By Tunde Olusunle
Owerri the capital of Imo State which prides itself as the “Heartland of the South East” of Nigeria, was taken up by the cream of the Nigerian media from Thursday June 15 to Saturday June 17, 2023. It was the second time in eight months that the topmost professional deck of the media will be guests of the state. Whereas the November 2022 event was the traditional annual converge of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, (NGE), the more recent event was the Biennial Convention of the body. It holds every two years to produce new leadership for the Guild. This year’s edition was simultaneously deployed for the reappraisal of issues critical to popular governance.The event therefore had as its theme: “Post 2023 Election: Promoting Professionalism for Enhancement of Democracy and Good Governance.” Hope Uzodinma, Governor of the state, was chief host.
Aircraft after airplane landed on Thursday November 15, 2023 at the *Sam Mbakwe Airport,* located in Umuene Obiangwu in Ngor-Okpala local government area of the state. They mostly conveyed enthusiastic delegates to the programme, from across the country. The quality, diversity and mammoth attendance at the event, belied the dreadful profiling of Imo State in particular, and the South East. The exploits of criminal perverts masquerading as *unknown gunmen* and militias of the outlawed *Indigenous People of Biafra, (IPOB),* have collaborated to paint the South East of the country black in national consciousness. That very critical segment of the country has unwittingly been dubbed the axis of bone-chilling killings, needless bloodletting, even barbaric savagery.The ride from the airport into the belly of Owerri cosmopolis was pretty smooth and uneventful. I engaged my driver in a conversation about developments in the state. The airport is a whistling ride of just about 20 minutes to Owerri and I grilled him about why that short distance cost N15,000. He attributed it to the recent removal of fuel subsidy by the federal government.
I missed the last conference of the Guild in that city, which doesn’t translate to my being a stranger to Owerri and indeed Imo State. I underwent the mandatory one-year National Youth Service Corps in the city between 1985 and 1986. The Owerri airport was still in gestation within the period and the singular occasion I accessed the city by air was through the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa. I concluded my trip by riding in an airport cabby which took me through *Obinze* which hosts the *32 Field Artillery Brigade,* into Owerri. My one-year stint in Imo State, left me with sweet-savouring experiences and perfumed memories, as different from worrying contemporary realities. Apart from demystifying stereotypes about subsisting post-civil war cannibalism and similar stories in our time, I met some of my best friends till date, from that NYSC year. I was quite adventurous too, never missing opportunities to visit *Oguta* and board the ferry across to *Awomama,* inhaling the soothing breeze of the lake.
Owerri had moulted considerably as I would find out on this trip, away from what it was almost 40 years ago. I had to rely on my mental compass to identify sections of the Imo State capital with which I was hitherto very familiar. We had our four-week pre-primary assignment orientation at *Alvan Ikoku College of Education* on *Amakohia Road.* I was subsequently deployed to teach “Use of English” at the *College of Technology, Nekede.* Both institutions have been taken over by the federal government and summarily rechristened. I lived at *Ikenegbu Layout, MCC Road,* something of a highbrow section of the fledgling city and frequented the *Iwuanyanwu Stadium* being a soccer aficionado. With friends, notably Tony Olofu, now an Assistant Inspector General, (AIG), I watched the games of the foremost football club in the state at the time, *Iwuanyanwu Nationale.*
That an election was in the air was evident as you stepped into the delegates’ accreditation venue of the event at the host facility,6 Rockview Hotel, Owerri. Back in time, the hotel used to be known as *Modotels* a part of a hospitality chain reportedly owned by Nigeria’s Second Republic Vice President, Alex Ekwueme, before the change of ownership and its concomitant change of name. Delegates were handed flyers marketing aspirants to the various offices, even as contenders made last ditch efforts to appeal to the convictions of prospective voters. It was instructive that the polls into leadership positions in the Guild of Editors, was being taken so seriously.
Immediate past President of the Guild, Mustapha Isah welcomed delegates to the Convention. He noted that Imo State has made history by becoming the first state to host the annual conference and the biennial convention within months of each other. He expressed the collective gratitude of the Guild to Governor Hope Uzodinma who he noted is an authentic friend of the body. Justifying the theme of the convention, Isah noted that it was auspicious to appraise the performance of the media during the recent general elections. It is equally important, he said for the media to gird its loins to hold public officers to account, vis-a-vis their electoral pledges and promises during the electioneering.
Isah highlighted the myriad of tempests plaguing the media within the context of an underperforming economy. His words: “This convention is holding at a time the media in Nigeria is facing enormous challenges. The cost of newsprint and broadcast equipment is prohibitive. The economy is underperforming making it impossible for media organisations to generate enough revenue from adverts and sales. I don’t even want to delve into the challenge posed by online media.” Isah alluded to federal government bailouts to some sectors of the economy which has not been extended to the media. He submitted that the media as a realm empowered to serve as watchdog to the establishment cannot be best of allies with the state. He enjoined the press to push back attempts at its asphyxiation and continue to perform its assigned responsibilities.
