Ogbemudia: The perils of longevity By Louis Odion, FNGE

Late Sam Ogbemudia….A good man!

To secure a durable place in
history, said John Kenneth Galbraith,
you have to die young.
By this assertion, the late great
American economist would seem to underline the paradox of early bloomers, the
hyper-achievers who, on account of packing so much Alphas into their early
lives, often end up being sentenced to the drudgery of spending their remaining
years on earth in acute redundancy.

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In a way, Dr. Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia partly fits Galbraith’s typology. Before losing out in the power-play that
trailed General Yakubu Gowon’s
overthrow in 1975, the Edo-born warrior had undoubtedly become a household name
and his visage engraved on the national memory. It is however debatable
whether any thing significant was added to that golden identity by his
political engagements in the decades ahead or any respect earned from the
lesser company he found himself.
One, his 3-month reign as civilian
governor of Bendel State in 1983 was
rather too short for him to make any appreciable impact that could, in
hindsight, be cited as enough justification for accepting to be used by NPN mercantilists to truncate the
progressive march led by Ambrose Alli
of UPN then.

Late Ogbemudia & his Political Son, ex-Governor Adams Oshiomhole

Nor could his flirtation a decade
later with the despotic and discredited Sani Abacha as Labour and
Productivity minister be said to have, in good conscience, added any feather to
his cap as a progressive maestro. 
His appointment, by the way, was an
accident. Abacha used to be his boy
back in the 60s. After he became head of state in 1993, Ogbemudia was said to have stormed Aso Rock with a view to having his nominee appointed
minister. Instead, Abacha, never
one to forget old favour or forgive ancient score, reportedly insisted his old
mentor should join his cabinet as minister.
Taken together, what could then be
counted as perhaps the redeeming feature of the General with the trademark
dimpled smile was that he, by a few inexplicable mercies of history, had
continued to draw from an usual staying power that ensured he often rebounded
to the zenith as often as he sunk to the nadir in the last four decades of his
mercurial life.

The Author, Louis Odion, can never forget Late General Sam Ogbemudia’s humility as a columnist to a National Newspaper edited by Mr. Odion years back

It then explains why, despite many
personal setbacks, his shadow miraculously remained undiminished till he drew
his last breath last week. Thus defying the Newtonian
law of gravity.
Now, since his obituary announcement
last weekend, the supreme irony is that the wailings of those who had openly
fought tooth and nail to make life miserable politically for the Bini folk hero in his old age seem the
loudest at the doorsteps of his Benin home.
Ogbemudia’s fame which they tried in vain to extinguish actually began
to grow from the late 60s on account of exceptional valor as war commander and,
more crucially, later as an administrator with visionary eyes
and a Midas’ touch. His footprints and imprints stamped on the old Bendel have remained indelible across Edo and Delta States till date. In fact, they are now too familiar and well
documented to warrant a recap here.

Late General Sani Abacha, remembered Ogbemudia’s benevolence and rewarded him with a ministerial position in 1994

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But what came to be known as the
idolization of Ogbemudia was over
something much deeper than the issue of brick and mortal erected. It was partly
fed by the communal sense of nostalgia of the denial suffered at one critical
moment. There is a story the older generation of Mid-Westerners handed down to
the younger ones. It is the story of alleged abject deprivation after
the region was carved out of the western region in 1963 following a local
referendum. The new region, dubbed the enclave of “minorities”, left
the old union without benefiting much in terms of asset-sharing with the Ladoke Akintola-led western region
government based in Ibadan.
From virtually nothing, Ogbemudia built something. So, the
communal adulation of him was in recognition of his creative spirit. The
original Mid-West had morphed into Bendel
State in 1967. David Ejoor who
arrived after the 1966 coup is perhaps best remembered today for
“disappearing” when the Biafrans
invaded Benin City in 1967 only to
re-appear in Lagos before the
Commander-in-Chief with a rather apocryphal tale that he rode down on “a
bicycle”. (Hence, the addition of “bicycle story” to Nigeria’s burgeoning political lexicon.)

General David Ejoor….Lost his brave moments to Ogbemudia over a cheering war

Enter the brave Ogbemudia. He led the titanic rally of federal troops that
dislodged the Biafrans from the land
of Igodomigodo. In the years ahead, it took his vision, vigour and
vivacity to turn Bendel (covering the
present Edo and Delta States) into Nigeria’s new center of excellence in sports
and mass industrialization despite the ravages of a full-blown civil war, thus
investing the doughty people of that province with a new sense of identify
marinated in pride.
So domineering had Bendel become in national sports that it
came tops in the National Sports Festival
of 1973. The feat was easily attributed to Ogbemudia’s
personal touch. And so impressed was the formidable Dr. Tai Solarin, ordinarily never one given to flattery, that he
penned a glowing tribute for Ogbemudia
in his popular column in Tribune newspaper then.
On account of such sterling
performance in sports and breakthroughs in other spheres of human endeavor, the
appreciative people of Bendel
naturally began to view Ogbemudia as
a pathfinder.

