Ogbeha, the Conscientious Politician, Turns 70

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By Kola Ologbondiyan

Tomorrow, Sunday, September 3, 2017, the family and friends of Senator Jonathan Tunde Ogbeha will gather at his parish church in Apo, Abuja, for the birthday thanksgiving service of the retired brigadier-general who turned 70th yesterday, Friday, September 1.

For Ogbeha, nicknamed Flying Jones in his school days because of his goalkeeping prowess, September 1st and 3rd are very significant days of his life.

He was born on the September 1st, 1947 and admitted into the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) on September 3rd 1967 to commence academic and military training as a Regular Course 3 Officer and Gentleman.

He clocked 70th yesterday and tomorrow, Sunday, September 3rd, will mark his 50th NDA anniversary.

Both events are deserving of celebration but in the mood of our nation, Ogbeha chose a private prayer at his residence. This is not unexpected given his quiet lifestyle.

But his family and friends have ‘over-ruled’ his decision, insisting they will  celebrate these milestones “no matter how little”.

Indeed, Ogbeha is very deserving of celebration at 70th given the commitments, contributions and sacrifices he has made in the lives of many who came his way.

I met Senator Ogbeha as a civilianized democrat after his retirement from the military through my Uncle (Arc) Yomi Awoniyi, the immediate past deputy governor of Kogi State.  This was after the 1999 general election when General Ogbeha (rtd) stood as the candidate of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) for Kogi West Senatorial District and won the election.

This electoral feat, which Awoniyi had strongly supported, was against the views and position held by some of us who come from Kogi West.

After Ogbeha’s swearing-in in the National Assembly, he emerged as the upper chamber’s Committee on States and Local Government Chairman.

This position placed a responsibility of seeking the best operational system for local government administration on his shoulders and he took up the onerous assignment with military dispatch.

As soon as the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration came up with the review of the 1999 Constitution, Senator Ogbeha rose and demanded the autonomy for the local government tier of our federal government.

His argument was predicated on the conviction that the State/Local Government Joint Account as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution was being mismanaged by the state governors.

He revealed that rather than adding the constitutionally required contributions to the joint account by the states, the governors were taking advantage of that tier of government and treating it as a ministry, department or agency of the state government.

He predicted that if the local government tier is not granted her financial autonomy, in no time, the tier of government would be rendered irrelevant in the scheme of governance and could even become comatose. A prediction that has come to pass.

Expectedly, Ogbeha’s proposed amendment could not be swallowed by many state governors and they mobilized against it as the issue degenerated in the media and public discuss.

The debate however came up in the then regular ‘review’ of politics at ‘home’ and the nation between Awoniyi and I where we concluded that Senator Ogbeha needed to take his narratives to Nigerians since he had become the apostle of autonomous local governments.

That way, I met Senator Ogbeha in 2001 and had since discovered him to be a retired but not tired officer and gentleman, a devout and devoted Christian of the Anglican Communion, a peacemaker, a conscientious politician, an apostle of good governance, a stickler to family values, a patriotic nationalist,  reputable and above all, a true friend.

In his days in the military, despite the despotic nature of the military leadership of our country, he carved a niche for himself as a decent and organized soldier among officers and men as well as civilians.

He held command positions in the army and had the privilege of serving as the pioneer military governor of Akwa Ibom state laying the infrastructural plans for the future of the state and remaining the darling governor of Ibomites till date.

The noble role Ogbeha played as the first military governor of Akwa Ibom was well captured in the 70th birthday congratulatory message issued by Akwa Ibom State governor, Chief Udom Emmanuel.

It reads:

“Thirty years ago, you embodied the collective dreams of the good people of Akwa Abasi Ibom State. You came to a state that was bereft of even the basic infrastructural amenities, but you were undaunted.

“You went to work and laid the foundation upon which successive Governors have built on to move the state forward.

“Today, Akwa Ibom State has become the destination of choice with world class infrastructural amenities.

