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I was in Warri (3)

BY DELE SOBOWALE
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere —Reverend Martin Luther King, Jnr, 1963.

APOLOGIES are in order: (This piece, which should have been  concluded earlier on, has suffered two unforeseen misfortunes.

First, the self-confession of Atake Tom linking the PDP directly with election violence and fraud as well as the growth of militancy was too pressing to ignore.

Second, I was hospitalized last week in mortal danger. Even at death’s door, I instructed my personal assistant to open the computer and send the third article in a file. Instead, he sent the first; which was a repeat of a previous article.

I sincerely apologise to everyone of our readers including those who sent nasty texts without asking questions. But, death has a way of calling when least expected. Permit me to finish the story of my trip to the war-torn area).

Article continued: You don’t have to be crazy to be in the Nigerian media; but it helps. When I announced my departure for Warri, on a self-imposed fact finding adventure, it was received in my house as if I had promised to go and jump off Mount Kilimanjaro without a parachute.

Deliberately, I did not tell my only living maternal elder brother who might stop me from such a foolhardy venture.

However, I was invited by some Area Boys to come and see for myself what was going on. Furthermore, I did not want to join the league of commentators who sit far away from the Niger Delta to make pronouncements on things they have not at least witnessed.

I must have facts. As it turned out, the “friends” who invited me had fled from Warri by the time I arrived there. But, having gone that far, at my own expense, the least I could do was to go digging for information; after taking some precautions.

First, I went to Vanguard office on Effurun Road to announce my presence; talked to the agents distributing papers and after promising to return; departed. Next, I called a friend and asked him to meet me at Wellington International Hotel; got my car washed for free by a washer, who surprisingly reads Sunday Vanguard, and recognized me, addressed me as Presido, and who volunteered some information. Within two hours of arriving in Warri, I was in a speed boat heading for some of the places previously bombarded by the Joint Task Force, JTF.

For every boat going out from Warri that day, at least, 20 were racing to the city loaded with refugees. It was a sight I could never forget. My friends who had thought that I would be contented to just visit and interview some refugees in Warri were surprised that I was willing to go to their villages.

They were still shaking their heads after we returned at about 7.00 p.m that evening. From what I saw and heard, it is clear that the JTF might win the present and other battles, but it might not win the war. As David Neustadt, had pointed out in his engaging book, Power and Presidents, “the only battle that counts is the last one.” The JTF, like the Americans in Vietnam, might win a lot of battles but the last one is not yet in sight and it is doubtful that victory will be theirs.

For every dead mother or father there are two or three sons vowing to continue the fight for the rest of their lives. That is one tragedy of this military solution to this peculiar problem. My first port of call was the island-village of my only living former distributor in Warri, when I was national sales manager for Boots Company Nigeria Limited.

I had travelled up and down the creeks from 1975 to 1979 making money for the company which was the darling of the Nigerian Stock Exchange at the time. My friend-distributor had taken me to his village not less than eight times during those years and the outrageous condition of the people has never ceased to amaze me.

Even now in 2009, with13 per cent derivation, there is very little to show for an oil producing community. I also saw freshly buried corpses and demolished houses and ruined means of livelihood. What I did not see was surrender. Instead, there was defiance and hatred everywhere.

My escorts, two sons of my friend and three of their colleagues, had invited me, after receiving my call to come to see for myself what had become of their lives in the hands of the Nigerian government. They have lost everything but their determination to fight on; yet there is nobody more dangerous than someone who has nothing more to lose. That is another tragedy of this war.

Now amnesty is being offered to the living. But, what about the dead; those who were caught in the middle? Although the trip gulped about N50,000 of my money, the education was worth millions. There were things I will never forget even if I live as long as Methuselah – all of them painful and heart-breaking. I wept for my country.

Query for Governor Obi

0802-318-7248: My brother, can you tell me what 250m naira was doing in the boot of govt car escorted from Awka to Lagos?I cry for my state— Ernest Ezechukwu”.

I DON’T intend to hold  brief for the  governor. But, it might be because there is no bank in Awka with big enough strong room to hold so much money.

At any rate, Governor Obi, my brother, Ernest, has raised a query. Please answer, if there is nothing funny going on. And while you are at it, kindly let us know if this is the first time or is it standard practice to carry such huge cash in a civilized country when every bank in Nigeria now allows account holders to operate them anywhere.

Rumours have it that some black market foreign exchange dealers were lurking in the vicinity with exactly the dollar equivalent of the N250 million. Uuumh!!  This is another occasion when silence is not golden but might be construed as evidence of guilt. We are waiting, Governor Obi. Please, make it a good story.

Vanguard Book of Quotations available at Lagos, Ibadan, Abeokuta, Benin, Warri, Enugu, Kano, Aba, Uyo and Abuja. Retail N1000; bulk purchase (25 or more) N750.

Next week: Another hard look at our consolidated banks. The more you look the less you see in those banks. There is wahala ahead!


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.