Chief Fredrick Okafor Ehiwuogu, the Osula of Ute-Okpu kingdom, is an indigene of Ute-Aliohen Community in Ute-Okpu, Ika North East LGA of Delta State, a seasoned educationalist, an author and a community leader.
A self made man, who through dint of hardwork saw himself through primary school to the university in the United States of America. The Agricultural Economist, who delights in writing books in Ika language, strongly believes that, Education is the key factor, emphasizing that there is nothing anyone can do in our contemporary society without education.
In this personality of the week interview he granted Ika Weekly Newspaper reporter at his Boji-Boji, Owa residence recently, he spoke extensively on what motivated him in writing books in Ika language and other salient issues affecting education, Nigerian economy and measures to solving the high rate of unemployment among the Nigerian youths.
Good day sir, May we meet you?
Yes, I am Chief Fredrick Okafor Ehiwuogu, the Osula of Ute-Okpu kingdom.
Can you please tell us about your childhood?
I was born on April 22, 1935, into the family of late Mr. Eboma Ehiwuogu of Aburu quarters, and late Mrs. Emeghanimmon Idumu Ehiwuogu, both from Ute-Aliohen Community in Ute-Okpu kingdom, Ika North East LGA of Delta State. They were both farmers. My parents were not Christians and they never went to school. I am the first son of my parents, we were four boys, although there were three girls above me and more below. My father being a farmer did not want me to go to school rather, he wanted me to be a farmer too. However, he sent my younger brother to school.
My father later allowed me to go to school in 1948, when I was already thirteen years old, before I enrolled for my primary school at Geoffrey’s Primary School, Ute-Aliohen, from 1948 to 1951.In 1952, I went to CMS School, Owa-Oyibu to read standard 5, because then it was standard. The following year, 1953, I came back to Owa-Alero, for my standard 6. I thought I would work, when I finished school but I did not get a job. In 1955, the CMS Modern School, Igbodo, was established, there I read Modern 1 to 3, from 1955 to 1957, where I was made a senior prefect at the last year of my study. After my modern school, I went to St. Peter’s Teachers Training College, Asaba, where I got my Grade 3 in 1960. Upon graduation, I taught briefly at CMS Primary School No 2, Ute-Okpu, from 1960 to 1961.
In 1962, I got admission to St. Michael Teachers Training College, Oleh, where I read for Grade 2 Teachers Certificate. In 1964, I was posted to St. John’s Anglican School, Boji-Boji, Agbor. I was there till 1967, when I was asked by the education authority to go change the then secondary Modern Schools to Primary Schools. Three secondary modern schools were converted to primary schools. They are: (a) L.A secondary modern school as Erigbe primary school, (b) Catholic Modern School as Agbor Model Primary School and (c) CMS Secondary Modern School as Ihieoma Primary School.
In 1974, I travelled to the United States of America, for further studies. It will interest you to note, that I personally sponsored my educational pursuit from primary school to the university. I had my university education in America, from 1974 to 1978, where I studied Agricultural Science to Masters’ Degree at New Mexico State University, Las Grucos, USA, before I came back to Nigeria in 1978. Upon arrival to the country, I was employed as a teacher at Esigie College, Abudu, and in 1979, I was selected by the Ministry of Education, to open the College of Education in Benin City and by 1980, Colleges of Education were established at Agbor, Auchi, Igueben and Warri. So, I had to return to Agbor. I joined the College of Education Agbor in 1980 as a lecturer in the Department of Agricultural Science. I was the Head of Department, and later I became the Dean of Vocational Technical Education, before I retired in 1992. However, while I was still lecturing, I had opened my farm at Ute-Alohen, I had a palm plantation, a fish pond and a poultry, although they are no longer functioning except the palm plantation.
I relocated to Agbor in 2016, because I had nobody to keep me company at Ute- Aliohen, I was alone. My children insisted that they wanted me to stay where there are people around; I agreed with them and had to relocate to Agbor.
Are you married?
I am married, with seven children but my wives are no longer with me. My children are all grown up and are all graduates, doing very well in their various professions.
What have you been doing, since you came to Agbor in 2016?
Well, I began to write books in Ika language
What motivates you to be doing that?
What really motivated me to writing Ika books was that before the war, I was a Headmaster at St. Peter’s Anglican School, Agbor, now known as Ihioma Priamry School, Agbor. In the fifties, you cannot speak Ika language in Agbor, because the Igbos were the dominant people in Agbor and so, if you speak Ika, they will drive you away because most of the teachers and Headmaster were Igbos. They changed everything to Ibo, if you write your name, they will re-write it in Igbo; so all our names like Egbuchinem were written as Egbuchunam, Ehiwuogu; they will write Ahibuogu. And so we didn’t know what it was at that time until during the war, the Igbos left for their area, as well as the Aniocha people and so Ika people were made Headmasters, and fortunately or unfortunately for us; there were petitions against Ika Headmasters by the Aniocha people after the war who wanted to come back to Head the big schools in Ika area. That compelled us to form Ika Teachers Association, around 1970 and 1971. It was quite funny that Ika teachers in Ika land were teaching Igbo language to our pupils and so we decided in Ika Teachers Association, that we must teach Ika language. This decision gave room to the emergence of Ika language committee, where I was made the secretary. I remained the secretary of the committee till 2008, with that, I carried Ika language issue, to a point that it became a part of me. Our secretariat then was at St. John’s Anglican Church School, along the Old Lagos/Asaba Road, by Okoh junction, Agbor, and later we moved to Onu Ika Nigeria office at 140, Old Lagos/Asaba Road, Agbor.
