Ugbaha Mohammed 'Dogo': Chief Cook Served 7 Past Nigerian Leaders, In Poverty
The story of 73-year-old Ugbaha Mohammed popularly known as Dogo is that of a fall from grace to grass. From the glamour and bliss of the State House in Lagos and Aso Rock, Abuja under seven former Nigerian leaders including military heads of state and civilian presidents, Dogo now lives in a thatched room offered him by a Good Samaritan in an Abuja slum. Dogo served three civilian presidents and four military heads of state beginning from the administration of the late Alhaji Shehu Shagari. Despite coming so close to power and fame, he is now dejected because of rejection by his children and other relations as well as the Nigerian leaders he served. His journey to this present life of horror, misery and squalor began when the only house built for him by Gen. Nuhu Bamalli, former aide de camp (ADC) to the then military president, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, was burnt during a political crisis in his village in Benue State. LEADERSHIP Weekend gathered that his children and other members of the family deserted him after the unfortunate incident. Some of his children told our correspondents that they were yet to unravel the mystery behind a man who served seven Nigerian presidents not having a roof over his head and affording the cheapest medical service. The thatched house located near a police station in Gwagalape, a remote community in Nyanya, Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC) is owned by 36-year-old Faith Okolo who came to Dogo’s rescue when everyone left him in the cold. While in active service, Dogo cooked and served rich, nutritious, and appetising meals to the former heads of states and civilian presidents, their families as well as their visitors, both Nigerians and foreigners. Then he was the cynosure of those who came across him as he charmed everyone with his height and chief cook attire. As the chief cook at the presidential villa, Abuja, his highest monthly salary was N25,000. From his story, Dogo served the late Second Republic President, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari as head of state, Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, Chief Ernest Shonekan, head of the Interim National Government (ING), the late Gen. Sani Abacha, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, and former President Olusegun Obasanjo. He started life as a soldier during the Nigerian Civil War before fate turned him to a presidential cook. During his service at the villa, LEADERSHIP Weekend gathered that the children of these leaders sometimes refused to eat food not prepared by Dogo. He said: “I served Shehu Shagari, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, Ernest Shonekan, Sani Abacha, Abdulsalam Abubakar, Olusegun Obasanjo, after which, I left.” Dogo told LEADERSHIP Weekend when he was traced to the thatched room in the Abuja suburb that “I was called upon during the late Umaru Musa Yar’adua and Goodluck Jonathan administration, but I declined simply because I felt there was nothing I had gained serving other presidents. But in 2015, the housekeeper to President Muhammadu Buhari, Sale Yuguda, called me, and because of the relationship I had with the president when he was head of state, I took the job hoping that one day I would be able to talk to the president about my plight. “Unfortunately, I was posted to the Defence House where I attended to the National Security Adviser (NSA) and Chief of Staff. I was there for four years without an appointment letter or salary but I was given N25,000 per month which stopped coming when my appointment letter was ready. “Hoping that someday I will be privileged to see and talk to the president, when I was given the appointment January 1, 2018, I worked for six months without salary until July and the first salary I got was N70,000. By July end, I got paid for two and half months, plus overtime running to N70,000 plus. My monthly salary after that was N20,000. During these years of service, I never for a day took permission to travel,” Dogo said. His predicament did not end there. The only house he retired to in the village with his children after serving Obasanjo was burnt down during a political unrest and all the members of the family were scattered. Dogo continued: “Nuhu Bamalli, ADC of Gen. Babangida, assisted me with the finances for the building of my only house I’ve had in my life in the village but due to a political crisis that broke out, the house was burnt down, four of my brothers had gunshot wounds but they survived. “I have nine children, six girls and three boys. My wife died in 2003 from tonsils. We were in Abuja then, when she went to seek traditional help at Karu, her condition became worse; she was taken to a hospital and later referred to Asokoro General Hospital but she didn’t make it,” Dogo said of the passage of his wife. On his relationship with his children, Dogo said: “Most of my children are annoyed with me, especially the first child. Whenever she pays me a visit, she ends up crying, and tells me that I’m supposed to be an important person, but my condition is pathetic. “My children think I earned more but squandered it. On one occasion, I had to remind my first daughter how I once sought a piece of advice from her on what to do with my money, and her words made me to buy a grinding machine and this went a long way to improve our finances before it broke down,” he said. Dogo, an Idoma from Otukpa in Ugboji local government area of Benue State, relocated to his maternal place in