Our personality of the week is Barr. Edward Ehimwenma Osifo, popularly called Eddy Osifo, pioneer Bendel State Chairman of the United Party of Nigeria (U.P.N) who singlehandedly handpicked and through his party made Ambrose Ali the First Governor of defunct Bendel State between 1979 and 1983.
Can we meet you, sir?
I am Barrister Edward Ehimwenma Osifo from Igbontor Quarters of Igbanke in Orihionmwon Local Government Area of Edo State. I was born and raised at Igbanke. Regrettably, the day and month of my birth were not documented, but my mother told me that I was born during the planting season in 1936 which is between April and May. Then, I chose May 29, the Democracy Day in Nigeria which coincided with the birthday of one of my daughters. My sister, Janet Salami, and I are the only surviving children of our parents.
Tell us about your parent?
I am the only surviving son of late Mr. Osifo Irabor and Mrs. Igbitayin Omomo nee Okoh of blessed memories. My father was a native doctor, who before his death headed the group of native doctors in Igbanke. While my mother, a hard-working woman to reckon with was a trader, who traded in Kola nut. She trekked to as far as Okitikpukpa in Ondo State, Akure, and Owo respectively to buy and sell kola nut while carrying me on her back. Indeed, she was a tough woman whose struggle cannot easily be forgotten.
Could you tell us your early days and education?
I attended Benin Divisional Council School, Igbontor, Igbanke between 1945 and 1952. During our primary school days, one spends eight (8) years, which is infants 1 and 2, and standard 1 to 6. It was a tough learning process. When I graduated, I became a teacher under the Benin Divisional Council with my Standard Six certificate where I taught at Urehue Primary School, Igbanke. Thereafter, between 1954 and 1955, I proceeded to Isele-Uku for my Teacher’s Grade III certificate, a two years course preparing one to teach kindergarten and to go for Teacher’s Grade II certificate. The free education that was introduced in Western Nigeria in 1955 by Chief Obafemi Awolowo offered us the opportunity to be trained. The free education offered opportunity for mass education training of higher level classes in the West.
It was in 1957 that I made my University of London GCE qualifying test and we were only two persons who passed in Ika Division, I, and one Onwubuya who also was a teacher. Then, in January 1960, I sat for GCE Ordinary Level and passed my papers in English which was a compulsory subject to pass. While in 1962 I had left teaching and became the Clark of the defunct Akugbe District Council. For further quest for more knowledge, the same year (1962), I sat for my first Advance Level Examination where I got three papers and gained admission to the University of Ife now Obafemi Awolowo University (O.A.U) to study Bsc Social Sciences (Economics), and graduated in June 1965.
Thereafter, I taught briefly at the College of Commerce Bariga in Lagos and became the school Principal for six months. I left the school following my appointment by the Midwest State Government to teach Higher School Certificate (HSC) at Government College, Ughelli. To God be the glory, out of the twelve students that sat for the exam and passed, eleven made B in my subject, Economics and the school principal who was so impressed with the academic records of the students commended me for my outstanding performance.
At the expiration of the Biafra-Nigerian Civil War which lasted three years1967 to 1970, I was posted to Edo College, Benin to teach HSC and junior classes. It was when I was a teacher in Edo College, Benin that an Igbanke man became the Military Administrator of Midwest in the person of late Dr. S.O Ogbemudia. It was when I met the late Ogbemudia that he said he had heard so much about me and how brilliant I was. He assured me that he will redeploy me to leave the teaching profession. Despite all arguments for me to remain teacher that the teaching remains my field of study and calling, he acted upon his words and redeployed me to the Ministry of Finance where I joined in the preparation of budget and planning. As it was not enough, Ogbemudia later made me the Acting Chief of Protocol, Midwest Government House. Regardless of the work elevations which gave me good names and higher level it wasn’t appealing to me.
