By Nowamagbe A. Omoigui, MD, FACC, MPH

 

May 1st and 2nd 2013

Benin  City

 

INTRODUCTION

 

On this 50th anniversary of his death, it is appropriate to recall the words of the great man we are gathered here to commemorate.

 

Like the peace-maker and quiet organizer he was throughout his life, this public announcement titled “APPEAL FOR UNITY,” captured his deep passion for and personification of the national dream for the Midwest region. It was published in 1963 by Ja Isuman at a critical juncture during the battle for the constitutional creation of the Midwest region, fore-runner to Edo and Delta states of present day Nigeria. 

 

                                                “APPEAL FOR UNITY


  March 25, 1963

Through the medium of this second edition of "You and Midwest Plebiscite - What you must know", I am once more appealing to the people of the Midwest to study this pamphlet very carefully as they will derive not only inspiration but also encouragement to go the front with renewed energy to spur our people up to vote "YES" in the plebiscite.

We are grateful to God that we have fought relentlessly a most difficult task and the promised land is now vividly in sight of us. 

Our destiny is in our hands, as, it is said, "every man is the architect of his own fortune."

I pray to God to take away the scales from our eyes in order to see not only the beauty of the promised land, but also to realize the wisdom in working united to enter the Mid-West region in peace and perfect harmony.

On this occasion I would like to remind Mid-Westerners once more that we all sprang from one stock and there should be no reason that we should not unite to rebuild our kingdom and make the Midwest region an important region not only to be reckoned with in the Federation of Nigeria as the most prosperous region of which we could justly be proud but also as a region that would be the envy of other lands.

Whatever obstacles that may be placed in our way, in any shape or form, I pray God may be with us to overcome them.

We should all sink our personal differences and work hard as a team towards the realisation of our national dream - the creation of a Mid-West region.

 

                    By Hon. Senator Dahlton Asemota O.B.E 
                    (Chairman Midwest Planning Committee)”

 

As fate would have it, Hon. Senator Dahlton Asemota O.B.E, did not live to see the Promised Land. He died on May 2nd, 1963. The successful plebiscite was followed by the constitutional creation of the Midwest region of Nigeria, inaugurated on August 9th 1963. It was a day many felt was the real date of independence of the peoples of the Benin and Delta provinces from British rule.

 

Through the prism of his life and times, let us recall Hon. Senator Dahlton Asemota O.B.E’s role in the creation of the Midwest region.

 

THE DEATH AND FUNERAL OF SENATOR DAHLTON OGIEVA ASEMOTA, O.B.E

At the end of April 1963, Senator Asemota came to Lagos to attend a scheduled meeting of the Senate.  The Senate adjourned on April 29th, and so he made plans to return to Benin on May 2nd.   On May 1st, however, he woke up early and telephoned his older brother Pa Elekhuoba Asemota to tell him that he would be returning to Benin the next day.  Then he went to the General Hospital in Lagos to see Dr. Laja in follow-up to a Chest X-ray he had earlier ordered.  Dr. Laja gave him a prescription, some of which the Hospital pharmacy did not have, so he was asked to find them at a private pharmacy.  From the hospital he went shopping but returned home at about 3 pm to take his medications on an empty stomach.  After this he left for the Commercial Medicine Store on Nnamdi Azikiwe Street owned by his friend, Senator Wusu from Badagry.   On arrival he handed the prescription to his friend who in turn gave it to his assistants to get the medications.  Meanwhile Senator Asemota was resting on the counter along with his wife, Onaiwu, waiting on the prescription.  Then suddenly, and without warning he slumped.  

He was then rushed to the General Hospital Casualty department.  His wife then came to my family house on MacDonald Avenue in Ikoyi, Lagos, where we were neighbours to Chief Anthony Enahoro on our back side and Dr. Rilwan, a well known Lagos physician, on the other.  Dr. Rilwan, my parents, and Mrs Onaiwu Asemota rushed back to the hospital to find out what was happening, only to be directed to the mortuary where the Senator’s lifeless body was lying.   It was my father that had the unenviable responsibility to break the devastating news to Chiefs Omo-Osagie and Okotie-Eboh.  Chief Omo-Osagie notified Pa Elekhuoba Asemota in Benin. 

