By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, please, let me confess that no one hates war more than me. One of my dreams in life is to win the Nobel Peace prize, even if it is a tall order, and possibly sheer fantasy, but my obsession with peace makes me strive to preach non-violence whenever I have the chance. However, sadly, I believe some Nigerians think war is a tea party. They revel in it and relish it, endlessly, without considering the repercussions. They glorify violence as if it serves any real useful purpose beyond the maiming and killing of people, fortunes and nations. I have read about wars, I have visited war fronts and watched horrific scenes from war films, and I know no one should ever wish for war. Most wars are unnecessary, and many wars end senselessly because they often terminate at the negotiating table where they should have started in the first place. So why fight, destroy and perish in wars? Pointless!
So, you can imagine my mood as we drove out of Port Harcourt on Thursday, November 19, 2020, heading to Oyigbo, a place that has been in the news for more bad reasons than good in recent times. I had been under pressure to go on the fact-finding mission to the latest theatre of war in Nigeria and I’m glad I did.
Here then is the summary of my recent expedition to RIVERS STATE. I had interviewed MAZI NNAMDI KANU weeks back and his fans were very happy because a came across as a First Class brain who knew onions. The brilliant man himself tweeted the following day expressing his satisfaction with my comportment and describing me as the Larry King of Africa, a compliment I truly appreciate.
Thereafter, his fans and others requested me to interview GOVERNOR NYESOM WIKE. By popular demand, and because I always believe a journalist must hear and ventilate the other side of any story, I contacted the irresistible and irrepressible Governor of Rivers State. He easily and readily accepted my invitation to join me for a chat on one of my Instagram live sessions and requested that his aides contact me to set it up. The interview went well, and he answered my questions as candidly and as boldly as he could. He didn’t mince words about his sharp disagreement with Mazi Nnamdi Kanu and the IPOB he leads.
Some people who are extremely loyal to Kanu got angry. They said Wike was lying. They said he was the one who ordered the killing and mass murder of the people in OYIGBO or OBIGBO (depending on which side you belong). They challenged me to go to the town and see the level of destruction and devastation. During my interview with the Governor, I had also asked questions about his developmental projects because the session was not just about his altercation with Kanu. It was also about his almost six years stewardship of Rivers State and his political career so far. The Governor immediately invited the Ovation Media Group to visit Rivers and see things for themselves. He was confident that given the infrastructural development Rivers State had witnessed under his watch, we would require over two weeks to cover his projects. We accepted his challenge and we headed to Rivers, prepared to spend a little over a week, regardless of what was on ground. We were pleasantly surprised. Two weeks and counting, our team is still in Rivers State. There is simply so much to be seen. Our visit involved traveling and traversing the length and breadth of Rivers State.
Some people who have been following our trip insisted that I must visit OYIGBO, a part of the State which they alleged has been under military siege. Of course, we were always going to visit OYIGBO because of what had transpired. As journalists we would have been remiss and failing in our duty if we did not.
Therefore, unknown to those who felt I had bottled it and had possibly succumbed to Governor Wike’s persuasion, I was already making plans and arranging reconnaissance and security for the trip to Oyigbo. I was determined to see the possible bloodbath and devastation that I was reading about constantly on social media. Nobody can pressurise me into doing or not doing something that I consider important, worthwhile and newsworthy. To be fair, I received no pressure whatsoever on this matter from Governor Wike. Indeed, when I needed it, he promptly provided us with the security that we needed.
During our visit to Rivers State, I was compelled to make a quick dash to Ghana for some engagements. Then, suddenly in the middle of planning the trip to Ghana, former President Jerry John Rawlings sadly passed on. I spent more time in Accra than I had planned but eventually returned to Port Harcourt where we had temporarily set up base in order to properly cover the State and provide our readers and viewers with accurate news and footage of what has been going on in Rivers State in the past five years and more..
It was after my return from Accra that I met with Governor Wike and informed him of our plans to visit Oyigbo. As I have said, he had no objection. In fact, he immediately called his Chief of Staff, Chukwuemeka Woke, a perfect gentleman, and told him to facilitate our journey. The State provided vehicles and security. The Governor said he had previously told me that I was free to visit any part of Rivers State unhindered, and that he was serious and had not been joking. He did not want to prejudice or compromise our story or be seen to do so.
My team and I set out on Thursday morning with the much talked about security challenges in the Local Government uppermost on our minds. I must reiterate and confess that no one, not even the Governor, gave us RESTRICTIONS or directions as to where to go or those to talk to or not whilst we were in Rivers State. We reached our own decisions and conclusions about where we wanted to go. I was absolutely in control of our operations and choices. In going to Oyigbo, I employed and deployed my vast experience in the last two decades in promoting peace in West Africa and visiting war torn areas. In a sense, I was returning to familiar turfs and terrain.We decided to embark on a visit that we would be able to feature LIVE on Instagram and Facebook so that viewers could see and feel what our mission was all about, directly, instead of merely viewing and reading an edited story. We also used the opportunity to monitor comments on the live feeds on Instagram and Facebook and therefore we were able to respond live to some spontaneous requests.
