I have finally finished my documentary on the Niger Delta trip. Unfortunately I have still not figured out how to get the video from the mini-dv/dvd/ final cut format to whatever format is needed to load it up to You Tube or Google Video. My tech savvy-ness is very haphazard, as you are aware, so some of these things are rocket science. If there's any one who can assist please send a shout my way. The documentary ran at 10.20am, Monday on HOTLENS, the other show I anchor and produce. I could not pre-announce it because I was only able to finish editing late Friday. It was supposed to run on the 11th to coincide with the 12th year remembrance of the murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa but unfortunately my editor lost his father the week before and had to take a few days off from work for the funeral. But we were finally able to finish it and it's run twice. I have not been able to log on to blogger all week for some reason so I could not make an announcement here. Will absolutely try to upload the video when I get to the hotel in China. May be some tech savvy people there will know how. (Yeah Folks, I’m going to Sanya for Ms World and then branching to Beijing to climb the Great Wall…can I get a Ni Hah…..that mean Hello in Mandarin, not Chinese). I have to admit that the delay was not only due to trying to get material together to boost the content, dealing with the hazards of having an under-trained and under equipped team but also trying to get an opposing side. When I couldn’t do that I figured I decided to focus the piece on personal stories from the perspective of the Niger Deltans featured.
DAY ONE – FEBRUARY 25TH 2007
I was supposed to fly into Owerri Airport on the 24th but I missed my flight and had to travel out of Lagos the next day. This would be my first ever time traveling within Nigeria by myself and to make matters worse, my American accent was still heavy and would be a dead give away if I got into a ‘fix’. My parents were nervous and just to make them feel better they insisted that my aunt arrange transportation for me to Port Harcourt and that I stay with a family friend in PH. My aunt arranged with a member of their church to meet me at the airport and drive me, two hours down to Port Harcourt. I wish I had not agreed to that. With my blue backpack strapped tightly to my body and handbag getting acquitted with my armpit, I rolled my little suitcase to the rather curious vehicle. It was a some sort of mechanical contraption that seemed to have been a Volkswagen Passat once upon a time and was still masking as one. I certainly was not expecting any AC but the fact that there were no side mirror or a rear-view mirror got my antennas high for everything that was wrong with this so called vehicle. The green screw driver that was holding the back passenger side window midway, the annoying blinking red light that’s supposed to be the emergency light. I guess the button had malfunctioned and obviously the blinkers in the back probably weren’t working either. Not to overlook the broken temperature gauge, the broken windshield that looked like someone had batted a baseball right into it. Perhaps that was a stone or random object on the road that ricocheted from another vehicle. In all this the owner, Sunday, managed to display his aesthetic side by engraving in the raggedy dashboard a yellow waxen ‘I love Jesus’. But my mouth was salivating in disgust at the green and purple avocado that were sitting next to the now naked stick shift (gear) which Sunday’s wife, Tina had offered me. I declined. I hate avocado. It’s only good for one thing, a facemask. We jalopy-ed our way onto the Aba-Owerri Road. I was perched in the back seat already suffering from deep vein thrombosis because my knees were kissing my chest, while Favor, the couples five-year old daughter with her church hat perched next to her mother in the front seat. They were just coming back from Church in Uratta. I just had to manage and endure because these folks were doing me a favor and trying to get me safely to my destination.
The roads, as you know were shoddy in state but shoddier was the state of our car. How do I know this? Well we went past several checkpoints without being stopped even once. Usually Nigerian police will stop you for not having a taillight. But here we were without safety mirrors, backlights or even INNER LIGHTS and yet we were not stopped. We passed the regular police checkpoint, the mobile police checkpoint and even the Federal Road Safety Commission checkpoint. Then there was the fourth checkpoint where the police demanded and was handed money from the bus driver while the fifth had blue barrels, a broken exhaust pipe and a crooked log of wood. One every ten minutes, practically and I am not exaggerating because I checked.
The road split into a t-junction and we turned right toward Aba and Port Harcourt. Going left would take you to Umuahia, Enugu and onwards to the northern part of the country. The potholes were once again unbearable but the mountain of trash in Aba was higher than Mt. Everest. I couldn’t help but notice a stark naked mad man defecating on the side of the road, butt out facing the road. I shook my head. That’s definitely a madman. As we headed towards PH going through Obuaku, we passed one of many signs leading to a mortuary, ‘Gracial Stop Over’. What an oxymoron. Is this supposed to be dark humor or metaphoric. We then crossed the ‘Imo River’ again, this time at Oyigbo (Obiigbo) where it borders Abia State and Rivers. The first time was when we crossed into Abia from Imo. I eventually get to PH, parted with N5000, thanking the family for their trouble. I had just saved myself half the actual fare that it would have cost me, had I taken an air-conditioned airport taxi. I was finally in the crazy city of Port Harcourt where all sorts of crazy things were happening. I had just one week not just to get a bird’s eye view but also to have a greater appreciation for the issues facing the Niger Delta by experiencing and hearing the stories first hand. The next day Monday I went into the Rhythm FM/ STV bureau on Forces Road and spent the whole day making phone calls and setting things up. I talked to Marvin Yobana, the leader of the Youth Wing of the Movement of the Survival of the Ogoni People and he agreed to set us up with a tour of Ogoniland for Tuesday. We also spoke to the then representative of Oyigbo in the State House of Assembly, Precious Oforji, who is very outspoken agreed to talk with us on Wednesday and show us some sites where there had been recent oil spillage. I spoke with Hajia Mujahadedat Dokubo-Asari (Mrs. Asari-Dokubo), whose husband was still in jail at the time and she agreed to an interview for Friday. I talked to Onegiya Erekosima, who acted as Asari-Dokubo’s spokesperson. He was going to be the major player in putting me in touch with the individuals who would facilitate a trip to the creek to meet some militants. Unfortunately for me, that was just when the whole Jeff Koinange story that agitated everybody came out and I was advised not ‘to pursue my mission until things settle down.’ I also talked with several other players who stirred me in several directions to achieve my mission.