Mike Okhai Akhigbe, former chief of Naval Staff, dies of cancer in a hospital in the United States
| By Olu Ojewale | Nov. 11, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
THE news apparently took a while to reach the family here in Nigeria. Based on a rumour in the social media about his death, a radio station had an interview with Joseph Akhigbe, the elder brother of Mike Okhai Akhigbe, a retired vice admiral and former chief of general staff, on Monday night in which he denied the rumour of his death. The senior Akhigbe had been vehement that his brother was alive.
He said: “I spoke with his wife in the United States where he is receiving treatment and she assured me that all is well… It is not true and it is really embarrassing to us. My brother is stabilising in an American hospital and not even London as erroneously reported. As I speak to you now, the report in my opinion is pure speculation; the paper said he died in a London hospital but my brother is in an American hospital and he is stable.” But at about 1:00am Nigerian time, the first son of the late Naval chief was said to have called Joseph to announce that, indeed, Akhigbe did not survive the cancer ailment which had plagued him for sometimes. He was 67 years old.
The death of the retired Navy admiral caught a lot of Nigerians by surprise because not a lot of people knew that he had such a terminal illness. In his tribute to the former chief of naval staff, David Mark, a retired brigadier general and president of the Senate, described Akhigbe‘s death as “the loss of a brother, confidant, friend and comrade-in-arms.”
In a statement issued by Kola Ologbodiyan, his spokesman, Mark recalled their days together at the Nigerian Defence Academy, and reminisced: “Mike was fearless and very diligent in our course. He took these attributes to all the formations where he was privileged to have been posted either in his core military postings or political offices. He was one of the poster boys of our Course three and we were all very proud of him. His death is a huge personal loss to me, the members of Course three, the Armed Forces, Edo State and the nation.”
Atiku Abubakar, former vice-president, in his reaction, described Akhigbe as a cultivated gentleman and whose death was another colossal loss to Nigeria at a point the country needed his private counsel to deal with current challenges. He recalled the important role the late Navy chief played in the nation’s transition to democracy, saying “even from a distance, the late Chief of Naval Staff would come across as a cultivated gentleman. He was a broadminded and patriotic officer par excellence.” Abubakar prayed to God to grant his family the fortitude to bear the great loss.
Governor Adams Oshimhole of Edo State, in a statement by Peter Okhiria, his chief press secretary, said “it is with a sad heart that I mourn the death of Vice Admiral Akhigbe, an elder statesman, a pan-Nigeria nationalist, a man of uncommon qualities and an illustrious son of Edo State.” He said the late military governor of Ondo and Lagos states had left behind an indelible track record of achievements in the two states that he had served. “Indeed, we owe him a great debt of gratitude for his invaluable contributions which led to the nascent democracy being enjoyed in the nation today… We feel even more pained that death robbed us of Vice Admiral Akhigbe at this time while we still mourn the passage of another illustrious son of the state, Professor Omo Omoruyi. However, as we mourn, we take solace that he contributed his best and gave his all to the state and the country; for these, the people and Government of Edo State are grateful and proud,” Oshimhole said.
Many other Nigerians have been paying tributes to the man who once served as the number two man in the government of the Abdulsalami Abuabakar from 1998 to 1999, when the government handed over to the elected regime of former President Olusgeun Obasanjo. Akhigbe had also previously served as military governor of Ondo State from 1985 to 1986, and of Lagos State from 1986 to 1988. Thereafter, he was appointed chief of Naval Staff, the highest-ranking officer of the Nigerian Navy. Following the death of General Sani Abacha and the elevation of General Abubakar, Akhigbe was appointed chief of General Staff, being the next in rank to the head of state.
Akhigbe was born on September 29, 1946 in Fugar, Edo State. He attended the Nigerian Defence Academy, NDA: Royal Naval School of Maritime Operations Dryad, Southwick, the United Kingdom; Command and Staff College, Jaji; National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, NIPSS, Kuru, near Jos and the University of Poitiers, Rouan, France. He also trained as a lawyer, a profession he took up after his retirement from the military.