His Life

My Ordeal as an Orphan

I attended St Patrick’s (Anglican) School, Tombia and read up to standard six. The death of my parents, one after the other, my father in July 1931 and my mother in June 1932, sealed my hope for further education. The incidence on death in my mother’s family was terrible, the toll was so high and was happening so speedily one after the other after the other, which made it clear to all that it was something un-natural or mysterious. The situation was such that to anticipate any form of help from that side was a day-dream.


After the funeral ceremonies of my late father, my paternal uncle, Mr. J. F. Ikiroma-Owiye (not a chief then), approached my mother who was still alive then, pleaded with her to take me away in response to my late father’s (his late elder brother’s) assignment to him before he died. According to him, it was my father last and only utterance on his dying bed, that he my uncle J.F. Ikiroma-Owiye, take me from my mother and train me and also take good care of me. But my mother, as out-spoken as she was, bluntly refused, saying that he would not do anything for me but rather he would use me as a servant (slave). She said further, that theirs was a family where each person cared for his/her own and none would agree to be his/her brother’s keeper. Of course my uncle still persisted and my mother continued to resist, only to yield at the intervention of my grand-mother (her mother).


Eventually he took me to Port-Harcourt his business base and dumped me in his stores as a shop-boy – and that was all – no training, no school. It was a sad experience indeed, but there is no need to recount here all my experiences during those few years of my stay with him. I leave the rest for history to relate. But one thing that gives me joy and satisfaction is the fact that I still regarded and treated him as a father until he passed on to the great beyond in the year 1965.


