Tribute to Major-General John Esio Obada

Major-General John Esio Obada (April 1939 – June 2020)

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By UHS Headquarter Staff

The Urhobo Historical Society (UHS) received with mixed feelings the recent passing on of a Nigerian patriot and committed Urhobo son in the person of Major General John Esio Orho Obada (rtd), OFR. The mixed feelings that his death elicited derives from the long, eventful and fruitful life he lived and for this we are grateful to God. We, however, feel saddened because he has departed from us and we shall miss his wise counsel and selfless service to the Urhobo people and Nigeria in general.

General Obada represents the very best of the essence of Nigeria. A distinguished officer and gentleman he was until his transition one of the remaining few Sandhurst trained military officers in Nigeria. The others being Generals Yakubu Gowon, Domkat Bali and Paul Omu.

The late General Obada’s service records were unblemished and outstanding. After receiving his Commission in 1959, he served at the 3rd Battalion at Abeokuta before joining the Organization of African Unity (OAU) military contingent to Tangayika now in Tanzania in 1964. On his return, he was appointed as Aide de Camp to then Nigeria’s President, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and remained so until 1966 when the first military coup took place.

His dynamism made the military high command to second him to the newly created Nigerian Air Force where he was to play a pivotal role. During Nigeria’s darkest hour, 1966 and 1967, when all officers from Southern Nigeria fled to their home region, then Major John Obada remained in Kaduna as the Commander of the Air Force Base, an act which underscores his courage and pan-Nigerian spirit. He later became the Commander of the Training Command of the Nigerian Air Force also in Kaduna and superintended the training of generations of Air Force officers. The peak of his service in the Air Force was when he was appointed as acting Chief of Air Staff from 1970 to 1971.

Promoted to the rank of Major General in 1976, General Obada served as the Commander of the Lagos Garrison Command, General Officer Commanding 4th Infantry Division now 82nd Mechanized Division in Enugu and later as Federal Commissioner for Works from where he retired from the Nigerian Army in 1977. He also had the daunting task of serving as the Chairman of the first ever Military Tribunal to try coup plotters in Nigeria in 1976, a testimony to the high regard in which he was held in the military.

General Obada devoted his energy, experience and influence to the service of Nigeria, Bendel and later Delta State, the Urhobo nation and his Agbarho community in his retirement. He promoted peace, security and stability. He represented Delta State in the Federal Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission.  He was President-General of Agbarho Kingdom, 2nd Deputy President-General of the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) and the Chairman of its Board of Trustees until his transition.   

In recognition of his service to nation building, he was decorated with the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR) among many other awards and honours.

General Obada was a strong pillar to the UHS as his love for Urhobo history and culture never diminished. The UHS honoured him in 2018 at an event where he was also one of the guests of honour. General Obada was, as recent as February 2019, on the UPU entourage to Uwheru in demonstration of solidarity with the people after the herdsmen massacre of some youths in the community. The UHS salutes General John Esio Orho Obada, soldier, administrator, elder statesman, patriot, nationalist and more! We at UHS wish his courageous and pleasant soul sweet repose. Akpokedefaooo…

Urhobo Historical Society Grieves with the Family of Major-General John Orho Esio Ǫbada

The Urhobo Historical Society (UHS) joins the family of General Orho Esio Ǫbada, and the Urhobo people in paying tribute to the late General. The Society believes that General Ǫbada’s contributions to the Military in Nigeria and his involvement in the affairs of his people merit a space in Urhobo history. His service is significant for Urhobo history considering the fact that General Ǫbada was among the early set of Nigerian military officers who were trained at the Royal Military Academy (RMA), Sandhurst, Camberly in the United Kingdom. He did so, following on the heels of another great Nigerian military officer David Akpodȩ Ȩjoor, who was the first Urhobo man, to return to Nigeria in 1957 from the UK as an RMA graduate. General Ǫbada also belonged to the pioneering class of Urhobo indigenes who retired from the Nigerian military with the rank of a Major-General. The small class of three able Urhobo men was led by David Ȩjoor, followed by Orho Ǫbada himself, and Raymond Matthew Dumuje, all of whom had joined the military before Nigeria gained independence from Great Britain. The Officers, Ȩjoor and Ǫbada, also made history when they were both Captains in the Nigerian Army. Captain Ȩjoor commanded the Army Guards during the Midnight Flag Raising Ceremony on October 1, 1960 to symbolize the end of British Colonial rule in Nigeria. Captain Ǫbada for his part, became an Aide de Camp to Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 1964, a position that Captain Ǫbada held until 1966 when the Nigerian military seized power in a coup d’état from the civilian government. Raymond Dumuje, the third in this class of fine soldiers, was also an outstanding officer who performed his military duties so well that he was able to rise through the ranks, to become the first Quartermaster-General of the Nigeria Army and later to attain the enviable position of a Major-General. 

