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A former military administrator of the old Mid-West Region, Brigadier-General Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia (rtd), will be laid to rest amidst a flood of tributes in Benin City today. His passage in Lagos on March 9, at the age of 84, had elicited a widespread celebration of his remarkable life of service to Nigeria, especially the military and the old Bendel State (now Edo and Delta states).
The enigmatic Ogbemudia sprang into national consciousness when, as part of the leadership of the Second Brigade which liberated the Mid-West at the outset of the Nigerian Civil War in 1967, he was appointed the Military Administrator of the newly liberated Mid-West Region in a temporary capacity. From that point on, and until the coup that removed him from office in 1975, there was no looking back.
The two-time governor of the old Mid-West and Bendel State left indelible legacies in the sands of time that are difficult to match today. He is easily recognised as the best governor to have come out from, and governed that part of the country. And, as Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, Governor of Delta State put it at the Benin Airport ceremony to commence his rites of passage, Ogbemudia’s works speak for him.
Indeed, they do. The departed Ogbemudia distinguished himself as an astute administrator and soldier at a very young age. His training at different regular and military institutions, especially the United States Army Special Welfare School at Fort Bragg as part of an Exchange Programme, stood him in good stead when he assumed the leadership of the young Mid-West region at a time the country was at war.
He had an action plan from day one, and his performance as military administrator and governor of the region is the stuff of which legends are made. He is credited with the remarkable infrastructural development of the region. He also had the good sense to site infrastructure and amenities in places where they had comparative advantage, while at the same time not forgetting the value of even spread, as well as wholesome and integrated development of the areas under his watch.
It was during Ogbemudia’s tenure at the helm of leadership that the people of his region gained ascendancy. The sobriquets: “Bendel No1” and “Up Bendel” became popular. The people of the region took immense pride in their collective and personal achievements, and the giant strides the state was making in infrastructural and economic development.
Ogbemudia sought to greatly advance the fortunes of the state and found ways to create wealth through economic activities. While no one was watching, he started a state-sponsored transport service to cover every nook and cranny of the state, and to other major destinations in the country. Known then as the Mid-West Lines, it has survived to this day, assuming different nomenclatures. He built the Asaba Textile Mills, founded Bendel Insurance, Bendel Breweries, Mid-West (later, Bendel) Lotteries, Delta Glass Company, Koko Boat Yard and the Igarra Cattle Ranch.
He was a staunch believer in integrated development. Whether education, healthcare, industries, sports, urban and rural infrastructure, nothing was left out. He not only built magnificent schools, he spread them throughout the state. He masterminded the transformation of the Mid-West Technical College into the University of Benin; and founded a new Benin Technical College. He built the Auchi Polytechnic, even if there were some initial hiccups of permanently locating it in Auchi. He built many teacher-training colleges across the state. He also established Ethiope Publishing Company and Bendel Pharmaceuticals, while the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) Benin, came into being during his regime.
Perhaps, it was in sports that he made the greatest impact on the people. He built the Ogbe (now Samuel Ogbemudia) Stadium in Benin. The results of his efforts were overwhelming. They shot the state to number one and it became the envy of others.
Ogbemudia returned as civilian governor of Bendel State in 1983, but his tenure was terminated soon after by another military coup. He served again in the military administration of late General Sani Abacha as Labour Minister.
Dr. Samuel Ogbemudia, was born in Benin City on September 17, 1932. He joined the Nigerian Army in 1957 and rose to the position of Brigadier-General before his military career was terminated by the military coup of July 29, 1975. He will always be remembered as an excellent administrator, a consummate politician and an outstanding soldier who gave a good account of himself in many other fields of endeavour. He was a great family man and unrepentant national patriot.
He was also chairman, Nigerian Sports Commission and Nigeria Railway Corporation. He served as a member of the Board of Trustees of the former ruling party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) but, in his twilight, became a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
We commiserate with his family, the people of Edo/Delta States and all Nigerians on the passage of this statesman. His life of service to the nation is worthy of emulation by all.