By Eric Teniola
THEY joined the Nigerian Army the same day in 1960, expectedly with different destinies. I am talking of Colonel Sule Apollo, Brigadier General Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia, Lt-General Julius Alani Ipoola Akinrinade, Major General Emmanuel Olumuyiwa Abisoye, Brigadier General Alabi-Isama, Colonel Ben Gbulie, General Yakubu Theophilus Danjuma, Major General Martins Adamu, Lt-Colonel Ayo Ariyo, Brigadier Pius Eromobor, Brigadier Ignatius Obeya, Brigadier General Femi David Bamigboye and Colonel Simon Uwakwe Ihedigbo.
The picture of their enrolment is on page 8 of the 671page book titled The Tragedy of Victory by Egbon, General Alabi Isama.
In his usual blunt way, General Danjuma spoke at Jalingo, Taraba state recently, the speech is still generating comments. It is only your friends who will know you best and there is no doubt General Akinrinade knows General Danjuma very well.
He wrote him a letter last November to mark his 80th birthday. The contents of the letter are still relevant in today’s Nigeria.
General Akinrinade declared “Ma Fred, I remember, as if it were yesterday when we met at Depot NA Zaria for kitting and a few days’ bashing before resuming for Officer Cadet training proper at NMTC Kaduna. You were already a student at the Nigerian College of Arts and had participated in School CCF programme and so was more attuned to the rigours, abuse and indecipherable language of our instructors.
You had an obvious head start in the academic studies. The fact that only fifteen out of thirty-five of us will be selected for further training did not influence your penchant for assisting some of us with the academics just like again until we worked under General Gowon as staff captains in 1964. It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship determination to be the best in the profession taking our cue from the impeccable, strict but kind posture of our boss. There was a humorous side to everything in your dictionary.
When we were the unlucky two manning the branch and had to take the bashing by Brigadier Zak Maimalari standing like wet chicken in the cold for the posting of Ifeajuna, his Brigade Major, you turned the whole episode into a joke when he left the branch. “Ma Fred, Stand easy”. I laughed in panic and asked you what that was all about and you said to me “don’t mind him, he was looking for someone to torture and took the wrong turn”.
On another occasion you froze when caught making the sign of the cross while watching the ‘rear’ as you called it, of a nursing sister who passes our room after an interview with our immediate boss, Major Aniebo. ‘Ma Fred! Did you see that rear’? I, instead of you got ticked off for laughing hysterically. Gowon got us the best schools for further training in 1965 and we never met again until late 1966 at Ikeja cantonment in the tensely confused aftermath of the coup de tat that brought Gowon as Head of State. You were focused, calm and when most of our colleagues were in panic, you were clear on what needed attention.
We did not fight in the same front but when I visited your headquarters at Umuahia in company of 3MCDO division, General Olusegun Obasanjo; there was no doubt as to who was in charge. Obasanjo later told me that he wished you were the GOC because he didn’t believe anyone besides you understood or was interested in the proposals for the final push, we came there to discuss. I reminded him proudly that you were my classmates. Events proved his observations right.
You have the knack for picking the best for every position and you lack patience for fools but I am still trying to decipher how it was possible for you, at the same time, able to tolerate some incompetent officers, in fact drew them close to you. I am aware that you influenced my appointment as GOC 1ST Division and even returned me there after one year of absence.
You watched the backs of your subordinates consistently otherwise Abisoye, Gibson, Jallo, myself and probably Martin Adamu could have come to grief early considering the posture of Obasanjo towards us. I hear you fought raging battles to ensure I succeeded you as Chief of Staff even if you had to trade in the position of a Deputy for the first time.
You made strenuous efforts to reorganize the ragtag overpopulated army you inherited and despite all odds squeezed resources to dampen restiveness. Several initiatives including the complicated insurance scheme, the renovation and construction of new barracks, transportation, some limited demobilisation of ex-servicemen, which had turned sourly emotional, and the ever neglected welfare of officers and men recorded some success.
Training especially field training, abandoned for fear of embedded possibilities your towering influence and clarity of thought most times dampened the propensity of Obasanjo’s government to overreact to thorny national issues. You were seen as the bridge to the North which accounted for your larger than life influence on the Nigerian political landscape and which led you to spearheading the imposition of Obasanjo as ‘civilian’ President.
I felt your absence when you abandoned Committee for Unity and Understanding, CUU, and the very influential Association for Democracy and Good Governance, ADGN, which I believe could have prevented the annulment of June 12 and the calamity that resulted, but as years went bye and the clouds start to clear, I very vaguely understands the dynamics and the subtle betrayals that necessitated your exit.
I have always enjoyed your friendship and generosity of spirit. Unlike you, I am irreligious but I admire your tenacity as a Christian faithful and your voluntary selfless contributions to the growth and preservation of the Christian faith and participation in using your means to support education through the Christian organisations. At eighty, you have devoted your entire life so far for the unity of Nigeria and maybe you will devote a little more attention to the thorny issues of restructuring this political system without which you have no guarantee of good life for the majority of our people. You earned my respect and I am proud to be associated with you.
’Ma Fred’ many happy returns.