An Iroko has Fallen: Tribute to Chief (Knight) Obol Wilfred Oden Inah Ofem- September 12, 1940, to 3rd January 2021

An Iroko has Fallen: Tribute to Chief (Knight) Obol Wilfred Oden Inah Ofem- September 12, 1940, to 3rd January 2021

January 13
02:48 2021
Chief Wilfred Inah

Chief Wilfred Inah

I first saw Chief Wilfred Oden Inah in my life in 1978 when I was a starry-eyed student in the famous Mary Knoll College Okuku Yala Local Government Area of Cross River State. It was the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the founding of the college that has produced a galaxy of stars in the public sector, private sector, and other facets of life in the defunct Eastern Region of Nigeria. Mary Knoll College was founded by the Roman Catholic Church in 1953 and it soon established a reputation as a citadel of academic and sport excellence in the defunct Eastern Region of Nigeria.

Chief Inah was one of the galaxies the college had produced way back in 1978, he had been appointed Permanent Secretary of the old Cross River State of Nigeria which then was the embodiment of academic excellence, industry, and public service professionalism. Chief Inah then dashing, handsome, convivial, and with superb swagger was the cynosure of all eyes when the compere announced his presence.

I never saw him again till in September 1991. I returned from NYSC in the 2nd week of September 1991 and decided to have a rest in my home town, Ugep, then the headquarters of Ugep Local Government Area of Cross River State (carved out of the old Obubra Local Government Area of Cross River State in 1989) to reflect on what I want to do with my life.

In the third week of September 1991, there was a rumor that General Ibrahim Babangida administration was planning to create more States and Local Government Area Councils in the country. A group of young people in Ugep under my leadership and Late Neil Ofem had a meeting in my father’s uncompleted house at No. 1 Ejika Lane Lekpankom Ijiman Town Ugep and resolved that if Ugep Municipal Local Government Area is not created we would protest. Truly on or about 28 September 1991, General Babangida created States and Local Government Areas in the country.

Disappointedly, Ugep Local Government Area was carved into two areas namely, Ugep North and Ugep South contrary to our expectations. We quickly met in Neil Ofem’s place and decided to stage a protest. This was how the first political protest in Cross River State was conceived, planned, and staged in Ugep on 30 September 1991. I led a group of young people on a protest march around Ugep on 30 September 1991.

However, at the Ugep Motor Park, we were accosted by armed Police Officers. We were brutally assaulted and beaten by the Police Officers. I was arrested, handcuffed, and taken to the Divisional Police Station, Ugep, where I was detained. However my arrest and detention caused a rumpus in Ugep and young people quickly mobilized and stormed the Palace of the Obol Lopon of Ugep, Obol Ubi Ujong Inah (of blessed memory) requesting my release from Police detention. Consequently, I was released. Instantaneously I became a folk hero and a darling of the young people.

Chief Inah was then one of the leading aspirants to become the Governorship Candidate of the defunct National Republican Party, NRC. In 1990, General Babangida’s administration bowing to national and international pressure had announced a transition from military to civil rule program including the creation of two political parties including NRC and the Social Democratic Party. Chief Inah was the choice of the old political establishment in the State that had decided that Chief Inah was their choice over a young, urbane and likable Clement David Ebri. Clement Ebri was certainly the darling of the young people of the State and he ultimately triumphed.

The two gladiators caused Ugep to be sharply divided. Both camps cultivated my support but I decided to throw my support behind Chief Inah. Chief Inah eventually became my mentor. I admired him because he was incredibly intelligent, convivial, slapdash, dogged, and brutally frank. He was a quintessential Civil Servant, the Catholic faithful, Public intellectual, stoic and exciting.

He graduated in 1964 from the University of Ibadan and then joined the Federal Public Service – Federal Ministry of Education. He transferred from there to the defunct Public Service of the South Eastern State at its creation in 1967. He was Principal Secretary (Chief of Staff) to then Military Governor of South Eastern State (27th May 1967 to 29th July, 1975), Brigadier General Udokaha Jacob Eusene. He reached the pinnacle of his Civil Service career in 1983 when the then Governor of Cross River State, Obong Clement Isong, appointed him Head of Service of Cross River State. He was a delegate to the National Constitutional Conference convened by then Military Head of State, General Sani Abacha in 1995 to discuss the future of Nigeria. He was appointed the first Commissioner to represent Cross River State in the newly created Federal Character Commission in 1995 and served till his tenure expired in 2000. He was a profile writer.

