FOR four days last week, Nigerian editors under the auspices of the Nigerian Guild Editors (NGE) met in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital for their 12th Annual Conference. The theme of the conference, “Economic Diversification: Agriculture as Option for a Prosperous Nigeria”, could not have been more apt.
The event afforded editors who came from all parts of the country the opportunity to brain- storm on agriculture, which is the new beautiful bride of the Nigerian economy. With the price of crude oil, which has for decades been the main- stay of the Nigerian economy, playing not only yoyo, but also skelewu, in recent months, there is no gainsaying the fact that both the government and people of Nigeria must put on their thinking caps and design non-oil strategies to stay afloat.
From all indications, the way to go is to return to Nigeria’s old reliable, agriculture, which sustained the economies of the federal and regional governments before the oil boom days. Prominent among the speakers at the conference were the host state governor, Barrister Nyesom Wike and Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State, who canvassed the benefits of investing in agriculture and the individual experiences and investments of their own states in the sector. Aregbesola used the opportunity to inform the editors about the operation of the free meal programme for all the primary schoolchildren in Osun State and how its operation is turning around the fortunes of farmers and benefitting the children in the state. Representatives of some other state governors, such as those of Plateau and Bauchi, were also in attendance and they gave a good account of the many agricultural initiatives in their states. The Managing Director of the Bank of Agriculture was on hand to talk about agricultural financing and the availability of credit facilities for agric enterprises. The representative of the Minister of Finance left no one in doubt about the seriousness of the President Buhari administration about cutting costs. This, she said, is partly being done by the government dealing directly with airlines and suppliers of stationery and office equipment, instead of contractors. This, to me, will significantly reduce government expenditure on these items but leave the erstwhile sup- pliers of these items and the travel agencies who had been benefitting from ticket sales to government agencies, groaning.
The last day of the conference saw the editors discussing the all important issue of ethics in the media. The takeaway from the session, which was introduced by a Fellow of the NGE, Mr. Ray Ekpu, and discussed by Mr. Iyare, Mr. Steve Nwosu and my humble self, is the need for a return to the ethics of the profession and the improvement of standards through training, re- training and the fine-tuning of the recruitment process for journalists. Journalism schools were also advised to improve their teaching of the English Language. The editors also ratified ap- pointment of New Telegraph Managing Director, Mrs. Funke Egbemode, as the President of the NGE. One common thread that ran through many of the speeches at the conference was the peaceful atmosphere in Port Harcourt, contrary to the fears of violence and insecurity occasioned by the postponement of the July 30 re-run election in the state by INEC over security fears. There was, indeed, no incidence of violence throughout the conference and the general impression in the town is that the rerun was postponed by INEC in the interest of the All Progressives Congress (APC) because of the fear that the APC would lose the rerun.
As a matter of fact, Governor Wike left no one in doubt of the readiness of the Peoples Demo- cratic Party (PDP) for the rerun at any time that INEC decides to go ahead with it.
The editors visited the project sites of the Wike administration. They include the Civic Centre and road projects such as Industry Road, Njemanze Road and Eagle Island Road, which left no one in doubt of the governor’s commitment to putting the state’s road woes behind it. The state’s Com- missioner for Works and Housing, who led Team B on the projects tour, explained the governor’s unmistakable focus on roads rehabilitation in this his first year in office. According to him, the roads will boost economic activities and security, as the smooth roads will make it easy for motorists to move faster than they would, if the roads were littered with potholes.
My general impressions of Port Harcourt, which I was visiting for the third time, is that it is striving to meet up with the expectations of a state capital and the governor is enjoying the confidence of his people. His crop of young (?) or is it youngish commissioners, including Mr. Emma Okah, who led a project inspection team, gives the impression of a vibrant team that is commit- ted to assisting the governor in realising his objectives.
There are five things that I am not likely to forget quickly about this visit to Port Harcourt. The first is the glaring simplicity and sincerity of the governor and his commitment to making an impact on the state. Second, is the popular view of some of the people that the state is be- ing oppressed by the powers that be in Abuja and cheated of their due representation in govern- ment through the failure to conclude the elec- tions in the state. Three, you may be correct to call Port Harcourt the new “go slow” capital of Nigeria. As a veteran of life threatening traffic hold ups on account of the location of The Sun office in Kirikiri, I could not but doff my hat to Port Harcourt’s traffic snarls. My journey from the Presidential Hotel venue of the Conference to the hotel where I initially lodged on Thursday took four and a half hours! I made the same jour- ney in less than 30 minutes the following morn- ing. What this means is that the city is sorely in need of flyovers and its largely good roads will, at one point or the other, need to be widened to provide for free flow of traffic. The narrow roads are further narrowed by the cars parked on them.
I cannot forget the disgrace of the arrival section of the supposed Port Harcourt “International” Airport, which is said to be the fallout of the soured relationship between the Transport Minister, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi and Governor Wike. This “international airport” is better seen than described.
But for the fact that I had, some decades ago, as a young reporter, been arrested and detained at the Seme border for taking photographs in the border area, ten wild horses would not have stopped me from taking photographs of this “wonder” of an airport in Nigeria’s oil rich state.
But, one sweet memory is that of the military cemetery in Port Harcourt. It is neat, expansive and, if I may say so, beautiful. There are no two ways to say it: Dead military officers in Rivers State are, indeed “Resting in Peace”. And, that is much more than can be said for many Nigerians.