His Royal Highness, Poet, Teacher, Accountant, Philosopher, Environmentalist
Born on April 21, 1925, in the Tombia community of the then southern colonial Nigeria, Christian Atani Okpofaa Otobotekere came into the world as a member of the family of the late Chief Okpofaa. His father, Okgofagha, was the offspring of Chief Otobotekere, who held the esteemed position of ruling chieftain over the Birifabiri Quarter in Tombia. Unfortunately, Okgofagha passed away in 1939. Christian Atani Okpofaa Otobotekere’s mother, Gbeinkoromo, hailed from the lineage of Ekpebu, a significant figure in the Sabagreia town located within the Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area of Bayelsa state.
His name, Christian, was a tribute to his forebear’s recent conversion to Christianity just a few years prior to his birth. As a result, he was raised with a blend of Ijaw Ethnic Nationality traditions and values alongside Christian principles.
Initially, his educational journey began at the Junior Infant School in Tombia community, spanning from 1933 to 1935. He then continued his studies at the renowned Reverend Proctor Memorial Primary School in Kaiama, located in the Eastern region of Nigeria during that time. In 1940, he achieved a notable accomplishment by excelling in his First School Leaving Certificate examination.
Following this achievement, he secured a spot as a student at the well-known Okrika Grammar School (OGS) in Okrika town, part of the Eastern region of Nigeria. His student identification number at OGS was 108, and he displayed remarkable intelligence, bringing pride to the school. In 1945, he further distinguished himself by successfully passing the London Cambridge School Certificate Examination with an impressive grade I. This achievement opened the doors to higher education at the university level.
After a period of service in the colonial public sector, he gained admission to the Fourah Bay University College in Sierra Leone in 1954, where he pursued studies in Economics. His academic journey culminated in 1957 when he graduated from Durham University in England with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics. This accomplishment marked the successful completion of his formal education.
From 1946 to 1954, Christian Atani Okpofaa Otobotekere served as a dedicated public servant within the colonial government. His roles included working as a court interpreter, stenographer, and administrator in the coastal district headquarters of Twon-Brass in the Eastern region of Nigeria. He also contributed his skills in Buea, which was situated in the Cameroons during that time.
After his successful graduation in 1957, he briefly engaged in teaching at the Baptist High School in Port Harcourt. However, he eventually transitioned from the teaching profession to a new chapter in his career by joining the multinational company Shell British Petroleum (BP) as an Accountant. Over a span of nineteen years (1958-1978), he held various significant positions within the company, including Treasurer and later Assistant Controller Finance for the Eastern Division of Shell BP.
Upon his retirement from Shell BP, he diversified his endeavors, venturing into multiple business areas such as real estate, publishing, education ownership, and environmental consulting. He achieved notable success in these pursuits, establishing his own company named Christian Tawi and Sons. This company conducted business transactions with an Italian firm, showcasing his entrepreneurial skills and international engagement.
During the era of the second republic (1979-1983), Christian Atani Okpofaa Otobotekere also ventured into the realm of politics. He became a member of the Great Nigeria People’s Party (GNPP), a political party founded by the esteemed Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim. In addition to his political involvement, he took on significant roles such as being appointed Chairman of the Rivers State Schools Management Committee during this time.
In the year 1984, he received the honor of being appointed as a Lay Magistrate for the Yenagoa Division of the Rivers State Environment Sanitation and Revenue Tribunal. This appointment reflected his dedication to public service and his contributions to the legal and regulatory aspects of the region.
Undoubtedly, Christian Atani Okpofaa Otobotekere possessed noble lineage through his ancestry. It is recounted that he held the natural heritage of descending from two esteemed chieftains on both his paternal and maternal sides: Chief Otobotekere and Chief Akoko of Birifabiri and Ingbelebiri, respectively. This esteemed lineage rendered him deserving to guide and oversee the Otobotekere dynasty. His nomination for this role took place in 1972, and subsequently, in 1973, he earned the position of Amananaowei (King) of the Tombia community. His official coronation took place around 1975, solidifying his status.
Henceforth, he assumed the title of Otobotekere the Okun XIX, Amananaowei of Tombia community, and throughout the following fifty years, he conducted himself with utmost dignity and commanded respect in his role as His Royal Highness. Notably, he also took on the significant responsibility of acting as the interim His Royal Majesty of the Ekpetiama Clan for a period exceeding ten years until approximately 2016. This showcased his leadership and commitment to his community and clan.
