Lawrence Baraebibai Ekpebu (1935-2022)

He was a distinguished and knowledgeable professor and diplomat hailing from the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Lawrence Baraebibai Ekpebu holds the distinction of being the first African graduate of Harvard University in the United States. Notably, he played a crucial role in the infrastructure development of the old Rivers State.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Home » Archive » Lawrence Baraebibai Ekpebu (1935-2022)

Diplomat, Professor, Administrator

Early Life and Education

Lawrence Baraebibai Ekpebu was born on May 2, 1935 in Okoloba village in Kolokuma/Opokuma area of present day Bayelsa state to an itinerant rural fisherman, Chief Naupa Baraebibai Opukpapu Ekpebu.

His mother’s name was Mary Geku, the second in an array and beautiful parade of four wives. His grandmother was from Opokuma. The queer circumstances that circumscribed his birth, pointed to the great destiny that beckoned.

The first wife and Larry’s mother had been pregnant but lost their babies. So when his mother was pregnant with Larry, there wasn’t much hope.

But surprisingly, like the late Archbishop Benson idahosa revealed in his book, fire in his bones, how he was abandoned at a garbage heap but miraculously survived. Larry, by a masterstroke of destiny, braced the odds and survived, becoming the first male child of his father.

Like Joseph in the bible, it was only a matter of time before he became the torch bearer and shouldered the burden of the entire family. His father, like Jacob, observed him very closely and noticed, early enough that Larry was a precocious child.

According to etekpe ambily et al (supra), Chief Naupa Baraebibai Opukpapu Ekpebu, therefore, made frantic efforts to get a job in order to provide for his family as a responsible father. It paid off not long afterwards as he landed a job with the British merchant navy where he worked for about 50 years traveling on the high seas and oceans.

Chief Naupa Baraebibai Opukpapu Ekpebu retired in 1967 and lived in Manchester, England then Lagos and finally Port Harcourt. He died at the age of about 126 years. This is why many believe Larry, his first son, shouldn’t have gone home so soon.

No doubt, his father’s struggles galvanized Larry’s propensity and penchant to face the vicissitudes and vagaries of life with all resilience, determination, diligence, discipline and doggedness targeted at carving a respectable and admirable niche. Thus, at age 9, Larry was already climbing palm trees, cutting palm fruits and farming as well as hunting.

It was about this time that he started his primary education. First at Sabagreia in 1943, Opokuma group school, opokuma in 1945 and finally completed his primary education at Reverend Proctor Memorial School, Kaiama in 1948.

The schools at Sabagreia, Opokuma and Kaiama were run by the Church Missionary Society, CMS. Most Fridays Larry and his mates would have exhausted their pocket money and in order to get home, they had to embark on labyrinthian journeys through sand-banks and in canoes along the river nun, oftentimes sleeping by mosquitoes infested river bank.

The educational setting during that period was, to say the least, unfavorable, with substandard boarding facilities, and Larry had to prepare his own meals. The beds, as noted by Etekpe Ambily et al. (2012), were constructed from sticks, and mats were used as makeshift bed sheets. However, akin to Pip, the narrator in Charles Dickens’ renowned work, “Great Expectations,” Larry persevered and pressed forward, gazing at the vibrant blue sky, harboring hope for a brighter future.

As Winston Churchill aptly observes, it is a mistake to look too far ahead, for only one link of the destiny chain can be handled at a time. There remains the power within us to rise above both imagined and real fears and bear the significant burdens that destiny places upon us.

Numerous destinies take shape in the crucible of affliction and adversity, and Larry’s destiny stands as a prime example. In Kaiama, he actively participated in the school band, football team, athletics, and excelled in Ijaw dances like Ayoropi and Masquerade.

Upon completing the first school leaving certificate examination with flying colors in 1948, a major obstacle emerged. There was no secondary school in the Brass Division of the then Eastern Nigeria, preventing him from proceeding immediately to secondary education.

