By Chief E.K. Clark, OFR, CON
IT was the famous William Shakespeare who said all the world is a stage, and all men and women merely players. They have their entrances and their exits. And so for my Boss, my Oga, my Mentor, my Bosom Friend, the man whom God used to implement my destiny, he has acted his part and has exited the stage. The curtain is closed for him.
The passing on of His Excellency, Brig.-Gen Dr. Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia on March 9, 2017, came to me as a rude shock. This is because only two days before his demise, I had spoken to his eldest daughter, Mrs. Dele George, and I informed her that I will be going to visit her father now that I am in Lagos. Little did I know that this plan will not materialize as my bosom friend and mentor will go to rest with the Lord; true meaning of “Man proposes, God disposes.”
Truly, the activities of man are directed by Almighty God to the utter ignorance of man. It now dawns on me why just five months ago precisely in November, 2016, he personally, in a hand written letter, wrote to me inviting me to a ceremony at his residence at No. 3, Ihieya Street, Benin City. He said he wanted me to be present at the ceremony when the first set of students of the University of Benin, under the auspices of the University of Benin Alumni Association, class 1970, will be honouring him with an award of Grand Patron of the University of Benin Alumni Association, at a Luncheon.
Patron of the Association
The Association made up of the students who graduated about 46 years ago, also wrote to me that he would like me to be present at the occasion, as it will also honour me as Patron of the Association on that day.
I attended the ceremony with a large team and live band to celebrate him at the occasion because nobody deserves such an award more than His Excellency, Brig. Gen Samuel Osaigbovo Ogemudia. During the occasion, he traced the history of how he founded the University of Benin and how he made me a One-Man Council by Edict, to carry out the setting up of the University of Benin. About 85 Alumni out of the 174 students admitted in September, 1970, at the takeoff of the University, were present. Indeed it was an occasion for him to recount how the institution was founded.
Looking back now, I think that occasion was destined by the Almighty for honour and for forgiveness. Because on that day, the former Governor of Edo State, His Excellency, Comrade Adams Oshiomwhole, did what I had advised him to do in 2009 for the action he took then, when he asked that the car bought for Brig-Gen S. O. Ogbemudia, during the tenure of His Excellency, Prof. Oserheimen Osunbor as Governor, be returned. I felt that it was an inappropriate action, and in an Open Letter addressed to Governor Adams Oshiomwhole dated March 12, 2009, I advised the Governor to apologise to Brig-Gen Samuel Ogbemudia, the builder of modern Midwest; that rather than asking him to return a car, when Governors today are getting jumbo pension packages, he should be honoured.
On that day during the occasion, which was also his last day in Office as Governor, having served two terms, Governor Oshiomwhole openly rendered unreserved apologies to Brig-Gen S. O. Ogbemudia. He recalled that I had advised him to do so, and was, therefore, happy that I was present on the day he was rendering the apology. That was the last day I saw this great man, my friend and mentor, who had so much trust and confidence in me as Governor of the State and I as his Commissioner, that people called me the “Deputy Governor.”
It was, therefore, a great occasion to be with the man who made me Commissioner of Education, One-Man Council for the Establishment of the University of Benin by Edict, Commissioner for Finance and Establishment, first Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council of the University of Benin, Chairman of Armel Transport, Chairman of Delta Boatyard and many others. In addition, one certain evening, he invited me to his private residence at No. 3, Ihieya Street, Benin City and asked me whether I will like to serve under Gen. Yakubu Gowon, the then Head of State. I replied that the decision was his. He said that I deserved it, that I should go. That was how I became the Federal Commissioner (Minister) of Information. I never knew it will be the last time I will be seeing him. I thank God that I was able to honour his invitation and personally attended the occasion on that day in November, 2016. It would have been a big regret for me.
