Being the text of the 5th Chief Demas Akpore Annual Memorial Lecture Delivered on Saturday 1st December 2012 at the Ughelli Kindom Hall, Ughelli

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Dr. Sunny Awhefeada

(Department of English & Literary Studies, Delta State University, Abraka)

“Every African society, including Nigeria,…must…prepare for the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century with a sense of purpose and direction of mitigating the excruciating problems of societal development and ensuring the triumph of all her oppressed and harassed peoples.” Chief Demas Akpore, 18th September, 1982.

 

INTRODUCTION

 

Dr Sunny Awhefada

Dr Sunny Awhefada

I must admit that it is with great delight that I stand before this audience to deliver this year’s edition of the Chief Demas Akpore Annual Memorial Lecture. My delight stems from many factors. Chief among which is the fact that I am found worthy to talk about a man from whom I am separated by an unbridgeable generation gap. I was in Primary Three at Ibadan Municipal Government (IMG) Practicing School in Ibadan when Chief Akpore became the Deputy Governor of the defunct Bendel State in 1979. Although, I had not heard of that name then, he had distinguished himself as a nationalist-politician, an administrator, an educationist, a classicist and an intellectual of no mean repute. His personality as a doyen had by then been authenticated by his contemporaries.

I never met Chief Akpore in his life time. However, I encountered him in books and through reminiscences borne of the memory of those who knew him while he sojourned here. The first encounter was in 1982 on the pages of the Social Studies textbook we used in Primary Five in the then Bendel State. By this time I had said my farewell to the hustle and bustle of Ibadan and settled down to the sedative and edenic ambience of Evwreni where I was registered as a pupil of Mariere Primary School.  That first encounter was inexplicably memorable. Was it because of the charming, bold and inspiring smile that lit up Chief Akpore’s face? Unto this day I am unable to tell. But that maiden encounter engendered many more to the point that I lost count.

The sum of my lecture today is the product of my interactions perhaps dialogue, with Chief Akpore since that 1982 encounter. What I have done is to interrogate Chief Akpore’s life, his choices especially political, his philosophy and ideological orientation, his actions, his views as expressed in his writings and of course what his contemporaries and others who knew him had to say about him.

CHIEF DEMAS ONOLIOBAKPOVWA AKPORE

I want to at this point reproduce excerpts from my memorial tribute to Chief Akpore as published in The Guardian of Wednesday 24 December, 2008:

Chief Demas Onoliobakpovwa Akpore was born in April 1928 in Warri. A descendant of redoubtable Orogun ancestry, the young Demas attended the Christ Missionary School in Warri for his elementary education. When the prestigious Government College Ughelli was founded in 1945, Demas was among the pioneering students, and it is on record that he was the third student to enroll. His potentials as an academic wizard and a great leader of men blossomed at Government College. After Ughelli he proceeded to the then University College Ibadan to study the then doyen of all disciplines, Classics. His decade at Ibadan also saw Bola Ige, Gamaliel Onosode, Iyalla Joseph Iyalla, Christopher Okigbo, among other cerebral geniuses reading Classics. Demas, we were told, was non pareil. He wrote and spoke Latin as if it was the language of his forebears.

    Having deconstructed Graecoromen Scholarship at Ibadan, Demas sailed across seven seas to the Western world in search of more knowledge. He berthed at the University of British Columbia to study for a Master of Arts degree in Classics. He graduated with Distinction in 1958! Demas returned home to render selfless service to his fatherland just getting ready to get sovereignty from British rule.

    On his return to Nigeria he became the Principal of United College of Commerce in Warri. His most historic moment in the annals of education was soon to follow. In 1966, enraptured by the dignity of labour he single-handedly founded Orogun Grammar School. He was inspired by a  mission which was to bring education to his retarded people. That mission was powered by a vision which held that only through education can a people be fully emancipated. When in the early 1970s, his alma mater Government College Ughelli was in dire straits, it was Chief Demas Akpore that was beckoned at to restore the school to the path of greatness. Thus in 1972, he became the first old boy to be Principal of the school. He was a disciplinarian, exemplary teacher, great sportsman and motivator of people. He took the college to the peak of glory.