Although he was among ten bright pupils who undertook a perilous journey to Port Harcourt to write the common entrance examination for admission to the renowned Government College Umuahia, they were surprised to find that no results were sent to them due to the ethnic politics prevailing in the Eastern Region at that time.

Opting not to remain idle, Larry secured a position as a shopkeeper with the Christian Missionary Society Bookshop in Port Harcourt. However, he couldn’t bring himself to commence work, as tears welled up in his eyes.

In October/November 1949, his mother, who then sold fish in Calabar, summoned him. Upon arrival, he discovered that admissions had concluded, and classes were already in progress, leaving him astonished.

This challenging and disruptive period of painful hiatus instilled in him the virtues of courage and hard work in the face of adversity. Fortune smiled on him when his father returned to the country and, while in Lagos, sent for Larry to join him, aiming to secure a suitable placement for him in a reputable school.

Consequently, Larry enrolled in Ahmadiya High School, Lagos, in 1950, after his father utilized connections with the principal, an old friend. Larry successfully passed the entrance examination and spent four years at the school.

Remarkably, despite being a Muslim institution, there was no religious segregation or discrimination at the college. Muslim and Christian students studied together, enjoying equal opportunities to explore their worlds. This experience significantly influenced Larry’s philosophy, as he grew to be highly detribalized. He ascended to various leadership positions, becoming the school prefect, president of the school senior literary and debating society, captain of Allison House, president of the geographical society, secretary of the Bay’s Athletic Club, and captain of the swimming team. Such achievements were rare, especially in today’s schools tainted by religious bigotry, ethnic chauvinism, jingoism, and nepotism.

While at Ahmadiya, Lawrence Ekpebu did a lot of fishing (including crab trapping) on part time basis and sometimes he and his Urhobo friend, James Madagawa bought and sold coconut to improve their cash flow in Lagos. He also visited his uncle, Nicholas ayangbo regularly during holiday in a village in Ogun state located several miles along the firewood and load them into big canoes, and then paddle to Lagos to sell.

According to ambily etekpe et al, supra, Larry Ekpebu often remitted the money he made from the sales to his mother and younger ones in the village for their upkeep.

In his words of Lawrence Ekpebu as quoted in etekpe ambily etekpe ambily et al:

“my life at the village toughened me. I did not have anybody to help me. I hadn’t any hope but I knew I wanted to go somewhere…my parents were disciplinarians. We were trained to be strong and kind. I was very kind and read letters to the folks in the villages. I translated Ijaw language into English and wrote letters for them. I fetched water, broke firewood and listened to the elders in their meetings. I got a lot of blessings from these elders because of my humility and obedience. As I listened to them I became vast in the philosophical sayings of my people and it helped shaped me in school. I am happy I grew up in that environment.”

By 1953 when he completed secondary school, another challenge reared its ugly head. This time, there was nobody to sponsor him to university.

His parents were poor. So he took the bull by the horns, dusted his G4 certificate and secured employment with the defunct post and telecommunications where he sorted letters at night. He later wrote and passed the Cambridge school certificate and civil service examination, and was posted to the State Government House at Marina, Lagos as a third grade clerk. Clearly, this was orchestrated by God, as very few civil servants had the privilege of working at the state house.

It was here that he met distinguished personalities such as Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Matiama Sule, A.C Nwapa, Mazi Njoku, K.O Mmbadiwe, and Nwafor Orizu amongst others who helped in nurturing and nourishing his ambitions.

While at the state house, Larry applied to five universities in America, three of which offered him automatic admission based on his history, while two institutions; Harvard and Yale required him to sit for an examination administered by the America College Board.

In time, he took the exams with Harvard as his first choice. Harvard accepted him with a scholarship offer to read political science in 1956 where as the first African graduate since the establishment of the university, he obtained his B.A Honours with distinction 1960.

Indeed, his decision to study at Harvard was greatly influenced by the dialectical postulations of Nnamdi Azikiwe, himself a Harvard graduate and a foremost nationalist at the time, as well as Dr. Kwamw Nkrumah of Ghana and Mbonu Ojike, all Pan Africanists who promoted the slogan ‘Boycott all boycottables’.

