|Urhobo Historical Society
In the face of the raging debate about the constitutional right of Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to stand in for his boss as Acting President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Nengi Josef Ilagha throws a searchlight into political affairs in Bayelsa, the home state of the Vice President. In this tenth chapter of Epistle to Maduabebe, the author fingers some of the most notorious sponsors of corruption and graft whose narrow-mindedness has kept the state retarded for the better part of twelve years.
Goodluck to Bayelsa
Some people stay so far in the past that
the future is gone before they get there.
By His Majesty Nengi
Mingi XII, Amanyanabo of Nembe
Bayelsa State, Nigeria
HE POINT BEING made, sir, is that Nembe has had quite a long and illustrious line of kings, each one capable of giving a sterling account of his tenure in the vernacular. But no private secretary was there to take down notes on a daily basis, just so that nothing vital escaped history. Allow me, therefore, to bring to your notice that I am looking for a job. Specifically, I would like to be your private secretary, the way Odia Ofeimun was to Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Unlike Odia, however, I promise to publish at least XII books on you, if and only if you will be generous enough to grant me a special scholarship to proceed to a writing school abroad, for a start.
But letís not forget the pleasantries. How is our governor, Pigatin? Please tell him that it is time to move the state forward. We have practically been stuck on one spot for too long. Bayelsa needs to make progress, I tell you, and it is a great pity that we remain planted in 1996. We are still in the twentieth century when in fact the world is one full decade into a brand new century and a brand new millennium. It baffles me. How did this happen?
Ani kule mi miete wa kebe seimokuma o. Miete wa gbori yo gho tie timi pigiri kuma fa. Pigatin ebene wamini gboriyo kieri kpomo te, Okpoama pogu gho? Gbiriri yo ka fa. Mi ka paga paga ye!
I donít know about you, but I feel truly frustrated that a writer-governor such as my very good friend has no iota of respect for the printed word, to put it mildly. Which government makes a head-way without a vibrant local press? Please tell me. How many more times do you want to hear that the press has a cardinal duty to nurture truth in governance, and to secure equity and justice on behalf of the common man, such that full-fledged democracy can have a wider room for self expression? Is that too much to ask, grammatically speaking? Why bother to tell your neighbours that you have a radio station, a television station and a newspaper house operating at par, when in fact you fund the radio and television to the exclusion of the state newspaper, simply because the pope in charge of the newspaper writes epistles to the worldwideweb? Between you and I, your majesty, if I ever get to meet Pigatin face to face again, I am going toÖ
This is just between you and me, but if I ever get a chance to share breakfast with him on the first day of next year again, I shall compel him to approve a goodwill grant for Vineyard Press. Otherwise, you guys should just announce ThankGod Igwe as General Manager of the Bayelsa State Newspaper Corporation, and send me on sabbatical to some far away land like Iowa or Rotterdam or Leeds, where I can spend time spelling my name to white people, instead of tormenting you all with epistles. Your majesty, please tell your nephew to send me abroad. I feel like sitting in a classroom. I feel very rusty. I feel like earning a brand new degree at yahoo dot com. I feel like spending the rest of my life writing The Great Book Of Life, chapter after chapter, volume after volume, until I become something of a book treasure at yahoo dot com.
In my honest opinion, it is overdue for Governor Timipre Sylva-Sam to seize the day and get the world trooping to Yenagoa, and I donít mean hosting his fellow governors alone to a post-amnesty party. I have in mind a world-class event hosted by all the governments of the world, with Yenagoa as the New Jerusalem, for which the tax payer in Bayelsa will not part with a dime. I mean something grand enough to generate universal goodwill, beyond standing on the Star of David.
I think it will be a thing of tremendous honour for the governor if one of his humble servants goes beyond our humble literary ken to pluck a few feathers, even from among the busy medical hens cackling in their laboratories about bird flu and ebola. As a poet in his own modest right, Sylva ought to know what I mean. The other day, on the very first day of January, 2009, he recited a poem he had composed, spanning all XII months of the year. In five minutes, he had finished reading the body of the masterpiece, secured a resounding applause from the faithful congregation at King of Glory Chapel, Creek Haven, and gone back to his seat. I obliged him a few claps as well.
Anyway, I return to these blank pages merely to fill them up as assigned to me by God, first in class all the time. I need not stress unduly that I have learnt a few more words in the English dictionary since listening to Sylvaís poem. I will demonstrate this to the best of my ability in the rest of this epistle and any other that may follow. That should come as a plus to all of Nembe Kingdom. In fact, it should be headline news on Radio Bayelsa. Pope Pen comes with fresh metaphors fit for a king. David, shepherd of his lines, plays yet another humble tune upon his lyre.
