• Tony Igele

How Obaseki Battled to Save Ogbemudia’s life

Personalities from different parts of the world gathered in Benin City, the Edo State capital, penultimate Friday, March 17, 2017, to pay their last respect to the late, former, two-time governor of Old Bendel State, Dr Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia, who was committed to mother earth that day.

The Edo and Delta States governments – the two states make up old Bendel State – gave him a state burial and it was indeed a very emotional occasion as pupils from primary schools in the state and secondary school students thronged the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, singing with the name of the late elder statesman who is seen as the father of Edo and Delta states.

Former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, almost betrayed his emotions when, with a shaken voice, he declared that “Ogbemudia has not died but only moved to another barrack. Old soldiers never die”. Elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clark, was not left out in the mourning, as he wept, lamenting that “I have lost a great boss. There won’t be another Ogbemudia”.

Governor of Edo State, Mr Godwin Obaseki

It was actually the first time in the history of both states, that five former governors of the state and their deputies will be gathered at the same time in an event. The former governors included, first civilian governor of Edo State and now National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress,APC, Chief John Odigie Oyegun, Chief Lucky Igbinedion, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, Prof.Osarhiemien Osunbor, and Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.

Some of their deputies equally in attendance included Rev. Peter Obadan, Chief Mike Oghiadohme, Mr Lucky Imasuen and Dr Pius Odubu. They all shunned their political differences to give the late elder statesman a befitting burial.“It was not an easy moment for the host governor, Mr Godwin Obaseki; but he took the bull by the horns to ensure that he gave the man whom he described as his father, a memorable burial. It was regarded as a difficult moment for Obaseki who is barely five months in office because of his battle to respect the wishes of late Ogbemudia, who directed that he must be buried in seven days.

So Obaseki battled for time to ensure that he did not disappoint.

Even before the death of the elder statesman, Obaseki had not slept well since November when he took office because that was when the health of the elder statesman. The governor’s first major assignment was to ensure that Ogbemudia remained alive – at all cost.

After the elder statesman fell in the bath and eventually suffered a stroke, he was rushed to the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH).

But while he was there, he was not improving as expected, Obaseki made contacts to fly him abroad for further treatment; as a matter of fact he got an air ambulance. But he was informed that the elder statesman may not survive the rigours and that the best was to manage the situation here in Nigeria.

The governor, therefore, got an ambulance and moved the elder statesman to Lagoon Hospital in Lagos. The doctors and nurses at the Lagoon hospital battled to save the life of the civil war hero. And after spending some weeks at the hospital, the family agreed that an Intensive Care Unit should be put together in his house at Victoria Garden City, Lagos, so they can properly monitor his condition.

Obaseki ensured that an ICU better than the one in the hospital was put together in house. It was in that condition that the elder statesman died quietly. And that period, despite his busy schedule in Benin City, Obaseki was always in Lagos checking on Ogbemudia’s condition. The governor was said to have pleaded with Ogbemudia not to go now as he would want him to remain alive despite his condition. But almost close to midnight, Thursday, March 9th, 2017, he passed on.

Indigenes of the state were shocked when they woke up on Friday to hear the sad news.“Obaseki immediately flew to Lagos and arranged for the body to be flown to Benin. He set up a burial committee headed by the Secretary to the State Government, SSG, Osarodion Ogie, who liaised with his counterpart in Delta State to prepare a befitting burial for the elder statesman.

There were earlier pressures that by his status, he should not be buried in just one week even though it was his instruction; but Obaseki expressed his desire to respect the wishes of Dr Ogbemudia by giving him a state burial within the seven days and charged the burial committee which included his Chief of Staff, Taiwo Akerele, to do all they could and ensure that the burial holds on the 17th of March.

The Delta State SSG, Festus Ovie Agas, temporarily relocated to Benin City for the planning. His boss, the Delta State governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, Obaseki and his Deputy, Comrade Philip Shaibu, held marathon meetings at Government House Benin to ensure a successful burial. Obaseki, through the Ogie-led committee, ensured that partisan interests play no part in the burial and, therefore, invited leaders irrespective of their party.

It was not surprising, therefore, that the governorship candidate of the PDP in the last election, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, the state chairman of PDP, Chief Dan Orbih, Senator Mathew Urhoghide and other top leaders of the PDP all participated in the burial. Chief Oyegun, who commended the governor for putting up a befitting burial despite the short notice, said “it shows how smart and intelligent the governor is.

There is a saying that what makes a man is how you handle emergency issues. And despite the fact that he is still young in office, he was able to attract the world and even opposition leaders to the burial. That is very good of him and wherever Dr Ogbemudia is now, he will be very happy with the governor”.“Last Monday, the family of the deceased led by his first son, Samuel Ogbemudia Jr, visited the governor at Government House to express their gratitude for giving their father a befitting burial.

On that occasion, Obaseki disclosed plans to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari soonest with a view to discussing the need by the Federal Government to immortalise late Dr Ogbemudia. Obaseki said, “my relationship with your father is like a father and son relationship and he did a lot for the old Bendel and Edo state and that was why we said we must give him a befitting burial.

He was a bold man, seasoned administrator and very good at heart. I will soon schedule a visit with the President so we can discuss the need to immortalize his name because he cannot never be forgotten”. The governor further announced scholarship for three of the children of the deceased, Nosa, Donald and Imade Osaigbovo”, just as he assured that the state government will not abandon the family.

On his part, immediate past governor of the state, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who enjoyed close relationship with the late Ogbemudia, said he was still in shock, but thanked God “that He gave us the wisdom to erect a statue in his honour at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium and also renamed the most outstanding rebuilt New Era College after him.

It was our own little way as a government to immortalise this leader of leaders, in appreciation of his great deeds to our dear state. It is clear in my mind that we all will mourn his exit, but I am consoled by the fact of life that there is time for birth and there is time for death. His achievements will continue to give us succour in celebrating his life times”.

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