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[See Part 1 and Part 2]

BENIN AND THE MIDWEST REFERENDUM (3)

 

WHY WAS THERE OPPOSITION FROM SOME KEY MIDWESTERNERS IN THE ACTION GROUP TO THE CREATION OF THE REGION?

 

Those from Benin who opposed the creation of the Midwest are best placed to explain their actions, party loyalty aside.     In an interview in the United States, Chief Anthony Enahoro made reference to the fact that at a certain stage, Chief Samuel Akintola was using the Midwest issue for internal power play within the Action group.  It is not clear whether, this, therefore, was his reason for acting the way he did, as a rival and opponent of Chief Akintola within the party.  In any case this would not explain his position on the matter back in the fifties.

 

According to testimony by Phillip Obazee, who was in a position to know what transpired in Action group circles within his own ward in Benin,

 

“What may explain the "why" question as I know it from my ward-level
intelligence gathering at that time are as follows: (1) Trust - many people
in the Benin and Delta Provinces were very leery of the NCNC agenda; (2)
Keep them in Check - the Igbos, like the Japanese in the U.S.A in the 1980',
were buying major real estate holdings, owned most of the businesses along
Forestry and Mission Roads, and were gaining very strong grips on the
political and economic machinery of Benin Province; (3) B2 (Chief
Omo-Osagie) agenda and the politics of cult intimidation - some people were
of the opinion then that Chief Omo-Osagie and the politics of cult that his
followers were known for would perhaps soon hold the Palace and the people
of Benin Province a hostage;  (4)  NPC opportunism  and Lagos Street
factor - it was not clear to many why the North would have interest in the
creation of Mid-West with its attendant new-breed of  "money wadding"
opportunists  (Was the North vying to be noticed because of the Lagos
Street Factor?);  (5) Free Education - many people were afraid that free
elementary education practiced in Benin and Delta Provinces could not be
sustained under Mid-West Region; and (6) 1897 factor - the vestiges of the
defeat of the Binis in 1897 cannot be ruled out in the metaphysical calculus
of asking the Binis to go against the political order of the day, and the
Binis would for a long time continue to be laggards in embracing new
political dispensations, particularly where those new dispensations are
masterminded by leaders of checkered history.” [personal communication, Edo-Nation Yahoogroup, December 8th, 2002]

 

 

AFTER THE REFERENDUM

 

In Ibadan, less than 48 hours afterwards, the Premier, SL Akintola ordered civil servants of Midwestern origin to leave, with less than 24 hours notice.   As federal referendum officers were returning to their places of work in Lagos on July 22nd, long columns of vehicles carrying over 600 Midwestern families returning from Ibadan, jammed the roads from Owo, and headed for Benin City.  As one witness put it, it was like the “great trek.”

 

For many months, Benin City became a large refugee camp with Western region returnees squatting all over the place in open fields, verandahs etc.   There were very few quarters and the sleepy old provincial capital with dusty untarred roads had long been denied the kind of infrastructure that could support such a sudden population influx.  Drivers of western region official vehicles disposed of their vehicles in ways that depended on their place of origin.  If they were Yoruba, they tried to make it to Ifon just beyond the border.  If they were Midwesterners, they hid their vehicles within Midwestern territory.  As things turned out, to this day, the Western region has never shared its joint assets with the Midwest, a sub-region which accounted for one third of its area and one quarter of its population.  All these years the Midwest (later Bendel State) has had to remain contented with whatever fixed assets were physically on the ground as of August 9, 1963 and could not be moved out.  The Western region and its successor States took what was left.

 

THE DEATH OF CHIEF GABRIEL ESEZOBOR LONGE

 

On August 6, 1963, death came calling again.  Gabriel Esezobor Longe, the supervisor of the well organized Midwest referendum and former legal adviser to the Benin Delta Peoples party, died suddenly, in his sleep, in Benin City. He was 59 years old.  He had been born in 1904, and was a successful teacher for many years before he went to study law and was called to the Bar on August 20th, 1951 [personal communication, Kenneth Longe, Benin City].

