Late Dr Edwin Idoko Obe (Osonyenta K’Idoma and Odejo Owukpa) was born on 3rd April 1937 in Ai’Roga, Itabono-Owukpa and began his primary education in Otukpo in 1942 following the relocation by his family from Owukpa to Otukpo a couple of years earlier.
Dr Obe left Idoma Metropolitan Primary School, Otukpo (now Methodist Central Primary School) in 1949 and proceeded to the prestigious Government College, Keffi in 1950. Obe’s academic disposition came to the fore in Keffi and it was no surprise when he graduated with Division One in the 1955 Cambridge School Certificate Examination O’Levels.
Young Obe did not only excel at academics in Keffi, his leadership traits also began to manifest and he was very instrumental in the establishment of the Red Cross Society in college. He was also appointed a House Captain, a position of high honour in secondary schools back in the days. An all-round athlete during his college days, Obe famously represented Government College, Keffi at the 1955 Huxley Shield Boxing Competition.
From Keffi, Obe proceeded to Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria in 1956 where he obtained his Cambridge School Certificate Examination A‘Levels. In 1958, Obe got admitted into Nigeria’s premier University, the University of Ibadan to read Medicine. In Ibadan, Obe continued to excel and in 1963, he graduated as a medical doctor when he took the Hippocratic Oath. This Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) degree made Dr Obe, the first medical doctor from Idoma Land and present day Benue State.
Obe showed early commitment to Idoma Land and language by volunteering in 1960 for an Idoma language translation project carried out by University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in Ibadan. The audio tape of this project is available on the UCLA Phonetics Lab Archive website.
For his house job, Dr Obe worked at General Hospital Lagos from 1963 to 1964 and for his residency; he worked at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) Idi-Araba from 1964 to 1965. As of the few doctors of Northern Nigerian extraction in the 1960s, he became the Medical Officer of General Hospital, Zaria in 1966.
In 1968, he was posted to General Hospital, Otukpo as Medical Officer, a position he held until 1969 when he moved into private practice to set-up Salem Hospital, Otukpo. Salem Hospital would grow and during late 70s and early 80s, the hospital was very popular as more and more people sought healthcare services at the hospital. The popularity of Salem Hospital could be linked to Dr Obe’s pleasant personality, the ever present smile on his face and his reassuring phrase of “Ikpo ye re ne” (it’s a minor ailment) which he used to allay the fears of his patients after each diagnosis, no matter how serious their conditions were.
The high quality of care provided at the hospital during this period was due to Dr Obe’s ability to attract top notch doctors from around Nigeria and India to the hospital. The fact that Salem Hospital is still operational more than 40 years after it was established is a testament to the vision of the Idoma icon that was Dr Obe.
As the first medical doctor from Idoma Land, Dr Obe was an inspiration to the many Idoma sons and daughters that would take to the medical profession after him. But he not only inspired people with his medical work, he was also known for his generosity especially with his award of scholarships to indigent students and sports sponsorship.
In the mid-70s, he founded Obe Babes Football Club of Otukpo, the first football club owned by an individual in Idoma Land. Obe Babes would go on to provide stiff competition to NEPA Football Club of Otukpo, which was the established force in club football in Idoma Land back in the days. The healthy rivalry between Obe Babes and NEPA provided great entertainment to the people of Otukpo in the late 70s and it is still talked about in some circles in Idoma Land.
Unfortunately, Obe Babes was disbanded in the early 80s as Dr Obe ventured into partisan politics. He was part of the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) governorship ticket, as running mate to Chief Paul Unongo, who lost the August 1983 Benue State Gubernatorial election. He had also previously lost the July 1979 Benue Central Senatorial election.
Despite his electoral misfortunes, Dr Obe was not deterred from serving the people as he continued with his charity works by successfully embarking on projects such as construction of roads, construction of a bridge, construction of a secondary school and construction of a church in his beloved Owukpa community. He also continued with his policy of free medical services at Salem Hospital to the less privilege as well as ministers of Methodist Church.
Dr Obe’s charity works did not go unnoticed as he was recognised by the people of Owukpa who conferred on him the titles of Odejo Ai’Roga and Odejo Owukpa in 1981 and 1984 respectively. The Idoma nation would also recognise his immense contribution to development of Idoma Land when the Och’Idoma II, HRH Late Dr Abraham Ajene Okpabi in 1984 conferred on him the title of “Osonyenta K’idoma” (The Deliverer of Idoma).
Dr Obe’s goodwill was not only directed at construction projects as in the late 80s when approached by a group of young basketball players, he agreed to sponsor them and the Salem Trotters Basketball Club was born. One of Idoma’s best basketball exports, the late Mohammed Acha was a product of Salem Trotters.
During his lifetime, Dr Obe was conferred with the national honour of Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) for his contribution to healthcare in Nigeria. He was also conferred with an honorary Doctor of Science degree by the Benue State University, Makurdi. He also held several boards and prominent associations’ position such as Chairman Benue Plateau Bus Service; Chairman Benue State Civil Service Commission; Chairman Benue Plateau State Branch of Nigerian Medical Association (NMA); Chairman Benue State Branch; National Vice-Chairman of NMA and Chairman Madonna Hospital, Makurdi.
Sadly, Dr Obe passed away on 5th March 2013 at the young age of 76. May the soul of this great son of Idoma Land rest in peace. Amen.