I knew it was going to be a long day. The Saturday of the All Nigerian Editors Conference, ANEC, is always a long day. But this one, I knew would even be longer. In fact, my aching knees and ankles told me there would be 26 hours in that one day in September. If I wasn’t the President of the Guild, I probably would have indulged my tired waist and back and sprawled in front of the hotel room television and watched African Magic Epic till my eyes popped. But not on September 23, 2017! No such luxury. It was the day earmarked to check out what Governor Nyesom Wike, CON, had done with Rivers State money. He had earlier told us about his hard work for the good people of the state. So, it was his day of reckoning. He was going to show at least 350 critical Nigerian editors if he had indeed delivered or if he was just ‘posing.’
I roused my mind and body with a quick gulp of my favourite drink. Too tired to even eat breakfast, I splashed on as much make-up on my face to hide the tiredness of the last five days in Port Harcourt and probably four months of anxious planning of the first ANEC of my first term as President of the NGE.
With my sunglasses as added shield, I hopped on the bus with my colleagues. The governor was already in his sky blue shirt and jean trousers. He got on the bus with us but refused to sit beside me.
Funke, your trouble is too much. Let me sit beside Louis. I think it is safer there.’
Everybody laughed and I wondered how harmful little me could be to a governor like Wike. Both of us knew we had unfinished business but he avoided sitting beside me throughout that tour. Even when we moved from the bus to the helicopter, he stayed as far away from me and my trouble as he could. Oh yes, you probably saw Governor Wike and I leading that Project inspection and he answering my questions, that was work and road show. As soon as we got back on the bus, he returned to his friend, Louis Odion. I bet you are itching to know the nature of my trouble. When you are President of the Guild and also Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of a newspaper, you are lugging around so much trouble and looking for how to turn those troubles to something good. That is all I can tell you for now…
All the same, all that day, Governor Wike was stuck with me. He must show Editors what his new title, Mr Projects, meant and if he was wearing it appropriately.
‘Your Excellency, can we start this tour where we stopped last year?’ I asked.
Oh, I must tell you that Nigerian editors were in Port Harcourt for ANEC in 2016 too. Indeed, Wike is the first governor to host the Nigerian Editors Conference for two consecutive years. The good thing about that is that it offered us an opportunity to see if the projects he told us would be completed in three, six months and one year had actually been delivered or if it was all ‘wash’ as they say in the South South. For this girl who was all covered in sweat and mud seeing some of those projects last year, I needed proof that I didn’t risk a designer footwear for nothing.
Wike was excited to show us what we wanted. He reminded us that we’d already seen the Pleasure Park the previous evening where we danced to our hearts’ content. You should have seen Dame Comfort Obi, Azu Ishiekwene, Gbenga Adesina, Rose Moses, Steve Nwosu, yours sincerely and other editors dancing down memory lane to beautiful oldies from the 80s. Ray Ekpu and Dupe Ajayi-Gbadebo sat in the Elders’ Corner cheering us on. We were supposed to go on a boat ride but couldn’t because it was raining but we sure had fun. Last year, the Pleasure Park was just an expanse of land full of slippery clay where I almost landed on my ageing backside three times. This year, it was one project delivered.
‘What about the road where the people were falling off their motorcycles and drowning and thinking it was Mammy Water sucking them up as sacrifice.’
That too had been delivered. That was the Igwuruta-Chococho Road, done to ensure access to the food basket of the state right in the heart of the Etche community. I still remember the Etche people’s spontaneous reception and hailing last year even when the road was still under construction, too colourful to be forgotten.
And then there was the one that had many editors holding their hanging jaws. Trust me, Nigerian editors are not easy to impress. Very cynical lot, those ones. They have seen too many roads and bridges but the Woji-Akpajo bridge under construction last year was something impressive. Seeing all the piling, tons and tons of sand being simply poured into the lagoon, steel pipes rising out of the water and granite and concrete disappearing into the bottomless bosom of Mammy Water… all eye-popping. Nyesom Wike has delivered that too.
When we alighted at Creek Road to inspect the Bonny-Bille Jetty, it was right into the mud again. Another ‘wow’ construction site. The jetty will connect the riverine communities of Bonny Island, Bille and Nembe in Bayelsa state. By the time the project is delivered, city dwellers going home for Christmas and other ceremonies would no longer risk life and limbs in old boats and sitting for hours on all that water. I find so much water intimidating just standing at the edge only. The governor said the state would bring in modern boats to ensure improved marine transport. The spontaneous welcome of both the old and the young, I think, is an indication that those people even understood the project better than I did. In spite of all the effort I put into not slipping into the gutter or falling face first into all that construction stuff, my fine footwear was all covered in mud. My people quickly bought water to rescue my muddy shoes, either because they love me or they didn’t want me to stink up the bus, or both.
There was plenty of power-walk from one ongoing project to the other and don’t be fooled by that governor’s weight, he is fit. Many of us had to occasionally break into short runs to keep up with him. I pride myself on being able to walk five kilometers in 50 minutes (I always feel like an Olympic gold medalist thereafter) but that Saturday had me panting. My calves felt like they were being slowly cooked on low flame and I had to go on. The governor totally forgot that editor or not, my bones were female and getting old.
Years ago when I didn’t have hundreds of editors to report to, when I got tired on a tour like that, I simply let the governor involved knock himself out while I retired back into the bus to propound such theories as the Pounding Theory, figuring out the challenges of the Pounder and the Poundee with Ray Echebiri and Ken Ugbeche. No such luck in 2017.
So, of course when it was time to board the helicopter so we could go farther into Rivers state, I told myself, ‘don’t be afraid, just use the flight to catch a quick nap.’ I did.
Seeing Rivers state from that height is a story for another day. We landed at Birabi Memorial Grammar School. The transformation of the school will move you between sadness and joy. The government had preserved some ‘relics’ of the dilapidated structure as a reminder of the old school. The ‘before’ and ‘after’ images had even been made into a photo album!
We moved on to the Sakpenwa-Bori road and then to the Ogoni-Andoni-Opobo road with four bridges. What’s with this governor and bridges, I muttered under my breath as I panted along, a smile I was no longer feeling on my face. That smile disappeared altogether by the time we did the back and forth on Abonnema Ring Road, a rescue road for the Abonnema Island town where sometimes motorists going to a wedding got stuck while the couple exchanged vows, rings and the groom would even have finished giving a good account of himself and roundly tested the goods he had taken delivery of before the traffic jam released its prisoners. It was that bad.
Note that as we were inspecting roads and bridges, there were two other groups of editors checking out projects in education and health. It was a long day for everybody.
By the time the helicopter landed at the helipad at Government House, it was well past 5.00pm. I barely had time to return to my hotel, shower and get ready for the next programme.
Would I say Governor Wike has done well? I would. Has he escaped my troubles? Not by a long shot. I’m a president, remember, even if it’s president with a small ‘P’. I will be on his case until he is no longer governor and I’m no longer President. And there is the matter of my being Editor-in-Chief too. I don’t think Louis Odion will be able to protect him forever.