I RECALL THE DAY MILITANTS ATTACKED US AT SEA AND BULLETS MISSED MY HEAD - Paul Ukpabio's Blog

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Thursday, 20 September 2018

I RECALL THE DAY MILITANTS ATTACKED US AT SEA AND BULLETS MISSED MY HEAD

- Commodore Abimbola Olaribigbe Ayuba (MBA MSc psc fdc FCIS FNIM FCAARS)


After decades in the Navy, Commodore Abimbola Olaribigbe Ayuba has
retired to a civil life, but the memories of the sea has refused to leave him.

Sweet good old memories that makes Ayuba gleefully declare, "Oh yes, I miss the Navy! I miss the smell of gunpowder, combining with exhausting diesel from the ships funnel as we manoeuvre the ships. I miss the salty seas, smell of the ocean waters and the
gusting winds and heavy swells which tosses the ship in a roll and then the pitch and yes, the yaw. The collective effects of these natural forces give the real sailor his “sea legs” which separates boys from the men. I miss the warmth and closeness of the wardroom, the banters and the jokes but most of all the motto of the Navy:
“Onward Together” which we often jocularly split to say: Onward to get
Her."

In this interview with Paul Ukpabio, Ayuba goes on to share his erstwhile military lifestyle with us and his smooth transition to a civilian. A thorough bred Lagosian, Ayuba also shares with us the beauty and lifestyle of Lagos from 1897 to present day with beautiful memorable re-cap.
You rose to the rank of a Commodore in the Nigerian Navy, before you
retired, what was the feeling like for you, when you retired?

Nostalgia, when one realises that a service that I joined on 17 July 1980 has come to an abrupt end. On the other hand, it was a feeling of separation with the naval force that I lost my youth to. I joined the Nigerian Defence Academy at the age of 17 years.

What future were you looking at as retirement dawned gradually?

You see, I am a positive person with broad vision of where I want to
be say 2 years after retirement. So, I had already set up a Consultancy service as well as a Security Services company.

Did your expectation meet with reality eventually or you had to alter some plans?

Well, having read management thoroughly and as a strategic thinker, I knew that I had to have a Plan B
especially at the time the economic recession came biting hard.

Presently, how has retirement been and what do you do presently?

Fair and square, I would say. I never say never. I settled for growing
my HR Consultancy and Outsourcing company: Kongolo Consult and
Outsourcing Ltd, a platform which I have used to conduct training,
mentoring, life coaching, advisory services and HR Capacity building.
On the other hand, I still honour my speaking engagements which are far between but provides me some degree of satisfaction even in retirement.

Did your early background influenced your joining the Navy and then rising to the position of a Commodore?

To a great extent I would agree as you may know I am a Lagosian and
coming from Lagos Island, we are quite close to the sea and northern
end that is Ilubirin, Ebute Ero Ofin axis and of course we had the Marina as well as the McGregor canal which now links Bonny Camp with the Island. So fishing, swimming, boating and generally larking at the waterfront was quite delightful and influential to my eventual acceptance of joining the navy.

However, my first love was flying
which my late Dad Pharmacist Tolani Atanda Ayuba vehemently opposed
to. He felt I should read medicine or other science subject and that as “Dawodu” first son flying would be too hazardous. So, when I gained admission to Ross School of Aviation, then in Oklahoma, USA my
dad vehemently refused to sponsor me.

So, he took me to his Uncle Late Alhaji Shamsideen Thomas, who was the Secretary to the Military Government (SMG) now Office of the Head of Service. There, he literarily got me employed same day fearing I could do something terrible to myself having been refused a flying chance. So, I had to work at Oba Akinjobi Old Secretariat until one day another Uncle, Mr.
Pinheiro showed me an admission form to Nigerian Defence Academy 28
Regular selection Board. I looked through the form and realised that one could join the Airforce. This to me presented another opportunity
to fly, so I got my Dad’s best friend Late Mr. Babs Egbedina (snr) to endorse the form as my guardian. Eventually, my flying ambition was shot down at the final selection board by Captain (Navy) Patrick Seubo Koshoni who chaired the board. This was the final thrust of
destiny delivered by the man whom I would later serve as Naval Assistant when he became Chief of Naval Staff.

My big story! Yes, I rose to the rank of Commodore and I am grateful to God for the opportunity to serve my country.

For those who do not really understand the ranking of the navy, who
and what role does a Commodore in active service perform?

