Tribute to Brig-Gen. AI Olurin: When my mentor died on my birthday

It was in 1990 after the Gideon Okar Coup that shook the nation that the Nigerian Armed Forces under Gen. Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida decided to appoint and post officers to head divisions of the Nigerian Army thus making them automatic members of the Armed Forces Ruling Council.

I was then a ‘bloody’ Second Lieutenant and the Adjutant of the Division Headquarters 243 Recce Battalion in Jos, an elite crack unit of the Armoured Corps, the Combat Arm of Decision. The new GOC arrived at Jos late that night and was well received at Rayfield, the then Headquarters of 3 Armoured Division Jos. I watched with admiration the slim looking, athletic and eloquent speaking senior officer of the rank of Colonel that will be our GOC exchange pleasantries with the Commanders and Staff Officers of the Division from a distance.

I never knew I would end up becoming his ADC as GOC and ECOMOG Force Commander. He had high standards for who was to be his ADC but unfortunately the rank structure within which he wanted was not available, he was asked to try me out without my knowledge. I was asked to report to his office for a brief. I arrived at the Division Headquarters with that spirit of a ‘Young Fire Eater’ to speak to the GOC on how best to handle guard administration in Rayfield. I never knew I was to report to him for an interview as ADC. When I entered his office the long red carpet between the door and his table jostled and unsettled my confidence.

I saluted in a haste and he beckoned on me to come forward. I saluted in confusion twice looking at him with his eye glasses dropped on his nose and eyes looking at me. In a matter of seconds he assessed me and then said: “You will be my ADC till I get one. You don’t know who I know so don’t decide who is to see me or not. Always get clearance from me. Go to your office and start your work”. I left the office more confused as I never bargained for this appointment. All of a sudden I found myself cut off from the regimental duties of a Unit Adjutant to a confined officer saddled with the responsibility of administering a senior officer.

I learnt from him from day one the attributes of human analysis. His personal staffs, which included a driver, orderly and cook, were all Northerners and Muslims which showed the nationalistic nature in him. Late General Olurin (rtd) mentored me to be the officer I am today. He was an officer and a gentleman, a father, a warrior, a great administrator, a philanthropist, an achiever, a detribalized Nigerian, a loyal officer and a man close to God.

He moved the Headquarters 3 Armoured Division from Rayfield to Rukuba Barracks. He was instrumental to lots of infrastructural development in the barracks. The Rhino Golf Club was one of his achievements. He was instrumental in reminding President Babangida of his promise to issue cars to officers before Christmas of 1991.

Thus leading to the issuance of the first sets of Peugeot 505 and 504 popularly referred to as ‘IBB Spirit’ to officers of the Nigerian Army and Airforce within the 3 Division Area of Responsibility. This was a turning point to the lives of so many families.

As providence would have it, I found myself transforming into his ADC as he took the appointment as ECOMOG Force Commander. He got into Freetown in Sierra Leone when the Rebel Forces of Charles Taylor’s NPFL in Liberia started their ‘Operation Octopus’ to encircle Liberia. Gen. Olurin made a quick mental appreciation and in collaboration with his then Chief of Staff, Late Lt Gen Malu, contained the rampaging Charles Taylor rebel forces to land in Monrovia even under mortar attacks on the Spriggs Payne Airport.

He took charge and turned the table around using all the assets available to ECOMOG to push the NPFL back to Gbarnga and Buchanan. He strategically convinced Yommie Johnson of INPFL to give up the fight and ferried him to Nigeria. The historic capture of Buchanan from Charles Taylor’s NPFL rebels by ECOMOG Forces under the then Brig Gen F Mujakperuo is a case study in military history till date. In Liberia late Gen AI Olurin (rtd) exhibited courage, bravery, resilience and mastery of the act of war. His diplomatic acumen made him want to win the Americans to our side and got all ECOWAS leaders to support ECOMOG.

It was a victory song under late Maj-Gen. AI Olurin in Liberia. He restored the face of Nigeria and positioned the nation as a frontline country within the sub-region and the continent. The Western world sought to know how he was able to do it. General Olurin was like a father to me. He taught me the importance of keeping credible and reliable friends. I remember with nostalgia the way he treated his friends Otunba Toyin Akomolafe and Mr Dare with utmost respect and care. He taught me how to be a family man. His show of love for his wife Mrs Kehinde Olurin and his two sons Babatunde and Olumide made me crave for marriage.

He accommodated me inside his home whenever we travelled to Lagos. I was taken as one of his sons. I saw in the late General Olurin a man who loved Nigeria, who sacrificed so many things to make Nigeria united. Even in retirement you were always monitoring my progress and always praying for me when I was deployed in the North East to fight Boko Haram.

You were happy to see me get to the rank of Major General in the Nigerian Army and appointed the Armed Forces of Nigeria Spokesperson. I was thus devastated that you died on my birthday on August 21. “Adieu, the people’s General, you were not only a mentor and a father figure to me, you were the soldiers’ soldier, the officers’ officer, an administrator and a warrior par excellence. We remain consoled with the shocking sudden departure, knowing that your transition to higher glory is so for you to assume a higher command amongst the heavenly saints and we, the fighting forces that you had groomed in the course of your enviable career, would be glad to regroup and march behind you when we, too, hearken to that inevitable call.”

Major General Benjamin Olufemi Sawyerr




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