MAE West was essentially right when she asserted, “You only live once but if you do it right, once is enough”. The life and times of our late Sage, Brigadier-General Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia, lend full credence to West. Ogbemudia was one man who lived to the fullest. If re-incarnation were truly a fact of life, Ogbemudia’s achievements in his one life time could easily have surpassed the achievements of most men in their fourteen life times.
Uncle Sam was a story teller. There was never a dull moment in his life. He was the interviewer’s delight any day. But the task of compressing the rich profile of this colossus into a small column is Herculean. We shall only try.
Infant, Osaigbovo Ogbemudia came into this world at 1807 hours on the 17th day of September 1932 at Abehe Street, Ogbe Quarters, Benin City. Little did anyone know that his birth was to signal the arrival of greatness and the leading light of generations to come.
Little Ogbemudia had his early education in Benin Baptist School from 1938 to 1944; and Government School, Victoria in the Cameroons in 1945. After his primary education, Ogbemudia attended Western Boys High School, Benin City from 1947 to 1951.
Ogbemudia enlisted in the Nigerian Army in 1953. He trained as a soldier in Zaria, Northern Nigeria, Teshie, Ghana; and Nethervon, Salisbury in 1957. He was at the Officer Cadet School, Aldershot, England during the period 1960-61. He was commissioned Second Lieutenant in 1961. In 1962, he went to the USA for further training at the Army Special Welfare School, Fort Bragg, South Carolina.
Ogbemudia served with the United Nations Peace Keeping Force in the Congo, now the DRC, for 16 months. Thereafter, he was appointed instructor, Nigeria Military Training College, Zaria, where in 1965, he rose to the position of Chief Instructor and Brigade Major of the First Infantry Brigade in 1966. In August of same year, he was transferred to Benin City.
He subsequently joined Lt. Col. Murtala Mohammed’s Second Division in the operation that liberated Midwest State from the rebel Biafran military occupation.
On 20 September 1967, Ogbemudia was appointed Military Administrator of the liberated areas of the Midwest. Six weeks later, the Biafran army had been chased out of the entire Midwest and on the 13th of November 1967, Ogbemudia was appointed Military Governor of the State.
Ogbemudia promptly swung into action to reconcile the Igbo and non-Igbo speaking peoples of the State between whom the war had brought a lot of mutual suspicion.
He aimed at re-establishing trust and confidence among the people. Gradually, Igbo-speaking Midwesterners who had fled Benin City at the approach of the Federal Troops that rooted out the Biafran soldiers began to return to resume their former jobs; and getting back the landed property they had abandoned.
He also wasted no time in embarking on the reconstruction of the infrastructure of the State, which had been ravaged by the war. His efforts really brought about laying of the foundation of a modern State.
Ogbemudia soon proved himself a consummate leader. His career as an administrator was replete with evidence of ubiquitous, monumental and pace-setting achievements. He touched on the lives of Midwesterners in all aspects. Midwest soon became Number One in every aspect of governance. Ogbemudia’s grand merit was that he appointed capable leaders without respect to favouritism and political jobbery.
Enumerating the achievements of the Ogbemudia Administration in a write-up of this nature would be virtually impossible. The administration took the State to the top of every chat in all sectors – Road infrastructure, Education, Agriculture, Industry, Communications, Health, Water supply, Sports and Recreation, Environment, the Economy and so on….
We shall attempt to provide a bird’s eye-view of the things he started: they include massive construction of roads in all the Senatorial Districts. For instance, in Benin City, Ogbemudia opened up such areas as the Oba Ovonramwen Square; Airport Road, Akpakpava, Mission and Ekewan Roads; the First, Second and Third East Circular Roads as well as Sokponba and Sapele Roads.
Schools were established all over the place, including the School of Agriculture, Awain, Asaba, Collage of Education, Agbor, the University of Benin and the University of Benin Teaching Hospital.
We remember the New Nigeria Bank, Bendel Insurance Company, Iyamomo Rubber Research Institute, Urhonigbe Rubber Plantation, Warrake Farms, Agbede Cattle Ranch, Ughelli Fish Ponds, Bendel Food Production Company, Bendel Brewery, Bendel Pharmaceutical Company, Asaba Taxtile Mill, Ughelli Glass Factory, Okpella Cement Company, Bendel Line, Bendel Woods Company, etc. These organisations provided the money that did the magic.
He provided General Hospitals in major towns and Health Centres in rural communities as well as potable water and rural electrification in virtually all parts of the State.
He built the Ogbemudia Stadium and other Stadia in major cities across the State; the Afuze Games Village; and the Ogba Zoological Gardens and Recreation Centre.
In the area of mass communications, Ogbemudia established the Midwest Television, now the NTA, Benin and the Bendel Newspapers Corporation, publishers of the Observer Titles.
Ogbemudia returned as the civilian Governor of the State in August 1983 but the government was ousted in December of the same year – before he could start performing his wonders.
In just the same way that a vehicle cannot be too full as not to contain its driver, no one will forgive us if we fail to mention, at least in passing, some of Ogbemudia’s forays at the Federal level. At various times, this icon was the Minister of Labour and Productivity, and Chairman of the following bodies: National Sports Commission, Port Harcourt Refinery, Petroleum Products Marketing Company, Board of Agriculture; and the Governing Council of the University of Abuja.
Evidently, Brigadier-General (Dr) Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia has run a good race; he has fought a good fight; he has finished his course; and he has kept the faith. Like the Great Apostle Paul, the crown of righteousness already awaits him in the bosom of the good Lord.