Academician, Administrator, Politician, Minority Rights Activist
Chief Sen. Dr. Obi Wali was best known for his gift of oratory, literary criticisms, and superior command of the English language. He was one of the most brilliant Senator Nigeria has ever produced.
Who was Chief Sen. Dr. Obi Wali?
Chief Sen. Dr. Obi Wali (1932-1993) widely known as Obi, hails from Rumuigbo town of Rivers State. He had a PhD in English language and Literature at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, United States of America. He further served as Commissioner under Lieutenant Commander Diete Spiff’s Military Administration in old Rivers State. Consequently, his agitation for the creation of a Port Harcourt State in 1975 led to the birth of Bayelsa State in 1996. In 1993 he was gruesomely murdered.
When and Where Was He Born?
Chief Sen. Dr. Obi Wali was born on 27 February 1932, at Rumuigbo town in Rumuapara district, in Obio/Akpo Local Government Area of Rivers State.
Who Are His Parents?
Chief Sen. Dr. Obi Wali’s father was Chief Frank Wali Otogbo, and his mother was Mrs. Jane Wali. His mother was a daughter of famous Chief Ezebunwo Amadi Nwondugba; a once paramount ruler of Oroworukwo Rebisi town of Rivers State.
In 1932, he had his primary education at Holy Trinity Primary School, Rumuapara. It was at Holy Trinity Primary School that Senator Obi Wali had a drill in Arithmetic, English (especially Grammar and Composition), and Bible Knowledge etc. One of those personalities who inspired him most was his Headmaster, namely, Mr. A.A. Ukweni. Obi Wali excelled in English. He got his First School Leaving Certificate in 1939.
Subsequently, Obi Wali attended his secondary school at both the West African Peoples Institute, Calabar, Cross Rivers State and St. Augustine’s College, Nkwerre, in Imo State from 1949 to 1952. In 1955, he got admission into University College Ibadan to study English language and literature. He graduated with a B.A (Hon.) in 1959.
Eventually, Obi proceeded on scholarship in 1962 to Northwestern University, Evanston Illinois, USA where got a Master’s degree in English and literature in 1963 and his PhD in the same subject in 1967. He was an intelligent critic.
His Doctorate Thesis
Dr. Obi Wali’s best-known essay, but deemed controversial “Dead End of African Literature” which he published in 1963. The main argument in his thesis was African literature should be written in African language but not otherwise. This essay had influenced many African writers in the early 1960s.
Dr. Obi Wali had a varied career in administration, academics and politics. Firstly, he had a stint with CMS Press, Port Harcourt as an apprentice printer before he started his secondary education in 1948.
After his graduation from the university, he worked briefly as an Assistant Secretary with the Federal Public Service from June 1959 to October 1959.
He subsequently joined the academia and taught English at both the University of Ibadan and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka until the Nigeria civil war of 1967.
Dr. Obi Wali veered into politics after the Nigeria Civil War and the creation of Old Rivers State in 1969. He served as Commissioner and Member of the old Rivers State Executive Council of Lieutenant Commander Diete Spiff’s Military Government. He served as a Commissioner at the following Ministries: Rehabilitation, Economic Development and Reconstruction, Education and Health.
In January 1975 thereabouts, he was sacked from the cabinet due to conflicting differences with authorities over the question of creation another (Port Harcourt) State out of the present Rivers State.
In October 1975 thereabouts, the late General Murtala Mohammed the then Head of State appointed him as Member of the Constitution Drafting Committee which eventually, earned him membership of the Constituent Assembly which produced the 1979 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Chairman of Council
Furthermore, under same period (1975), the then Governor of old Rivers State, Col. Zamani Lekwot appointed him to Chair the Governing Council of Rivers State College of Science and Technology (now Rivers State University) He worked as a full-time Chairman from his office along Olu Obasanjo Road Port Harcourt and he used his own car. He never used any official vehicle throughout his as chairman of council.
Dr. Obi Wali was elected Councilor for Ward 26 comprising Rumuigbo, Rumuepirikom, and Rumuorosi communities in the Port Harcourt City Council from 1977 to 1978.
He was once Chairman of the Nigeria National Shrimp Company at Ogharafe in Delta State; a Federal Government owned company from 1976 to 1979 which he relinquished the position for the National Assembly.