Chief Wildred Inah took Cross River State’s political landscape by storm and nearly became the Governorship candidate in the 1992 governorship election. He was a truthful, conscientious, and dogged politician who was never afraid of telling the truth to the powers that be. As a result, he incurred enmity, political persecution, and harassment at a point in his career.

I remember the persecutions suffered by Chief Inah because of his political beliefs culminating in his arrest by the Military in Calabar in January 1993 on a trumped-up charge of plotting to overthrow the government of General Ibrahim Babangida. I was with Chief in his house in Federal Housing Estate one fine morning in the first week of January 1993 when a young military intelligence officer, Lt Esu, attached the 13th Amphibious Brigade, Calabar, come calling. He respectfully said that his superior officer had instructed him to invite Chief Inah for a discussion.

Chief Inah, myself, and later Neil Offem drove with him to the 13th Amphibious Brigade (Akim Barracks) Calabar. Lt Esu matched Chief inah to a senior army officer who told him he was under an order to detain him for treason. Lt Esu ordered Neil Offem and I to leave the premises. We were sure that Chief Inah’s travails were an act of political vendetta and intimidation. Neil Offem and I wrote a petition to the General Officer Commanding the 82 Division, Nigerian Army, Enugu (under which jurisdiction 13th Amphibious Bridge was ).

We also circulated pamphlets condemning Chief Inah’s arrest and detention. Chief Inah was flown from Calabar to Lagos on a military aircraft. It was then the severity of the spurious allegation leveled against Chief Inah dawned on all of us. We really feared for his life. It was the heydays of the military dictatorship in the country which did not tolerate any form of dissent. People could run into trouble at the slightest suspicion of opposing the regime.

Chief Inah was lucky that the Nigerian Army was under the leadership of General Chris Ali, an honest and professional officer, who quickly dismissed the charge against him after reading the intelligent report prepared by Lt Esu exonerating him.
Chief Inah flew triumphantly to Calabar to the warm embrace of supporters that thronged the airport to welcome him.
The following week, Chief Inah, Neil Ofem, and I left Calabar to Ugep, and supporters organized a reception.

However, the reception turned sour on Sunday the 18th January 1993. A spurious report was lodged with the Police by detractors that supporters of Chief Inah’s supporters were plotting a violent protest. In the evening, Sunday Okoi, Hon. Thomas Eteng (Tee Boy), late Capt Iwara Okereke, Stephen Iwara (Kampala), Mr. Butum were arrested and taken to Nigeria Police Force State Headquarters Diamond Hill, Calabar, and detained for three days. I mounted real pressure as Counsel on the Police to release them. They were eventually released, but Police charges were laid against them. It was an explicit act of intimidation.

But we all resolved that we would sink and swim with the political philosophy of Chief Inah more than ever before. It is usually tricky to deal with people of conviction. They don’t bow to harassment, intimidation, victimization, and witch hunt. As they use to say, birds with similar feathers behave alike. Chief Inah was a hard nut to crack! His followers were just like him.

Chief Inah became a super permanent secretary in his 30s. He was bright and intelligent but also stubborn. He collided with the Military Governor, Navy Captain Ibim Princewill, over some tricky policy decision, and Chief Inah characteristically sucks his guns and insisted that the Governor was wrong. All his colleagues agreed. The audacity of Chief Inah and his colleagues peeved the Military Governor. He acted with military dispatch and alacrity; he promptly gathered the provision of a draconian military decree to retire Chief Inah and his colleague at the young age of 41, ending a glorious career that was still burgeoning.
Chief Inah was a man of steel conviction, rugged, and had tremendous guts. These are qualities that are grossly lacking in many a Nigerian!

Chief Okoi Obono-Obla

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January 2021