Murtala Snatched Ogbemudia From Ojukwu

Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Head of the Secessionist Biafra, flanked by his aides, attends a special parade at Ahiara, Biafra November 4, 1969, to celebrate his 36th birthday. Biafra would cease to exist in two months after the commemoration of his birthday. Image: Goldsmith/Associated Press

One young officer who understood his teacher well enough was Murtala Mohammed. As a cadet at the Regular Officers Special Training School [ROSTS] Teshie, Ghana, he emerged tops in Captain Emeka Ojukwu’s Tactics class.

Murtala left Teshie in 1959 for Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst and was commissioned Second Lieutenant in 1961. Ojukwu had joined the Army in 1957 from the ranks even with a post graduate degree from Oxford University.

Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia was at Teshie in 1957 before proceeding to Mons Officers Cadet School, Aldershot, where he was also commissioned Second Lieutenant in 1961.

The trio later served in the Congo as members of United Nations Peace Keeping Force. Ogbemudia was also in Tanzania with a Nigerian detachment under Col. Sam Ademulegun. 

When Chukwuma Nzeogwu and his friends struck on January 15, 1966, Ogbemudia was not carried along. He was an Instructor at the Nigeria Military Training College [NMTC] Kaduna which was under the temporary command of the latter.

 I listened to Ogbemudia stress this at the La Palm Royal Beach Hotel, Accra in 2002. He had to ask Nzeogwu what really was going on. Col. Ojukwu was commander, Fifth Battalion in Kano and kept Nzeogwu in check. 

Murtala led the Counter coup of July 29, 1966. Ogbemudia was Brigade Major, One Brigade, Kaduna. Ojukwu stayed in Enugu as Military governor of the Eastern Region. 

Ogbemudia narrowly escaped death after a hot pursuit by Lt. Bukar Dimka from Kaduna to the jungles of the Middle Belt. Ojukwu did not recognize Lt.Col Yakubu Gowon as Head of State following the assassination of Gen. Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi. 

War was inevitable after a peace deal brokered in Aburi by Gen. Arthur Ankrah at Peduase Lodge, Aburi failed. Gowon created states, Ojukwu declared Biafra. Ogbemudia was floating in the Mid-West in what was called the Fourth Area Command. 

A reliable source confided in me that Ojukwu and Ogbemudia were in talks. This was as the Biafrans occupied the Mid- West under Governor David Ejoor. Ejoor escaped but his Aide de Camp, Peter Adomokhai, was arrested. He ended the war at the Biafran School of Infantry as Instructor.

 Lt.col Victor Banjo led the 101 Division that seized the Mid-West from Nigeria. He wanted to retain Ejoor as Military Administrator of an Independent Republic of Benin. The latter rejected the offer. 

Banjo did not want to put an Igbo officer in that position. He was to approach Lt.col Rudolf Trimnell, seeing him as an Itsekiri. He did not know that Trimnell was from Ashaka in the Ndokwa area. 

Ojukwu eventually settled for Major Albert Nwazu Okonkwo who had a brother in, Sule Kolo, of the Nigeria Foreign Service. Okonkwo belonged to the Medical corps of the Army. 

Ogbemudia was seen as Bini by many. Ojukwu knew more than that. Major Ogbemudia was originally from Igbanke, an Igbo settlement formerly known as Igbo Akiri. 

His mother was from Benin and had lost many children before Osaigbovo came. The name Samuel was significant. The boy had to leave for Benin to stay with a maternal uncle after spending some time in Igbanke. 

While in the Congo, Ogbemudia was said to have walked into danger. It took the presidential intervention of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe to keep him in the Army.

Murtala also knew Ogbemudia so well. They shared similar background. The former grew up in Kano which was the home of his mother, Ramatu, a member of the Inua Wada family. 

Murtala’s father was said to hail from Igbein, in the Auchi area of the Mid-West. Alhaji Usman Abuda, an Etsako blue blood, confirms that Murtala’s father had strong links with Auchi even if he was selling kola nuts in Agege, Lagos. 

To stem the Biafran attack, Nigeria hurriedly assembled Two Division under Col. Murtala Mohammed. That gamble paid off as the tide turned. Benin was taken from the invaders and Murtala appointed Ogbemudia Administrator of Mid-West. 

It was unusual. Ejoor was totally ignored after serving a sour tale of riding a bike to Lagos from Benin while many combatants knew he was in the house of a an Irish father in Benin City.

 Gowon was not consulted before Ogbemudia’s appointment. However, the Head of State confirmed the change which left Ejoor, Service number N/17, without any command all through the war years. 

Ojukwu’s loss was Murtala’s gain. Biafra eventually lost Benin and the Mid-West. Ogbemudia spent eight years as Military governor and was eventually sacked by Murtala in July 1975. 

Strange enough, both officers were in London when Gowon was toppled. Murtala chose an Etsako man, Col. George Agbazika Innih, from Agenebode, as the new governor of Mid –Western State.

Murtala lived with his wife, Ajoke , a Yoruba, until he was killed in 1976. Ogbemudia had a wife, Yetunde Afolabi, from the South-West, when he passed on in 2017. 

Ogbemudia also had another friend who was Head of State and was also killed, in 1979. Gen. Ignatius Kutu Acheampong was at Teshie same time as the Nigerian. Both were born in September. The former came in 1932 [September 17], the latter in 1931 [September 23].

 In 2002, Ogbemudia told us a funny story at dinner in the Labadi area of Accra, not far from Teshie. Acheampong had thoroughly embarrassed the commandant of the military school.

 He said:” The Osagyefo himself, Kwame Nkrumah, visited and was interested in the welfare of the cadets. The commandant made it look as if all was well until Acheampong went right under his bed to bring out the meal he was served.” 

The commandant did not forget that and paid back. Acheampong once wore traditional ‘kente’ dress to dinner while others put on jackets. 

“Acheampong, why are you wearing pyjamas to dinner?” the boss barked. It was supposed to be an offence but the cadet was not intimidated.

 Ogbemudia felt some Bini touch in the Gold Coast. The Ga people are said to have migrated from Benin during the years of Oba Udagbedo[ 1299-1334]. 

In 1966, the first coup in Ghana was codenamed, ‘Operation Guitar Boy’, after Victor Uwaifo’s famous track. Gen. Ankrah, the new leader, a Ga, was recalled from retirement.