In 1978, General Olusegun Obasanjo, then Head of State of Nigeria lifted the ban on politics; he became a founding member of the now-defunct Nigerian People Party (NPP); he was the Deputy National Chairman of the Party. In 1979, he subsequently contested the Port Harcourt Senatorial District seat in the National Assembly and won gallantly. He eventually became the leader of the party in the National Assembly during the Second Republic. He served in the following committees: Senate Selection, House and Administration, Appropriation and Finance, Petroleum and Energy.
As A Social Engineer
Dr. Sen. Obi Wali could appropriately be described as a “man of the grassroots’’. He belonged to many Associations of Ikwerre extracts. These were his veritable sources of grassroots acceptance and popularity. He had been a member of all the all-embracing Ogbakor Ikwerre since the founding of that body 1963. Also, He became the first Chairman of the Obio/Port Harcourt/Akpor (OPA) branch of Ogbakor Ikwerre from 1970 to 1972 and served the entire organization as President-General from 1973 to 1976.
Subsequently, He served as a permanent member of the Ogbakor Ikwerre language committee and as an adhoc member in various other committees. The language committee had been responsible for translating and publishing educational and religious books in Ikwerre language.
Dr. Obi Wali, was instrumental to the establishment of Rumuapara progressive organization in 1978, which has become a famous for social interaction among the youths of Apara clan.
Dr. Obi Wali was a literary critic, newspaper columnist and pamphleteer. He was chairman of NAWA publishers. He had published a number of articles and pamphlets (six) which include Chiefs of Eastern region of Nigeria, Dead End of African Literature, The Individual and the Movie in Africa, The Problem of Art, and The New African Novelist: A Critique, the Act of Okechukwu odIta, black Odita, Black Africa Revisited.
Award and Ideology
In March 1991 thereabout, Rivers State University of Science and Technology awarded the degree of LL.D (Honoris Causa) for his distinguished service to the institution and the nation
He was a vocal activist of strong ethnic representation rather than a geographical space.
Dr. Obi Wali was therefore, an intellectual of special build. While he advocated Ikwerre nationality, he never narrowed it but broadened his mind to create a new bureaucratic structure to modernize the entire Rivers State. He was not a selfish man. He was not an acquisitive egoistic character, nor chased for the worldly material things of life.
He fought to bring development to the Ikwerre people. Some of his modest efforts were seen in employment; where he was responsible for the employment of many sons and daughters from Ikwerre ethnicity into the State’s public service, and in education; he was a veritable advocate for educational advancement of Ikwerre indigenes and also, as then commissioner in Ministry of Education, he creating the State Schools Management Board and the Teaching Service Commission, infrastructure; he was instrumental to the establishment of the Primary Schools in Nkpolu, Rumuigbo, and Eleparanwo, Rumuokwuta; the Community Secondary School, Eneka and the Psychiatric Hospital, Rumuigbo, among other development in the area.
A Pace Setter
Obi Wali was the first Ikwerre man to earn a degree of Doctor of Philosophy; he was first Ikwerre man to lecture in a University. He was first Ikwerre man to become a Senator. Also, He was first Ikwerre man to serve on the Constitution Drafting Committee and subsequently the Constitutional Assembly. He was the first Ikwerre son to be appointed Civil Commissioner and Member of Rivers State Executive Council. He was the first Ikwerre man to start agitating for a right of an Ikwerre man to belong to the Port Harcourt state. The man, obi Wali was the first Ikwerre man to be appointed Chairman of the Governing Council of a tertiary institute. He was the first Ikwerre man to be honored with an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Law by a Nigerian University.
When Did Chief Sen. Dr. Obi Wali Die?
He was murdered and dismembered right in his bedroom on 26 April, 1993 and was buried afterwards on the 24 February 1994. The masterminds and actual killers of Chief Sen. Dr. Obi Wali were never found or apprehended to date. He was age 61.
A Memorial Lecture in honors of Sen. Dr. Obi Wali took place on 2 February 1994 in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
In 2014 thereabout, the Rivers State Government immortalized Chief Sen. Dr. Obi Wali with a well-built Conference Hall that could seat about 2500 persons in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.