This is a battle I will fight until recognition comes the way of Nigeria’s first Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, Brig.[Gen.] Babafemi Olatunde Ogundipe. History must be fair to this man even if compatriots look the other way.
The story that he ran away from Nigeria because he was not brave enough to take over as Head of State following the assassination of Gen. Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi is not true. It is like calling a dog a bad name to hang it.
Ogundipe, with identification, N6, was right in all decisions he took after the July 1966 coup. He was the most senior officer alive, the only brigadier still standing and at the brink of execution. All those commissioned before him[ Ironsi,N2, Brig. Samuel Ademulegun, N3, Col. Raph Sodeinde,N4 and Col. Kuru Mohammed N5], but one, [Col. Wellington Bassey,N1] had been murdered.
The Yoruba had lost almost all their senior officers. Lt.Col. Adekunle Fajuyi was killed with Ironsi in Ibadan, the Yoruba headquarters. Ademulegun and Sodeinde were shot in Kaduna, regional capital of the North. Col. Adeyinka Adebayo was away while Lt.Col. Victor Banjo was in detention.
Those who killed Ironsi and Fajuyi were junior officers and non commissioned officers. Titus Numan snatched the military leader’s crocodile stick while other ranks, some accounts say Ibrahim Rabo, Tijani Maiduguri, Sabo Kwale and Clement Dabang, among others, did the damage.
So how could anybody blame Ogundipe whose orders were ignored by an NCO for not taking over government. Lt.Col. Emeka Ojukwu was being diplomatic when he expected the most senior officer after Ironsi to be named Head of State instead of Lt.Col. Yakubu Gowon.
Ogundipe had no troops. Those who should have come to his defence were not there for him. The Army was made up of the First Brigade, Lagos commanded by Lt.Col Hilary Njoku and the Second Brigade, Kaduna under Col. Bassey. The former was with Ironsi and escaped with bullet wounds while the latter did not react at all.
Please let us get this right. When Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was killed in January 1966, President Nnamdi Azikiwe was out of the country. Acting President, Dr. Nwafor Orizu, did not have the power to fight. He invited Ironsi to take over.
When Gowon was sacked in 1975, the next in command, Admiral Edet Wey, did not challenge Brig. Murtala Mohammed and his boys. The most senior Army officer, Gen. David Ejoor, did not fire a shot. They all went into retirement. No one blamed them for not taking over.
I will tell the Obasanjo story. We have to thank the duo of Gen. Alani Akinrinade and Brig. Godwin Alabi-Isama for being there for Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo when Murtala was killed in 1976. OBJ was marked for death but escaped and went into hiding, yes, for good.
Possibly, Gen. Yakubu Danjuma, would have stepped in if his pals, Akinrinade and Alabi-Isama did not play smart. Akinrinade as GOC, First Division, Kaduna held on firmly and told the plotters to go to hell. Alabi-Isama was handling Danjuma in Lagos. Col.Sani Abacha’s Brigade in Port Harcourt faulted the coup just like Col. Mamman Vatsa in Calabar.
There was no such bold action by anyone to support Ogundipe. He was left alone. A general without troops is as good as an eunuch. He would not perform even if you presented him with seven virgin from tropics.
When President Umaru Yar’adua passed on, it took the whole nation to take Vice President Goodluck Jonathan to the top, in spite of the Constitutional provisions. We began to hear about ‘Doctrine of Necessity.’
Ogundipe relocated to the United Kingdom where he became High Commissioner. Gowon, two ranks his junior,was Head of State. Wise decision. Ogundipe did not want to serve in Nigeria under Gowon. Others did it. He died in London on November, 20 ,1971.
Ogundipe was right. The Yoruba have never been favoured in any coup. They lost Ademulegun and his wife Feyi; Col. Sodeinde, Maj. Samuel Adegoke and Sgt. Daramola Oyegoke on January 15, 1966. In July, Fajuyi, Maj. Ayodele Ogunro, Lts. S.E. Idowu and A.O. Olaniyan died.
The February 1966 coup consumed Col. Ibrahim Taiwo, Lt. Akintunde Akinsehinwa, Majs. Ola Ogunmekan and Kola Afolabi. Murtala’s wife is Yoruba. The Vatsa plot of 1985 took Maj. Idowu Bamidele and Squadron Leader Martin Luther King.
The Gideon Orkar coup of 1990 cost four Yoruba lives. Okar was married to an Ogbomoso woman. All seven men condemned to death after the coup against Abacha in 1998 were Yoruba.
It is in this vein that I call on all Yoruba to stand up today and honour Ogundipe. Monday, November 20, 2017 will be 46 years since he departed. I expect to see full page ads in at least three major national newspapers.
It is ignorance to refer to him as a coward. A man who fought in Burma, the land of the Wa, expert head hunters, saw action in India and spent three years in the Congo fighting, deserves all respect. Between the Awujale of Ijebu land and Chief Olusola Ogundipe, something must be done to immortalize this officer.