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Troubling Thoughts From Chief Frank Kokori’s Funeral Event, By Emma Ochuko Arodovwe

LATE Chief Comrade Frank Kokori (1943-2023) was laid to rest yesterday 8th March, 2024. He was 80. By every standard, Chief Frank Kokori lived a fulfilled life. He was an accomplished professional, labour leader, mentor to many, a leftist, Marxist, highly principled and moral.

Frank Kokori was doubtless, a leading figure among those who fought for Nigeria’s return to democracy. He was brave, courageous and fearless.

As Secretary General of the Nigerian Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) in the hey days of Gen. Babangida and Gen. Abacha’s brutal regimes, Frank Kokori saw that in order to assure of the welfare of workers which was his primary assignment, the advocacy needed to be extended beyond just worker’s welfare to the right system of government. Therefore, he was resolute in sacking the military dictatorial regime for a democratically elected civilian government. He was resolute and unwavering in this convinction.


The annulment of the June 12, 1993 election was most resisted by Frank Kokori’s NUPENG during which he practically shut down the country and attracted international solidarity towards Chief M.K.O. Abiola.

Unable to withstand Kokori’s pressure, Gen. Babangida relinquished power, reluctantly; but only to be soon succeeded by a worse brutal General in Sanni Abacha.

Abacha’s strategy was to woo many of Abiola’s key men to his side by dangling juicy offers to them. Abiola’s running mate Alhaji Babagana Kingibe was the first to capitulate. He was promised Minister of Foreign Affairs. He told Abacha that the biggest obstacle in his (Abacha’s) way was Frank. If Frank could be convinced to join, then the matter would have been solved.

Abacha sent several top delegations to Frank Kokori begging for his support. But Frank never wavered. The offers included a million pounds at the first instance, a ministerial position of his choosing, houses in choice locations, including any other thing he would demand. It was just a matter of naming it – oil bloc, oil rig, whatever.

Kokori turned Abacha and everything he offered him down. It was a sacrifice and sense of friendship that Abiola never forgot.

Having failed to convince him, Abacha was left with no choice than show him his other side. He soon smoked him out of his underground hotel hiding place, got him properly beaten to a pulp, and threw him to prison to rot away to death. From 1994 to 1998 when Abacha mysteriously died, Frank Kokori was in detention, without ever a hope to live a free man again. Kokori was eventually released after Abacha’s “miraculous death”, but life was never the same again.

Weak, aging and suffering from the indelible afflictions of the consequences of his stubborn worship of principles, he was soon forgotten by friends, allies, proteges and even the Nigerian masses themselves.

For many years before his death in 2023, Frank Kokori lived quietly in a modest bungalow in his hometown of Ovu, probably built hurriedly, after his prison experience, from whatever savings he had left.

This was the man who gave NADECO its bite. NADECO could only write beautiful speeches and issue threats on pages of newspapers; it had to fall back to Kokori and his NUPENG comrades to make those threats thick.

The atmosphere at the reception which held at the popular Ovu Grammar School field did not match the status and sacrifice of a man of Frank Kokori’s standing. But for the Delta State Government’s intervention in his treatment in the last month of his life, the burial ceremony would probably have gone unnoticed.

Urhobo leadership and major institutions of Urhobo were conspicuously absent at the ceremony. No UPU President General, No Ovie, No Social Clubs, Nothing really. There were likely more Yoruba people at the event than Urhobo. Not many Ovu people even knew that Frank Kokori was being laid to rest yesterday. The Nigerian president may have had a goodwill message in the brochure but that was just infinitesimal when checked against the robust relationship they enjoyed in NADECO in those days. The verdict should be that Frank Kokori was wholesomely abandoned.

“The True Life Story of the ‘Foolish’ Moral Man”

Deeper reflections on this matter led me to recall the true life story of the foolish moral man as made popular by Professor Peter Ekeh. The man lived in an Urhobo community in those days of British colonial rule, where virtue was highly praised and vice strongly condemned. It was a self-regulated society built on the principles of high morality and discipline, like Achebe’s Umuofia, for example.

The man, a poor farmer, one day, stumbled on a huge sum of money, that he suspected had dropped, from the bicycle of the British District Officers (D.O).

Convinced of this fact, and driven by his moral principles, and the anticipated joy and fulfillment of doing a patriotic service, he packed the money properly, hurried home, took his bath, dressed up in his best clothes to appear nice before the whiteman, and without telling anyone, hurried to the colonial office, a long distance by foot, to explain his findings and handover the money to the authorities.

He arrived just in time enough to be received by the D.O who admitted misplacing the money. After a warm handshake and a thank you, the D.O whispered to his ears “You will never be rich”! He went home, through the long walking distance, disturbed at that statement.

Sitting with his friends in the cool of the evening, he related the story, expecting the commendation of his friends as they would usually do when such things happen in the community social context. But his kinsmen reacted quite in the opposite manner. They seriously condemned him and castigated him for his “foolishness”.

In his kinsmen’s estimation, this was a different context entirely. It was in effect, not the D.O’s money. It was the people’s money forcefully collected from them as taxes, levies, court fines, etc., against their wishes. Any opportunity to get back that money ought to be grabbed with both hands. A different moral standard therefore ought to apply when dealing in the colonial setting. The friends of this man deserted him for his very foolish behaviour.

Ridiculed by the whiteman, and condemned by his friends, the frustrated man turned to his family for some consolation. On relating his experience to his wife, she was even more furious. She got mad at him and reigned abuses on him. The next morning, she packed her bags and left him. His children also did the same. The moral man was completely abandoned. What ideally use to be prized as a virtuous act in the context of his primordial social situation has turned out as vicious in the colonial context. Unable to comprehend this moral confusion and in the light of his frustrations and abandonment, he was found dead not long after, abandoned to himself!

The Troubling Thoughts

The question would be that “Was Chief Frank Kokori right in his rejection of those Abacha offers?” Couldn’t he have accepted them, made so much money for himself, established a University in his community, built flyovers and overhead bridges in his Ovu Community, cart away as much public funds as he could, drive in posh cars, holiday around the world as he wished, and thereafter offer grants and scholarships to indigents around him? Wouldn’t that be enough to purchase a good name?

Babagana Kingibe, Kokori’s ally who sold out to Abacha is now 78 years old, enjoying his retirement in stupendous wealth and goodwill. He is swarmed by loyalists all over the place, and highly regarded by even the current president much more than he did Kokori, his erstwhile NADECO co-traveller.

Kingibe went on to serve three other governments as minister and was even secretary to the government of the federation. He was awarded Grand Commander of the Niger (GCON). Kokori on the other hand, died without the least national award and recognition. So who should we rather be – Babagana Kingibe or Frank Kokori?

To bring the matter closer home, in light of the above, would you in truth, accuse any politician of wrong doing for looting the treasury dry, siphoning public wealth, and throwing principles to the wind? Who wouldn’t really, if one was in their position? Or would we rather be like the foolish moral man?

Do those politicians who steal and become hugely wealthy not get better appreciated, and recognized than those who retire in penury on account of principles?

Not many Urhobo people even knew that Frank Kokori was being buried yesterday, and those who knew didnt care. He is of no material consequence afterall. He was not a rich man by any means, not even the richest in his small corner of Ovu Community, and so what really was the incentive to be attracted to his burial event?

It appears what matters in our part of the world is wealth and more wealth, which one can thereafter throw around to curry praises, good name and bragging rights. In the light of this, it is a highly contestable matter whether it is better to be a Frank Kokori or a Babagana Kingibe.

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