Who is General AO Ogomudia, Nigeria’s New Chief of Defence Staff (CDS)?

In response to the questions below:

1. Is General Ogomudia the best officer Nigeria has ever produced since he is the first to attain non- political rank of a full General?

2. Did he fight in the civil war and if  so in what sector and under which command?

3. What is his background and professional record?

General Alexander Ogomudia is not the first to attain  the rank of a full General in the Nigerian Armed Forces during a civilian regime.  The first to do so was none other than the outgoing CDS, Navy Admiral Ibrahim Ogohi.  An Admiral is a Four Star General. However, General Ogomudia is the first Army Officer to attain the rank of a full (four star) General in the Nigerian Army during a civilian regime. 

There is no doubt whatsoever that General AO Ogomudia is an outstanding military officer. He is highly qualified for the job he has just vacated – as Chief of Army Staff (COAS) – and the job he is about to assume – as Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).

However, it is not possible (or fair) to describe  anyone in absolute terms as “the best officer Nigeria has ever produced”  because, as in other professions, there are numerous excellent officers from all  over the country who for one reason or another, do not  (or did not) make it to the very top. In any case,  being the “first to attain non-political rank of a  full General” (after 43 years of independence) says  more about Nigeria and the Nigerian Army than any  specific officer. He was in the right place at the  right time.  And he has God to thank for that.

There are very many attributes of an excellent officer  but to get to the zenith of the Profession requires  luck – and political survival, not to mention  surviving various coups, administrative infighting and  wars. 

When A.O. Ogomudia was chosen as COAS he was not the only candidate for the job. But he fit the bill – from  the point of view of the Obasanjo government at that point in time – more than his rivals.  The Nigerian Constitution confers the right to make the appointment on the President and Commander-in-Chief. 

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the personal judgement of the C-in-C is heavily involved. In some countries (like the US) it requires parliamentary approval but not so in Nigeria.  To be a Service Commander in Nigeria requires that one have the right type of commission (regular combatant) and belong to a “teeth arm” (i.e. Infantry, Artillery, Armour, Combat Engineers, Intelligence, or Signals). The exception is the position of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), a Staff and Policy coordinating position which officers from non-teeth arm combat service support corps can theoretically attain.  The Air Force, for example, cannot be commanded by a non- Pilot.  But a non-Pilot Air Force Officer – who is senior enough – may reach the position of CDS. 

Short of revelations by specific officials in future memoirs, governments do not usually go into details about the intricacies of why one or the officer is chosen from among a short list forwarded by the military on the basis of pre-specified factors, but possible considerations include:

1. Personal attributes of the Officer concerned, such as likely compatibility with the mentality, style and substance of the national political leadership.  The choice of an Army Commander says a lot about the leadership that appoints him.

2. Professional training and experience, particularly evidence of a balanced mix of graduated command, staff, and training (instructor) appointments during their career.  Wartime or combat exposure, international command and staff assignments are a bonus.  For example, when Brigadier Ironsi was being considered for the position of GOC, NA in 1965 he had never commanded a brigade level formation inside Nigeria, but some of his rivals (Ademulegun and Maimalari) had. However, his command of the UN Peace- Keeping force in the Congo was considered professionally to be a higher level of responsibility than a Brigade level command. Thus, that drawback was over-ridden.  Another serious rival of Ironsi’s,  Brigadier Ogundipe, had the advantage of not only being the only senior Nigerian officer who had actually seen combat in Burma during World War2 but had also been the first Nigerian to command  a Brigade formation at Lualuaborg in the Congo (before Ironsi assumed overall command of ONUC).  For that reason as well as the fact that Ironsi had not only faced a board of inquiry when he was a clerk in the Ordnance unit at Yaba in 1951/52 but also had disciplinary problems with his men in the 5QONR in Bukavu in  1960/61 (which partly led to his subsequent posting to the UK as Defence Attache), and was rumored to appreciate alcohol, the outgoing British GOC, NA preferred Ogundipe (who had since become the Chief of Staff, Nigerian Defence Forces) for the position of GOC, NA and recommended him to the Balewa government. To the Nigerian government, however, Ironsi’s achievement as the first Nigerian to command an entire UN operation, taken together with his seniority (as an officer) over Ogundipe and the need to mend fences with the NCNC after the December 1964 election crisis compensated for these drawbacks.  Maimalari’s advantage was that he was the first regular commissioned officer from Sandhurst, but he was junior to the others, although they all rose from the ranks.  Ademulegun was an excellent officer (and fantastic horseman) but no particular attributes stood him out from the pack enough to overtake the others – beyond his personal closeness to the Premier of the North.

3.  Seniority  and  Cohort (class or course intake) in the military.  This is always a strong factor unless there are compelling reasons to ignore it. If an officer who is relatively junior is chosen, many of his mates and most of his seniors in the service would have to be retired to maintain regimental sanity and discipline – and/or he would have to be promoted to a rank appropriate for the appointment. A less well appreciated but related consideration – particularly for the Army – is that the Army is the most senior of the three services (Army, Navy and AirForce) having been created first.  Thus, the seniority of the proposed Chief of Army Staff – in comparison with other Service Chiefs – must be such as not to undermine the ‘seniority’ of the Army as an institution.  In other words you cannot have a Colonel commanding the Army while an Air Vice Marshall (Major General equivalent) commands the Air Force.  If you insist on a Colonel as the COAS then either you promote him to the same or senior rank to the Air Chief or you retire all Air Force officers above the rank of Group Captain (along with Army and Naval officers above the rank of Colonel).  The safety valve is that more senior officers may co-exist with a relatively junior COAS by getting appointments within the Defence HQ or in Tri-Service institutions under the purview of DHQ. However, such positions are few.