Upon completing his studies at Harvard, Lawrence Ekpebu’s insatiable thirst for knowledge led him to another prestigious institution, Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. There, he pursued a Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) and graduated with distinction in 1962, securing the distinction of being the first African graduate. Larry’s journey was marked by a series of pioneering achievements.

Eager to elevate his academic pursuits, he returned to Harvard, earning a Master of Arts (M.A) degree and a Ph.D. in 1965. The challenges inherent in this program were formidable, yet Larry, much like Jacob serving Laban for ten years to marry Rachel, pressed on undeterred by the obstacles. His unwavering commitment to education, described by some as almost pathological, reflected a marriage to scholarship.

Reflecting on his academic journey, Professor Henry Kissinger, Larry’s professor of international politics at Harvard and subsequently America’s esteemed Secretary of State, served as a significant motivator. Larry’s exposure to influential professors like Professor B. Brizingsky, specializing in political theory and later becoming President Carter’s National Security Adviser, significantly shaped his worldview. Larry embraced a method of perceiving, predicting, and explaining cause and effect through flexible, independent, reflective thinking and real-world experiences. This stood in contrast to the conventional role-learning approach prevalent in today’s university methodologies.

During his time at Harvard, Ambassador (Prof.) Lawrence Ekpebu was chosen for a one-year summer internship at the United Nations and another one-year internship at the international branch of Chase Manhattan Bank in New York in 1960 and 1961, respectively. The UN internship provided him with a keen understanding of the activities of the UN Security Council, General Assembly, and the Economic and Social Council.

His exceptional performance during the internships did not go unnoticed, earning him a special commendation letter from David Rockefeller, the President of Chase Manhattan Bank. In subsequent years, Larry returned to Harvard as a fellow of the Institute of International Affairs in 1978-1979 and later in 1996 as a fellow of the Harvard Kennedy School.

Throughout his undergraduate and postgraduate years at Harvard and Princeton, Larry received numerous scholarship awards, recognizing his outstanding character, leadership, scholarship, and athletic abilities. In June 1960, the year he earned his bachelor’s degree, he was honored with the Graduation Prize Scholarship of the university and the Francis H. Burr Scholarship. Notably, Larry remains the only African to have received the 119-year-old Francis H. Burr Scholarship.

Larry also benefited from research grants from ‘Reader’s Digest’ and the African American Institute. An outspoken individual even as a student, Ambassador Lawrence Ekpebu’s unique characteristics set him apart.

Larry Ekpebu and his Kenyan friend, even at personal risk, published an article strongly condemning France’s detonation of an atomic bomb in the Sahara desert. If he were alive today, given his outspoken nature, he might have similarly expressed condemnation or shared insights on ongoing conflicts like the Russian-Ukrainian war and the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Work Experience

After completing high school in Lagos, Lawrence Ekpebu worked as a 3rd class clerk at the Office of the Council of Ministers, State House Marina, Lagos, from 1953 to 1956. Following his graduate studies at Harvard, he became the Director of Student Affairs at the World University Service in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, between 1964 and 1965.

In this role, he utilized the platform to distribute numerous books to various African university libraries, including the Kenneth Dike Library at the University of Ibadan, to benefit indigent African students. Ekpebu’s outstanding performance at Harvard led to increased admissions for Nigerians and Africans at the university.

A selfless individual, Ambassador Ekpebu aimed to make life easier for those coming after him, providing a valuable lesson for political and business leaders. In 1965, he returned to Nigeria and accepted a teaching position at the University of Ibadan as a Lecturer, despite offers from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and the University of Lagos.

He was appointed Assistant Warden of Independence Hall at the University of Ibadan in 1965 and later served as the university’s representative on the National Committee on International Human Rights Year in 1968. Over 35 years at the University of Ibadan, Ekpebu held various positions, including heading the Department of Political Science. He was also a fellow at the Center for International Affairs, Harvard University.

