My piece last week attracted reaction from Mr. Babajide Ogundipe, son of Nigeria’s first military Vice President, Brig. Babafemi Ogundipe, as presented below:I must confess I am not a regular reader of the Vanguard newspaper. However, my attention was drawn to a piece written by Emeka Obasi, which appeared in the edition of Saturday November 18. The title of the article was:”In defence of Babafemi Ogundipe.”
For the record, Babafemi Ogundipe was my father—my “real” father, as President Olusegun Obasanjo asked me after I was introduced to him when I encountered him last month.
After reading what I thought was an excellent article, I searched to see whether Mr. Obasi, who I’d never once come across before, had written anything else about my father. I came across another piece, which appeared in the July 8 edition of the Vanguard concerning a photograph of Nigerian Army officers purporting to show the first Nigerian officers but did not show all of them, including my father.
As I have just stated, I had not come across Mr. Obasi before now, so I do not know him. It does appear, however, that he might know my cousin ,Sola, to whom he referred in his November 18 article. What I find striking, and refreshing, is that Mr. Obasi has looked at the events of July/August 1966 and concluded that the judgments made about my father and his actions were completely wrong.
At the time General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi was murdered, I had been in Nigeria, on holiday from school in England for a few days [ somewhere in the archives of the Daily Times is a photograph, that appeared on its front page, of my father meeting me at the airport when I, a 10-year-old child, arrived in Lagos—on reflection I am astonished that the event was considered newsworthy!].
When General Aguiyi-Ironsi disappeared, so did my father. I did not see him for about three weeks after this occurred, and after the family, less my older sister who was in school in Ibadan, had been transported to the United Kingdom, where we eventually saw my father. The English media described him as an early arrival for the 1966 Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference, which was being held in London.
Mr. Obasi states in his article that history has not been fair to my father. I ,of course, agree with this, but I leave the conclusion to others. In support of Mr. Obasi’s thesis however, I would like to add the following:
As observed by Mr. Obasi, my father served in Burma [Myanmar] in the Second World War. When he left to fight, he was not yet 18 years old. He was a combatant and was wounded in action. He remained in the army after the war and was eventually commissioned from the ranks in August 1953, with seniority from January 1951.
He served in the Congo with Nigeria’s contingent to United Nations troops there, eventually serving as Chief of Staff of the entire UN force in 1963. In September 1964, when recommending him to be the next General Officer Commanding [GOC] of the Nigeria Army,Major General Sir Welby-Everard—the last British GOC of the Nigeria Army—described him as follows:
“ Whilst Chief of Staff in the Congo, he earned high praise for his military ability, fine character and powers of organization. His professional knowledge is good and he possesses a sound and balanced judgment. He has an equitable temperament and is universally respected by all ranks in the army.
He has the military ability, leadership qualities and the personal characteristics to make a good GOC.”
One can only speculate how Nigeria’s history may have turned if Welby-Everard’s recommendation to the Minister of Defence as to who would be his successor as GOC had been accepted. However, it is clear that if a professional soldier, with direct knowledge of my father’s professional capabilities, reached these conclusions, then the numerous ‘commentators’ who have declared his actions to be cowardice but who, for most part, had no military experience and did not know my father, are only demonstrating their ignorance.
Senior military officers command troops and do not fight, themselves. My father had already lost soldiers, who had been swiftly cobbled together to confront the mutineers. To have sought to find additional, ill-equipped soldiers to send to their death would have been foolish, irresponsible and contrary to all the training and experience that he had received and accumulated since he became a soldier in 1942. It would also not have accomplished anything positive and may have brought about a civil war, earlier and of an entirely different dimension.
Whilst it would be hugely satisfying to the family if my father’s contribution to the efforts to keep the country unified were to be given official recognition, it is not something that I, personally, seek. The little that my father was able to teach me in his short life prevents me from doing so.
What I do seek ,however, is the presentation to us of the Star of the River Benue conferred on him in the National Honours list of 1964, and which he never received. He already earned that. If, in addition, Nigeria decides to further recognize his contributions, we would gratefully receive such recognition. November 20 marked 46 years since he died at the age of 47.