Experience, they say, is the best teacher. It is never accumulated by shortcuts but by strenuous encounters that eventually play out and produce results.
I remember the experience I garnered as chief correspondent of the defunct Concord Press of Nigeria, where I held sway in the old Anambra State, with its capital in Enugu, covering news from what is today Anambra, Enugu and Ebonyi states, between 1983 and 1986. Last week, this writer embarked on a nostalgic visit to Enugu State, popularly known as “Coal City.” Unfortunately, the dividends of being a mining state is absent, like the Niger Delta area, where oil is daily being produced. That is not the story in other countries, where there are abundant natural resources. Such injustice breeds agitations that do not augur well for the security of those areas. Driving into Enugu aroused nostalgic feelings in me, right from Obulafor junction, where, in the days of former Police Commissioners Amos Dangana and Chief Johnson Odu, armed robbers used that junction to waylay northern traders, but the police chiefs put a stop to their activities and provided news for media houses. The dichotomy in starving “outside media” resulted in the formation of the correspondents’ chapel in Enugu. As we drove into Enugu, I could not find my way like before. This is what you call development. I salute the governors that achieved this developmental feat. With such development in the state capital, it is expected that the transformation of the capital would attract youths in the rural areas. So it did. It also attracts lots of motorcycles, which often aid various types of crime as well as crimes like “one chance” kidnapping, robbery and other associated criminalities. These vices come with the type of development I saw in Enugu. Nostalgic feeling! Everywhere I turned, the story seem better than the before. At Obiagu Street in Ogui, which was our own version of Fleet Street in London, where all the newspapers had their offices, you can stroll from their one end of the street to the other. The Daily Times, Standard of Jos, Tide, Guardian, National Concord, The Punch, The Observer, Tribune, Sketch and News Agency of Nigeria, these made up the correspondents’ chapel.
The street has been transformed; it was hard to locate my former media office. In my days, nightlife boomed, so also did crime. Very impressive and commendable is the new GRA, where new hospitality outlets are fast springing up. When hotels spring up as they are doing in Enugu, it is an indication of a peaceful environment. Which means the police are up and doing. As early as 5am, as I was on my way out of the Coal City, behold policemen were all at their duty posts. Wonderful! You can’t see them on the road in Abuja that early, or else, those you find are probably playing eye service either because they have an inkling that either the Inspector-General of Police is routed their way or someone higher than the IGP. The police commissioner, Mr. Dan Mallam, must have done a lot of internal overhauling to get such high discipline among his policemen and officers. I stopped at a police post and pointedly asked the Divisional Crime Officer if they still operate the usual “returns” to Oga at the top. He looked at me and emphatically said, “Please join the police and try it in Enugu Police Command and see what would befall you.” Truely, this was confirmed, that there has been a drastic change, in my interaction with a few motorcycle riders, bus and taxi drivers.
However, at Abakpa-Nike, the sight gave me goose pimples, as the suburbs are yet to be integrated into the state’s general development plan. With a governor whom the people love to call Gburugbru, meaning round and round, could it mean that development would go ‘round’ the state when he starts focusing on the development of the suburbs around Enugu? After all, a larger percentage of the state’s workforce reside in these areas. If such an area is not developed, it would be a better breeding place for criminals. Criminals love congested areas. They love places where there are no contact addresses. It is surprising that Enugu, which ought to be pioneering electricity power generation, is yet to inject that into its development programmes. At Uwani Police Station, I witnessed how the divisional police officer (DPO) was struggling with another officer to turn on the small generator, and you ask, how come the state government is not looking at how to upgrade all the 38 police divisions in the state? Such collaboration can help in the overall security of the state. Even as I beheld the developments, I remembered my first “python dance” in the hands of the Army at the 82nd Division, my “scopion dance” in the cell of the Nigeria Security Organization, now DSS, and my “kangaroo dance” in the cell of the state police command. Each of these agencies claimed they were carrying out their duties but forgot that the reporter also has a duty as the fourth estate of the realm. The Army arrested me for publishing a story about some soldiers from 82 Division that became notorious and edgy over reports of their wrong actions among civilians. I was “captured” and told to lie under a drum filled with water. As I moped at the hole the water dropped on my forehead. It was an experience I would not wish an enemy. This was during military dictatorship. After my release, sequel to the intervention of my publisher, Bashorun MKO Abiola. I was told that it was an error of judgement. Yes, it is affirmed that police is your friend, but in 1984 the same police, after detaining me for days, handed me over to the then NSO over a story both agencies claimed touched on state security. The story was about the sudden mysterious death of all the police dogs in their kennel, plus the story of an investigation about a planned attack by robbers on Enugu town.
Can’t forget my escape during an armed robbers’ gun attack on a police van that was on night patrol along Enugu-Onitsha road in the middle of the night. I had joined them to have an experience of what night patrol was about. I also remember my ordeal in the University of Nsukka, where I was summoned by a presidential panel investigating a front page exclusive story I wrote about the VIce Chancellor, Prof. Frank Ndili, who was removed based on the story. I remember the late Chief C.C Onoh as governor asking my publisher who flew into Enugu sequel to my hot stories that were not acceptable to the governor and he asked that I should be transferred out of the state else he would not be able to rule the state. Said he, “Your man is a stumbling block to my administration.”
I can’t forget that statement as he pointed at me before the late MKO Abiola, in the presence of Ray Ekpu, Yakubu Mohammed and the late Dele Giwa inside Government House. I remembered the first plane crash in Enugu, how I posed as a relative of the Ghanaian pilot just to access him inside the hospital room to extract information that became the front page of the National and Sunday Concord newspapers. I was financially rewarded for my investigative reporting.
WAOH!, l vividly remembered my encounter with the police commissioner Mr Johnson Odu when l brought a story about the death of all the police dogs in the custody of the police at Awkwananah mobile police base, an investigation that earned me a three day’s lock-up in police cell after publishing the story which he had warned me against. Which one will l remember or forget. l remembered the Nurse l traced to Onitsha who was about to sell ten kids and l gave the information to the police, Marvel Akpoyibo was then the DPO and we worked together after her arrest it became my exclusive story. l can’t forget the story of the female students in Awka who sleep with trained dogs for financial reward from foreign construction workers. l had visited a doctor friend who was treating one of the girls and l over heard him saying that the scratches on her body are those connected to sexual affair with an animal. l waited for the girl and sort to know her school. That was how my investigation started and the big story emerged. Both the Governor Chief Jim Nwobodo rewarded me handsomely. l remembered the story of my detention in NSO. l had to befriend an NSO lady to be able to obtain information that led to the removal of the state director, one Mr Njemanze. lt was not funny, they came after me , killed my Alsatian dog, locked me up in an underground cell and signed decree four on me. Thank God, that regime was toppled before they could execute mine after Nduka lrabor. What a nostalgic feeling.