By Sunny Awhefeada
Major General David Akpode Ejoor (rtd), one of Nigeria’s finest military officers, took his final salute on February 10, 2019, when he breathed his last. The General whose courage and patriotism approximated that of the Biblical David was a grand old man of eighty-six when he answered the final call. General Ejoor was born of Ovwor-Olomu and Ebor-Orogun parentage.
A paragon of Urhobo intelligence, industry and foresight, Ejoor braved odds to go to Primary School which eventually led him to the portals of Government College Ughelli, (GCU) in 1948. Ejoor was outstanding at GCU where he won a scholarship. His Principal was the legendary V. B. Powell who described him on graduating in 1953 as “a thoroughly nice boy in the best sense…”
He was among early Nigerians trained at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.
Ejoor graduated from Sandhurst in July 1956, and returned to Nigeria on 2nd January 1957 as a Lieutenant. After serving in Kaduna and Ibadan between 1957 and 1959, the lot of securing Nigeria’s border with Cameroon fell on him. At independence in 1960, Ejoor had the historic honour of commanding the Army Guard at the dawn of 1st October. That event foreshadowed the significant roles he was to play in the survival of Nigeria.
Ejoor was in the United Nations Peace Keeping Force in the Congo. On returning to Nigeria, he again had another rare privilege of designing the Nigerian Army cap badge and rank insignias.
The turning point in Ejoor’s career took place on 15th January 1966 when the first military coup swept away the first post-independence government. Ejoor, then a Lieutenant Colonel and Commander of the Army Battalion in Enugu, was in the forefront of the offensive that foiled that coup. Fate saw him appointed as the Military Governor of the then Midwest Region, by virtue of which he became a member of the Supreme Military Council (SMC). Ejoor had hardly settled down when the counter coup of July 1966 took place.
The July coup led by Northern soldiers led to the death of many officers from the then Eastern Region. Soon the tension bred by the coup degenerated into a full blown Civil War. Ejoor, more than any other Nigerian military officer suffered from the war. His acts of courage and loyalty to Nigeria contributed to Nigeria surviving the war. His predicament stemmed from being the Governor of the Midwest, a small buffer Region with a substantial population of the aggrieved Igbo.
His military colleagues in the Midwest with the exception of two were all Igbo. So there was a conspiracy to get rid of him. Help was not forthcoming from the Federal Army, and the invading rebel forces overran his base in Benin. He survived three assassination attempts.
Before and during the early period of the war, Ejoor was the only proponent of one Nigeria among the then four Regional Governors, and military brass hats who saw no need for the existence of Nigeria as one entity.
It was for that that the rebel leader, Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu wanted him dead. The invasion necessitated Ejoor’s flight from Benin the capital of the Midwest.
Ejoor’s escape from Benin, his bicycle ride to Ebor-Orogun, and eventual appearance in Lagos are the stuff military manoeuvres are made of. Yet, it was that rare act of stratagem that Olusegun Obasanjo had in mind when he referred to General Ejoor as a “bicycle riding fugitive”.
It is apropos to say that better and braver soldiers than Obasanjo, the likes of Generals T. Y. Danjuma and Joe Garba had gone on to adulate General Ejoor as an officer of the highest mettle.
The Biafran invasion of the Midwest also meant the loss of Ejoor’s post as Governor. But short and tempestuous as his tenure was, he left footprints that are associated with visionary leaders.
He set the tone for the making of the Midwest into the most advanced enclave in Africa. The strides recorded by his successor, Brigadier Samuel Ogbemudia were derived from the template put in place by Ejoor.
But this is hardly acknowledged. How many people know that it was Ejoor who established the first radio broadcasting station in Benin? Who still remembers that it was Ejoor who began the process that gave birth to the once famous Nigerian Observer, or that he was the one who took the decisive steps which metamorphosed into today’s University of Benin, Benin City? What about other landmark projects like the Delta Steel Company, Ovwian-Aladja, the Petroleum Training Institute, Effurun, and the Refinery at Ekpan which he envisioned?
Ejoor arrived in Lagos on the blaze of military glory in 1967. He became a Director at the Army headquarters and was later assigned the task of getting France, America and India to support the Federal Government during the war.
In 1968, he assumed duties as the first Nigerian Commandant of the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna and was saddled with the responsibility of training young officers who prosecuted the war.
Ejoor attained Generalcy in 1971 the same year he attended the Royal College of Defence Studies in the United Kingdom where he obtained the military equivalent of a PhD. He reached the apogee of military career when he was appointed as Chief of Army Staff in January 1972. As Nigeria’s Army Chief, Ejoor did so much to reshape the military to fit into the nation’s post-war aspiration.
The July 1975 coup ended Ejoor’s remarkable military career at the age of 43! He retired to civvy street.
He was President-General of the Urhobo Progress Union, Nigeria’s oldest socio-cultural organization whose proscription he prevented in 1966. He drafted Nigeria’s Defence Policy in 1982. His submission on two-party system became a model for Babangida’s political transition programme. He received the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR) and Grand Commander of the Niger (GCON).
The governments of Togo, Sudan, Senegal and Belgium also conferred national honours on him. General Ejoor was the author of two books, one of which is Reminiscences which presents the most altruistic account of the Nigerian crisis from 1966 to 1970.
Awhefeada teaches literatures at the Delta State University, Abraka.