54, his life was shortened. He was maimed alongside others in the first military coup in Nigeria. 

It would be recalled, that Okotie-Eboh predicted this in a statement to the Prime Minister Alhaji Tafawa Balewa. 

In his voice:

“We are worried and we believe that, you the Prime Minister, who has the overall responsibility for law and order, are more worried. Although the maintenance of law and order in the Western Nigeria is the primarily responsibility of the Western Regional Government, the activities of the Nigeria Police, particularly those drafted to the West from other parts of the Federation, have brought the federal government more closely into the picture”.

Something must be done immediately to bring peace to the Western Nigeria. If immediate action is not taken, good government in any part of Nigeria will be endangered. Fanatics, hooligans, armed robbers and irresponsible elements will be given the opportunity to consolidate their positions and remain a perpetual danger to all governments and political leaders. Everybody’s life will be in danger.”

Eventually, nothing was done. On January 21 1966 (six days after the coup), his body was found closed to the Prime Minister’s body by a Journalist, Chief Olusegun Osoba brutally battered. 

According to Chief Osoba:

“At that time, there was no SSS. What you had was called E-Branch of the Nigeria Police Intelligence Department. What you had was E- Branch and SCID. E- Branch was like today’s SSS. And someone from there phoned me and for a reporter like me who had phone , my colleagues were making jest of me that it was elitist and luxury. It was already 6 p.m. that day when I heard of the news and my immediate reaction was to get there before dark; so the question of looking for a photographer didn’t arise and, as Chief E. A. 

Oshunneye, another eye witness, his wife is still around, she can easily corroborate what I am saying, her husband would have recounted the story to her; he was coming from Abeokuta and he told me that somewhere after leaving Abeokuta, on their way to Ifo, that he stopped and that they were all peeping from the window of their vehicle to look at the place where the bodies were kept. 

And so that was how I took my Vespa which was like having a car then. There was no traffic because there were fewer vehicles on the road and I raced there to see the body. I spoke with a lot of the villagers on the story. If people are enterprising enough, I think they should go to Ilogbo or Iyana Ilogbo, they would find people who saw the bodies.”

Further, Segun Osoba, Sunday Times staff reporter, reports that Alhaji Abubakar was found on the road side on Mile 27 on the Lagos-Abeokuta road.

He writes:

“About 220 yards from Mile 27 on the Lagos-Abeokuta road, I saw the dead body of the former Prime Minister Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and what appeared to me to be the body of Chief Festus Okotie Eboh on Friday evening. I got there with a friend Titus Shokanlu about 7p.m. that Friday and saw the two bodies placed in a ditch by the road side.

First, I saw Chief Okotie-Eboh‘s body stripped unclothed with face placed downwards with maggots crowding round it.  There was a little strip of stripped pyjamas left on his right leg. About four yards away was Alhaji Balewa’s body. He was placed by the side of a kola nut tree in a sitting posture. He had a snow white toga a part of which was wrapped over his head. No marks of bullets on both bodies. I saw the head of Chief Okotie-Eboh badly battered. While the body of Alhaji Balewa was still fresh, that of Chief Okotie Eboh was swollen and in a decomposed state. Not far from the scene is Owode village. 

Some of the inhabitants of the village ran down to the scene to see the two bodies. Many motorists plying Abeokuta-Lagos road also stopped at the spot.Tears ran down the faces of all the people found there. And there was a general sign of grief in the villages around. Said one of the weeping onlookers: ‘This is pathetic and pitiful that this is the body of Alhaji Balewa is too much for me to bear.”

In this life, we are only human, respected, honored and celebrated when alive. Who would have believed the most flamboyant African politician could be killed like a rabbit? 

As a minister of finance, Okotie Eboh printed Nigeria’s first currencies. A song was dedicated to this in 1959 ‘Okotie Eboh gbe Owo Titun de’ (Okotie Eboh brought new money). 

I believe, for this, his face and name should appear on a Nigeria’s currency. Just as many has argued in the past. A nation cannot kill a man and even in his deathbed marginalize him.  

I celebrate this Sapele man.

Image Source: Wikipedia

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