 

AUGUST 9, 1963

 

According to testimony from the late Mr. Ebohon, driver to the late Chief H Omo-Osagie, the only time he ever saw the Iyase of Benin shed tears was when the Midwest was finally created (personal communication, Dr. Obas Ebohon).

 

On August 9, 1963 Chief SL Akintola moved a motion in the Western House of Assembly to excise the 30 regional constituencies of the Midwest from the original 124 constituencies of the West [Daily Times, August 10, 1963].  The motion was seconded and carried.  On August 12, 1963, Chief D. C. Osadebay, at that time the President of the Senate, was appointed Administrator for the new region.  Along with his new administrative team (Appendix 2) he arrived in Benin from Lagos via Ibadan, on Saturday August 17th to resume duty [Daily Times, August 18, 1963].  When he met Akintola at the Ibadan airport, Osadebay was presented with a complete set of laws of Western Nigeria and a beaded puff.   On August 19th, Chief SL Akintola of the Western region congratulated the 29 Midwestern members of the Western House of Assembly and 28 Midwestern members of the House of Chiefs on the creation of their new region [Daily Times, August 20, 1963].   On August 27, 1963, the Administrative Council of Midwestern Nigeria declared Benin City the capital and administrative headquarters of the Midwestern region, in a move Dennis Osadebay described as “appropriate”, since most Midwesterners claimed ancestral origins from the ancient city.   On October 8, 1963 the Akoko-Edo and Isoko divisions were created out of the Afenmai and Urhobo divisions, respectively, in line with a pre-referendum promise.  On January 8, 1964, as the 6-month term of office of the interim administration was coming to an end, Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa moved the Midwest Act in the Federal House of Representatives.  The new Midwest regional constitution, negotiated in great detail, contained provisions for protection of ethnic minorities like the Itsekiri. 

 

Parliamentary elections were then held in the Midwest on February 3rd, which the NCNC won with 53 out of 65 seats.  Thereafter, posts were shared in a zoning formula.  Chief Samuel Jereton Mariere was appointed Governor, while Dennis Osadebay became the first Premier, and Oba Akenzua II the President of the House of Chiefs.   Mr. P.K. Tabiowo became the first Speaker of the House of Representatives.  (See Appendix 3 for the list of names of the first cabinet)

 

Post-Script

 

After the Midwest had been successfully created and was fully functioning, there was an attempt in 1964-65 by KSY Momoh, an Action Group operative,  to get a court injunction to declare the region illegal, based on criticisms of the delimitation exercise that accompanied the creation of the region.  The suit was thrown out by then Chief Judge Chike Idigbe (personal communication, Mr. KO Longe).

 

CONCLUSION

 

What began as a request to colonial authorities in 1926 from Oba Eweka II, took on a sense of political urgency in 1948, and was finally attained during the reign of his son, Akenzua II, on August 9, 1963.  On August 9, 1964, at the first anniversary celebration of the Midwestern region, the first Governor, Chief S J Mariere, said, among other things,

 

 

“I do not think that it is an exaggeration to say that if, in any sense, one single person could be said to be responsible for a turning point, Oba Akenzua II must be classified as one such person…..when, later this evening, I invite all present to drink with me the toast of the Federal republic and the toast of Midwestern Nigeria, I am sure that, in some special way, we will be drinking the toast of Oba Akenzua II, Uku Akpolokpolo, Omo n’Oba n’Edo. Along with toast, we will also be drinking the toast of other potentates of Midwestern Nigeria who, in diverse ways and fashions, in several nooks and corners, in places low and high, in circumstances difficult and easy, have contributed their quota and mite towards our successful deliverance into the promised land, whose first anniversary today we celebrate………In quite a different vein we must also remember those great men and women who toiled and sweated on the journey to this land of our fathers but died in harness when already the land was in sight.  Today, I am sure, that the spirit of late Senator Dalton Ogieva Asemota and the soul of Chief Gabriel Esezobor Longe will specially rejoice in their abode in the great beyond…..” [Ayeni, P (Ed): Midwestern Nigeria First Anniversary 1964. Ministry of Information, Benin City]

