By Norbert Chiazor
Journalists are everyday people. Ordinary citizens with extraordinary privilege. They mix and mingle with the noblest of men. Thanks to the appeal of journalism. It gives glory and popular prestige. But beware! It can also mar with the powers to attack and denigrate.
When information hit town that Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta state would hold a press briefing with journalists the mood was expectant. Dateline: Asaba , Thursday 12th March 2020. I girded my loins for good reasons.
It was the first of the usual quarterly media parley by the governor in 2020. That would be my maiden public encounter among professional colleagues and Okowa since my engagement as gubernatorial Special Assistant. One was also elated over the continuity of the press conference. The history followed a request for regular media liaison with the state government by the leadership of the Delta state council of the Nigeria Union of journalists NUJ, under my saddle, shortly after the inauguration of Okowa as governor in 2015.
Every three months ever since, Okowa had kept a date with journalists as they interrogate him in uncompromising scrutiny from the most serious to the least mundane.
Straight to the assignment, on this fateful Thursday, commissioner for information Charles Aniagwu bellowed a warm welcome to journalists. Friendly Charles, industrious media man formerly with AIT announced that the briefing sought to enable journalists to have clear understanding of Governor Okowa’s strides in Delta.
When Okowa took the microphone, he was generous in gratitude to journalists. Dressed dapper in grey native attire known in local parlance as “senator“ Okowa spoke extempore in his trademark cool cadence for about 30 minutes revealing his preoccupation since the past few months.
He gave insights on Coronavirus, fall in oil price, threat to economy, 2020 state budget, health insurance scheme, intervention on flooding in Warri, sanitation in Asaba, School sports festival, South-south BRACE Commission regional development agenda and security especially the terror of suspected herdsmen rampaging communities.
Then came question time. Press briefing is a dialogue, not monologue. Nation newspaper reporter Aiwerie Okungbowa was the first journalist to fire a shot. He raised a poser about abandonment of Effurun/ Warri water project for over 20 years and also wondered why Okowa initially expressed reservations over South West ‘Amotekun’ security strategy only to support similar initiative by South-South governors.
Okowa in response said he was deeply concerned about the Water project and explained that he opted for Niger Delta security structure as a good democrat who defers reasoning and opinion of majority inspired by the collective wishes of fellow governors.
Nigerian Tribune’s Agborh Alphonsus, Paul Osuyi of SUN,Ebere Obiakor,(AIT) Andrew Owhobetehe (Pointer) Dele Fasan (Galaxy TV) and Felix Ekwu ( DBS) engaged the governor on the reported exodus of Fulani herdsmen to Delta, a communal dispute over N800 million compensation on Kwale Industrial Park, Asaba Capital Development Territory Agency, extortion in government hospitals, non-completion of Udu market lingering over a decade and menace of criminal gangs in Enerhen junction as well as funding of Warri/Uvwie development agency.
Other questions also rose from Channels TV reporter Vivian Oramadike, Barth Ozah (Leadership), Ejike Obeta (NAN) and Osita Biose of Pointer relating to challenges of town planning in Asaba, sacked civil servants, implementation of derivation principle by Delta state oil producing areas development commission DESOPADEC and establishment of science and technology institution at Asaba.
A Guardian Newspaper Correspondent, Chido Okafor, gave a kicker. “Will you contest Senate seat after your governorship in 2023?” I am occupied in the line duty as governor for now. Okowa smiled before journalists.
But something else made Okowa frown. A vexed issue before Delta NUJ chairman Michael Ikeogwu gave the traditional vote of thanks. The governor needed a particular commissioner to clarify a question and the cabinet member was not at the briefing. With displeasure, he turned to the secretary to the government Chiedu Ebie to identify absentee commissioners and ensure no recurrence.
However, Coronavirus was the biggest bane of the briefing. Delta-based Journalists look forward every three months to see Okowa because the critical interaction also carries a convivial tinge.
At the climax, the governor would always step down from the podium to shake hands one by one with the pressmen. A salutary mark of respect. For most of the journalists who posed with Okowa, the photographs go as Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp profiles. A pleasant pride of self-importance!
On this fateful Thursday 12th March, Okowa stood up beaming with soft smiles, raised his hands, fists crossed and bade the journalists goodbye.
A press parley full of news but without enduring pleasantries.
But do not blame Okowa. Blame Coronavirus!