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with respects to ezekwesili

By Bisi Lawrence
The early rains have arrived here in some parts, or  shall we call them the threatening return of the f1oods so soon in the year? It would seem that this thing called “climate change” may be right after all.

It did not rain so much in the month of January in the past, but those who know about these things assert that these rains are merely the harbingers of the harmattan, and not a part of the rainy season.

The downpours and “rumours of downpours” around the coastal areas in the past weeks have nevertheless set up high hopes for the carpenters, you know, those who came last year to repair your roof … permanently.

They are gradually appearing again, smack in the wake of the first rains. It is their season, the harvest time of the fraudulent work they did when their services were required last year at the visitation of leaks through the roof. Then they hammered away for some anxious hours and swore, after collecting their payment for the repairs, that such horrible incidents were done with for ever. They were smooth, oh so smooth, that you believed them and the leaking had actually stopped then. But you have now noticed a slight discoloration on the ceiling and that has left you wondering if everything had indeed been as “kosher” as they promised.

You need not wonder, actually, because it will soon become clear that you are in their hands, once again. They are aware of exactly what they “fixed” on your roof last year, and they know you are going to need them again this year. That is why they are gradually emerging to “fix” it again this year.

You may call them rogues, or extortionists and the like, but then what do you call others in the same class who perform such services in Nigeria today? What would you call the man who maintains, or repairs, or generally services that most necessary item of household equipment, your generator? He has to come and upkeep the plant periodically but, at the same time, does he not also “fix” it for you? Of course, you resent such bare-faced dishonesty but what choice have you got?


In any case, all of that is mere piffle when the real action surrounds you in the open acts of thievery involving billions of naira of the people’s funds. Officials of the government who are in enviable positions of responsibility have now developed a culture of helping themselves to money entrusted to them and, in many cases, going scot-free. Or, in other cases, they merely get a swift slap on the wrist and are turned lose to enjoy the slimy proceeds of their crimes. They call it “plea bargaining”. The stench of a recent case is yet to disperse. The man stole, and confessed that he stole, more than twenty million naira of public funds. He was fined less than a million naira, dispossessed of a street of houses, and sentenced to two years imprisonment. He was on his way to freedom to the chagrin of the prosecutors, but was said to have been re-arrested on other charges. The judgment that set him free in the first instance, provoked a public demonstration which may be the fore-runner of several other demonstrations against patent injustice like that in the future,

.. But what should incite even more public protests are the horror cases that are allowed to pass muster. These directly affect high functionaries of government, and they sometimes run into trillions. They are seldom discovered or find the public domain and, when they are, usually too wearisome to pursue … more wearisome than the case of that man who stole a goat and was sent to jail for two years.

My compliments to Dr. Ekwesili. Wish this country had two or three more like her.

 in tribute to omatsola

They were the first herd in the now massive flock of radio broadcasting in Nigeria: Mike Olumide, Joe Atuona, Sam Nwaneri, Emmanuel Bello Fadaka, Sunday Young-Harry, John Edyang, Obi Ebo, Emmanuel Omatsola, and Christopher Oyeshiku .. They had no rivals as newsreaders, thus each of them was indeed “as lovely as a star, when only one is shining in the sky” (if you will pardon my Wordsworth.)

I remember them today as clear as daylight. They were distinctive as a group in many ways, and yet each was special also in his own way. Most of them have passed on to eternal stardom now, the most recent being Emmanuel Omatsola who was buried yesterday.

One could hardly remember one and not remember all of them. They were like peas matured in one pod. They had imbibed the art of the correct delivery of the English language as a profession and, with it, the curtly manners of well-bred men and, oh yes, women – I almost totally forgot the distaff side of that formidable group.

There was, of course, Christine Clinton who came straight from “Ibadan”, that is, the university college, as it was in those days some six decades ago. Then there was Winifred, “Winnie” Asolo”, who spoke with an unabashed tinge of affectations, and there was Enoh Irukwu, nee Etuk, who used to play a fierce netball game at Queen’s College. Add to that regal group Toun Adedoyin, a princess in every inch, and there you have a gorgeous back-up that provided a perfect match to its male counterpart at every point.

These ladies and gentlemen had emerged through a thicket of interviews woven together by some employees of the British Broadcasting Corporation who came to lay the foundation of professional broadcasting in Nigeria. They were out to procure the best, and so the set purpose seemed to ensure that no candidate succeeded.

