The beauty in re­gion­al­ism

Sunday Trust - - PERSPECTIVE - By Eric Te­niola Eric Te­niola is a for­mer Di­rec­tor at the Pres­i­dency

Chief E.M.R. Oko­ro­dudu was the first Agent Gen­eral of West­ern Nige­ria in the United King­dom. Like ev­ery Agent Gen­eral his work cov­ered the whole of Eu­rope. He later be­came a Com­mis­sioner in the Fed­eral Civil Com­mis­sion be­tween 1968 and 1974 along with Al­haji Sule Katagum(Chair­man), Sir Samuel Layinka Ay­o­deji Manuwa, Al­haji Yusuf Jega and Dr. L.O. Uwechia. He re­placed his friend, Chief Arthur Prest who had served in the Com­mis­sion since 1960. Chief Oko­ro­dudu was suc­ceeded as Agent Gen­eral by Chief Em­manuel Ak­in­bowale Ola­sumbo Ak­in­toye Coker (SAN) (19252000), the late Apena of Eg­ba­land. Chief Coker was suc­ceeded as Agent Gen­eral by Prince Del­phus Ade­bayo Odubanjo.

The first Agent Gen­eral of North­ern Nige­ria was Al­haji Saadu Ayinla Alanamu alias GBOGBO IWE. Along with Sir Ah­madu Bello, Al­haji Makama Bida and Al­haji Shehu Sarkin, he at­tended the con­sti­tu­tion con­fer­ence in Lon­don on July 7 1953. He was later tur­baned as the Waziri of Ilorin (Prime Min­is­ter) in Novem­ber 1979. Al­haji Alanamu was suc­ceeded by Al­haji Baba Gana. The first agent Gen­eral for eastern Nige­ria was Chief Jonah Chinyere Achara who was a class­mate of Dr. Clement Isong at the Methodist Col­lege, Uzokali. He was suc­ceeded by Mr. Ak­pan Ekuk­i­nam Bassey from Afah Ikot Abak near IkotEkpene in the present Ak­waIbom state. He was later made a Judge of the Fed­eral Rev­enue Court on July 12, 1976. On Oc­to­ber 7, 1977, the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment set up an­other three-man tri­bunal to try those in­volved in for­eign ex­change racket. The three-man panel was headed by Jus­tice Ekuk­i­nam Bassey. Other mem­bers of the panel were Group Cap­tain G. A. Esho, of the Air Force and Mr. Mam­man Ali Makele of the Uni­ver­sity of La­gos.

Mr. Jus­tice Ekuk­i­nam Bassey died on duty on June 26 1986.

Agents Gen­eral were like am­bas­sadors for their re­spec­tive coun­tries and they were to pro­mote tourism and in­vest­ments for their coun­tries. In ad­di­tion they were to serve as trade min­is­ters for their re­gions. They also acted as li­ai­son of­fi­cers for the re­gional mar­ket­ing boards help­ing to sta­bi­lize prices of goods and com­modi­ties.

This was dur­ing the era of co­coa, ground­nut and palm ker­nel boom. The re­gions were pru­dent in the man­age­ment of their re­sources and they strug­gled very hard to get rev­enue to sur­vive.

On Fri­day Jan­uary 28 1966, the then Head of State, Ma­jor Gen­eral John­son Thomas Umu­nakwe Aguiyi Ironsi told the na­tion at a press con­fer­ence that “I have abol­ished the of­fices of Agent Gen­eral in Lon­don”.

Chief Obafemi Awolowo as Premier of the West­ern Re­gion no­ticed that money could be made through cin­e­mas and the­atres. So his gov­ern­ment formed a com­pany with some Le­banese busi­ness men to es­tab­lish cinema houses in La­gos and some part of the re­gion.

The com­pany later be­came a sub­sidiary of Wema­bod Es­tates Lim­ited in 1975 and via the di­rec­tive of the then Mil­i­tary Gover­nor of the West­ern Re­gion, Bri­gadier Gen­eral Olu­wole Ro­timi, the shares of the com­pany were trans­ferred to Wema­bod Es­tates Lim­ited. The as­sets in­cluded lease­hold, lands and build­ings were later sold to Wema­bod Es­tates Lim­ited at mu­tu­ally agreed prices. The com­pany as of to­day has re­sorted to con­ver­sion of the ex­ist­ing struc­tures to shops and halls, while the avail­able lands are be­ing al­lo­cated to in­di­vid­u­als to put up shops, makeshift kiosks and con­tain­ers among oth­ers. At present the Odua In­vest­ment Com­pany headed by Mr. Wale Raji is tak­ing a com­pre­hen­sive sched­ule of let­ting out the prop­er­ties of the com­pa­nies to ten­ants.

