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As Audu Ogbeh takes the back seat (2)

By Eric Teniola

ON December 31, Major General Muhammadu Buhari toppled President Shehu Shagari. Chief Ogbeh went back to his farm in Benue State. He is an Idoma. The Idomas are people that primarily inhabit the lower western areas of Benue State; kindred groups can be found in Cross River State, Enugu State and Nasarawa State in Nigeria. The Idoma language is classified in the Akweya subgroup of the Idomoid languages of the Volta–Niger family, which include Alago, Agatu, Etulo and Yala languages of Benue, Nasarawa and northern Cross River states. The Akweya subgroup is closely related to the Yatye-Akpa sub-group.

Audu Ogbeh
Audu Ogbeh

The bulk of the territory is inland, south of river Benue, some 72 kilometres east of its confluence with river Niger. The Idomas are known to be ‘warriors’ and ‘hunters’ of class, but hospitable and peace-loving. Other tribes in Benue State are Tiv, Igede, Etulo, Abakpa, Jukun, Hausa, Igbo, Akweya and Nyifon. He returned to full time farming in December 1984. During the period, he set up a number of personal projects, including medium scale rice mill, 14,000 tree cashew plantation and a poultry farm.

He also consulted for several state governments and established a number of notable projects, including a large scale pineapple project for Cross River State and two rice mills – for the Family Economic Advancement Programme in Abuja and for General Jeremiah.T. Useni in Langtang, Plateau State.

While in full time agriculture, he answered the call to serve and was appointed to the 19 member National Constitutional Conference Commission in 1993. He was later appointed to the eight-man National Reconciliation Committee which was inaugurated on December 28, 1995 under the leadership of my former teacher, Chief Alexander Opeyemi Akinyele, the Loboshin of Ondo Kingdom. General Sani Abacha inaugurated the committee with a view towards full reconciliation among Nigerians. He later dissolved the committee.

In 1998, he directed the presidential campaign of Dr. Alex Ekwueme, under the PDP and became a full time member of the party; which won the elections in 1999. He is also a member of Eisenhower Exchange Fellowships Incorporated, based in Philadelphia, United States of America. He has written five plays which include three published works. One of his plays, the Epitaph of Simon Kisulu was staged at Muson Centre in 2002. The brutal politics in Benue State almost took his life as he was attacked by hired assassins and was presumed dead after the attack in 1999.

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On November 11, 2001, Chief Audu Ogbeh succeeded his Benue State colleague, Chief Bernabas Germade who in November 1999 defeated Chief Sunday Awoniyi as chairman of the party. Chief Audu Ogbeh’s term as chairman was tumultuous. The puzzle I still don’t understand till now is why President Obasanjo picked on Chief Ogbeh to be the national chairman when in 1998 he was the campaign manager of Chief Alex Ekwueme in his presidential bid at the Jos Convention.

Chief Ogbeh reorganized the party and ensured the party’s victory in the 2003 election. From day one we knew that the marriage between President Obasanjo and Chief Audu Ogbeh could not work. One grew up in a military constituency where 100 per cent total loyalty to your boss wrong or right is required while the other grew up in a rather free world of ideas where you can agree and disagree on principles. The gubernatorial election in Anambra State in 2003 and other crises exposed the division between the two men.

Shortly after the Presidential election in 2003 he was faced with a difficult decision either to support President Obasanjo’s third term bid or to abide by the constitutional provision which allows any individual to serve only two terms. The decision he took became risky. Towards the end of his tenure and with his increasingly vocal denunciations against the excesses of the Obasanjo administration, he came into conflict with the president.

Chief Audu Ogbeh’s family was harassed and subjected to humiliation and embarrassment. His wife, Justina Obehi Ogbeh from Ekpoma in Edo State and his five children were not spared in the ordeal. In a letter dated December 6, 2004 he told President Obasanjo to do something about it. “About a month ago, the nation woke up to the shocking news of a devastating attack on Anambra State, resulting in the burning down of radio and television stations, hotels, vehicles, assembly quarters, the residence of the state chief judge, and finally, Government House, Awka. Dynamites were applied in the exercise; and all, or most of these actions, in the full glare of the police force, were shown on the NTA for the world to see. The operation lasted three days. That week, in all churches and mosques, we, our party, and you as head of government and leader of this nation, came under the most scathing and blithering attacks.”

To be concluded…

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