Ambassador Ekpebu’s contributions extended beyond academia. In 1970, he became a member of the Executive Board of the Pan African Journal, and by 1971, he was appointed as a member of the Editorial Board of the Quarterly Journal of Administration. From 1978 to 1981, he served as the Association Editor for “ALTERNATIVES,” a journal of world politics published in New York and New Delhi, and was a member of the Board of Advisers in 1981.

His international engagements included roles as a visiting scholar at the University of East Africa, Makerere, Uganda, the University of Massachusetts, USA, and the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria. Additionally, Ekpebu served as an external examiner for Ahmadu Bello University, Obafemi Awolowo University, and the University of Port Harcourt. He acted as an interviewer/examiner for the Commonwealth Scholarship and was a nominator for the Parvin Fellowship for the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, USA, since 1960.

Government Service

His impressive career trajectory brought him into the spotlight of the then military government. Consequently, Larry Ekpebu was in 1968 appointed the first Commissioner for Finance in the old Rivers state. He was away to deliver a paper titled ‘Cohesion and Fragmentation in African Politics the Minorities and the Nigeria Crises’ organized by the Social Science faculty of the University of East Africa Kampala, Uganda on invitation of Professor Ali Mazurui then heard of political science of the Makerere University, where the news filtered in.

He had earlier on delivered another lecture at the seventh world conference of political scientists where he upbraided proponents of Biafra. After the lecture he returned to Port Harcourt. He life was under threat for doing that.

There was at the time, a considerable no love lost between Brigadier Benjamin Adekunle, General Officer Commanding the 3rd Marine commando and Administrator of Port Harcourt on the one hand , and the then Governor Alfred Diete Spiff. It was Ekpebu, Dr Obi Wali, Ken Saro Wiwa to reconciled the duo. He served as commissioner in old rivers state til 1976.

As a core Pan Nigerian, Pan African and Pan Niger-Deltan and an unapologetic apostle of federalism, he didn’t mince words in writing to the then colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu telling him that secession was not the solution to the problem of Nigeria. This almost cost him his life as he was tagged ‘anti-biafra’ and traps were set to eliminate him.

As commissioner, he leveraged his position to drive the agenda of sustainable development of the newly created state. Firstly he initiated and played a key role in the setting up the Pan African Bank, Rivbank Insurance Company, Delta Hotels and Pabod Family of Investment and commercial companies as well as the reactivation of the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria which provided employment opportunities and served as a launchpad for several notable Ijaw sons and daughters to rise through the ranks and dominate the banking and business space.

Secondly, he played a strategic role in setting up Treasury and sub treasury offices of government as well as the setting up of the necessary physical and social infrastructure for a viable local government administration in the new state as well as drafting tax laws and other regulations required to provide the regulatory and legal framework for the successful take off the state.

His memo on ‘creation of more divisions’ led to the creation of 18 additional divisions for Rivers state. The Military Governor of the state, Alfred Diete Spiff was quoted as describing Larry Ekpebu as a great contributor to his administration and a backbone of his government.

It must be emphasized that most of these structures were later imported into Bayelsa state following its creation in 1996 with Lawrence Ekpebu still playing a distinctively prominent role not just in its creation, but also in the deployment of these tried and tested administrative structure to accelerate development.

His role in the industrial revolution of Rivers state is of note. He was instrumental in turning around the economic fortunes of the state through world bank loans deployed into the setting up of Risonpalm, the biggest of palm plantation in Africa at the time with an outlet at Oruma in Bayelsa state.

Sadly today, very little is heard of this gigantic agricultural investment as the Bayelsa outpost is moribund and has faded into oblivion.

During the Nigerian civil war, Lawrence Ekpebu was selected by the Federal Government for a lecture tour to Europe and the USA. He was at the forefront for championing the resettlement and administration of Ijaw who had been expelled from Ghana following persecution by then Head of State General Bussai for standing with Nigeria in the civil war.

He was Chairman Rivers state Tenders Board on the construction of the State Secretariat which till today probably still passes for the most impressive edifice in the state. He was also in the forefront for the agitation for federal Government take over of the construction of the east west road in the Niger delta and other geographical zones.