The re­main­ing func­tional Cinema Houses are Casino Cinema on Her­bert Macau­lay Street, Yaba, La­gos, Corona Cinema, Ita Faji La­gos, Queen Cinema, Ekotedo, Ibadan and Rex Cinema Te­wog­boye Street, Ondo. Also as Premier of West­ern Re­gion, Chief Awolowo with his then Min­is­ter of Agri­cul­ture, Chief Gabriel Akin Deko es­tab­lished farm set­tle­ments all over the re­gion. In 1958 while at Methodist Pri­mary School, Otapete in Ile­sha in the present Osun state, it was al­ways the joy of my life to spend week­ends with my un­cle, Chief Henry Aroloye now the Aruwa­joye of Idanre who was then the agric of­fi­cer in charge of Ijebu Ije­sha farm set­tle­ment.

La­pal House at Ig­bosere road in La­gos Is­land now aban­doned, West­ern house at broad street, La­gos, the 26 storey Co­coa house in Ibadan and lots of other build­ings in­clud­ing Ikeja Air­port ho­tel, Uni­ver­sity of Ife now Obafemi Awolowo Uni­ver­sity were built with pro­ceeds from tax and co­coa by the old west­ern re­gion of Nige­ria dur­ing the ten­ure of Chief Awolowo and Chief Samuel Ladoke Ak­in­tola.

Ham­dala ho­tel in Kaduna, Ah­madu Bello Uni­ver­sity es­tab­lished on Oc­to­ber 4 1962, the North­ern Nige­ria In­vest­ment Lim­ited and many other projects in the then North­ern Nige­ria were built dur­ing the era of Sir Ah­madu Bello as Premier of North­ern Nige­ria.

Dur­ing his ten­ure as Chair­man of the Eastern Nige­ria Mar­ket­ing Board, Sir Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu (19091966) en­cour­aged the then Eastern Nige­ria gov­ern­ment to es­tab­lish nu­mer­ous com­pa­nies. The board was es­tab­lished in 1954. The gov­ern­ment also es­tab­lished farm set­tle­ments at Ohaji, Ig­bariam, Boki, Ulonna, Erei, Uzo-Uwani and Egbema to en­cour­age agri­cul­ture.

Trad­ing of goods was also a ma­jor part of the re­gional econ­omy. In 1954, im­ports to the re­gion were about 25 mil­lion pounds a year which were brought into the coun­try by a few Euro­pean firms but dis­trib­uted by thou­sands of traders within the re­gion. The trade in im­ported goods such as dried fish, mo­tor parts and tex­tiles goes on along with the trade in lo­cal food­stuffs.

In in­dus­try, the coal mines of Enugu man­aged by the Nige­rian Coal Cor­po­ra­tion and Niger­steel’s rolling mill which used steel scraps to pro­duce mild steel bars were one of the few coal mines and steel plants in oper­a­tion in West Africa in 1963. Dur­ing the NCNC gov­ern­ment led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, a ce­ment fac­tory was es­tab­lished at Nkalagu, Nige­rian Brew­eries chose a stout fac­tory at Aba, a to­bacco and glass mak­ing plant was lo­cated at Port Har­court.

Tin­ubu Bank was es­tab­lished by a Nige­rian Jour­nal­ist, Mr Ebuka Ezeh in 1944. Fol­low­ing the in­ter­ven­tion of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the then Premier of Eastern re­gion, Sir Lois Ojukwu, Chief Mbonu Ojike, the Min­is­ter of Fi­nance in the Eastern Re­gion, di­rected the Eastern Nige­ria fi­nance Cor­po­ra­tion and the Eastern Nige­ria Mar­ket­ing Board to trans­form Tin­ubu Bank into African Con­ti­nen­tal Bank (ACB). In the early six­ties the bank was well man­aged un­der Mr. Adol­phus Blank­son and Chief Fred McEwen and com­peted with the big banks then like Bar­clays bank, Stan­dard bank and Char­tered bank. In fact a branch of the bank to­day is still at Yaba, La­gos very near Domino stores owned by the Fa­ther of Se­na­tor Ben Bruce. Till the bank got dis­tressed in 1991, it had 107 branches.

No doubt the re­gions were do­ing well. Trag­i­cally on Fe­bru­ary 21 1966, Gen­eral Ironsi told the na­tion that ”It has be­come ap­par­ent to all Nige­ri­ans that rigid ad­her­ence to ‘re­gion­al­ism’, was the bane of the last regime and one of the main fac­tors which con­trib­uted to its down­fall. No doubt, the coun­try would wel­come a clean break with de­fi­cien­cies of the sys­tem of gov­ern­ment to which the coun­try has been sub­jected in the re­cent past.” That was the obit­u­ary an­nounce­ment of the death of re­gion­al­ism in Nige­ria. The fu­neral rites were later made by Gen­eral Yakubu Gowon when he cre­ated the twelve states in 1967 and trans­ferred all the pow­ers of the re­gions to the cen­tre.

Since then, here we are.

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