His gaudy mode of dressing says it all. Just take a look at it as shown on this page; it is doubtful if you will have a contrary opinion. And that was his undoing, his nemesis. He was, always, colourfully robed is a flowing posh wrapper, the lengthy surplus of which required the services of a boy to roll round his neck and tag along with the ‘Omimi Ejoh’ – the Water Spirit. Look at that… a god! And he was Federal Minister in charge of the nation’s purse.
In his dainty garb, the Omimi Ejoh stepped out in style – taking princely steps. And of course, he was a beauty to behold. Admirers lined up streets to get a glimpse of him. Siaka Momoh, as a little boy in Ogharefe (in Midwest Region then but now Delta State), was privileged to be one of his admirers when he made a political trip to Ajagbodudu (in MidWest Region too) in the 1960s.
So, according to reports, he had the misfortune of having his name penciled down as one of the wreckers of the Nigerian economy in the First Republic… And he had to die for flaunting his wealth going by the testimonies of those who knew him well. They hold Chief Festus Sam Okotie-Eboh (1919-1966), a prominent and most flamboyant Nigerian politician of all times and former minister for finance during the administration of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, was in money good money, before he became a player on the nation’s political turf.
For Dr. Ajoritsedere Awosika, the sixth child of Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, who served as the Permanent Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Federal Ministry of Science & Technology and the Federal Ministry of Power respectively, it is the same argument. Said she: “My father was raised by poor parents and he worked very hard for his country. He never stole Nigeria’s money; rather, he gave his money to the country. Before he became a minister, he owned shoe, plastic, cement and rubber factories and never made a noise about free education. He practised it. He was accountable and was a man of great discipline.”
Love for business
Okotie-Eboh was said to have (contrary to the craze by his contemporaries for Law, Medicine, and Engineering then) studied business administration in far away Czechoslovakia and resolved to go into business on his own. He started a successful business, selling timber, rubber and owning a few schools. His businesses included the Okotie Eboh Grammar School and Omimi Plastic and Shoe Factories. He is reported to be as rich if not richer than Dantata who owned 40% of the groundnut pyramids in Kano and was wealthier than late Emeka Odimegwu Ojukwu’s father and the Orizus. He is reported to have built two primary schools and two secondary schools, naming one after his friend Zik and the other Academicals which later became Okotie-Eboh Grammar School… All this he built before he stepped into government.
Comments by Okotie-Eboh’s contemporaries – politicians, civil servants, at a colloquium held in 2016 to mark the 50th anniversary of this Nigeria’s charismatic politician scored him high. Alhaji Maitama Sule, a close associate of Balewa and an inner caucus of Northern People’s Congress (NPC), which had a political alliance with NCNC to form government, as keynote speaker, said Okotie-Eboh was a great personality and a unifying factor in the politics of the period.
Said he: “Festus was the first Minister of Finance, the best finance minister in Africa in those days. He made a thorough job of it. He was a man of the people, a friend of all the people, all the parties. In fact, many didn’t know the party he was. He was a man full of humour. Festus made sure that the two great parties – (NPC) and NCNC – worked together very well. Festus did his job; he would speak for two hours while presenting his budget.
“Those leaders laid the foundation for Nigeria. The reputation of Nigeria was very high in the international community. We held our heads high. Nigeria is a great country with potentials; we need to realize its potentials. Nigeria is destined to lead Africa and the rest of the black race. It is not for nothing that God has brought us together to work together.
“But we need to have leaders like Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, Aminu Kano, Okotie-Eboh to do that. We need leaders with the fear of god who will not lie. We need leaders not rulers who will not steal and who are not corrupt. Our First Republic was decent”.
The presentations restore the stature of Okotie-Eboh many did not know and who many misconstrue other than he was.
Ahmed Joda, one of the federal ‘Super Permanent Secretaries’ of the 1970s, noted that though Herbert Macaulay, Azikiwe, Balewa, Ahmadu Bello and Awolowo were the founding fathers of Nigeria, there were many others who laboured far into the night to strategize for the content and substance of the desired outcomes of a great country. And he unequivocally said Okotie-Eboh was part of that think-tank, stating, ‘the story of Nigeria’s struggle for political and economic independence cannot be complete without recognizing and acknowledging the heroic and significant roles played by many other stalwarts. The personality we are celebrating here tonight, Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh stands out.”
According to Joda, Okotie-Eboh was significant in many respects, as the first Nigerian Minister of Finance, “he steered the country’s economy at its birth through an era of fast and most rapid economic growth, development and progress yet to be equaled.
“Chief Okotie-Eboh, without doubt a political giant among giants of the First Republic, was, perhaps, the closest and one of the most influential in the government of Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa”.
Revelations at the event showed that rather than the political actors benefiting from the party or government, it was the other way round in the First Republic. Party members were required to pay levies for the running of the party. In the case of NCNC, the party repeatedly went cap-in-hand to Okotie-Eboh, an accomplished businessman exporting goods from Nigeria to Europe and Canada, for finances to run the party’s activities.