By Omoh Gabriel
In one of William Shakespeare’s epic literature book Julius Caesar, he wrote that when beggars die there are no comets seen; the heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.” This has been a time honoured belief. In the traditional Africa setting, home call of stars or high profile persons are heralded by restless night and wild raging storms, strange cries, frightening “owling”, strange visitations and disturbing dreams of the dead rising from their graves, warriors fighting in the clouds, reports of horses neighing and dying men groaning, ghosts shrieking. All these are supposedly signs that the great are about to leave mere mortals. In modern times, these signs no longer appear to men. There was no such warnings in sight in the death of this illustrious son of Okpella. Every man had gone to do his normal business of the day, particularly those who are far from home.
There was no inkling of any such. So in the hotel room, at about 7 pm considering whether to order a room service or go done the restaurant for dinner, the phone rang. It was a distant call. A look at it showed it was from Abuja, who could this be. A lady voice came on, yes, what can I do for you I asked, well your cousin is dead. How? Well that is the story I was asked to relate to you the voice said and dropped. I held my breath not knowing what next to say or do. I confirm the development from family members and was told it is true. The story I am about to tell you is a long story of a man who devoted most of his life to serve his people.
As far back as 1967, when I know I could do things for myself, the youth of Imiegiele would run down to Chief Ogene House, in Imioshiomu village to wait for a cousin who was walking in ministry of Agriculture in Akure later in Benin. He would appear immaculately dressed, clean shaved with always a charming smile. He would distribute bread, eggs and other things he brought from the City. Not too long he returned home to live with us. Then events started unfolding that epitomised his future greatness. The then traditional ruler of Okpella, Oba Obinogbe had died and the traditional stool of the Okpella community was vacant. While an enquiry into the Okpella traditional council was on, the Biafra civil war broke out as the Biafran army over ran the then Midwest. A detachment of Biafran soldiers occupied Okpella land and held sway. One cold night, the Imiegiele community was being harassed by these soldiers. A titled Chief Arcoven Ebigie, the Daudu of Iluokuza had gone out to have a nice time in a local bar. He was elderly. As he was going back home, the Biafran “child soldiers” as we used to call them accosted him, molested him and held him hostage. The matter was reported and this young man who had experienced township life said no that can not be. He entered the army make shift barracks in the primary school to demand explanation for the ill treatment of a titled man. What an effrontery the Biafran soldiers said. They tried to manhandle him, he fought back. One particular violent soldier among them kocked his gun to shoot him but another held him back. It was a fracas and was very frightening.
It was to turn to a bloody fight. My uncle Musa Balogun, My father Gabriel Balogun and others had rushed into their homes to prepare their dean guns for battle if need be. You wonder what a dean gun will do in in the face of AK47 in the hands of trained soldiers in a war period. But one of the women in the village ran into the field to shield him, her name Ms Azala Balogun, others joined to take him out. The soldiers felt they have lost face and started threatening the community. You must bring the young man out with a “he goat” and hot drinks or we shall shoot him wherever we find him. That was in the night. But as God would have it at midnight the Biafran soldiers sighted federal troops approaching from Ehuru in Akokoedo and they ran and escaped. This act of bravery endeared him to both the youths and the elders.
Not too long afterwards, the Okpella community decided that there was need for a secondary school in the town as many of their children were not getting admissions into secondary schools in the neighbouring towns of Auchi, Igarra, Ibilo, Jattu and Agenebode. It was this same young man who took the lead. Come rain.come shine he and others with like minds mounted road blocks to collect dues from men and women to build a school.
It was their effort that brought the Anglican Grammar School Okpella now Ikpomaza Grammar School. Today the school has produced eminent men and women in various profession and vocation. When eventually the white paper on the Okpella Chieftaincy enquiry was released, it was agreed that it was the turn of Imiegiele Okpella to elect the traditional ruler. Initially there were three contenders to the throne. He was the youngest and nobody gave him a chance. This was because his father Mr. Omosotomhe Dirisu Azamoh of Utayokhe – Imiegiele, Okpella was alive then. The belief then was that he was too young to rule. But he joined the race. One of the contenders made a tactical mistake that made many shift their loyalty. There was a court case between Imiegiele community and one of the other Okpella communities. The leaders of the other party to the suit promised to support him if he withdraws from the case. Without consulting the Imiegiele members, the leading contender to the throne withdrew from the matter and left the Imiegiele people in the cold. However, the choice was to be made exclusively by the ruling houses in Imiegiele not the entire Okpella. It was then the responsibility of this very young man to lead the community in the land dispute. Going by his boldness, character, reputation, commitment to community service and love and respect for tradition the elders in Imiegiele had no difficulty in choosing and presenting him as the clan head of Okpella. He became the uniting force and rally point in Okpella community. That is the reason Alhaji Andrew Yesufu Eshioramhe Dirisu was made the traditional ruler of Okpella. He grew up as an adventurous young man both among his mates and his immediate community wherein, he soon displayed profound leadership qualities.
