TRAVELOGUE: A Post card from London to Governor Uduaghan
By Dennis Otu
I was born in my maternal town, Abraka in Ethiope East Local Government Area of Delta State. But at two years, my mother left me with my grandmother, late Mrs. Iyouminaye Dafe (Nee Tietie) to join my father in London.
My father, Mr. Johnson Otu who died June 22, 1995 hailed from Uduophori, an Urhobo speaking community in Patani Local Government Area of Delta State and had gone ahead of my mother, Mrs. Theresa Comfort Otu to London soon after their marriage. But he had planted me inside my mother before departing the shores of his fatherland for greener pastures in the United Kingdom (UK).
My mother eventually gave birth to me, but I was not fortunate enough to be taken along with her to London and so I lived with my very loving and caring grandmother. And in London, my mother gave birth to my brother and two sisters. I never had the opportunity of joining or even visiting them in London until they moved down to Nigeria some years ago.
The truth of the matter is that, London had always been on my mind. I missed being born there and had always hoped that one day, one of those giant birds in the sky made by man will get me there. But I never knew how and when; just when I had almost lost hope of ever visiting the city of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State to whom I will ever remain grateful jetted me and other Journalists in the state to London for training on Writing and Reporting News at the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The Delta State based Journalists that made the trip for the Reuters training in London were; Austin Ngozi Mowah (Director of Information, Ministry of Information, Asaba), Norbert Chiazor (Chairman of Delta State Council of Nigeria Union of Journalists and Assistant General Manager, DBS Warri), Cyril Madugba (Editor, Nigeria Television Authority, Asaba), Olisayem Ifeajika (Editor, News Agency of Nigeria, Asaba), Pius Mordi (Special Assistant to the Commissioner for Information), Dennis Otu (Warri Bureau Chief of THE POINTER), Felix Igbekoyi (Correspondent, Daily Independent Newspapers), Muemuifo Mercy (Assistant General Manager, DBS Asaba), Felix Ekwu (Reporter, DBS Warri), Michael Ikeogwu (Correspondent, POINTER Newspaper), Chido Okafor (Correspondent, The Guardian Newspaper) and Shola O’neil (Correspondent, The Nation Newspaper.). The intensive training lasted from September 24 to September 28, 2012.
Yours sincerely have been wondering how I was picked for the training. But I do know that one day, I woke up to find a text message on my phone from the Delta State Chairman of NUJ, Norbert Chiazor requesting me to text my International Passport number to him with a promise to explain to me later. I have known the Delta State NUJ boss for the past 15 years in Warri as a humble, honest, simple and hard working Journalist. But the solid relationship that we have built over the years almost broke down completely last year during his election as the State Chairman of NUJ. Please, I do not want to go into details of what almost cost us our relationship.
I possessed a valid passport and so I sent the number to the NUJ State Chairman as requested. He got back to me some days later that Governor Uduaghan intends to send some Journalists in the state to Reuters in London for effective training in Journalism as part of his human capital development and that this was being done in collaboration with the State Council of the NUJ. according to him, I was among the lucky Journalists for the London trip. I must say it here that Chiazor had always told me even before he became NUJ Chairman of the need for training and retraining of Journalists for effective service delivery and during his campaign as NUJ Chairman, he promised to regularly send Journalists to different parts of the world for training and as a beneficiary, I want to say that Chiazor has made good his promise unlike our politicians who do not keep to their electoral promises.
He called again sometimes ago to say that Governor Uduaghan has approved the training and that we must be in Abuja to obtain our Visa for the trip. We appeared in Abuja and spent a day processing the Visa and never heard from him again after our return.
But at about 4.00p.m on September 18, 2012, the State NUJ Chairman sent this text message to me “Congrats. You got Visa to UK.” He sent that text from Abuja after picking up the Visa.
There was no much time on our side as we must be at Thomson Reuters Foundation in London on Monday, September 24, 2012. We got to Lagos at about 10.00pm on Friday, September 21, 2012. Arik Air was booked for the trip from Lagos to London, it was later cancelled because of the suspension of its operations as a result of the face-off with the Aviation Ministry. It takes six hours to get from Lagos to London. But we spent 15 hours in the air to get to London during our trip. We went through a longer route.
We boarded Qatar Airways at 2.45p.m. from the dilapidated Murtala Mohammed International Airport on Saturday, September 22, 2012 and arrived the beautiful Doha International Airport at 12.10a.m on Sunday, September 23, 2012. We departed Doha on Sunday at 1.50a.m and at 7.15a.m., the moment that I have been waiting for all my life came when we arrived the famous and beautiful Heathrow International Airport, London. I wondered why the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos which is a shame of a nation at 52 cannot be like the Doha and Heathrow Airports.
Two hired mini buses were already waiting for us on arrival at the Heathrow Airport where they took us on a one hour drive to the impressive Britannia International Hotel on Marsh Wall, Canary Wharf, East London where we stayed till checking out at 3.00p.m pm September 30, 2012 to come back home.
Elegantly situated on Canary Wharf glittering water’s edge, the International hotel boasts stunning and unique panoramic skyline views of London. We actually arrived London on a wet Sunday morning and some of us had not tea. The beauty of London, a place visited on a daily basis by Nigerian politicians almost took my breath away. Our politicians can actually turn our major towns and cities into London because Angels did not come down from Heaven to develop London. London is a twenty four hour city where things are working perfectly.
