Ogbemudia @ 80: My Life Through Military, Politics, Sports And All…
Two-time governor of old Midwest and Bendel State, Dr. Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia, recently turned 80, an occasion that was celebrated with pomp and ceremony, and with family members, friends, associates and well-wishers from within and outside the country in attendance in Benin City.
Fielding questions from ALEMMA-OZIORUVA ALIU, Ogbemudia, a retire Brigadier-General, spoke on several issues, including his upbringing, military career and governance, politics in the Edo State PDP, the Jonathan administration and the 2015 elections, state police and sovereign national conference, and the Boko Haram upheaval.
Give us you thought at 80?
At 80, a young man would be quick to conclude that life has been far spent. But 80, to me, is still quite recent because mine has been laden with activities; and the quest to achieve more, surmount problems and formulate policies for societal development keeps me hoping for more years. I do hope God will oblige us.
However, I belong to rare breed of humans that exude strength and energy. I do not easily throw in the towel even if it is necessary to do so. I never retreat when victory is imminent; rather, I beat the drum of advancement for whatever cause I uphold.
At this age, I would count myself lucky and that is why I have always remained grateful to God for crowning all my endeavours with success. God has been the fundamental fabric sustaining all the principles I have enunciated, both for myself, and the society that I have been called upon to serve.
Regrettably, most of my mates, who might never have gone to battlefields, may have been called home. I have prosecuted wars, commandeered and commanded troops, dealt with all known fifth columnists, meandered my ways through flying bullets and yet emerged unscathed. Is God not great? These are sufficient to make me happy. Not even a strand of my grey hair has been host to regrets so far.
During the celebration of my 80th birthday on the 17th of Sept 2012, I was stunned to see the milling crowd around me, which left me with nothing but ceaseless smiles of satisfaction that no food, however rich, can equate. I would wish I know everyone by name. I am more concerned now on how to help this nation grow than of interests, which are self-serving.
So looking back, would you say you are a fulfilled man?
I have partially answered your question in my reply to your foregoing question except if the yardsticks for measuring a fulfilled man are quite different from the above.
A man is said to be fulfilled if, at the time he is retiring from active public life, he has been able to effect significant changes in the socio-economic, political and cultural aspects of his domain. These changes are those that are capable of enduring and outliving ages to come, not those that are ephemeral or short-lived.
A man is also fulfilled if he is happy with himself and free from any form of encumbrance and unnecessary litigation. At date, I have no skeleton in my cupboard. I am highly fulfilled now or in the past.
From the inklings I got from people, a sort of ‘Ogbemudia Cult’ is emerging, to uphold the principles of genuine government and thus celebrate living legends and heroism.
Over the years, I have put my life on the line and sacrificed to the states (Edo and Delta) through the provisions of infrastructure that has become standard point of reference today. All these put together make me a fulfilled man.
Could you take us through your background; how was growing up like?
If I may allude to an Achebean proverb, which says, “looking at a king’s mouth one would think he never sucked from his mother’s breast,” some persons think that I belong to the category of children born with silver spoons in their mouths. I was never of noble birth. I had a humble beginning in life.
Like every other child, I grew up steadily in the village, helping my parents who were a carpenter and a farmer, respectively. My father, who was a disciplinarian, seriously drilled me. He never wanted us to be lazy and so, would occupy me with my share of domestic jobs for the day. From sunrise to sunset, I would be busy carrying them out in stages. Mistakes were bound to be made, and corrections were bound to be shown with smacks.
My mother was a highly domesticated African woman, who would neither pamper nor pet me but instill in me the attitude of being strong, obedient and hopeful. For example, my village was not very close to a water source; so, I would trek about 10 kilometres to and fro, fetching water every morning.
By stroke of ill luck sometimes, one could stumble and dash (smash) the calabash and the journey had to be repeated. Although I had had cause to react, little did I know that I was being gradually seasoned for the military job ahead of me. When I was finally enlisted into the army, I found all manners of training very easy.
Growing up was actually strewn with strife and stress. I remembered vividly how I took ill and my father had to put me on a bicycle and strolled with it accompanied by my mother from Ashaka, where he was employed as a carpenter, to Benin to seek medical care. The journey took us three days.