Meanwhile, my father went to Dr. Laja’s house to get permission for release and embalmment.  While on their way to the hospital the Doctor said the Senator had had an enlarged Heart on Chest X-ray.  When Senator Asemota asked him how his Chest X-Ray looked, he told him:  “It is okay, Papa.” to which the Senator responded by smiling.  

Senator Dalton Asemota, the consensus builder, did not live to see the Midwest he worked so hard to make possible.  Descended from Chief Osemwota, the Eson, and a descendant of the Ezomo Nehenua family of Benin, and Madam Iyeye Ero, the later Senator was buried (with all the trappings of a national funeral) in the Asemota family compound after a sermon led by Reverend Akinluyi at the St. Matthew’s Anglican Cathedral in Benin City [personal communication, Mr. DA Omoigui].   He was replaced as Chairman of the Midwest Planning Committee by Chief Morgan Agbontaen.

 

Shortly after the Senator died, in testimony to his many roles in civic life, Anglican Bishop Agori Iwe, first Bishop of Benin Diocese delivered a Presidential address to the Synod. He stated:


“JUST last week, the 2nd of May, we were badly shocked with another sad news of the sudden death of one of our prominent members, Senator Dahlton Ogieva Asemota, High tributes have been paid to his honour by many eminent persons. One among them, was Chief Dennis Osadebay, President of the Nigerian Senate. He said – “Senator Asemota was one, very beloved in Benin. He was of jovial nature. When I learnt of his death tears filled my eyes. His position in the Senate will be difficult to fill”.

AND what is our tribute to this illustrious man? He was the prime mover for the creation of Benin Diocese. He spoke vehemently for it in the Synod of Ondo-Benin Diocese, 1959; and met me in Ughelli the same year for talk about the creation of the new Diocese. He was the chairman of Building Committee of our Cathedral. His name was among those who are to address this Synod today.

“THERE is a remedy for everything but death. The best of men cannot suspend their fate; the good die early; and the bad die late”. May his soul rest in peace.” [

http://www.waado.org/Biographies/AgoriIwe/AppendixOne.html]

 

Let us go back to the beginning.

 

THE BIRTH OF OGIEVA OSEMWOTA OGBEWE

 

In the same year that Northern and Southern Protectorates of Nigeria were created by the British, Iyase Okizi joined his ancestors. It is recorded that Mr. H.M. Douglas, (District Officer) took Benin Chiefs to visit Owo that year. It was also the year that Miller Brothers opened a factory in Benin. [Egharevba: A short history of Benin]

 

The year, of course, was 1900. Iyeye Ero, wife of Iyoha Osemwota Ogbewe, (later anglicized Asemota) was delivered in Benin City of her second son, Ogieva.

Ogieva was born into a large polygamous family, all of whom resided originally in the Ogbe quarters of the city. It was his mother Iyeye Ero that acquired the land on Igun Street for herself and her three boys – Elekhuoba, Ogieva and Adun - in deference to the reality that burials were not permitted in Ogbe. His full list of brothers comprised Omorodion, Omoregie, Elekhuoba (my late maternal grandfather), Adun, Itafo, Emokpae, Efosa, Ediagbonya, Igbinosun, Ikpoba, Ozo, and Enobakhare. His sisters were Uwubamwen, Aiwekhoe, Omwanghe, Imade, and Enehizena. He would come to be known in adult life (as in death) as HON. SENATOR DAHLTON OGIEVA ASEMOTA, O.B.E - the first Senator to represent the Benin province in independent post-colonial Nigeria.

His official first name, Dahlton, in adult life, which is well known internationally, is likely of Swedish origin. It has no known meaning in English, but a similar name, also well known, spelled Dalton, is of Old English origin, meaning "from the valley town; the settlement in the valley." Interestingly, Benin City, where Ogieva was born, is, as is well known, situated in the Ikpoba river valley, bordered in part by Ikpoba Hill. But without knowing the precise circumstances under which he took on the name "Dahlton", the thinking behind the choice remains speculative.

