By SAM ADZEGEH-
As expected, thousands of mourners and sympathizers stormed the Mbaade, Mbagen countryside to pay last respects to late Chief Denen Tofi Anyia on Saturday, December 4.
Popularly known as ‘Do well God will help you Tofi’, the late business mogul, educationist, philanthropist and community leader, died last month.
Governor Samuel Ortom, who accompanied late Tofi’s body to his burial place was represented at the burial by his deputy, Engineer Benson Abounu.
Minister of Special Affairs and Intergovernmental Affairs, Senator George Akume, led several dignitaries who were at the burial, notable among them, elder statesman Atom Kpera, Chief Barnabas Gemade, Michael Kaase Aondakaa, Senator Orker Jev, Speaker of the House of Assembly, Honourable Titus Uba, Sebastian Hon (SAN) and the Tor Tiv, HRM James Ayatse, who was represented, as well as all prominent traditional rulers from Tiv land.
The burial turned out a celebration of life as several speakers at the occasion agreed that late Chief Tofi’s life was worth celebrating, as he had lived a blessed and fulfilled life.
As Shakespeare would put it, heavens themselves blaze forth the departure from Earth of this sage.
It was a befitting tribute for a man who spent his more than a century’s existence on Earth in total service to God and humanity.
With more than 30 wives and 80 children, “Do well God will help you Tofi”, his business motto and guiding philosophy of life by which he strictly lived his life, was giant among men blessed beyond the ordinary by the Almighty.
From very humble beginnings, Tofi, in about half a century, and with sheer grit, determination, and hard work, established a sprawling empire which cut across transportation, education, hospitality, merchandise and just about any business he could lay his hands on. Indeed, God blessed him, and he did good, by in turn, helping thousands around him.
His colourful burial last week marked the first time in recent times that the Tiv nation had come together as one people irrespective of socio – political differences.
Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom and Senator George Akume, former Governor and Minister of Special Duties and Inter-governmental Affairs, led the thousands of mourners who turned out to pay tribute to the departed sage.
According to a citation authored by Dr. Verem Tofi, one of the deceased’s sons, Denen was born in Mbaade in the Mbagen district of Buruku local government area 103 years ago into very humble parentage.
Through dint of hard work, discipline, determination and focus, the young Denen was able to defy all odds and obstacles in his way to establish a business conglomerate and become a captain of industry.
Chief Denen Tofi started business at the most modest level imaginable with a capital of three pence. Supplementing this with farming, he started with the buying and selling of native soap (or chahur mtse in Tiv). As business picked up, he gradually added other items like palm oil and general provisions of the sort. At this point, Denen Tofi recorded one of his first major achievements. He bought a Raleigh bicycle. That was in 1954. To acquire a bicycle then was no small achievement. With the bicycle, his business witnessed its first diversification. He went into the sale of wrappers on his Raleigh. He would transport his native soap and palm oil to Yala market at Ogoja on his bicycle to sell and in turn buy wrappers and bring back to Ugba, all the time augmenting his trade with the proceeds from his farm.
After several years of hard work, resilience and determination, Denen Tofi again recorded another major feat. In 1960, he became one of the very first Tiv men to buy a lorry. It was a 3 – ton lorry. By now his business had grown beyond moving about on a bicycle and there was urgent need for a better means of mobility. Though as focused as ever, it must be noted that this gesture, though meant for convenience, none of his acquisition was intended as luxury for its sake but for the furtherance of his business. It is a tribute to his discipline, tenacity and foresight that despite being a young man with all the natural wild tendencies of youth, he remained focused and did not allow himself to be distracted by the temptation of easy life to derail from his set goals. If today Chief Denen Tofi is being celebrated by all and sundry, it is because of these attributes of hard work, discipline and focus – sterling qualities that stood him out among his peers. This lorry he purchased, which was fondly named ‘kura wa chicha Tofi’ (meaning, “pack and load all”) by the locals because of the comparatively large amount of load it could carry, was the turning point in his business career. It meant that he could now convey larger amounts of goods and was therefore making more profits.
The young Denen Tofi who had earlier established his business at Ugba in the present-day Logo local government area of Benue state in the ‘40s, had to relocate to Gboko local government area following the political tension and crises of the ‘60s that had engulfed Tiv land. Gboko, being a bigger town, had more security and was therefore relatively safer for business.
In Gboko, he diversified his business again and ventured into hospitality, building the New State Hotel, which became the most popular relaxation and entertainment spot in Gboko because of its live band and array of the most popular musical artists and entertainers of the day. Denen Tofi’s Midas touch came to bear on the hotel and its fame spread. People came from far and wide to enjoy the performances of popular Tiv musical icons like Orshio Adaaker, King one Abua and Atule Hon, amongst several others. In fact, to honour him, Orshio Adaaker titled one of his music albums as Tor Tofi Anyia.
