Gilbert Otoyibo: Educationist and a Father

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By Fortune Unuafe Ezewu and Faith Efephia Ezewu

Born in 1914 in Ohrerhe Agbarho, Ughelli North Local Government Area of Delta State to the Otoyibo Ezewu family, Gilbert Akpowene became a pathfinder and mentor to everyone who crossed his path. My father’s early education played significant role in his success as an astute educationist, who was given the responsibility to establish some schools in Urhobo and Isoko axis of the then Midwest State.

As a young boy, having successfully completed his primary school education at the Native Authority (NA) School, Agbarho, my father left the pristine riverside hometown of both his father, Chief Otoyibo of the Ezewu Ofurhie family and mother, Madam Ijenisa of the Ukperie family to school in Warri at the then famous Provisional Government Teachers’ Training College (PTTC), where he obtained, in 1932, the Teachers’ Grade III Certificate. After the two-year mandatory teaching practice period, he was re-admitted into the same College, where he obtained the Teachers’ Grade II Certificate, with Distinction in 1936.

These attainments made him to be among the first qualified teachers in all of Urhobo/Isoko Land. He was at various times a foundation teacher/headmaster/head teacher of several Native Authority (NA) Schools, including those at Ughelli, Agbarho, Orogun, Uzere, Ellu, Otu-Jeremi and Isiokoro (now known as Otorho Agbon).  Some of his contemporaries include Chief Jabin Awhinawhi (1st elected Chairman of Ughelli Local Government Area), Chief Bulles of the Roman Catholic Mission (RCM) schools and Chief Dickson Akiti Ojigho. His younger teacher colleagues included Dr. Mudiaga Odje, SAN (who later became President of the Nigeria Bar Association), Mrs. Victoria Eyakware Okor, Mrs. Elizabeth Idudu, Mrs. Ayi Akpokiniovo, Mrs. Sada Tefue and Dr. Awoture Eleyae, retired pioneer Director, National  Institute for Sports, to name a few.

Two significant ideas, imbibed while in College, dominated his active adult life.  The first was the critical importance of education, including the need to give the girl-child equal opportunity in education as the boy-child. Thus, in every station where he served, he was known to actively encourage parents to pay equal attention to the education of both sexes of children and generally avoid gender-based discrimination. His efforts in this regard were also particularly evident in the success of his female siblings in the then Standard Six Primary School final examinations in the 1940’s.

He was a seasoned education administrator, a recognition of which led to his being co-opted by the then colonial Native Authority (NA) into the team which appraised the suitability or otherwise of communities seeking primary schools in their locales. The Anglican Church (otherwise known as Church Missionary Society, C.M.S) similarly invited him, along with others, to plan and establish the first all-female Secondary School in Urhobo/Isoko Land – The Anglican Girls Grammar School (AGGS), Ughelli and served as a pioneer member of the Governing Board of the School.

The second important life-long value acquired while in college was love for agriculture.  He was an avid agriculturalist, engaging in crop production including the cultivation of rubber, oil palm and raffia palm trees. For instance, in Ohrerhe and Orho Agbarho, as well as Ughelli where he had access to family land, he was involved in perennial cash crop farming on a major scale.  The stretch of raffia palms along the local riverside in Agbarho which today is referred to as “Egoro Akpowene”, as well as a number of rubber plantations, attest eloquently to his valiant efforts in this regard.  At the various other duty posts where there were no family lands, he got himself involved in subsistence farming – planting crops such as cassava, yams, among others.

Gilbert Akpowene was, at various times, married to three wives, namely, Madam Alice (nee Ikurusu of Okan, Agbarho), Madam Ihonda (nee Amuejutowa of the Itsekiri settlers of Oghara, Agbarho) and Madam Mary (nee Ovome) of Ellu, Isoko North L.G.A.  They were blessed with the following thirteen children: Faith, Irese (Mrs. Okpighe), Fortune, Orhuerakpo, Osusu (Mrs Onovirakpo), Omamoromo, Lovee (Mrs. Osadjere), Akpotowhoase (Mrs. Iremeti), Kemukemu (Mrs Ikogho), Onogharigho, Okpokor, Otobrise (Mrs Enarhevwa) and Erume Joy.  These in turn, have sired several grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Gilbert Akpowene was a titled Chief, the Ovwata of Agbarho and for several years, served as Secretary, Central Urhobo Council of Chiefs.  He was also for several years, the official Divisional translator/interpreter, a role that required him to translate and relay in Urhobo language to the assembled audience, the Goodwill Message of the Queen and Premier during Empire/Independence day celebrations. He played a similar role during official visits/public engagements of top government functionaries, including parliamentarians of the pre-independence and immediate post-independence period.  His involvement in socio-cultural matters extended to work on the formal documentation of the Urhobo Language, a task he initiated in conjunction with some selected well-grounded-in-English Urhobo sons and daughters.  He also for a period, served as a National Assistant Secretary of the Urhobo Progressive Union (UPU).

Religion was a dominant feature of his life.  He embraced Christianity early in life and all through, was an ardent man of faith serving God with passion and zest.  He was a strict disciplinarian and inculcated Christian values in his children and all whom he fostered in life.  He was a devout member of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) now Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) and served in several prominent laity leadership positions especially at the All Saints Church in Ughelli.  In the last few years of his life, he became a foundation member of the Church of God Mission under Archbishop Benson Idahosa with his residence serving as the first location of the church in Ughelli.

He retired from teaching service in 1970 and became a General Contractor, rendering support services to the local Shell Company Oil installations.  He also, at this period, gave greater expression for his love for sports, actively promoting and supporting the development of various sporting activities, including lawn tennis and soccer.  He was, for several years, a prominent fan and patron of the local soccer club, the Ughelli Township 1st XI.

Gilbert Akpowene, the youngest of the mother’s three children, had two siblings, the eldest being a brother, Pa Ogbeta (father of Phillip B. Ezewu & siblings), followed by a sister, Ma Enakeme. His step-brothers were Pa Erekata, Pa Robert (father of Omonigho Clive Ezewu & siblings), Pa Obatavwe and Pastor Sunday (who for many years was the Pastor of the Tabernacle Church, Agbarho). His step-sisters, on the other hand, were Ma Ugogorowho, Ma Ovwiomodiowho and Ma Iyeminokpe (a.k.a. Sweet, the mother of Chief Godwin E. Agofure & siblings).

It is pertinent to note that Gilbert Akpowene’s grandfather was His Royal Highness, Ajuwe Ezewu Ofurhie, the Osivie (Paramount Ruler) of Agbarho Kingdom from 1893 – 1923. His grandmother, Her Royal Highness Adehor Ezewu Ofurhie, was the daughter of Chief Uwejeyan Esejuvwevwo of Afisere, Ughelli, a one- time Iyasere of Ughelli Kingdom.

He died on 12th March, 1977 at the age of 63 years, following challenges with failing health, and was buried on 27th March, 1977.