By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
Brigadier General Samuel Ogbemudia was a shining example of impactful governance whose positive legacies have been a reference point for his successors in office. His simplicity was reflected in the fact that despite being governor for close to eight years, he hardly lived in Government House, preferring the simplicity of his personal residence. The only time he slept in Government House was when he played host to the then Sultan of Sokoto, Sadiq III.
The foundation of the excellence that Ogbemudia projected in office perhaps arose from the finest tradition of the military discipline. He was an accomplished gentleman officer who by applying discipline to his military and civilian duties caused excellence to shine on whatever he did.
Ogbemudia joined the army in 1957 and subsequently attended the officer’s course at Aldershot, England and was commissioned as Second Lieutenant in 1961.
Following military missions in Congo and then Tanzania he was posted to the faculty of the Nigeria Military School, Zaria in 1964. It was probably there that he met one young recruit named Sanni Abacha who saved his life few years later. As chief inspector, at NMS, Abacha had impressed Ogbemudia with his marksmanship.
In 1966 after he was appointed brigade-major at the 1st Infantry Brigade, Kaduna Ogbemudia had locked up one Lt. Sukar Bukar Dimka on the suspicion of plotting a coup. That particular incident also saved his life exactly ten years later when Dimka led the coup that killed Gen. Murtala Mohammed.
Given insinuations that Ogbemudia was involved in that coup, Dimka confessed to military interrogators that he could not have informed Ogbemudia given his earlier brushes with him ten years earlier when he, Ogbemudia locked him up on the suspicion of plotting a coup.
Just as the pogrom in the North started in 1966, Abacha had called on Ogbemudia’s residence in Kaduna and insisted that he leave the north immediately. Abacha with a land rover with some soldiers escorted Ogbemudia who drove with his wife and children in a new Opel till they reached Ilorin following which Abacha returned to Kaduna. On reaching Benin he soon found himself leading the task of liberating the Midwest region from Biafran forces.
His role in liberating the Midwest from Biafran forces reflected military tact and originality. Given the lack of trust in Midwest officers by those in control of the armoury in Kaduna, Ogbemudia after one hazardous journey to Kaduna with a DC 3 plane lamented that he was given only 30 rifles to fight the Biafrans. One strategy he employed was to use Midwest girls to steal weapons from amorous Biafran forces, a strategy that so much succeeded and contributed greatly to the defeat of the occupation army.
By September 1967, he was appointed military governor of Midwest State and his qualities as a good leader then only known in the military came to fore. Given the division among the different ethnic groups in the Midwest, Ogbemudia’s first priority was to forge unity among the civilian population and this he did through sports. This eventually helped in placing the Midwest as the top sporting state in the country. The Afuze Games Village was constructed as a way of preparing Midwesterners for endurance sports.
Ogbe Stadium with its Olympic size swimming pool and tennis courts were legacies that became examples for some other states subsequently.
Many successful people from the former Midwest Region who failed in the conventional education system resorted to the remedial education programmes adopted by the Ogbemudia regime making use of the Institute of Continuing Education, ICE. The Observer Newspaper, established by Ogbemudia was a training ground for many of Nigeria’s successful newspaper men and women. The present NTA, Benin which was first established as Midwest Television, MTV had grounds bigger and facilities better than many of its contemporaries that prepared the station to be among the first to transmit colour in Africa.
In the Second Republic, a desperate attempt by the National Party of Nigeria, NPN to take over the state then rechristened Bendel made the NPN strategists led by Chief Tony Anenih to lure Ogbemudia into partisan politics in 1982. He won the governorship election in 1983 but stayed only three months in office before the Muhammadu Buhari coup truncated that effort. His alliance with Anenih in the Fourth Republic politics was, however, less successful.
He was also at one time chairman of the National Sports Commission, and minister of labour during which time he sufficiently managed the one time boisterous labour leader, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.
Ogbemudia celebrated for his glorious record in statecraft through various stages in public office died last Thursday. He was aged 84.