Hon T.N. Paul Birabi: The Forgotten Nigerian Nationalist

Source: pointblanknews.com
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By Davio Teniente
I will begin with one of my favourite quotes: “If Nigeria were to be a

limited liability company, Hon T.N. Paul Birabi would have been a major

Reading through the Biography of Hon. Timothy Naakuu Paul Birabi

(1916-1953), member of the Nigerian delegation who attended the London

conference of 1953 to negotiate Nigeria's independence, founder of the

first secondary school in Ogoniland, founder of the first hospital in

Ogoniland, the first Ogoni university graduate, the man who was

instrumental to the establishment of over 50 primary schools in Ogoni

land, i found the exclusion of this gentleman from the Nigeria's centenary

honours list as representing the diminishing capacity of our country and

those we choose to make decisions for us.
Hon. T.N. Paul Birabi's exclusion from the centenary awards list hurts the

true spirit of our nationhood. It hurts the efforts of this great and

exceptional founding father and nationalist, his friends like Dr Nnamdi

Azikiwe who knew him personally and acknowledged his capacity during his

speech at his graveside.
I am in difficulty of finding the most apt words to describe this

government's decision to exclude Hon. Birabi from Nigeria's centenary

honours list. I blame not just those who sat to make the selection but the

fact that those who approved the selected list could not identify the

absence of Hon. T.N. Paul Birabi is to show the level of depravity we

accord to national commitment. I could only reason that those who made the

selection were most likely not in right tune with Nigeria's history, I

reason that they were too much in a hurry to do a decent job or they could

have been influenced by the fact that this great nationalist came from a

small and marginalized community – Ogoniland.
Hon T.N. Paul Birabi's achievements are simply staggering and i see no

possibility of an Ogoniman who can match the heights attained by this

gentleman. Unfortunately, he died in 1953 at the age of 37. May his soul

rest in peace.
Eminent historians, Profs. Tamuno and Alagoa, wrote his biography and had

this to say about him:
“When Timothy Naakuru Paul Birabi left the safety of his teaching

profession to join the boisterous field of politics his challenges seemed

to increase. In 1953 he was fully involved in the crisis that had

entangled the National Council of Nigeria and with the Cameroons (N.C.N.C)

hierarchy at the Eastern House of Assembly in Enugu. The Council of

ministers led by Prof. Eyo-Ita had rebelled against the N.C.N.C party and

the Eastern House of Assembly was dissolved just one year after the

legislature had been introduced. This meant that he had to go back to the

Ogoni electorate to seek re-election. His reputation before his death

stretched beyond the precincts of his community and he had acquired

national significance as a member of Nigeria's highest legislative chamber

the Federal House of Representatives.
It was as a member of N.C.N.C. team that he went to London in 1953 along

with representatives of Northern People Congress (NPC) and Action Group

Party to negotiate with British Government at constitutional conference

that ushered in autonomous Government and subsequent independence for

Although a member of the official N.C.N.C. delegation at that time he was

also the president of River's association, an organisation set up to

campaign for special treatment in the provision of social amenities for

the Niger Delta people of Nigeria. Timothy Naakuu Paul Birabi championed

the proposal of chief Dappa Biriye for treating the people of the Niger

Delta, which include the ogoni people, as unique area requiring a special

development programme. It was these shared view that led the British

Government to institute the Willink commission of inquiry in 1957 to

explore the demands of the Niger Delta for the creation of a separate

state to cater for peculiar needs of its people was either understood by

their neighbours in what was then eastern Nigeria.

The commission headed by British administrator Mr. Henry Willink did not

recommend the creation of a separate state. However, it recommended that

because of specific challenges of the region and what appeared to be

neglect by the Government of eastern Nigeria, the Federal Nigerian Delta

Development Authority be established to find solution to address the

problem of the region. These were all the precursors to the establishment

of the present Rivers State which was created by the Federal Military

Government in May 1968. Indeed Timothy Naakuu Paul Birabi M.H.R. (Member

House of Representatives) had within his short spell with the N.C.N.C.

made such an impact that he was already positioned as Minister for

Education following the 1953 elections.
On his return to Nigeria in October 1953 from the Constitution Conference,

he found his wife had fallen ill. Sadly Mrs Paul Birabi never recovered

and later passed away from acute malaria shortly afterwards on 11th

October 1953 at the age of just twenty two. This tragedy left Timothy

Naakuru Paul Birabi broken-hearted and with two small children. He fell

ill himself shortly afterwards and was taken to General Hospital in Bori.

