Celebrating Legacy of the Late Amayanabo of Okrika

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Late Amayanabo of Okrika

In commemoration of 100 years of his birth and 22 years of his death, Adedayo Adejobi eulogises His Majesty, Sir Ogan, Ado VIII (JP), late Amayanabo of Okrika

His Majesty, Sir S.P.U. Ogan, was born on Monday October 27, 1919 at Ogan Ama, Okrika to Paul Kalaiyo, a merchant in the palm produce trade along the Imo River. The same year, that part of the world was drawn closer by the formation of the League of Nations, to promote world peace and prosperity. The League of Nations is the fore runner of today’s United Nations.

King Ogan was a gallant World War II Army veteran. He was recruited into the British Army in July 1944 during the Second World War and was in the Royal signals where he acquired extensive experience in electronics engineering technology. As Principal Radio Mechanic Instructor in the Royal West African Frontier force, Sir Ogan was the first West African to become an Instructor in the British Army.

His Majesty Sir S.P.U. Ogan was a radio and wireless pioneer in Nigeria. The popular music playing equipment in the country in 1949 was the gramophone. But by the middle of that year, King Ogan had designed and constructed Nigeria’s first Electronic Public-Address System with a microphone, amplifier and loudspeakers. This Public-Address System was first hired for trial by the then colonial government Department of Statistics and was used at a public function at Ikoyi in July 1949.

After this, the famous Lagos musician, Bobby Benson used the equipment to thrill Lagos metropolis at the Glover Memorial Hall and it was the second time such electronic equipment was ever used in Nigeria. Apart from this remarkable achievement, he had been distinguished as the only technician capable of converting radio sets originally designed for only battery use into electric mains or both ways. This made King Ogan very popular among many Europeans and wealthy Nigerians who needed the dual capacity system for picnics in the countryside.

In 1951, King Ogan returned home to his little Ogan Ama, Okrika community with five canoe loads of electronic equipment and materials. Not long he moved to Port Harcourt where he established and equipped a radio and electrical service workshop on Aggrey Road and on Bishop Johnson Street, Port Harcourt. His electronic workshop was well equipped and was the first building to be illuminated with fluorescent lights of many colours in the whole of Eastern Nigeria and the British Cameroun. Patronage was overwhelming as customers came as far as from Kaduna to either repair or buy electronics equipment. Besides, his public-address system was hired regularly by different political parties for campaigns and travelled to far places like Jos, Kano, Kaduna, and Tiko in the Cameroun. At his native Okrika, he was popularly known as the Radio Master.

It was in his best interest to have the sole knowledge of servicing electronic equipment at the time. As a monopoly, his workshop would have made all the money. But King Ogan reasoned that it would be in the interest of posterity, if he imparted that knowledge to generations coming behind. To this end, in July 1951 he applied to the Department of Education, Port Harcourt for permit to open and run a Vocational Training Institute, but received a reply one month later the permit was granted by the Divisional Officer (D.O) and thus was how the first ever technical college East of the Niger river –the Ogan’s Radio and Electrical Engineering Institute was established in 1952. In 1953, the most brilliant student of the school, Master Sunday Alatoru (now a Chief) of Okrika, sat for the City and Guild Examination of London and passed. The Institute was later called New Era Technical College, when he allowed other Nigerian investors to join the Board of Directors on Government advice.

King Ogan was a raiser of animals and plants and was passionate about the environment. He was noted for establishing the first and biggest piggery farm in the then old Rivers State, (today’s Rivers and Bayelsa States). In addition to piggery, Sir Ogan cultivated exotic crops like cashew fruits and traded in unprocessed cashew nuts. Through grafting, he introduced Tangelo (a fruit mixture of grape and tangerine into his large plantation of oranges, tangerine, guava and pineapples. He also cultivated food crops like cassava, avocado pear, yam, plantain and banana, among others.
He presented distinguished lectures to the Association of Deans of Agriculture in Nigerian Universities and also at Shell and the National Fertilizer Company of Nigeria (NAFCON) during their annual farmers’ days. In recognition of his contribution to food security in Nigeria, he was appointed by the Federal Government into the Board of the National Veterinary Research Institute at Vom, Plateau State as a Non-Executive Director.
King Ogan was a nationalist and strong supporter of the struggles for minority rights. He was an active member of the Rivers Chiefs and Peoples Conference led by Chief Harold Dappa Biriye and hosted meetings of the group in his Port Harcourt residence. During the various conferences in Nigeria and London for the political independence of Nigeria, this movement demanded for the creation of a separate state for the minority people of the Niger Delta.

King Ogan fought colonial rule on two fronts – the Ex-service Men’s Association (today’s Nigerian Legion) and the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroun (NCNC) which he joined in 1952. In 1959, King Ogan was elected Deputy President-General of the Nigerian Federation of Ex-Service Men’s Association and in 1959 led the Nigerian delegation to the Eighth Conference of the World Veteran’s Federation (W.V.F) in Rome, Italy, where he and other colleagues from Ghana and Sierra Leone presented a formidable front and spoke against the ills of colonialism. The W.V.F. was affiliated to the United Nations Organization.

By 1964, Sir Ogan had become a popular young man among prominent Chiefs and people of Okrika Clan (Wakirike). He had, using his connections in commerce and politics, spearheaded a number of positive actions for Okrika and was instrumental to the election of his kinsmen into the Eastern Nigeria House of Assembly on N.C.N.C. platform, against stiff opposition.

