Travails And Death of a Prof. Who Became Governor (Part 1) -By Elvis Otsemehuno Ogah

Filed under: Democracy & Governance |


Five major political parties contested for power under the Nigerian second republic which officially began on the first day of October 1979. They were: The National Party of Nigeria (NPN), The United Party of Nigeria (UPN) and The Nigerian People’s Party (NPP). Others were the Great Nigerian People’s Party (GNPP) and the People’s Redemption Party (PRP).

Two years earlier, the late General Murtala Rufai Ramat Muhammed had increased the number of States in Nigeria from 12 to 19. NPN dominated the Second Republic. Alhaji Shehu Shagari, its presidential flagbearer won the presidency albeit controversially. The NPN also won Governorship elections in seven states namely; Sokoto, Niger, Bauchi, Benue, Cross River, Kwara, and Rivers. The NPP won three states (Anambra, Imo, and Plateau), The Great Nigerian People’s Party managed to win two states – Borno and Gongola, while The People’s Redemption Party, widely regarded as Party for the radicals won Kano and Kaduna.

The UPN secured the second largest number of seats in the legislature and won five states: Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, and Bendel. Off course, they became the official opposition. That said, UPN and Professor Ambrose Folorunsho Alli – the man who won the 1979 Governorship race in Bendel State – forms the crux of this piece.

Ambrose was born in Idoani, Ondo state, September 22, 1929. Many have argued that he was a Yoruba man. This wrong assertion must have been fueled and propped due to his middle name and probably his close-knit affinity with UPN which was an offshoot of Action Group, the defunct first republic opposition party led by the late Sage – Chief Obafemi Jeremiah Oyeniyi Awolowo. But for a fact, Ambrose’s father, Chief Alli, hailed from Emuado quarters of Ekpoma, Edo state. His mother though, was of Yoruba descent, Osun State precisely.

He began his education at St. Mary’s Catholic School, Oka-Odo, Ondo State in 1937. He was also a student of Swedenbourg Memorial School, Owo and St. Stephen’s School, Efon-Alaye both in Ondo state from 1940 – 1943. In 1944, he gained admission to Immaculate Conception College, Benin City but later completed his secondary school education at Patrick’s college Asaba in 1948.

Other educational institutions attended by Professor Alli are the school of Agriculture Ibadan 1948, and School of Medical Technology, Adeoyo Hospital Ibadan 1953 -1960 where he obtained his MBBS. In 1960, he proceeded to the United Kingdom where he did a Post-Graduate course in Neuro-Pathology at the University of London. His passion for academics buoyed him to undertake further studies at the University of Birmingham from 1971-1974.

In 1966, he picked up an appointment as a lecturer at the University of Ibadan (UI). He left UI in 1969 to join Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) as a senior lecturer. He was at ABU till 1974 after which he came back home to head the department of Pathology, University of Benin, this time as a Professor of Morbid Anatomy.  It was during his time as HOD, he got elected as a member of the constituent assembly that examined and ratified the draft 1978 Nigeria constitution. The Constitution was consequently enacted under the Decree No. 25 of 1978 by the Supreme Military Council (SMC).

A new constitution in place, it was time to for real politics. Prof threw his hat in the ring. He contested under the United Party of Nigeria, won gallantly and was sworn in as the first Executive Governor of Bendel State. His party’s election manifesto promised free education at all level; free medical service; integrated rural development; and gainful employment. Professor Alli sculptured his four year mandate under the thrust: To liberalize educational opportunities for all.

At the foundation stone laying ceremony of the Bendel State University, now Ambrose Alli University (AAU) Ekpoma named after him, Prof Alli told the world: “When you educate a child, you educate a nation. When you educate the body and mind you have an effective instrument for social and economic development. Education is the platform for progress. It is the foundation of life itself”.

Prof’s administration went ahead to establish 80 new secondary schools across Bendel State in addition to 187 already in existence just between October 1979 and March 1980. Prior to his election, secondary schools in each local government in the state averages a paltry five. But like a man with a vision to salvage a ravaged situation, Prof gave approval for the establishment of 338 new secondary schools in all part of the state. In his own words, “no pupil would henceforth travel more than five kilometers from his home to attend a secondary school”. Talking about a true visionary!

Three years into his tenure, the number of secondary schools in the state rose from 187 in October 1979 to over 850 in 1983. School fees and entrance examinations to secondary schools were abolished with effect from October 1st, 1979.

This exponential improvement in the number of secondary schools in the state stirred a corresponding growth in the number of higher educational institutions. Four tertiary institutions for the training of teachers were established in the state. This was in addition to the College of Education, Abraka, which was already in existence therefore bringing the total number of COEs to five. Prof’s thirst for educational revolution in the state was unquenchable. All students in the state’s Colleges of Education were place on special bursary. Serving teachers admitted into any of the colleges, continued to receive their salaries in full while civil servants similarly admitted were placed on study leave with full pay. Not satisfied, the administration of Professor Alli went further to establish two new polytechnics at Ozoro and Ogwashi-Uku, in addition to the existing one at Auchi. He established five School of Agriculture and one School of Forestry.

Prof’s focus was not entirely on the Educational sector. Health sector felt his touch of excellence. Services and drugs at state-owned hospitals became free from the day he was sworn in. More funds were expended to procure drugs and other clinical apparatus. Prof It was, who through foresight and deft moves alleviated the troubling shortage of medical doctors, especially in the rural areas.

Unwearied, the medical iroko brought some financial re-engineering into the system. Flat rate tax had for many years constituted a peril to Bendel state indigenes, especially to the rural inhabitants. He abolished it. Prof’s commitment to rapid social and economic development was inimitable, if not matchless.

The concluding part of this piece will provide further account of Prof’s legacies, touch more on his personae, his incarceration and eventual death.

Ogah, a Political Economist wrote in from Fugar, Etsako-Central, Edo State.