What shall I say and what should I refrain from saying? I will not hold back anymore. I am tired of being choked by words. Your majesty, you have been very unfair to me in all ramifications. You have behaved in the same precise manner that Thompson Okorotie behaved some years ago when he was my next door neighbour. He took his share, and then added my share to his own, so that his stomach and only his stomach expanded. That is exactly what you have done to me, and continue to do to me. Let me put you in the picture.
As Group Managing Director of the NNPC, you worked on strategies to fund the NLNG project on an equity share basis. Between 1992 and 1993, you even served on the board of the multi-national company, and raked in your millions in local and foreign currencies. Yet, many years later, you found it convenient to deny a young poet under your domain from accessing a token of the selfsame NLNG largesse, using your prime role in establishing the company as a wicked tool, simply because the said poet had directed pertinent questions at you in the largest possible interest of the community you govern.
You practically threw spanners into the works of the Literature Committee to the effect that, rather than give the 2009 Nigeria Prize for Literature to Pope Pen The First, every poet on the long shortlist should come last, and the prize money go to charity. Well, well, well. Welcome to court. I have come to plead my own case. It so happens that I am Jesus Christ, so help me God. I am the final judge. I am the last jury. I am tired of observing this world from the vantage point of my humble cornerstone. I am fed up with your attitude problems. How petty can you get? You thought you could get away with everything, as usual? No, you will not. I have had it up to here, looking upon injustice flourish in the world.
Enough is enough.
Letís face it. Your resourceful tenure as Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, witnessed the production of a comprehensive report on appropriate pricing of petroleum products. It has since gone down in the history books that your report gave birth to the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund, PTF. Yet Bayelsa, your home state, suffers a great deficit with regard to petroleum pricing matters. As if that was not enough, you opted to sack the Pen Pushers Talking Front, PPTF, an independent media outfit under the auspices of Pope Pen The First, PPTF, an agency which seeks desperately to correct the anomaly through a random opinion poll.
These are dire allegations, your majesty, enough to bring on a life-long aggro. How do you plead? Guilty, no doubt. Before you answer the next set of XII questions, letís take a cursory look at your extra-credentials. You are an Associate of the Royal School of Mines, London, and an Associate Member of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. You are also listed as a Fellow of the Nigerian Mining and Geosciences Society, and a Fellow of the Nigeria Association of Petroleum Explorationists, for that matter a distinguished recipient of the prestigious Feyide Award for Technical Excellence. And to top it all, like a welcome recharge card, you hold a Doctor of Technology degree from the Technical University of South Korea.
These are truly impressive credentials, sir, but they remain hollow for as long as they have no bearing on the lives of the ordinary people of Nembe, to say nothing of the peace-loving people of Glory Land. In short, your degrees are many but you are poorly equipped to tackle simple examination questions set before you by toddlers. The tragedy of it all is that you couldnít be bothered. You would rather lord it over one and all. So long as you can feed fat, you care not if your subjects grow lean by the day. So long as you can grab, let them gripe. That sounds like your daily credo, isnít it?
Currently, as you know, we have unsettled matters between us. On my part, I have been doing my utmost to get close to you but, for whatever reason, you bow, shiver and tremble whenever you happen to set eyes on me. Why is this so? Why did you go off your rockers, completely losing control of yourself, when you saw me and your nephew holding hands at Camp David in April 2007, when it was clear he was to step in as Governor of Bayelsa, taking over from Dr Goodluck Jonathan? Do you recall the incident? No? I will be only too glad to prod your memory, but Iím sure your nephew can help you out.
If I have been plying you with questions tirelessly, it may well be because I have been watching Frank Edowo on national TV in yet another edition of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? I bet you couldnít be bothered to watch the programme. I bet you are too much of a millionaire to bother about such fiddle-diddle. You donít want to be a millionaire, frankly speaking. You would rather be a billionaire, and if there is a higher category, I bet you will settle for that. As Jonathan Obuebite, your royal clown would put it: ďYour royal majesty, you are too much.Ē He can be counted upon to say that again and again, feeling really funky in the course of his assignment.
And, as our fellow Nigerians would say, you are a bastard millionaire in terms of naira, kobo, and all the permutations of anda igbogi that you have sold to the greedy world from time immemorial. Even so, remember this. Aristotle Onassis, one of the richest men that the world has ever known, said at the end of his life: ďMillions do not always add up to what a man needs out of life.Ē Do you agree with him?
Well, if you do watch Frank Edowo in your spare time, I bet you answer every question ahead of the respondents. Before the options following a question are reeled out, you know the answer already. Thatís quite a brain you got under that stolen crown. I bet you simply go to sleep in the middle of all that brouhaha about placing long distance calls for friends to help out with dicey questions. Now, then, itís your turn. What is the difference between 12 and XII? Feel free to place a call to any one of your friends around the mathematical world.