    By 1978 when partisan politics was given the nod, Chief Akpore pitched his tent with the progressive Unity Party of Nigeria, led by the sage Papa Obafemi Awolowo. However, this was not Akpore’s first foray into politics. He was indeed a nationalist who distinguished himself in the Zikist Movement. He had in the First Republic attained political visibility when he played the enfant terrible and neutralized the unholy alliance between the NCNC and NPC. He emerged from the Schism a hero and eventually championed the formation of the Midwest Democratic Front (MDF).  Chief Akpore was an intellectual and philosopher in politics. He was cultured beyond his time. In league with Ambrose Alli, Bola Ige, Michael Ajasin, Bisi Onobanjo and Lateef Jakande, under the patriarchal tutelage of Papa Awolowo, Akpore used his erudition, energy and will power to expand the frontiers of progressive ideals. But, the Nigerian turf could be traitorous to good men, and soon some of Chief Akpore’s party men started scheming to undo him. He resigned his post as Deputy Governor in 1982.

    Chief Akpore’s credentials bestrode Africa. He was a consummate Pan-Africanist who was at home with Jomo Kenyatta (after whom he named his first son), Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Leopold Sedar Senghor, Sekou Toure, and other flag bearers of African Liberation. Chief Akpore’s involvement in Pan-Africanism went beyond contact with the proponents of the concept. He read so much about Pan Africanism, and also wrote several tours de force.

    Unlike many of his contemporaries Chief Akpore was incorruptible. The story was told of a Lebanese contractor who offered to build him a mansion in Lagos or Warri or any place of his choice. Chief Akpore politely refused. He had only two houses, his country bungalow in Orogun and a storey building built through mortgage loan in Warri! He was a decent man, too decent and too ideal for his Nigeria. When the military regime arrested and jailed thieving politicians in 1984, Chief Akpore was apologized to for being invited for interrogation after investigations revealed that he was as clean as a whistle.

    He was a great family man. Together with his wife Mrs Grace Akpore, they bore six children, Stella, Jomo, Boye, Kevwe, Enaite and Newman. Chief Akpore was a talented organist who was deft with the use of both hands. Akpore was brutally attached in December 1982 and he did not recover fully. However, his will power saw him through eleven years more before he succumbed to death in December 1993.

AKPORE AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF DELTA STATE

Development as a concept in contemporary times is susceptible to a plurality of meaning depending on the context and particular purpose for which it is intended. In our present context I choose to locate development as a term used to depict change, progress and advancement. Inherent in this are pointers to something stronger, successful and impressive. In talking about Chief Akpore and the development of Delta State our aim is to explore how Akpore would have harnessed the vast human and natural resources of the state to improve the people’s living condition in every ramification. This would entail Akpore’s engagement of new means of increasing productivity through agriculture and industrialization, laying sustainable foundation for development through good governance and accountability, massive investment in education and infrastructure as well as technological revolution.

DELTA STATE

The entity called Delta State was created on 27 August 1991. Its emergence was a consequence of a long agitation for the creation of a state of our own. It must be on record that Chief Akpore openly canvassed for the creation of Delta State while he was still Deputy Governor in 1981. Delta State has a population of over four million people and a vast arable land irrigated by many rivers and streams whose aquatic splendour is an all year phenomenon. The state is a land of many riches, probably the most endowed in Nigeria. Its agricultural and aquatic endowments are fabulous and if well harnessed can sustain the present and future generations. Such money spinning phenomena like cassava, rubber, bamboo, timber, coconut, raffia and oil palm, plantain, groundnut, yam, sweet potato, spices and other innumerable fruits abound in the Delta environment. The rivers also yield their wealth in the many species of fish, shrimps and other aquatic offerings.  The State is a trove of oil and gas which makes it the economic heartbeat of Nigeria. In terms of human capital, Deltans are known all over the world for their foresight, grit, energy, intelligence, resourcefulness, diligence and brilliance. However, the foregoing attributes have not been harnessed to launch the state onto the path of greatness that it ought to have been.

