Elder Vincent Garba O'kwu, pioneer Idoma historian dies
By Nats Onoja Agbo
Vincent Garba O’kwu, from Igaluwa-Ugboju, is a man of history. At the time he entered the famous Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria for a Bachelor of Arts degree in History, he was the first Idoma person to choose the course. He performed so well in the course that he was retained by the University as a Lecturer and remained there until 1975 when he was appointed by Joseph Dechi Gomwalk, then Military Governor of Benue Plateau State, as a Commissioner. That appointment came to many people as a surprise because Garba was a strong critic of the military. He had brushes with security agencies and was arrested by the military authorities at least on two occasions. His concern, however, was about good governance and at the time he was accusing the Benue-Plateau State government, there were similar allegations leveled against the military governor by other persons.
Fate, however, played a cruel trick on Garba because barely six months after assuming office as a Commissioner in Benue-Plateau State, senior military officers staged a coup and overthrew the Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon. The change in government was catastrophic for Garba because the new government, which was headed by General Murtala Mohammed embarked on drastic changes that swept the military governors out of office. With the sacking of Joseph Dechi Gomwalk, Garba lost his job as a Commissioner in Benue-Plateau State.
Ordinarily, he should have returned to his job as a lecturer in History at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria but that was not to be. He had actually returned to Zaria but just when he was to perfect his papers to indicate that he had returned to the University, he received another jolt. As part of the sweeping reforms, the new government sacked many civil servants. In a matter of weeks, the purge spread to the University system. One of the first casualties of the purge in ABU, Zaria was Vincent Garba O’kwu, following spurious claims that he had divided loyalty. Undeterred by the sudden turn of events, he went into private business and politics. His political career reached a head in the Second Republic when he stepped out as a member of the National Party of Nigeria, NPN. With the approach of the 1983 general elections, the NPN split into two factions, Lagos Group and Benue Group, in Benue State. While the Lagos Group was made up of members of the National Assembly and some serving Ministers and State Commissioners, the Benue Group was made up of the Governor, some political appointees and some members of the Benue State House of Assembly.
The two groups were very active in the Idoma-speaking area of Benue State. Garba was an active member of the Benue Group, rechristened Tarka Group especially in the Idoma area, which embarked on a smear campaign against the leadership of Omale Onaje who was the chairman of the NPN in the old Otukpo Local Government Area. Although he had successfully led the party to victory in the 1979 elections, the Tarka Group, which was made up of new entrants into the party wanted Omale Onaje dropped because he was not ‘educated’.
The Tarka Group in Idomaland was led by Eka Onojo. Some of the very prominent members of the group were Vincent Garba O’kwu and Adejo Ogiri. The campaign for change in political leadership in the Idoma area was so intense that all the elected members of the National Assembly and State House of Assembly lost their re-nominations bids in 1983. Omaba Ogbo who replaced Audu Ogbeh as deputy speaker and Paul Ode who represented the Adoka/Onyagede/Ugboju State Constituency were forced to withdraw from the primary elections of the NPN. Eigege Ejiga was replaced by Vincent Garba O’kwu in the House of Representatives while Godwin Okpe replaced Ameh Ebute in the Senate.
His political associates were happy that Garba was in the House of Representatives. Known for his outspokenness on issues of national importance, the hope was that he would be a worthy representative. But it was not to be, though through no fault of his. In the closing hours of 1983, just three months after Vincent Garba O’kwu joined the National Assembly, the military again struck, sacking the elected government of President Shehu Aliyu Shagari. The constitution was suspended and all political institutions were scrapped. With that set-back, Vincent Garba O’kwu returned to Ogobia-Ugboju for a while. He later took up teaching appointment with the University of Jos. After a few years in the University, he relocated to the United States with his family. He later returned to Nigeria and lived at Ogobia-Ugboju as the oldest person in his village before his death.
Witty and full of laughter, Vincent Garba O’kwu’s historical writings defined the earliest indigenous approaches to Idoma history. His two major works, “Early History of Idomaland”, and “Idomaland Under Colonial Rule: 1900-1959”, being papers delivered at the Department of History, ABU, Zaria in 1974, are some of the most quoted sources on Idoma history. He will be missed by the growing army of young historians in Idomaland, and indeed Nigeria who draw inspiration from his works and commitment to the full documentation of African history by Africans. (Culled from Mr Agbo’s Facebook timeline)