Ugbadibo local government area of the state after the destruction of his house. Born on August 20, 1946 at Ugboji, Dogo still remembers the moments of joy and laughter during his childhood despite the present difficulties he lives with. After attending St. Mary Primary School in Ogobia, Ugboji in Benue State, Dogo joined the Nigerian Army when he heard a recruitment announcement in Kaduna, where his height got him the job. The war veteran was enlisted on January 1, 1969, trained before he headed to the war front as mortal soldier that made use of bombs for various operations. After the war, Dogo retired in 1979 and joined the State House in 1980. “I went to visit a friend, who was the watchman for one Gen. Osisi. While I was there, my friend was busy ironing the General’s uniform and there were other wears there. I asked for an iron to assist with the female wears I saw and was given the iron. “I applied starch on it while I pressed it. I handed it over to a woman who was there to collect the wears. On seeing it, she was impressed and added more clothes. I finished and took them to her, and she asked where I was working, and I replied I was without a job. She told me to draft an application letter immediately, which I did and handed it over to her. She attached a letter and told me where to take it. She also revealed that she was the housekeeper to the then President Shehu Shagari and her name was Mrs. Adela. “I took the letter to the office; one lance corporal accompanied me and took me to the permanent secretary. When he read the application, he instructed that a file be opened for me. I also did an interview and was given a job and directed to start immediately. That was how I secured the job at the State House. “It was like a dream, I took the appointment letter to the president’s housekeeper, and she told me they were sending me to Federal Palace Hotel to be trained as a cook. Some days later, a sibling to the housekeeper became the managing director at a Nigerian Hotel, so I was withdrawn from the Federal Palace Hotel to continue training at the Nigerian Hotel. “After the training, I went to the State House to commence work as a cook,” Dogo said, as he shared his experiences at the State House. “After serving at the State House during the Shagari era, one night soldiers went round knocking from one door to the next, asking of Dogo. They finally got to my door, and asked if I was the person; I responded in the affirmative and the over eight soldiers said that I was needed at Dodan Barracks, Lagos. Immediately my wife heard she began crying as she felt the worst was about to happen, but the soldier in charge asked why she was crying. He said it was a promotion because there was a change in government and they needed my services because the coup plotters were hungry,” Dogo said. He followed the soldiers as the only cook at the State House that stayed behind because his employment was directly from the State House unlike others whose files were with the contract company. The soldiers took Dogo to Dodan Barracks and when he got to the kitchen, he requested for soldiers to assist him and was given seven. “I had to send packs of food, over 40 to Bonny Barracks and Command Mess at Onikan was given 20, Command Mess at Okotie Eboh was given 20 and the food for the main house was also delivered,” Dogo explained how he shared food to the coup plotters. “I continued as the only cook until three more cooks joined me. The ADC told them to take their jobs serious because they were recommended by me as people who were reliable and they were told to henceforth, respect me as the chief cook. “I automatically became General Muhammadu Buhari’s chief cook. While I was serving the head of state, everything that had to do with the wellbeing of staff, he would ask me. We usually had a menu they went through during their meals, and from the list of the dishes, they would tick the preferred meals for the next day,” Dogo said. The then chief cook said that Gen. Buhari at that time preferred Tuwon Shinkafa, Tuwon Masara with either Miyan Kuka, Miyan Taushe or Egusi soup. “We cooked only a soup in a day and after dishing the food, he would add mai shanu to it. Daily we kept salt, pepper and other seasoning on the table for whoever needed them. There was an instance the ADC and I quarrelled and he told me to leave the kitchen. After I left, when the president’s children returned home from school, they asked after me ‘Dogo’ and were told I was no longer there. “Food was ready and served but they insisted they would not eat except I was brought back, they had to send for me from the State House, Marina. When I arrived, the head of state’s wife called him from the office. I was summoned before him, his wife, the ADC and children. Then the head of state asked why I left work, before I could give a response, the children said they needed no explanation, and they told me to go and prepare food for them to eat. “That was how the case ended and I didn’t have the opportunity to tell the head of state what transpired. Shehu Shagari’s children were also fond of me and would not eat any food that was not prepared by me. I had direct access to him during his regime before he was overthrown. I served IBB for eight years and had a good working relationship with the family,”Dogo stated. He said back then, he lived at Maroko and arrived late for work. IBB’s son, Mohammed, refused eating the food prepared for him because Dogo didn’t do it and left for school. “When he came back, he asked where I lived and I told him. He was angry and said, how can a chief