On the other hand, his first given name at birth, Ogieva, in Edo means, “partner” or ‘mate’, a name usually reserved for a second child born to partner the first. In his case, Ogieva was born as the second child of his mother Iyeye Ero, after his maternal older brother Elekhuoba, but ahead of his maternal younger brother, Adun.

According to Hon. Justice I. O. Aluyi, in his tribute to the late Senator, "I recall that before his death, he requested me to come and write his WILL. I went to him and asked him for his full names that will be used in the Will and he gave me his full names as DALTON OGIEVA ASEMOTA. I told him that I bear the same name as his surname but that my name is OSEMWOTA and not Asemota. He quickly replied that my own name was the right name and that his own Asemota has no meaning in Benin.

Osemwota is a prayerful wish for longevity but Asemota in Benin is meaningless. I still wrote the Will for him using his name “Asemota” but I doubt if he ever signed the Will before his sudden death in Lagos in 1963. "

By the time he joined his ancestors, on May 2nd, 1963, Senator Dahlton Asemota, O.B.E was survived by his spouse Nwume (affectionately called Onaiwu) and fourteen (14) begotten children. They include Mr. Uwagbae Asemota, Mrs. Izogie Joy Modupe Ozigbo-Esere.J.P. FWACN, - Retired Assistant Director of Health & Head of Department of Public Health Nursing UBTH, Barrister Mrs. Oghogho I.Ayanru.- Retired Chief Radiographer & Head of Department of Radiology Department UBTH, Mr Aiyudubie Asemota - Retired Chief  Clinical Biochemist, University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, Engr.Imaregheghe Asemota, Mrs. Aiyomorhuo Ehiemua, Mrs Nogieru O.Igbinoba.- Retired Assistant Director,Nursing Services/Project Manager.Edo State Agency for the control of AIDS(SACA), Mr Ikponmwosa Asemota, Mrs Edomwande Chukwuka John, Pharm Osayande Asemota, Mrs Osana Ogunnowo, Mr Isibor Asemota, and Mr Igbinosa Asemota. One of his daughters, Omozee Asemota, died young in an unfortunate accident along Akpakpava road not long after her late father.

WHY ONAIWU?

Senator Dahlton Asemota’s spouse “Onaiwu” actually hailed originally from Onitsha. Her first given Onitsha name at birth was Nwume, meaning “This one will not die”. Translated to Edo, it meant the same as “Onaiwu” in the Edo language, which is what the Senator and the family as a whole decided to call her. She was a very loyal and devoted spouse, completely supportive of the Midwest national cause, as we shall see later. [Source: The family] 

FROM EZOMO N'EHENNUA TO DALHTON OGIEVA ASEMOTA

At this point, let us place the birth of Ogieva in the context of his family lineage.

Iza, a son of Enogie of Evhurhu relocated from Evhurhu in Evboikhimwin (Esan) to Okhuokhuo (in Isi) during the reign of Oba Ewuakpe. That original lineage is captured and honored in the family morning salutation - Lagiesan.

Iza begot Ehennua and placed him under the guardianship of the influential Ode in Benin City. Ode was also, coincidentally, a guardian to a man who later became Akenzua I (son of Ewuakpe). It was in this context that Ehennua first became close to the future Oba. 

Later on, Ehennua had cause and opportunity to serve Oba Akenzua I during a period of adversity, including a fierce power struggle with his younger brother Prince Ozuere. It was on this basis that Akenzua I made Ehennua Ezomo, declared the title hereditary, and promoted him to the ranks of the UZAMA - the King makers - along with a variety of privileges. Having moved to Uzebu, Ehennua later overcame Ovbiozuere, the brother of Akenzua I, and finally Iyase N'Ode, who was at that time an obstacle to Akenzua I's control of the Kingdom.

