Admiral Augustus Aikhomu (rtd), Former Vice-President
On a day his former boss, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, was marking his 70th birthday, the ship set sail into the beyond for Admiral Augustus Aikhomu (rtd), former vice-president.
He died at 73 in Lagos Wednesday after a prolonged illness, said to be cancer of the prostate. He would have turned 74 on October 20, this year.
He was vice-president to former military president Babangida.
Aikhomu, who hailed from Irrua, Edo State, was said to have died at his Apapa home in Lagos Wednesday.
Family sources confirmed that he breathed his last at about 5.00pm Wednesday. His remains were moved to a private mortuary Wednesday night.
When THISDAY visited his Forcados Street home Wednesday night, the atmosphere was pensive and gravely calm, as most people around him had not heard of the passage.
Attempts to speak with his widow, Rebecca, were unsuccessful, but his eldest son, Ehime, who lives within the same precinct, confirmed that his father had passed on.
THISDAY gathered that the former number two citizen had returned from a medical trip to London about three weeks ago. It is believed he was told of the terminal nature of his case, and the futility of continued medical treatment.
Medical experts in Nigeria are said to have given him six months to live, but he insisted on seeking alternative opinion in the United Kingdom, which necessitated the medical trip.
Last Sunday, his wife, Rebecca, had presented a special request to a group at the Church of Pentecost, Festac Town, Lagos, where the family worships, asking for special healing prayers for her ailing husband. The church group offered the prayers.
Meanwhile, President Goodluck Jonathan, in a statement Wednesday night, expressed shock at the development.
According to the president’s spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, who signed the statement, "Aikhomu was a patriot who dedicated himself to the service and political development of his fatherland".
He added: “Admiral Aikhomu’s life was defined by the values of hard work and commitment; he was a conscientious and dutiful officer who was in all respects admirably equipped for his roles in the military and in the larger society.
"Even in retirement, Admiral Aikhomu continued to offer his services to Nigeria."
Speaking on Aikhomu’s death, Babangida said: "I have lost a trusted, loyal and extremely reliable friend and brother in Augustus Aikhomu.
"I enjoyed all my years of very warm and close relationship with him. He comes across as a professional colleague who understood where we were headed as government and went out of his way to ensure we achieved our set goals and objectives.
"I am utterly dumb-founded especially coming on a day when I was celebrating my 70th birthday. I will miss him; Nigeria will miss him. Africa will miss him; this gentleman officer, who worked through thick and thin during our trying period as a country to create a road-map for the nation. A patriot of unflinching loyalty and a confidante of immeasurable depth. May Allah in His grace grant him eternal rest. May Allah grant the family the fortitude to bear with this painful and irreplaceable loss."
Also paying tribute to the late Aikhomu, Governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, expressed shock.
In a statement by his Chief Press Secretary (CPS), Peter Okhiria, “Gov Oshiomhole regretted that Nigeria has lost an important player in her political development in the last two decades.”
The governor recalled Aikhomu’s sterling professional career as a Naval officer, which was marked by important command appointments.
According to Oshiomhole, “although he served under military administrations, he managed to cut the image of a father figure and a moderate influence. In later years as a politician, he was vibrant and demonstrated a competitive spirit."
The Edo State Governor noted that “Admiral Aikhomu was one of those leading personalities in Edo politics, who offered goodwill and support, despite political differences with my government.”
Aikhomu, who was the first man from the South-south geo-political zone to become a chief of naval staff, chief of general staff, and later vice-president, had indeed been retired as a military number two man, and transmuted to become a civilian vice-president to a serving military president between 1991 and 1993, when the regime of the Babangida administration came to a tumultuous end.
Although he tried to join the league of mainstream politicking at the dawn of democracy, by belonging to the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), his subtle clashes with the then Obasanjo-led government soon turned him off active national politics.
Sometime in 2001, he was stopped from travelling abroad at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos by security operatives who claimed to be acting on orders from above.
The late Aikhomu had maintained a low public profile in recent times, apparently due to the ill health.