However on the 23rd November 1953 Timothy Naakuru Paul Birabi passed away

at the age of 37 throwing the entire Ogoni community into mourning.

Timothy Naakuru Paul Birabi path to greatness is connected with various

activities and achievements during the last five years of his life. These

were so profound that the history of the change which occurred in the

social, educational and political history of Ogoni read like the history

of the life and achievements of Timothy Naakuru Paul birabi. He was a

leader and motivator and his personality was embossed on the mode of the

various changes that occurred within Ogoni between 1948 and 1953. Never

before or since has such a profound, lasting and momentous change occurred

within Ogoni. Even if one concedes that the changes were bound to occur,

the timing and style of these changes were certainly attributable to his

leadership and sheer force of personality. Furthermore, he was the first

Ogoni man not only to obtain an academic degree, but to critically use his

education as an instrument to better his people by addressing fundamental

issues of development.
Socially the Ogoni community into which Timothy Naakuru Paul Birabi was

born was essentially an illiterate one. Engrossed in agricultural

pursuits, the Ogoni appeared to be under the yolk of their more civilized

neighbours. As such the Ogoni nationality owes her exposure in educational

pursuits and achievements in the 1950s and 60s both to his personal

example and his mission. The success of Timothy Naakuru Paul Birabi the

first Ogoniman who rose from humble beginnings to frame through the

attainment of University education – is still a shining beacon of what can

be achieved if one applies oneself to academic pursuit for the benefit of

the community.
For a man from one of the smallest tribes in Nigeria to have been held in

such high esteem by colleagues from all parts of the region in the

National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (N.C.N.C) was proof of the

recognition of Timothy Naakuru Paul Birabi's qualities and abilities among

his party members. Although death deprived the nation of exploiting his

full potential, it is a tribute to his memory that his potential was

acknowledged by the party hierarchy.
His unrelenting representation of his people is still, to this day

unparalleled. He pressured the N.C.N.C government of Eastern Nigeria to

grant scholarship to qualified sons of Ogoni to study abroad. Two

prominent beneficiaries were Messrs Monday Danwi (Medicine) and Ignatius

Kogbara (History and Political Science). By spearheading the establishment

of post primary schools in Ogoni he sought to bring education nearer to

his people. Amongst all his achievements and contributions to his

community, one intangible but immensely important milestone stands out and

has lived on long after his death. Administratively, the Ogoni were

treated as an appendage of the Opobo and administered as part of the

Calabar province. Indeed it is due to Timothy Naakuru Paul Birabi and a

small number of other Ogoni leaders that Ogoni has its separate identity

today. He preached the unity of the Ogoni and the right to equality with

their neighbours. To the Ogoni, maligned and treated with derision by

their more educated and wealthier neighbours, Timothy Naakuu Paul Birabi's

abilities and achievements stood unparalleled and helped to promote the

confidence and pride of the people. As such the Ogoni have since held

their own, politically and socially.
Dr. Azikiwe's funeral service tribute at the grave side of the late

Timothy Naakuru Paul Birabi, MHR., B.A., F.R.G.S. still remains the most

apt description of this general, charismatic son of Ogoni:

“Nigeria has lost a worthy son and the Ogoni nation has lost a sun “.

He is well and truly established as the father of Modern Ogoni.”

T.N. Paul Birabi is accepted as the greatest leader the Ogoni community

has ever had. He is yardstick against which subsequent leaders had been

measured and his name still conjures amongst the Ogoni a reverence and

call for unity which no other leader before or since has been able to

Nigeria did not deem it fit to honour this great gift to our dear country.

An action that over 1,000,000 Ogoni people will consider a continuum of

Nigeria's oppression of the Ogoni people. An action that could evoke the

perception of Ogoni oppression as a state policy. An action that could

hurt Ogoni patriotism within the Nigerian state and move our society

significantly backward as one where achievement and excellence are never

An apology for this grievous mistake will not be enough. The remedy will

be a national honour in recognition for this man, an exceptionally

brilliant personality whose exit affected Nigeria's future in a way only

those who understand, his capacity and the educational revolution Nigeria

forfeited by his not mounting the office of a federal minister for

education, can appreciate. If for nothing, he deserves to be honored for

his role in the negotiation of Nigeria's independence and for the

education and care he gave to a section of this country – the Ogoni

Author: Fegalo Nsuke, founder of Ogoninews.com. For comments, email to:

[email protected]