In my desperate effort to secure something to sustain myself and more especially to be in a position to help and encourage my late mother’s family whose condition was pathetic and disturbing. I followed my elder cousin Mr. Thomas Sagbe Fineface to the fishing ports for fishing. He was very nice to me, had my interest at heart and with his wives treated me very well, but even then I refused to train as a fisherman, because as a profession, fishing did not appeal to me. I was there for four years without achieving anything. I switched over to petty trading; that is buying some foodstuffs such as garri, cocoyam, etc. and selling them at the fishing ports in exchange for smoked fish. But that also did not prove any better, due mainly to lack of capital.
Incidentally, it was during this most trying period of my life that I got married to my only life partner Mrs. Eugenia Sini Korubo-Owiye (nee Eugenia or Ethel Charles Orutari). The first time I saw her was during our school days as kiddies. After a short spell she was withdrawn from school by her father who, like most fathers at that time, did not favor women education and so sent her to his sister (her aunt) for service as a house-help. Our coming at a later age to become husband and wife was a big surprise to many, but the circumstances are such that one will term the whole package the handiwork or nature. Both her mother and father were very much in favor, so also my relations (my mother was no longer alive then) and were joined in marriage without any strings attached. That was in 1938 and in May 1939, we had our first issue. I tried very hard to go in for the traditional ‘Iya’ marriage later, but when I mentioned this to the parents, the father (my father-in-law) accepted the idea whole-heartedly, but the mother (my mother-in-law) refused saying that her late father William Akobo had ruled before his death that no daughter of his should be married according to native law and custom, that is the ‘Iya’ marriage and taken away. I did everything possible to convince her, but to no avail. Therefore, I left the matter to God to direct us.
Throughout the period of my hardship and toiling, I had a feeling running within me, telling me that I had a place in life which is my destined calling, but which I had not come across yet. In my frantic effort to reach the natural plan, I wrote to the secretary to the Archbishop of Canterbury for help because I was ‘informed’ that he was such a nice man and was always disposed to helping the poor and the needy. I saw the address on a piece of a certain local newspaper and cleverly cutting out the address, I used it to write him direct.  In the letter I narrated to him my plight in life, concluding that what I needed most was training to further my education.
Several months after I dispatched that letter, I was invited on a day by the then headmaster of our school, one Mr. Christopher Akparanta, to see him at the parsonage. Immediately, I went, as I had nothing doing then than play about and saw almost all members of the parochial committee of the church. I was flabbergasted! The headmaster/catechist asked if I knew anything about a letter to the secretary of the Archbishop of Canterbury. I replied yes, I wrote a letter to the secretary some months ago. He asked me to tell the house what I wrote in the letter, and I told them that I appealed to him for help to enable attend school as that was my greatest need and I had no help anywhere. At this stage Pa Leopold Akobo, the father of the church was so enraged and could not contain himself. He suggested that I should be given some strokes of the cane for daring to write to a dignitary, and that my action amounted to disrespect for constituted authority. The headmaster/Catechist and all other members of the committee were in sympathy with me and did not accept papa Akobo’s suggestion. Both my letter to the secretary which was returned and the secretary’s covering letter returning mine were read to the house. What happened was that the secretary to the Archbishop reyturned my letter to the supervisory pastor, then Rev. Ikalamo, at the St Augustine’s church Abonema, requesting him to pass same onward to Tombia, for the catechist in charge and the Parochial committee to invite and warn me against the future. The house noted that the fault in my action was that I dispatched the letter direct to the ‘Dignitary’; instead of passing through the appropriate channel otherwise there was nothing wrong in asking for help. I was asked to go and guard against such action in future. I thanked them and went away.
Our wise men say that the darker or darkest cloud foretells the dawn of a new day. As I said earlier, I always had the feeling that I had not reached my destined position in life, and that all the things in which I engaged myself were only a matter of playing for time.
The Second World War broke out in 1939, and a good number of able-bodied young men in Kalabari land, including Tombia, were recruited. Later there was a call by the government (then colonial government), for all able-bodied young men to join the army. Announcements went round all the towns and villages with placards posted in public and private places, on the roads and on the streets, reading, “Join the Army and learn a trade.” It occurred to me that it was perhaps the opportunity I was waiting for and I had thought of joining the army to learn a trade. But I had a dilemma, that is, how to leave my wife and the little kiddies for an unknown destination and an unusual life. It is one of two things, either to lose one’s life or to survive, and survival has two factors, either to survive whole and able-bodied or to survive maimed and disable for life. However, I decided to seize the opportunity to join the opportunity to join the army, after taking many factors into consideration. I felt that if I joined the army and mastered a trade, that would enable me to stand on my own, and become an asset to my people and not a liability to anyone. That is, if by the grace of the almighty, I returned home safe, whole and able-bodied after the war.
When I revealed my plan to my wife, her countenance changed immediately, although she did not favour the idea, yet she was unable to come out plain. She invoked my sympathy at once and her condition so discouraged me to the extent of almost disarming me. But I was determined and my mind was already made up. Finally, I left for Prt-Harcourt for the recruitment exercise. This was after I had left a brief teaching career at the Episcopal Zion Mission. At Port-Harcourt, I went through successfully during the selection and was registered Enugu. In my admission form, I had opted for Nursing because I had a flair for the Nursing profession, which I felt would offer me the opportunity of helping needy people. When we got to Enugu, we had physical test as well as reading and writing, and a European Army officer who conducted the test informed me that clerical job would be more suitable to me as I would do much better as a clerk than as a Nurse, therefore he had already changed my course from Nursing to clerical. Here also, I saw the wonderful work of God, for when we were drafted out of Enugu, all those who were recruited as Nurses were drafted to war theaters in India and the Middle East to help in attending to wounded soldiers, whereas, I and a few others were sent to the Clerks Training School at Igiope Barracks in Surulere, Lagos.
In the Clerks Training School, we studied in the main, Accounts, English Language, Army Method and General Knowledge. In July 1944, I was posted to the 77th Detachment Royal Army Pay Corps, popularly known as the Command Pay Office, Lagos as an Accounts Clerk. I rose to the rank of Corporal there, so I was already in the Army in 1943, that wasb the Royal West African Frontier Force (RWAFF)
In a promotion exercise when I was three years in the Pay Office, I was promoted Grade 1 from Grade 3, skipping Grade 2, because, as I was made to understand, I performed excellently well. A year after came another test for promotion to Second and First Class, there also I performed creditably and was promoted straight to First Class from Third Class. In 1947, came general mobilization after the war and all the Nigerian personnel including officers were demobbed. A European officer by name Captain Jones with whom I worked, hinted me that he did not want me to leave the office and that he was pleading with the authorities for my retention as a Civilian Clerk after demobilization. He said what prompted the move, was my efficient performances and reliability. This action became a reality only 2 days after, when my boss called me into his office and handed me a letter from the head of the unit informing me of my absorption as a Civilian Staff with immediate effect. As a matter of fact, this was a big relief and I had cause to thank God, because all through the demob exercise, the question I was asking myself was “What Next after Demobilisation?” realizing the fact that in view of my poor educational standard, it would not be possible for me to secure any meaningful job to sustain myself and my family. So this surprise package came to appease my fears and anxiety and brought to my mind the earlier feeling that there must be a plan ordained for me by nature.
A day after mobilization, I reported for duty in the same office as a Civilian. I was there until September 1949 when I took up an appointment as an Accounts Clerk in the Posts and Telegraph Department. This move was due to the fact that the Army appointment was only temporary which might terminate any day. I was appointed Clerical Assistant in the P&T and after 3 years it was time to sit for qualifying test for the Standard Clerical Grade. I took that test and passed and was promoted to 3rd Class. A year after came another test for promotion to Second and First Class, there also I performed creditably and was promoted straight to First Class from Third Class. That was history repeating itself because I enjoyed similar privileges in the Army as I was promoted from Clerk Grade 3 to Clerk Grade 1 direct, claiming superiority or seniority over Grade 2 Clerks. That was 1954, and in 1958, I was elevated to the Grade of Assistant Executive Officer (AEO Accounts), when I was posted to the Savings Bank Department of P&T.
In 1966 I was invited by my people at home, requesting me to take up the vacant Chieftaincy Stool of our Ancestors, resulting from the death of the incumbent Chief J. F. Ikiroma-Owiye, who was my paternal uncle. I travelled home to answer the call. At a full meeting of the Owiye House, I was unanimously elected the only suitable person for the Stool. Accordingly, after all the necessary traditional rites and ceremonies had been completed, I was installed Chief of the Owiye (Omuaru) stool of Tombia in December 1966 by the then Amayanabo of Tombia, Chief T. J. Abbey and his Council of Chiefs. Not long after I returned to Lagos to resume duties, it became known that the dispute or misunderstanding between General Yakubu Gowon and Colonel Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu had assumed wider dimension as a result of which Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu had called on all Easteners in Lagos and environs to come back home. For what? No one knew, and many eastenders had already started to move. Many, from all parts of the east; Ibos, Efiks, Ijaws, Kalabaris, etc., were hurriedly leaving Lagos in large numbers and transporters were making brisk business. Of course this development was known to the government, as civil servants had to apply through their ministries to the Federal Ministry of Establishment for approval. My people advised me to use the opportunity offered by this official call, to come nearer home so as to be of more useful service to them as a chief. I was hesitant in accepting the advice and everybody was confused about the whole affair, not knowing what was going to result from the exercise. Mr. A. Abbey, my bosom and childhood friend was then secretary to the Government of Eastern Nigeria and Head of Service. He gave me a call from Enugu one morning and asked what I was doing about the new development. I told him I was not doing anything

