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Ogbemudia’s lessons for Obasanjo

By Emmanuel Aziken

Recent missives from Generals Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida on the pathetic state of the nation reflect the patriotism that men and women of the Nigerian military were trained to pursue. Having fought for the unity of the nation, their observance of the sorry state of the country and the drift towards ethnic insurrection is understandable.

Olusegun Obasanjo

The intervention to change the narrative has apparently not been welcomed by the authorities. It is noteworthy that Obasanjo’s 81st birthday passed on last Tuesday without the customary greeting from the presidency.

As the former president intervenes through his Third Force, he could well look on the experience of a former military colleague, the late Brig. Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia who died a year ago, yesterday.

Indeed, Ogbemudia’s radiant legacy in governance continues to shine despite many political disappointments.

Gen. Ogbemudia’s laurels in governance in the former Midwestern Region despite the claims of several successors in the two states remain unrivalled. No one, military or civilian has as at date neared Ogbemudia in terms of accomplishments. His achievements in office were underpinned by a philosophical sense of equanimity that defied all manner of intrigues and perfidies laid against him.

He was also a man of great fortitude who could smile at whatever storm that was organised against him. And there were several.

An accomplished graduate of the best and biggest military academies in the world, including Fort Bragg, California, USA and the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, England, he brought his training in public administration from his foreign military trainings to bear in governance. It has been said that civil servants who served him as military governor were shocked at the ease with which he escaped the traps many otherwise simple-minded political office holders fell into.

The events that followed his sack from office as military governor in 1975 perhaps left a scar on him.

In fact, it took a personal but private visit by President Shehu Shagari to his Benin residence in 1981 to compel him into the politics of the Second Republic. Shagari needed Ogbemudia as the National Party of Nigeria, NPN candidate to help him win Bendel State. Ogbemudia, however, insisted that if he must contest that his own man must be the party chairman and thus, he brought along, Chief Tony Anenih, who had served as Divisional Police Officer, DPO in Warri while he, Ogbemudia was military governor.

Though he won the 1983 election, his term was cut short by the Muhammadu Buhari coup which truncated the Second Republic. It was, however, an energetic three months.

As he aged gracefully, it was the pleasure of your correspondent to have developed a relationship with him. It was not always clear, as to why Ogbemudia made what some considered improbable political decisions especially towards the end.

His last political venture was to break the hegemony of the two major political parties in Edo State, the APC and the PDP through a third force, styled as the Edo Mass Movement, EMM. Initially, the movement garnered momentum as many political heavyweights who appeared to have either lost out or been disappointed with the goings on in the two major parties initially showed interest. But in the end, real politics of brawn and butter took sway over the election process.

Though Ogbemudia was not such to have been swayed by those permutations, he, to the amazement of many members of his Third Force stepped back at the last minute and gave in to the prevailing political force of the APC. Why did he do it? Your correspondent looked forward to drawing a response from him, but there was no opportunity before his death exactly a year ago yesterday.

In the face of the overwhelming powers of the incumbent administration at the federal level, General Obasanjo is like Ogbemudia faced with the challenge of marshaling a Third Force to break the hegemony of the two tainted tendencies in the land—the PDP and the APC. Like Ogbemudia, Obasanjo is open to the vagaries of an unprincipled political class that could soil his deserved reputation in statecraft.

Ogbemudia’s experience is a lesson for Obasanjo to look up to; albeit to sidestep what many on this side of eternity see as the faults of a great man!


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