Osaigbovo Ogbemudia was born in Benin City on September 17, 1932, he was named after his grandfather.. As a youth he lived with his elder cousin, Mr. FS Uwaifo, a Benin-based businessman.He attended Benin Baptist School from 1941–1945, and then the government school, Victoria, in the Cameroons from 1945–1947. From 1947–1949, he pursued his secondary education at the Western Boy's High School, Benin City.
He joined the Nigeria army in 1956, training at Teshie, Ghana and at Netheravon and Salisbury Plain, England (1957). He attended the officer cadet school in Aldershot, England in 1960, and was commissioned second lieutenant in 1961. He attended the United States army special welfare school at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in 1962. Ogbemudia served with the United Nations peacekeeping force in the Congo for 16 months, and served in Tanzania in 1964. He was appointed as an instructor to the Nigerian Military School, Zaria in 1964.
He was named military administrator in September 1967 after the state had been overrun by the secessionist Biafran troops. The first military governor of the state, David Ejoor, had scurried to Lagos in the wake of the invasion; but his story of a great escape on a bicycle had apparently not impressed with his commanders who asked Mr. Ogbemudia to take his place.
Ironically, Mr. Ogbemudia too had the year before arrived Benin, his hometown and capital of the then Midwest Region, in a jiffy after a great escape of his own, although not from secessionists. He had fled Kaduna, where he was the brigade-major at the First Infantry Brigade of the Nigerian Army.
One of his subordinates in Kaduna was a certain hothead named Bukar Sukar Dimka, a lieutenant, who was very prominent in the upheavals that culminated in the bloody counter coup of July 1966.
According to an account of the incident, Mr. Ogbemudia had had Mr. Dimka placed under house arrest for breaching an instruction against troop movements.
His public career seemed to have all ended in shame, however, when he was dismissed from the Army alongside nine other military governors following the coup of July 29, 1975 that ended Yakubu Gowon’s nine-year reign as Nigeria’s second military head of state.
But Mr. Ogbemudia bounced back several times later, but never to hit the height of his prime for which history will remember him.
The comeback began with his election as governor on the platform of the then ruling National Party of Nigeria, NPN. And following the swift truncation of his four-year governorship tenure by the military putsch of 1983, he was appointed minister of labor and productivity by the Sani Abacha military dictatorship 10 years later. He had also served earlier as Chairman of the National Sports Commission under Ibrahim Babangida.
It was his service in the old Bendel State that engraved Mr. Ogbemudia’s name on the hearts of the people he led so long ago and earned him the flood of encomiums that followed his remains to the grave on Friday.
Until their state was split into two in 1991, the diverse peoples of the two states used to stand proudly in brotherhood under the “Up Bendel” banner. Their tribes and tongues greatly differed, but their state’s pre-eminence in sports and other accomplishments had given them a swagger that stood them out on the national stage.
But it was not always like that. In fact, until the Midwestern Region was excised from the defunct Western Region in the political cauldron of the First Republic, becoming the first state to be created in Nigeria and the only one in that tempestuous dispensation, the people of the area were like the other minorities in Nigeria’s then two other regions, overshadowed and trampled on by the tripod on which Africa’s most populous nation was said to stand.
Meanwhile, in August 1966, Mr. Ogbemudia was transferred to the Area Command, Benin City, fighting with government forces in the civil war.
He was appointed military administrator of Mid-West state in September of the year following the liberation of the state from the secessionist Biafran forces. A month later, precisely on October 26, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and appointed military governor of the state.
The programme of reconstruction he undertook brought the state great improvements in the areas of sports, urban development, education, public transportation, housing and commerce.
His administration built the Ogbe Sports Stadium, now named the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, and in August 1973 he commissioned the three-story National Museum in Benin City.
Other projects in that era included the Agbede Mechanized Farm, Rural Electrification Board, Bendel Steel Structures, Bendel Pharmaceuticals, Bendel Boatyard, the University of Benin and the Bendel Line.
Legend also credited Mr. Ogbemudia with introducing a certain Tony Anenih into politics. Back then in the Second Republic, Mr. Anenih had just retired from the police. According to an account, when the power brokers in the NPN persuaded Mr. Ogbemudia, popularly called “Ogbe wonder” to be the joker they needed to seize Bendel State from the ruling Unity Party of Nigeria, he brought with him the former police officer as the party’s chairman in the state.
The controversial polls of 1983 presented Mr. Anenih the stage to launch a successful political career as Mr. Fix It. They seized the governorship stool from the UPN governor, Ambrose Alli.
After the death of Mr. Abacha whom he had served as a minister and the restoration of democracy in 1998/1999, Mr. Ogbemudia and his friend joined in founding the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in Edo State and he was named into the party’s Board of Trustees.
The two men would control the PDP in Edo State over the next decade, first working well together, but later falling apart as Mr. Anenih’s skill elevated him to the godfather and forced everyone else under his shadow. Mr. Ogbemudia didn’t seem to like that very much.
In November 2007, the conflict between the two became public when Mr. Ogbemudia walked out at an enlarged meeting of the PDP at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin, in protest over a zoning arrangement of offices that Mr. Anenih had rammed through.
In 2008, the court later nullified the election of Governor Oserheimen Osunbor, the PDP candidate said to have been handpicked by Mr. Anenih, as Edo State governor and declared Adams Oshiomhole of the Action Congress as the winner.
Mr. Ogbemudia, in an interview in November that year, said as a member of the PDP Board of Trustees, he would have preferred a PDP governor, but accepted the victory of Mr. Oshiomhole whom he described as a man of strong character.
Messrs. Ogbemudia and Anenih both remained in the PDP but led different factions the state. In October 2009, Mr. Ogbemudia refused to attend a unity rally of the party in the state organised by Mr. Anenih. Instead, he seemed to be moving closer to Mr. Oshiomhole, whose accomplishments, he would publicly praise on many occasions.
Last year, Mr. Ogbemudia endorsed Godwin Obaseki, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress who was eventually elected as successor to Mr. Oshiomhole. By then, though, Mr. Ogbemudia had long beaten a retreat from active politics and his old friend later turned political foe had been stripped of the capacity to fix things at the state or federal level.
But for Mr. Ogbemudia, the footprints he left in his prime more than three decades before his death would for long continue to earn him reverence by the people of Edo and Delta states.
He was a Nigerian army officer and politician. He was military Governor from 1967–1975 of the Mid-West State, later renamed Bendel State, part of which in turn became Edo State.