By Eric Teniola
Lt. General Kenneth Tobias Minimah (53) is not the first Chief of Army Staff to come from that part of Nigeria that we now classify as South -south.
There was Lt. General David Akpode Ejoor (80) from Ovu in Delta State, married to Agnes Obireko. There was also General Alexander Odeareduo Ogomudia (64) from Uzere in Isoko Local Government Area of Delta State, married to pretty Iwayemi Omolara Ogunlowo, a princess from Atosin in Idanre Local Government Area of Ondo State.
But General Minimah, who is the President of Nigeria Boxing Federation, is the first Chief of Army Staff to come from Opobo and even the first to come from Rivers State.
It is the ambition and desire of every commissioned officer in the Nigerian Army to rise to be the Chief of Army Staff. And the way the Army Personnel treat their Chief of Army Staff is remarkable. The post is very powerful bearing in mind that four of those who have held the position in the past, have ended up governing the country.
I remember in 1986 when I served as the Press Secretary to the then Governor of Ondo State, Colonel Ekundayo Babakayode Opaleye and we were to receive the then Chief of Army Staff, Major General Sanni Abacha (1943-1998) in Ondo state.
One will think we were to play host to the then President, General Badamosi Ibrahim Babangida (72). We had three sleepless weeks preparing to host General Abacha.
Let’s take a look at past and present Chiefs of Army Staff:
Major Gen. Kenneth G. Exham (1956-1959), Major Gen. Foster, Major Gen. John Alexander Mackenzie (1963), Maj. Gen. Sir Christopher Welby-Everard (1963-1965), Maj. Gen. Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi (1965-1966), Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon FSS(January 1966-July 1966), Lt. Col. Joseph Akahan OFR FSS (May 1967- May 1968), Maj. Gen. Hassan Katsina rcdspsc ( May 1968 – January 1971), Maj. Gen. David Ejoor (January 1971- July 1975), Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (July 1975 – October 1979), Lt. Gen. Ipoola Alani Akinrinade CFR FSS (October 1979 – April 1980), Lt. Gen. Gibson Jalo CFR FSS JSS (April 1980- October 1981), Lt. Gen. Mohammed Inuwa Wushishi CFR FSS (October 1981 – October 1983), Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (January 1984 – August 1985), Lt. Gen. Sani Abacha GCON,DSS mni ( August 1985- August 1990), Lt. Gen. Salihu Ibrahim FSS FHWC (August 1990 – September 1993), Lt. Gen. Aliyu Gusau Mohammed DSS rcds (September 1993 – November 1993), Maj. Gen. Chris Alli CRG DSS ndcpsc(+) (November 1993 – August 1994), Maj. Gen. Alwali Kazir DSS Usawcpsc (+) (August 1994 – March 1996), Lt. Gen. Ishaya Bamaiyi idssu cpsc (March 1996 – May 1999), Lt. Gen. Victor Malu DSS mnifwcpsc ( May 1999 – April 2001), Lt. Gen. Alexander Ogomudia ( April 2001- June 2003), Lt. Gen. Martin Luther Agwai ( June 2003 – June 2006), Lt. Gen. Owoeye Andrew Azazi (1 June 2006 – May 2007), Lt. Gen. Luka Yusuf CFR GSS GPP DSO psc (+) fwc Msc (June 2007 – August 2008), Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Bello Dambazau CFR GSS pscndcfwc (+) PhD (August 2008- September 2010, Lt. Gen. Onyabor Azubuike Ihejirika CFR GSS psc (+) fwcfniqs (September 2010 – 2014), Maj. Gen Kenneth Tobiah Minimah GSS psc (+) fwc (January 2014- Till Date).
Minimah is one of the Satellite Towns in the ancient city of Opobo. Other Satellites towns are Kalaibiama, Quens Town, Illoma and Epellema, Ekereborikiri, Down- Below, Abazibie and Opakalama. Opobo is to the east of the Kindom of Bonny. Both Bonny and Opobo are of the same Ijaw Ibani tribe. Part of Opobo kingdom is at Ikot-Abasi in Akwa Ibom state.
I have visited Opobo several times and I find the people highly hospitable and friendly. There is beauty in their women.
Opobo was founded by King Jaja (1821- 1891) in the 18th century and King Jaja was a former Igbo slave called JuboJubogha but renamed “Ja-Ja” by the Europeans because the name was too long to be called. He built Opobo from scratch and transformed it to a commercial Kingdom.
