By Jimitota Onoyume
CHIEF Dagogo Claude Wilcox was a broadcaster per excellence before he veered into the military as a career officer and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. He was Nigeria’s former Ambassador to the Republic of Congo and currently a traditional ruler in Bonny. He turned 71 recently. In this interview he shares some of his memorable experiences.
Growing as a child
I lost my mother when I was eleven years old. I was told by my father that I was a pampered child and you know the story of step mothers. I had thought then that she was being hard on me with the way she assigned house chores to me and insisted on disciplined conducts but looking back now, I am full of gratitude for the upbringing. I thank God I am in a position to do things people do today even in the kitchen.
Pranks I prayed as a child
My father was a very busy person. He was a civil servant and was always on transfer. This affected me most importantly. Growing outside my mother’s care was not easy but I got used to it. There was a time I stopped going to school and my parents didn’t know. I would go to play football while those at home thought I was in school. There was a particular day, it was a holiday but I didn’t know. I was on my way to school when my class mates saw me on the way and said there was no school. I had to go back home to tell my parents it was a holiday. My parents had to ask where I was when the holiday was announced. This was how they got to know that for about three weeks, I had not been going to school and immediately my father sent me to live with my grandmother in Port Harcourt. I had to go to school under her supervision. I would always go to assist her in selling at Creek road market after school hours. She compensated me with slices of bread occasionally.
I was flogged severally by my father. There was this day they gave me a drug, I did not take it because it was bitter. My father was told. He spanked me and after the beating, I knew how to take the pills.
My relationships with women
My mother was a beauty. I was more like the toast of women as a young man. You know I was in broadcasting. Television just came up and I had this programme called Saturday Square. I did not have a car or bicycle but I would work into Kingsway store in Lagos and you saw young girls wanting to have my autograph. Girls write me, saying they enjoyed my programme.
I married a lady I loved so much. She gave me my two children. But we separated because families were too involved in our relationship. This is what I advise against. The young folks should not allow families get too involved in their marriages. I loved her and we still speak in spite of the separation. On my 71st birthday, she called to wish me a happy birthday.
I am now married to the love of my life. She is my friend and everything. Her name is Elsie. We have a girl who is in the University in London. It was so painful when I had that crash in my first marriage but I thank God He has compensated me with Elsie.
I was still in the Congo as an Ambassador. My wife Elsie did not know this. I was on holiday in England to see my children who are now adults and a cousin of mine who felt I should have a partner introduced me to his friend on the eve of the day I was to leave for Kinshasa. I took a taxi and travelled across London to her university. I walked into her room and she was meeting me for the first time. And as soon as I saw her, I said this was the lady of my life. That was how it started. So I left immediately and went back to London, went to Buckingham to see my children and drove to the airport and back to the Congo.
The first time she called, she asked if I saw my children and this struck me hard. When she was on holiday, I invited her to come to Kinshasa. I took some of my officers to the airport and you won’t believe it, I could not remember the face of the woman I spoke with. I asked my officers to please go forward to the airline to ask for her name. You know we met just once before I came back to Kinshasa. She is the daughter of the Amayanabo of Opobo and the eldest. We have been married now for about thirteen years.
I cook a lot. In fact, my wife used to enjoy my cuisine but she has banned me from her kitchen. I cook egusi soup and I fry chips. We have a help in the house but when I don’t want them to pamper me much, I fry my chips. I was brought up to do things myself but Elsie won’t allow me go into her kitchen.
I am not a good talker and would rather express romance in music. You know I was a broadcaster and so, what I do is to record some singles and send to her. I dub the music into tapes. For instance, I could play “welcome to my world “for her as she is stepping into the house. And I dance. I do the shake and the twist and I also do highlife dance too.
I am of the Anglican faith. Here in Bonny, the almighty God brought the Anglican Church to the town through our King William Dappa Pepple. He used to worship idols but when he was taken away to the United Kingdom and he met Queen Victoria, he asked her which God she was serving that was behind the magnificence around her. The Queen showed him the Bible and he came back with Christianity. Today, the Bonny Chief Council is a Christian thing though some still believe in libation.
My position as a Chief has not affected my Christian life.
Life at 71
First I owe it to God. The added strength is from God. Then there is moderation in all I do. I sleep early; I try not to harbour things against others in my mind. I pick a quarrel but I don’t drag it too far. I try to smile. I owe it to God who made me and gave me the strength. I played squash in the army. I dropped anything that affected my health. I ensure there is moderation in all I do.
I am grateful to God for so many things. I was a Director, Army public relations. There was this Dimka issue then if you remember. There was a time I was on course in Germany and somehow I went to London and by chance I met Dimka in Londo. He was in charge of physical education in the army. He took some footballers in the army for training in the US. We met in a hotel in London and became friends. On my return, I bought a car, a Volvo. We had this thing in the army then where you had to’ wash’ your new car. When the vehicle arrived, I took it to a firm to remove the thermostat but it was not ready the day I was to ‘wash’ the vehicle with friends. And it was to be at the Stadium hotel in Surulere. So I went to an officer to say I could not get my car out. He said I should not bother. Incidentally, I did not know that the night I was to ‘wash’ the car was the night some soldiers had the last meeting for the Dimka coup at the same stadium hotel. Few days later, I heard there was a coup in the country. Afterwards, I was given an assignment to look after the coup detainees at the Kirikiri. On a particular day, a senior officer asked me to go into a room to get a file and when I went into the room, behold I saw Dimka in chains. Later, I got to know the whole idea behind why I was asked to go get the file in that room. I got to know that it was to see if Dimka would list me as one of the coupists. After they were executed, somebody tapped me on the shoulder and said I should go and thank my God, that he was among those that were detailed to follow me, to confirm if I was involved in the coup. Goose pimples came all over me. And from that day, I stopped going to the mess .
Militancy in the Niger Delta region
It is unfortunate that we have this thing in our hands. I think the Welink Commission that was set up on minorities in the country several years ago recommended what should be done to save the region, none was done. We had military rule. I will say soldiers were not supposed to be in governance but we found ourselves in it. We failed to address the issues identified in the wellink commission and the problems increased,
President Jonathan should address the problems vigorously. Federal government should create empowerment programmes for the youths and give them education, engage them
Our kids too should embrace the culture of hard work. My village Peterside has been neglected, government should do something, federal government should give special attention to the revirine area.
Youths today want to drive a jeep overnight. They forget hard work is the key. Parents should try and monitor their children. As a boy we could not bring properties that were not ours into the house. My message to parents is that they should be firm, keep standard in terms of discipline for the home.
Advice for President Jonathan
President Jonathan should look beyond his kitchen cabinet to feel the purse of the nation, this way he would see the problems and ask the right questions on how to get out of them. Being a President from the region should not stop him from developing the region. There might be blackmail but he should not shy away from developing the Niger Delta
The government should solve our problems. Most of our brothers from the north should be seen helping government to solve the security problem created by Boko Haram. When I was in Owerri, you won’t believe it most army officers from the north married from Igbo land. I want to see the elder statesmen as one who wants to make peace dispassionately, President Jonathan should be given the chance to rule.
A final word on Bonny kingdom
Bonny is an ancient kingdom, it is a cosmopolitan society because of the NLNG plant. I say to my people don’t imbibe cultures that are alien to us. We hear of human rights lets respect the structure of leadership. This is a peaceful kingdom.
We need federal government presence in Bonny Island. NLNG is here, we want to see the government develop this place. It is like a tale of two cities. They should adopt the Malaysian system where government developed the industry alongside the community. We are going to train 7 now but there are still some MoUs for train 4, 5, 6 that have not been implemented.