Nattering Nabobs of Negativism – By Eric Teniola


With inflation on the rise, daily kidnappings everywhere, religious intolerance on the increase, competition and rivalry among the nationalities, no restructuring of the polity in sight, the operation of a costly presidential constitutional system, anxiety and discomfort in many homes, and no electricity… no other phrase could be applied on Nigeria today better than that of Dr. Ukpabi Asika – “nattering nabobs of negativism.”

“Nattering nabobs of negativism”. This was one of the phrases used by the then administrator of East Central State, Dr. Anthony Ukpabi Asika (1936-2004) in 1972 to attack the former President, Dr. Nnamdi Benjamin Azikiwe (1904-1996).

The old East Central State was made up of the present day Abia, Imo, Enugu, Anambra and Ebonyi States.

The major offence of Dr. Azikiwe then was to advocate for an increase from the 12 states at the time to 22 states and to complain about the neglect of the then East Central State, especially the roads in the State.

Dr. Asika felt offended and launched a tirade of attacks on Azikiwe calling him an “ex this”, “ex that”, who harbours “nattering nabobs of negativism”. Dr. Asika died on September 14, 2004 and I accompanied my then boss, Chief Ufot Ekaette, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation at the time, to his befitting traditional burial in Onitsha. His wife Chinyere Asika (1939-2015) died on May 3, 2015.

The phrase, no doubt, best describes the nature of things in the states right now.

It was gladdening that the governor of Osun State, Ogbeni Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola, was on January 13 able to pay pensioners and workers in Osun State their due up to December last year with the sum of N9.5 billion naira. I know of some states that have not paid the salaries of workers and judges in the past nine months, not to talk of paying pensioners.

On May 27 this year, it will be the golden anniversary of the 12 states created by General Yakubu Dan Yuma Gowon in 1967. Towards creating these states, he told the nation in a broadcast on November 30, 1966 that, “I wish to make it clear to the nation that honestly I personal have no vested interest in the creation of any particular state. But there is no doubt that without a definite commitment on the states question, normalcy and freedom from fear of domination by one Region or the other cannot be achieved.

The principles for the creation of new States will be: (i) no one State should be in a position to dominate or control the Central Government; (ii) each State should form one compact geographical area; (iii) administrative convenience, the facts of history, and the wishes of the people concerned must be taken into account; (iv) each State should be in a position to discharge effectively the functions allocated to Regional Governments; (v) it is also essential that the new states should be created simultaneously.”

He then named 12 Governors for the 12 states he created at that time.

They included Brigadier General Mobolaji Olufunso Johnson, first governor of Lagos State. His father Joshua Motola Johnson was of Egba Heritage. Mobolaji Johnson’s administration was responsible for the demolition and disinterment of people buried at Ajele Cemetary in Campos area in Lagos Island, such as Samuel Ajayi Crowther, James Pinson Labulo Davies, Madam Tinubu, Thomas Babington Macaulay, and many others. The demolition met with a lot of criticisms.

Brigadier General David Femi Lasisi Bamigboye was the pioneer governor of Kwara State. He is from Omu-Aran, like Pastor David Olaniyi Oyedepo, founder of Winners’ Chapel Church in Nigeria, in the present day Kwara State. He was enlisted in the Army in 1960. His classmates then were General Julius Alani Ipoola Akinrinade, General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma, Major General Samuel Ogbemudia, Colonel Ayo Ariyo, Chiabi (from the Cameroon), Philemon Shande, Ignatious Obeya, Brigadier General Pius Eromobor, Simon Uwakwe Ihedigbo, Ben Gbulie, S.P. Apolo, Major General Emmanuel Abisoye and Brigadier General Godwin Alabi-Isama.

A zoologist, police commissioner Joseph Dechi Gomwalk (1935-1976) was the first military governor of Benue Plateau State. He was an Ngas from Ampang in the present Kanke local government of Plateau State. He was executed by a firing squad for his alleged role in the coup attempt that killed General Murtala Ramat Mohammed in 1976. There are disputes till today over the alleged role of Mr. Gomwalk in that coup.

Major General Robert Adeyinka Adebayo was the pioneer governor of the Western State. He is from Iyin-Ekiti in the present Ekiti State. He joined the army in 1953 and by 1957, he was already a regiment signal officer.