There is no doubt that development is tied to politics or better put good governance. It is for this reason that I intend to explore Akpore and the development of Delta State from the point of view of his political choices as a politician in the Second Republic (1979-1983).

AKPORE, AWOLOWO AND THE UPN

Chief Akpore’s most significant turning point came in 1978 when he resolved his political choice in favour of the highly progressive political party known as the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). The UPN was an off-shoot of the Action Group an earlier party of a different era founded by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, a man whose progressive credentials remain unrivalled till the present moment. The UPN evolved what it called the Four Cardinal Programmes viz:

  1. Free education at levels
  2. Free medical care
  3. Integrated rural development and
  4. Full employment

Awolowo’s political ideology is hinged on what he called democratic socialism which was aimed at collectively raising the socio-economic status of the people. He envisioned the attainment of a welfare state arising from accountability and prudent management and application of resources.

When Awolowo had direct control over the affairs of the old Western region from 1951 to 1959, the region was regarded as the most advanced enclave in all of Africa. Awo as he was fondly called gave the region the first television station in Africa, the first Olympic size stadium in Africa, the first skyscraper in Africa, the most beautiful university in Africa, the first free primary education programme in Africa and more. Awo did all of these with financial resources from Agriculture and not crude oil! Awo made a dizzying success of his tenure as Premier that his profile became the stuff of which legends are made.

Awo’s trail-blazing achievements were not lost on Demas Akpore. Thus when He founded the UPN in 1978, Akpore saw it as a platform from which he could launch the then Bendel State on the path of the kind of phenomenal development witnessed in the defunct Western region. It was for this that he pitched his tent with the UPN.

The question many analysts are bound to ask will inhere in whether it was possible to achieve the four cardinal programmes which constitute Awolowo’s vision. The answer is yes! The leader’s personality, honesty, style, priorities and preferences, vision, altruism and the intellectual rigour brought to bear on governance will determine whether he will make or mar the opportunity of leading the state and its people. The Singaporean story is a telling example.

Awolowo led a Spartan self-disciplined and honest life, so was Akpore. Both of them were men of great convictions, well read and in whom philosophical and ideological postulations were well mixed. They dreamt stubborn dreams and also had the courage to pursue the dreams. Both men were philosopher-kings who were at home with Plato, Hegel, Marx, Ghandi, Nehru and other thinkers whose thoughts had shaped the world. They therefore could not afford to fail.

 

THE PEOPLE AND EDUCATION

Awo and Akpore were fully convinced that development was about the people. And to begin with, the people had to be well educated. Both men assimilated Francis Bacon’s aphorism that “knowledge is power”. They saw education as a right and not a privilege and that it is the duty of the state to give its citizens quality education to whatever level anyone aspires. What a citizen owes the state after enjoying such a gesture is unalloyed loyalty and patriotic service. Awo was convinced that it was only through quality and accessible education that a society can attain its full democratic aspirations. An enlightened citizenry would engender an enlightened society and economic development. The example of industrialized nations such as Germany, China, Japan, USA, etc, attests to the reality that it is development, mobilization and engagement of human resources that will constitute the foundation of socio-economic development.

AWOLOWO, AKPORE AND THE WELFARE STATE

Awolowo’s socio-political and economic agenda is predicated on the simple dictum “do economically unto others as you would like to be done to you.” Akpore as a welfarist believed in this postulation. The end of welfarism is government’s assumption of the primary responsibility of assuring the basic health, education and general socio-economic well-being of its citizens through programmes and direct assistance. The UPN to which Akpore belonged adopted an approach advocating government’s subsidization and financing of education and health of citizenry coupled with financing of the rural and industrial activities that will lead to gainful employment.