Host Governor, Uzodinma expressed the gratitude of the state to a preeminent body like the Nigerian Guild of Editors for preferring Imo State to other options, by scheduling two major events back to back, in Imo State. Owerri, he noted is the “hospitality capital of the South East.” He commended the Guild for courageously choosing a subject of common interest to all Nigerians such as the interrogation of reportage of the last elections. Said Uzodinma: “I’m impressed that you have chosen this path of self-examination which I consider germane in our collective bid to enhance good governance and strengthen our democracy.” According to Uzodinma, “while the media has the responsibility of holding public officers to account, they should in addition encourage government through constructive criticism and well-intentioned suggestions on how things could be done differently to achieve better results.”
Uzodinma used the opportunity to showcase the successes of his administration. A booklet titled *Imo State Is Looking Up In All Sectors* which contained his address, highlights highpoints of his administration. These include prompt payment of salaries and pensions, and the prosecution of a “prosperity agenda encapsulated in a three-dimensional pursuit of reconstruction, rehabilitation and recovery” of the state.” He alluded to massive dualisation of roads in the state capital and across the three senatorial zones. Uzodinma also alluded to the ongoing dredging of Oguta Lake-Orashi River-Degema-Atlantic ocean mega project, which includes a river port. He noted that upon completion, the project will re-energise the economy of the South East.
It was dark when the day’s itinerary wound down. It was too late to begin to attempt a nighttime quest for our street-side *ugba,* *nkwobi,* *okporoko* and *angharan* joints of old. A feast of *isi-ewu* typically required “Bretton Woods stakeholder’s collaboration” between interested parties to fund, so it was an occasional indulgence. My accommodation was reserved at the *Immaculate Hotel* on the Owerri-Port Harcourt Road. I could still remember the direction of *Orlu Road* which now spots an impressive shopping centre, *Market Square,* where I picked up some analgesics. To our left on a slight elevation as we drove towards the hotel, was a monument from Nigeria’s civil war past, called *Control Post* those fiesty years. The name has stuck ever since even as the landmark is now host to *Assumpta Cathedral,* Owerri, a huge Catholic facility. *Oga’m, you be ama’ala o, di way you still sabi dis places,* my driver smiled, saluting my geographical currency.
The Owerri convention was a veritable forum for reunion amongst several generations and tendencies in the profession. An estimated 400 financial members of the Guild attended the Owerri convention. Elder statesmen at the event included Olusegun Osoba, FNGE, CON, former Managing Director of the Daily Times of Nigeria and two-time Governor of Ogun State, who was “Father of the Day.” Onyema Ugochukwu, FNGE, CON, a former Executive Director of the same organisation and pioneer Chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission, (NDDC), equally graced the event.
Canice Nwachukwu and Akarachi Amadi, both Members of the House of Representatives, honoured the convention. Tunde Awobiyi, Eluem Emeka-Izeze; *Atah Manyan of Ossomala,* Anambra State, Igwe Victor Awaogu; Baba Dantiye, mni; John Araka; Lanre Idowu; John Ndukauba; Dupe Ajayi-Gbadebo; Isaac Ighure; Gbenga Adefaye; James Akpandem; Taiwo Obe; Eniola Bello; Bayo Onanuga; Gbemiga Ogunleye; Hakeem Bello, all Fellows of the Guild, were present. There were also Funke Egbemode, (former President of the Guild and immediate past Commissioner in Osun State); Gbenga Oni-Olusola; Raheem Adedoyin, Martins Oloja; Tunde Rahman, Lanre Ogundipe, Kenneth Ugbechie and Lanre Arogundade. Steve Omanufeme, Gbenga Onayiga, Gbenga Adesina, Uju Ejeye, Jide Ajani, Angela Agoawike, Funke Atohengbe, Steve Nwosu, Gbenga Aruleba, Yemisi Fadairo, Eddy Odivwri, Soni Daniel, Tony Iyare, Kelly Elisha, equally attended the Owerri converge.
Eze Anaba, Editor of *Vanguard* daily newspaper, emerged the new President of the Guild. Husseina Bangshika of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, (FRCN), was returned as Deputy President, while Sheddy Ozoene was elected Vice President, (East); Kabir Alabi Garba, Vice President (West) and Umoru Ibrahim became Vice President (North). Iyobosa Uwugiaren was reelected General Secretary; Gabriel Akinadewo Assistant Secretary; Charles Kalu, Social/Publicity Secretary and Steve Nwosu is Treasurer. The Standing Committee Members are: Dom Isute (East); Chinedu Egere, Onuoha Ukeh, Rose Moses and Wole Sogunle, all Members of the Standing Committee for the West. Paulyn Ugbodaga and Mohammed Sanusi emerged Members of the Standing Committee for the North. The newly emplaced Eze Anaba-led national executive of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, is expected to impact the body within the next two years, before the next biennial convention.
▪︎ Olusunle, PhD, poet, journalist, scholar and author is a Member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, (NGE)