The rank of a commodore is the eight of 12 in the hierarchy of the navy rank structure. It's equivalent in the 2 other services are brigadier general or air commodore respectively. At that level of the hierarchy, a commodore would be at the head of most operational bases, head some autonomous unit or will be at the level of directorship at
the level of staff at the services headquarters. A commodore could be
described as “jack of all trade and master of all”. The commodore if
selected or politically favoured would most likely rise to next rank
of rear admiral.


Who influenced you most between mom and dad?

I would say each of them had their moments of overwhelming influences.
Majorly, society in Lagos was quite closely knitted that almost every
adult in your neighbourhood was also playing the parental or filial
role. Interesting isn’t it? But that was how it was then.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Lagos Island, Ebute Meta and later Ikeja. As the Island lost its “innocence” many families began to relocate to Surulere, Yaba and so on.

Would you say that you were born into a privileged home?

I would say yes because, my great grandfather Ayuba Oniburedi, was a
well-to-do baker on the island to have owned  property in Campos Area
of Lagos Island as far back as 1897. My Grandfather Ayuba “wole wole”
was a sanitary inspector at City Hall in those days. My father was also a renowned Pharmacist who worked with Pfizer, Wellcome Le Petit
(of France) and later helped the Indians to kick start Chemiron Industries.  On the part of my mother, Mabel Abosede (nee George) her father, James Tanimowo George, worked with the Nigerian Railways and owned several properties in Jebba and Kadara Streets, in Ebute Metta and at Herbert Macaulay Yaba. My grandpas best friend then was Chief Modupe Johnson (JMJ).

Do you recall other early memories?

Wow! Growing up in Lagos was fun. Like I said most families were fused
and of mixed religious faith which never separate us. Ileya was Ileya,
Keresimesi that is, Christmas was what it was. Both Christians and muslims shared meals, they feasted together. Festivals like the Adamu Orisa Festival (eyo festival), the Campos Fante, Masquerade seasons were quite memorable.

We had great musicians in Lagos then who played serious highlife music
notable among them were: Roy Chicago, Adeolu Akinsanya, Victor Olaiya.

Others were Apala and sakara music exponents: Haruna Ishola, Ligali
Mukaiba and Dauda Ekpo Akara not leaving out Ayinla Omowura and Lone
drummer “Kokoro”.

The Eid Kabir was a season of ram fighting which we really enjoyed. The Easter brought meals like Tapioca and Mingau and Fregeon.

Growing up was fun as there was virtually good security, soccer arenas were found at Ofin, Towry, Campos, Onala (boiler) etc.

Lagos was linked only by the Old Carter bridge which we called “Kereni”. You cant forget the ready to find hot meals dotting the streets from Lafiaji, down to Okesuna, Oju ina, Rica, Alli Balogun,
and Oju Olobun areas not leaving out Adeniji (iga Areas). Lagosians
generally were proud but humble people with great entrepreneurial
capacities or were technocrats in their own rights. It would be unfair for me not to mention that Lagosians then were fashion lovers, trend makers and good models. There were few vehicles that you could tell those who owned them. But we 'school boys' had a bus popular called “scholar” while we had some Scania buses called “oku eko” and later the Leyland. Lastly the motto on the State’s coat of arms read: “Eko
Akete Ile Ogbon” meaning: Lagos: a Seat and home of wisdom. That’s
what has evolved to become Centre of Excellence. Lagos is working,
(Eko noise).

How about your education who influenced it?

I attended St Mary’s Private School, Ajele, Lagos Island. It was a
missionary school managed by Irish nuns at the time. The school was a
high brow school which provided me early platform to stand upon. There
we had children of the high and mighty and some of my class mates were: late Henry Abebe, Eddy Otudeko, Donald Duke, Kenneth Ati-John, Mobolaji Johnson boys, Julius Tarka Jnr (late), Others were the Vera Cruz, Marquises, Asiodus’ and a host of others. I also attended Olivet Baptist High School, Oyo where I also had a good dose of education.

At Olivet, I met quite a number of people, notable amongst them are:
Emmanuel Olaye now CEO of Ayoola Foods, Ajibade Adeladan and Lateef
Badmus. Military Staff and professional training also had tremendous impact on me. However, I cherished my education at Abubakar Tafawa
Balewa University, Bauchi where I obtained my Post Graduate Diploma in
Management and my Master in Business Administration specialising in
General Management. I further attended the University of Ibadan for a
second Master Degree in Strategic Studies. I have been privileged to
attend the Manchester Business School of the University of Manchester
and the Pan Atlantic University (Enterprise Development Centre). In
general I have also acquired skills in Life Coaching, Transformation and Ethics Coaching and Performance Coaching.  I am a Fellow of the
Nigerian Institute of Management (Chartered) and Member of the
Governing Council of the Institute. I am also a Fellow of the Certified Institute of Shipping and Fellow of the Centre for African American Research Studies.

