THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY OF
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF ARCHBISHOP JOHN ENOYOGIERE EDOKPOLO (OCT. 1918-JUNE 1996)
SENATOR (Pharm.) MATTHEW A. URHOGHIDE (FPSN, FNAPharm.)
CHAIRMAN, SENATE PUBLIC ACCOUNTS COMMITTEE
JUNE 16, 2021
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I feel very honored to be invited to be a speech guest at this event today. And I am not saying this because platitudes are expected from speakers at an occasion like this one. That great sense of elation came after I read the biography of Late Archbishop John Edokpolo which was given to me to help me prepare for this speech and the little knowledge I had of him from my childhood.
- I recommend that everyone here be given a copy of the book if there are enough to go round because a lot of us will be the wiser of our history in this part of the country as I am now. In the adopted and modified words of Sir Winston Churchill, never before in the field of total human development has so much be owed by so many to just one man who dusted himself up with so much resolve to be different from what circumstances dictated he should have become.
- We are here today at the behest of the Edokpolos to honor their loved and lost, Late Archbishop John E. Edokpolo. Perhaps the sum of the essence of the late archbishop’s life is aptly captured in the words of Late Chief (Dr.) Dennis Osadebey, GCON, former Premier of the Midwestern Region who wrote that the (quote) ‘history of the industrial growth of Midwest Region cannot be complete without the mention of Archbishop Edokpolo. The history of the spiritual growth of the people of Midwest Region cannot be complete without due reference to Archbishop Edokpolo. The political history of Midwest Region would be distorted if Archbishop is not referred to as one of the founding fathers of the state. And when it comes to education, it would be a misnormer if Archbishop Edokpolo is not acknowledged as a pioneer of school properietorship in Midwest Region’ (unquote).
- I do not suppose that very many present here today would be able to appreciate the full import of the audacity of the claims in Chief Osadebey’s statement. Let me attempt to etch the picture more clearly in your minds as I possibly can without detracting from its potency. Politically, Archbishop Edokpolo having been eventually persuaded on the importance of a new region, actively participated in the clamor for the creation of Midwest Region out of the then Western Region. He financed, encouraged and effected a lot of the plans of the proponents of the move. When it became clear from his lobbying of the leaders of Nigeria at the time that the clamor will succeed, he also joined the very few Edo men and women who supported the idea of making Benin City the capital of the new region instead of Sapele which a lot more people favored.
We then can cautiously call him one of the founding fathers of our dear region as we have come to know it.
- Born in 1918, just after the end of the first world war and about the same period as Nelson Mandela, Julius Nyerere and a few other greats which made that period in history, a curious one, he became an enigma of some sort just like his peers.
- With very little encouragement, especially one which was imposed by the poor background from which he came, Archbishop Edokpolo was determined to be more successful than his father was. He forayed into several fields – an action that he believed his father lacked and which ultimately was the reason he died poor. Archbishop became several things at different times including, a blacksmith, a farmer, muscle for hire, an odd jobs man and later a woods merchant, a school proprietor and so on. With focus and determination riveted on everything he decided to engage in, he became successful and was a pioneer in several firsts in the business world.
- And at a time and period when you could count the successful men in the society, Archbishop Edokpolo not only made a success of his own story, but pointed the way forward, in a selfless way, and supported anyone who genuinely wished to be productive.
- On the educational front and with limited personal education himself, Arcbishop Edokpolo pursued a goal borne out of his deprivation by reason of poverty. He founded schools from elementary to higher grades including, at the time, a plan to found a university. Unfortunately, this did not happen for reasons that we all can guestimate.
- But like several other ideas, he mooted the idea of a privately owned university which may be the foundation upon which their existence in our societies rests today.
- To ensure that nothing stood in the way of his determination to impart formal knowledge through the building of educational structures, the story is told of how he fought and killed a lion that attacked construction workers at the site of the present Edokpolo Grammar School so that work on the construction would not be disturbed. We all here can imagine what the optics of that feat at that time in history would have been and it certainly now too, it is everything it should be.
