By Tony Nwaka
Today I am going to tell a story; a long one indeed. You really would need to take your time to read this. Please pardon me if I am beginning to bore you with many stories. I guess you know that, beyond my passion for writing, I am also a trained story teller. Now, the story for today is not fiction. It’s a true life experience. As they say, some real life experiences could be stranger fiction. But before I proceed on my account of those happenings, let me first clear what I suppose would be the instinctive suspicions. This story has nothing to do with any of the Delta State governors you know. The governor in question is from another state, quite far away from Delta State.
Having done with that preliminary clarification let me say that the man was someone I knew way back, almost from two decades ago. I wouldn’t know if I should now call him a friend, an acquaintance or just someone I simply had some formal and informal relations with in the not-too-distant past. He emerged as the governor of his state in 2015. But before then, he held a very high federal appointment in Abuja at a time I was in my second term as commissioner in Delta State. I recall a trip he took to Warri then as part of the advance team of the visiting President Goodluck Jonathan. We had gathered at the airport with the then Governor E.E. Uduaghan to receive the president. As I got talking at the tarmac with this my man, we drifted toward the location of Gov. Uduaghan. The man pulled me closer and began to exchange greetings with the governor.
The man, still holding me by the hand, told the governor that I was a reliable, competent and old friend. He said I was an asset the governor should hold on to. Those were his exact words. Of course, as a politician, you can imagine how I felt with such superlative introduction of me to my boss. It felt like I was Kofi Annan, the quintessential statesman of blessed memory; former Secretary-General of the United Nations.
I met again with this my man some months later at the Lagos Oriental Hotel, Lekki. I was lodging at the place and, incidentally, he was lodging there too. I didn’t know he was there until we ran into ourselves at the lobby. This time, he had become the governorship candidate of PDP in his state and was visiting Lagos, where the national leadership of the party had scheduled the presentation of flags to its candidates. We embraced in our usual friendly manner and he asked which elective office I eventually contested for. When I told him I didn’t go for any, he expressed shock and disappointment that, after serving as commissioner for eight years, I was not propped by my boss to contest for a minimum of House of Representatives. We both lamented the situation and dispersed on that sad note. But that is not the main gist.
About eight months after he was sworn in as governor and my time as commissioner had long ended, I decided to reach out to this my man. Ordinarily, for those who know me, I am not in the habit of visiting and pestering people for favours. But at this time, the challenge of being out of a reasonably remunerated job was beginning to take its toll on me. So I put a call to him and requested for an audience. Oh dear! You needed to feel how excited he was to hear my voice. He quickly invited me over to his state and said I should visit him the next day. Of course, I immediately began to put my travel bag together. The excitement in my house that day was indescribable. At last, God has heard our prayers; another major breakthrough beckoned.
I arrived his state and headed straight for their Government House. Wow! My name had already been given to the security boys. Right from the gate to the governor’s main office, I was treated like a prince of the Roman Empire. The security boys would whisper to me, “Bros, no forget us when you finish with oga o.” As it were, the governor happily received me into his office. In the course of exchanging pleasantries, he asked generally about my state and what I have been doing since I left office as commissioner. Hmmm, my people, who would miss such an opportunity? How many times would you have the chance of sitting one-on-one with a governor? Of course, I told him the truth; although I was involved in one or two businesses, the times had become quite challenging. I didn’t stop there. I brought out my C.V. and told him I wouldn’t mind working for him or getting some minor contracts from his government. He laughed and asked me to put back my C.V. He didn’t touch it. He said he knew me well and had come such a long way with me he didn’t need my C.V. before assisting me. He called his Chief of Staff and said I should be lodged in the best hotel in the city. He instructed the COS to personally return to the hotel in the evening to bring me to his residence. The governor was truly happy to see me again.
