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Festus Okotie-Eboh: The dandy finance minister victim of 1966 coup



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AMONG the heroes that fell in the February 15, 1966, was Festus Okotie-Eboh. He was the dandiest of President Tafawa Balewa’s cabinet then. Probably that was his only attribute a distant observerand a naysayercan see because he was finance minister.

But the Itsekiri man meant more than that. He was a nationalist at heart. “Festus was a friend of the people; he was a friend of the East, friend of the West and friend of the North,” former UN Ambassador MaitamaSule said during the 50th commemoration of Okotie-Eboh’s death at the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs, Lagos.

Former President Olusegun was an eyewitness that fateful day when Major Nzeogwu coordinated the putsch that killed no fewer than 10 nationalists and politicians in 1966. Obasanjo was also an eyewitness 50 years after, when a book, Chief Okotie-Eboh, in Time and Space”, written about thestatesman, was presented to Nigerians. And he testified to Okotie-Eboh’s nationalism.“That we are able to gather here today to remember and in a way acknowledge the life of our early leader who, whatever may be his deficiency, is a testament to the fact that he gave us the best,”Obasanjo said. Those who appreciate a united Nigeria can appreciate the gift. Now.

But, back then, Okotie-Eboh wasn’t just another pretty face in Balewa’s government. He knew his onions as finance minister. MbazulikeAmaechi, a First Republic politician, who was at the ceremony saidOkotie-Eboh was visionary“who managed the finance and the economy of the country far beyond the expectations of everyone.”

And certain elements who wouldn’t bear whatever his “deficiency” murdered him along Lagos-Abeokuta expressway, in a bush close to where Balewa, too, was silenced. SegunOsoba, former Ogun governor, when he was a young reporter at the Daily Times, broke the story. Forty-four years later, he felt strongly there were some wheels within the wheel in that government. “The death of Tafawa Balewa may have been influenced by elements in government who wanted to cover certain things up and now had to put his body on the same spot with Okotie-Eboh so that the story would be that the coupists put the two bodies there,” Osoba told the Vanguard in 2010.“I have reason to believe that there are some games played by some people in government who had a hand in it.”

But whatever the manner of Okotie-Eboh’s death, the fact remains the 54-year-old was killed by the coup plotters, along with his president, for Nigeria.“They knew there would be a coup, but they remained in the interest of Nigeria,” said Awosika, Okotie-Eboh daughter.

How Ladoke Akintola was felled in the coup
At the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomosho, the chiller about the heroics of the late Western Premier LadokeAkintola was best told by his son Samuel. The family was under siege all night on January 15, 1966. And the coup plotters shelled the Ibadan home of the Akintolas. “At a stage my father told us he wanted to go and meet them, but we begged him not to go.” Samuel told the audience at the 50th remembrance of Akintola’s murder. “Like the hero that he was, he told us that he would prefer to go and face them and damn the consequence, rather than to allow them to wipe out his family if they continue to hide.”

And the patriarch died in the pool of his blood. Tragic? Maybe not. “Akintola died at God’s appointed time,” said Gov. IsiakaAjimobi, guest of honour at the commemoration. The human part is, however, missing. “It is our fault that Akintola was not being celebrated the way we should.” He blamed the family for monopolizing the nationalistand for covering his achievement. Akintola was parliamentarian of note; he was an administrator; and most of all he was a Nigerian.

To set the record straight, Samuel said it was his father, not the late Tony Enahoro, that moved the motion for Nigeria’s independence.

Perhaps Nigerians need to know more of this man Ajimobi described as “unsung hero”. That’s the reason, the governor said, the family haveto reach out and involve more people and political leaders on issues and events relating to the late premier.

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