By OLOROGUN ATUYOTA EJUGHEMRE
As I celebrate the sad and sudden departure of my mentor and leader, Dr. S.O Ogbemudia, I unequivocally state that university degrees do not necessarily make a leader. A leader is born with a clear vision, sense of transparency, dedication, humility, resilience and above all, common sense, which are the major imperatives that build and drive a world class leader. Dr. Ogbemudia was and remains a world class leader.
As a servant-leader, he served the Mid-West Region and later Bendel and, indeed, the Nigerian nation with honour, dignity and passion. His humble residence at Iheya Street, New Benin, Benin City is a clear testimony of a man who, even though he was a two-time Governor, Chairman of Federal Sports, Commission, Chairman, Nigerian Railway Corporation, Member Supreme Military Council (SMC) Member, PDP Board of Trustees, Member Governing Council, University of Abuja and in his twilight, Chieftain of ruling APC, the Action Governor was a silent achiever. The fallen hero had no house in Abuja, in spite of all the opportunities which smiled at him.
In education, road infrastructure, sports, health care, inter alia, Dr. Ogbemudia was a colossus who traversed every nook and cranny of Bendel State and left his footprints in the sands of time.
Born of an Igbanke father and a Bini mother, Brig-General Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia emerged as a Major on the military political platform and, having assisted Major-General David Akpode Ejoor to liberate the Mid-West Region, was appointed Military Administrator of the Mid West Region by General Yakubu Gowon in 1967.
Dr. S.O, Ogbemudia left Western Boys High School (now Airewele College) after his School Certificate course to join the Nigerian Army where he developed into an intellectual of unimaginable dimension. No wonder, as founder of the University of Benin, he was conferred with an enviable Doctorate Degree (P.hd) Honoris Causa.
In 1975, as a young Administrative Officer then, I witnessed with utter bewilderment how Dr. Ogbemudia stunned and dribbled Senior Public Officers including the likes of Dr. Isaac M. Okonjo, Engr. G.O Awerioba, Mr. Iluobe, Mr. Frank Imuokhome, Mr. Ihonor, Mr. D.P Lawani, Mr. O.O Uzi etc, at the State Budget Session held at Udo Guest House in Ubiaja, Esan–West, LGA. of present Edo State. Dr. Ogbemudia demonstrated his knowledge and experience on the construction of roads and bridges as part of the rehabilitation of the Mid–West after the Nigeria–Biafra civil war.
It must be acknowledged that Ogbemudia made all Mid-Westerners proud wherever they found themselves in Nigeria and in the Diaspora because of the feat which he performed during his tenure as Military Governor.
Each time I had the privilege of a private conversation with His Excellency, I was impressed with the level of his wit and intellectual sagacity. Ogbemudia was indeed a practical politician in various areas of statesmanship.
Ogbemudia has left a void too difficult to fill, both in Edo and Delta State. During the Second Republic when late Olorogun Michael Ibru attempted to run against him at the NPN gubernatorial primary election, Ibru’s mother was quick at asking him to step down for Ogbemudia to avoid imminent disgrace, in spite of his acclaimed wealth and fame. Dr.Ogbemudia was a political tactician and craftsman.
No wonder, he gave unequivocal support to ex-Governor Adams Oshiomhole, even though he was a chieftain of the P.D.P. His wonderful charisma also made him defeat the incumbent Governor, Prof Ambrose Ali, in 1983 at the governorship election in Bendel State.
The Action Governor’s popularity spread beyond Bendel State. He was a household name in Nigeria and abroad. His cabinet was a nursery where Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark and Late Chief B.O.W. Mafeni were nurtured and transplanted to General Yakubu Gowon as Federal Commissioners (Ministers of Information and Agriculture respectively). Ogbemudia specifically recommended both Commisioners to General Gowon.
Ogbemudia’s humility knew no bounds. Many years after leaving office as civilian governor, he accepted to be reconciled with HRM Ovie Uyo I and Ozoro Community in present Isoko North LGA over his support for Oleh as the headquarters of old Isoko LGA instead of Ozoro. The reconciliation was effected on my plea with Dr. Ogbemudia which event took place at Notre Dame College, Ozoro. The reconciliation brought permanent peace between Ozoro and Oleh communities to date.
As I join Edo, Delta indigenes and other Nigerians to celebrate the departure of our illustrious and indefatigable leader to eternity, it is instructive to recall the immortal words of William Shakespeare that life is transient: “All the world is a stage and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and entrances”……… King Henry IV Part 1.
My mentor and leader has passed on to eternity at the ripe age of 84 years; but his memory and good works will remain green in the minds of all those who knew and loved him. I remain one of those who shared the joy and frustrations of Nigerian politics with him.
Farewell, Your Excellency, the Action Governor of Bendel State. May God Almighty grant you eternal rest.
Ejughemre is Former Electoral Commissioner, Bendel State.