As commissioner for Economic Development between 1974 and 1975, Lawrence Ekpebu was one of the selected few eggheads involved in the conceptualization and drafting of the “Third National Development Plan” for the Nigeria federation.

In recognition of his robust achievement, the state government added the role of commissioner for information to his already choking portfolio. Thus in 1974 and 1975 as the Chief spokesperson of government. He was involved in the preparation of the states participation in the National Festival For Arts and Culture which took place in 1977. Professor Ekpebu was already used to multitasking and working under intense pressure so the challenge presented little or no difficulty to surmount. He also played a key national role in organizing trips to Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda to monitor and encourage East Africans planning for their participation in the national fiesta.

During the Murtala Mohammed/Obasanjo regime Professor Ekpebu was appointed foreign policy adviser to the federal government while still lecturing at the University of Ibadan.

This was following years later by his appointment as Ambassador Extra ordinaire and plenipotentiary to Cote D’ Ivoire from June 1, 1984 to 1991 and was decorated by the host country with the highest national honors of the ‘Grand Order of the Republic of Cote D’ Ivoire’ for contributing to a significant improvement in the quality of the diplomatic corp in Abidjan especially as Abidjan had supported Biafra during the unfortunate civil war.

In recognition of his distinguished career, President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed Professor Ekpebu to the presidential committee responsible for concluding the activities of the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission and the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in 2000. Following the establishment of the NDDC, he was then elevated to the position of Chairman of the Presidential Monitoring Committee on the NDDC, tasked with overseeing fund management and project implementation. In 2008, he became a member of the Technical Committee on the Niger Delta.

Professor Ekpebu also played significant roles at the state level, serving as an Adviser to the government of Bayelsa state and contributing to the development of the master plan for the capital city of Yenagoa. Additionally, he was a member of the support team to the Bayelsa state delegation to the National Political Reform Conference in 2005.

On the home front, he played a crucial role in the establishment of the Asoama Development Scheme launchpad at the Isaac Boro Park in Port Harcourt in 1971. This initiative, a joint community self-help development project by the people of Opokuma, Ayibabiri, and Sagbagreia, with Chief Melford Okilo, Dr. Nabo Graham Douglas, and Alfred Diete-Spiff as patrons, resulted in the construction of a General Hospital and a Central Market through communal efforts and foreign missions.

After the military coup of 1975 led to the end of General Gowon’s administration, Ekpebu returned to Ibadan to continue lecturing. However, he was soon appointed as the Foreign Policy Adviser in 1976 during the Murtala/Obasanjo regime. This period, often referred to as the golden era of Nigeria’s foreign policy, presented diplomatic challenges, including a stand-off with Britain over the rationalization of British Petroleum and a diplomatic row over Zimbabwe’s liberation. Nigeria’s position prevailed, and the country’s foreign policy became centered on Africa under Murtala’s influence.

In 1984, General Muhammadu Buhari appointed Ekpebu as the Ambassador to Cote d’Ivoire, a position he held until 1991 under the subsequent administration of General Ibrahim Babangida.

Lawrence Ekpebu’s diplomatic career was remarkable, earning praise even from political tactician IBB. After Buhari’s overthrow and IBB assumed power, Cote d’Ivoire surprisingly requested the retention of Lawrence Ekpebu as Nigeria’s ambassador, despite the bilateral strains between the two countries over Biafra and linguistic differences. He skillfully used diplomatic finesse, securing Cote d’Ivoire’s support for Nigeria’s actions, including navigating their airspace to bomb Charles Taylor’s stronghold.

Ekpebu strategically garnered backing from Cote d’Ivoire and other Francophone nations to elect Nigerian Joe Garba as Chairman of the UN General Assembly. He also persuaded them to align with Nigeria’s stance in Liberia, collaborating with Samuel Doe to counter Charles Taylor.

Notably, he advocated for Nigeria’s leverage in the African Development Bank (ADB) to extend infrastructure loans to Nigerian businesses, resulting in various financial initiatives nationwide. Despite some issues, he secured research grants for the Peremabiri rice farms, although the ADB loan process faced later controversies.

