OPINION: Railway Honours, Ernest Ikoli Excluded Again

* Why FG Should Name Otueke Varsity Or FRCN Complex After Him

* And What Bayelsa Government Needs to Do

By Etete Enideneze

President Muhammadu Buhari and Nigeria’s Federal Government on July 27, 2020, again honoured some late heroes and heroines as well as living and serving  leaders, by naming National Railway Stations after them.

The Federal Government premised the honour done the hounourees’, on  service to their communitues, and national development.

It is one among many honourary recognitions that successive administrations  in the country, have accorded very important personalities.

In the list of the many honourees,   were persons drawn from early and contemporary class of  leaders, across the country, for instance, the nationalist and politcian, Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo; contemporary journalist and politcian, Late Alhaji Lateef Jakande; political leader, Dr. Olusola Saraki; Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, Prof. Yemi Osinbjo; Chief Ahmed Bola Tinibu,  among others.

But Ernest Sesei Ikoli was again, not honoured. He has apparently become the forgotten hero, not  properly immortalised, despite his monumental national and international legacies.

Ikoli is one nationalist that contributed immensely to Nigeria’s independence from Britain in October 1, 1960. This is besides other roles that qualify him for a befitting honour.  Subsequent details in this article, will justify why he should be  properly  honoured like his counterparts.

The recent, exclusion of Ikoli from the Federal Government’s gesture warrants queering why he was not remembered, if contribution to national development was really  the criterium for choice of honourees.  It also raises the question of why question early, contemporary and even present leaders were chosen, yet Ikoli was not considered, even though he played roles in the early Nigeria Railway Corporation?

This current exclusion, adds to the perturbing feeling  that Ikoli, the patriot, politician and foremost journalist of blessed memory, has not been eminently immortalised by successive governments in Nigeria at national and home front. This, coupled with paucity of academic and biographical works about the firebrand nationalist and Journalist, have deprived many young ones, proper knowledge about him and his legacies.

But Ikoli’s peers such as Tafawa Balewa, Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Obafemi Awolowo, all of blessed memory are prominently reckoned with in Nigeria’s Naira Currencies and landmark edifices, for instance civic centres, stadia, roads, universities campuses, hostels and airports. And more  public facilities are still being named after them, as the choice of Awolowo for one of the new railway statuons, affirm.

This lingering ugly treatment is despite past clamours by the Ijaw National Congress (INC); Ijaw Youths Council (IYC) and activists in the Niger Delta, that Ernest Ikoli and Isaac Adaka Boro be given befitting national recognitions and immortalised. Boro’s case  is another big matter for discussion, but not now.

For Ikoli, the early attempt to give him  his due regard, was the institution of the Sunday Times Memorial Lecture organised in his honour, by the defunct Daily Times newspaper. But the lecture series could not be sustained.

Another attempt to honour him, at home, was the naming of the Press Centre of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) at Moscow Road, Port-Harcourt in Rivers State, when Bayelsa, where he hailed from, was a part of it..

Although that gesture reechoed Ikoli’s  name and ideals, his image mounted at the Rivers State NUJ Press Centre, was reportedly pulled down soon after Bayelsa was created. The issues were resolved, but the edifice was no longer given its pride of place because of the sentiments played up. The development made the Niger Delta Integrity Group (NIG), a pressure group, to call for support to revive the Ernest Ikoli Press Centre in Port-Harcourt, 2011. Behind the move, was Dr. John Idumange and others who felt the only edifice re-echoing Ikoli’s legacies, should be intact.

The grouse that Ikoli  has not been well honoured  by the Federal Government, made the Bayelsa State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), to name its Press Centre, along Azikoro Road in Yenagoa, after him.

The Press Centre built by the regime of late Chief D. S.P Alamieyeseigha, is one of the best in the country. It serves as the State Secretariat of the union, and a rallying point for Journalists practicing in Yenagoa, visiting journalists and friends of the press. This, in addition to the fact that the edifice and the NUJ symbolize truth and justice, also account for why the Bayelsa NUJ named the Press centre after Ikoli. The Union’s decision was the outcome of a motion by Mr. Preye Kiaramo, with  input from many of its members who saw to it’s realisation.

WHO REALLY  WAS IKOLI? WHAT ARE HIS LEGACIES AND WHY IS HE FORGOTTEN?