The foregoing would have been possible in Nigeria and our beloved Delta State, but for the monster of corruption. The over 400 billion dollars stolen from Nigeria between 1960 and 1999 would have given us the welfare state of Awo and Akpore’s dream. It was that amount of money that sustained the Marshall Plan which revived Post-Second World War Europe and put that continent on the path of irreversible advancement. What our politicians, contractors and civil servants have been stealing since 2000, which remains unquantifiable for now, would have turned Nigeria and Delta State into a paradise.

A Delta State husbanded by a Demas Akpore would have grown in leaps and bound considering the amount of money running into billions that grace the annual budget. Akpore’s penchant for self discipline and honesty would have prodded him to revolutionize Delta State and put it on the roller-coaster of development. Akpore would not have spent 7 billion naira to clear anthills around an airport whose cost remain unknown, probably the costliest in Africa yet the most unpatronized.

AKPORE AND DELTA’S MULTI-BILLION NAIRA BUDGETS

It has become the vogue at the national level to adopt one visionless vision after the other. From Vision 2010 to Vision 2020 and now Vision 20-20-20, the economic ship of state has floundered to the chagrin of us all. Besides those blurred visions are also the various loud talk and insincere proclamations of ill-thought out agenda. The federal government once had a 7 Point Agenda, while Delta State went hoarse with a phony 3 Point Agenda. An Akpore would have ensured that the billions which constitute our annual budget were deployed into the following areas which are considered prime in contemporary development parlance:

  1. Education and manpower development
  2. Healthcare
  3. Infrastructure (urban and rural development cum integration)
  4. Agriculture and aquaculture (agro-allied and manufacturing industries)
  5. Security
  6. Industrialization and employment generation( apart from oil and gas, Delta is blessed with abundance of marble, glass-sand, clay, gypsum, lignite, iron ore, kaolin)
  7. Sports development, culture and tourism
  8. Power generation
  9. Efficient transport system

What Nigeria and Delta State stand in dire need of is a committed and courageous leader who can dream grand dreams and also have the determination and rigour to follow up such dreams to fruition.

THE MDGs

The United Nations made the development template easy for developing nations when it enunciated the eight Millennium Development Goals at the onset of the present century and set a 2015 deadline for their realization. Any nation or state that is desirous of development can faithfully and painstakingly pursue these goals as defined by the MDGs:

  1. Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieving universal primary education
  3. Promoting gender equality and empowering women
  4. Reducing child mortality rate
  5. Improving maternal health
  6. Combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  7. Ensuring environmental sustainability
  8. Developing a global partnership for development

It is quite painful that with only three years to go neither Nigeria nor any state within has met any of the goals. It is even more painful that the UN in September 2010 in recognition of the development made in other countries initiated a Post-2015 Development Agenda. The implication of this is that Nigeria has been left behind.

 

WHERE OUR PROBLEM LIES

In his 1983 monograph The Trouble with Nigeria Chinua Achebe the cause of the Nigerian debacle to the failure of leadership. I must admit that that assertion is no longer tenable for it is almost twenty years now since Achebe made that declaration and a lot has changed. The trouble with Nigeria today is the problem of followership. Nigerians have not been good followers hence our leaders have not been good leaders. First, we must realize that it is from among the followers that the leadership class is recruited. Why is it that the follower of yesterday who becomes a leader today suddenly loses his sense of decency, honesty and probity and soon jettisons the ideals he once professed when he was a follower? It is now glaring that many Nigerians are opportunistic followers waiting for their turn to hop into the leadership train and perpetuate the status quo to feather their nest. They see their ascendency to leadership as an opportunity to come and chop and not to come and serve.

