By Odimegwu Onwumere
The GbaramatuVoice Lectures and Awards have come and gone but the pomp and pageantry it has recorded in the minds of those who were at the occasion will take some time to sputter away. The event took place at Transcorp Hilton, Abuja. It was full of people from all walks of life on August 8, 2019. Twenty awards and twelve GbaramatuVoice Hall of Fame were given to persons found worthy of the respective awards. The Deputy Governor of Delta state, Deacon Kingsley Otuaro; former Governor of Bayelsa state and Minister under the President Muhammadu Buhari government, Chief Timipre Sylva; Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, Prof. Charles Dokubo, were in attendance, amongst other dignitaries too numerous to mention.
Among the dignitaries who had come earlier was the Delta state Commissioner for Information, Mr. Charles Aniagwu, followed by Sylva, who arrived the Lagos Hall, by 11.50 and followed by Otuaro, who was three minutes late to the time Sylva arrived. The Publisher of GbaramatuVoice, Mr. Jacob Abai opened the floor by 12noon, with five minutes welcome address. Sylva, who was the Chairman of the occasion, mounted the podium by 12.5pm. He thanked the GbaramatuVoice for taking the lead to tell the Niger Delta story. The handsome and brave Sylva delivered his educative speech without looking at any paper. He did not mount the podium with any, either.
“No one can tell the Niger Delta story the way the natives do,” Sylva said, amidst thunderous applause from the audience.
Tracing the history of oil exploration in the Niger Delta to the 50s, the ebullient Sylva said that the oil companies in the Niger Delta were rather capitalists, not inclined to the development of the communities, where they explored oil.
“The oil companies produced oil without a recourse to the development of the communities they explored oil from,” he said.
He highlighted that as a result of the negligence of the oil producing communities, persons like Adaka Isaac Boro took revolution as a way to correct the anomalies meted out against the Niger Deltans, but this yielded little or no result till 80s and 90s and finally, Niger Delta agencies to address the plight of the area, were created.
“When agitators like Isaac Boro took the mantle for agitation to address the predicament of the area as it affected oil exploration in the Niger Delta, no much concern was shown by the appropriate authorities till 80s-90s and Niger Delta agencies were created,” he added.
He was worried that with the Niger Delta agencies, the troubles the people of Niger Delta wanted to be remedied might not have been up to their mandate.
He asked, “Have the agencies like NDDC and Amnesty Programme succeeded in their mandate?” The hall was saturated with “No!” This was the answer given to his question by the crowd in the hall that was majority Niger Delta people.
The eloquent Sylva showed apprehension over pipeline vandals in the area, saying that this should call for concern.
“Pipeline vandals is another problem besetting the Niger Delta and the oil companies should not bear the blame of pollution that is ravaging the Niger Delta alone,” he said.
He believed there should be a coalition between the Niger Delta agencies, government and communities in the Niger Delta to give the place a facelift.
“This is the only way to bring reprieve to the problems besetting the people of the area,” he said.
The young-looking Sylva also expressed his fears that the country might wake up in the morning and hear that oil is no more a saleable commodity. This was even as he called for the authorities to abreast the oil producing communities in order to get the benefits of oil before the illusion becomes a reality.
“My fear is that we might wake up some morning and hear to our chagrin that oil is no more a saleable commodity,” he said.
He further said, “This is the time all of us must come together and get the benefits of oil. We must join hands and develop from oil before the time.”
Sylva finished his address with deafening cheers from the audience. At this juncture, a university don at the Benue State University, Prof. Armstrong Adejor was given the microphone by 12.17pm.
Prof. Adejor thanked GbaramatuVoice immensely for being steadfast in business in the four years it came into the business world.
“Four years might not be a long time to the individual but it is a long to survive in newspaper business,” he said.
Due to the moderation of time given to every speaker, Prof. Adejor could not deliver the pile of notes he came to the pulpit with, but gave the summary of his prepared speech. He said that government should deliver on policies concerning the Niger Delta.
“When government does not take its policies seriously, agitations might not be inevitable,” he said, adding, “Those who destroy pipeline are aiding those who don’t want to give a hoot to oil spillage in the Niger Delta.”
The professor who disposed a gentle and quiet mien said that no one can develop Nigeria but Nigerians.
“There is nothing the international communities can do to develop Nigeria, when the authorities in the country are doing little to develop the country,” he said, and finished the summary of his speech by 12.32.
After the profile of the GbaramatuVoice was shown on projector, a somewhat radical Professor Tosan Harriman took the microphone by 12.42. His opening statement was, “I wonder what ‘Niger’ is doing in the Delta. This sounds like the Delta is shared with some regions.”