I eventually attended one of such which I was assured had been toned down, but in which I was sure I could not succeed. But somehow I went through to join that sterling ensemble. And after a period of less than nine months of wholesome interaction, out went my former ambition of taking up a legal career.

I have always accepted the fact that it was the mere idea of being separated from that glittering company that turned me away from considering any other profession than broadcasting, rather than the lure of the profession itself.

But then, the profession certainly had its own special attractions. If you were accepted on the air, you suddenly became a star. Your name opened doors to favours. You became a spoilt child of the community. You were pointed out in a crowd by perfect strangers, whispered about to your hearing, mimicked to your knowledge, pampered, flattered, adored, almost deified!

But one thing prevented your getting swollen-headed— the men and women among whom you walked. Surrounded by the almost suffocating cloud of adoration, that first batch of broadcasters never lost its modest attitude towards life in general.

They each referred to it as having “a sense of proportion.” We who came immediately after them quietly had this trait ingrained in our character without really noticing it.

It must have been part of the English temperament which seeped into the outlook of the young Nigerians from their BBC mentors. The leader of the expatriate teachers was Tom Chalmers, OBE, a gentleman of impeccable disposition who led the team of broadcasters though himself an engineer by profession.

But “Uncle Tom” was a man of many parts. He was also a musician—an accomplished organist, to be precise, and a stickler for the correct pronunciation of words —English or European words, in particular, but the spoken word in any language, generally.

He cared passionately for the correct rendering of Italian names and words which featured profusely in the classical music which were presented on gramophone records in those days.

He almost fainted at the slightest breach of the proper vowel, correct consonant, judicious inflexion, or accurate accent. He had a very willing class of ardent pupils who filled the air with symphonies, and fantasias, arias, and operas, by Bach, and Handel, and Rachmaninoff, and Sibelius, and other “masters”. No one can hear anything like that on any radio station in Nigeria any more, but that is another matter.

Emmanuel Omatsola (I as yet can’t call him ‘late’) presented these musical pieces with great aplomb like the best of his peers. But he was a true all-rounder, as fortune\forced him sometimes to show. When football became a nationally acclaimed game, it was found desirable to broadcast commentaries, and Omatsola was selected to be trained among some five other people.

He was found proficient, but a certain gentleman came on the scene by name of Ishola Folorunsho, and almost edged out everybody. But football and sports were only a part of the outside broadcast package.

Another and more prestigious side was commentaries for Special Occasions like National Day Parades, Opening of Parliament and other ceremonies.

Here was the forte of Emmanuel Omatsola. He excelled in such an impressive manner that it was decided that he should be attached to the BBC in London to perfect his art.

However, as such things would happen, the post he would have returned to fill was given out before he returned. As a way of compensation, he was deployed to the Nigerian Newsreel Desk. And guess who was acting there as the editor at that time?

I had managed to find my niche in Newsreel and Feature Writing in which 1 was bedded to make a journalistic career. Omatsola was my senior and his transfer to my section meant an automatic setback to my own progress. But he had always been a pleasant comrade and 1 sympathized with his own raw deal, so we decided to rub each other’s back and get on with job.

He had never been seriously involved in production till then, but he handled the situation in his normal cool manner like a real ‘pro’.

It was just around this time that National Television was inaugurated, and Omatsola ~went for the audition as a newscaster, and so became one of the first news readers also on national television, as he had on radio.

He also became the first, if not the only newscaster to shed tears on the screen which happened when he had to read the news of President Jack Kennedy’s assassination.

He had just returned from the US where he met the American President in person and had been highly impressed by him. He was moved by his death but felt confident he would read the news like the ‘pro’ that he was. He had not reckoned with his deeply humane nature. The Omatsola 1 knew would never hurt a fly, even the one that bugged him.

That is what enriches my memory of this former colleague with whom I shared many moments of delightful companionship in the newsreel studio. He knew how to bear pain, not by rejecting it or resenting it, but by accepting it and overcoming it. In another episode during his career as a broadcaster, he was transferred to the Christian Religious section.

Don’t ask me why. He was never groomed to be preacher, but he did so well in that position that it was easy very soon to even believe that he was to the manner born. Strange things happened in broadcasting in those days to some ‘special’ people, and so when your turn came, you always had Emmanuel Omatsola there for you as an example of fortitude and strength.

He had a ready smile: sparkling white teeth highlighted against a dark complexion; twinkling eyes provoking mirth; a humour that sprang from the depths of his beautiful being. He was a true pioneer, a first-class professional, and an altogether decent man. God grant him eternal rest.

Time out




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