At sunset, we would put up with people who were complete strangers to us until we were ready to move the next morning. It was a time when criminality was rare and people saw others as one of theirs. I survived all childhood challenges and stayed in Benin under the care of my grandmother, who took care of me even in my formative years.
‘Military Training, Style Of Leadership Hallmarked My Achievement’
WHAT was the secret behind your successful outing as a military governor of Midwest (Bendel) State?
My successes as military a governor of Midwest State of Nigeria could be traceable to two principal factors. The first factor is personal attributes. I am careful not to overblow (overstate) this because I do not want to be self-congratulatory but it must be said that the military training exposed me to challenging duties professionally and drew me close to the nitty-gritty of day-to-day running of government.
I was trained in a special warfare institute, Forth Bragg, North Carolina (the home of 82 Airborne Division), in the United States of America. In this school, I was tutored that for a leader to succeed, he must be seen to be impeccable all the time. He must lead by examples for others to emulate. He should be able to discern and decipher between positive critics from sycophants who will come around the corridors of power to win favour.
Having been part of the troops, which liberated Midwest State, I knew that disaffection was very high among the populace. Therefore, as soon as I was made the military administrator, I settled to mend fences and so was able to erase suspicions against those suspected to have collaborated with the secessionist (Biafran) troops. Peace having been achieved, the way was now opened for me to show my stewardship.
The other factor is the combination of military training with my organisational style, coupled with a wide array of human capital at my disposal. I made use of the best technocrats. I was not autocratic. All decisions were arrived at through consultations and consensus.
My cabinet had high team spirit. Each department acted as a check on the other. Government programmes and execution were evenly spread to affect all nooks and crannies of Midwest State.
During my 80th birthday anniversary, I could have written volumes in my seating position where I listened with complete rapture, as speakers after speakers eulogised my person and spoke about my achievements, which left alone, I would not have remembered. These, I think, attested to my successful outing as military governor of Midwest State.
Considering this laudable performance, what motivated you into joining the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in 1983 rather than the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN)?
After the ban on political parties was lifted by the Murtala/Obasanjo regime, the NPN came into being in September of 1978 in Lagos. It had, among its manifestoes, the complete industrialisation of Nigeria; unity, peaceful co-existence, social justice and the rule of law; food security and affordable and decent shelter for all irrespective of party affiliations.
I suddenly fell in love with these manifestoes, as my major blueprint on the development of Nigeria were attuned or hinged on these objectives of the party. It is not possible for me to belong to all parties and so, the question as to why I decided to opt for the NPN instead of the UPN should not have arisen in the first instance.
The NPN offered me the best manifestoes and gubernatorial position to contest. I am not guided by party names or affiliation but by the charisma of the man at the helms of affairs. That keeps every party viable.
I joined the party in order to get what I could refer to as a legitimate passage to accomplish that which I thought I had not been able to achieve in my first coming. But for the short duration (October-December 31st 1983) and the unfortunate incident of a military coup, my plans would have been made manifest.
How would you assess the performances of the governors that had run Bendel, part of which is now Edo, since you left office?
It will not be in my position to assess the performances of the past and present governors. I am not competing with anyone for now. The best judges are to be found in the people they have governed and the footprints they have left in the sand of time.
Remember that in every system, there are detractors, sycophants and political prostitutes, who shout, ‘Hosanna today, and crucify him tomorrow.’ However hard you tried, they must find an outlet to crucify you.
The social, political, economic and cultural problems that presented themselves for solutions in my time may be quite different from those of today. In the same vein, the development on my time was commensurate with the expectations of the period. To draw a comparison or correlation would amount to a wasteful academic exercise.
But government should be seen to constantly appease the people by acceding to their needs
However, it should be noted that I am not opposed to good works. Any step in the right direction taken by any government should be applauded, party differences notwithstanding.
‘Edo PDP Mismanaged Its Victories’
YOUR party (PDP) lost the governorship election in Edo State; what happened?
Election is a game. One must win or the other loses. I cannot reconcile as to why there is hue and cry about the inability of the PDP to win in Edo State. On a closer study, I have found out that this question is meant to engender laughable and quizzical answers rather than to encourage PDP to strive to win elections in the state.
