By Emmanuel Yawe.
In 1995, General Olusegun Obasanjo was at his lowest rung of life.
Arrested, tried in camera and given a death sentence for plotting to oust General Sani Abacha, the former Head of State was sitting there in prison, waiting for the hangman’s noose.
Many Nigerians were outraged. Gen Abacha was considered a cruel usurper of the office that belonged by process to Chief Abiola who contested and won the Presidency in an election that was considered
free and fair. The nullification of that process set in motion a chain of actions that culminated into a military coup with Gen Abacha as the new Head of State.
Among the many outrageous things achieved by Abacha was the jailing of his former boss, Olusegun Obasanjo.
Many Nigerians, both prominent and lowly protested to no avail. One man carried out his protest against the injustice quietly.
Mr Stephen Ibn Akiga, a retired officer with the Nigeria Prison Service was running his private business in Jos when the jailed former Head of State was brought to the prison facility in the town.
He decided to protest the conviction and jailing in his own way; making sure the man had some comfort in prison. Using his old contacts still in the service, he succeeded.
But before long, Abacha decided that Obasanjo must be moved further afield, this time to Yola, the Adamawa state capital.
Still, Stephen Akiga who had no personal relationship with Obasanjo before his travails followed up.
To Yola prison he went offering the same services he did in Jos.
Given Abacha’s penchant for making enemies with friends of his own enemies, this was a very risky thing to do.
Stephen was warned by many of the risks he was taking.
The man still went ahead to be a Good Samaritan to Obasanjo – regardless.
It is often said of Obasanjo that he is an ingrate who repays good with evil.
There is however every evidence to show that in his relationship with Stephen Akiga, he broke his own rules. So grateful was he to the services from Stephen that he rewarded him with a political appointment when he was elected President in 1999. In that year, Stephen was appointed the President’s Assistant on Prison reforms. That was his first step to the slippery world of Nigerian politics. For a man who was completely apolitical, many were surprised that he even accepted the offer. In the end, it would ultimately lead to his pre mature death. When Dr Iyorchia Ayu, Obasanjo’s Minister of Industry fell out of favour, Stephen was promoted to take over his office as a Minister. He was later moved to Police Affairs and then Sports ministries.
In his second term, Obasanjo re engaged Dr. Ayu whom he had earlier dropped as a Minister. The former apolitical Stephen had however tasted the forbidden fruit of politics and was now neck deep in it.
Out of Federal Cabinet, he started making plans for his involvement in the gubernatorial contest in his home state of Benue come 2007. Anybody familiar with Benue politics knew that Stephen stood a good chance of making it.
Then he suddenly took ill. He was rushed to the hospital where he died mysteriously after vomiting bowls and bowls of blood. Given the fact that he had suddenly gathered weight in politics, there were
suspicious stories making the rounds. Even his doctors suspected food poisoning and advised that an autopsy could help. His Uncle, Dr Solomon Akiga objected saying that whatever the outcome of the
autopsy, Stephen would not come back to life.
A clue into his mysterious death was however given by one Mr Conrad Wergba in an interview widely published by National Dailies in 2010.
Mr Wergba an aide of Governor Suswam declared in the interview that the death of Akiga was a “blessing”. From his utterances, it is possible that Wergba may have known what we do not know about this suspicious death.
Mr Conrad (who is dead now) was a Tiv man. In Tiv tradition, you do not celebrate the death of another man even if he was your inveterate enemy.
The Tiv have a Traditional Council that looks into it’s cultural affairs with. The Tor Tiv is its President.
I expected that since Akiga was such a prominent Tiv son, anybody describing his death as a blessing to his political fortunes or that of his master would be called to explain what he knew about the death. To the best of my knowledge, the Tiv Traditional Council never queried him.
Mr. Conrad Wergba was a Christian. In Christianity, there is only one man whose death is accepted as a blessing.
That man is Jesus the Christ. It is therefore blasphemous in Christianity to describe the death of another man in whatever form as blessing.
I expected whatever Church Conrad belonged to, to call him to order. I never heard that his church did such a thing.
Then, the Nigeria Police. There was every indication that Stephen Akiga was murdered. Even though his uncle stopped all efforts at autopsy, the medical report by his doctors cast enough suspicion on the manner of his death.
For a man who once presided over their affairs, I expected the police to call Conrad and ask him one or two questions. Nobody did.
Ten years after his death nobody is asking questions about a man who served for almost four years and saved the life of a future President who could have died an unjust death. His good deed at that time –
selflessly executed – won him over to President Obasanjo. The fear was that with Obasanjo on his side and given the respect accorded the Akiga family name, he was unstoppable in his race to the governor’s office in Makurdi.
Those who hatched the plot to assassinate him definitely saw his death as a blessing.
All those who knew Stephen Akiga before his death ten years ago knew him as a cultured man.
There is a long family history to it.
His great grandfather, Chief Saaiutu Deekpe pioneered the advent of hristianity to Tivland.
He it was who in 1911 admitted South African Missionaries to his home from where they spread Christianity, leading to a situation where over 90% of Tiv population is Christian today.
His grand father Akiga Sai was the first Tiv man to be baptized a Christian and first Tiv man to be literate. His father, Daniel Akiga was a British trained nurse who traversed the Northern Region, offering medical services. His uncle Ishoribo Sai was the first Tivman to be ordained a Priest.
Another uncle Ezekiel Akiga was the first Tiv man to earn a University degree.
Stephen Akiga also scored his own first; he is the first Tiv man I know whose death is said to be a “blessing” even by his foes! Certainly, he did not die in vain.