The elocutionist Harriman took the audience on a story of how his brother was kidnapped in Delta State and after a ransom of N100m demanded by the captors could not be met, his brother who they had conducted a service of songs after he was held captive for forty days, was released after on a trumped up intervention by the forces he did not know, telling the captors that the captive was related to ‘GOC’.
“Who is GOC?” Harriman said his bewildered family members and him continued to ask and later found out that GOC was Tompolo. Against this backdrop, Prof. Harriman said that it was high time government identified with Tompolo to help the Niger Delta question.
“Government should identify with Tompolo. He is so important in helping the Niger Delta come out of its conundrum,” he appealed. There were cheers that accompanied the professor before a comedian who identified himself as Mr. Right started clattering from the back row of the hall and was later ushered in to sale his comedy. Mr. Right was putting rain boot and with fishing net to send his message across. He comically said that the Niger Delta should be developed like Abuja.
“Niger Delta should be developed because it has oil but Abuja has not,” he joking said. When his time to display expired, the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme boss, Prof. Charles Dokubu came to the stage, went memory lane to educate that oil was once found in Awka, Anambra state.
“Oil was once found in Awka, Anambra,” Dokubo said, adding that he would avoid his talks on the Amnesty Programme, but added, “From the beginning of the programme, mistakes were made and there are internal manipulations of the institution.” He disclosed this and left by 1pm, immediately he finished speaking, promising to see Abai to support the GbaramatuVoice. He could not make his pledge immediately, as according to him, because, “I am a civil servant.”
As soon as Dokubo left, it was the time Aniagwu was to speak. An orator, Aniagwu expressed his gratitude to the GbaramatuVoice, for publishing all articles meant for the Governor Ifeanyi Okowa government of Delta state. This was when Aniagwu was the Chief Press Secretary to the governor.
“We never paid Abai,” he said. “But I want to say that Abai showed resilience to his job.” Aniagwu therefore promised to partner the GbaramatuVoice. Nonetheless, he pledged a sum of Five Hundred Thousand Naira (N500, 000) to support the paper.
Deacon Otuaro had the possibility to speak by 1.13pm. The gentle-looking Otuaro praised Abai for “the great feat.” Otuaro who was lively in the way he spoke said that some of them who were ‘there’ when Abai muted of having a media outfit, what him (Otuaro) has seen today, has shown that “a man is as he thinks.”
Otuaro was overwhelmed, saying that he reads the GbaramatuVoice and the Niger Delta is a county that sustains the economy of Nigeria.
“We, from Niger Delta, have benefited a lot from GbaramatuVoice and will partner with it,” Otuaro said. He thanked Aniagwu for his emulative dispositions at the occasion, adding that the Delta State government was doing much in seeing that the problems of oil pollution in the area were brought to a halt.
Issuance of the awards to the respective awardees began by 1.25pm. One of the recipients, Comrade Daniel Ezekiel, who spoke after receiving his award, pleaded with Sylva to use his position in the country and let the world to know that Ijaws in Edo state, were suffering.
“We, the Ijaw in Edo state, have no voice and I want to plead with Chief Sylva to use his position in the country and tell the authorities that we are sidelined politically, traditionally, and others, adding, “I have been arrested two times within a short time for the simple reason of speaking for my people.” He dedicated the award to Tompolo.
Other recipients like the IYC Youth chairman, Eastern, Comrade Sammy George did not speak differently. Hon. (Amb) Sobomabo Jackrich (Egberipapa) thanked God for the award and advised the GbaramatuVoice to beam its light on Rivers state, where he said that the people were suffering in the hands of oil companies. He appreciated Sylva, whom he said, wrote his (Sylva’s) name on the marble, when he was governor.
Sylva left the venue of the event by 1.47pm. It was time for goodwill messages. The national leader, National Union of Izon-Ibe Students (NUIS), worldwide, Comrade Emieye Kemepade Romeo appreciated the GbaramatuVoice for making Ijaw nation and the Niger Delta proud. Elder Owei G. Weikezi Agbere from Bayelsa state prophesied that the newspaper would go far in history. He added that his family and he would do everything in their reach in making sure that the prophesy would come to pass.
Former IYC leader, Dr. Chris Ekiye thanked the paper for becoming a ‘national’ brand and should make sure that its reportage were balanced. The elegant-looking and aesthetic black Miss Tourism and Culture, Gbaramatu, Queen Ebimo Imeleye thanked Jacob Abai for being innovative and progressive.
See photos below…