I recall with humility and thanksgiving to God for a life well spent, the life and times of my late father and great son of Igbiraland, Mr. George Uru Ohikere, MHA, OBE, a former Minister of Works and the first indigenous chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) under the late Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sarduna of Sokoto and Premier of Northern Nigeria.
Born in 1923 in Okene, Kogi State, Mr George Uru Ohikere started school in 1932 at the RCM School, Okene, continued his education in Lokoja and finished in Kaduna in 1940. After passing his Standard 6, he got admission into Teacher Training College, Ibusa in the then Western Region. He again broke his education to work as a probationary teacher in 1941.
George Uru Ohikere went back to school in 1943 when he was admitted into St John Bosco’s Training College, Ubiaja and became a Grade 3 teacher in 1944.
With this background, he was employed at the RCM School, Okene in 1945 and taught there till 1948. He passed the Grade 2 Teachers’ Certificate Examination through self-tuition in 1949. That same year, he was transferred to the Central School Lanpese, Ibillo in Kukuruku Division of the Western Region.
Once again through self tuition, he was articulated in 1951. That same year he was made the headmaster of his school and won an election into the Northern House of Assembly.
George Uru Ohikere was the General Secretary of the Igbira Tribal Union since 1948. In 1952, he was transferred back to Okene as a teacher in the RCM School. But God in His infinite mercy had pleasant surprises for him, as he was appointed a member of the Igbira NA Council. That same year, he was awarded the Coronation Medal. In September 1953, he went to London as an adviser to the Northern People’s Congress at the London Constitutional Talks. His grand political reward came in March 1955 when he was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health. He won another election in 1956 and was made Minister of Health. During the cabinet reshuffle in 1957, he was made the Minister of Works. George Uru Ohikere also served Nigeria as the first indigenous chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) in Lagos in 1965 and died in July 1965 in a motor accident.
It is very fresh in my memory how my father often reflected on ideas of what was best for the overall interest of Nigerians.
It is hard to forget about you easily since your departure about 54 years ago because of your immense contributions and your high sense of reasoning and total commitment to your assignments and high dreams for humanity and Nigeria. You envisaged a country of unity, peace and development whose people would see themselves beyond religion, tribe, region or political differences but use its diversity to form a formidable entity that would serve as the panacea for the greatness of the country and be second to none in the universe. This is what you believed, struggled for and had in your mind till your death. I can still recall how you gave 100 percent in the struggle for the Nigeria of your dream, because you and your compatriots believed in setting the pace for a country whose inhabitants will be their brothers’ keepers in all spheres of life devoid of any segregation.
In some of your discussions l can still recall the picture you had for the country as a land whose resources will equally be shared by all not favouring any section of the country against the other, your belief was that whatever is realized will be shared equally while all Nigerians will also be treated equally as a way of moving together in the spirit of oneness.
No wonder, during your struggles, religion, tribe and region had no place in determining what should be done, who should do what but the bottom line was who was to do what irrespective of who you are and above all, the result was seen as the ultimate of all because of the collective understanding to achieve what was before the people.
You always had a nationalistic character and portrayed the symbol of the masses as you promoted and championed their cause. Your philosophy of leadership in all spheres of life was to put the collective view, wishes and aspirations of the people over and above all other considerations. You stood for it and did everything to achieve whatever you set for yourself so long as it was meant for the general good of your people. That was a time when moral autonomy played a significant role in providing services to the vast majority. Though there were differences on some national issues, there was high sense of maturity in tackling them because everyone was given a chance to suggest the way forward and every view was highly recognised and respected. It was this spirit of understanding that enabled you to excel and showcase your potentials fully to the overall benefit and development of your constituency and the overall interest of the country.
Your true exhibition of understanding, commitment, dedication, transparency and honesty to the people of this great country called Nigeria is indeed without doubt a great attribute of the true leadership you exercised in all areas of your assignments throughout your life time. Remembering you today goes to show my joy of having someone of blessed memory who carved a niche in the sands of time, thereby leaving trail blazing memories in the minds of good citizens and the larger contemporary Nigerian society. Your death was a loss to Nigeria, not just to Igbira land.
I always ponder on your ways of life which you completely devoted to your people and always ask where we got it wrong that religion, tribe and region that were supposed to form the basis of our understanding, unity and peace have left us in a confused state that everybody now seems to be on his own. It was not so during your life time.
It is hard to forget your era of leadership which was the era of pivot and fulcrum of our socio-political and economic achievements of the country. This son of Okene contributed to the formation of an independent Nigeria and setting up of infrastructure in the old Northern Nigeria and the Nigerian Ports Authority. The vestiges of these exist today. He was a close ally of the late Sarduna of Sokoto, the Premier of Northern Nigeria. He was awarded the Coronation Medal of Queen Elizabeth II. He was an adviser to the Northern People’s Congress in London at the Nigerian constitutional talks. My father was known as a great family man who used any opportunity he got at home playing with us and teaching us things that helped us in our upbringing. We were brought up in a family that discipline was second to none. He ensured we did the right thing and above all, ensured our good upbringing. We were taught never to show any segregation but to love all irrespective of any difference, that l can boldly say is one of the legacies that have helped us all to be what we are today. Our father ensured that we imbibed the spirit of friendship with all because when he was alive we hosted many people, including political associates irrespective of differences, discussed and worked together for the common good of the country. This philosophy was what our father left for us, to respect the views of others even if in a different political party, and so we grew up with that brotherly behavior.
Despite being a Christian, there was a great and cordial relationship between him and the Sarduna and others of their time, and l understand the Sarduna had wanted him as deputy premier of Northern Nigeria. All these go to show who my father was and his foresight in handling issues that had to do with the region and the country in general. Without any doubt, the history of the North and of the late Sir Ahmadu Bello may not be complete without due mention of late George Uru Ohikere. Their era portrayed true leadership, as they served with all moral commitment and honesty.
They exhibited leadership that catered for the North and the country as a whole. Every part of the country was carried along on issues that affected every section with a view to satisfying the yearnings and aspirations of all. They saw themselves as equals, with utmost respect for one another but with specific roles to play for the overall unity and development of the country.
In spite of the positions my father held throughout his life time, there was nothing about him to show that he occupied high offices but what l remember about him is that service to his father land was most important and above anything to him. There wasn’t any flamboyance, his life was so simple like any other civil servant. When he died, there was nothing like material things to hold on to because from inception, we were trained to struggle to be ourselves, hence were not spared when we failed in our responsibilities. We were not favoured in anything because my father believed that one can get what he or she wants and rise to any position in life through hard work, and that was how we grew up.
Ohikere Jr. wrote in from Abuja.