|Urhobo Historical Society
By SUNNY AWHEFEADA
ON 26 December 2008, people of goodwill shall gather in Ughelli for
a memorial lecture in honour of Chief Demas Akpore, one time Deputy
Governor of the Old Bendel State (1979-1982), the greatest Orogun son
in modern time, and one of the most selfless Nigerians that ever lived.
He rose through dints of hard work to overcome daunting existential
obstacles to write his name, and that of the entire Orogun in the
chronicle of humanity. He gave the greatest legacy any man could give
to another when he personally built Orogun Grammar School in 1966. The
height of his public record came when he became the first Deputy
Governor of Bendel State in 1979.
One of my earliest childhood book encounters that is yet to be lost to the vagaries of memory was the one I had of the Late Chief Demas Onoliobakpovwa Akpore, then His Excellency and Deputy Governor. That encounter took place on the pages of my primary five social studies text book. The year was 1982. Chief Demas Akpore dominated the consciousness of children of my generation in the early eighties. He was a much talked about personality in positive and superlative terms. He was to some of us a symbol of hope and regeneration albeit undefined in our then callow minds. My next symbolic encounter with Chief Akpore was again on the illuminating pages of a book entitled The Good Student written by the educationist per excellence Edwin Oruma in 1984, my first year in secondary school. The book was made a compulsory read for my generation of students. In a chapter entitled “The Dignity of Labour” the author cited the example of Chief Demas Akpore who together with a handful of pioneer students built what is now Orogun Grammar School, Orogun in 1966. Chief Akpore and his team with matchets, spades, wheelbarrows, cleared the forest, dug and laid foundations, erected blocks and did everything including mortgaging his future finances to build the school for his people. Chief Demas Onoliobakpovwa Akpore was born in April 1928 in Warri. A descendant of redoubtable Orogun ancestry, the young Demas attended the Christ Missionary School in Warri for his elementary education. When the prestigious Government College Ughelli was founded in 1945, Demas was among the pioneering students, and it is on record that he was the third student to enroll. His potentials as an academic wizard and a great leader of men blossomed at Government College. After Ughelli he proceeded to the then University College Ibadan to study the then doyen of all disciplines, Classics. His decade at Ibadan also saw Bola Ige, Gamaliel Onosode, Iyalla Joseph Iyalla, Christopher Okigbo, among other cerebral geniuses reading Classics. Demas, we were told, was non pareil. He wrote and spoke Latin as if it was the language of his forebears.
Having deconstructed Graecoromen Scholarship at Ibadan, Demas sailed across seven seas to the Western world in search of more knowledge. He berthed at the University of British Columbia to study for a Master of Arts degree in Classics. He graduated with Distinction in 1958! Demas returned home to render selfless service to his fatherland just getting ready to get sovereignty from British rule.
On his return to Nigeria he became the Principal of United College of Commerce in Warri. His most historic moment in the annals of education was soon to follow. In 1966, enraptured by the dignity of labour he single-handedly founded Orogun Grammar School. He was inspired by a mission which was to bring education to his retarded people. That mission was powered by a vision which held that only through education can a people be fully emancipated. When in the early 1970s, his alma mater Government College Ughelli was in dire straits, it was Chief Demas Akpore that was beckoned at to restore the school to the path of greatness. Thus in 1972 he became the first old boy to be Principal of the school. He was a disciplinarian, exemplary teacher, great sportsman and motivator of people. He took the college to the peak of glory.
By 1978 when partisan politics was given the nod, Chief Akpore pitched his tent with the progressive Unity Party of Nigeria, led by the sage Papa Obafemi Awolowo. However, this was not Akpore’s first foray into politics. He was indeed a nationalist who distinguished himself in the Zikist Movement. He had in the First Republic attained political visibility when he played the enfant terrible and neutralized the unholy alliance between the NCNC and NPC. He emerged from the Schism a hero and eventually championed the formation of the Midwest Democratic Front (MDF). Chief Akpore was an intellectual and philosopher in politics. He was cultured beyond his time. In league with Ambrose Alli, Bola Ige, Michael Ajasin, Bisi Onobanjo, Lateef Jakande, under the patriarchal tutelage of Papa Awolowo, Akpore used his erudition, energy and will power to expand the frontiers of progressive ideals. But, the Nigerian turf could be traitorous to good men, and soon some of Chief Akpore’s party men started scheming to undo him. He resigned his post as Deputy Governor in 1982.
Chief Akpore’s credentials bestrode Africa. He was a consummate Pan-Africanist who was at home with Jomo Kenyatta (after whom he named his first son), Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Leopold Sedar Senghor, Sekou Toure, and other flag bearers of African Liberation. Chief Akpore’s involvement in Pan-Africanism went beyond contact with the proponents of the concept. He read so much about Pan Africanism, and also wrote several tours de force.
Unlike many of his contemporaries Chief Akpore was incorruptible. The story was told of a Lebanese contractor who offered to build him a mansion in Lagos or Warri or any place of his choice. Chief Akpore politely refused. He had only two houses, his country bungalow in Orogun and a storey building built through mortgage loan in Warri! He was a decent man, too decent and too ideal for his Nigeria. When the military regime arrested and jailed thieving politicians in 1984, Chief Akpore was apologized to for being invited for interrogation after investigations revealed that he was as clean as a whistle.
He was a great family man. Together with his wife Mrs Grace Akpore, they bore six children, Stella, Jomo, Boye, Kevwe, Enaite and Newman. Boye went the way of Bola Ige, A.k. Dikibo, Harry Marshall among other victims of politically motivated killing. Chief Akpore was a great musician, deft with the use of both hands.
•Awhefeada wrote from Delta State