Okoi Obono-Obla in this essay, frowns at the omission of Dr Arikpo’s name from Nigeria’s Centenary awards list.
Shortly after our country marked 100 years of the amalgamation that brought together the Northern and Southern Protectorates of Nigeria on the 1st January 1914, I am constrained to register my displeasure, even shock, at the failure of the Presidential Committee on the Centenary Celebration to include the late Dr. Okoi Arikpo, SAN, among the 100 Nigerians listed for recognition and honour by President Goodluck Jonathan. I think by whatever criteria or parameter used by the Committee that did the recommendation of those to be recognised and honoured for their contribution towards nation building, Dr. Okoi Arikpo is eminently qualified, how he was not listed for an award is still a mystery.
Painfully, I have seen the names of several people honoured and recognised who were contemporaries of Dr. Okoi Arikpo before and after independence. I have seen the name of Professor Eyo Ita, in black and white. So that we may understand what I am saying, we may need to be reminded that Professor Eyo Ita and Dr. Arikpo were both members of the Eastern Regional House of Assembly. Dr. Okoi Arikpo was a member of the NCNC and one of the members of the Eastern Regional House of Assembly nominated to represent the Region in the Central House of Legislature (the precursor of the House of Representatives) in Lagos. This same man was appointed the Minister of Lands and Surveys in1951 and Minister of Mines and Power in 1953. He however resigned from the NCNC because of the crisis that erupted when Professor Eyo Ita was forced to resign as the leader of Government Business in the Eastern Regional House of Assembly to pave way for Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. Dr. Azikiwe was elected a member of the Western Regional House of Assembly under the platform of the NCNC and was widely expected to be elected Leader of Government Business in the Western Regional House of Assembly but the bid was frustrated by the mass defection of the NCNC members on the floor of the Western Regional House of Assembly.
An exasperated Dr. Azikiwe left the West to return to the East and sought Professor Eyo Ita’s position. Angered by this development, minority members of the Eastern Regional House of Assembly led by Dr. Arikpo, resigned en masse from the NCNC to form their own political party, the United Nigeria Independence Party, UNIP, which allied with the Action Group. Students of History and Politics point to this as the genesis of the formation of the Calabar/Ogoja/ Rivers (COR) State Movement, a movement to agitate for self autonomy.
I saw the name of Honourable Justice Udo Udoma on the List of Honorees. Udoma was the President of the COR State Movement while Dr. Arikpo was the Secretary-General of the COR State Movement. I equally saw the name of Chief Joseph Tarka. Tarka was the President/Founder of the United Middle Belt Congress, the political party formed by the Northern Minorities to advocate for the creation of a separate region for the people of the Middle Belt (Central Nigeria) out of the defunct Northern Region. He was a member of the House of Representatives in the First Republic, appointed a Federal Commissioner in the regime of General Yakubu Gowon from 1967-1974 when he resigned from the cabinet after Mr. Aper Aku and Godwin Dabo accused him of corruption. Chief Tarka was Dr. Arikpo’s Colleague in Gowon’s administration. Another contemporary of Dr. Arikpo listed for recognition and honour to mark the Centenary Celebration was Chief Anthony Enahoro. Chief Anthony Enahoro was the Federal Commissioner for Labour in Gowon’s administration from 1967-1975. Chief Enahoro was a member of the House of Representatives just like Dr. Arikpo. Another colleague of Dr. Arikpo who was recognised is Dr. Olawale Taslim Elias, TOS, as he was called and addressed.. He was the Attorney General of the Federation from 1960-1966 in the cabinet of Sir Abubukar Tafawa Balewa (Prime Minister of Nigeria from 1959-1966). Dr. Elias was later appointed Attorney General of the Federation in 1966 by General Gowon and was in office until 1972 when he was appointed Chief Justice of Nigeria. Undoubtedly, Dr. Elias was a contemporary of Dr. Okoi Arikpo, as they were in the cabinet together from 1967 till 1972. Another colleague of Dr. Arikpo honoured was Dr. Jaja Anucha Ndubuisi Wachukwu who was Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1959-1960 and later Minister of Foreign Affairs. Listed again, among the 100 heroes to mark 100 years of the amalgamation is Mallam Aminu Kano. Malam Kano and Dr. Arikpo were colleagues in the cabinet of General Gowon from 1967-1975. He was the President and founder of the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) that championed the interest of the common people in the North.
Let me state it again, so we do not forget. Dr. Okoi Arikpo is undoubtedly the longest serving Minister of Foreign Affairs in Nigeria (from 1967-1975). He ably led the Federal Government delegation to several peace talks during the civil war years and handled his schedule with great ability so much so that the Federal Government had the upper hand in the International Court of public opinion despite the vociferous propaganda unleashed by the Republic of Biafra to sympathetically sway the international community to its cause. Again, Dr. Arikpo was the First Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission where he also played a crucial role in garnering the support of the Eastern minorities for the Federal Government of Nigeria during the civil war. He was a distinguished academic who made a first class in Chemistry from the University of London and later veered into the arcane discipline of Anthropology where he bagged a PhD in the field from the same University of London. He it was who made history when he became the first West African to bag a PhD in Anthropology. Regrettably, in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, while some of the streets have been named after ministers that were his colleagues in government, Dr. Arikpo’s name is deliberately missing in this sphere of things.
In 2010, the Federal Government of Nigeria under President Jonathan honoured 50 eminent Nigerians that had contributed towards National Development and many of those honoured were contemporaries of Dr. Arikpo but he was inexplicably omitted from the list of those honoured. I wrote a letter to President Jonathan concerning the omission of the name of Dr. Arikpo but nothing was done to correct the obvious mistake. One would have thought that the Centenary Celebration presented a veritable opportunity to correct this huge mistake but it seems for reasons best known to the Federal Government of Nigeria the name of Dr. Arikpo has been perpetually consigned to the dust bin of Nigerian history and we Cross Riverians don’t seem bothered. How sad!
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