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Warri: Forty years later… from an UYM (Unknown Young Man) to a family friend

My first visit to Warri was around 1983, as a part of my usual cross-country tour. Those were the days when the son of man was young and free, the car ( AN3705ED) was also young and strong, could be serviced with N50( max) and the tank could be filled with less than N5!( yes; FIVE Naira). The roads were worthy of the appellation, the policemen were civil and professional ( no’ wetin-you-carry’ culture then), armed robbery was rare, and, there were no bandits, kidnappers, terrorist-herdsmen and Boko-Haram. In those days, my annual leave was one month and I spent it on the Nigerian roads and cities, visiting friends, (mostly classmates) and relatives. I would start the leave by travelling home and informing my parents that I was out of town. This was necessary because my headmaster-father (we called him WO-his initials- behind his back) had this habit of coming to Enugu unannounced to check on me whenever I failed to attend any Igbo-Ukwu Development Union function ( usually funerals) at home. In such instances, he would arrive my 12 Obianodo Street Abode ( Achara Layout, Enugu) before 7 am! I would then clean up my fridge, pick a few clothes and a few pieces of Naira ( not bundles), lock up my flat and hit the road. In that 1983 edition, I had travelled from Enugu to Vom, to Jos, Bauchi, Gombe, Azare( where I did my NYSC), Maiduguri, Kano, Abuja, Ikare, Benin, Warri, Owerri, PH, Aba and then back to Igbo-Ukwu before returning to Enugu to resume work. In those days, From Igbo-Ukwu to Enugu took less than 90 minutes. Today, it is about 4 hours and the driver and vehicle will go for a check-up after that. My visit to Warri in 1983 was to visit my friend, Joe Mbakwe (we called him Long Black Joe) who whose wife was a magistrate in Warri. They lived in the GRA area of the town and all I can remember now was that the ground was struggling with water for space all over the place.

On 28/8/21, I returned to Warri. I was a Guest Speaker at the 2021 OgbakoNdiAnambra(Assembly of Anambra People) Celebration. I spoke to them on ‘AkuLuo Uno: Olugon’Omume’ (Think Home Paradigm: The Time to act is NOW). Coincidentally, in 2019 I delivered a similar lecture to the Association of Anambra development Unions in Lagos. There must be a reason why all our people in the local diaspora are thinking home nowadays! For the Air-Peace ‘cock-crow’ flight (7am), I was at the airport long before 6. I did not plan to be there that early but the road was so free that it took less than 30 minutes from Okota to the airport, despite the detour through Ajao Estate. At the airport, I met a cultured gentleman, who reminded me of the good old days. The seat I secured in the bus taking us from MMA2 to MMA1 for boarding was wet and as such, I had to stand. Then this suited gentleman, (actually looked like a Bank MD) and offered me his seat. I did not accept the offer but I was amazed and touched by his gesture because the days when it was a normal thing had gone. And there was not more than a 10-year gap between us. Today, you will be lucky if your student would surrender his seat to you. When we arrived at Warri, I went to appreciate his gesture and asked him why he did so, despite his apparent ‘bigness’ and the fact that he was also an elder in his own right. He replied that it was the way he was brought up. I gave him one of my books (Proverbs, the words of our elders) and incidentally he is also an author and so he gave me his first book (Bold Steps). It is a motivational book, which I finished by the time I returned to Warri and handed it over to Stanek, the last man standing in my household. One day, I may review a book but I will tell you in advance one piece of information I got there. He was working as a lecturer before he joined the bank as a graduate-trainee. His one-month salary in the bank was in multiples of his annual salary as a lecturer and before long; his salary surpassed that of his dear mother who was an Associate Professor. So, ‘no be today’ when this oppression and suppression of the Academics started! He also confirmed what I suspected. He is a Pastor, retired banker and calls the shot at Flobal Financial Services Group.

Read Also: Reps ask FG to reopen Warri airport

That day happened to be environmental and we were detained at the airport for almost 3 hours. I strolled into the restaurant to wait and have something to eat. I asked for toasted-bread and tea but they were not available. Surprisingly, they had assorted swallows with assorted soups. For breakfast? Well, ‘na how-for-do make white man drink garri’! I settled for ‘poff-poff’ (my dietician must not hear about that) with plain tea and yet parted with N1000. The bag with which I carried some of my luggage (mostly books) got torn (you know how they throw peoples luggage about in the airport) and I wanted to replace it. I bought the bag for N500 but the replacement, half the size of the original one, went for N4000! This airport people sef! They think everybody who enters the airport is a political bandit, an oil magnet or something like that. You bet I would not buy a GMG bag for N4000. A potter who had ferried my luggage to the restaurant earlier collected N500 from me, ‘cellotaped’ it neatly and that was that.