Come to think of it, let the next question-and-silence session begin in earnest. There you are in the hot seat. Here I am facing you with a cool smile. I remain Pope Pen Prosperous To The Last Letter. Who are you? Let the bout begin the round. Let the round begin the bout. In the first place, your majesty, how did you get to be a millionaire? When did you get to be a millionaire? At what exact point in your life did you make your first million? How many millions do you have in naira? How many millions do you possess in dollars? And how many in pound sterling, to say nothing of yen in Yenagoa?
Donít take a break. How much in millions do you own of the Euro? Did you earn all these millions of soft and hard currency by hard labour, or was there a soft little by-pass to it? I mean, was there an aggregation of kick-backs of various kinds that may have transpired in the cause of the countless transactions that enabled you to secure your first one million, and the many millions afterward at yahoo dot com? How many side-kicks make one kick-back, and vice versa? If you have a corner kick, would you rather set up a corner shop like the Pakistanis in London?
Your majesty, when you snigger like that I get to appreciate your sense of humour more and more. I get truly glad when I see you smile the way you did just now. In itself, a smile is a wonderful kick. Itís truly like a rubber ball. Every smile has a way of bouncing back. And so, your smile brings us inevitably back to the worrisome questions that just would not let me sleep. May I crave your royal indulgence, therefore, to bring some questions from the closet into the open, in the hope that you might field them to the satisfaction of your conscience, to the relief of mankind, and therefore to the pleasure of God Almighty, first all the time in every class. In the tradition of Frank Edowo, therefore, please answer the next batch of XII questions to the best of your ability, as follows:
I. In your considered opinion, what exactly did Chief Percy Diete Spiff-Kien, acting on behalf of the Nembe Chiefs Council, mean by ďyour decades of meritorious and pacesetting contributions to the development of the hydrocarbon resources of our countryÖĒ as contained in a congratulatory letter to you dated April 4, 2007, wherein he addressed you prematurely as Our Dear Mingi XII?
II. To what extent have your purported contributions to the said hydrocarbon resources of our country affected the lives of the ordinary people of Nembe, to say nothing of the community as a whole?
III. How many sons and daughters of Nembe Kingdom have you encouraged to take to your area of professional discipline, so that two or three geological disciples could add to your pioneering apostleship, in the overall interest of the Kingdom, and in view of the cardinal placement of the buoyant Nembe oil fields in the oil and gas calculus of the modern world?
IV. As a Board Member of the Nigeria LNG Limited from 1992 to 1993, have you ever had cause to lobby the company, overtly or covertly, not to award the prize money of the Nigeria Prize for Literature to any winner in any given year to date, since the inception of the award in 2004, simply to gratify your sense of authority?
V. Is it possible that you may have been tempted to do so recently, with particular reference to the 2009 edition of the poetry prize, on account of the fact that the author of Epistle To Maduabebe stood a jolly good chance of winning the coveted prize money of 50,000 US dollars?
VI. What end did you expect this to justify and how much influence do you swing, anyway, with the committees that decide the Nobel Prize for Literature, to say nothing of the Caine Prize, the Commonwealth Prize, the Man Booker Prize, the Orange Prize and the Griffin Prize, amongst others?
VII. Since your emergence as king, how many trips have you made to Britain, and what efforts have you made, if any, to remind Her Majesty the Queen of the historical verity that, once upon a time, Britain succumbed to the superior military might of The Small Brave City-State?
VIII. In the light of the foregoing, have you ever thought of cultivating the political mind of Britain to the possibility of commemorating the economic ties established by Sir Taubman Goldie under the Royal Niger Company, even if by way of reminding Her Majesty and Prime Minister Gordon Brown about repainting the White Manís Graveyard at Twon-Brass?
IX. Dimeji Bankole, Honourable Speaker of the House of Representatives, recently declared at a public event that Sylva and other Niger Delta governors have been running their states on deficit budgets supported by loans and mortgages, in spite of staggering monthly allocations from the Federation Account over the years. What enduring projects have these huge allocations and loans funded in Bayelsa, and exactly how much of misappropriated funds have been remitted into your private coffers since Sylva came into office?
X. Your coronation is believed to have been sponsored by the tax payerís money. How much was voted for this purpose, and how much did you obtain at the personal level as a long-time benefactor and mentor to the gangling governor? What percentage of your take from the Halliburton bribe may have supported the event?
XI. With the benefit of hindsight, what is your honest assessment of the governments of Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha and Dr Goodluck Jonathan? Did the latter really bring good luck to Bayelsa as was widely advertised by Jesus Christ?
XII. In view of the constitutional provision that the Vice President should step into the shoes of the President in the event that the latter becomes unfit to continue or dies in office, what is your reaction to the attempt by undiscerning Nigerians to impose the Senate President, or anyone for that matter, on the nation over and above Vice President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan?