IN 1976, as cadets, we were just allowedto see the Flag Ship NNS Nigeria (Obuma) from our Cadet Training Ship or from the jetty where she was berthed.
The Commanding Officer, Capt AA Aikhomu had decreed that we were not allowed on board except after our promotion to the enviable rank of Midshipmen. As rookies, we watched in awe as he ‘cast off ‘ to sea the Flag Ship of the Navy or ‘came alongside’ the jetty on return from sea.
With hindsight, in the 1980s, whilst in Festac Town, he encouraged us to join him at the National Stadium to watch both national and international football matches. His wife, Dame Rebecca Aikhomu would come round to mobilize my wife Viki and the other women to attend the NOWA meetings during such weekends.
In 1985, as the Chief of the Naval Staff, he commissioned the Nigerian Navy Air Arm and I as one of the pioneer aircrew, was to later to brief him on the capability and characteristics of the Westland Lynx Helicopters that had just been introduced into the service in the first NN Technical Expo at NNS Quorra.
That was the kind of ‘connect ‘ that we were privy to experience with one who was to become a mentor and role model for the rest of my career. Several attributes, encomiums and accolades have been deservedly cited about the development and the expansion that the Navy experienced during his watch.
It can only be imagined what the NN would have been like, in terms of morale and the structure of the service, if he had not taken the great initiative to expand to the present status in terms of bases, barracks, professional and welfare schools and platforms!
The nationalist mien in Admiral Aikhomu was reflected in the choice of his principal and personal staff. I was appointed his Flag Lieutenant/Aide de camp in 1989 as a Lieutenant Commander. While it was very ‘normal’ to appoint your kinsmen and women as your principal aides the reverse was the case in the Office of the Chief of General Staff. A little insight to the personalities that were involved will make this analysis clearer and exemplary.
The Chief Physician was Dr Ndukwe, the Chief Press Secretary was Mallam Yusuf Mamman, the PGSO and PSO were Generals Bakut and Teidi, respectively, while the PSOs at various political strategic departments were severally Admirals Afolayan and Joseph, respectively. Prof Sam Oyovbaire was the Special Adviser.
The head of the SSS team came from Adamawa State and the personal security details: Bawa and Ayah were from the far North and Bayelsa State, respectively. It was a mini-Nigerian setting.
The cohesion that reverberated from this setting can only be measured with a few of the successes that I witnessed in my little over one year as “Flag”. The direct superintendence of the MDAs, the Sports Ministry in particular and the attendant victories of the Super Eagles that were recorded, is attributable to his love for the game and to the direct access to him by the National Coach and Captain of the Eagles.
An unbridled access! The eventual harvest of wheat in the irrigated basins of Kano State and the emerging farmlands from Benue, Adamawa and Sokoto states to the extent that exportation of wheat could be possible in Nigeria. Adjunct to this, was the collateral aggregate on the production of rice and other vegetables in good quality and quantity that could exceed global figures employing the Fadama farming strategy.
The ‘icing of the cake’ was the successful election of Chief Emeka Anyaoku as the Secretary General of the Commonwealth on his birthday in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1989. This was as a result of the culmination of several successful visits abroad and to Commonwealth Nations as campaign strategies for the exalted office in particular and as representative of the President C-in-C. A great family man who had the capacity of showing great and immense love to Madam Dame Rebecca Aihkomu and the children from Ehimie to Ebi despite national details and pressure. The members of the extended family were never left out.
The family came first. The bond was strong and effective. The same unadulterated discipline, passion, love for success that ran in the office was exemplified at home. Everyone had the same dose from his loving hands. I would wish that those that can perfect the chronicle of a memoir for him should do so, in order to provide literature and guidance for the leadership in all facets and tiers of governance in Nigeria.
The late Admiral Aikhomu epitomized visionary leadership, humility in service, detribalized Nigerian patriot, an enigma to succeed in set tasks, great warmth in family and one with the edifying dream that one day, Nigeria will succeed and be reckoned with in the comity of nations.
My family and I pray that God in His infinite mercies will grant Dame Rebecca Aikhomu, the children and grand-children the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss and to comfort them. God will also grant them His grace to live to their dreams and that of the late icon. Rest in peace Dad.
Rear Admiral FRANCIS AKPANwrote from Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.