Nigerians have outlived the policies of deception. It is now an issue-based politics, which depends on performances by individual (party) rather than on popularity of political party without a corresponding ability to perform.
The party needs to put its house in order. It failed outright, as was seen in the poor management of earlier victories. It danced itself lame before the actual event and slumbered when spectators were waiting to be entertained.
A print media satirises the failure of PDP in Edo State in a bitter metaphor when it says, “a servant who performed better was preferred to a master who failed.” There are many lessons to be learnt from this.
You are one of the opposition political leaders in the state that has publicly admired Governor Adams Oshiomhole; what endeared him to you?
My public assertion is in the true spirit of sportsmanship. I believe in the “Wazirian” philosophy of “politics without bitterness.” I have repeatedly said that my membership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) cannot be shaken. I cannot, for the sake of party affiliation, fail to commend good works.
If PDP were in the saddle, it would expect other party members to commend its good works since it was being done for the general good, not personal. Therefore, I would not want to be crucified for saluting the courage of one who has done what PDP would have done had the election been in their favour.
It is the failure to extend hands of friendship, bury the hatchet and co-exist that is one of the banes of Nigerian politics today.
But your candidate (Major-General Charles Ehigie Airhiavbere) is challenging the re-election of Oshiomhole against your party’s decision; does this not amount to anti-party activity?
My answer is “yes” and “no”. The party in this case is supranational because it is a major umbrella under which every member must hide. On this account, it superimposes on all members to pay allegiance to it.
On the contrary, if a member feels compelled outside the party advice that an issue at stake affects him personally, he may be free to seek redress in the law court. “He who wears the shoe knows where it pitches.” His (Airhiavbere’s) move may amounts to a wide goose chase but events in subsequent court sittings will disprove or prove this.
What is the future of PDP in Edo State?
The future is promising and glaring if the old problems are resolved. One of these problems borders on injustice. The details of my assertion are outside the purview of this interview. However, injustice produces a state of disaffection, inequality, oppression and victimisation.
All these combined weaken the party and could subsequently not able to provide an effective bulwark to either stem or weather any opposition. Once these problems are solved, the party will bounce back. This is my humble submission for now.
‘Going For Second Term Is Personal Matter to Jonathan’
WHAT is your stand on the security challenges in the country?
There’s been no point in Nigeria’s history when security could be said to be okay. The problem has always stared us in the face — from the minority agitation in the early 60s to the insecurity generated by the secessionist regime in the 70s. In the 80s, armed robbery was widespread, leading to the popular ‘Anini saga’.
Between 1999 and 2009, the various groups in the Delta grew into armed (militant) agitations for control of the oil. For this reason, hostage-taking and kidnapping became the order of the day even up till date.
The above outline appeared to be isolated cases, compared to the emergence of Boko Haram, which has taken its tolls on human and material resources and thereby rendered asunder the erstwhile peace in the northern states of Nigeria.
These are products or consequences of underdevelopment, illiteracy and want in the face of plenty. We cannot expect anything less. Agriculture has been abandoned; sports have been left in the lurch as mere entertaining ventures rather than moneymaking business for the country and the participants.
Those who cannot fit into any sector easily find brigandage as a pastime. These challenges have betrayed the porosity of the security arrangements in the country and lay bare the weakness of those who had been saddled with the responsibility of providing security.
I believe that the government should not dissipate much energy in trying to quell the uprising but to address the issues, which necessitated it in the first place. This is why the American Government has refused to label Boko Haram a terrorist organisation. According to them, it is fighting the ineptitude and inefficiency of the government of Nigeria.
Ordinarily, I cannot give credence to wanton destruction of life and worship places based on ethnocentric feelings. For this reason, Boko Haram has tended to step beyond the bounds of commonsense.
Has President Jonathan fared well?
“Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,” so the old adage goes. It requires an in-depth knowledge, tact and diplomacy to rule this country. President Jonathan is capable of ruling this country and he has fared well despite obvious extraneous distractions.
As I have mentioned in our foregoing discussion, it will require the participation of all and sundry to make Nigeria work. Sitting on the fence will not help either. Jonathan is a listening president and uses the instrument of “public opinion” to the best. That he has surrounded himself with tested technocrats, and “think tanks” of world standard aptly shows that he will not want to be shaken or deceived by bigoted mediocre.
