Abutu Obekpa: More than a political godfather

First Published

As I thought of writing this piece, the song "Ainya" by the legendary Bongos Ikwue, popped up in my head especially the line, "okpa l’nmo' iyenu bin", which literally translates into "even if a river/stream has dried up, it still would not lose its name". This line aptly encapsulates the life of late Chief Abutu Obekpa, a prominent first republic Idoma politician. His life was a story of an icon that went from growing trees to raising leaders.

Chief Abutu Obekpa was born on 20th May 1922 to Chief Obekpa Agada of Ola’ Odoo royal family in Otukpa in present day Ogbadibo local government area of Benue State and attended Idoma Metropolitan School (now Methodist Central School) Otukpo. After leaving school, he joined the Forestry service where he rose to the position of Forestry Supervisor. In 1954, he won an election into the Regional Assembly to represent Idoma West and would go on to become the Divisional President of the Northern People’s Congress.

At the dawn of the first republic, Chief Abutu Obekpa was appointed a minister without portfolio in the Premier of the Northern region’s office. Working with political associates such as Chief JC Obande and Chief Ameh Odoh, he was able to influence government’s decision to carry out infrastructural development project in Idoma land. Some of these projects in Otukpo were pipe-borne water supply, electricity supply network, General Hospital and a Clerical Training Institute and it was not surprising that Chief Obekpa accompanied the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello when he came to commission the Otukpo electricity supply network.

In March 1965, Chief Obekpa was appointed Minister for Kaduna Affairs (the equivalent of today's governor, if not more) and It was also widely believed that Chief Obekpa was responsible for Radio Nigeria, Kaduna running a news translation in Idoma, the only other language aside Hausa. 

Chief Obekpa influence also extended beyond infrastructural projects as he was a firm believer in Westerner education and no wonder he was part of the team that successfully campaigned for Idoma students to be given full scholarships during the first republic. Unfortunately, the military coup of 1966 put paid to Chief Obekpa’s role in government and though he was not able to directly influence “things”, his educational and political legacy is the high level of educational attainment and political awareness in Idoma land.

Aside from being known as the patriarch of the famous Obekpa family of Otukpa, successive governments have failed to immortalise him, therefore I think it is high time a prominent school or street is named after Chief Abutu Obekpa for his immense contribution to the development of Idoma land.