He was an aide-de-camp to the last British governor general of Nigeria, Sir James Wilson Robertson (1899-1983).

General Adebayo told the people of the Western State on May 3, 1967 that, “I know also that in spite of appearance and occasional outbursts, we nevertheless are a united people dedicated to the noble course of doing honour to the Yoruba race, and our country, Nigeria. As a gesture of my abiding faith I have today ordered that all persons in detention should be released in the hope that the people concerned will do everything possible to justify my confidence”. His son, Otunba Richard Adeniyi Adebayo was elected the first civilian governor of Ekiti State in 1999.

Commander Alfred Papapreye Diete-Spiff was the first military governor of Rivers State. He was 25 when he was appointed. In 1973, a correspondent for Nigerian Observer, Minere Amakiri wrote an article which was published on Diette-Spiff’s birthday on July 30, 1973. Taking this as a deliberate insult, Dite-Spiff’s aide, Ralph Iwowari, had the repoter’s head publicly shaved and had him beaten with 24 lashes of cane. At present Diette-Spiff is the Amayanabo (King) of Twon-Brass, Bayelsa State.

General Abba Kyari was the first military governor of North Central State. He was appointed the chairman of the National Defence Committee during the 1994 National Constitutional Conference. After retiring, he was appointed to the Board of the First Bank of Nigeria, Standard Alliance Insurance and Merchant Bank of Commerce. He became chairman of Gamah Flour Mills and of Alif Engineering and Construction Company. General Kyari is no relation of the present chief of staff to the president, Alhaji Abba Kyari.

Alhaji Usman Farouk was the pioneer military governor of the North Western State. In a 2006 press interview, he said that the poor pay and equipment of the police could not be justified and was the cause of the state of insecurity in the country. Usman Farouk was awarded Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration in September 2006. In July 2009, his sixth son, Police Superitendent Abdulaziz Faruk, was killed during violence in Maiduguri, triggered by the Boko Haram extreme Islamist sect.

Brigadier Jacob Udoakaha Esuene was the first military governor of South Eastern State, made up of the present Cross River and Akwa Ibom states. A stadium is named after him in Calabar, and under President Obasanjo, his wife, Hellen was appointed a minister of Environment in January 2006. She became a Senator in May 2015, succeeding Mrs. Ufot Ekaette, wife of the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Ufot Ekaette. Mrs Esuene built Villa Marina Hotel in Eket in 2000.

Brigadier Musa Usman was the first military governor of the North East State. After retirement, he became a Director in First Bank of Nigeria, and died at the age of 50 on September 19, 1991. The former North Eastern State comprised what we now have as Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe states.

General Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia was the pioneer governor of the old Bendel State, now divided into the Edo and Delta states. According to Mr. Nowa Omoigu, an authority in military history, during the counter-coup/mutiny of 1976, an attempt on Major Ogbemudia’s life was made by the then Lt-Colonel Buka Suka Dimka, but he managed to escape due to a tip from Colonel Hassan Katsina, the then military governor of Northern Nigeria and Major Abba Kyari. He was later elected Governor of Bendel State in 1983.

Alhaji Audu Bako was the first military governor of Kano State. After his death early in 1980, the Tiga irrigation dam, built during his governorship, was renamed as the Audu Bako Dam. Following his retirement in 1975, he began farming and died at a farm he had in Sokoto State, leaving a widow and eleven children, including Dr. Lawal Bako, a doctor, and Hajiya Fatima Yusuf Imam Wara.

As we celebrate the golden anniversary of the state’s creation on Saturday May 27 this year, the pertinent questions are: Have the objectives of states creation been met? Should we have reverted to regionalism or a confederation? We seem not to be getting it right these days as a nation. With inflation on the rise, daily kidnappings everywhere, religious intolerance on the increase, competition and rivalry among the nationalities, no restructuring of the polity in sight, the operation of a costly presidential constitutional system, anxiety and discomfort in many homes, and no electricity. Also, with insecurity everywhere, no good roads, no pipe borne water, no national objectives and with Boko haram refusing to be tamed, suspicion and division among us, the paucity of funds, recession worsening, no other phrase could be applied on Nigeria today better than that of Dr. Ukpabi Asika – Nattering nabobs of negativism.


Eric Teniola, a former Director in the Presidency, Writes from Lagos.

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