Yeah, in the evening, after work, the COS came as directed to take me to the governor’s house. We chatted amiably on the way. In fact, seeing the manner the COS was making extra efforts to court my friendship, I suspected the governor must have spoken highly of me before him. We arrived the governor’s residence and, as should be expected, there was food, boiled corn, snacks and all sorts of drinks. But having been off alcohol for some time (Remember that purity and abstinence opens the door for divine visitation), I could only take the corn and a bottle of malt. We were there when another serving governor from the south-west and some former ministers in Jonathan’s government came to join us. From there we all moved in one beautiful bus to a party somewhere in town. At the party, I only managed some sips of champagne and, considering the calibre of dignitaries around, I tried to comport myself to the highest levels of grace and modesty. At the end of the ceremony, we all scheduled to meet again in Government House the next day, from where we would all proceed to the stadium to watch a sporting event. Behold, it was that next day the drama started.
I called the COS in the morning to enquire when he would be coming to take me from the hotel to join them in Government House. He flatly said he was busy; I should try to find my way there. Well, at this point I never suspected anything. I mean, I’ve worked at the highest level of a state government, so I can understand how busy the governor and his immediate staff could be. At any rate, I made my personal arrangements and arrived at the Government House. Many other politicians and V.I.Ps from the state had gathered at the premises. Many more buses, but not as luxurious as the one I rode in with the governor, had been brought to the place. It happened that they were making arrangements to depart for the stadium. They were all waiting for the governor to emerge from his office, so the convoy could take off.
I walked excitedly to the COS who was standing by the same governor’s bus we had used the previous day. He was ushering in the same VIPs with whom I had gone for the night party. As I tried to step into the bus, the COS gritted his teeth and grimly told me to find another space in any of the other general buses. He was no longer as hospitable to me as he had been the previous day. I was confused. What could have happened between yesterday night and that morning? Well, I ate the humble pie and made my way to the other buses, where I now had to struggle to find a space. But that was not all. We got to the stadium and, after the bus conveying the governor had been allowed through the restricted entrance for VIPs, other occupants of the rest buses, including me, had a hell of a time trying to squeeze into the stadium. Of course the few of us that managed to find our way into the stadium sat quite a distance from the governor; all attempts I made to catch his attention was futile.
At the end of the event, I made my way back to the hotel. The next morning I tried calling the governor but he was no longer picking my calls. I called the COS and asked what was I to do next? He said I couldn’t see the governor as he was getting set to leave for Abuja and, if I could, I should meet them in Abuja (A distance of about 800 kilometers from their state). He sounded completely unconcerned and dismissive. He did not indicate how I should get there or where they were staying in Abuja, which simply suggested I was now on my own. At this point, I began to count my teeth with my tongue. I made personal arrangements with the little money I came with and began heading back to Asaba. All the way back home I kept wondering where I went wrong. What could have happened to warrant the sudden change of attitude towards me? Did the governor have a phone conversation with someone who then made very damaging comments about me, and warned the governor to avoid me like a plague? There was no thought that didn’t cross my mind. Where indeed did I go wrong? What did I do? I was lost for words.
I got to Asaba and, although I would occasionally call or send text messages to the governor, the line continued to ring endlessly; I never got a response. It was about four months later that he eventually picked my call. I guessed he forgot my last experience with him because he never mentioned it. To avoid embarrassing him, I pretended too as if it never happened. He sought to know how I was faring and expressed surprise that I still haven’t gotten a place in the current government of Delta State. He really spoke with much empathy and immediately directed that I should see him in his state on Monday. On this occasion, I decided to depart for his state on Sunday. I arrived and lodged myself in one of the cheap hotels in town, preparatory to my appointment the next day.
Behold, the next day came and I called his line to know when I could come over to his office. Once again, there was no response. I made several more calls and sent text messages reminding him of our appointment; still no response. Then I called the COS. He said they were quite busy, and it was unlikely the governor would see me that day. Well, I asked myself, what option does an ordinary man have when he has to wait upon His Excellency, the Governor? After all, a patient dog, they say, eats the fattest bone. I decided to be patient and wait. The day passed. The second day passed. The COS kept saying they were busy. The third day passed; my hotel bills were running. On the fourth day, the COS stopped picking my calls. At this point, the hotel bills had virtually depleted my funds. I was left with no option but to return to Asaba again, dejected and disillusioned. But the story did not end there.