Major-General Ǫbada, the only child of his mother, who was born on April 3, 1939, grew up with his parents in the northwestern Nigerian City of Kaduna. His parents had moved up north earlier in the 1930s, a critical period in the shaping of Urhobo history. The decades of the 1920s and 1930s were remarkable for signaling the birth of an Urhobo renaissance during which many of Urhobo people left home to seek green pastures elsewhere, as Urhoboland lacked adequate opportunities for jobs or business. Many of the migrations were to Benin land, places like Okitipupa, Ondo, Oshogbo, Ikale, Ife and Ilesha in the West, and as far north as Kano, Kaduna, Jos and Maiduguri.  After sojourning in the Diaspora for a while, some of the families like that of Ǫbada, chose to return home to an environment where their children could learn to speak Urhobo and understand Urhobo ways of life. Orho Ǫbada and his parents relocated closer home to settle in Warri, and Orho was able to resume school in 1951 starting at standard five at Government School, Warri, Nigeria. Thereafter, he attended Hussey College, Warri (1953-1958). After working briefly as a Survey Assistant at the Western Nigerian Ministry of Lands and Survey, Ibadan, he joined the Army, receiving his commission as a cadet in 1959. He had to go through a series of further military trainings including one at the Regular Officers School, Tȩshi, Ghana, another at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, Camberly and much later at the Joint Services Staff College, Latimer, both in the United Kingdom.

After his initial sets of military training, Officer Ǫbada was assigned to the Second Battalion stationed at Abeokuta, Nigeria from where he was selected for duty in a number of military operations including the historic peace-keeping missions in Central and East Africa. The first was the Nigerian military contingent that went to Congo as a part of the United Nation (UN) Peace-keeping Operation in 1960. The UN mission was organized to maintain law and order, and help to establish a post-colonial government in that country. The country, Belgian Congo became independent of Belgium on June 30, 1960 but the Belgian Commander in the country refused to ‘Africanize’ the troops, a situation that ultimately led to disorder and mutiny during which the duly elected Head of government, Patrice Lumumba was murdered. The mission to restore peace in Congo ended in 1964. Soon after, Officer Ǫbada was involved in yet another mission, this time, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) military contingent to Tanzania in 1964. The African contingent joined hands with British forces that were invited to restore law and order in the nation of Tanzania that was newly formed from the union of the Indian Ocean archipelago of Zanzibar, and Tanganyika on the mainland in 1964. The request for military assistance was made by the President Julius Nyerere, to help put down a revolt in the army of the new country that had threatened to overthrow his government. On his return from Tanzania, Officer Ǫbada, continued to make history when he became an Aide de Camp to Nnamdi Azikiwe, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Captain Ǫbada was with President Azikiwe in London, England when the first military coup in Nigeria took place. Orho Ǫbada used to joke with his friends that President Azikiwe did not have the decency or the courtesy to inform him of the coup, even though the crisis was a serious and terrifying one that the President knew, had claimed the lives of many military officers in Nigeria. Instead of returning to Nigeria, the President chose to go to the Caribbean on vacation after completing his scheduled medical treatments in the United Kingdom. Some believed that the President did so as a way to avoid dealing with the trouble back home. Yet, he asked his Aide de Camp, obviously without much concern for the safety of the aide, to return to Nigeria as Captain Ǫbada himself put it, to get killed. Captain Ǫbada dutifully returned to an unstable country, without his Commander-in-Chief and managed to stay out of harm’s way, more so when a second coup took place in July 1966, with more loss of life. Many officers, indigenes of southern Nigeria, had to abandon their military posts and flee to their home regions for safety.

Unlike many of his fellow officers from the South, Captain Ǫbada remained behind in his post at Kaduna, and he was able to play major roles in the Nigerian military during its tumult.  To his credit, Captain Ǫbada spoke Hausa fluently, a language which was not just the language of business in the north but also the lingua franca in the military, since it was adopted by the multinational force that was formed by the British Colonial Office in 1900, to garrison the West African colonies of Nigeria, Gold Coast, Sierra Leone and Gambia.  Captain Ǫbada was able to work with many Northern officers, in ways that protected him during the tumultuous period, and helped him to move up in the military. A newly promoted Major Ǫbada, was seconded from the Nigerian Army to serve in a newly created Nigerian Air Force, based in Kaduna.  He rose rapidly, first to become the Commander of the Nigerian Air Force Base in Kaduna, later Training Command of the Nigerian Air Force where he oversaw the training of many generations of Nigerian Air Force officers. Before his retirement in 1977, he was made the acting Chief of staff of the Nigerian Air Force, second in command to the Head of the Nigerian Air Force. He was also a member of the Nigerian Supreme Military Council, the seat of the military government of Nigeria. He had attained the rank of Major-General in 1976 and served as the Commander of Lagos Garrison Command, General Officer Commanding the fourth Infantry Division, now known as the 82nd Mechanized Division at Enugu. He also served under the Federal Military Government of General Olusȩgun Ǫbasanjọ as the Federal Commissioner of Works. As a senior officer of note, General Ǫbada was asked to preside over the Special Military Tribunal that tried military officers that were involved in a 1976 failed coup during which Murtala Muhammed, the Head of the Federal Military Government of Nigeria was killed in an ambush.