Late Eric Ogboi, wrote the first books on Ika language known as, “Ekwu kuo Ogugu Ika,” books 1 to 6. Mr. Ashien who was then, the owner of Central Bookshop was with us all the time as he was publishing and marketing the books. He printed the first Ika Language text books for Late. Mr. Eric Ogboi. He remained with Ika Language Development Union even when he started publishing Ika Weekly Newspaper. I published “Gwam Gwai,” an information book. I am presently writing the second edition which is at the typing stage. That was how I became interested in Ika language that I am now almost identified as the symbol of Ika. Every part of me is Ika; and that is why, whenever you call your name in Ika, I will always like you to tell me the meaning, because many Ika names have been changed out of context.
Are you a Christian?
Yes, I am an Anglican. As a Chief, I take part in the traditional matters of my community. I studied African religion from our parents, because they had no books, but what they were teaching was what the people in the Olden days believed in; upon further research, I discovered that the missionaries who brought Christianity mis-educated us about religion. Christianity has been distorted before it got to us. Christ did not raise any church.
So, you think the missionaries did not tell us the truth?
Yes, for example, Sunday was not in the Bible, Sabbath day was the one recognized, Sabbath day was on a Saturday, they changed it to Sunday, now we regard Sunday, as a resting day. So many things were changed before the church came to us; we absorbed Christianity whole heartedly but we got the ideology of Christianity wrongly. At the stage we are, you see churches springing up everywhere, churches are now established for money making. We are not practicing the real Christianity, we are now predominantly looking for money, it has been commercialized.
Are you advocating for us to go back to our Africa traditional religion?
Well, if you know it, it will help you. In African traditional religion, they teach you everything that God tells you to do, they don’t cheat. If you go to the real traditionalist, they can’t take anything that doesn’t belong to them, if they see anything on the road, they will keep it, so that anybody who comes there will see it, and if you get there, you will definitely see what you must have lost on the road.
Are you a politician?
I used to be
Why not now?
The reason is that the present breed of politicians does not need the old politicians.
Can you be more explicit?
The present generation of politicians were brought in by us, but they have no regards for elders and so they drove us away. We have left them to continue as they wish; we cannot struggle with them, as they are young men and women.
Are you saying that you are not satisfied with the leadership of the present day politicians?
No, not at all, especially in Ika land in particular. In normal circumstances, old age does not take one away from politics.
What is your rating of the present administration in the state?
They are doing well, that is my assessment, and I urge them to continue to do well.
Can you compare the standard of education during your time, to that of the present?
They are not the same. During my time as I told you earlier, it took some years in infant 1-3, before you get to standard one, that means you will read up to three years before you get to standard one, but now you do from primary one to primary six, and before six years you are out of primary school. I started primary school at the age of thirteen, the subjects, were less, compared to what they have now, they are now putting computer science as a subject in both the Primary and Secondary Schools, so I cannot compare the current standard with that of the past.
We are aware that the standard of Education is falling drastically, even to gain admission into the Higher Institution, the cut off marks are being reduced to as low as 150 marks over 400. What is your take on the reduction?
What is happening to our education is not peculiar to Nigeria, the school children are being forced to learn many things that they are not ripe for. You are putting everything inside the children, their brain cells are small, they cannot cope, yet we are expecting them to perform very well. I think that the problem is that the children start school at a very tender age and are forced to learn so many things at a time, which their brains cannot carry. The fault is not the children but with us who are expecting too much from the poor kids.
Do you see Agriculture, as the bane of revamping Nigeria’s economy for the better?
Agriculture is the oldest occupation in the world and it remains the basic occupation of food supply, nobody can do without food and so agriculture remains the most important field in human life. Hence, the more attention paid to it by the government, the better for us.
In the South, especially in our own area, the problem is the politicians, because instead of helping the farmers, they take the money for themselves and nothing gets to the farmers. As an agricultural economist, what a man can produce in his farm in one year is not enough for him to feed his family for three months. All our food items are from the Northern part of Nigeria. In the North, you can go into full scale farming because they have vast areas of land, government in those areas assist farmers, they have irrigation and are into mechanized farming, they can hire equipment from government agencies which they return after use. We don’t have such facilities here in the South, someone who is into mechanized farming can use seven trailers to carry his farm produce to the market for sale and make more money compared to the farmer who uses manual techniques.