Christianity in Tombia

According to historical fact, the advent of Christianity in Tombia was the brain child and sacrifice of my late father Chief Ernest Obu Korubo Fineface, who as a government worker in those old colonial days, went from place to place in the interest of his services, came across Christianity and not only embracing it, did everything within his reach to see that it be brought and established in Tombia. In spite of organizational difficulties and man-made odds, the St. Patrick’s Niger Delta Pastorate Church (now Anglican) was formed and services were being held in his own residence at the initial stage.

     He and his able lieutenants had almost converting three-quarters of the populace who were neck-deep in paganism and idolatry, when the so called Garrick Braide movement which had its origin at Bakana sprang up and spread its arms to Tombia with an unimaginable fury. The confusion which ensued caused the breaking up of the church into two warring camps; the one which followed Garrick Braide established their own church, The Christ Army Church, which has now become The Lutheran Church.       Chief Ernest Obu Korubo Fineface and his able lieutenants stood their ground firmly, refusing to yield to any form of temptation; they remained undaunted by the break-away of their kith and kin and kept the flag flying. The church continued to grow from strength to strength until the death of my father Chief Ernest Obu Korubo Fineface on 27th July 1931. After his death, the leadership of the church fell on Pa Leopold Akobo Yellowe, who at the time had come over to Tombia from Bakana where he had already identified himself with the Christfold to join the crusaders. Papa Leopold Akobo distinguished himself as a true leader, played very remarkable and prominent roles and worked devotedly and relentlessly towards the growth of the church until he passed on to the great beyond.       Today the St Patrick’s (Anglican) church is a monument in Tombia.

Birth and Early Years

 In Papa's own wordsExtracted from his autobiography)

According to family records, I was born in Tombia, on 22nd July, 1915. I was born into the families of Chief Ernest Obu Korubo Fineface (popularly called ‘Sini’ or ‘Onisi’, these being the native versions of Ernest) and Madam Jorinda Daba Amonibia Fineface. The significance and the popularity of the marriage between Chief Ernest Obu Korubo Fineface and Madam Jorinda Daba Amonibia can not be over emphasized, in view of the strong historical background behind it, which is why any reference to me and my immediate brothers and sisters in Amonibia family, as ‘children of a woman’ is rather offensive and repugnant. As for me, I have strong reasons to believe that nature and my own destiny have conspired to make me the head of the family (Amonibia and Imgbeta), whatever my position in life and whether some people like it or not.    

Chief Ernest Obu Korubo Fineface (my late father) was the first son of his father ODOLI-YE-KORUBO and his mother OPITI-BA-WARIGBANI, whereas my late mother Jorinda Daba Amonibia Fineface was the last among five children of her parents – Amonibia and Ibiekabere-ba-Imgbeta. Korubo, the father of my father, was the son of a wealthy famous warrior-chief by name TUBOFE-YE-KARIBO or more popularly known and called ‘FINEFACE’ who at one time was the AMAYANABO OF TOMBIA.  His qualification to this high office being that his mother was a direct descendant of the founding father and king of Tombia, KING AJIKO.