Two years after, precisely 1972, I went back to the University of Ife to study Law and many who were amazed over my aspiration conceived the thought that I was a mad man because I was among the first people to be deviating in studies of courses. At my graduation in 1975 and went to Nigerian Law School and after the successful completion of my program, I was called to the Nigerian Bar and became a Barrister of the Law. For four years of my further study in law, I was given study leave without pay. On my return to the Governor’s office, I met an Itsekiri man called L.D Boyo who said my qualifications are above my position and made me the Secretary, Rural Electricity Board with immediate promotion from level ten to fourteen. Sincerely, I have had series of divine favours in life.
From what you have told us, you seem to have risen very fast, what would you attribute to that?
Its hard work and dedication. As a youth, I did not relent but continued to struggle to move to the top. My new chapter of life came when I wrote a letter to Chief Obafemi Awolowo and he replied quickly unlike the modern-day politicians who cannot even take their calls nor reply to text messages. Awolowo discovered me through my letter to him and he invited me. I and my wife visited Awolowo’s house and we were highly honored because of the special treatment accorded to us.
During the visit, Awolowo’s humility made my wife query the reason why people speak evil of him that he (Awolowo) is wicked when they have not met him in person to judge him. It was after the visit to Awolowo that I became very close to him that when he wanted to form U.P.N in 1979, he invited me to join them in a meeting where I met high caliber of persons like late Adekunle Ajasin, late Bola-Ige, late Lateef Kayode Jakande, late Olabisi Onobanjo, late Professor Sam Aluko, and Professor Akin Mabogunje. The personalities at the meeting made me to stand up and seek permission to take my leave on the condition that I am not qualified to be in the meeting because they were all accomplished men and I was still a boy. But Awolowo objected, remarking that it is my intelligence amidst potential that has brought me thus far. He then told me that he has chosen me to head U.P.N in the then Bendel State, while, Ajasin to head Ondo State, Bola Ige to head Oyo State, Olabisi Onobanjo who we fondly called Master Bisi to head Ogun State and Jakande to head Lagos State respectively.
The first meeting of U.P.N that I conveyed and invited Awolowo was held in Senator Akpata’s house and at the end of the meeting; he (Awolowo) had a handshake with me while assuring me that we have already won Bendel State in the forthcoming election judging from the caliber of personalities who attended the meeting. He further requested that I should see him where he later revealed to me his plan that I should contest for the party’s primary for Governorship position. I killed this vision and golden opportunity on the ground that at the age of 40, I was too young to contest for the governorship position. Others like Bola Ige, Master Bisi, and Jakande who accepted the offer became governors of their states. Awolowo haven failed in all his effort to convince me to take the offer to contest for the Bendel State Governorship position requested that I should be the person to provide somebody in replacement. I singlehandedly handpicked Ambrose Ali and campaigned for him vigorously and that was how he won the election to become the First Governor of defunct Bendel State. Our victory at the poll brought so much joy to Awolowo.
How did you emerge victorious when the Bendel was the core zone of Nnamdi Azikiwe?
Just as I earlier told you, I campaigned vigorously for Ali. Despite people’s doubt about our party winning the election, I made them believe that God is using me to change the situation. I made it a duty that after work, I must visit a community to constitute my campaign team. I went around Bendel State wisely choosing individuals to lead the campaign group. These individuals included the most respected and honored person in the villages or towns in terms of integrity as the Chairmen, the most trouble maker as the deputy, and a retired principal or court Clark as the Secretary amongst other positions. U.P.N was widely accepted because Awolowo had set a good record in his leadership. I toured around Bendel State and successfully constituting our campaign groups. Many mocked me, saying that Awolowo chose me wrongly since I was not someone whom the people know or hear his voice as been so wealthy. But my intellect just as Awolowo believed in me paved way for me and we were victorious at the end.
Ali won the governorship election landslide and U.P.N got two-third of the House of Assembly members. Without regret, in the long run, Governor Ali stabbed me in the back by accepting wrong advice from people to push me out of his cabinet because he thought I was wiser than him so as to be able to return for a second tenure. It was the effort of Awolowo, that Alli managed to make me the Commissioner for Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, from which I was also sacked after one year for no reason. Following wrong advice, the politics of Nigeria was made a game of bitterness.
