Quintessential Taire, an unrepentant Zikist

Torch-Taire-2015IT was at about 6 a.m., Tuesday, October 13, 2015 that my friend, Chief Torch O. Taire sadly passed onto the great beyond. It has been so unsettling that I could not write a word to his name until I was recently persuaded by a mutual friend, Mr. Peter Arigbe, to do so. I therefore took cognisance of the import of the situation and the need to share my thought and feelings about this great man of our time that has come to represent different things to different people.

TOT, as he is fondly called, was born in Ekenwa, near Benin City, on November 26, 1933. In his early life, he sojourned in virtually every part of Southern Nigeria. This enabled TOT to speak so many languages, namely; his native Uvwie-Urhobo, standard-Urhobo, Itsekiri (the language of his mother’s people), Bini or Edo, Efik, Yoruba and of course English very fluently as well as a smattering of Igbo and Bekwel, the language of the Bakwele people of Southern Cameroons. Of course his upbringing and deep interaction with so many different peoples and ethnicities left a huge mark on his personality and worldview, making him one of the most detribalised Nigerians I have had the good fortune to interact with. Little wonder therefore that TOT had bosom friends from every part of the country and beyond; men like the poet, Christopher Okigbo who was his best man when he wedded his heartthrob, the elegant and gracious Abeke Adefemi (nee Williams) – one of the queens of Queen’s Hall, University of Ibadan, in the 1960s.The marriage is blessed with two sons, Jolomi and Tajin, and a daughter, Eyitemi, and now many grandchildren.

A few others include Prof Ben Obumselu, the great literary critic; the late Segun Awolowo; the late Lisa of Ondo, Bayo Akinnola; late Femi Jibowu; Isidore Okpewho – prize winning author and novelist; Amb Tayo Ogunsilere; late Tayo Akpata; Brigadier-General Bayo Oduwole; late Brigadier-General Ibrahim Bako; General Wushishi; Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu; Dr Uma Eleazu; Senator Onyeabo Obi; Aminu Abdulahi – the Katsina prince; late Dr Ibrahim Tahir – the distinguished Cambridge academic who was Shagari’s Internal Affairs Minister; late Ajie Ukpabi Asika; Lindsay Barret; Sam Amuka; Eddy Agbahor; Chief Bengy Apollo; late Hope Harriman; Prof EgetonUvieghara; Emeritus Prof J P Clark; late Chief Bola Ige; Fred Mowoe; Broderick Bozimo; Dr Osude – founding DG of NAFDAC; artists ErhaborEmokpae; late Ben Enwonwu; and late Ben Osawe; late Chief Adeniran Ogunsanya – ex-student of Hope Waddell Inst., Calabar;Festus Odimegwu; Felix Ohiweri – former Chairman, Nigeria Breweries; Paschal Dozie – founder, Diamond Bank & Chairman, MTN (Nigeria); late Brigadier-General George T Kurubo – first Chief of Staff, Nigeria Air Force & later Nigeria’s Ambassador in Moscow, USSR;Otunba Mike Adenuga – Chairman, Globacom; Brigadier Mobalaji Johnson – pioneer Military Administrator of Lagos State; Enzo Ekangaki – former Secretary-General of OAU who was TOT’s primary school-mate in Victoria, Cameroons and later at the Hope Waddell Inst., Calabar; late President Milton Obote of Uganda; late Prime-Minister Margret Thatcher, etc.

Torch was a highly successful pharmacist and businessman. He provided many Nigerians and Ghanaians the support base that saw them through schools and colleges, and made many successful in both the public and private sectors. TOT was a financier of great causes. He financed, housed and catered for political exiles and dissidents from Jerry Rawlings’ Ghana both in Lagos and London. What actually endeared TOT to me were his intellectual depth and vigour, and his politics, even though TOT was not a politician. He was well-read and studious. His rendition of Benin history and the Bini roots of the Oyo Empire, the Ife, Lagos and Itsekiri kingdoms qualify him, in my opinion, for a serious award from the Nigerian Historical Society, if there is one; ditto for his mastery of the chieftaincy landscape in Calabar and environs. His people at Uvwie-Urhobo held him in high esteem, especially for his indelible contributions in the struggle that led to the creation of their Uvwie Local Government Area during the Abacha regime. The traditional ruler of Uvwie, Eruowho II, conferred on him the prestigious title of “Eni of Uvwie”- Elephant of Uvwie – in appreciation. The boys called him “King of the Boys” because Taire loved and toasted them and they too loved him.

Talking about Taire’s politics, one is reminded of his remarks at the launch of Joe Igbokwe’s book, Ndi-Igbo 25 years after Biafra, in 1995 or so. Taire was “quietly enduring the noisy exaggerated speeches at the occasion about Igbo marginalisation in post-war Nigerian politics” when he was commandeered to the podium by the Chairman of the occasion, Chief Bola Ige, to launch the book. He opened up by reminding the distinguished audience, largely made up of Ndi-Igbo, that in the Second Republic (1979-1983) and largely resulting from Azikiwe’s insight, the old Eastern Region – the supposed losers in the Nigeria-Biafra war, produced the Vice-President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives and a good number of powerful ministers and important functionaries of the Shagari presidency  while he and his fellow Midwesterners who were supposed to be part of the winners in that war had practically nothing to show for their much-vaunted victory. In effect, although the North took the one and only available position of President or number one citizen, the old Eastern Region, the erstwhile Biafra, took the numbers two, three and fourth positions, amongst others, yet we talk about Igbo marginalisation. You could almost hear the pin drop while he spoke; the audience did not find Taire’s commentary particularly flattering or funny, for notwithstanding the fact that it ran counter to the grain and mood of the audience; it was also incisive, true and unassailable. Actually, Taire was indirectly telling the Igbo that if they adopt neo-Zikist methods, they will not need to cry about political marginalisation in Nigeria anymore nor hanker after Biafra.

TOT passed a night at my Onitsha residence when we both travelled to Ojoto, Anambra State, for a Christopher Okigbo Remembrance. That night, we spent much time discussing the large Nigeria country-state. He was unequivocal in his advocacy for Nigeria’s return to the parliamentary system of government as a veritable part of the way forward for Nigeria. His nostalgia and admiration for the nationalism of Zik is not in doubt. Like Zik, he had spent much of his life outside his home-base. This might have affected their worldview, adaptability and appreciation of other cultures and Nigerian nationalism!



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