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DOU UNIVERSITY, ASABA: KUDOS TO LISTENING GOVERNOR OKOWA

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Late foremost nationalist Dennis Osadebay





By CHIMA NWAFO

Sometime in 2019 after several reflections on the manner of honours and immortalisation of foremost nationalists who later became regional premiers, by Federal and state governments, the non-recognition of Chief Dennis Chukwude Osadebay stood out disturbingly on my mind. This is understandable given my conviction that, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” This explains why I’ve done some in-depth analyses on marginalisation of the South-East, and several essays on environmental despoliation, a deadlier form of injustice (now being compiled into a book). Eventually, I decided on a posthumous birthday tribute as a most suitable platform for an impactful articulation of my reflections on this patriotic, selfless and two-fold nationalist in a country where altruism is increasingly in short supply. Note, he was active during pre-independence anti-colonial struggle and also led the post-independence movement for the creation of Mid-West Region from the former Western Region. The platform of choice was News Express.

Nevertheless, little did I know that Dr Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa – who by the nature and multiplicity of projects he had initiated and executed qualifies to be called an Action Governor – would within two short years of his second-term respond to that critical analysis by exactly immortalising DCO with same insignia the Federal Government denied him for 27 years.

In that critique, I had reasoned: “June 29, 2019 will mark the 108th birthday of Chief Dennis Chukwude Osadebay, GCON, Premier of the defunct Mid-West Region, second President of the Nigerian Senate, one-time acting Governor-General of Nigeria, Leader of the Mid-West Movement; Member, House of Representatives, Leader of Opposition and deputy-Speaker, Western House of Assembly; civil servant, poet, author and community leader. Popularly called DCO, the Asaba-born politician is the only ex-regional premier that has not been honoured with a tertiary institution, either by his state of origin, former region or the Federal Government of Nigeria. ‘Osadebay House’ is not a befitting epitaph for a foremost nationalist and regional premier who served his nation when politics was not the lucrative godfathers’ enterprise or cash and carry venture it is today.

“Given the foregoing instances of equitable and transparent leadership in a country where corruption has become the hallmark of public service, what reasonable excuse could any fair-minded Nigerian proffer for such a seeming act of discrimination?”

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Notwithstanding the delay, the aphorism – better late than never – becomes a consolation in this situation. It was Mitta Xinindlu, an activist, who said: “We must stand firmly against injustice. And against those who promote it.” Perhaps, driven by the glaring act of injustice and inequity which the neglect portrayed, Okowa mustered the courage in the second year of his second term and took the action we’re celebrating in this discourse. It is a dream come true, not just for the author but for all lovers of justice.

In the usual manner of political cogitation by the Nigerian elite, many aver that University of Benin (UNIBEN) could not be renamed after D C Osadebay because of its historical import. But that argument is hollow given that nothing confers greater historicity to Benin City than Ile-Ife which is regarded as the spiritual capital of the Yoruba nation Worldwide. Yet, after the death of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, no one protested changing University of Ife to OAU, Ile-Ife, to honour the sage.

Therefore, we do not need the spiritual insight of a Jewish prophet or socio-political wisdom of a Greek philosopher to conclude that the reason for not renaming UNIBEN to Dennis Osadebay University (DOU), Benin, is simply attributable to some of those phobias that stagnated Nigeria and drained her of mutual love and humanity, replaced by opportunism and ethnicism. And until the youths rise against this cankerworm tearing the nation like a worn-out piece of textile and impoverishing Nigerians the more, our tomorrow (which belongs to the younger generation) will surely be worse than the rot currently driving Nigeria to the edge of a precipice.

The cynics may ask: Was he exceptional and transparent in governance? I provided an answer with the assessment of DCO’s administration by Dr Prosper Awhoregba, a Niger Deltan of Isoko extraction, and author of “Nigerian 100: The Most Influential Nigerians of All Time”, who wrote: “Chief Osadebay was fair in his distribution of government patronage. There was no obvious lopsided development or discrimination, as was the complaint against the Old Western Region. His premiership of the (Mid-West) region witnessed a policy of ethnic integration and even development. Government-owned companies were carefully located to ensure geographical equity. For example, Ukpilla Cement Company was located in the North, Asaba Textile Mills in the East, and Delta Glass Company in the South.”

These were state institutions which existence and locations cannot be controverted, just as the records of his sacrificial leadership of the Mid-West Movement while presiding over the demanding office of Senate president is open for scrutiny. The premier’s reason for choosing Benin City as regional capital remains valid. His words: “The choice of Benin is acceptable to all because almost all the ethnic nationalities that constitute the new Region claim their descent from ancient Benin kingdom.”

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In conclusion, I had averred: “If the family had taken the lead in honouring DCO, events marking his 108th posthumous birthday would have been scheduled for Saturday June 29. However, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. With this reminder, one looks forward to the Presidency, National Assembly, Delta/Edo governments, and particularly Delta, as the ‘State of origin,’ for eventual recognition of this unsung hero, even if belated.”

I say kudos to the medical practitioner and one-time Distinguished Senator of the Federal Republic, Governor Ifeanyichukwu Okowa because, leadership demands courage to challenge the status quo and change the narrative; it requires a large dose of courage and political will in today’s Nigeria to defy the “nattering nabobs of negativism,” and political opposition, to do the right thing, making the most of the opportunity he had as the extant governor of Delta State. Sometime, someday, someone would equally honour him as he had done to this hitherto unsung hero, by converting the Anwai Campus of Delta State University to a full-fledged Dennis Osadebay University (DOU) in recognition of the founding father of former Mid-West Region.

Having ensured that all the courses have been accredited by the National Universities Commission, the greatest challenge ahead of the institution is for the Vice Chancellor, with the cooperation of the Governing Council, to stamp his own imprint as the pioneer of what could turn out to be one of the most outstanding centres of learning in the country. Through research, he can find out ways of funding and development of the varsity without total reliance on the state government, which is the bane of most government-owned universities in Nigeria today.

Nwafo, renowned Copy Editor, Policy Analyst and Environmental Enthusiast, can be reached on chi_dafo@yahoo.com, 2348029334754

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