Immediately my appointment was withdrawn, I returned to the Bar to continue the practice of my profession as a lawyer. Many of my colleagues queried to know why I return to the bar but I responded to them that it is where I belong. I had my law firm at No. 84A New Lagos Road Benin-City and named it after my late mother called Akpitanyi Chambers. U.P.N continued to make success because of the solid foundation I laid. I defeated the political gurus of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) the likes of late Chief Anthony Anenih, Chief Anthony Enahoro, Ogbemudia, Tayo Akpata, and a host of others.
Why has Nigeria remained an unstable country?
The instability of Nigeria is strictly as a result of politics of bitterness over power tussle of the political party to head the country. And the refusal of the rival party that loss to support the winning party to succeed. By this the non-ruling party will continue to encourage the Pull Him Down syndrome. This is the simple reason why Nigeria is not moving forward as it ought to be.
After the expiration of UPN, which other party did you join?
Sincerely, after the expiration of U.P.N, political parties became zigzag. I had joined the Social Democratic Party (SDP), and later joined Alliance for Democracy (AD) which did not see the light of the day. Presently, I am an unrepentant socialist, because I believe we all should support one another to succeed.
Do you see the 2023 election holding following the insecurity ravaging the country, most importantly the burning down of INEC offices and police stations?
On the other hand, it could affect the general election not to hold in 2023 because it is not easy replacing the Independent National Electoral Commission’s sensitive and insensitive materials. But with determination, there will be elections if everyone realizes the usefulness as a country to move forward. Many out of their selfishness have lost their foresight. Nigerians have failed to realize the fact that dependent of one another. The Northerners have taken charge of our food consumption like we have taken charge of giving them money as a way of patronage for the food items we eat.
What is your stand on the agitation of the youths that they should be allowed to lead the country?
Nobody is stopping the youths from taking over the leadership of the government or occupying vital positions. The youths have had the opportunities but lack of foresight has deprived them. Nobody gives power, but God and it won’t come when one sits back without actively participating in politics. During my youth and as a student I participated actively in politics in a given opportunity, socializing with who is who in political groups. The interest of the youths in politics these days is money and it has killed their political quest.
As a renowned educationist, is education a scam as the belief of so many youths now?
Education is never a scam because it is what made people like me to see the light of the day. Impatient in life is the worst syndrome facing the youths in their quest to make money quickly and without struggle, thereby failing to understand that money is something we will continue to look for until death comes. I can remember that I spent eight good years to obtain my Standard Six Certificate and other years to undergo my educational carrier which brought me recognition (fame) and favour. The so-called internet fraud will not last forever. Also many who made their money through it have mismanaged and misused it for lack of education.
What is the reason for the fallen standard of education when compared with your time?
Examination malpractice is one of the major syndromes which have compelled students to lose reading interest. Another is the lack of qualified teachers in schools or rather the employment of half-baked teachers who no doubt graduated through the means of examination malpractices, and to continue to encourage it even as a teacher. I recalled that when the former Governor, Adams Oshiomole of Edo State tried to flush the weak teachers out of the system, Nigeria Union of Teacher (NUT) stopped him and threatened to go on strike if he does. Governor Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai of Kaduna State also wanted to do the same but by sacking two thousand unqualified teachers to go and start selling any product or do other businesses, but NUT also refused. It may interest you to know that the majority of Nigerians are only at war with whatsoever will brings them progress.
What advice will you give to the government in reviving the standard of education?
The government should find a way to eradicate all forms of examination malpractices through the reduction of examination centers to have more hands for close and adequate supervision. I can still recall in our time that we had only one big examinational center in Agbor where people came from far and near to write their exams. The need to make students pass creditably their external exams, to attract more students during admission and external exams enrolment will continue to encourage examination malpractices. It will therefore be a wise advice if examination centres are reduced.
In your capacity and with your sojourn and connection, what have you done to improve the lives of the people of Igbanke?
The one year as a Commissioner of Agriculture and Natural Resource, who also know the importance of education, I brought two grammar schools to Igbanke. I rehabilitated Igbanke Model School and renamed it Igbanke Mixed Grammar School, Ottah Olije for boys and girls, and Igbanke Girls Grammar School which today are functioning despite lack of teachers for years now. Many who came across me, I have continued to give to them motivational talks and guidance, especially the youths to take it easy in life.