cook live far from his place of work? He immediately took his phone and put a call across to the ADC and gave him 30 minutes to give me a place at the State House, Marina and it wasn’t up to 30 minutes when the ADC called me. I was given a place and a gardener took my things from Maroko to the State House Marina,” Dogo said, adding that the president’s son was good to him. “Whenever I ran to him for assistance, he was ready to provide my needs. After they left the State House, I lost contact with him,” Dogo said of Mohammed Babangida. While Ernest Shonekan was ING head, Dogo also served him, but it didn’t take long, and he was overthrown by the late Abacha. “Gen. Abacha came along with four cooks and they were sergeants, a major, a lance corporal and myself. I was the only civilian among them. I was not in charge of the kitchen, but I worked with them. I also served Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar and Olusegun Obasanjo. It was a rare privilege, and it was an honour to have served them,” he said. Of all these years Dogo spent serving the Nigerian leaders at the State House both in Lagos and Abuja, a surgical operation he had while treating a groin problem led to his retirement during Obasanjo’s administration. “After retirement, I took to carpentry to make ends meet but I later took ill with hernia due to the strenuous nature of the work. There’s no one who has gone through difficult times like me. I have never in my entire existence counted N100,000 at once,” Dogo said while narrating how his house in the village that was burnt down was built with the help of the late ADC to Babangida. “This is the only house I’ve built in my life and it was all I had. I have written various administrations and attached copies of reports of my health challenges and hardship but there has been no response,” he said. “Right now, all I can do is to plead with people to assist me. My situation is worsened as my family has relocated to my maternal village and God forbid, but if the unexpected happens, they would not even have a land to bury me because I don’t have a land there and they would not be able to come up with the money to buy a piece of land,” Dogo said. “My job at the State House made me susceptible to everyone in the village. They assume that I was doing well and therefore refuse to assist them. Whenever there is a donation in the village, they charge me higher than others and when I spoke out, they would claim I was working with the president and that money was not a problem. “Whenever I talk of my hardship, nobody believes me, including my children. They say it’s impossible to work with a president and more so I have worked with many, yet none has helped me in the aspect of children’s education and so on. I keep telling people that none of the presidents I have served ever asked about my family and I cannot start telling them about my problems,” he said. He said while serving, some workers were asked about their needs and it was met. “So I felt my time will come, but it never did. I was ashamed to cry to them and being turned down on the account that I was being paid salary. Besides, I’m not the type of person that talks about his struggles at work without being asked and this is the reason I kept quiet all these years. I regret this and to correct it, after declining to work for the late former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Ebele Jonathan when I was called upon. I accepted to serve the present administration when I was called while in the village cultivating cassava. “I fell ill around March this year and had to be in and out of hospitals like State House Medical Centre, Customs and Asokoro General hospitals trying to get a diagnosis but it has not been detected and I still have pains on my leg,” Dogo said, adding that the people he worked with knew about his sickness. “They are aware that I’ve been sick at work and I’m still being paid my salary monthly. I was advised to get traditional help, and I did. The wound on my leg is healed and the pain has reduced. I called the person in charge, Sale Yuguda, housekeeper to the president and told him that I was feeling better and was ready to resume work, but he told me he had removed my name from the staff list. I sent a text message but got no response from him and have been restless ever since,” Dogo said. Speaking to LEADERSHIP Weekend, 36-year-old Faith Okolo, who provided an accommodation for Dogo said that she saw him as a father and was sad about his situation. “As a father, his homeless situation is sad. He did not withhold any information about himself from me; he has served heads of states and presidents but he is in this condition. I wish I could do more for him but I’m also struggling,” Faith said. According to her, “the community is aware of his situation; sometimes they encourage him and give him advice. This is a village and everybody living here is managing and can only do little for him because it is not easy.” One of his children, Oche Dogo, told LEADERSHIP Weekend that he was surprised that someone who served several presidents was living in such a terrible condition. “He started serving this country right from Shagari era to Buhari. Even when he was sick, they abandoned him. As you can see, he is in a very bad situation. But we don’t just know what our country is all about,” the 45-year-old Oche said. Also speaking, 38-year-old Emmanuel Dogo said that no one in the village believed that their father was poor. He said the family had been scattered by the burning of their house in the village and appealed for help.