“The people have arisen and have claimed the faith of their greatness. As you turn 70, on behalf of the grateful people of Akwa Ibom State, I send you our heartfelt felicitations.

“May the good Lord continue to bless you with good health and may His grace continue to abide with you.

Happy Birthday, Your Excellency and thank you for your service to our State,” Udom submitted.

In the old Bendel State, now Edo and Delta states, the story is not different as Ogbeha sterling performances speak in volumes while his management of men and resources still earn him a commendable number of followership in the two states till date.

It might be needful to tell a story that demonstrates his humility as a military governor in Bendel State.

He had returned from work and asked the House-keeper for lunch. In shock, the House-keeper said lunch was not ready. Surprised, this military governor requested the House-keeper to provide him ‘garri’ and ‘epa’ (groundnut).

Rather than make the requested lunch of ‘garri and epa’ available, the House-keeper, who was further scared by such a demand from his military governor, bolted and headed in the direction of senior officers of the state government pleading with them to come and save her job.

A bewildered Ogbeha, who saw senior officers of the state government trooping into his official residence, demanded to know the reason for their presence.

When they told him that the House-keeper invited them to intervene on her behalf, he burst into laughter stressing that the House-keeper job was never on the line and asked rhetorically; “so the military governor no fit chop garri and groundnut again?”

As a Senator, Ogbeha’s constituency projects were built on provision of water, rural electrification and roads.

He worked closely with then Deputy Chief of Staff in the Presidency, Chief Olusola Akanmode and then Minister of Police Affairs, Maj-General David Jemibewon to secure the construction of the road from Aiyetoro-Gbedde – Iyah-Gbedde -Aiyegunle-Iluke and Suku.

This road, which was designed to open up Bunuland and link Kogi State with Niger and the  Federal Capital Territory (FCT) had since stopped at Suku, in Kabba/Bunu local government.

Until the 2017 Budget, nothing was heard of the road again.  The electrification and water projects also suffered the same fate with the road construction.  The exit of Ogbeha as Senator in 2007 halted their provision while the dwellers of those areas have been left in darkness and inaccessible roads.

As a conscientious politician, Senator Ogbeha would handover contracts given to him by Kogi State Government to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) women groups in his local government for execution and distribution of the proceeds.

 –Ologbondiyan lives in Abuja

He also jettisoned the offer of first refusal granted him in the 2007 Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) senatorial primary election.

He reasoned that two terms of eight years as a Senator was just enough to serve rather than creating unnecessary tensions among the people of his senatorial district by seeking a more term in office.

He rested his decision on the fact that his constituency is multi-lingua and multi-ethnic stressing that other areas will want to also do their turns.

He also told supporters who had wanted him to run “another term” that his constituents had shown him enough kindness and he would want to give them the opportunity to elect other senators after his own two terms.

For this son of a Police officer dad and pastry-maker mum, who was attracted to the Army out of love for the neatness of officers’ in uniform, life has never been just a bed of roses.

If anything, life, in the last seventy years, has been a mix. While his successful military and political careers are testimonies of the good side, the death of his younger brother, Major Sam Ogbeha, who died in the Hercules C-130 that crashed in Ejigbo in 1992 as well as the death of his wife, Jackie, are unforgettable pains of life.

In spite of these sad experiences and others that life has brought his way, Ogbeha has kept an abiding faith in God through Christ. And not just that.

He has continued to give back to the society and kept true to the course of brotherhood and friendship. Ogbeha is ever-ready to take the bullet for his friends. His relationship with his ‘twin-brother’ and friend, the immediate past President of the Senate, Senator David Mark, best illustrates the loyalty of this retired infantry officer to friends.

In their near-60 years of friendship, not a pin, as the Nigerian cliche says, has been able to come between them.

As we gather in thanksgiving to God for the 70th anniversary of the birth of this quintessential officer and gentleman, this is wishing Flying Jones many happy returns in good health.

Ologbondiyan lives in Abuja