A few months later, I heard that this governor was visiting Asaba with some other governors to meet with our own governor, and they would be spending the night. Wow! What an opportunity? I was one of the first persons to arrive the Unity Hall, where they were to address a political gathering. I waited until the ceremony was over before meeting him. As usual, he was happy to see me and didn’t seem to remember how he failed to meet me, after he had invited me to his state. He asked why I didn’t come to him when he was in the hall with the other governors. He said he would have openly mentioned to the gathering that I was a good friend he had known for some years. He asked me to make sure I see him before he returns to his state. Once again, my spirit was lifted.
The next morning, I hurried to one of the government guest houses, where he was lodging. Luckily for me, he was just standing by the entrance with one of his police escorts. He pulled me aside and enquired about my family and general situation. Now, we were one-on-one again, just the two of us. I narrated all my ordeal trying to reach him. I told him that if there was any way in which I may have unknowingly offended, he should forgive me. I reminded him that even when my mother died, I sent a message informing him, yet I never got a reply. For a while, he appeared stunned. He said he never knew my mum was dead and, of course, that I have never offended him in any way. Right there and then, he called his P.A. and instructed him to give me one million naira cash from his vehicle. I took the money and expressed my profound gratitude. As it were, I really was no longer keen on visiting him in his state, especially as I felt contented with the money he gave me. But as I made to leave, he asked his P.A. to take my number and put me on his schedule for a meeting on Thursday, which was just two days away. He said I should see him in his state. I imagined he probably was remorseful over the manner he had treated me and was desirous of rekindling our friendship. I left him that day, full of renewed confidence and expectations; all previous disappointments appeared to melt away.
I arrived his state on Wednesday and checked into a moderately priced hotel. In the morning of Thursday I made my way to Government House as scheduled. Once again, I couldn’t get across to either him or the PA that had given me his number. Their lines kept ringing without response. Even my text messages were to no avail. I had hung around the Government House for about four hours, yes, four solid hours, before I decided to put a call to the COS. I had not called him for months. This time he picked. I told him the governor had asked me to see him when he visited Asaba just two days before. The COS duly sympathised with me and apologized for having been kept at the gate that long. He called the security men to let me in. I got to the building where his office and that of the governor were but I couldn’t go beyond the reception. The men there said I was to sit and wait at that point. A set of red cushion chairs was by the left side of the security desk. So, I sat and waited. Well, after roughly twenty minutes, the COS called me up to his office. When he saw me he said he had actually confirmed that the governor invited me, but, unfortunately, the governor was too busy to see me (The governor’s office was just opposite his office) I threw a glance at the governor’s door and my shoulders drooped in humiliation.
However, having gotten used to such disappointment, I simply thanked the COS and left. I checked out of my hotel and, once again, began my long journey back to Asaba. This time, I didn’t really feel too bad. After all, the governor had given me a million naira just two days earlier. He actually could be very busy. But guess what? That is not the end of the story. There were more shockers to come. Yes, I imagine by now the whole thing is already sounding like fiction. But it is real, my people.
As it were, I decided not to bother the governor with further calls or text messages. About a year later, he came visiting Asaba again. Naturally, at this point, although I was also attending the same ceremony he came for, I wasn’t really too eager to meet him. But out of courtesy, particularly as I was seated virtually adjacent to him and he may have sighted me, I walked up to him. After we had exchanged pleasantries, he asked me to meet him, once again, in his state. He called the same P.A. to take my phone number and note that I would be visiting him in two days’ time. The governor specifically directed the P.A. to ensure my entrance to his office was unimpeded. As I was calling out my number to the P.A., I pulled him aside and asked why even himself didn’t pick my calls when I visited the last time. The P.A. apologised and said he was no longer using that line he had given me. He indeed gave me another number.