Military Officers of Ibo extraction
Brig-Gen. S. O. Ogbemudia was a great soldier, who escaped Benin City on the eve of Nigerian Civil War and joined Gen. David Ejoor’s team where there were nine Military Officers of Ibo extraction with just three others as non-Ibos, namely himself a Major at the time, late Major Ndiomu and Capt. Sunny Tuoyo. He headed the troop that liberated the Midwest area which was occupied by the rebel soldiers. He was later made the Military Administrator by the late Gen. Murtala Mohammed who was the General Officer Commanding. He participated fully in the execution of the War in January, 1967, in order to protect lives and property and consolidate the unity of Nigeria.
At the end of the War, because of the atrocities committed by the Military Officers of Ibo extraction during the occupation of Midwest State by them, Midwesterners of non-Ibo extraction were no longer ready to live together with their Ibo counterparts, and threatened to build a Berlin kind of wall in Agbor to wall off the Eastern part. But Col. Ogbemudia, as he then was, who believed so much in the unity and indivisibility of Nigeria as propagated by the then Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, sought for a peaceful resolution of the matter.
In order to douse the tension which was building up in the State, he appointed the Justice Omo Eboh Attrocities Commission to probe the invasion and atrocities committed against the people of Midwest. Thereafter, he again summoned the Elders and Leaders of Midwest State to a meeting at Uromi on November 2, 1967, where the people spoke frankly on the accusations and counter accusations, during the Civil War when the Midwest was over ran by the rebel troops who declared it the Republic of Benin.
The meeting lasted all night and at the end, peace was restored as the people agreed to bury their differences. Ogbemudia defused the tension and the idea of building a wall across Agbor was dropped.
The following morning we all, in buses, drove to Asaba to see for ourselves what was going on. But we could not get to our destination and had to return back because of the shootings by the Biafran soldiers from across the River Niger. He saw to it that reprisal killings against the Ibos who were living in the Midwest region stopped.
When the War ended and peace was restored, it was time to work. I accompanied Col. Ogbemudia to Lagos to congratulate the Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, on the successful execution of the War at the Dodan Barracks. At that meeting, Gen. Gowon in a military tone ordered him to immediately commence the implementation of the 3R policy of Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction and the policy of No Victor, No Vanquished of the government. When we returned to Benin, Ogbemudia summoned all civil servants to a meeting explaining to them what the Head of State had said.
He told them to forgive and embrace peace. And in that spirit, he appealed to them to make sacrifices by donating five per cent of their salaries for the rehabilitation of the Ibos. This appeal was, however, not received well by many people, who were still feeling the pains of the loss of loved ones and property inflicted during the occupation of the Midwest. Although some heeded the appeal, there were those who said they were not going to make any contributions. He also directed that Primary and Secondary School Teachers from East Central State, who have come from across the Niger, be given teaching jobs and other kinds of jobs. They were so integrated.
Ogbemudia and I felt that the bitterness expressed by the youths could be doused by taking some of the students from our State to East Central State to visit their counterparts and see what they were going through. I led the visit. In the first batch of the visit, I took over 100 students with me.
Sitting on bare floor
As we journeyed, one of the most devastated towns that we passed through is a town called Abagana in present day Anambra State. We noticed the extent of destruction in the town. When we arrived Enugu, all the students were quartered at Queens School, Enugu, which was very ravaged too, with broken roofs.
Luckily, it was not raining season. The pupils were sitting on bare floor, using old stoves as desks and seats. There were no windows and no doors. The following morning, the Civilian Administrator of East Central State, Dr. Ukpabi Asika, joined us in the School Hall and a prayer assembly was conducted, after which the people were addressed. We sang the Nigerian National Anthem. It will be the first time the students of the East Central State will sing the Anthem after the War.
At the end of it, both the students I traveled with and their Eastern colleagues embraced themselves. Tears flowed freely. The Permanent Secretary in my Ministry who was on my entourage, who had earlier sworn not to make any contributions wept like a child and resolved there and then that he will make his own contributions and more.