Ezomo Ehennua (circa 1713 AD) was followed by a series of hereditary Ezomos, among whom was Ezomo Osifo, son of Erebo, during the tenure of Oba Osemwende. Among his descendants was Osemwota (anglicized Asemota) who was the fifth son of Ogbewe, himself a descendant of Agbonifo, from one of Ezomo Osifo's lines. Osemwota (Asemota) held the title of Obamagiagbonria under Oba Ovonranwen,and accompanied him during his sojourn to the villages outside Benin City following the events of 1896-97. After Oba Ovonranmwen Nogbaisi was deported to Calabar, Osemwota (Asemota) became a trader along the Ikpoba river to Koko axis.

Following the interregnum, on July 24, 1914, Eweka II ascended the throne of his forefathers. He took Osemwota as his standard bearer and craftsman for royal regalia. He was inducted into the Iwebo Palace society. In recognition of this service, at the end of 1914, Eweka II conferred the same title that Osemwota's father Ogbewe had held, that is Obamagiagbonria. Chief Osemwota  was later made the Eson in 1930 and died on October 21st 1933, not long after Oba Eweka II himself joined his ancestors.

EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION

Dahlton Ogieva Asemota spent his early formative years in Benin City where he quietly witnessed the activities of the British administration during the interregnum.

It is established that he attended the Benin Government (primary) school, although his exact dates of attendance could not be confirmed as of the time this paper went to press.  

The Benin Government (primary) school was originally established in 1901 and was one of the earliest primary schools established in colonial Nigeria. It was built (by the colonial administrators) on what used to be part of Palace land opposite the present Oba Market. It was converted to the Midwest state library sometime between 1968 and 1970 by the second post-colonial military government of then Lt. Col. (later Brigadier) S. O. Ogbemudia. The school pupils were then relocated to the then Benin United Baptist School on Mission road which was later up fitted, acquired and renamed Emokpae primary school.  The original Benin Government (primary) school was then demolished in 1974 (by the Ogbemudia regime) with intent to create a permanent site for the Midwest state library.

However, construction was stopped in 1975, without explanation, during the subsequent regime of then Colonel (later Major General) George Innih. During the Innih and subsequent administrations, the original proposed State Library went through multiple renditions with parts of it alternately located, relocated and dislocated in various places, including the former New Nigerian bank building, Eghosa Grammar School, Emokpae primary school, rental property on forestry road, and the main section which today sits along Sapele road.

A small part of the original colonial facility where the late Senator Dahlton Asemota (OBE) attended primary school was later converted into a police station under the administration of former Governor Lucky Igbinedion. Today, a motor park also sits on part of the land. 

  

ADULT LIFE IN THE EMPLOYMENT OF THE UNITED AFRICAN COMPANY (UAC)

 

For almost thirty (30) years the late Senator Dahlton Asemota was employed by the United African Company where he rose to become a Manager, served in multiple locations (including Agenebode in present day Edo state and other UAC offices in Northern Nigeria). He became fluent in Hausa, in addition to his native Edo and English.

He attended many in-service professional training opportunities in Nigeria and the United Kingdom, qualified with a Diploma in Accounting, and established a vast network of contacts that would serve him well when, after retirement, he was beckoned to serve in the “Army” of the patriots who fought and eventually won the “Battle for the Midwest region.”

The major part of the late Senator’s adult life is so intertwined with the history of the UAC that a brief summation of the evolution of the United African Company (UAC) in Nigeria captures his professional maturation and reach. [http://www.uacnplc.com/company/history.htm]

As is well known, the activities of the UAC predated the creation of Nigeria. Indeed, elements of what eventually became the UAC can be traced to pre-colonial European traders, all the way back to the Royal Niger Company. Following a number of complex mergers and acquisitions, eventually, on March 3, 1929, The United Africa Company was formed.  It was initially incorporated on April 22, 1931, in Lagos, Nigeria as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Unilever under the name Nigerian Motors Ltd.   It was at this point that Senator Dahlton Asemota initially began his career with the company.

Nigerian Motors Ltd. later became UAC International, and then subsequently, United Africa Company (Nigeria) Ltd on 23rd July 1943. But the name changed again to The United Africa Company of Nigeria Ltd on 1st February, 1955. At this point, up until 1960, it began acquiring a substantial portion of the entire business of UAC (International). It was during this period that Senator Dahlton Asemota retired and formed Asemota and Sons, Benin City. Shortly thereafter, his public career began, first as the Chairman, Midwest Advisory Council (1958-1962) which was charged with increasing the participation of Midwesterners in the Western region Action Group government.

Meanwhile, in 1960, C.W.A. Holdings Ltd, England (yet another subsidiary of Unilever), acquired UAC (International)’s interest in the company. Among the vast assets of Unilever, were its subsidiaries, The United Africa Company (Timber) Limited, and associated companies, African Timber and Plywood (Nigeria) Limited and African Timber and Plywood (Ghana) Limited.

It was also, in 1960, in accordance with the 1960 constitution, that Dahlton Ogieva Asemota was appointed Senator representing the Benin province in the Nigerian Western region Federal Upper House by the Action Group. This was a time the Midwest movement was gearing for a final showdown after independence.

Already by now Chairman, Midwest Advisory Council, Dahlton Ogieva Asemota, had, in retirement, also transitioned into a Director of the African Timber and Plywood (Nigeria) Ltd, Sapele, in the Delta province. To appreciate the strategic sensitivity of the company at that time, it should be noted that it had about 2,000 employees at the mill (in Sapele) and another 1,500 working within about a 300-mile radius around Sapele, felling timber and bringing the logs as much of the way as possible by water. After inspection and classification, appropriate export logs were then loaded into ocean-going ships which typically came up to the three river confluence of the Benin, Jameson, and Ethiope rivers at Sapele.  [Eliot Elisofon Field photographs, 1942-1972

Sawmill, at African Timber & Plywood Limited plant , Sapele, Nigeria, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of African Art, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives]

Historically, since about 1890, enterprising European entrepreneurs had been operating within the Benin Province.  The Miller Brothers, earlier noted, which first opened an office in Benin City back in 1900 when Dahlton Ogieva Asemota was born, however, only began their timber enterprise at Koko on the Benin River in 1917 when he was a teenager. But it was the formation of the United Africa Company in 1929 (when he had become a young adult) that brought disparate European timber interests under one management, eventually known as the United Africa Company (Timber) Limited. His father, Chief Osemwota Ogbewe, the Eson, was already an active trader in that axis ever since the deportation of Oba Ovonranmwen Nogbaisi. There can be no doubt that Dahlton benefited from the goodwill and connections of his father Osemwota, who died in 1933.

For its part, United Africa Company had its own network of technical training schools, independent of but complementary to government training centers, university colleges and technical institutes. They conducted training courses in forest operations and management, sawmilling techniques and accountancy. This was the educational system from which Senator Dahlton Asemota and other selected indigenous African managers of his generation graduated. [D. H. BUCKLE. Timber operations in West Africa

http://www.fao.org/docrep/x5390e/x5390e02.htm]

 

EXTRA-CURRICULAR CIVIC LIFE

 

Senator Dahlton Asemota was very well connected in civil society. Among his leadership roles were the Presidency of the Benin Red Cross Society, Benin Imports and Exports Association, and Benin Motor Transport Association all of which served to burnish his reputation as an opinion leader among key constituencies.  He was also an avid piano and billiard player, skills and interests that came from his many years of business association with Europeans, widening his circle of domestic and international contacts.[http://nigerianwiki.com/wiki/Dahlton_Asemota]

 

ROYAL CONNECTIONS

 

By virtue of his birth and lineage Senator Dahlton Asemota was close to the Palace. He was a confidante of Oba Akenzua II with whom he often played billiard. He was often at his side when the Oba was leading the open campaign for the Midwest. 