How about marriage, when did you decide you were ready for it?

I thank God for my life. I must confess I have not been too lucky with
marriage but then I met the love of my life whom I married. Sadly, I recently lost my wife of 21 years Rabi Ayuba (may God bless her soul), she left me 2 lovely Sons, Dara and Iyanu. She succumbed to death after a fierce battle with Gastric Cancer on 22 November 2017. She was buried in Ikoyi Cemetery on 7th December 2017. She was aged 50 and was Assistant Director Nursing Services and O/iC Iga Idunganran PHC, Lagos Island at the time of her death.

Have you had the opportunity in living in different parts of Nigeria, how many Nigerian Languages do you speak?

Yes my military career spurred me into borderless world. In Nigeria I have been to 34 of 36 states, in Africa at least 30 countries and rest of the world say another 25 including Singapore, Malaysia, India. Brazil, Chile. the US, UK, Italy, France, Germany and Romania to mention a few. So I speak Yoruba my mother tongue, a fairly good
Hausa, a bit of Ibo. Other foreign languages I speak are French,
Kiswahili, now fading Deutsche and now I am learning Mandarin (Chinese
Language).


Initially when you joined the military, was there any incident that scared you or made you think of leaving?

Yes, in my formative years as an officer cadet at the Nigerian Defence Academy, we had different stages of de-civilianization which tough tasks are given even punishment and torture. And I was so frail and lanky when I joined. So, when that became excessive I began to contemplate going on AWOL. By and large with the support of some of my seniors then: Ndulue (CKC), Sowobi and Yomi Bankole (Banky) who
ensured I could live through the hellish days at NDA. I owe these persons and God my gratitude.

Now that you are retired, do you miss the Navy?

You can bet. The Navy has it! Like we are wont to say. I miss the smell of gunpowder, combining with exhausting diesel from the ships funnel as we manoeuvre the ships. I miss the salty seas, smell of the ocean waters and the gusting winds and heavy swells which tosses the ship in a roll and then the pitch and yes, the yaw. The collective
effects of these natural forces give the real sailor his “sea legs” which separates boys from the men. I miss the warmth and closeness of the wardroom, the banters and the jokes but most of all the motto of the Navy: “Onward Together” which we often jocularly split to say: Onward to get Her.

How did you cope as a career officer in the military with a family especially when you were always on the move?

The Grace of God, the love of country (patriotism), Faith in God, love and care for my spouse and children, a mother luck, all combine to provide the needed stay in the tempest of military career.

You were among the top in your military Career?

Yes, I did to the higher rungs of my career.

But to you, was retiring as Commodore an achievement?

Yes. I could have been more contented if I rose a rank higher which I truly deserve. Our system is quite complex, so are the dynamics that control it. So, the best do not usually get to the very top. Like I said earlier. I give God the glory for preserving my life through the
vagaries of my military career.

Can you recall any turning point in your career? Or did you feel if
you had stayed back you could have achieved better?

Obviously, Yes. Like I said earlier the politics in the system is so strong and it doesn't matter how good you are the system has no safety valve to guarantee that the best gets there. The influences that control the process are so mundane, self-serving and crass-oriented.

The negative impact of it is what is manifest today in gross incompetence and lack of courage to speak truth to leadership. This triumph of mediocrity now bleeds the military system: a self-inflicted injury with little chances of healing.

Your advice to youths who may be eyeing a career in the Navy?

They should be prepared for a career bliss; the naval career has capacity to transform your lives completely. The career is full of adventure and quite challenging. Contact with the oceans of the world totally changes your world view. Be focussed, take a leap onboard.
Like we say: Join the Navy and ride the waves; join the Navy and see
the world. The navy beckons, go for it.

Having spent most of your career your adulthood wearing uniforms, what
can you say of your sense of fashion and style? How stylish can an
ex-naval officer be?