4.  Unusual professional and extra-regimental achievements.

5.  Geopolitics and other elements of “survival” politics. The C-in-C typically wants an officer that will likely be loyal to the regime (politically), can actually command the respect of the Army (professionally),  and whose appointment has some kind of amplification effect in some unstated constituency outside the military.  Such considerations affect the overall picture of Service Chiefs, Police IGs and Defence Ministers across the board.

AO Ogomudia (NDA Course 7) was the first signals officer to become COAS in Nigerian history. Although Signals is a ‘teeth’ arm (in British parlance), the position of either GOC NA,COS(A) or COAS had traditionally been monopolised by infantry and armour officers, particularly Infantry. Aguiyi-Ironsi (previously Ordnance), Yakubu Gowon, Joe Akahan, David Ejoor, Theophilus Danjuma, Alani Akinrinade,  Gibson Jalo, Inua Wushishi, Sani Abacha, Mohammed Chris Alli (also Intelligence), Ishaya Bamaiyi and Victor Malu were all infantrymen. Hassan Katsina, Ibrahim Babangida and Salihu Ibrahim were from Armour. Aliyu Mohammed Gusau and MC Alli (partly) were from Intelligence. Alwali J Kazir was Artillery. Ogomudia is Signals. The new COAS (ML Agwai, NDA Course 8)) is from the Armoured Corps.

Although one has no specifics, it is safe to assume that Lt. Gen. ML Agwai who was just been chosen as the COAS was not the only candidate for the job. Usually, at least three names are submitted. The same thing happened when SVL Malu was chosen in May 1999. He was not the only candidate then either.

Back in the first republic when Ironsi was chosen in 1965 he was one of four candidates for the job (Ironsi, Ogundipe, Ademulegun and Maimalari). For various  reasons a government can select or reject any nominee.

Ogomudia was commissioned AFTER the civil war ended,  and so – like the other Service Chiefs – has no civil  war record. Officers who fought in the war are no  longer in service.

Unconfirmed stories suggest that he is among those officers who – during the military  regime era – spent most their Army career ‘suffering in silence’, going from “Army Job” to “Army Job” and “Training course” to” Training course” either denied political appointments or who avoided such appointments. The emergence of the ‘democratic’ era in 1999 and wholesale retirement of politically tainted and active officers (some of whom were excellent but misguided) opened the way for long suppressed officers who did their professional jobs with diligence and excellence, were seen but not heard, had no political GodFathers, and were not hooked into the caucus of coup addicts and militicians of that era.

Regarding his background and professional record,  according to the Army website,

“Lieutenant General Alexander Odeareduo Ogomudia was  born on 29 December 1949, at Uzere in Isoko South  Local Government Area in Delta State of Nigeria. After  his Primary and Secondary Education he opted to serve  in the military. He joined the Nigerian Defence  Academy (NDA) as a cadet on 13 October 1969. At the  successful completion of his cadet training, he was  commissioned on 11 March 1972 into the Nigerian Army  Signal in the rank of Second Lieutenant with effect  from 13 October 1969. He is of NDA 7th Regular Course.  Second Lieutenant AO Ogomudia’s first point of duty  after commission was General Staff Officer Grade 3  Operation/Training where he served as Staff Officer  from April 1972 to December 1972. He was promoted  Lieutenant on 11 June 1972. Between the rank of  Lieutenant and Major, which spanned from 11 June 1972  to 11 June 1981, AO Ogomudia attended a number of  military and civil Courses, at home and abroad. He  attended Signal Officers Basic Course (SOBC 19) USA,  Signals Officers’ Degree Engineer Course (India),  Diploma Electrical Electronics Engineering, Obafemi  Awolowo University Ile-Ife, Battalion Commanders’  Course Jaji, National War College Course Lagos and  University of Ibadan amongst others. During the same  period, General Ogomudia held various appointments.  They include Adjutant, Communication Zone Signal  Regiment, Commanding Officer Signal support Regiment,  Directing Staff Command and Staff College, Commander  53 Armoured Division Headquarter and Signal, Director  of Telecommunications Headquarters Nigerian Army  Signals, Colonel Co-ordination Headquarters Nigerian  Army Signal, Deputy Commandant, Nigerian Army Signal  and School (Training Branch), Directing Staff,  National War College, Commandant Nigerian Army Signals  and School and General Officer Commanding 1 Mechanized  Division Nigerian Army. AO Ogomudia rose to the Rank  of Lieutenant Colonel on 11 December 1985 and on 11  December 1990, he was promoted to the rank of Colonel.  He was promoted Brigadier General on 11 December 1994  and then Major General 11 December 1998. He was  subsequently elevated to the rank of Lieutenant  General on 01 October 2001. Lieutenant General AO  Ogomudia then a Major General was appointed Chief of  Army Staff Nigerian Army (COAS) on 01 April 2001. He  is married with children. His hobbies include Music,  Farming and Engineering Designs.”

Lastly, I want to make an observation.  The position of CDS used to be dominated by the Army (e.g. Akinrinade, Jalo, Bali, Abacha, Abdulsalam Abubakar).   However, there appears to be a recent tradition to rotate the position of CDS among the services.  Prior to Admiral Ogohi of the Navy, Air Marshal Al-Amin Daggash of the Air Force was the CDS.   Prior to Daggash, then Major General Abdulsalam Abubakar of the Army was the CDS.  With the departure of Ogohi, it appears that it is now the turn of the Army.  Enter General Alexander Ogomudia.

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