 
 


DAHLTON OGIEVA ASEMOTA APPOINTED OFFICER OF THE CIVIL DIVISION OF THE MOST EXCELLENT ORDER OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE (O.B.E)

As a well-known Merchant and public official from Benin, Senator Dahlton Ogieva Asemota was appointed Officer of the Civil Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen's 1962 New Year Honours.  The insignia (ribbon) was sent from the United Kingdom and presented in Nigeria on the Queen's behalf.  As announced on page 44 (fourth supplement) of the London Gazette of 29th December, 1961, the award was given "In recognition of service as a Senator in the Nigerian Western region Federal Upper House."   

Historically, since 1689, various British classes and orders of chivalry have existed.  Currently, in order of seniority, the six British orders of chivalry are, The Most Noble Order of the Garter, The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, The Most Honourable Order of The Bath, The Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George, The Royal Victorian Order, and The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

The Order of the British Empire (which Dahlton was awarded) , was originally instituted on June 4th 1917 during the First World War by King George V. Beginning in 1918 and subsequently, Military and Civil Divisions were established. As noted, it is the most junior of the orders of chivalry. Intended to reward valuable services to the State in war or peacetime, the motto of the Order is 'For God and the Empire'. Within the Order, there are five classes of members;  Knight or Dame Grand Cross (GBE), Knight or Dame Commander (KBE/DBE), Commander (CBE), Officer (OBE) and Member (MBE).

Among those who were simultaneously recognized along with the Senator Dahlton Asemota (OBE) were then Lt. Col. (later Major General ) JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi (MBE) (who would later become Nigeria’s Head of State in 1966), and Jacob Egharevba, Esq. (MBE) former Curator of the Benin Museum.   
 

 

DAHLTON ASEMOTA, THE MIDWEST MOVEMENT, AND LEGISLATIVE INITIATIVES

As previously noted, in addition to being the Chairman of the Midwest Advisory Council (beginning in 1958), Senator Asemota was the First Chairman Midwest United Front Committee (UFC) and the First Chairman, Midwest Planning Committee (MPC).  He played a crucial role (among others) in the behind the scenes legislative maneuvering for unity in the creation of the Midwest. 

A detail that must be emphasized is that in addition to other crucial dynamics, without the tacit cooperation of certain elements within the ruling Action Group party in the western region, the creation of the Midwest may well have been impossible.  A determined effort was, therefore, necessary to de-emphasize party politics in what strategists like Senator Dahlton Asemota (OBE) aptly called a “national dream” irrespective of party affiliation. 

Although he was a member of the Action Group party, for example, no amount of party inducement would make him turn his back on his people.   The MPC comprised elements of the core Midwest movement, the NCNC, along with other parties like the AG and UPP. In fact the next scheduled meeting of the MPC (pre-empted by the sudden death of Dahlton) had planned to discuss the structure of the Midwest interim administration.

 

MEMBERS OF THE MIDWEST PLANNING COMMITTEE (SPECIAL COMMITTEE) MARCH 1963 UNDER DAHLTON ASEMOTA

  1. Hon. Senator Dahlton Asemota (Chairman)
  2. Chief Hon. FS Okotie-Eboh
  3. Chief Hon. DC Osadebay
  4. Chief JIG Onyia
  5. Chief TEA Salubi
  6. Mr. EB. Edun Fregene
  7. Apostle J. Edokpolo
  8. Alhaji Chief Ja' Isuman
  9. Chief AO Obasuyi
  10. Dr. C Okojie
  11. Chief JO Odiete
  12. Mr. JAP Oki
  13. Mr. GM Boyo
  14. Chief Hon SJ Mariere (JP)
  15. Chief AY Eke
  16. Hon Kessington SY Momoh

 

The main legislative events were as follows:

  1. 1961 First Midwest motion
  2. 1962 Second Midwest motion
  3. Referendum Bill
  4. Midwest Parliamentary Bill 
     
In order to do justice to this account I shall now quote extensively from a previous paper I delivered eleven years ago (on Friday, December 20, 2002 )  at the Oba Akenzua II Cultural Complex, Airport Road, Benin City on occasion of the Fifth Late Chief (Dr.) Jacob Uwadiae Egharevba (MBE) Memorial Lecture and Award Ceremony. –

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