Ogan was installed Amanyanabo of Okrika Clan (Wakirike se) on April 25, 1964. Thereafter, he was recognized by Eastern Nigeria Government and became the third recognized traditional ruler in the then Degema Province. The other two were the Amanyanabo of Bonny and Amanyanabo of Kalabari.
After his coronation, four idol gods as demanded by custom and tradition were placed in the palace to guide him. He was aware that a good percentage of Okrika people had faith in those deities and he too had been groomed to believe in the efficacy of the four gods. He was also aware that his adversaries had become more vicious in their bid after his life, than those who sought to protect him with the four idols. In the light of this, the choice to accept to live with these devilish gods or put the Almighty God in charge remained his and his alone. From a strong Christian home, he brushed tradition aside and chose to put God first. Two months after he moved into the palace, he summoned courage one night and asked the palace servant to dig a hole in the palace back yard. He then collected the four gods (jujus) in the palace, dumped and buried them in the hole. Thereafter, he worked into the palace, picked up his Bible and proclaimed: “God I Am Alive Again in Thee Be My Protector.” He became more determined to carry the yoke of Okrika people and “lead them through thick and thin, in life and in death.”

His Majesty King Ogan ascended the throne of Okrika at a time of great uncertainty in this country. There had been a military coup in January 1966 culminating in the Nigerian Civil War from 1967 to 1970. The Eastern Region led by Lt. Col. Odimegwu Ojukwu had declared itself the Republic of Biafra, against the wishes of the rest of Nigeria led by Major General Yakubu Gowon, resulting in a political stalemate and a full-scale military confrontation. Such a situation called for tact and diplomacy because as King, his loyalty was significant. To save his kingdom, King Ogan had to play along with the Government in power in the East, even if he was not in support of the rebellion.

During the war, Okrika, the whole of Okrika (including Ogu and other major towns) was under siege and the people suffered untold persecution. Okrika had been clearly marked out for total annihilation by Biafra but was saved by God using King Ogan as vessel. During the war, Okrika was united under him. There was no Koniju or Tuboniju Council of Chiefs. All the Chiefs rallied round him and looked up to him for leadership as their king. Between January and May 1968, Okrika was under subjugation by retreating Biafran soldiers from the war front at Bonny, which had then fallen to Nigerian troops.
A dusk to dawn curfew was imposed and no one was allowed to leave Okrika Island either by day or night, except King Ogan, who must do so with prior notice to the police. Through his efforts, soldiers later allowed only one hundred women to go out and purchase food to feed more than one hundred thousand people on the Island each day. Fisher men were allowed to fish within one-mile radius of Okrika by day only. There were no vehicles to transport the food. So, the one hundred Okrika women only purchased what they could carry on their heads trekking from Eleme market to Okrika. By this design, Okrika was marked out for extermination by starvation. But God never allowed it.

Again, through the Amanyanabo’s diplomacy with Biafran officers, more Okrika women were allowed to the markets to purchase more food. He remained at Okrika and suffered with his people until the civil war ended on January 15, 1970. He was also the only recognized traditional ruler who was on hand to receive the first military Governor of Rivers State, Lt. Commander Alfred Diete-Spiff on assumption of office in Port Harcourt.
But the end of the war marked the beginning of another set of ordeals for the King of Okrika who never abandoned his people. King Ogan suffered personal loss economically and physically in order that Okrika would survive. He was harassed, humiliated, stripped and brutally tortured like a common criminal on trumped up accusations. He was falsely accused of giving “juju” to Okrika people to fight Nigeria. It was also falsely alleged that he possessed wireless telephone in his private home with which he communicated with Ojukwu and Biafran soldiers to sabotage Nigeria’s war efforts.

He was thus branded a “security risk” by the soldiers, for which he had to be chained like a robber, stripped naked and given 36 strokes of the cane at a Nigerian army concentration camp in Port Harcourt. King Ogan at this point demanded to be shut, but they would not. The military high command later found he was innocent. The Sector Commander, Lt. Col. Ariyo declared that looking through the files and documents seized from his home, it was clear that he was the King of Okrika and that there was nothing he did, anybody in his position would not do at the time, given the circumstances of the war. They realized he was being framed by his enemies in Okrika, who wanted him dead at all costs, using soldiers who liberated Okrika Island at the time.

Consequently, King Ogan was taken to Lagos on “protective custody” of the Federal Military Government of Nigeria which again found him innocent after thorough investigations. King Ogan had a bumpy road back to the throne of his ancestors, with too many other challenges including a divided kingdom. His recognition was purportedly withdrawn without any record in the official gazette. The illegal withdrawal of his recognition as Amanyanabo of Okrika was however set aside by a successive military government which also elevated the stool owned by Ado, as a First-Class Chieftaincy Stool in 1978.

King Ogan was contented, courageous, honest, humble and a man of integrity. He lived a simple life in the fear of God. Not for him greed, avarice or ostentation. A great communicator, he was a raiser of animals, plants and hope, and a friend to nature He was the longest reigning Government recognized traditional ruler in the State. He was king for 33 years and 7 months. He died peacefully, painlessly on his birthday, on October 27, 1997. He was 78. Born 1919, died 1997.
May His Gentle Soul continue to rest in the Lord.