Have you been honoured in appreciation of your good works?
Individuals’ reward is never an issue to me because many see me as a catalyst to selfish views. I am simple and diplomatic, but the beautiful recommendations I have received from the Living Faith Church, also known as Winners Church in Ohoro, Benin-City being the Chairman of the Church Board has continued to make me smile and encouraged me. God has been so faithful to me, most importantly for preserving my life to see old age. Winners Chapel Church made me know that there are lots of blessings in serving God. Being an ordained elder in the church is enough honour to me.
May 29, 2021 marks your 85th birthday, sir, would say that you are fulfilled?
I am a fulfilled man who will forever remain grateful to God for his blessings upon me and my household. Just as I said earlier, I have no regret in life despite the fact that I did not become the governor as it was planned for me because of my youthful thoughts or Governor Ali who turned his back on me and as at when I wanted it under SDP was cancel, and I supported John Odigie Oyegun to win with my structure. I am a happily married man with wonderful and successful children in different fields of endeavour. My wife, Mrs. Joy Osifo has been a source of joy to me, and thanks to God for her life.
What is the aberration between Igbanke and Ika people who both speak the same dialect?
Ika nation has been split into small groups, a part in Esan LGA called Ekpon, while Igbanke, and Owa in Orihionmwon LGA, all in Edo State. Ogbemudia as many think was never the cause or the one who facilitated these Ika-speaking communities to join Edo State following states’ creation and landmarks. Although, Edo State recognized us with some infrastructure as part of its constituency, but we are grossly marginalized in Edo State.
We have never been allowed to contest for the larger constituency like House of Representatives, Senates, or Governorship positions because we are communized over our dialect. I must say that Ika nation is blessed, as it presently has two governors, the Delta State Governor as in the person of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele. Recently, an Ika man was also appointed the Chief of Army Staff of the Nigerian federation amidst other enviable positions occupied in the present and past. Also, there is no doubt that Igbanke should have been more prosperous and favoured by the government if we were part of the Ika nation. Ika people are averagely less tribalistic and formidable tribes. If there will be an opportunity to adjust local government, it may interest you to know that the majority of the people may wish to join Ika LGA.
Despite the fact that death is inevitable and from the look of things, majority of your political colleagues are no more, what can you say has preserved your life?
Is God, but one greatest thing in life is to learn to treat your fellow human beings the way it will please God and mankind.
Which is your favorite Ika food?
It was Pounded yam and Vegetable soup, but the science of feeding has now said that pounded yam contains much starch which is converted into sugar and it becomes injurious to the body. So, I am mindful of whatever I eat, especially now that I am aging to maintain a good health condition.
How do you relax?
Since I reduced my reading culture, I take a full night’s rest and stopped things that I use to do that takes my strength.
Do you have role models?
My principal, late Chief Obafemi Awolowo remains my one and only role model because his ideology about politics is not selfish.
Do you have the worst and best moments?
My worst moment was when I lost my teacher and mentor, late Chief Awolowo to the cold hands of death.
What are your likes and dislikes?
I dislike dishonest persons who continued to propagate falsehoods, be it my parent or children. If you must be my friend, you must maintain integrity.
What legacies would you like to leave behind?
Legacy of uprightness
What is your advice to Nigerians?
Let us all be patriotic in our reasoning and say no to selfish interests to move the country forward, be you a Christian or Muslim. Nigeria government is at war with COVID-19 pandemic, Boko Haram, Biafra, and others, but to worsen the state of the country, some of its parastatals are threatening to go on strike for increment in salaries despite knowing that all is not well. It is painful that almost 80% of Nigerians are misinformed about the government because they do not read; all they hear about the government is negative things. The worst that has killed Nigeria is social media where fake stories are been carried. I will say that those carrying the fake stories are enemies of Nigeria. Let us also think twice because the agitation for war was never the way forward to better the country. For some of us who were born and have experienced war and its devastating effects will not welcome the idea. Lets us learn to do things on merit-based and say no to tribalism and religion.
WRITTEN PATRICK GBUCHANYE