His Birth/Nativity/Education/Children

Not much is written about Earnest Ikoli. Even his  pictures are hard to get, even though national and international archives could offer relics of his works.  But the literature l have come across in academic works, and my past interviews with one of his grandsons, Barr Anthony George Ernest-Ikoli (SAN), when he was Attorney General in Bayelsa State, indicate that the foremost nationalist and political Journalist, was born on March 25, 1893, and died on October 21, 1960.  He hailed  from Twon Brass in Brass Local Government Area of the present Bayelsa State. His progress was inspired by his wealthy parents, who were traders and pioneer scholars of the early British missionary education in the interior of Brass.

Late Ernest Sesei Ikoli is  father to Mr. Babatunde Ernest – Ikoli, a renowned playwright in the United Kingdom; Madam Elsie Ajayi Ikoli, mother to the former  Commissioner of Justice/Attorney-General in Bayelsa State, Barr Anthony George (SAN); Mrs. Ibidun Spiff in Twon Brass and Mrs. Folashade Ayo Ajayi living in Abeokuta. One of his daughters got married to an uncle to Femi Fani Kayode in Kayode family of Osun State.

With the humble family background, Ikoli was one of the few kids from the creeks of Brass who attended the historic Bonny Primary School, and later the famous Kings’ College, Lagos, in 1909, as pioneer student. At both schools, the gifted Ikoli won academic laurels.He was Senior Prefect of King’s College in 1913.

Work Career

On graduation from Kings’ College, he was  employed as   assistant science teacher in the school.

But as a born freedom fighter and crusader of truth, he quitted the teaching job in 1919, due to a fracas arising from racial insults and oppression on him and other blacks, by the British teachers and authorities.

Entry Into Journalism

With this bold step, Ikoli was set to become one of the foremost journalists, patriot, and politician of his time. According to records, he shortly joined one of the nationalist newspapers, the Lagos Weekly Record founded in 1889 by John Payne Jackson, an American.

There, he served as assistant editor and got his journalistic coaching from the publisher’s son, Thomas Horatio Jackson.

His Publishing, Style Of Journalism And Nationalist Struggles

Unsatisfied, Ikoli according to records set up his own newspaper, the African Messenger, at number 24 Odunlami Street, Lagos, in 1921 and became its editor in order to freely attack the colonialists.

The African Messenger immediately became one of the most vocal newspapers, that criticized the colonial government through intellectual and pungent editorials and reports that worried the colonialists.

One reason for his critical journalism   is that as a man from the marginalized creeks of the Niger Delta, and as one of the few journalists who schooled at home, he felt the pains of discrimination and underdevelopment, unbearably.

It is on record, that the colonial masters, especially, Sir Fredrick Lord Luggard disliked the critical and expository style of journalism practiced by Ernest Ikoli and his colleagues who criticized the Amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates and the final establishment of a colonial administration, haven foreseen the negative implications. Today, the more than fifty years expropriation of the resources of the Niger Delta for the development of other parts of the country, has affirmed Ikoli’s stand against that amalgamation.

Despite censorship and harassment, the press which Ikoli was part of, pressured the colonial government to introduce the  Legislative Council in Lagos, party politics and representative government in the 1922 Clifford Constitution. And that was achieved.

His journalism career came under threat when he exhausted the funds donated to him by a Briton, Mr. F. B. Mulford. Consequently, he couldn’t continue printing the African Messenger at Awoboh Printing Press in Lagos. The newspaper collapsed in 1925.

Capitalizing on this, the colonial government bought up the newspaper from Ikoli at Five Hundred Pounds in 1925. It was merged with the Daily Times, and he was made the first black editor and director in 1926, with an annual pay of Three Thousand Pounds.

Again, an unsatisfied Ernest Ikoli pulled out from the Daily Times two years later, to establish another newspaper, the Nigerian Daily Mail. This second newspaper, also stopped publishing in 1931.

Thereafter, the prolific journalist worked with the Nigerian Daily Telegraph and the Daily Service in different periods.

Throughout his journalism career, he adhered to the cardinal principles of fairness, objectivity, neutrality and justice. He put public interest above personal gains and practiced robust investigative, political and developmental journalism.

The Ijaw-born journalist and nationalist maintained these principles even against his colleagues, notably Late Nnamdi Azikiwe and Late Herbert Macaulay. Records indicate that, Macaulay, while writing in the African Messenger, insisted on having an alleged libelous article published in the newspaper to satisfy personal whims and camprices. The disagreement made Ikoli who though recognized Macaulay as a great force in the country, to publish stinkers against him (Macaulay) as  they could not resolve it amicably.

