HRH, Agabaidu Ajene Okpabi - Och' Idoma II

His Royal Highness, Agabaidu Abraham Ajene Okpabi, Och’Idoma II was born in 1924 in Ito district of present day Obi Local Government Area of Benue State. HRH, Ajene Okpabi attended Idoma Metropolitan Primary School Otukpo (now Methodist Central Primary School Otukpo) between 1932 and 1940 where his leadership qualities were first noticed and he was made Head Boy in his final year in primary school.

After leaving primary school, HRH Ajene Okpabi worked as a health worker until 1952 when at the age of 28, he was appointed the Okwubi (district head) of Ito. With this appointment, he also became the President of the Idoma Native Authority (NA) Area Court in Ito District. His reign as Okwubi was popular with Idoma NA administration as this period was renowned for growth in tax collection, commerce and primary education within Ito district.

As a reward for his sterling leadership as Okwubi, in 1954 the Idoma NA made it possible for Ajene Okpabi to attend administrative courses and then appointed him to their Executive Council where at different times; he served as Councillor in charge of Judiciary, Prisons, Finance and Police. And in 1956, Ajene Okpabi’s political profile was further elevated when he was elected into the first Northern Nigeria House of Assembly which was set-up to prepare Northern Nigeria politically for the impending independence of Nigeria from Britain.

In 1960, Ajene Okpabi’s life was to change forever. Following the death of his father in-law, the Och’Idoma I, HRH Ogiri Oko, 22 district heads within Idoma NA met and chose Ajene Okpabi as Och’Idoma II and was officially given his staff of office by Queen Elizabeth II. His selection as Och’Idoma was met with objections from some quarters and these objections were based on the belief that the Igedes are not Idomas and as such someone considered a “stranger” should not ascend the throne of Och’Idoma.

Despite the early challenges, the leader in Ajene Okpabi saw him overcome them and he would go on to reign for 35 years. During this time, he was awarded two national honours: the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR) and Commander of Order of Niger (CON).  His mediatory qualities was called upon during the Nigerian Civil War in the late 1960s when he was made a member of the Consultative Assembly of Leaders of Thought, a group that worked towards resolving the crisis between Nigeria and Biafra.

In 1970, the office of the Och’Idoma was upgraded to a first class chief by the then Benue Plateau State Government. This upgrade was seen by most observers as a clear indication of the prestige brought to the Och’Idoma position by Ajene Okpabi.

In 1994, just as in the 1960s, Ajene Okpabi was one of the 13 eminent people from Benue State selected to be members of the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) which was constituted by then Military Government to help resolve the political impasse created by the annulment of the June 12 1993 presidential election. While at the NCC, he continued to champion the cause of Idoma people by leading the agitation for the creation of Apa State.

Ajene Okpabi throughout his reign was a father figure to all Idoma people, providing much needed guidance in matters of Idoma tradition and always remained neutral in the different disputes in Idomaland.

Ajene Okpabi died in 1995.

References

  1. The Life and Times Och'Idoma II by Inalegwu Odeh. Mid-Belt Communications [1995]
  2. Men in the middle : leadership and role conflict in a Nigerian society by Alvin Magid. Manchester University Press Africana Pub. Co. [1976]