“He was a slave sold into the house of Anna Pepple of Bonny and rose to the headship of his master’s “house”. He later established himself as the most dominant figure in the politics of Delta states when he became King of the newly founded kingdom of Opobo. Succession to the headship of an Ijaw trading “house” was not based heredity but on one’s ability to provide for the welfare of the members of the house. Jaja’s accession to the headship around 1869 caused resentment in other members of the Anna Pepple house. This culminated in a civil war from which Jaja emerged the victor.
After the civil war in Bonny Jaja led his house to the Opobo river where he founded the Kingdom of Opobo. Here his business acumen and capacity found full scope; he soon established plantations and built a port and strategically placed trading settlements on the creeks which not only enabled him to control the supply of palm oil to the Europeans merchants along the coast but also made Opobo one of the richest Delta states. With the wealth came political influence and military power. Such was the strength of Jaja’s army that during the Ashanti War he committed a contingent of his soldiers to the British effort, for which he was awarded a sword of honour by Queen Victoria in 1875.
In 1870, having consolidated his new settlement, he proclaimed Opobo an independent state consisting of 14 of the 18 houses of Bonny. Three years later the new state was recognised by Britain which in 1884 entered into a “treaty” with Opobo, placing the latter under the protection of the British Crown. However the proclamation of a British Protectorate over the Oil Rivers in 1885 not only heralded the demise of the independent of the coast city-states but also precipitated a quarrel between Jaja and the British.
Jaja was the only ruler in the Delta area who questioned the new political order by seeking a definition of the word “protectorate” from the British, who replied vaguely that Her Majesty’s Government would only extend to his Kingdom her “gracious favour and protection”. He accepted the explanation, believing that Opobo’s new relationship with Britain would not affect its independence. Accordingly, he continued to monopolise the oil trade, forbidding anyone to deal directly with the European merchants on the coast while continuing his direct exports to Britain. As a result Jaja saw the British insistence on “free” trade as interference and a violation of the 1884 treaty”.
According to a publication, MAKERS OF MODERN AFRICA BY Raph Uwechue, the British Consul in the Oil Rivers, Harry Johnston, was opposed to Jaja’s continued independence. In 1887, Johnston abrogated his power to impose customs duties on oil exports from the state. Jaja sent a delegation to London to protest to the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Meanwhile Consul Johnston had written to the British Government requesting permission to expel Jaja who had resisted successive threats to compel him to meet British demands. The King was “invited” on board a British gunboat, HSM Goshawk, to meet Consul Johnston. Jaja was reassured by Johnston on the eve of their meeting that “I hereby assure you that whether you accept or reject my proposals tomorrow no restraint whatever will be put on you- you will be free to go as soon as you have heard the message of the Government”. But once on board, Jaja was asked to choose between being tried for violating the treaty and seeing Opobo bombed by the British Navy. The King opted for trial, which was then held in Accra, Ghana. He was found guilty and banished in 1887 to the West Indies on a pension of £800 per annum. This paved the way for the establishment of an effective colonial authority over the region which in the first year provided nearly £90,000 from import duties alone.
Jaja’s deportation caused much discontent in the Oil Rivers states. After repeated appeals to the British Government, the Colonial Secretary set up a commission to investigate and make recommendations for the administration of the new colony. In 1891, the commission, headed by Major Claude Macdonald, recommended that, in response to popular demand in Opobo, Jaja should be returned and reinstated. In the same year, Jaja was allowed to return, but died on the way back on 7 July 1891. His body was subsequently transported to Opobo where it was buried.
Nearly One hundred and twenty-five years after, an Opobo son has been appointed Chief of Army staff. It has been a long wait and it calls for celebration in the ancient city of Opobo.
The appointment has finally wiped out the 1887 guilt and the people of Opobo can sing with pride to other tribes in Rivers state- the Ikweres, Igbos, Ogonis, Etches, Okrikas, Kalabaris, Ogbas and others that “we too are warriors”.
General Minimah is the new face of Opobo. General Minimah is also the new face of the Nigeria Army. In General Minimah lies our watch and surveillance. Of course we are going to keep gaze over his utterances and actions. It does not matter how he got the job or who gave him the job, what is important now is what he will do with the job. Is he going to be an upholder or an antagonist in this campaign era? We just can’t stop talking about the army for they have governed us longer than any other group. They are part of our ruling culture. They have shaped or misshaped our destiny. They have contributed in great measure, to our present quandary and plight.
*Teniola was a director at the Presidency in Abuja. He resides in Lagos.