On retirement, General Ǫbada turned his attention to serving his people of the Urhobo Nation particularly those of his native community in the Agbarho sub-cultural unit of Urhobo. He devoted much of his energy to efforts to resolve a leadership crisis that had paralyzed the running of the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) in recent times. He was asked to serve as the Chairman of the UPU Board of Trustees to help stabilize a struggling organization. He had been a Deputy President-General of the organization under the leadership of Benjamin Okumagba, as well as the President-General of the Agbarho Improvement Union.  In continuation of his services to the people, General Ǫbada and his family created in February of 2019, the Ǫnọmȩ Ǫmọbọlaji Ǫbada Foundation (OOOF) in honor and memory of his late daughter, Miss Ǫnọmȩ Ǫbada. The Foundation is a non-profit social intervention organization dedicated to improving the standard of living for the people by eradicating poverty through agriculture, healthcare, education, sports, and empowerment of women, including building communication and leadership skills in young women. True to its mission, the Foundation conducted an outreach in December of 2019 during which it offered free medical services including physical check-up, nutritional advice needed for the healthcare of mothers of children with sickle cell disease, dental services and eye care. The Foundation had also renovated classrooms for a school in Ikwewhu, General Ǫbada’s home village in Agbarho: the Ikwewhu Secondary School, Agbarho, and had plans to build a medical center to continue offering free medical services to the people. General Ǫbada, earlier in his retirement from the military, was also appointed by the government of General Ǫbasanjọ to represent the people of the Delta State of Nigeria, his home state, in the Federal Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission in accordance with the stipulations of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Government of Nigeria. The commission is a regulatory body charged with overseeing the activities of the revenue allocation in Nigeria. Its functions include monitoring the accruals to and the disbursement of revenue from the federal account and reviewing from time to time the revenue allocation formulae not only to ensure fairness but also to reflect changing realities of the time.

In essence, the story of General Ǫbada opens another window into the history of military involvement in Nigeria’s politics especially from 1966 when the Army seized power until 1999 when it formally relinquished it.  As a true soldier and patriot, Ǫbada risked his life in combat in the Congo and Tanzania, fighting to restore peace and stability in countries other than his own. He worked with others to foster the unity, and work towards the progress of Urhobo people. One could also infer that Like General David Ȩjoor, he was committed to the unity of Nigeria when he chose not to flee but to stay behind in Northern Nigeria to help stabilize and rebuild a fractured military. Above all, General Ǫbada was a family man, deeply religious and one who cherished his family and friends. He displayed in his living room, a large photograph of his loving mother with whom he lived in Agbarho. He had also followed the footsteps of his father who was a devout Jehovah Witness, and had participated in the activities of the local Kingdom Hall.  As a young man going to school in Warri, Orho Ǫbada often came home to Agbarho to be with friends with whom he went fishing and setting traps to catch wild game. Since he began his retirement, General Ǫbada had been able to establish a farm, and produced many food products including palm oil which he processed, and shipped or distributed freely to friends he made during his days in the North and times of service in the military, some of whom have become Emirs in the north. In conclusion, Major-General John Orho Esio Ǫbada can be described as a true soldier, administrator, Urhobo patriot and an elder statesman. May the good Lord bless his soul and grant him a perfect rest in peace.

Engr. Onoawarie Andrew Edevbie
Secretary, Urhobo Historical Society
August 01, 2020.

 Editorial and Management Commitee Onoawarie Edevbie, M.A., M.Sc.; Peter P. Ekeh, Ph.D.; Edirin Erhiaganoma, M.Sc.;  Joseph E. Inikori, Ph.D.;  John Ejaife, M.D.; Isaac James Mowoe, Ph.D., J.D.; Peter Obukowho Essi, BS.; Francis Odemerho, Ph.D.; Emmanuel Ojameruaye, Ph.D.;  Aruegodore Oyiborhoro, Ed.D.; and  Ajovi Scott-Emuakpor, M.D., Ph.D.  Executive: Aruegodore Oyiborhoro, President; Isaac James Mowoe, Vice President; Onoawarie Edevbie, Secretary; and Emmanuel Ojameruaye Treasurer.

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