by Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, I finally returned to Port Harcourt after over two years of absence. It is strange how time flies and how it changes everything. Port Harcourt had always been one of my favourite cities in our dear beloved country. Once upon a time, Port Harcourt was known and referred to as the garden city because of its blossoming flowers. The good people of Rivers State are particularly warm and affectionate and I really enjoyed their generous hospitality which is so lavish and sincere. I will never forget the wedding of one of the daughters of the great Chief and former Minister, Alabo Graham-Douglas. Port Harcourt, and Rivers State in general, was so peaceful that I flew in our European photographer, Dragan Mikki, to cover the epochal event for us. Security was not even an issue as we boarded a speedboat to go to Abonema, the ancestral home of the Graham-Douglases. There was no fear of our Oyibo photo-journalist being kidnapped. We also flew Dragan from Port Harcourt to Abuja to shoot pictures of our dear First Lady, Mrs Stella Obasanjo, now of blessed memory. Wow, I feel so nostalgic about those good old days.
I made so many wonderful friends in Port Harcourt. Ovation International magazine has had one of its biggest fan base in that fun-loving city till this day. I remember and treasure the evening I was hosted by the big boys of the garden city and I was treated like a visiting President. I saw enjoyment at its best. I was given the title of O-talk-na-do of Port Harcourt and the whole place reverberated powerfully as a result of the Ovation invasion. I was received at the Government House by the Deputy Governor Sir Gabriel Tamunobiebere George Toby, on behalf of the Governor, Dr Peter Odili, who was out of the country when I visited.
I would later meet and become inseparable friends with the then Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly and later Governor, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. I visited whenever I was chanced or invited by Amaechi. Our relationship blossomed when he left his Peoples Democratic Party and joined All Progressives Congress. We worked actively and passionately for the success of Major General Muhammadu Buhari, now President and Commander-in-Chief. While Amaechi’s stupendous efforts won at the Federal levels, he could not replicate the same on his home tuff. His Governorship candidates and other aspiring legislative ones failed as they were roundly and soundly defeated by the opposition party. I doubt if my friend agrees till this day that his candidates were truly humbled but that is a matter for the courts as events unfolded.
I don’t know, and may never know, what happened in Rivers and how Amaechi the physician could not heal himself after fixing Abuja admirably. That is another story for another day. All I know is that Rivers has not been the same. I read a lot of blistering attacks on the new Governor, Nyesom Wike, who used to be one of the closest friends of Amaechi before things fell apart between them and the center could no longer hold. Since life is about perception, I did not look forward to going to Rivers anytime soon.
All that changed when I least expected. A phone conversation with the great man many of us refer to as “the godfather” in journalism circles, Mallam Ismaila Isa Funtua, changed all that. He had called while I was in Ghana to personally invite me to the 2017 Nigerian Guild of Editors Summit in Port Harcourt. He informed me he was also talking to Nduka Obaigbena, Chairman of Thisday newspapers, as well as Kabiru Yusuf, Chairman of Daily Trust newspapers. I was indeed honoured by the invitation and I agreed to return to Abuja and fly from there with these distinguished personalities to Port Harcourt.
The journey to Port Harcourt was smooth as the four of us flew from Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja on a small chartered plane and landed under an hour. Everything was in place for our arrival including, cars and security provided by the Governor. We drove straight to our hotel, checked in, freshened up and rested a bit before going to join the Governor for dinner. I had not seen Governor Wike since he moved into that Government Lodge where I used to visit my dear friend, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi. As we walked in, the Governor rose to salute “the godfather”, Alhaji Funtua: “my father welcome…” he said. He turned to Nduka Obaigbena, “my boss, how are you?” To Kabiru, “how are you Sir?” And to me, “my brother, I can’t believe you came. I told Alhaji you won’t come…” I smiled and we hugged briefly. I immediately understood why he felt that way but I love peace and would always work for peace.
Wike appeared extremely happy to see us. I saw firsthand why he is regarded as a consummate politician, regardless of what side of the political divide you belong. He understands the game of reaching out to friends and foes. He did not hold any grudge against me for being one of those who fought tooth and nail to sack their Federal Government from power. As we walked to the garden where he hosted us, he held me at a stage and recollected how I dealt him some heavy blows in my column one day when he was still Minister. He said his whole body was vibrating with emotion as he read my article. As he spoke, I remembered a Yoruba adage, “the man who used the toilet can forget but the one who cleaned the mess would always remember.” We both laughed over it.
We spent several hours with the Governor who regaled us with exciting tales from behind-the-corridors of power. Believe me, the man knows so much about Nigeria and sure knows how to navigate the murky waters of power as dished up by the political class. He’s a powerful networker who has no bounds or restrictions. His biggest assets are his disarming smiles, raucous laughter and general affability. It is impossible to sit with Wike and not laugh. He had many of his friends and political associates around. It was obvious that he enjoys a grip on the major political actors in the State, including a former Governor, a former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, a former Party Chairman in the State and several others who sat with us. They were all there to testify to Wike’s ability to unite them. Also with us were senior journalists, Eric Osagie, Managing Director of The Sun and Louis Odion, former Commissioner for Information in Edo State.
We took a walk round the beautifully refurbished State House, including the spanking new Presidential Lodge for visiting Presidents. Everything was tastefully done. The Governor looked confident and very much at home. He walked us back to our cars and we said goodnight. We drove back to our hotel at about 1am. It was quite an experience. As I prepared to dive into bed, what kept ringing in my head was that I hoped our leaders could unite for the sake of their people and disagree to agree but it seems a tall order and mere wishful thinking. There is nothing wrong in fighting about principles but there is no need to do so on the basis of personalities. What we often have in Nigeria are personality clashes which do us no good as it detracts from good governance through the unhealthy and unnecessary distractions that it causes.
The occasion of the Editors Conference was superbly put together. We arrived in good time and took our seats. We met Chief Olusegun Osoba, former Governor of Ogun State and certainly one of Nigeria’s greatest journalists of all time. I was delighted to see him because he was still recuperating from a recent surgery, but still made the sacrifice nonetheless. There were so many greats of our industry on parade and I was proud to be a member of the fourth estate of the realm. The speeches were awesome.. Our Chief host, Governor Wike spoke from his heart during his welcome address. He berated those he saw as busybodies maligning the State of Rivers.
He asked rhetorically, why everyone is coming to host one event or the other in Port Harcourt if there was total breakdown of law and order as being peddled by certain sections of the media. The discussions on the media itself were revealing, especially the one on the media as business. This is because it will always be a pertinent topic if our media houses are to stay focussed and relevant in the development of our great country. I enjoyed the contributions of media icons, Azubuike Ishiekwene and Kabiru Yusuf. I came in briefly as one of the commentators. I spoke on how to stay relevant in the media business. I had no regrets attending the landmark event and I’m grateful to Mallam Ismaila Isa Funtua for the kind invitation extended to me and the entire arrangements made for the trip.
- This Best Outside Opinion was written by Dele Momodu