Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia (1932 – 2017)
Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia, retired brigadier-general of the Nigerian Army and one-time Military Governor of Midwest, later Bendel State, who passed on the other day, a few months shy of his 85th birthday, holds a special place in the hearts of Nigerians, particularly the people of Edo and Delta states. At a time when military fiat was the order, Ogbemudia governed like a democrat and warmed his way into the hearts of Bendelites. Where others ruled with impunity, he made decency of action his style and discharged the office of military governor with aplomb.
He built roads which have stood the test of time. He made an indelible mark in national and world sporting activities. Apart from making Bendel State the leader in sports in the country, he attracted international stars to the famed Ogbe Hard Court Tennis Competition. His commitment and zeal made him a hands-on man. He stayed with camping athletes and made sure they got the best treatment to prepare them for competitions.
With Ogbemudia at the helm of affairs, ethnicity was not an issue. As culturally diverse as the people of Bendel were, he was able to create a sense of belonging for all ethnic groups. He was a man who lived beyond his time in every sense of the word. The foresight which he showed in governance remains unparalleled in the history of the state. A man with an uncommon large heart and remarkable depth of vision, when it was deemed vital to create a university for the state, he did not build it in his hometown. It was located in Benin City the capital of the state. And he did not care where anyone with talent or skill came from before getting such a person involved in the task of building the state. He was an ardent sportsman, administrator and cultural aficionada. His hands-on approach to governance was legendary. He was disciplined in the highest military tradition. He believed in excellence in all that he did. Indeed, the Ogbemudia years could be described as the golden years of Edo/Delta states.
From 1967 while the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War raged, Ogbemudia served as Military Governor of the State till 1975 when the administration of General Yakubu Gowon was overthrown in a coup de tat. In other words, he provided leadership during the war and post-war periods of the state’s history.
Born September 17, 1932 in Benin, Ogbemudia had his primary education in Benin Baptist School from 1941 to 1945 and then proceeded to Victoria in the Cameroons from 1945 to 1947; from 1947 to 1949 he was at Western Boy’s High School Benin City. In 1956 he joined the Nigerian Army and went for training in Teshie Ghana; he also had military training in Netheravon and Salisbury Plain in 1957. For officer training he went to Aldershot England in 1960. On completion of the programme, he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in 1961. In 1962, he went for further training at Fort Bragg in the United States. From then, he played different roles in different capacities, starting with the United Nations peace keeping force in the Congo and Tanzania in 1962 and 1964 respectively.
He served as Brigade Commander in Kaduna during the first uprising in the Nigerian military. After he was transferred to Benin in 1966, he became Quarter-Master General of the 4 Brigade. He led the troops that seized Benin from the invading Biafran forces in 1967 and was shortly after appointed Military Governor of Midwest State. As governor, Ogbemudia was first among equals. He raised the level of governance to a high bar and his interest in sports had no match in the state and in the country. Afuze Training School became iconic in sports along with the Ogbe Stadium (now Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium). He built or established the following: Auchi Polytechnic, Asaba Textile Mills, Bendel Breweries, Bendel Pharmaceuticals, Agbede Mechanised Farm, Rural Electrification Board, Bendel Steel Structures, Ethiope Publishing Company, Delta Glass Company, Koko Boatyard, Igarra Cattle ranch, Bendel Insurance. The University of Benin grew out of Midwest Technical College which he drove with great passion, commitment and zeal. He was at different times, in later life, Sole Administrator of Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC), National Sports Commission (NSC), and Minister of Labour and Productivity. In 1983, he served as civilian Governor of Bendel State for three months after winning the elections on the platform of National Party of Nigeria. His tenure was brought to an end in the military putsch of December 1983.
As a mortal he had his foibles as witnessed in the report of the post-1975 assets investigation panel set up by the Murtala Muhammed administration which found him guilty of corrupt enrichment. He was later cleared of mis-governance in the Second Republic. On a balance of development equations, the nation holds pleasant memories of the Ogbemudia years occasioned by the solid infrastructure base which he created for Bendel now Edo/Delta states. One of his last wishes was to be quickly interred as a show of his aversion to ostentatious and lavish burials, a wish which his family has since respected by burying him in the final resting place which he prepared himself. With Ogbemudia’s passing Nigeria has lost one of the great believers in her unity and a true builder of her prosperity.