Having successfully gone through the various hurdles of succession, he was consequently accorded official recognition by the Government of the then Mid-Western State under Brigadier General Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia (RTD), as the Traditional Ruler and Prescribed Authority of Okpella. He took the symbolic and unique title of “Okuokpellagbe” which literally means “The symbol of Okpella Unity”. Under the Okuokpellagbe, Okpella is today reputed to be the industrial nerve-centre of Edo State due mainly to its rich mineral endowments. This explains why a large number of companies/factories are engaged in diverse mineral exploitation in the Okpella.
In his bid to ensure Okpella’s total development, he fought from all directions to provide electricity for the people. happily, the town is today connected to the national grid. This has greatly contributed to the industrial growth of Okpella. In the field of Education, as stated earlier this quintessence of a gentleman has done no less than he has attained in other fields. Before his reign, there was one secondary school in Okpella. Happily there are today, five Government secondary schools in addition to about 13 Primary Schools and many private schools at different levels.
He served as the Vice-President General of Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (N.S.C.I.A) 1987 – 1995. His contributions and inputs greatly helped in making the Council what it is today. He holds several other positions as a Muslim Traditional Ruler. As part of his general desire to uplift Okpella community economically, H.R.M, Alhaji (Dr.) A.Y.E Dirisu (JP) OON is credited with the establishment of Okpella Community Bank Limited, now Agbelor Microfinance Bank and currently serves as the Chairman, Board of Directors. Other appointments held by H.R.M are statutory Chairman of Hospital Management Board University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria. He was appointed as member of Africa Traditional Rulers and Eminent Personalities Forum, Chairman MAMSER Implementation Committee in defunct Etsako LGA; Chairman 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Appeal Fund Launching Committee, Etsako Chapter; Chairman, Bendel State Development Appeal Fund Launching Committee, Etsako Chapter; Member National universities Commission, Member Steering Committee of the movement for the creation of Edo State (1981 – 83); like Chairman Edo State Council of Traditional Council (1995/96); Chairman Etsako East Local Government Traditional Council 1995/96, 2000/21; Member National Rulers and Eminent Persons Forum of Nigeria and many others.
It is in recognition of his commitment to the upliftment of humanity that he has been conferred with the patronship of several social clubs and philanthropic Organisations, notably are Patrons, Etsako Club’ 81, Lagos, Etsako Professional Women’s Association, Edo/Delta State; Etsako Club, Sapele; Esan Unity Club of Nigeria, Etsako Student Union of University of Benin and Obafemi Awolowo University; Okpella Oghele Women Association, Benin City; Elegance Circle of Nigeria, Auchi; Okpella Student Union. In recognition of his invaluable good work and contributions which His Royal Majesty had made to the development of Nigeria and the World in general, the City University of Los Angeles awarded him a honorary Doctorate Degree in 1989. Back home, he was conferred with the prestigious award of Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) by the President Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency Alh. Umaru Musa Yaradua, GCFR. He was awarded a Justice of Peace (JP) in 1986 in apparent recognition of his love for peace both within his domain and its neighbours. He has made personal sacrifices to engender peace. His interests include among others: Exchange of Royal visits, writing, reading, current national and international affairs and sports. He is a widely traveled traditional father (Locally and overseas). His Royal Majesty is happily married and blessed with several children.
He was humble, caring and he gave succour to those who were hurting. He gave his shoulder to those who were grieved to cry upon, he lend a helping hand to the helpless and gave hope to the hopeless. Even his distractors who took his benevolence and magnanimity for granted will say of him this was a great man. He was certainly not an angel but was also not ordinary. The last time I was with him was when I went home for the burial of my mother inlaw. He was there for us and played the fatherly role. At his Palace with him on that day was Barrister J K Kadiri. He was joking with him and said “when I come to Abuja, I will give you a call so that we can connect and do some of those things we used to do”. I looked his way, he looked at me as if to say this is a free world, you can make your choice. Today he is gone and unfortunately, I am far away and was not there to say the last good bye. Goodnight our king, rest in peace until we meet to part no more.