- Not only were his schools built to the standards of those times, he made them affordable and to several students, made them free. Archbishop and I are joined in that same spirit to contribute to society out of the little we got from it. This is what informed my annual scholarship scheme. I feel glad to have to announce to you that you should all feel encouraged to ask your children and wards to, when the announcements are made, apply for the annual Senator Matthew Urhoghide Scholarship Scheme, SMUSS, which is awarded to qualified indigent but brilliant students in public secondary and higher institutions every year without regard to sex, tribe or religion. That is a small effort to make in trying to get close to the matchless example that Archbishop Edokpolo left behind and to continue his ideals and legacies.
- I went down this lane of cataloguing some his achievements so we can adequately characterize the persona of Late Archbishop Edokpolo as an industrialist, an educator and a politician all rolled into one.
And perhaps the last one is where his path and mine cross most significantly. After the creation of the Midwest Region, Arcbishop Edokpolo was made the Minister of Trade and Industry for about six months until the new region was properly set up.
- Those six months recorded some of the most effective and practical policy implementation that we have yet seen. The appointment as minister in the new region was well deserved because in preceding years and during the agitation for the region, Arcbishop Edokpolo spent his time, money and bent the entire structure of the party he formed in 1959 (The Midwest Peoples’ Congress) to the efforts of actualizing the dream.
- Arcbishop Edokpolo was a vivid example of what can be achieved when determination is joined to patient industry. Without the eloquence of school, he set pens rolling chronicling his achievements in books like his biography. Without the skills set of diplomacy, he made friends with powerful and important figures and got his desired reactions from them. This list include: the Prime Minister of Japan at the time Mr. Suzuki; the Catholic Pope John Paul ll; the Oba of Benin, Oba Akenzua ll and successive obas until his death. He had the ears of leaders of Nigeria at the time including Sir Amadu Bello; Sir Tafawa Balewa; Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the region’s prominent sons and daughters. Without a degree in business, he established various businesses, some of which flourish till this day. Without the suave steepness in social graces, he enlivened seriocomical and studious discourse depending on the forum.
And without the confidence of a formal education, he established educational superstructures to affordably dispense and impart knowledge to the rich as readily as to the poor.
- knowing what I know now about Late Archbishop Edokpolor, I really wish I had the good fortune of meeting him in very definitive circumstances as an adult while he was here on earth. As a child, I saw him visit my father almost every other day and together they will sit outside our home while we the children peeped from afar to be sure of when he would leave so we may blessed by him if we are lucky. I was later to learn as I grew up enough, that the visits were more than just visits. My father was his confidant, his major-domo and a keeper of his valuable documents.
- But I cannot now say I never really knew him because, as captured in his biography, I can relate with a lot of the stories of his life and times and so can a lot of you here today. His life is a challenge to us all because he left copious enough examples for us irrespective of what your calling is in life. We can all find a little of ourselves in him. To varying degrees, his story is our story and his life, our life. The politician, the industrialist, the educator, the religious leader, the ambassador and the professional! He encapsulated all of us in himself.
- In a minute, I will take my seat before someone here reminds me that a speech is like a bicycle wheel, the longer the ‘spoke’, the bigger the ‘tyre’. Let me therefore conclude by thanking the children who have put this event together. Indeed we all can understand the overriding sentiments in the decision to remember this great man at this time.
It will be a grave sin to allow the memory of such a great man to go unsung. I appreciate your choice of me as a speaker at the event and I am glad that I could make it to be a part of your happiness.
- As I go away from here to attend to my duties in the theatre of national issues, I want to assure you that the story of your father has humbled me and like I am sure it has for everyone here today it will now be very difficult not to think of your late father every time I pick up a biography to read, whether it be of him of any other person.
- Thank you ladies and gentlemen for your time and God bless you all for coming and God bless the memory of Late Archbishop John Enoyogiere Edokpolo.