 

 

In addition to Senator Dalton Ogieva Asemota and Chief Gabriel Esezobor Longe, many of the great figures mentioned in this essay have since died, some violently.  Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, the great enabler, was assassinated during the January 15, 1966 coup.  The story I have related traces the origins of a determined nationalist agitation, confident in its historical heritage, pure in its strategic formulation, complex in its operational implementation, but persistent nonetheless, complete with the kind of ups and downs, promises and betrayals that characterize all sustained human endeavors.  But, as I noted at the beginning, two lessons stand out from the saga:

 

a). Political parties come and go, but nationalities remain.

 

b).                Organized and united across traditional and contemporary forms of leadership, nothing can stand in the way of the peoples of the Midwest.

 

Let us keep the lives of all the great Midwesterners discussed today in our thoughts for all time.  However, let us not forget those non-Midwesterners who did their part to make the Midwest constitutionally possible.   With the exception of the UN supervised separation of Eritrea from Ethiopia after a long civil war, what those who fought constitutionally for the Midwest achieved has not been replicated in Africa.

 

Let us ask ourselves why, to this day, in Benin City and other towns of the Midwest, later called Bendel, and now Edo and Delta States by military fiat, many of our heroes have never been honored or memorialized.  Why are there no statues, buildings, airports or prominent streets named after many of these great men and women who achieved the impossible?  Why have they not been recommended for post-humous awards? 

 

It is my recommendation, therefore, that the Edo and Delta Houses of Assembly should create a special award titled “Hero of the Midwest” to be conferred on the visionaries, strategists, operational and tactical leaders, key allies and referendum officers whose efforts ensured our “successful deliverance into the promised land.”  Furthermore, the history of the creation of the Midwest should be taught in schools and a designated area should be established in Benin to be named the “Midwest Memorial”.  The memorial should contain a small museum, have statues of the most prominent fighters and plaques dedicated to all those that made it possible. 

 

On my part, as a son of Benin, in the Midwestern region of Nigeria, on behalf of my generation and future generations, I say to all of you alive or dead, who made it possible, “Thank you.”

 

 

 

 

APPENDIX ONE

 

 

List of Referendum Officers and Assistant Referendum Officers and their respective Areas

 

HEADQUARTERS

Supervisor

Mr. Edward Longe

Assistant District Referendum Officer

Mr. Edgal

Secretary

Mr. G. B. A. Egbe


 

 

Referendum Officer

District

Assistant Referendum Officer

Division

F Obuku

ABOH

Pius Aghenu

Ukwuani Aboh East

 

 

Paul Aninta

Ndosimile Aboh West

PGO Nwanjei

ASABA

HU Ogbo

Asaba North East

 

 

NN Onyebujo

Asaba North West

 

 

AI Buzugbe

Asaba South East

 

 

POK Okanigbe

Asaba South West

RME Aitalegbe

AFENMAI

DE Ayeni

Ivbiosakon Afenmai NW (II)

 

 

MM Momodu

Agenebode Afenmai SE

 

 

ME Ajakaye

Auchi Afenmai NE

 

 

EL Jamgbade

Igarra (Akoko Oke) Afenmai NW I

O Oronsaye

BENIN

FU Amayo

Benin Central West

 

 

E. Fadaka

Benin Central East

 

 

DA Omoigui

Benin NE (I) Uhumwode

 

 

I Igiehon

Benin West (I)

 

 

GO Aiwerioba

Benin SE Iyekorhionmwon

 

 

CGA Okoh

Benin NE (II) Akugbe

 