There were times I came down from the car to walk around a bit and interact with the people based on requests, instructions and directions from the live feeds. I felt comfortable and very much at home amongst the indigenes and residents of Oyigbo and the people welcomed us and freely expressed themselves about the military operations and preponderance of hunger, which was a major issue for them.
I asked from the people about the murders and wanted to know if killings were still ongoing. Everybody we spoke with confirmed what had happened, but they all said the situation was under control. But they pleaded for the curfew to be relaxed and for a major road that was still blockaded to be opened in order for their businesses to thrive.
I was surprised that some people kept abusing us during the live broadcasts despite our open, transparent work and apparent selflessness. We remained unperturbed because we were not out to impress anyone but to do our job as professionally as we know best. Some of them complained that I went with security and my reaction was, so we don’t deserve to protect our lives? I certainly have a duty and responsibility to those I work with who look up to me to ensure their safety in areas that are potentially dangerous and could be flashpoints. I do not take this lightly and would never shirk my responsibility and duty.
The same people who said people were being killed willy nilly in the area expected us to go to the same terrain without any security. That would be utter recklessness and madness and would be akin to me sanctioning and encouraging us to commit mass suicide!!! Incredible, Unbelievable!!!
We went, anyway, security and all, and we reported live. Contrary to what we had read, life has returned to normal, substantially, in the town. Markets were bristling with the usual hustle and bustle of a boisterous community. I wonder why those who seek the truth expect you to doctor reality to suit their premeditated beliefs, misconceptions and prejudices. I am not a purveyor of fake news and it galls me when people would rather read and see what is false rather than accept the unpalatable truth.
It was a great experience for us. We listened to the Local Government Chairman, Prince Gerald Oforji, and the Chiefs. We heard the citizens loud and clear. We saw the military and the Police Command. We saw the incredible degree of attacks on security installations and reprisal killings that reportedly triggered the monumental violence on both sides of the divide. No one could ascertain how many deaths occurred and documented on both sides.
I announced repeatedly on our live feeds that families and friends of the dead should please find ways to contact us. None has so far been brought to our attention. One of the commentors wrote that we should visit and interview “reasonable people” instead of those we already met, and we requested for leads to such people, but none was suggested.
In all, we believe we fulfilled all righteousness. On a personal note, I travelled to a terrain that appeared risky, dangerous and perilous from the reports I had read, not to impress but to offer my own patriotic support and efforts towards ensuring that peace ensues and endures. Those who already declared Governor Nyesom Wike as their enemy were not expected to like or appreciate our objectivity.
Each side would have expected us to support their own position only. Rather, we chose to visit, listen, report, broadcast live, and leave the rest to those watching the unfortunate saga to determine the veracity of and accuracy of what they had heard through our objective and unbiased report.
Our sincere thanks to Governor Nyesom Wike for allowing us the freedom to travel to different parts of Rivers State without any encumbrance or impediment. Like him or hate him, he is pushing the frontiers of development in his State. He may be controversial but that is expected of a man with such passionate beliefs and uncommon tenacity. He is frank to a fault in a clime where politicians are known to be Masters of doublespeak.
What I find most impressive is his unalloyed and unassailable commitment to State and nation building. I will encourage and implore him to pay more attention to developing and extending the frontiers of infrastructure to Oyigbo Local Government, particularly given what has happened recently. The roads are the worst we have seen in a State overflowing with fantastic networks of roads, with more under construction.
The people told us of hunger despite being willing and ready to work very hard. That should be the next focus of the government of Rivers State. It is heartwarming that major investments are going into beautifying and opening up the State, providing security, protecting the health of the people and building conducive educational facilities all across. The Governor should not be discouraged by the resistance to his efforts. Leadership is usually about the ability and capacity to manage people and resources in a democratic society. His work has been undervalued, under-reported, or, let’s say, eclipsed by politics… He deserves our best wishes.
AND I PAID MY RESPECTS TO JERRY RAWLINGS
Last week, one of Africa’s greatest leaders of the 20th century, former President Jerry John Rawlings, suddenly passed on. The news sent shockwaves across the world. I wrote a special tribute to a man who meant so much to many of us and was hoping to continue this week, but I chose to focus on our visit to Rivers State partly because I am hampered by being away without access to our archives, which I hope to achieve by next week when we return to base.
It was a great honour and privilege for me to travel to Ghana last week and was able to sign a condolence register opened by the Government of Ghana at the International Conference Centre in Accra, last Monday. This brought me closer to the realization that we’ve indeed lost the great giant of a man, an icon, and a legend.
The story of Jerry John Rawlings, the much celebrated, flying, dashing, charismatic, astute, dynamic, intelligent, witty Ghanaian military officer, politician, leader and statesman, of Scottish descent, is a compelling and gripping one, especially for young Africans who may not know why he’s being celebrated globally. It must be told repeatedly, over and over again.