The most prominent aspect of the life of the late HRH Christian Atani Okpofaa Otobotekere revolved around contemporary literature, where he gained significant renown as a distinguished Poet. Throughout his lifetime, he accomplished the remarkable feat of publishing 14 books, showcasing his literary prowess. His literary contributions encompassed a wide array of essays, short stories, and poems that delved into diverse philosophical themes. Within the literary circles of the Niger Delta, he garnered the moniker of the “Poet King,” a testament to his poetic brilliance. As of 2022, he held the esteemed distinction of being recognized as the oldest African literary writer, underlining his enduring commitment to the literary craft.
Beyond his passion for composing poems, he displayed a steadfast dedication to supporting the literary community. He held the esteemed position of grand patron of the Bayelsa state chapter of the Association of Nigerian Authors, symbolizing his unwavering commitment to fostering and nurturing literary talent within his region. His role as a patron demonstrated his deep appreciation for the art of writing and his desire to uplift and encourage fellow authors.
Christian Atani Okpofaa Otobotekere’s legacy within the literary world remains a testament to his creative spirit, intellectual contributions, and his role as a guiding figure for aspiring writers in Nigeria and beyond.
In the year 2015, at the remarkable age of 92, Christian Atani Okpofaa Otobotekere endured a distressing ordeal when he was abducted by individuals associated with criminal activities, often referred to as the underworld. This unfortunate incident occurred within his own domain, the Tombia community situated in Yenagoa, Bayelsa state. Following his abduction, he remained at an undisclosed location for several weeks, ensnared within the treacherous and challenging waterways of the Niger Delta, where his captors held him captive.
Throughout this trying period, it is fortunate that he emerged physically unharmed, despite the circumstances he faced. The event marked a sorrowful chapter in the life of the esteemed Poet King, causing not only personal anguish but also casting a shadow over the entire Tombia kingdom. The abduction underscored the vulnerabilities that can befall even the most revered and respected members of a community, serving as a stark reminder of the security challenges prevalent in certain regions.
Family and Some Achievements
The esteemed Poet King, Christian Atani Okpofaa Otobotekere, was acknowledged as a polygamist who embraced family life wholeheartedly. Throughout his lifetime, he was blessed with around 17 children, and his affection for his family was evident as he provided them with the best opportunities life had to offer. Notably, his children have gone on to achieve greatness in various fields, showcasing their intellectual and personal accomplishments.
Beyond his immediate family, Christian Atani Okpofaa Otobotekere extended his benevolence to many individuals of Ijaw descent. He impacted numerous lives both financially and morally, leaving a positive imprint on the community around him. His influence also extended to the establishment of significant institutions within his community. Notable examples include the Ekpetiama Comprehensive High School in Tombia and the Bayelsa State School of Nursing and Midwifery, which he played a role in bringing to fruition.
Moreover, his contributions extended to infrastructure development in the Niger Delta region. He played a pivotal role in facilitating the construction of the Tombia access road connecting various communities. His efforts led Shell BP to embark on clearing works in order to construct a road from Tombia to Gbarantoru to Obunagha in the Gbarain Kingdom, all located within the Yenagoa Local Government Area. Additionally, he supported the late Chief Melford Okilo in the ambitious road construction project from Kaiama via Agudama near Tombia to Amassoma. He even provided a parcel of land in Tombia as the operational base for the construction firm Julius Berger Nigeria Ltd. However, due to the political changes in the country and the fall of the second republic in 1983, the project did not fully materialize as initially envisioned.
Nonetheless, the construction site that once housed Julius Berger later transformed into the campus for the School of Nursing/Midwifery in October 1998. Christian Atani Okpofaa Otobotekere had the privilege of witnessing the completion of the Etegwe, Tombia, and Amassoma road construction project during his lifetime, and he personally benefitted from its use. His legacy of community development and impact lives on through these various contributions and initiatives.
HRH Christian Atani Okpofaa Otobotekere the Okun XIX, Amananaowei of Tombia, who held a revered position in his community, passed away on February 13, 2023, at the age of 98. His departure marked the end of an era and a life rich in accomplishments and contributions.
In recognition of his significance, a fitting and honorable funeral was organized by his family, the Association of Nigerian Authors, and the Bayelsa state government. This commemorative event took place on Saturday, June 24, 2023, providing an opportunity for his loved ones, fellow authors, and the government to pay their respects and celebrate his legacy.
The passing of HRH Christian Atani Okpofaa Otobotekere signifies the end of a remarkable journey, while his enduring impact on his community, the literary world, and beyond continues to resonate.
Clues from Dr Stephen Temegha Olali, PhD, LmHSNChief Historian and Archivist of Bayelsa state, Nigeria, and Biography of His Highness Christian Otobotekere (JP)