By Dele Agekameh
The Nigerian Army has produced a good number of officers whose overall contributions during and after their sojourn in the service have continued to withstand the test of time. Many years on, these officers and gentlemen have continued to forge ahead at other levels of the society doing things that the discipline and orderliness associated with their earlier engagements, aptly, prepared them for later in life.
A prime example of one such officer and gentleman that was nutured and honed by the Nigerian Army was Colonel Lucky Mike Torey. Torey or LMT as he was fondly called died in November 2013 after a very brief illness. He was buried in Ekpan near Warri, his home town on Friday, January 24, 2014. I had known LMT for many years even before he came to public office. He was a member of the 11th Regular Course of the Nigerian Defence Academy and later an officer of the Nigerian Army Armoured Corps reputed to be one of the elite corps of the Army and its combat arm of decision.
What surprised me so much was the manner of his death. We had always been in constant touch together. A week before he died, we spoke on phone for some time and he was full of life. He did not betray any illness as we joked and remembered old times. That day, he told me he was planning a reception slated for December in Warri. We ended our discussion with a promise that we were going to talk again to finalise arrangements for the reception. That was the last time we spoke until a week after when the news of his death filtered into town.
The news was broken to me by his former Aide-de-Camp Brigadier-General Benson Akinroluyo, a very fine, respectful and unassuming officer. At the time Torey left Enugu as governor, Akinroluyo was a Captain. He was then popularly known as Captain Benson. I am sure he was promoted a General shortly after the demise of his former boss. With Captain Benson at that time was Lieutenant Azeez Feruke who was the Chief Security Officer, CSO. Both Benson and Azeez were like Siamese twins who worked hand in hand with mutual respect for one another. Azeez retired as a Lieutenant-Colonel and now works with the United Nations in Ethiopia.
That Sunday morning when Benson called me to break the sad news, he was on his way to his station in Bauchi after attending the burial ceremony of the father of the immediate past, Chief of Army Staff, General Azubuike Ihejirika. I could not believe what I heard. But that was the truth. LMT was dead. I later called the wife who had relocated to Abuja from their base in Jos in the wake of the sad development. She confirmed the news and kept on muttering the word: “Let’s thank God.” Whenever I pose a question to her in a bid to know the details of what happened, she ended whatever explanation with “let’s thank God.” I later reached out to some of our mutual friends who were equally dazed by the news of his sudden death.
We will never see LMT in the physical sense again, but he would be gloriously remembered by those who came across him while his earthly sojourn lasted. A core Armoured officer, it is to Colonel Torey’s credit that he took part in military exercises in various parts of the country even when the trappings and administrative requirements of office as a Military Administrator tended to slow him down. He was never deterred by this as he was variously involved in the ones carried out under the aegis of the 82 Division of the Nigerian Army in Enugu where he served last as a Military Administrator before he was posted to the Infantry Corps and School, ICS, Jaji, Kaduna State, as Training Team Leader in September 1996. Also during his tenure in Enugu, he hosted and provided logistics support for the Lieutenant to Captain Examination that was held in Enugu.
Before he was posted to Enugu in September 1994, Colonel Mike Torey served for nine months in Ondo State as Military Administrator between December 1993 and September 1994. He had earlier served at different times as Acting Military Governor of Plateau State between 1989 and 1991. Though his tenure in Ondo was brief, just nine months, it was eventful and filled with landmark achievements, some of which are enduring and are still visible today. It is on record that he constructed the Oba-Ile and Ijoka Roads in Akure, the state capital and renovated some others, thereby giving the historical town a facelift. He had a good working relationship with and mutual respect for the Obas and Chiefs who played a complementary role in the dissemination of information about government actions and activities. In appreciation of their important role at the local level of governance, Colonel Mike Torey ensured that the first-class Obas were allocated befitting and fuel-efficient cars to ease their mobility and enhance their status. These cars were maintained and serviced at state expense during his short tenure.
When Colonel Torey was redeployed to Enugu State in 1994, he took along his vision and mission of a benevolent military governance imbued with some goals that included the empowerment of the womenfolk in areas such as self-employment and governance including leadership roles. Indeed, he appointed Barrister (Mrs.) Justina Offiah, the pioneer female Senior Advocate of Nigeria, (SAN), as a State Commissioner. He also brought on board diminutive but brilliant Laureta Ukeagbu, daughter of late Justice Aniagolu, who was always glued to her laptop, as Economic Adviser. At the local government level, he encouraged a female contestant for the chairmanship seat of Nkanu-West Local Government Council to be focused and positive about her aspiration. The female contestant won overwhelmingly in the council election which was held on zero-party basis across the states of the federation.
A consummate political strategist, Colonel Mike Torey (in his two areas of posting) developed a working rapport with the political class and tapped from their positive experiences in the general interest of the people.
It is to his eternal credit that he was able to identify, nuture, mould and utilise the innate but dormant leadership and administrative qualities in many of the aides he recruited in his quest to assemble a performance-oriented A-list team and turn over the fortunes of the state, positively. As a complement to this, Colonel Torey built a formidable rapprochement with the elder statesmen and women in his area of administration. A prime example was his close interaction with Chief Jim Nwobodo; Chief Christian Chukwuna Onoh and Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, who were former Governors of Enugu State and other prime political juggernauts like Senator Ben Collins Ndu; Chief Gbazuagu Nweke Gbazuagu; Chief Hyde Onuaguluchi; Prince Arthur Eze etc.
A traditionalist to the core, Colonel Torey knew the place and role of the traditional institution especially in Igbo land in the entrenchment and sustenance of peace and harmonious co-existence in all the component local governments of the state. He established a cordial relationship with the traditional ruling class which he held in high regards. At his behest, regular interactive meetings were held to find a common ground on thorny issues that his administration had to contend with in the day-to-day governance of the state. Colonel Torey’s relationship with some of the Igwes like Igwe Edward Nnaji, Igwe Charles Abangwu and Igwe Mamah cemented the peaceful tenure he enjoyed before he was redeployed to purely military duties.
As we celebrate the life of a man who placed selfless service and commitment to noble ideals above other considerations, my heart and feelings goes to his wife, Olushola and their two children, Yomi and Deji. May God grant his amiable soul eternal repose! Amen.