Akhigbe: The champion of democracy
ITS two years today when Nigeria lost one of its greatest leaders, Vice Admiral Mike Okhai Akhigbe. His democratic ideals while serving the flag and championing democracy in Nigeria as a great statesman with a strong voice who could have made a difference especially in these trying times of dearth of good leadership and security threat will always be missed. The country would miss his wealth of knowledge, experience and statesmanship contributions to national development. His input to the return and stability of democracy in Nigeria would not be forgotten in a hurry. In him, the nation had lost a committed military officer who served his nation fearlessly with utmost sense of responsibility and patriotism.
We are, however, consoled that while Mike was with us, he lived his life in the service of God and mankind. His record on leadership and national security is a tribute to his strength, judgment and preference for inclusion and partnership. In good times and bad, he never lost his capacity to smile and laugh, nor to inspire others with his warmth and kindness. He was admired and respected for his energy and obligation to others, and especially his devotion to the betterment of the country.
Okhai lives on forever in the hearts and minds of all those he touched positively during his long and remarkable career of national service in military commands and political offices he held. The federal government as well as the states he served as military administrators should immortalise him to show their appreciations of this Nigerian.
Born September 29, 1946 in Fugar, Estako-Central Local Government Area, Edo State, he had his early education at Afemai Anglican Grammar School, Igarra, from 1961 to 1965.
For some time in Kaduna, he worked at the Federal Office of Statistics before he was admitted to the Nigerian Defence Academy between 1967-69. He was a member of Course 3 at the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA).
He joined the Nigerian Navy in 1967 and was commissioned in April 1970. Between 1973-75, he was Commanding Officer, NNS, Sapele, while in 1975 he was also Navigating Officer, NNS Nigeria (now NNS Obuma). Afterwards, he became Command Operation Officer Headquarters, Eastern Naval Command, Calabar and later executive officer (second in-command), Nigeria Naval Base, NNS Anasa, Calabar from 1975-76. Between 1976-78, he was Executive Officer, Naval Base, Akaso Port-Harcourt. In 1977, he was promoted to Lieutenant Commander.
Mike served with distinction as Military Governor of Ondo (now Ekiti and Ondo states from 1986-87) and Lagos States (1987-88) during which he executed projects that had impact on the lives of the people and the country.
He contributed to the realisation of the third Mainland Bridge and Teslim Balogun Stadium. He later became Director of Planning, Naval Headquarters, Lagos, August from 1988-89. In 1993, he was Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Naval Command, Calabar.
Mike Akhigbe rose to become Chief of Naval Staff between 1994-1998, before his elevation to the highest office in the armed forces as Chief of General Staff (CGS) which made him the Vice Chairman, Provisional Ruling Council of the Federal Republic of Nigeria between June 1998 and May 1999. He retired from the military in 1999.
The institutions he attended include: Midshipman Naval Weapons Technology and Operations Courses in Italy, Holland, UK and Germany, 1972-73; Royal Naval School of Maritime Operations Southwick, UK, 1974; and Diploma in French from Language School, Universite de Poitiers, Royan, France, 1978-79.
Others are: Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Lagos, 1979-1980; German Naval School of Maritime Operations, Bremehaven, 1981; Command and Staff College, Jaji, 1982-83; and National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, near Jos, 1989.
Akhigbe was part of the team that packaged a transition programme that successfully and faithfully transferred power to a civilian government in a record time on May 29, 1999.
His life after retirement was worthy of emulation. He obtained a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) degree from the University of Lagos, and after graduating from the Nigerian Law School, he was called to the Bar. He also successfully completed Master of Law (LL.M) degree programme in international maritime law at the prestigious International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Institute, Malta. He also had a Postgraduate Diploma in International Relations and Diplomacy.
Upon retirement, he became a seasoned businessman with substantial investments in real estate. In September 2010, he emerged as the leader of the Nigeria Chamber of Shipping (NCS).
Okhai was a founding chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). A holder of Nigerian’s second highest National Honour – the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON), Akhigbe passed on in the USA on October 28, 2013 after battling with cancer.
Before his death, Okhai remained the authentic leader of the Afenmai Forum, the umbrella body of the agitation for power-shift to Edo North Senatorial District in 2007.
Mike was a disciplinarian who lived a Spartan life and insisted that the interest of the masses must be considered before critical national decisions were taken. He was a devout Christian that lived a life of fairness and sought justice for all. He was a courageous leader who always spoke truth to power even in the face of daunting challenges and at great risk to himself.