By Gambo Dori
Prince Dotun Oyelade is the official biographer of Air Chief Marshall Alex Badeh. I read the book,Destiny Calling My Name, which I picked up at the Aliyu Mohammed Research Library in Kaduna. It was later that I met the author on a writing collaboration.
I found him to be a consummate journalist who had worked in the NTA for many years before embarking on a successful book writing ventures. In 2001 he became the Chief Executive Officer of Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State and later in 2007 he was appointed the Special Adviser on Public Communications to Governor of Oyo State Adebayo Alao-Akala.
When I heard of Alex Badeh’s death I knew that Dotun would be one of those who would be affected. He sent in this warm tribute which is published below. Please read on:
I wrote the biography of Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh in 2015 when he was the number one Nigerian soldier, the Chief of Defence Staff.
I got a surprise call from his office asking if I was Prince DotunOyelade and that made me to meet one of the most consummate professionals in my entire career as a writer/journalist and I have met quite a handful.
In the early morning of Thursday April 10,2014, I was ushered into his official quarters at Niger Barracks, Abuja and over a breakfast which consisted of a motley of incongruous helpings like akara, boiled plantain, pap, yam and garnished stew which lasted 15 minutes, we agreed on the operational terms for the work.From then on, everything moved with the speed of light.
He left me with an Air Commodore to draft and perfect the Agreement. I would later learn that in his official duties, he was curt but courteous. He loved being prepared and took decisions quickly. He had a first class brain and he knew it and was very comfortable with figures.
To cut a long story short, the book was ready to his satisfaction exactly one year after and launched on Friday, May 22, 2015 at the NAF Conference Centre and Suites, Abuja.Rev Father Mathew Kukah and Prof Jerry Gana were Chairman and Special Guest, respectively, including all the Service Chiefs and other top brass in the military.
By this time so many things have changed. Mohammadu Buhari had become the President- elect, Jonathan had become a subdued lame-duck President and the Service Chiefs were not as sure-footed as they were a couple of months back but they, like Badeh remained at their posts for a little while more.
While the schism within the military top hierarchy was all too clear at the time, what was not so clear was the general direction of the command structure. My duty as his biographer availed me the privilege of orbiting around his close circle of friends and confidants and I could feel the palpable tension which even his famed ebullience and swagger could not douse.
The book provided Badeh a rare opportunity to tell the world his own side of the story on the rampant insecurity that pervaded the land particularly in the North East. There was no doubt that he was boiling inside and had a story to tell.
Given the hush-hush that surrounded the issue in the midst of his trusted allies and especially the stinging public opinion concerning certain actions he was accused of taken, it was a matter of time before he would spill the beans. In the end, he buckled under wiser counsel and kept the Boko Haram story for another day, but dead men tell no tales. At the fullness of time, history will judge whether his decision to postpone what he had to say on the lingering Boko Haram debacle was politically correct.
Even at that, the book, titled DESTINY CALLING MY NAME was laced with some of Badeh’s dramatic encounters with certain prominent people like former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Vice President AbubakarAtiku, Rear Admiral Nyako,Air Commodore Jonah Jang, and quite a few others. In real life Badeh was a natural adventurer and an extrovert personified. He represented the quintessential successful professional who loved what he was doing.
He loved the boys around him and he would call to find out why you were not at his place last night until he understood that I am not the nocturnal type; but as for many of his friends, they enjoyed the warmth and charm of one of the best pilots that Nigeria ever produced. He belonged to those genre of successful executives who loved to live it up and were not averse to a nice glass of exotic cognac or wine, yet remain steely committed to their career. Badeh was famous for being an early riser who, either as Commander, Presidential Air Fleet, Chief of Air Staff or the Chief of Defence Staff, he would be at his desk promptly.
His presence of mind and sense of recollection were awesome and he carried no airs about himself or his numerous achievements. As a young pilot he took so many unimaginable risks like shutting down the engine mid-air and cascading down 10,000 feet over Kujama hill in Kaduna only to rev the engine back to life just before hitting the ground.
Of course, putting the plane on a spinning mode at dizzying speed while taunting the ground below was another past time of Badeh and a few other young officers. So deft and respected he was as a pilot that he was picked to fly prominent world leaders such as former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton when they were on missions to Africa.
On an Abuja-Accra-London flight, the late Kofi Annan’s aircraft developed a sensor problem and it was Badeh who maneuvered the plane back to base, put him on another plane to conclude the trip. Kofi Annan was so impressed that he gave him an autographed pen.
Alex SabunduBadeh did over 6000 flying hours and he used to joke that former President Obasanjo was responsible for a large chunk of it because he was reputed to be the most travelled president of all time.In many cases they would fly from Nigeria to Moscow in eight hours, then back to Haneda in Tokyo in eleven hours and end up in New York and with little time to rest because the President must attend the Federal Executive Council meeting back in Abuja.
Badeh loved his community with passion and was very proud of his village Vimtim. Ever before I got to know the village, he regaled me with tales of the uniqueness of the local delicacy called Vimtim meat which is a thick lump of red meat traditionally served by the Fali people during Christmas. Not bad for the palate, but it was debatable whether or not it was the best meat in the world as Badeh had insisted!
When I heard of his death my thoughts went to his dotting wife, Mary Iyah. He was so committed to his career that when he took her out for the first time in 1983, it was to an Air Show at the Air Force Base in Kaduna.But it was the children that I pitied most, but I have no doubt on my mind that they will take his death on the chin.
Asuamana his daughter will be devastated. Kamtafwa will be gutted. The first child Alex jnr said of his father in 2015: “He’s my mentor and role model, the number one person I look forward to in life and that is why I have tried to follow his footsteps.”Such a role model he was to his son that after graduating in Engineering from an American University, Alex Jnr trained as a pilot and today, he works in a Boeing airline.