Tai Solarin: What impresses me about Osaigbovo Ogbemudia

Dr Tai Solarin

The late Samuel Ogbemudia

Colonel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia, former governor of old Bendel State and later Edo State is so loved by his people that his passage has become a great loss, not only to his people, but to Nigeria as a whole. In Edo State, he was a positive reference point by many governors who came after him.

That he was a benchmark outside his state was demonstrated by an open letter written by the late educationist, Dr Tai Solarin, in 1973, eulogising Ogbemudia for his leadership style. It is entitled:

An Open Letter To Colonel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia

By Tai Solarin

Reading today’s (September 17th) issue of the Daily Times on the secret of your State’s success in the national sports competition is like reading one of the most lively pages of a novel by any reader’s favourite authors.

Let me start by congratulating you for the exquisite performances of your six hundred whilst the programme lasted. Even though I am congratulating you, I am not being double –faced. Had I been one of your school headmasters during the past few years, you would have summarily sacked me for my negative attitude towards games and sports.

I was, in my days, a goalkeeper at football. In an R A F camp just outside Reading, during the 1939-45 war, I came first in a cross country race and won a 4-lb packet of chocolates! By the time I landed on the site of my present school, however a new mesh of dissent had been woven into my education philosophy for Nigeria. I begged the foundation boys of this school to conserve the physical energies they expended on football and athletics into more production of physical facilities for education and for food production. I did not win.

What I found was that even though physical work would some time last until 5.00p.m., when the boys will have been completely spent, physically, but toss a football on the little patch that went for its pitch, and the were out like new young men shooting straight arrows of football. For table-tennis, all the equipment they had were all the dining tables that were under the palm leaf shed we ate under. Had I your enthusiasm and realism that any leader should have, triumphantly taken the whole country.

Your Excellency, sir, this is where you come in. Whether that is your intention or not, you are, like an all conquering hero, storming the whole country. You are shattering my contention that the army is now jaded and spent and now holding on, till January 14 1976 to return to the barracks with the speed of a frightened cat.

Among other things, Tunde Oshuntolu the sports Editor of the Daily Times wrote of your august self:

“For two whole months the governor lived on the site of Afuze sleeping in one of the quarters given to Coaches and other officials, sharing the same dining tables with competitors” etc etc.

“He was among the first up at dawn never missed the 5.00 a.m. roll-call when everyone had to line up in the open space outside his temporary “Governor’s office”

“During the camping, the head-quarters of Midwest State was moved from Benin City to Afuze——-and for the first time ever the State’s Executive Council met outside the capital in the little village”.

Your Excellency, you have, in this single act, taught this country what is possible of execution in any nation in a hurry. By taking your battle front(in sports) to Afuze, you uprooted all those civil servants with glamorous cars. They have never, in their well measured out lives heard of Afuze before. The exertion would shed some of their unnecessary weight. Just think, Your Excellency, the Afuze idea being duplicated a hundred times in this country!

Those young MidWestern State boys and girls who saw you at 5 in the morning at roll-call; on the pitches as you tried this or that activity out;at the meal tables, would never forget you in their lives. When those days, I looked at Zik in Yaba stadium pairing it out with a budding boxer, it was his arms and his long legs that I watched. We had a long mirror at home and when I looked at my legs in it, they were inferior to Zik’s, I assured myself! If I tried, I should be as good as he was!

That is a germ of inspiration injected into any young person as he watches his ideal, his lodestar , his leader perform. If we say the youths of this country are spoilt, all we are saying is that their leaders are spoilt. If we say they are decadent, we are only refusing to use the epithet on their leaders to whom it more rightly belongs. To impose personal discipline on his State Ministers, Julius Nyerere put himself and them on a 134 mile walk.

He, as well as they, had huge blisters, but the exercise gave them what they needed-a sobering effect upon their vanities and wanton idiosyncrasies. They were, henceforth able to sit down for the real battle of life. They were able to lead the rest of Tanzania, not as tin gods pontificating and giving directions but as true leaders who teach by examples.

At Afuze Your Excellency, you have sounded a bugle that has made every youth in Nigeria turn round to have a look. You have more than endeared yourself to all the youths in our country. Those who say Nigeria are pleasure-loving are not being fair; they have to tell our leaders to go to the Mid-West and learn wisdom.

And yet it was the same Mid-West of yesterday, with more pot-holes in Benin roads than there were in the roads of Enugu, Kaduna and Ibadan of yesterday. It was same Mid-West with more Mercedes Benz than were bicycles. Today’s Mid-West is vivacious, sprightly and rugged, yesterday it was the ant of Nigeria. Today, it is the leader, the elephant.

The magic wand of Governor Ogbemudia has done it. Your Excellency, you are great. And just one question and I am through. Are you for the barracks or with us on January 15 1976

Credit: Nigerian Tribune September 24 1973