While in Gboko, his business witnessed phenomenal growth. Apart from hospitality, Chief Denen Tofi diversified into several other areas of economic ventures. For instance, he was a major distributor of Nigerian Breweries and most of the other breweries then operating in the country. He was also a major distributor of Cement with the then Benue Cement Company (BCC) as well as a major distributor of Golden Penny Flour Mill Limited. In the transport sector, he owned the biggest transport company of the day in Benue state. His fleet of lorries and buses all bearing the inscription Do Well God Will Help You Tofi traversed the nooks and crannies of the state and the entire country ferrying commuters from Benue to Lagos and other cities down South as well as up North. As a result of his business acumen, Denen Tofi inspired an economic revolution in Gboko and environs never before witnessed in these parts. Through his conglomerate of businesses, he created employment and a means of livelihood for thousands of people across the state. It is to his credit that during his day, Gboko was not just the commercial hub of Benue state, but was one of the most important commercial nerve centers of the Middle Belt region of Nigeria.
Ironically, among the most enduring legacies Denen Tofi has bequeathed to the society is in the area of education, even though he himself had very little, or no formal western education. At a period in history when schools could only be established by the government and missions, and were therefore very few and far between, Chief Denen Tofi in characteristic foresight, closed in the gap by establishing the first private-owned secondary school this part of the country. It is indeed a credit to the man’s vision that several years down the line, many of the innocent boys and girls who had received tutelage from this school, Tofi Memorial Grammar School, Gboko, have contributed tremendously to the socio-economic development of the society with many rising to leadership positions.
Among some of the notable old students of the school are: Professor David Ikoni of the Benue State University, Makurdi; the late Hon Baver Dzeremo, former Tarka local government council chairman and national Chairman, Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON); Barr Aondover Angwe, former Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice Benue State; Hon Aondona Diwa, former Coordinator NEPAD Benue State and current Special Adviser to the Governor of Benue State on Economy; Dr Tavershima Adyorough, former Special Adviser to the Governor of Benue State on Knowledge Economy; Mr David T Ishegh, former Permanent Secretary Bureau for Rural Development and Cooperatives Benue State; Mr Aungwa Makurdi, former Permanent Secretary Bureau for Land and Survey and current Permanent Secretary Benue State Housing and Urban Development Board; Mr Igbana Kwaghzan, former Director of Protocol Benue state; Sir Terkaa Agba, retired Director Benue state civil service; Mr Damian Achigbe, former Deputy Director information, office of the Secretary to the State Government Makurdi, Benue state. Chartered Surveyor Terfa Tsokaa, office of the Head of Service, Makurdi Benue state; Hon Bem Dzoho, former state secretary PDP and current Special Adviser to the Governor of Benue State on Politics; Hon Usaa Adi, Permanent Secretary Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, Benue state and Barr Edward Akondo Aki amongst others too numerous to individually mention.
In addition to the Tofi Memorial Grammar School, Denen Tofi has established two nursery and primary schools, one within the premises of the secondary school in Gboko and the other in his country home in Mbaade, Mbagen which he named after his mother Mama Mary Ngulunga Akpo Gbe Dogoh.
In recognition of his outstanding contribution to education and the economic development of the society, the Commonwealth University, Belize conferred on him a Doctorate degree (Honoris Causa) in Business Management and Entrepreneurship.
Denen Tofi was a devout Christian with the Universal Reformed Church of Christ (URCC) which is also called in Tiv the Nongu Kristu u Sudan hen Tiv (NKST). He worshipped with the NKST Gboko central. Although an NKST member, he nevertheless singlehandedly built a church and donated to the catholic faithful of his country home named St Mary’s Catholic church after the virgin Mary from whom his mother adopted her baptismal name.
Denen Tofi was an active member of his immediate society and a community leader. He played mediatory roles and intervened in communal disputes in the society. He was the chairman and life patron of the vigilante group, Benue state. He is known to have successfully settled many land disputes across Tivland and averted crisis and bloodshed. In recognition of his services to the Tiv nation, he was conferred with the honorific chieftaincy title of Ijor igboghol i Tiv (the well that never runs dry) by the Tiv Traditional Council in 1992.
Chief Dr Denen Tofi, who was blessed with longevity of years having achieved the centenary years of 103, lived almost all his life in robust health. At the twilight of his life however, he was diagnosed of high blood pressure and on Thursday October 14, 2021 he finally succumbed to the way of all mortals and joined his creator leaving behind 84 children as well as many grand and great-grandchildren.
Denen Tofi has etched his name indelibly on the sands of time. A man who had provided succor, sustenance and meaningful living to thousands of people during his time, history will certainly be kind to him and his posterity. May his soul rest in peace.