Chief Festus Sam Okotie-eboh: Nigeria`s Most Flamboyant Politician
Chief Festus Sam Okotie-Eboh (1919-1966) was a prominent and most flamboyant Nigerian politician of all times and former minister for finance during the administration of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. Okotie-Eboh an Urhobo native turned Itsekiri man was most expensively well-dressed Nigeria political figure as far as exquisite taste in traditional African wear and Western dressing are concerned. Okotie-Eboh was the target of bitter criticisms, he certainly was very rich. He was a man of influence and power, with considerable financial strength and know-how
Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh and his wife during the Queen’s visit to Nigeria in 1956. His dress is in flowing garments with a chain a yard long being held by a boy.As a flamboyant dresser and fashionable stylish impressionist 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 was ferociously attacked by Action Group leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and accused of corruption.
Nigeria’s political history attained a remarkably eventful crescendo on January 15, 1966, when Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh was assassinated along Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the prime minister of Nigeria, Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief Akintola, prime minister of Western Nigeria etc., in a military pogrom and putsch led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu. Major Nzeogwu was quoted as saying in a Radio Broadcast that: “…Nigeria will never be the same again …”
“The moralistic and Victorian grundnorm that precipitated the Nzeogwu-led putsch became rubbished by the July 27, 1966 counter-coup with Aguiyi-Ironsi as the arrowhead. This action plunged Nigeria into a precipitous political and ethnic epicentre. Truly, Nigeria has never been the same ever since the Nzeogu-led coup and the Nigeria/Biafra civil war. Historians of various genre and colours have tried to look at the justicability of history as a basis for moving Nigeria forward. Any attempt is treated as an epochal historical fraudulence, festering sore, nauseating gesture, parochialisation of history and the mere intellectualisation of trite matters.” (Bobson Gbanjie,2013)
Some critics of Chief Okotie-Eboh aver that he was “a thief and corrupt public officer.” Some even described him as a first most corrupt Nigerian minister of state hence why was killed in the first 1966 military takeover. However, evidence shows that the man was very rich before he assumed public office and that he was a “victim of circumstances.” Gbanjie (2013) asserted that “Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh was killed because he was a meteoric star from the minority Mid-West Region, bluntly, the Niger Delta. He was a victim of the despotism of the majority triumvirates in the then military institution and a guinea pig in the laboratory of military politicians. He was never found guilty of corruption by any court of competent jurisdiction and by any interventionist body of graft. The military juveniles who carried out the coup and the killings have now been proved wrong and found guilty by the justicability and verdict of history.”
From Left Festus Okotie-Eboh the ever-flamboyant man with Eboh Johnson, celebrated sculptor Ben Enwonwu and others
Okotie-Eboh was born to an Itsekiri Chief, Prince Okotie Eboh in July 18, 1912 in Warri Division, a town along the Benin River in Niger Delta. He was named Sam Edah but later changed his name to Festus Sam Okotie-Eboh. It is believe that his father was of Urhobo parentage and had settled in Itsekiri land for eons. The name Ekotie is said to be Urhobo name.
In 1954, he was elected treasurer of the N.C.N.C. and in 1957 following the alliance between the NCNC and the Northern People Congress (NPC), Ekotie-Eboh was made Minister of Finance by the prime minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.” He held the office of the finance ministry until the 1966 coup which eventually ended his life.
At community level Ekotie-Eboh was seen as number one facilitator, middleman and dealer who fixed things for his people. He was known to have employed many Urhobos which included millionaire and boardroom power-broker Michael Ibru and late Edewor. These men were employees of Okotie-Eboh. While Edewor was his “houseboy” and trusted servant, Ibru was a manager of sorts and when Okotie-Eboh decided to import frozen fish. At that time people refused to eat the fish but preferred the fresh fish in their pre oil-pollution waters, the young forward-looking Michael Ibru asked to be given the fish. He took it to other areas including Cameroun and thus Okotie-Eboh gave Nigeria and Urhobo one-time wealthiest man in Africa in the person of Olorogun Michael Ibru whose fishing conglomerate was feeding many countries in Africa and money from which has given birth to Oceanic Bank, Aero Contractors, Guardian newspapers, Eko Le Meridien (sold off) Sheraton, etc.
When Major Nzeogwu was to take his coup in 1966, among those pencilled down to be killed was a Niger-Delta business colossus. Along with Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Belewa, Akintola, chief Okotie-Eboh was killed. Rumours say bullets could not penetrate his skin so they tied him to a car and dragged him. Reports of those who saw his body say he was mangled beyond recognition. It is said that his grave in Okotie-Eboh baptist Church which borders Zik Grammar School is still empty of his remains.