I will not hesitate, as an elder statesman, to offer some useful advice so that President Jonathan could, at any given time, match his words with actions. Jonathan should, once in a while, call me on a personal note for advice. I still have my knowledge intact.
The President is less than two years into his first tenure, and yet, people are talking of his seeking re-election; do you support this?
The President should be wary of praise singers whose loyalties are ambivalent. It is rather too early to discuss next election when the dust raised by the expression of joy that greeted his inauguration has not fully settled.
The focus should be in translating all his campaign promises into practical realities, knitting closely all the loopholes detected in the pre-campaign years, mending fallen fences and setting up new ones.
Going for a second term is a personal matter, which will be decided at the right time if he laid the foundation that will necessitate continuity. Time shall tell and his works in these four years will speak for him.
How do you view the reforms in the power sector and the resignation of Minister of Power?
The power sector is undergoing reforms. The National Integrated Power Projects (NIPP) spread nationwide, are gigantic schemes with heavy capital outlay. It was aimed at alleviating the dwindling power supply amidst increasing consumption in the country, which was grossly insufficient with the former infrastructure on ground.
(But) with the goings on in that sector, the projects are not far from being tagged, “White Elephant Projects.” Much water (financial commitments) has passed underneath the bridge with successive administration embarking and disembarking from the saddle of implementation without making progress.
Nigerians are in the grip of the waiting game and thus, passed most of their nights without electricity. The Promised Land had suddenly turned into a mirage of some sorts.
The case of the resignation of Barth Nnaji recently is one of such examples. He might have been sandwiched in between wishes and aspirations, clashed with powers that be on policy issue and posed a threat to Labour, which would want to save even its casual labourers from job loss.
Nnaji’s resignation may be hinged on any of the above based on our assumptions. He kept sealed lips and bowed out to defend his integrity. No one can fully say why but we know that his decision will not affect government policies.
The problems of the power sector are evidenced in our engineers not knowing enough and so cannot serve so great a population as Nigeria’s. The resignation is, therefore, a great blow to the efforts to get our power sector properly put in place.
‘We Support Sovereign National Conference If…’
THERE is agitation by some governors for state police; what is your position on this issue?
I have aired my views on this issue in both the print and the electronic media on many occasions. Let it be repeated here, for the sake of emphasis, that Nigeria is not matured or ripe enough for state police.
With my experiences both as a military and civilian governor, the people will use the state police against themselves. It will be an avenue for personal vendetta, assassination and agents for the travesty of justice.
Since they will be paid by the state, it, therefore, means that the state police will be used as machinery to perpetuate unpopular regime in power. They are most likely to clash with the federal police on the same issue, as each would want to outwit the other on security matters.
Considered alone, the call for state police would be detrimental to the country’s survival in the face of the current security threat to life and property. With a well-funded federal police, adequate training and provision of necessary equipment, their combat readiness will be fully enhanced that the call for the establishment of state police will not be needed after all.
In the face of these challenges, and sectional agitations, do you support the call for a Sovereign National Conference?
In a multi-linguistic or heterogeneous society such as Nigeria, sectional or ethnic nationalism is to be expected. Solutions to this problem had been proffered and administered at one time or the other, yet the same problem has persisted. It is either the operators are not doing enough or it had failed altogether.
I know that the creation of states, and local government areas; the creation of the Federal Character Commission, the Derivation Formula and Revenue Allocation are some of the measures put in place to douse some of these agitations. These institutions should meet every three months to compare notes.
Sovereign National Conference (SNC) is a sick baby of Nigerian origin that had never been attended to. We support the convocation of a national conference if it will achieve the desired aims and objectives. My fear is in its composition. What are the yardsticks for sending delegates and how many from each state? Will too many cooks not spoil the broth?
Of what use is the word “Sovereign” when the National Assembly has the constitutional backing to legislate, amend or abrogate any law on how the country should be governed? Who elects the members of the National Assembly in the first instance? Is it not the same people who are clamouring for the National Conference? Where then are the functions of the National Assembly?
There are more questions than answers in this regard. Any time this matter was introduced, it generated heated debates, but no winner ever emerged.
