By Dele Sobowale
“England expects every man to do his own duty. Thank God I have done my duty” – Horatio Nelson, 1758-1805.
Mr. Udoh was a class teacher I will never forget – even if my life lasts (God forbid) 100. He was our Standard Four A teacher at St Peters School, Faji, Lagos Island. Mr. Udoh (sorry I cannot bring myself to call him Udoh), from either Cross River or Akwa Ibom, was a staunch Catholic, a workaholic and a very stern disciplinarian.
Every class had two arms – A and B. The brighter kids were seeded into class A. Long before we reached Standard Three, most pupils were offering prayers to Jesus, Mohammed, Sango – any deity – to avoid being promoted and sent to Four A. Mr. Udoh was waiting with the most rigorous syllabus far in excess of that of Four B. And the homework! The homework!!! He, with a great deal of justification, believed that most of us just goof off after school and he was determined to keep us away from idleness and the Devil.
Of all the subjects, he loved History the most.
Not surprising, our homework was loaded with Napoleon, Caesar, Attila the Hun and Winston Churchill, etc. But, his favourite was Admiral Nelson who fought and died for his country. As life oozed out of him, Nelson courageously uttered those words quoted above. Then going round the class, Mr. Udoh will ask us to say “Nigeria expects every man to do his own duty. When I grow up I will do my duty.” It meant very little to us then, but, I now realise how the seeds were sown of doing one’s duty to society.
So, in the last Sunday in August, although not fully fit, needing a walker to move around, I set off for Abuja on my first trip since prostate cancer paralysed my two legs on March 6, 2020. Even without COVID-19, I would have been locked up as I was bed-ridden for three months after my operation. I graduated to wheel chair in June and moved from that to the walker. Two steps remain – walking stick and then walking freely again. But, time is running out.
“I know I shall pass through this world but once/Any good thing I can do for any man or any fellow creature/Let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it/For I shall not pass this way again” – Anonymous. Source: The late Dr Tai Solarin.
I had an appointment with the late great educationist and social/political activist in 1978 and found a plaque in his office with these words. I wrote them down on a sheet of paper; memorised them and lost the paper. I hope that it has been remembered as written. At any rate, the idea is clear. At 76, recuperating from cancer, doing overtime by Nigerian standards, nobody needs to tell me that time is not on my side. So, I have to hurry up and do whatever possible to make my contributions to Nigeria as a matter of duty.
Two items on the national agenda – Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, and Igbo Presidency 2023 – were on my mind on that trip. Ordinarily, I would have wanted to wait until my health has improved. But, missing the chance to visit my late classmate by one day on account of pains had taught me a lesson. I will not delay this trip – despite the pains.
I was going to bear all the expenses despite the financial problems involved. I headed for His Excellency, Obong Victor Attah, my mentor, role model and senior brother. He is one person I find delightful to interview and he could help me with contacts among leading Igbo. As a matter of fact, he is also in support of Igbo President for 2023.
I got more than expected. His Excellency took one look at me and decided that he must help more. He immediately decided to “bankroll” the trip. It is vital to get that out of the way – just in case a journalist wants to ask: “Who bankrolled your trip?” To Obong Attah belongs the expression of gratitude.
NDDC AND THE OPTION REJECTED
“NDDC was never set up to develop the Niger Delta” – Obong Victor Attah, August 2020, Abuja
Attah and I have come a long way since 2004 when I wrote the FOREWORD to his book ATTAH ON RESOURCE CONTROL. Long before Lagos became an oil producing state, Attah’s request for states to control ALL the mineral resources within their boundaries was a cry for justice which received my total support. Attah’s almost one-man crusade which resulted in 13 per cent derivation for oil-producing states should have been rewarded with great and lasting monuments all over the Niger Delta. But, so far, the governors of the states have failed to acknowledge the contributions of the man who made their states immensely richer than they would have been. That alone demonstrates the sort of ingrates we call governors of Niger Delta.
Niger Delta Development Commission, created by President Obasanjo in 2000, replaced OMPADEC established by Babangida in 1992. Whereas OMPADEC aimed to develop the region, NDDC was not. Attah, as governor of Akwa Ibom State, recollected a meeting with the first Chairman of NDDC during which they were told that “NDDC was created to reward the supporters of the PDP and Federal Government.” Development was not its objective. Given that mandate, which apparently remains intact till today, it is not surprising that the NDDC, which started as a nest of robbers, has remained so till today. The Obasanjo administration wanted it that way. And, over the years, it has delivered on the Obasanjo administration mandate of unbridled corruption and total disregard for development.