We have so many unemployed youths in the country, in this era of diversification to Agriculture, what is your advice to those youths?
Agriculture is a special area, land all over the country is now owned by Communities and individuals. If one wants to go into agriculture, can he acquire the land for farming? This is the question we usually asked in the United States of America. In America you cannot start agriculture because it has been industrialized, it is only big farmers that are there, you can only go there to work and get paid. Presently in Northern Nigeria, farmers are acquiring lands freely.
Back to the youths, we started our education system wrongly, with the mindset in our education system every youth feels that once one is educated, you must get a white collar job from the government. But the government cannot employ everybody; the essence of education is to enable one take care of oneself. Education is to make you know your area of specialization.
What is your perception about life?
Life is give and take, you don’t have monopoly. You try your best and leave the stage to other people.
What legacies, do you want to be remembered for?
I am not a rich man, but people can come to me for some advise and they will get a better advise from me. Talking about writing of books in Ika language and sustaining the dialects, nobody will say anything about Ika language in Ika land, without remembering Fredrick Ehiwuogu.
What are your likes and dislike?
I cherish honesty and hardwork, while I hate dishonesty and cheating; you cannot tell the truth, if you are a cheat.
How do you relax after a hard day’s job?
I relax by writing and reading.
Have you any role model, if yes, who are they?
My parents were not educated, it was through the advice of other people who led me to where I am today and so I cannot forget them, somebody like J.O.C. Idai and late G.N.C Diai, from Idumuje Ugboko, a former teacher at CMS Primary School, Agbor and also the former principal of Igbodo Modern School, who influenced me positively in most of the things I did. Through his assistance, I was able to read and continue reading.
Which organizations do you belong to in the church and outside the church?
I belong to Ika language and development union. As a chief and community leader I attend my town’s meeting.
As a community leader, how have you helped to contribute towards the development of Ute-Okpu and by extention Ika land?
I have done so many things that I don’t want to disclose. I have helped people to know that they belong to Ika and that they must speak Ika language, Ika people are no more afraid to speak their dialect. In the sixties, if you go to any office and meet an Ika person, he will ask you to speak English, instead of Ika language; but now they speak the language in every office; so I congratulate myself; because I took the issue of Ika language seriously that today all over the country Ika is now known and regarded as a language, I feel fulfilled.
Do you have any award?
Yes, I was given an award in 2018, by Onu Ika Nigeria, it is an award for keeping Ika language alive. They awarded me and six other late awardees of Ika extraction for our immense contributions of writing books on Ika language and sustaining our dialect.
Do you have any best or worst moments?
I suffered in many ways in the course of my educational pursuit, those were my worst moments. However, for my best moments, I have had several of them.
Which is your best Ika delicacy?
Pounded yam with Okro soup.
Do you have any comment on the anti corruption crusade of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration?
I don’t see what Buhari is doing, to me, Goodluck Jonathan’s administration was better. Buhari, is a cattle rearer and he remains a cattle rearer even as a President. Infact, Jonathan seems more intelligent than Buhari, but the party PDP that Jonathan was registered with, did not help him and now Buhari, said he wants change, what change has Buhari brought? Buhari loves cattle more than human beings, imagine when he knows that farmers and herdsmen are clashing, he regards cattle more than human beings; he doesn’t know Nigeria, that is my assessment on Buhari.
Do you have any word for the Nigerian youths?
The Nigerian youths should know that they must struggle to achieve whatever they need to achieve, nobody can achieve anything without struggling for it. They should not look on government to supply them with everything they want.
The youths should be involved in viable ventures and skill acquisition through vocational enterprise for self reliance and sustainable development.
What can you say is responsible for the under development of Ika Nation?
Ika nation is not totally underdeveloped; Ika land is developing like any other part of Nigeria. What will give us added advantage is for our children to read more and acquire more knowledge to do better things.
Education is the key factor whether you like it or not, there is nothing one can do now without education; if you want to go into agriculture, trading, e.t.c you need education. So my advice is that people of Ika nation should pay more attention in their youthful age to acquire more knowledge, instead of organizing themselves into cult groups.
Sir, do you have any advice for Ika Weekly Newspaper?
I admire the struggle of the publisher of Ika Weekly Newspaper, Mr. Steve Ashien, I have known him for a very long time, in the early seventies after he came back from Warri and established Central Bookshop in Agbor, I bought several books from him then, before we all started working on writing books in Ika language. Now with a positive struggle he bounced back and established Ika Weekly Newspaper, there were so many newspaper firms that were established in Ika land, but they did not see the light of the day and so for the strong commitment of overcoming the storm, I congratulate him, for being able to sustain the tempo. I urge all the staff of Ika Weekly Newspaper to be more committed with the publisher in order to further move the media house to an enviable height, I am sure that the publisher has more plans for further development. Mr. Ashien, started with Ika Weekly Newspaper, I am optimistic that he will progress from Ika Weekly to a larger platform and so I encourage all the staff to support him and develop to a larger coverage, so that the world at large will benefit from his vision.