Regularly involved in policy reviews, he urged the government to incentivize Nigerians abroad to invest in Abuja, facilitating national development, a move that saw success during President Obasanjo’s administration.

Recognizing the importance of language, Ekpebu advised introducing foreign language education in Nigerian schools, notably suggesting French, and played a vital role in encouraging language acquisition among Nigerians.

Known for his principled stance, he opposed President Obasanjo’s attempt to merge the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, deeming it ill-advised. For his exceptional service, the government of President Felix Houphouet-Boigny conferred on him the highest national honor, the Grand Order of the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire, in 1991.

Governing Councils

From 1967 to 1969, Lawrence served as the University of Ibadan representative on the governing council of the Nigerian Institute of Management (NIM) in Lagos.

Subsequently, from 1970 to 1975, he was a member of the governing council of the Institute of International Affairs. During this period, he served under the distinguished chairmanships of Chief Justices Sir Adetokunbo Ademola and Chief Taslim Elias.

In 1978, he assumed the role of a council member at the University of Ilorin, a position he held until 1982.

Between 1994 and 1998, Lawrence Ekpebu took on the role of Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Council of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology (now Rivers State University).

Academic Distinctions and Extra Curriculum Honours

In addition to being the first African Harvard graduate and the first African graduate (MPA) of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, Lawrence Ekpebu garnered honors in sports. He secured a place in the first eleven in the All Ivy Universities, comprising Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Dartmouth, Brown, and Pennsylvania. His athletic prowess extended to making the first eleven of the All New England team in 1959, and he earned distinctions in house athletics, swimming, and volleyball.

Similar to the renowned late Major Isaac Adaka Boro of Kaiama, who later became the Student Union President at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Lawrence Ekpebu actively engaged in student politics. Serving for two years as the President of the Harvard Student Union Council, he spearheaded substantial improvements in student welfare. Recognizing his exemplary track record, he was appointed to the Executive Committee (Exco) of the Harvard United Nations Council and the Harvard Lowell House Committee.

Lawrence held various positions within the Pan African Student Organization of the Americas and the Nigeria Student Union of the United States of America. Additionally, he briefly served as the Secretary-General of the Princeton University Graduate Hall.

Special Recognition

Due to his significant contributions to education, Lawrence Ekpebu received several prestigious honors and awards. In the year 2000, he was inducted into the International Educators Hall of Fame in Cairo, Egypt. The Institute of Industrial Administration recognized his accomplishments in 2005, presenting him with the Distinguished Educational Leadership Award.

His outstanding contributions to African education and diplomacy were acknowledged by both the International Biographical Centre in Cambridge, England, and the American Biographical Institute. Additionally, he became a member of the International Book of Honors, International Leaders in Achievement, the first five hundred, and the International Who’s Who of Intellectuals in Nigeria Society of International Law. He was also listed in Who’s Who in Nigeria and Who’s Who in his home state, Bayelsa.

In acknowledgment of his exceptional service to the nation and distinguished scholarship, President Olusegun Obasanjo conferred on Ambassador (Prof) Lawrence Ekpebu the highest national merit award, the ‘Officer of the Federal Republic’ (OFR), on December 25, 2005. He also held the title of Justice of the Peace. Regarding his political ideology and philosophy, he believed that the only career for a person is to serve God and mankind, irrespective of age and circumstances, with skills and education being the means to fulfill this sacred calling.

Ideology

The late Ambassador (Prof) Lawrence Ekpebu’s political ideology was significantly shaped by the Ijaw/Rivers people’s strong desire for self-determination and social justice, both during British colonial rule and in post-independence Nigeria. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the leader of the Nigeria Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) after the death of Herbert Macaulay in 1944, played a pivotal role in influencing Ekpebu’s political views. In fact, Ekpebu wrote his Bachelor of Arts (B.A) thesis on Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe.