ATTAH’S IDEAS – THEN AND NOW
“Truth is constant”, according to Attah. He had approached Obasanjo with the idea that NDDC funding and allocation of funds should incorporate the following ideas for development and progress.
1. Start with a Development Master Plan. With that as guide, all the stakeholders will know how the region was supposed to grow over time.
2. Prioritise physical development and allow social development to follow the infrastructure laid down at each stage of development.
3. Create five (5) new towns in Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Edo and Akwa Ibom. New towns created by Britain after World War II not only helped to revive devastated areas but also provided jobs and opened up rural areas to development in an orderly fashion.
4. Don’t dredge River Niger; ecological damages will out-weigh the benefits.
5. The Board of Directors of the NDDC should not reflect Federal Character. Instead, it should reflect the character of member states.
6. International Oil Companies, IOCs, operating in the Niger Delta should have been made to shift their Headquarters to the states where the largest volume of their crude is produced e.g. Akwa Ibom (Mobil).
7. The idea of a Ministry was accepted by Yar’Adua but resisted by Obasanjo. Irrespective of whether a Ministry exists or not, funds allocation should follow this procedure: a. each state should be allocated funds according to its contribution to the common pool; b. meetings should be held once a year with the Presidency; c. each state will present priority projects which can be funded by its allocation; d. the Federal Government awards the contracts; e. the states monitor performance.
8. Projects involving two or more states would be funded pro-rata depending on how much will be spent on the segment involving the state.
9. If this approach had been adopted, each state, being an oil producing state, should by now have at least one functioning modular refinery. The people will ensure the refineries work; because, otherwise they would have to go and beg another state for fuel. Our four refineries don’t work because they belong to everybody and nobody. They are operated on the ruinous Federal Character principle…
To be continued
APPRECIATION TO IGBOBI COLLEGE 1958-62 SET
“Everyone calls himself a friend, but only a fool relies on it, nothing is commoner than the name; nothing rarer than the thing” – Jean De La Fontaine, 1621-1695, VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS.
The French writer must have had in mind a bunch of young men who constituted the Igbobi College Class of January 1958 to December 1962. We came from different backgrounds and there was even a wide age disparity which made no apparent impression on the 49 of us. Each was so unique that it would have been impossible to imagine any cohesion.
Yet, despite occasional squabbles between two or more, quickly resolved, some sort of unity was forged such that after graduation and going our separate ways in life, we later re-grouped to form one of the most co-operative sets in the school’s pre-military era. We also joined with others to get our mission school returned to the Anglican/Methodist Churches – which were the original stakeholders.
I was an active participant in the struggle to redress the damages done by Governor Lateef Jakande to our alma mater.
The class has contributed three (3) people to media. First was the late Elijah Ositelu aka Elijah Joe – whose articles INSIDE THE ARENA remain unsurpassed till today in sports writing. Dr Tolu Ajayi, a medical doctor, but generally gifted, followed Elijah Joe. I was partly inspired by the two former classmates. I never expected to stay long in media. But, man proposes.
Right from the first day I received the divine privilege to write columns and influence opinions, I undertook to represent my family, Igbobi College, my class, my friends and close associates. I promised myself to strive not to disappoint or disgrace them. They might not always agree with what I write. But, they will have no doubt that it was not purchased by brown envelopes. Most important of all, I must write with courage; say to governments what they want said – and always damn the consequences. On important national issues, there will be no doubt about my position. I had imagined that my classmates will distance themselves from the trouble maker. So, I did not tell them about my battle with prostate cancer until I wrote about it after discharge from the hospital. I certainly did not ask for financial help. Of all my readers, only Uncle Apollo in Sapele sensed that I must have shed a lot of cash and sent money to me.
Surprisingly, on Thursday, September 10, 2020, our life Class President – Sir Segun George, KJW – invited me to his club for a mini get together by the class. Miraculously, Segun handed me an envelope and a cheque from the rest of the Class. I held back the tears while those who attended were present. Later, at home the tears came freely.
We are now less than 20 alive. But, to all the contributors, I say THANK YOU. I will continue to pray for all our classmates – irrespective of whether they contributed or not. Only the ICOBA 5862 Class can do that.
And I promise to continue to deliver your messages to Aso Rock. No shaking!