The Oasis Reporters
November 24, 2020
With the unending furore, changing narratives and looming threats of sanctions facing the nation over the outcome of the EndSARS crisis that engulfed Nigeria, history avails us of how a similar protest was handled in the past, as a historical lesson for the future.
The EndSARS Protest that recently rocked Nigeria at Lekki Tollgate in Lagos under Governor Babajide Sanwa-Olu was actually not the first protest in Nigeria.
Nigerians in their 60s and 70s would recall that protests are a recurring decimal in political life, and it once happened under Governor Samuel Ogbemudia of the then Midwest State that became Bendel State and is now Edo and Delta States.
Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia (17 September 1932 – 9 March 2017) was 35 years old as a Nigerian army officer when he was appointed military Governor (1967–1975) of Mid-West State which had been carved out of the old Western Region in 1963.
On becoming governor, he hit the ground running by becoming one of the founding fathers of University of Benin and the very prestigious University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH).
Before embarking on an x-ray of his tenure, one interesting EndSARS-like event occured at the new University of Benin that Ogbemudia founded. Now, being a very new university, no reasonable person would expect it to have all the facilities that University of Ibadan would have in five short years. So the Students trooped out in their numbers for a serious demonstration. Many of them were all over the University gate, like young Nigerians did at Lekki-gate, singing Aluta songs and looking seriously agitated.
The then Lt.Col. Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia heard, and promptly drove to Uniben (short for University of Benin) gate with some of his aides, and tried to talk to the students. They would have none of it. They shouted at Governor Ogbemudia, ‘get out’, ‘get off’ etc, accompanied by invectives.
Lt. Col. Ogbemudia even at his youthful age and being a soldier who had led command to push invading Biafran forces successfully out of Midwest, and had participated in war operations under the UN in some other countries did not order even his ADC to fire an ordinary knockout, not to mention blank bullets at the students.
He quietly turned his back and walked away. As far as the students were concerned, they had won, by chasing a whole military governor away.
But Ogbemudia was not done yet with the protesters.
Governor Ogbemudia went back to Government House, ordered for cardboard sheets and with a marker, had protest language written on them.
‘Students have denied me my constitutional rights’
‘I demand my freedom of speech’
‘Great students, give me my freedom to speak’.
Ogbemudia pinned them on his army fatigues. Then drove back to Uniben gate. He alone walked through the gate with his ADC at a respectable distance, carrying his placards. On sighting the governor and reading his placards, students burst into uncontrollable laughter. They were greatly amused, then agreed that he was ‘now’ address them. Ogbemudia spoke, diffused tension, listened to them and generally tried to make things comfortable for them. That ended the protests.
No bullets were fired. Nobody was killed. None was arrested but peace was restored.
Ogbemudia did not have the kind of posh degrees that Sanwa-Olu has. He left Secondary school and enlisted in the army. Neither was he as learned as former governor Fashola, himself a University of Benin law graduate. Yet as a governor, he was a sterling exemplar.
Appointed as Military Governor of the state on 26 October 1967, consider some of the things the populist Ogbemudia who was dedicated to reconstruction after the war, did.
He initiated improvements in the areas of sports, urban development, education, public transportation, housing and commerce.
He built the Ogbe sports stadium, now named the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, and in August 1973 he commissioned the three-storey National Museum in Benin City.
Other projects included the Agbede Mechanized Farm, Rural Electrification Board, Bendel Steel Structures, Bendel Pharmaceuticals, Bendel Boatyard, the University of Benin and the Bendel Line Transport Company. In later years, people looked back on his governorship as a time when much was achieved, followed by stagnation in later administrations.
Today sanctions threats hang over the nation because of the actions taken against a peaceful protest.
Additional source: Wikipedia.