Today, 90 years ago, His Excellency, Gen. Dr. Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia was born. Five years ago, on the 9th of March, 2017, he transited mortality for immortality at the age of 84, 6 months short of his 85th birthday. At 84, he certainly did not die young, given that the biblical age for longevity is 70 or 80 for the strong. Ogbemudia was therefore an octogenarian that remained strong, articulate and active in the nation’s life notwithstanding the leg injury he suffered 2013 at the Agricultural Research Council where he was Chairman. So, in keeping with the tradition he set decades before his passage, we celebrate today, albeit posthumously, his 90th birthday, and pray God to continue to rest him merry in His bosom.
Just before the General’s demise, His Excellency, Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki, had been sworn in as the 5th Executive Governor of Edo State, after Chief John Odigie Oyegun, Chief Lucky Nosakhare Igbinedion, Prof. Osarhiemen Anthony Osunbor and Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomonle. In the build-up to the election that brought Gov. Obaseki to office, Ogbemudia had invited delegates of the Edo Mass Movement (EMM), from across Edo State, to his Iheya residence in Benin City, and challenged them on their choice for the next Governor of the State, which was largely between Pastor Osagie Ize – Iyamu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Obaseki of the All Progressives Congress (APC). The delegates endorsed the latter, whereupon he, Ogbemudia, took effective steps to ensure Obaseki’s victory at the polls. In the Edo South Senatorial District, for example, Local Government Area Chairmen and Ward Chairmen of the PDP were invited to Iheya. The performance of the PDP in the preceding election at each of the polling units, in each of the wards, within the various the LGAs, was carefully analyzed, and steps were taken to improve on such performance even in places the Party had done well. A critical preview of the imminent election was then undertaken, which indicated victory, and a confident Ogbemudia assured all that Obaseki will give a good account of himself at the polls. That forecast came to pass. But he too passed-on before the new Governor settled into office.
Ogbemudia, a foundation member of the PDP and a member of the Party’s Board of Trustees (BOT) had resigned his membership of the Party after the 2015 general elections. But he did not join the APC either. He could have done so much earlier in 2013 when the idea of the Party was being incubated, or in 2014 when it was hatched. The moving spirits of the coalescing parties had visited him at the Command Guest House, Asokoro, Abuja. The team was led by Chief Bisi Akande who later became the new Party’s first National Chairman. Others were Gen. Muhammadu Buhari who became (and is still) President on the platform of the Party; Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who is now the Party’s presidential candidate; Lai Mohammed, who became (and is still) the Minister of Information, and two others. Ogbemudia’s response to the well co-ordinated speeches was that he would speak with his State Governor when he gets back to Benin and that they will hear from him, that is, the Governor. The Edo State Governor at that time was Comrade Oshiomonle. The Gen. however choose to remain active in politics but non – partisan, after resigning from the PDP.
Earlier, Ogbemudia had moved to mobilize and unify Edo people as the rays of political activities began to beam through the polity in 1998. Let me restate inter alia what he said at a meeting he called for that purpose.
“Dream in politics is vision and for it to gain concrete expression, unity of purpose, determination, adequate resources, honest leadership and dedicated followership are required. Put another way, power is required… It is with this upbeat mood that on behalf of Chief Tony Anenih, Chief G.O. Igbinedion, Esama of Benin, and my humble self, that I welcome you all, very warmly, to this unique,
historic and potentially pace – setting meeting, the first of its kind
since Edo State was created…We are concerned about the verdict of history. Therefore our objective is to assemble concrete and sufficient evidence for posterity to evaluate so that the verdict of history will be favourable to us. Let us all rededicate ourselves to the above declaration so that many years hence, our children ill look up with pride and pronounce that “on this day, the 16th of August, 1998, our fathers assembled in this hall, to formulate a unity plan that produced a united State from a diverse people…”
That meeting can be referred to as the foundation of the PDP in Edo State. His place in history was of constant concern to him, and it guided his public actions. He returned to that subject in another piece where he wrote as follows: “It has pleased God that I serve my county in diverse capacities, occupying different positions of trust and responsibilities. I am glad that there are some concrete deeds which historians can assemble and analyze in order to reach a favourable verdict. Having come this far, one is obliged at this twilight age to work for posterity. It is in this regard that I joined efforts to restore democracy to our country…” That was in a piece titled “Gemade’s date with History” published in the Thursday Newspapers edition of Dec. 19, 1999.
Regrettably, the democracy he joined others to restore in 1999 has been frontally assailed by severe and diverse vicissitudes, especially the insecurity of lives and property. Way back in 2002, he wrote that “by far, the greatest problem facing us now is the state of insecurity across the land. From the North to the South, from the West to the East. It does not matter whether you are in the cities or in the hamlets, life and property are no longer safe anywhere. It is an era of assassination and armed banditry galore! We are almost in a state of war. Where they sleep at all, Nigerians now do so with an eye open. It does not matter whether it is night or broad daylight, the armed bandits operate with reckless abandon and with military precision.” That concern, expressed in 2002 is even more relevant and dire in today’s Nigeria. And so too with Nigeria’s democracy. Like the man who saw tomorrow, he made a 24 – point recommendation for our democracy in a piece published by Guardian Newspaper edition of Oct. 1, 2000. Some of the recommendations are worth restating, herein:
1. Adoption of a culture of tolerance, accommodation, discipline, respect for laws and to duly constituted authorities.
2. The Parties should adopt the entire chapter two of our Constitution, namely, Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, as part of their ideology and manifesto.
3. The parties should have ideologies which will help the Government to promote the governed and his country.
4. The Educational qualifications of our public offices should improve from the present form of secondary to tertiary education
5. The Police should be decentralized; create additional commands and go back to beat. The ratio of Policemen to Citizens should be 1 – 250
6. We should be patient with and encourage the Legislature to develop as the other two arms.
7. The Supreme Court should be able to intervene at its discretion, when there are crises of constitutional nature, threatening the peace, order and good governance of the country, by inviting the combatants to address as the court on the issues.
8. The Government and the governed must be subject to same law, which is supreme and must be seen to be so, power must be separate both theoretically and practically
9. We need persons who are both managers of materials resources and leaders of men in Government.
Perhaps the greatest tribute we can pay to Gen. Dr. Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia on this occasion of his 90th (posthumous) Birthday is to recall and parenthesize what His Excellency, Gen. Dr. Yakubu Gowon, GCFR, said at Gen. Ogbemudia’s bedside, at the Intensive Care Unit of the University of Benin Teaching Hospital. Holding Ogbemudia’s hands, Gen. Gowon said “Sam, you pulled Nigeria out of the civil war. You must pull yourself out of this…You can’t leave me now…God bless you, my dear Friend. Sam couldn’t pull himself out of it. But we are sure of God’s blessings on him with the Saints Triumphant.
Dr. U. E. Okolocha, was Special Assistant to Gen. Ogbemudia (1993 – 2017).