The NCNC, under Azikiwe’s leadership, stood against and fought the British policies of land acquisition ordinances and the imposition of chiefs. The internal conflicts within the NCNC, which later led to the formation of the Omo Egbe Oduduwa Yoruba group and eventually the Action Group party in the west, along with the political developments in Ghana under Kwame Nkrumah and the Northern-controlled NPC, reinforced the idea in Ekpebu’s mind that political power in Nigeria rested on a tripod— the Igbos of NCNC, the Yoruba of the Action Group, and the NPC of the Hausa/Fulani, leaving the minorities marginalized and excluded from the Nigerian political landscape.

This realization fueled Ekpebu’s commitment to social justice, aligning with Professor Wole Soyinka’s ideology expressed in the book “The Man Died” that the man dies in him who keeps silence in the face of tyranny. Ekpebu refused to remain silent and inactive while witnessing the oppression and marginalization of his people, particularly the eastern minorities, including the Ijaw, Efiks, Ibibios, etc.

He actively participated in the Ijaw National Congress (INC), serving as a member in the committee of elders appointed by the Military Administrator of Rivers state, Col. Dauda Komo, to resolve a leadership impasse in the congress. His involvement in resolving the leadership dispute, leading to elections and a national convention, earned him the position of Chairman of the 3rd National Convention Steering Committee of the INC in 1995. This involvement endeared him to Ijaw people both in Nigeria and in the diaspora.

Ultimately, the INC elected Joshua Fumudoh as President, and Ekpebu’s efforts contributed to the political empowerment of the Ijaw people. In 2000, Professor Kimse Okoko was elected President of the INC at a convention held in Yenagoa, Bayelsa state.

Religion

His parents weren’t particularly christian in the strict sense of the word. They believed in God quite alright, but they weren’t devoted Christians.

Lawrence Ekpebu however was a devout christian. He was baptized in Kaiama by Reverend Abaye in 1947 and confirmed at the Christ Church Cathedral , Marina Lagos by H.G Howells, Bishop of West Africa in 1950.

On Sunday June 4, 2011, he was invested with Knight of the sacred Order of St. Christopher, KSC, of the Anglican Communion, Diocese of Northern Izon.

Until his death, he was a devoted member of Christ church Interdenominational in Port Harcourt, while he worked tirelessly putting in resources to ensure the successful establishment of the CMS in Bayelsa state.

Back in his primary school days in Kolokuma/Opokuma, attendance on church on Sundays was compulsory for pupils. His headmaster, late Friedrich Agama from Atissa and his teacher, late A.A Asamowei enforced discipline in church attendance and punished offenders.

As a chorister in Opokuma when there were no organs or pianos in the village. Larry would raised the tune of the first stanza before everyone else started singing. This was the time when Chief Ali Akene was the songster at Kaiama.

The late Lawrence Ekpebu was therefore a deeply religious man, yet he wasn’t one given to religious fanaticism.

Family

After completing his studies at Harvard University in 1965, Ambassador Lawrence Ekpebu entered into matrimony with his Kenyan wife, Rose Wanjiko Gishoki. They exchanged vows on August 25, 1965, at the Harvard Memorial Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

Upon Larry’s return to Nigeria, where he became part of the government led by Governor Alfred Diete Spiff during a time of looming war, Rose initially stayed back in Ibadan and later joined him in Port Harcourt. Throughout their life together, Rose served as the Principal of Holy Rosary Secondary School in Port Harcourt.

Together, Lawrence and Rose Ekpebu were blessed with 20 children and had 24 grandchildren. Their marriage was a testament to their commitment to each other and their shared journey through various phases of life.

Death

Ambassador Lawrence Ekpebu erudite scholar, diplomat and administrator, passed away in Yenagoa after a brief illness on the 2nd of January, 2022 at 87.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share Article:
Photo of author
Author
Abalijay
"Timeless Persons" is a personal blog project created by me with the aim of sharing the biographies of remarkable individuals from the Niger Delta region and beyond. The blog serves as a platform to captivate and stimulate your thoughts, encouraging reflection on the past, fostering a positive mindset in the present, and inspiring hope for a better future.