I suppose at this point some people would not bother going to see the governor anymore. Especially as, for me, my condition was no longer as desperate as it was when I began making efforts to reach him. But I began to make plans to embark on yet another travel outside Delta State. I know the decision would sound foolish to many persons. In fact, I must confess, it did appear foolish to me at the time. Maybe I was swayed once again because I am an optimist by nature, or my training and experience as a civil servant and protocol officer, has made me to have a natural reverence for higher authorities, particularly the exalted office of a governor. How could I ignore a directive from a governor; a directive with the explicit instruction that I see him.
So, once again, I arrived the man’s city as scheduled and set out for the umpteenth time to the Government House. Yet again, all the familiar experiences began to play out. My name was not on the manifest of visitors for that day. No response to my calls and messages. But this time, I wasn’t going to hang around for long. I decided to quickly return to Asaba. I arrived Asaba a few minutes before midnight. Now, when I recall the dangers to which I exposed myself, embarking on such futile endless journeys and the attitude of the governor, I tend to wonder how to now situate my relationship with him. I know how busy senior political office holders could be. I have held offices that made me sometimes default on the appointments I had with people. But to repeatedly invite a particular person from a faraway state to see me and, on his arrival, shut him out with such disdain, is not just beyond my character but utterly inconceivable. Even if I become the president of Nigeria tomorrow, I doubt I’ll ever subject a fellow man to such level of ignominy. So, what really could be the intention of this man?
On the other hand, though, when I remember the one million naira he willingly gave me without any prompting, and the pleasant reception he always put up whenever we met one-on-one, I begin to imagine that the governor may actually be a person of good heart. Could it be that the pressures of office are constraining the expression of the humanity in him? I find it difficult to believe he is naturally a heartless man, totally devoid of the modesty of inter-personal relationships. Could it be that somebody whispered something negative about me to him, which made him to suddenly turn against me? (The level of blackmail in our brand of politics can sometimes be quite venomous) Or could it be he simply holds a personal grudge against me from the early days of our friendship, which he is reluctant to disclose. Yet I have searched my conscience and I am still not able to see where I have erred so gravely to deserve such humiliating treatment. More so, the loving and magnificent manner in which he received me on my first visit to his state before he suddenly turned against me, truly indicated he never had issues with me until that day.
On a lighter note, a friend to whom I narrated the story suggested that the governor probably belonged to a cult, and he may have thought I was a member. That was the reason he had to abruptly discontinue his felicity towards me on that first day, when I failed to respond to their coded signals of membership. Interesting, isn’t It? But I honestly didn’t find it amusing. I mean, if the governor truly belonged to such groups and he really desired that I joined them, he should have come out clearly to seek my consent. Although, right from my school days, I have been personally averse to belonging to such fraternities, who knows? maybe I would have given a thought to the idea, if he had asked me. Lol.
Another friend who heard the story had a different opinion. He said that in our political environment where many people hardly apply limits on desperation, such men as the governor in question could use their friends for ritual. He said I should count myself lucky to have escaped what looked like an ambush. Wonderful!
Some other person (A pastor) reasoned that something beyond the ordinary must have made the governor to continually develop cold feet, after showing initial enthusiasm toward me. This latter opinion attributed my misfortune to what he termed “The syndrome of aborted favor.” Chai! Can you imagine that? No grammar wey I no hear over this matter. This man of God said I needed to seek spiritual deliverance from some forces of evil, manipulating the destinies of men from the deep pits of hell. I then reminded him that I have a strong local church I attend, and no man is totally immuned from occasional moments of adversity. After all, I also received spectacular favors from some other people during this same period. He stared at me, speechless.
So, my dear friends, such were my experiences with a governor. A true life story. I have tried to render the account as simple and straightforward as possible so that the reality may not be covered by a cloud of poetic embellishments. I do not now know how to relate with this my man if, perchance, we run into ourselves again. Should I simply ignore him and pretend as though I never knew him, or should I continue to extend my usual courtesies and goodwill towards him, especially considering his exalted office? Indeed, I hope to construct this stranger-than-fiction story into a short novel someday, believing it would hold a message or two from which people could derive some lessons.
Thanks for finding time to read through this long essay. May God continue to shower you with His abundant blessings.