 

MO Igbinokpogie

Benin West (II)

AA Ordia

ISHAN

JO Omosun

Ishan South East

 

 

MO Elebesunu

Ishan West Central

 

 

MA Borha

Ishan North East

 

 

FA Ijewere

Ishan North West

SW Anaughe

URHOBO

JR Abohwo

Central Urhobo East

 

 

M Ayisire

Central Urhobo West

 

 

JO Ogedegbe

Isoko North (Urhobo West I)

 

 

JA Agwae

Isoko South (Urhobo West II)

 

 

PWA Ogigirigi

Urhobo East (I)

 

 

PA Ewetuya

Urhobo East (II)

FO Moore

WARRI

OO Pessu

Benin River

 

 

Princewill Egworitse

Warri Area

BD Daubri

WESTERN IJAW

Martin Abidde

West Ijaw (I)

 

 

WJ Abere

West Ijaw (II)


 


 

APPENDIX 2

 

All-Party Midwest Interim Administrative Council (August 19, 1963 – February 8, 1964)

 

Administrator

Dennis Osadebay  (NCNC)

Deputy Administrator, Local Government

Chief H Omo-Osagie (NCNC)

Deputy Administrator, Chieftaincy

Chief SJ Mariere (NCNC)

Deputy Administrator, Finance and Economic development

James Otobo (UPP)

Commissioner,  Health

Reverend Edeki (UPP)

Commissioner, Works and Transport

Dr. Christopher Okojie (NCNC)

Commissioner, Justice

Mr.  Webber Egbe (NCNC)

Commissioner, Education

Chief Oputa-Otutu (NCNC)

Commissioner, Information

Mr.  FH Utomi (NCNC)

Commissioner, Lands & Housing

Mr.  N. Ezonbodor  (NCNC)

Commissioner, Internal Affairs

Mr.  BIG Ewah   (UPP)

Commissioner, Trade & Industry

Apostle John Edokpolor   (MPC)

Commissioner, Agriculture and Natural resources

Mr.  KSY Momoh   (AG)

Commissioner, Labour and Social Welfare

Mr.  JD Ojobolo   (UPP)

Commissioner, without portfolio

Mr.  Albert Okojie (MPC)

Commissioner, without portfolio

Mr.  JO Oye (AG)

Commissioner, Establishments & Training

Mr. PK Tabiowo (sworn in on August 27, 1963) (NCNC)


 

APPENDIX 3

 

THE FIRST MIDWEST CABINET, 1964

 

Premier

Dr. the Hon. Chief Dennis Osadebay

Minister,  Local Government & Chieftaincy

Chief H Omo-Osagie

Minister, Economic Development

Chief O. Oweh

Minister, Finance

Chief O.I. Dafe

Minister, Health

Mr. John Igbrude

Minister, Works and Transport

Dr. Christopher Okojie

Minister, Justice

Mr.  Webber G. Egbe

Minister, Education

Chief FH Utomi

Minister, Establishments

Mr. John Umolu

Minister, Information

Reverend Imevbore Edeki

Minister, Lands & Housing

Mr.  ES Ukonga

Minister, Internal Affairs

Prince Shaka Momodu  

Minister, Trade & Industry

Mr. JA Orhorho  

Minister, Agriculture and Natural resources

Mr.  VI Amadasun  

Minister, Labour and Social Welfare

Mr.  EO Imafidon  

Minister of State (Finance)

Mr.  GI Oviasu

Minister of State (Agriculture & Natural Resources)

Chief FU Osuhor

Minister of State (Local Government & Chieftaincy)

Hon. LST Fufeyin

Minister of State (Premier’s Office)

His Highness, Enosegbe II, Onogie of Ewohimi

Minister of State (Premier’s Office)

His Highness, Gbenoba II, Obi of Agbor



Nigeria under 19 states

 Source: http://www.dawodu.com/omoigui22.htm


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