One of my hosts took me to the expansive Jubilee Retreat and Conference Center which became my house for the following two days. The facility, owned by the Catholic Church, was imposing and hosts a good number of A-Class events in the Efurrum side ofWarri. I visited Kumasi, in 2018 on a WWME (WorldWide Marriage Encounter) activity; our team visited the ‘Catholic Village’ there. There is an equivalent of a ‘Catholic Village’ in Warri which hosted the Conference Center, Holy Martyrs of Uganda Junior Seminary, Diocesan Music Academy, Mother of Redeemer Catholic Secondary School( MORCASS) the 60 year-old Our Lady’s High School, and The Redeemers Catholic Parish, where I attended 6.15am Mass on Sunday, 29/8/21. The choir was melodious and vibrant and the young Priest (Dr John Edenaire) delivered a very captivating homily. He categorised Christians as people of the 3H: Head (rational/ reason); Heart (emotional) and Hand (practical) and held that as Christians, we needed ( and still need) the 3H. He also differentiated religiousity (external manifestations) from spirituality (internal) and regretted that most Christians concentrate on the external at the expense of the internal while we actually needed the two in this non-stop battle between the flesh and the spirit

Back to the lecture, it was well attended and it went well. I had the honour of breaking the kola-nut to declare the event open because I was (and still am ) from Igbo-Ukwu. You mau need to find out the place of Igbo-Ukwu (originally called simply, Igbo until a few years ago) in Igbo history. However, the organisers who went out of the way to invite two academics (another from OdumegwuOjukwu University), did not have time for us: they were more interested in ‘other matters’: The launch of a book ( OgbakoNdiAnambra Elites) and Awards. It has been my usual experience with such events. The ‘Item7’ was also good and consisted of roasted yam, barbecued fish, exotic and ordinary drinks and other such things as are usual on such occasions. The event was compared by Ogbuehi Main-Market’

And then back to the Conference center. I enjoyed the place with its expansive compound where I had a walk-out and the green scenery. But as a customer service enthusiast, I have a reservation, a very serious one at that. They had a billboard at the door, telling the customers to dress well, avoid sagging and bump-shorts and refrain from smoking. They also had another notice at the reception desk about check-in and check-out protocols. However, there was no information about what they would offer the customers. Things like courtesy, empathy, warmth, respect and money-back guarantee. As I said, I enjoyed the place and I may well be there on my next leave so as to explore the town fully as I did 40 years ago.

As I departed on Monday morning (30/9/21), I asked my friend how the young and articulate Olu was crowned despite the missing crown. I will not ‘unveil’ our discussions (You know people now unveil everything, including the first kiss with the 10th ‘babaymama’!) But I confirmed that high-wire intrigues are not just limited to Igbo-Ukwu, Anambra Elections and Abuja appointments. It is everywhere

From Unknown Young Man to a Family Friend

On Monday, 6/9/21, I was driving from Lagos to school. I left early and as such, the multiple devils of devilish drivers, Otedola Bridge spirits and inexplicable traffic jams were asleep and so by8am, I was already getting close to OOU. And then, it happened. Just 20minutes to school. I had a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by dense forests in all directions. There was this eerie feeling and I was REALLY afraid. In this era of UGM, UKM and UCM, it was frightening to be stranded at such a place. I don’t think I have had to undertake a change of tires by myself in the last 10 years and I was not in the physical mood to do so that morning. And then, I saw this young man riding by in a motorcycle. I wondered whether he was ‘one of them’ on a reconnaissance mission. Well, I had no choice and so, I waved him down and pleaded for his assistance. He dismounted from his okada and cheerfully and ungrudgingly changed the tire. It was a little difficult because the spare tire had not left its shelf sine the car landed on our shores 2 years ago. He was about to mount his motorcycle when I engaged him in a small conversation. He said his name was ‘More Blessing’ and that he was on his way to the farm. I remembered that in those days whenever we were going to the farm off town, we had to take something along: drinking water ( mostly flood-water collected through a man-made pit) raw yam, the fire with which to roast it and some oil or left over ‘foofoo’ from the previous day. And so, I asked him where was his lunch pack, especially after he said he would return to town around 4pm. He said he had nothing with him because he could not afford anything but that he would look for water along the road. Just water? He further said that his wife was pregnant, on admission at a local hospital and that he was going to the farm to see what he would harvest to sort out her issues. I ‘shook hands’with him, thanked him profusely for stopping and helping an Unknown Stranded Elder. As I wanted to leave, he in turn started thanking me and thanking God that he came across me that morning. I collected his telephone number and we dispersed.

Later that day, I gave him a call and thanked him again and we agreed to meet the following day on my way to work. On Tuesday, 7/9/21, we met as I agreed and I visited his house, and saw his wife, who incidentally is my sister (from Abia State). I thanked him again, took pictures with him and posted on my family platform and so More-Blessing has become a family friend rather than just an Unknown Young Man. On Saturday, 11/9/21 I received the cheery news that the wife had safely ‘manufactured’ their first baby. Of course, I will soon be there in solidarity with the young family. That was how an Unknown Keke Man carried me from the road where I was about to be drenched, to my house and refused to collect any money for his labour. We have also become family friends since then. Some of these unknown elements are human like us with their families, dreams and life issues. It is not good when we see all of them with ‘one kin eye’.

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