‘Our Sports Administration Does Not Compare To Global Standard’
YOU were a sport-loving administrator, who built the Ogbe Stadium (now Ogbemudia Stadium), established a Physical and Health Education Training School, and the Afuze Games Village. What would you attribute to Nigeria’s dwindling fortune in sports?
Every Nigerian was taken aback in the just-concluded Olympic Games in which Nigeria participated and returned without winning a medal. It was a national embarrassment, more so when we claim to be the ‘Giant of Africa’.
Many factors were responsible for Nigeria’s abysmal performance in this Olympics and several other past international outings. I had expressed my views in the past in a number of dispatches, open letters, paper presentations and interviews in all kinds of media. The culmination of it all could be gleaned from the report of the National Committee on Problems of Sports Development in Nigeria, which I headed as the committee chairman. The report was submitted to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (GCFR) in October. 2001.
The report is in four volumes and contained a plethora of reasons besetting sports development in Nigeria. For the sake of brevity, some of the problems are outlined as follows: The lack of cautious and constant training for sports men and women as opposed to short-term preparation popularly known as fire brigade approach; fraudulent methods of selecting sports men based on Federal Character rather than on merit; the lack of zeal on the part of government to modernise sport facilities coupled with the abandonment of the same and disuse; Sports Ministry is fraught with corruption, misappropriation, nepotism and greed tottering individuals who are interested in feathering their nests only; the absence of a well-defined reward system and the retention of best athletes to the extent that most of them die in the streets unsung; the dearth and inadequate legal instruments regulating national policy on sports administration for the same reason that unnecessary
political interference had robbed it of its autonomy, etc.
I tried to deal with or minimise these problems in my time as military administrator of Midwest State (now Edo and Delta). That is why Bendel State, as it was later known, became a threat to other states in Nigeria. We had always come out first in each competition with a harvest of laurels and prizes. It was not by accident but by dint of hard work, professional super-intension and productive governmental policies.
The failed trip to London 2012 was not unexpected after all, as the athletes gave results proportionate to the quality of training and attention they received. The only consolation the country received was the gallantry shown by our Paralympians; otherwise, the whole episode of 2012 Olympiad would have been a historical void in the limbo of dead memory.
Our Sports Administration does not compare to the global standard in sport. Ditto for other sectors like agriculture, defence.
What is your advice to young Nigerians most of whom seem to have lost focus?
Let me start by telling you that, “great people are ordinary people with extraordinary determination.” Our youths need to be educated, as this will provide the springboard for other endeavours and as well as arm them to tackle the problem of want.
The government cannot meet everyone’s needs. The employment market is overcrowded with young Nigerians looking for white-collar jobs. Nobody is ready to venture into agriculture, sports and vocational activities. Thus, the cycle of retrogression seems to be “school back to the street.”
The youths are to blame because some of them are lazy. I was told in school that man should not be seen to be passing through the earth (Viator Mundi) only but he should be seen to be taking part (Faber Mundi) in it. Man should be able to extract from the apparently limited resources at his disposal to make a fortune. These fortunes could be achieved in soldiering, commerce, farming, music, sports, etc.
Herein lies the essence of greatness borne out of sheer determination. Unfortunately, some of our youths have chosen to be slothful. If horses were wishes, don’t you know that beggars might ride? To ride a horse, one has to work.
It is obvious that our standard of education does not meet up with international standard. Nigeria needs to constantly update itself on technological advancement in education, sports, agric.
‘I Haven’t Shared My Property’
HOW is your life like: number of wives, children, etc?
I have a sizeable number of children. Few are my biological children while the rest are those who take me as their surrogate father. The latter group of children is made up of those who regard me as their mentor and would wish I were their father.
Though there’s nothing like a duplicate father, what I mean is that by dint of my position and age, many persons draw largely from me for sustenance. I am happy and I accept being called the father of all.
There was a time you shared your Estate among your children; what necessitated that?
I wonder why people beat their side and come up with unfounded news. I could not have shared my Estate while I am still alive. I should be promoting prodigality among my children if I did, and probably make others to go at daggers-drawn. Remember, this can cause disaffection.
I did not share property. I gave them lands so they could build and own houses. For those with entrepreneurial abilities, it was opportunities opened for them to establish. This was mistaken for property shared