Another factor has to do with the process through which leaders get into office. It is common knowledge that all the elections conducted in Nigeria from 1964 to 2011 were heavily rigged in favour of undeserving candidates who had the means to corruptly oil the electoral machinery. Once such candidates are in office they do not feel that they owe the people any allegiance or development pact. They ride roughshod over the state and prepare for the next opportunity to get rigged into office. However, in a clime where the people’s votes matter, leaders would have no choice, but to ensure that they deliver the dividends of democracy optimally.

The institutionalization of corruption and how it has inhibited national development has become an over-flogged issue. Awolowo once declared that “a country that allows its rulers to revel with impunity and reckless abandon in the worst form of corruption and misrule cannot hope to be blessed with the grace of light.”

Majority of our people have been too docile. It is possible to argue that Civil Society and opposition political parties have not done enough in citizens’ education and consciousness awakening. We have for too long allowed our leaders to get away with too many infractions. The socio-economic “pollution” generated by the oil subsidy scam since late last year and the frightening revelations coming out of the probes are enough to provoke a revolution in some other places, but not in Nigeria. Our leaders take us for granted because they know that we cannot stand up to them.

THE WAY FORWARD

Nigeria’s Civil Society has a lot to do in waking up the citizenry from their benumbing inertia. Nigerians are probably neither hungry nor angry enough to begin to kick their leaders. We need to imbibe and entrench a culture of protest, civil disobedience and if need be subversion to get our rulers to behave well. We should be determined to ensure that we are governed in the same way people in Europe and elsewhere, where development is about the people, are governed. We cannot be an exception.

We as a people should seize the initiative, we have been too passive for too long. I must admit that there were instances of what looked like organized resistance, but they fizzled out even before they began. We must rethink strategies of taking our destinies in our own hands by compelling both the national and state assemblies to make laws that will engender development.

The people can compel the legislature to enact laws barring political office holders from seeking medicare abroad or any private hospital within Nigeria. They should also be compelled to travel by road within Nigeria. We should insist that their children must attend public schools in Nigeria. Anybody who is unwilling to abide by such regulations should consider him or herself unfit for any political office. We need to embark on these radical changes for sanity to be restored to Nigeria.

As we are all aware, in spite of the many high profile corruption scams involving Nigerian politicians, top civil servants and contractors, nobody has been given a commensurate punishment. The law is really an ass in Nigeria! The judiciary has become a bastion of corruption, lawyers and law enforcement agents have also become propagators of corrupt tendencies. Nigerians need to rise and insist that every infraction must receive a commensurate sanction. Corruption is thriving here because it is not punished. We must take heed of Prof. Niyi Osundare’s admonition that “corruption will kill us if we don’t kill corruption”. This is the frightening reality.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

The question to ask is: was Akpore a saint? The answer is no! However, Akpore was made of the same hue with men like Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkrumah, Obafemi Awolowo who had the fire of transformation burning in them and provided purposeful leadership for their people. These men were not just thinkers they were also dreamers who had the fortitude to pursue their dreams. They were master-planners who did not conceive of politics as a buccaneering enterprise or subscribe to the “do or die” colouration given to it by Olusegun Obasanjo. The example of these men in whose company Akpore belonged showed that not all politicians are bad. We still have such politicians in Nigeria it is only that the system, and time, has not been propitious for their emergence.

I am deeply convinced that had Chief Demas Akpore been governor of Delta State, he would have given us a prosperous state where standard of living and life expectancy is high, a state that would have been like any in Europe in terms of infrastructure and educational and other opportunities available to its citizens. Awolowo was on the verge of doing that for the Western region in the early 1960s before his effort was thwarted. Akpore would have turned Delta into an oasis of development. He belonged to a generation that had a mission as well as the requisite vision to fulfill it. He passes for the best governor Delta never had. Yet, we need not despair. Our Delta shall be reborn and be the haven it was meant to be. It is well.

Thank you.