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Friday, March 5, 1999

Nigeria Premier trained in India as a young man

GAURAV C SAWANT  
NEW DELHI, March 4: Newly-elected Nigerian President General Olusegun Obasanjo has an Indian connection. As a young Major in 1965, he was trained by the Indian armed forces. Former Chief of Army Staff General S F Rodrigues was among his course mates at the prestigious Defence Service Staff College, Wellington.

Obasanjo polled 62.7 per cent ballot (18.73 million votes) and his People's Democratic Party (PDP) was declared victorious on March 1. ``It's been a long journey for the young Major who came to Wellington in 1965,'' recalls Major General (retd) K M Dhody who was his course mate at Wellington. ``He was a gentleman, a good social mixer but a man with great determination,'' Dhody adds.

His rise to power in Nigeria was phenomenal. In 1975 he began his political career as chief of staff of the Supreme Headquarters. But life was not a bed of roses for him. Reminiscing, Dhody says that when Obasanjo was put in prison, several of his course mates and friends not only in the armed forces but also outside,wrote to the Nigerian government seeking his release. The spokesman of the Nigerian High Commission in New Delhi said that Obasanjo always felt close to India.

``When he was released from prison, he came to India and thanked his army friends for standing by him,'' Okey Nze, senior counsellor, Information said. Maj Gen Kapil Vij, Chief Instructor (Army) at the Staff College told The Indian Express that Obasanjo was in the 20th Course (April-November 1965) and according to the College records, performed well.

``Some of the other course mates of President Obasanjo include Lieutenant General Sami Khan, former army commander Central Command and Lt Gen S K Pillai,'' says Colonel N K Singh at the Military Training Directorate, Army Headquarters.

``As a young man, he wanted economic development of Nigeria and closer economic ties with India. Even that far back, more than military relations he wanted economic relations, and more to do with agricultural development,'' recalls the General. Back in Nigeriaafter the training course in Wellington, Obasanjo rose to the rank of a four star general (the third in the history of Nigeria).

Twenty years after he handed over power as a military leader on March 1, he again emerged victorious this time as a civilian leader.

Copyright © 1999 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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