By Alemma-Ozioruva Ali
Dr Samuel Ogbemudia, a former governor of the defunct Midwest Region and old Bendel State, would have been 85 years on Sept 17. He died in March last year. In this interview, his eldest son, Samuel Ogbemudia Jr, speaks about the family and contemporary issues.
My daddy would have been 85 years this year. It is sad he is dead but, like the saying goes, when an old man passes on, the devil is not happy but when a young person dies, the devil is happy; so he continues to rest in peace.
How have you been coping as the head of the family?
Well, it is a very big challenge in the sense that, whenever you are given the crown, or you are made the Chief Executive officer of an organisation or a family, especially with the legacy, with all the works that our father did, it can be very challenging and, for me, it is nearly two years now, it is too early to call but initially it would be challenging.
I was watching a television program this morning on the first Chinese emperor and how when he passed on. And two of his sons started fighting and they split the empire and eventually the whole dynasty collapsed. So it is not easy to be the head but I thank God that my late father gave me enough training both in theory and practical, in terms of me following him to be able to cope. Otherwise by now you would have been hearing so many stories, so it is not easy. I believe he has toughened me enough to be able to cope.
What is your relationship with your siblings and other members of your family?
My father left behind both biological and non-biological children. In terms of my siblings, according to Benin culture, they are all my children but you know how it is. Some people are not ready for that; they still say ‘oh, that is Sam Jr’. But a lot of people have also told me to remove the ‘Junior’, that I am Samuel Ogbemudia. It can never be smooth sailing just like in all families; there must be the pros and cons because some people are not just ready to accept the change. I am talking of both biological and non-biological children but I can assure you that majority of his biological children are in very good terms.
How much support has the family been getting from your father’s former associates and even the state government?
Support has been wonderful from the present governor, Mr Godwin Obaseki, and his predecessor, Governor Adams Oshiomhole. There are other people. The immediate past National Chairman of the APC, former Governor John Odigie-Oyegun and some other persons have been doing so much for the family; they are so many and I cannot mention all their names but there are also lots of disappointments in terms of those who just want to play to the gallery.
What pains me the most is that such a great man, with all the works he did and the legacies he left behind, not much has been named in his honour. For instance, the University of Benin, which he founded, should be named after him. Most of the students in that university do not even know that he founded it and what I want is a situation in which those that my father empowered should go the whole hog and ensure that he gets due recognition, they should rename that university Samuel Ogbemudia University. Yes we have Ogbemudia Stadium, we have New Era College named after him and a street in National Assembly Quarters but that university should be named after him.
The administration of President Goodluck Jonathan did not fully utilise the qualities of my father. Instead of utilising him on areas he is best at, for example security, infrastructure and other areas, they went to put him in Abuja University but, even at that, as of the time he got there, the university was ranked above 50 but by the time he passed on, Abuja University became ranked number nine in the country.
I believe if President Jonathan had used him in other areas, he would have done better; so if you want the best result, use the best hands. My advice for President Muhammadu Buhari is that he should call the best heads, he should set a task force of former armed forces personnel to advise him on the issue of security because he cannot just rely on his NSA and Service Chiefs alone; that would have been one of the best things President Jonathan would have done and President Buhari should do such.
One of your younger sisters is a Council Chairman. Do you have plans to go into politics?
I will use this opportunity to thank the people of Egor local government and Edo APC for allowing my sister to be Council Chairman. For me, God has not spoken to me; when God speaks to me, l will know what to do but I know one thing and, that is, I look at history and how my father became military governor, he had to fight war before he became military governor but I will not fight war before I will occupy any position.
Meanwhile I have conducted elections when PDP was PDP in several states and also I was the Director of the Edo Liaison office in Lagos when Professor Osunbor was governor. I do remember when the EFCC was chasing some House of Assembly members, I was the one that signed their bail. Many of them are in government now. I signed their bail but, today, a lot of them will not act is if such thing ever existed. So when God speaks to me, I will know exactly what to do.
My father did everything for me before he passed on. That is why he said he wanted to be buried within seven days. He prepared his grave, he shared his properties because he knew, from history, what families do and how families are torn apart because of money and properties. So he did everything and I will tell you that if he had not done that, maybe by now, they would not have buried him. I also want to thank Governor Obaseki because he also pushed us to make sure that he was buried within seven days because I had some doubts about my siblings coming from abroad and other issues but he pushed to us to keep to his wish. You can see a lot of families when the bread winner passes on, it will take years to bury the bread winner.
What do you miss most about your father?
What I miss most is his advice, his friendship. This is a man that you can be with 24 hours and you will always be entertained. It is now I remember most of the things he used to tell me, we used to engage in constructive arguments and most of the things he used to say then are happening now.
What are your expectations ahead of 2019 general elections?
Power comes from God; we have had similar challenges in the past. After the annulment of June 12 1993 election and then military leader, IBB, stepped aside, we saw Igbo leaving all parts of the country back home to the East, and we thought heaven was going to fall. I also remember when former President Jonathan was made Acting President, we thought heaven was going to fall. I remember when then Minister Godsday Orubebe was shouting blue heaven to INEC Chairman Jega over the 2015 presidential election result and we thought heaven was going to fall; so this is God’s own country. President Buhari was not put there by man, he was put there by God and God knows the reason he put him there.
For instance, the issue of Boko Haram is a global terrorist organisation just like ISIS, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. It is a conspiracy to destroy Nigeria and they have conspirators here but God will not allow it because Nigeria is God’s own country. President Buhari is not just fighting enemies within, he is also fighting global enemies. There have been terrorist attacks in Belgium, France, UK and several countries in the West with all their technology. So I assure you that the 2019 elections are going to go very smoothly. We are talking about what this government has done for the majority of the people and not what it has done for the few.
How do describe the administration of Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State in terms of what your father started and revived by Comrade Adams Oshiomhole?
Everybody is different. Governor Oshiomhole is different from Governor Obaseki in terms of relationship with the people. Governor Obaseki is doing his best, you know that he came in during recession but people want him to be exactly like Governor Oshiomhole which he cannot be. Two people cannot be the same.
What people are complaining about now, especially the political class, which is about 25 per cent of the population of the state, is stomach infrastructure but the governor is doing his best to put infrastructure on ground. He has signed agreements with some Chinese firms that will definitely yield dividends in the future. We need to give him more time to finish his assignment; it is too early to assess him.