Anthony Anenih…Once rubbished Ogbemudia at a state function with his noisy arrival but was later relegated to nothing by Ogbemudia’s silent diplomacy

But, overall, the most nightmarish
of his post-Army engagements should be his political association with the
swashbuckling Chief Tony Anenih who,
until Adam Oshiomhole’s emergence in 2008 as governor, held court over Edo landscape like a medieval
Even though Ogbemudia’s golden name was leveraged to sell PDP at formation in 1998, he was soon shoved aside by the scheming Uromi chief.
At a personal level, my earliest
direct contact with Ogbemudia was
about fifteen years ago as a newspaper editor. From time to time, he sent
articles to Lagos from his Benin
redoubt for publication, usually hand-delivered by his aide or couriered by our
circulation driver on the Benin
Ever so humble, there was usually an
accompanying note “soliciting for space”, as if a mere line by the
legendary Ogbemudia in itself was not
already news-worthy. A deep thinker with restless mind, he found time to weigh
in on national issues periodically.
Adams Oshiomhole, the Governor who built Iheya Road and Converted Chief Ogbemudia to APC
Two years later, this writer
witnessed, in the course of duty, what one had considered quite
abominable in Benin. A motley crowd
of PDP chieftains were seated in a lounge. As Anenih, Obasanjo’s then
reigning “Mr. Fix It”, walked in, Ogbemudia, otherwise a giant of history and orator with prodigious
intellect, was – like the rest – obliged to rise in near idol-worship of the
lesser Uromi chief who left the
police unceremoniously as assistant commissioner, long after the great Ogbemudia liberated the Midwest from Biafra, invented the “Up
brand and had been inducted as an authentic modern hero of the
acclaimed “cradle of black civilization”. 
He was harassed and oppressed with
ill-gotten federal talisman. Such was the hands-behind-the-back humiliation the
foremost Army General in Bini history
had to endure at the hands of his intellectual inferior in the twilight of his
political odyssey.
But as legends always prove, a true
soldier can only be destroyed, not defeated. In a final act of
defiance – thus self-redemption, Ogbemudia
would muster the energy to stand up to his political hostage-taker for once in
2012. As then Information Commissioner in the Oshiomhole administration, this writer had the privilege of a
ringside view of a bit of the dark conspiracies, feints and erring-do that
paved the the road to the July 14 election in Edo.
When it became clear that Ogbemudia, a big PDP masquerade, would
not openly identify with Charles
around Benin, a powerful team was drafted by the
“almighty” godfather, the capon of Tuketuke politics, to persuade him
to join the train. After listening to their impassioned entreaties that night, Ogbemudia reportedly began, in his
characteristic sardonic humor, by asking them which road the emissaries took to
his residence.

Anthony Anenih….His emissaries were rebuked by Chief Ogbemudia over Iheya Road

Of course, they chorused “Iheya road”.
“Good,” he continued
genially. “Don’t you see how
beautiful the newly constructed road is, not to talk of the streetlights
shining brightly and the solid walkways?”
At that point, his guests, unwilling
to compliment Oshiomhole for the
remarkable infrastructural stride, simply lapsed into a convenient silence.
Seeing an opening, Ogbemudia then reportedly landed the
killer punch. For ten years PDP ruled the state, he whined, Iheya never featured on the official
radar, even if only to save him a personal shame. Now, it has taken Oshiomhole, his supposed “political
opponent”, to revamp not only Iheya road
but also reclaim the adjoining 12 streets long written off to silt and erosion.
So, his final big question: “Do you think the people in this area
will clap for me if I tell them to vote against the man who did this wonderful
job for them? I’m afraid they may not even hesitate to stone me”.
Now thoroughly deflated, the PDP
team gathered their tails between their legs  and soon disappeared
into the night.
Of course, Ogbemudia saw tomorrow. By the time the votes were counted
on July 15, Oshiomhole, an
Etsako man, won an unprecedented 75 percent of the ballot, with the no less
historic distinction of humiliating his opponent, the homeboy, right in his
polling unit and ward in Benin City.
That finally signposted Ogbemudia’s parting of ways with the now
jaded godfather and his wrecking Tuketuke crew in Edo PDP. Expectedly, few
months later, he formally renounced his membership of the party of umbrella and
would henceforth wish to be addressed simply as a statesman.

Godwin Obaseki….Late Chief Ogbemudia’s last project

Ogbemudia’s accustomed prescience was again on display last year on the
eve of Oshiomhole’s exit. He was the
first notable political heavyweight to openly endorse Godwin Obaseki as the worthy successor. The rest, as they say, is
now history.
Doubtless, Oshiomhole did the right thing by celebrating and immortalizing Ogbemudia lavishly while alive – the
last of such efforts being the hosting of a state banquet to mark his 83rd
birthday last September. But that could only be decorative of the Ogbemudia mystique. For his past golden
record had already etched his name in people’s minds. To live in the hearts of
loved ones is not to die. It is precisely from that point that Ogbemudia attained political


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