In London, generators are not sold as there is no power failure. But since returning to my country, a major producer of oil, the pressure has increased as I have been wandering everywhere in search of fuel for my generator and car.
The transportation system in London is perfect and it enables you to journey from one place to the other without stress. You need to try the tube in London. Sad enough, back home in my country, stress is the name of the game because the roads are not there and our rail system is nothing to write home about. For over 30 years, we have been struggling as a nation and people to complete the Aladja/Ajaokuta railway line. Did you know that throughout our stay in London that we never saw fuel tanker chasing people away from the road like we have on the Lagos/Ore expressway? In London, trains passes between two houses, something you dare not do in the country of President Goodluck Jonathan. I saw the intimidating Headquarters of JP Morgan in London. I am sure that you know that they are the one helping us to manage our money.
London is a great and wonderful city and it was great to be in Great Britain, courtesy of Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, a man that is totally committed to the rapid transformation of oil-rich Delta State. I love London and I have a dream that one day with the progress being made by Governor Uduaghan, my Delta State will be like London. All hope is not lost yet. We only need to support Governor Uduaghan to get there.
We really enjoyed the intensive training on Writing and Reporting News at the Thomson Reuters Foundation London, made possible by Governor Uduaghan. We went to the imposing Reuters building in Canary Wharf on Monday, September 24, 2012 in the morning and Mathieu Robbins and Andrew Dobbie, the programme instructors were already waiting for us. We were conducted round the facilities of Reuters, including its breath taking newsroom and at the end, we settled down for the training proper, the reason we went to London.
Mathieu Robbins, a financial journalist and a former staff of Reuters and Andrew Dobbie who left Reuters after 27 years of service were very wonderful. They impacted a life time knowledge on us from Monday, September 24 to Friday, September 28. They taught us from 9.00am to 5.00pm daily. We had tea breaks and lunch regularly. There was no dull moment for us at Reuters and I must commend Governor Uduaghan, the State Information Commissioner, Barrister Chike Ogeah and Norbert Chiazor for making the training a reality as we gained a lot.
The Information Commissioner while declaring the training open on Monday, September 24, 2012 advised the participants to take the training seriously. He also urged journalists to avoid confrontation with government and disclosed plans of government to make the state media outfits world class. Chairman, Delta State NUJ, Norbert Chiazor assured government of continued cooperation of journalists in the state.
Although we were very busy all through and London was expensive, cold and lonely, we nevertheless had fun and good time. The sweet memory will lingers for a long time.
We visited several places in London, including Stratford Station, London Bridge, Tower of London, the London Eye, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, River Thames, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Houses of Parliament, Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon- a market place with a difference; Stratford-upon-Avon is the famous home of arguably the world’s greatest writer, William Shakespeare. We also visited host of other beautiful places in London.
London people have lost their sense of courtesy as everyone minds his or her business with a cup of coffee and cigarette always. But even at that, Emmanuel Ade from Osun state who works at Reuters gave us a treat in his house on the eve of our departure from London. He spoilt us a little with Nigerian beer and food.
But I found out in London that majority of the people, including old and young, men and women, boys and girls are heavy smokers and drinks a lot too. I was made to understand that some turned smokers as a result of excessive cold in London while others turned smokers out of frustration as many of them have no jobs and homes and London is very expensive. But the government cares for them, unlike in my country, Nigeria where graduates roam the streets year in, year out searching for jobs that are not just there, a situation that has turned a sea of Nigerian graduates into okada riders back home. I never saw anybody using motorbike for transportation in London. Leadership has caused us so much in Nigeria and if care is not taken, we may never get it right again and never get to where London is at the moment where things works. The only thing that is working perfectly in Nigeria, if you ask me is corruption. If we can rid our country of corruption, then we can have the best of roads like in London, steady power supply and other things that makes London and Nigeria a world apart.
The Delta State NUJ Chairman, Norbert Chaizor called me on the telephone at about 10.47a.m. on Friday, October 5, 2012 and I was driving. I picked the call and police chased me with their van and all of them gathered me like bees. They said I have committed a great offence for driving and making call. They wanted to take me away, but I refused to be intimidated. Our policemen just need to go to London and see the difference between them and their counterparts in London.
Throughout our stay in London, I never heard or saw police and politicians chasing tax payers from the road with siren. The only siren I heard in London was on Sunday, September 30, 2012 at about 3.15p.m when we were on our way to the airport to come back home. It was “London Ambulance”. This is not the case in Nigeria, my beloved country.
While we were on our way to the Airport in London September 30, we remained quiet in the bus throughout the one hour drive from our hotel to the Heathrow Airport. I am sure that we were feeling bad that we were going back to a country well blessed by God, yet it has nothing other than pains, tears, sorrow and stress to offer its citizens at 52.
Governor Uduaghan must be praised to high heavens for taking some journalists in the state for training at Reuters, it is the first of its kind and this is why I am dedicating this Postcard from London to him. In London, we saw it all and we learnt a lot from the training, Your Excellency, the Governor, words are not enough to express my gratitude, but from my heart of hearts, I really appreciate the London experience made possible by you and I trust that if you have your way, you will turn Delta State into London. Do not think twice, if you can lay the foundation for that now.
Dennis Otu is the Warri Bureau Chief of The Pointer Newspaper.