There is no doubt, why a Mass Communication scholar in the Western part of Nigeria, Dr. Daramola Ifedayo  in one of his mass communication books, described Ikoli as the only non-Yoruba man, from Ijaw, that commanded very high prominence and authority in the media and political circles in the then Lagos. Daramola’s book, History And Development of Nigeria’s Mass Media and News Watch’s Who Is Who In Africa, among other works, also in history and political science, have just bits of information on Ikoli, but serve as insights for this write-up.

Ikoli As A Politician

Other than his journalistic activities, Ernest Ikoli took part in active politics, part of which has been touched earlier in this peice.  He was secretary of the local chapter of the Universal Negro Movement founded by Marcus Garvey as well as pioneer member of the Lagos Youth Movement in 1934, which transformed into the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM). Ikoli was secretary of the body when Nnanmdi Azikiwe was president. Thereafter, he served as president as well in 1943.

Under the Nigerian Youth Movement as a political party, which defeated Herbert Macaulay’s Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), Ernest Sesei Ikoli, floored a Yoruba man, Chief Samuel Akinsaya in the 1938 general election, and became a member of the colonial Legislative Council in Lagos.

Role In Early Broadcasting In Colonial Nigeria

He was re-elected into the council as an independent candidate in 1946, retired from active politics in 1947, and got appointment as chairman of the Rediffusion Service of the colonial broadcasting service in Lagos.

Role In Early Nigerian Railway Corporation/Public Relations Profession

Ikoli, also has a mark in the history of railway sector and the Public Relations profession in Nigeria, yet not named after any railway station. He and the late Dr. Sam Epelle of Rivers State were the early Public Relations Advisers to the then Nigerian Railway Corporation. A press club founded by Dr. Epelle in Lagos, evolved into the Public Relations Association of Nigeria (PRAN) in 1963 and later to Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) in 1969, and was chartered in 1990.

In appreciation of Ikoli’s monumental contributions to the intellectual and political development of the country, the Queen of England awarded him the prestigious Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).

Sadly, he did not live longer to see developments in the new country which independence, he vigorously joined his peers as one of the top echellons,  to actualise.

Even more annoying is the lack of proper honour to him by Nigeria, a situation some analysts  sometimes attribute to his minority origin.

A Yoruba media scholar, lent credence to this assertion, when he lamented that Ernest Sesei Ikoli would have been better styled as the Father of Nigerian Nationalism and not anyone else.

Records also have it that Ikoli’s political associate, Oba Samuel Akinsanya also  described him as one of the foremost nationalist leaders in Nigeria, yet he is not so honoured.

If Ernest Sesei Ikoli is  important to Nigeria’s, Africa’s and world’s  history and development, as his profile shows, then he should be so immortalised.

Therefore, Nigeria’s Government, should make amends and name a befiting edifice or landmark in his honour. In that regard, a Federal University, for instance, that of Otueke in Ogbia, Bayelsa State, could be promptly named after him. Or, a college of Mass Communication in any premier  or second generation federal university, could as well be named after him. Other alternatives are the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria’s Complex in Abuja or the the training school in Lagos, that could bear his name, considering the pioneering role he played in broadcast management in the later part of British colonial administration’s radio diffusion system.

Bayelsa State where he hailed from, should no longer join others to dwarf Ikoli’s monumental  legacies. It should rather  take it as a challenge, to promote and preserve the late heroe’s good works. The State Government could therefore, name its airport after late Ernest Sesei Ikoli. Or it could chose any other befiting way to honour him. The relics of his works and tomb, could be included in the state’s tourism development programme.

This is more so as not much has also been done to immortalise the patriot   and compensate his family. Apart from the NUJ Press Centre in Yenagoa, as well as an attempt  to name a proposed private university of mass communication along Etegwe-Tombia Road, which did not come to light, no befitting road or government tertiary institution is named after him.

In terms of compensating his family with public appointments, the Ikolis like the Isaac Boro’s, seem  not to have been adequately considered. We hardly see or hear about members of these families in Bayelsa State, perhaps, for their self-sufficient class in society, but they could still be carried along, to project the history to present and future generations.

Even  the appointment of  Mr. George Anthony Ikoli (SAN), a grandson to the late Ernest, was said to have been on merit, not political favour. This, he confirmed in an interview with me when he held the office, during Chief Timipre Sylva’s tenure as governor.

In view of the unbefitting treatment accorded the journalism and political icon and patriot, Ernest Sesei Ikoli, it has become important to redress the injustice meted out against him and the Ijaw Nation by giving him his due regard in the place of history.

The time  to appease the spirit of the deceased hero, is now, so that ancestors and posterity will vindicate present leaders for acting properly, after failing to do so many years ago.

Etete is a media practitioner and public affairs analyst

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