The saying that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, may not hold true for 65-year-old Mr. Ugbaha Oche, who, for 20 years as head cook in the State House, found his way into the stomach of eight Heads of State with his mouth-watering dishes, but, perhaps, could not find his way into their hearts.
Oche, popularly known in the Dodan Barracks, Lagos and Aso Rock Villa, State House as Dogo, is a widower with nine children and currently down with a debilitating illness, which has rendered him incapable of taking care of his children.
He told LEADERSHIP the pathetic story of his travails which includes an unlawful retirement from the State House, the gruesome death of his wife who bled to death while treating a tonsillitis and surgical operations to treat his groin problems, lamenting that every attempt to get help from his former masters have failed.
The touching story of how Oche, who had served the country as a private in the Nigerian Army, found himself in the State House, Ikoyi, in 1980, began the very day he helped a friend to iron clothes for a lady he did not know was the chief house keeper in the State House.
According him, when he brought the clothes to the lady she was so impressed with the military-like ironing that she had to ask him if he needed a job. He said that same day he was given papers to resume work in the state house.
He said the woman simply took him to Alhaji Shehu Shagari, then president, and told the president that they wanted to employ Oche and train him to become a cook in the State House.
Oche said with Shagari’s approval, he was employed and sent to Federal Palace Hotel to train as cook after which he was also sent to Nigerian Hotels to gain a certificate in cooking. Following these trainings, it began his executive cooking career which spanned 20 years under eight Heads of States and presidents.
According to him, he entered the State House in 1980 and left in 2000 during the first term of Chief Obasanjo as civilian president. After he was retired, he started carpentry to make a living because he did not want to be liability.
It was during this time that he took ill. Ever since, he has been going about seeking help from those he knew in his days at the State House without any success.
“Shagari employed me in 1980 when the State House, house keeper, Mrs. Adela, took me to him and told him that she wanted to employ me as a cook. I was sent for training after which I started cooking in the State House.
When Shagari was overthrown and Buhari came most of the workers in the State House had left; it was only me that he met. He asked me ‘where are the rest?’ I told him they left. He asked me which of them I wanted I mentioned and he asked for them to be brought back.
“When Buhari was overthrown by Babangida, I remained with Babangida for complete eight years without complaining to him. When Babangida left, I remained with Shonekan before Abacha came. Then in the time of Abacha, they gave me retirement but somebody called me and said Dogo, as they retired you, go and work with Chief of Defence Staff.
Then I went to Abdulsalam at Chief of Defence Staff House at Fort IBB in Abuja, before he became Head of State. Then I went back to the State House again. I showed Abdulsalam my letter of retirement and he took his biro and wrote that they should reinstate me.
“When he left office, I served Obasanjo for seven months. I told the late First Lady, Mrs. Stella Obasanjo that I had not received any help from all the former leaders whom I served. She told me that I should not worry that they would do me well. But it did not take long before they gave me letter that my services were no longer required,” he said.
Oche lamented that after his retirement, he took to carpentry to make ends meet but later took ill from the strenuous nature of the work. He is calling on kind hearted Nigerians to come to his aid.
“I need help from them because I am not well, I have been sick. I have done one operation about ten years ago. It was late Abacha’s son, Mohammed, that helped me to do the operation and I came back to thank him.
This time around, it is Hernia and it was as a result of hard work which they asked me to stop. But it is through the work that I have been eating and feeding my children. Now, I have stopped the work and I cannot do what I have been doing before. Since I was retired, I didn’t go to anyone.
‘I need help from anybody now not only those that I worked with before but anybody. I have complained to them so I know that my complaint has reached them because complain which has reached their PA it must reach the master, but they have already failed,” he lamented.
He reeled out a list of persons he was privileged to meet and serve his delicious meals when he was the State House head cook “When I left the army I left as a private I worked 11 years, 166 days. I now started working in the State House.
Most of the people in the State House knew me by Dogo. AIG Gimba, AIG Melami, I gave food to them. Tunji Olagunju, Prof Elaigwu, Prof Edasaba Prof. Jubril Aminu, who was adviser to Babangida were all my guests at DIC Guest House, Kofo Ababyomi, I was their cook.
“Whenever they were coming for meeting. Go to number 18 Okotio Eboh where Zik, James Ibori, Maitama they used to come there to lodge. Most of them knew me as Dogo of State House. The last visit Zik made abroad for medical check up and did not travel out again, when he came back it was my guest house that he lodged.
Even James Ibori when he was in America, whenever he came to Nigeria with his wife it was my Guest House he lodged. Even Late Aihkhomo’s house, I was the person who went to train his cook. I spent nine months training his cooks. My office was always in the State House but when there was a need to train anybody for them as cook, they always sent me.
“I was unlawfully sacked during Abacha’s time. They just handed me a letter that my services were no longer needed. But I later joined Abdulsalami in the Defence House then when he later became Head of State, he brought me back to the state House. Be later handed me over to Obasanjo.
Ugbaha gave his telephone number as 08051106179 asking kind hearted Nigerians to come to his rescue.