By Tony Uranta
Dear President Yar’Adua,
“Always deal with the man at the top!”…Chris M. Okolie

Dear President Yar’Adua,
This writer broke his writing-milk-teeth working with a little-sung icon of the Nigerian press, Christopher Maduaburochukwu Okolie; the young man who dared to import classy full-colour gloss into the realm of Nigerian media (which was hitherto dominated by the “dreary” but popular Spear and Drum magazines) with his revolutionary “NEWBREED” magazine (with the delectable Ms. Gloria Rhodes gracing its debut 1972 cover).

Chris Okolie introduced, with the advent of NEWBREED, a bold genre of investigative and bold journalism that unveiled the hitherto untouchable world of corrupt military politics in Nigeria, and was precursor of the NEWSWATCHs, TELLs, et al, of today. Of course, he paid for his ground-breaking daring, when he earned the wrath of OBJ in that General’s his first coming, following General Murtala Mohammed’s death!

General Obasanjo placed NEWBREED in the history books by proscribing it in 1978 (the first proscription of a publication since Nigeria gained independence in 1960), for having featured a series of probing articles and unconventional interviews that had culminated in one edition that featured both an exposé of the nascent-NSO (the National Security Organisation, that later birthed the SSS, NIA, et al, Nigeria’s alphabet of “intelligence” agencies) by this writer; which the government claimed was seditious because it had published the name and photograph of the army officer who then headed the abusive NSO.

With the gusto of youthful exuberance, Okolie’s crew of bright young ingénues (which also included Pat Utomi, Atedo Peterside, Chris Ogbechie, Tex Egbedi, to name only a few) went about, even pre-OBJ, gleefully treading on toes and fingers of the rich and powerful in Nigeria (leading, for example, to General Yakubu Gowon sacking erudite Professor Adedeji, after this gentleman unwisely indicted himself in a NEWBREED interview).

One often wonders whether Chris’ crew wouldn’t have done a better job at keeping on their toes, this unbelievably more-corrupt 3rd Republic actors with their incessant “demonstration of craze” (apologies to the inimitable Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, who himself really only became Nigeria’s greatest musical export following the street-savvy marketing of him nationwide by our self-same Chris Okolie!), than what our current crop of Nigerian media journalists (many of whom have been impoverished into being themselves sometimes easily corrupted by the system)!

Of course, before (and after) NEWBREED, Nigeria has had great journalists; premier among whom (and still alive, thank God!) were Peter Enahoro and Sam Amuka-Pemu (whose sobriquets, “Peter Pan” and “Sad Sam”, were household names. Others have included the great Ray Ekpus, Dele Giwas, Bukar Zarmas, Muyiwa Adetibas, Haroun Adamus, Nduka Obaigbenas; the very enchanting Bunmi Sofolas, Funmi Iyandas and Helen Ovbiagelis; and, not forgetting the Dele Momodus, Amah Ogans, Ibim Semenitaris, Owei Lakemfas and Mideno Bayagbons.

But…back to Chris Okolie; the man many elite Nigerians loved to hate through the late 1960s to the late 1990s…both for his uncanny ability to expose their quirks and weaknesses, and for the fact that he was supposedly a “social upstart” who had ruthlessly ascended the rungs of power from out of the lowest levels of society, attaining heights of power that made him relevant in the nation’s social, political and economic landscape…even winning, in marriage, the hand of the much-sought-after gracious Mabel Ibru of the Ibru dynasty.

Through all these, Chris’ major visible concession to hierarchies was captured in the simple dictum Chris taught every editorial and marketing staff of his now-defunct NEWBREED Group (which also published Nigeria’s premier business magazine, THE PRESIDENT, and NEW TIMES), viz., “Always deal with the man at the top”.

Using this simple maxim, Chris’ NEWBREED irrepressible crew ferreted out well-investigated scandal after scandal (including the one that gave “life” to Nigeria’s colourful politician, Godwin Daboh, through the infamous “If you Daboh me, I will Tarka you” saga). Isn’t it just like Nigeria, that when this icon of the media passed on in his middle-age, a couple of years ago, very few journals noted, or reported, his demise…?

Whether they did, or not, matters little to Chris, or this writer, now. What matters is the maxim of “always deal with the man at the top”.

It is that maxim of Chris’ (i.e., “always deal with the man at the top”) that leads one to pen this missive to you today, Mr. President, because you are “the man at the top”, where Nigeria is concerned…or, are you? Are you really the “the man at the top” in Nigeria? Can you, Alhaji Umoru Musa Yar’Adua, honestly say that you are the sole man at the top as far as national affairs are concerned? Some of your aides and ministers seem to think otherwise, Mr. President!

Or will you say that you are unaware of the mixed signals that some of your lieutenants often give in this regard; making fools of most of us “loyalists” of yours who believe that the buck of executive power ends on your desk? Have you not heard some of your men and women (ministers, advisers et al) make public proclamations that run contrary to stated positions (public or private) of yours?

Please do not say that you are so disconnected from our national reality that you are oblivious to the fact, for example, that General Godwin Abbe’s macho braggadocio and dictatorial words are becoming more and more inimical to the expedited attainment of your administration’s goal of sustainable peace in the Niger Delta. No? Well, he is a danger to Nigeria, at the moment!

We all hailed you as being a pragmatic statesman when you coaxed MEND’s Henry Okah to meet privately with you; after which meeting, your media adviser, Segun Adeniyi, informed the world of your preparedness to negotiate with ALL parties that could help fast-track the process of peace in the Niger Delta.

We were even virtually ready to nominate you for next year’s Nobel Peace Prize when MEND announced an indefinite ceasefire, premised on what MEND termed your private reassurances to Okah that you would meet with the group of distinguished Nigerians (the Aaron Team led by Admiral Mike Okhai Akhigbe, one-time Nigeria’s number two “man at the top”) MEND had asked you to speak with.

Even the Professor Pat Utomi-led coalition of Niger Delta ethnic nationalities, UNDEDSS (the United Niger Delta Energy, Development & Security Strategy) publicly applauded you for proactively thinking out-of-the-box in the interest of the common good.

Consider, therefore, the shock this nation had of hearing “wanna-be-President”, General Abbe, blustering on national and global television that “the Federal Government will not talk with the Aaron Team”; and going on to state categorically that “the Aaron Team is not relevant…!” If anybody were trying to throw a spanner in the works of your massively succeeding peace efforts, they could not have used more inflammatory language. Which statement has since sent shockwaves down many foreign diplomatic spines, by the way….

This is not to say that we are unaware of the divisions in the camps of the militias (born-again or not) that may have led to the conflicting statements regarding the existence of MEND or relevance of the Aaron Team from the men-of-the-creeks. That may be as it may.

But you are our national leader, with a better idea of what the wrong perceptions of insecurity can cost Nigeria. Which is why you are doing all that is possible to not only earn Nigerians a true and sustainable peace nationwide, but also to ensure that there are no perceptions to the contrary.

If that truly is your objective, sir (and we want to believe that it is!), we advise you to heed the call by the Niger Delta Elders and Leaders Forum, and call General Abbe to order immediately and in no uncertain terms. This is a democracy, and you, President Yar’Adua are our only President. Any inauspicious or militaristic attempts at treating any of Nigeria’s peoples as conquered POWs must be discouraged, before we inadvertently create an environment that pushes us headlong, once again, into the anarchy of military rule.

Please, stop Abbe, and his ilk, from masquerading as “the man at the top”…unless we are to believe that you share ultimate executive power with him. Shalom .

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