Being fashionable is an inherent
quality which shapes the inner well being of a man. The uniform career
only deprived me of the frequency of wearing fine clothes (civvies as
we call them). Personally, I am a very fashionable person, with my dress mode transcending my ethic or religious background. I dress to
please myself, I dress decently and for the occasion. I avoid overdressing sometimes so I do not embarrass my host. Often times I won't care if you fail to dress well for the occasion I will just be happy. I dress the way I want. And you know as a Lagosian we have a
dictum: “Eko for show”. Glow like a lamp, make happy yourself and
never slack. However, I am really having fun now that I can wear what
I like and don’t have to be told what to wear each day of the week. It
speaks freedom, it shows vogue.

Can you compare the lifestyle of when you were growing up and life now?

No, there is no basis for comparison, at all. The past is gone, today is now and if tomorrow shows up it will be beautiful to live in its splendour. Frankly speaking, life then was very secured, we could have penny sugar of 5 cubes in the wrap, food was abundant, education was qualitative and life was easier to deal with.

Neighbourliness had meaning, and boys and girls needed to be discreet in their affairs otherwise when it leaked, it could cause the convening of a family meeting. Money had its true value, traders were more sincere. And it all reminds me of an old literature book I read back in the days: “The Passport of Mallam Iliya” where a Mallam Abubakar, the hero of the story began telling his story to this curious school boy in the train.

He said: “…This happened in the days when men were men and women were
married by those who deserved them….” Nowadays, the balance has
tilted, economic fortunes diminishing and social safety valves have given way to blind struggles for acquisition of wealth and the value system collapsed. I sympathise with the helpless youths which abound in our nation today. And their struggle for survival is quite strong often times taking solace in dance, music, style and sadly drug abuse.

There is need for us to retrace our steps and recreate that egalitarian society which our founding fathers so dearly clamoured for.

What do you do at your spare moments these days?

Interestingly, I play musical instruments, my favourite being the
saxophone, l love reading too and when the time permits I play golf. When football comes knocking everything else may have to wait till match ending.

Any traditional titles?

No. Though my friends call me Otunba Bimbostik, that’s more like my brand name.

Any memorable holidays you won’t forget?

The ones I was able to spend with my family.

So far in life, when do you regard as having been the turning point for you?

The turning point for me was when I attended a life changing programme
organized by Youth at Risk UK at Hampshire in the UK. It was a Life
Coaching, Transformation and Ethics Coaching Programme in 2011. That
program made me come to terms with my reality and remodelled me into
the brand that I am today: A change agent.  The CEO of Youth at Risk
and Transform UK, Mr. Neil Wragg and his American training partner,
Mark Charley were awesome. That training has placed the truth before
me, equity, fairness and given to me tools that have since worked for
me. Following that experience I was invited to attend an advance
transformation coaching course and Performance coaching course
combined. UK Transform School, Hampshire. Both courses were valued at about 5,000 pounds sterling but was given to me gratis.  I remain
grateful to those two gentlemen who remain my close friends till date.
I look forward to bringing them back to Nigeria to deliver their life
changing modules.

During your career were there moments that you escaped death on duty?

Yes. In stormy weather, rough seas the fear of God is put into me,
especially when your duty station is in exposed weather decks. You will need to wear the harness to prevent you from falling overboard.

One day I slipped and almost fell overboard. During sea patrols we do
encounter smugglers and militants who open fire on my vessel or patrol
without provocation.  The closest one was in the DR Congo while
serving as a military observer under the UN flag when the UN MI-7
helicopter conveying me to my team site between Kalemie and Kongolo
was fired upon by fighters holding out on a high mountain range.
Luckily, the outer fuel tanks had been removed and placed inboard but
a few inches from the back of my neck we found a bullet stuck upon
landing. That bullet could have taken me out.

Can you share one of two of your best moments in life with us?

The moment I knew that without God man is nothing was a great moment
in my life. The other was when I sailed with my Flag Officer Commanding, Rear Admiral Steven Aloko (now deceased) on my patrol
vessel from Calabar to Oron and back to Calabar. The very senior officer is not given to mincing his words. As I came alongside the Naval Base jetty, I realised the tide had changed drastically with
little room left to manoevere and the tight berthing space remaining,

I took the greatest challenge of my life and berthed despite the odds.
The Admiral looked back to me as he disembarked from my vessel: “That
was courageous” he said to me. That was rare coming from that great
seaman officer. My pride was great, my confidence as a ship handler
was thus born.


1 comment:

  1. Truly a redefined gentleman and a great seaman. I salute the General.

    ReplyDelete

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