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Donald Duke: Wife, Music And Nigeria

It is often said a goldfish has no hiding place, but the real trouble is in getting the goldfish. Getting to pin down a dapper, personable young man for an interview is akin to catching a goldfish. And when the fine gentleman is a former governor and presidential candidate, it becomes a different matter altogether. That was what we found out trying to get Mr Donald Duke to cover the Life magazine.

The Duke at 57

At last, even when the date and time had been secured, the questions buzzed like bees in the mind: How does it feel to be a Donald and a Duke at 57?
From the answers he gave and the way he responded, we came away with the impression that, not only is the Nigerian Donald a Duke of many parts, he is in words: “A work in progress. I want to believe he has not accomplished all that he could accomplish, all the potential that he has within him. So, he has to strive harder to attain what he feels he can attain.”

And about being 57 years of age, he says “every day is a landmark day if used appropriately. When you are celebrating a birthday 57 times as I would on the 30th of September, it becomes almost another, it also becomes a time you reflect on what you have done throughout the period, the challenges ahead of you, and above all, give thanks to the Almighty for His grace.”

The truth in Donald You might have seen political branding in Nigeria. Talk about the late Festus Okotiebo, with his flamboyance, the late Chuba Okadigbo, with his horsewhip and beads, even Bola Tinubu and the broken-chain embroidered on his cap. So, what is the core essence of Donald Duke as a political brand? He said: “I want to say it as it is. I want to be able to look at you in the face and tell you the truth. I believe that the best politics is about doing the right thing.

“If you speak the expediency, a few years later it becomes a lie. But when you speak the truth, for all times it remains the truth. So, I want to represent a better generation of politicians in Nigeria. I want to be seen as an example so that those who aspire for public office can use me as a yardstick.

“I may not necessarily be right all the time, but more often than not, if you stand by the truth you will never fail. And if you fail in the course of pursuing the truth, then it’s a righteous failure. If you succeed in pursuing the expediency, it’s ephemeral, it won’t last. You never lose when you speak the truth.

“Our politics, our country are the way they are because far too often the expediency is what prevails. So, you go to the National Assembly, you listen to the level of discourse, it’s disgusting. You see what happens at state assemblies you know we can be better than this. You see the level of people aspiring for public office, you know we can be better than this and it doesn’t reflect on the challenges.”

Donald Duke is a man of letters, but he is also good with figures and it shows when he discusses Nigeria’s economic development and leadership predicament: “I told [an] audience that (former President Shehu) Shagari’s budget 39 years ago is bigger than our budget today. Shagari spent on the average, N25 billion annually as the federal budget, but today our annual budget is [teh equivalent of N23 billion today]. Our population is more than twice that of Shagari’s era.

“In thirty years, our population will be more than 400 million people. If there are no natural disasters in between, our population will be heading towards a billion people. The land mass has not increased, but the economy is shrinking, opportunities are draining, what are we doing about it?”

His wife, his best friend

Donald Duke and Family. Photo: Gistmania

Driftng from politics to his family life brought warmth to his eyes and the conversation. How much understanding has he built with his wife as a handsome man cast in the public spotlight? “She is my best friend, we have been together since I was 18 years old, she knows me in and out, I know her, and she will always tell me the truth because she is a stakeholder to my success.

She won’t exclude anything, she will look me straight in the face and say this is right and this is wrong. She has made me apologise to people whom I hurt. She encourages me when I‘m not sure of myself. I couldn’t ask for more, she’s my grace, a blessing to me.”

Remembering that the interview appointment had to be adjusted to accommodate the demands on his time from visitors, one imagined how Onari copes. But he explained and told the story of their life together from the beginning: “She has well adjusted to it. I met her when I was campaigning for office social secretary in the university, so she has always known I’ll be involved in this.

“She’s not an introvert and she’s not an extrovert, but she is carefully balanced in between, so she could play whatever role she has to play. One of the things I may be remembered for is the carnival in Calabar. The truth is I didn’t start it; she started it, in fact when she wanted to start it, I was a bit apprehensive about it, but she went ahead because she felt that we needed a forum, where everyone can mix with anyone and it worked out perfectly.”

Ah, Tinapa. How tall was the vision of Tinapa? His face lit up and he began: “There is beauty in simplicity. We just wanted to attract traffic, people to come to Calabar! That was what Tinapa was all about. If people stop going to England or London, the (London) economy would be affected negatively. We don’t have that advantage where people go through Calabar like Benin. If you are going to the East, you will pass through Benin.

Likewise the far north, you will go through Kaduna. You would have to tell people you’re going to Calabar, you don’t pass the place going elsewhere. So we needed to make it attractive for people to come, we needed to make it safe, we needed to give them a reason to come. So we had the serenity of the place, the cleanliness of Calabar, Obudu Cattle Ranch, Tinapa, etc; all that was a reason for people to come.”

But, eleven years after, does he feel that the dream or vision has been sustained? “Unfortunately, it hasn’t been sustained, that’s one of the problems in Nigeria, continuity is a big problem,” he said.

Duke and his Music

Donald Duke and his wife. Photo: Calabar Beckons

His brand of music “It quite varies; I have a band-a nine-piece band. We play all sorts of music from jazz to highlife to rhythm and blues. I like the oldies, I’m trapped in the time frame between the 70s and the mid-80s, lots of the music I enjoyed are within that period because those were my impressionable years, I like Bob Marley, Fela, Marvin Gaye, high life. That’s the music I grew up with, so it is etched in my subconscious. The music of latter years, I don’t really understand. As musically inclined as I am, I can’t tell you the difference between Wizkid and Davido. They all sound alike to me; one day hopefully I will find some meaning to modern music.”

His thoughts on Nigerian music using TuFace as a case study “TuFace has some pretty good songs, the African queen defined him and that had a story. I think he’s gifted, but sometimes artists play to the audience, what they feel the audience wants to hear. So, right now they move from art to craft.

Bob Marley will always be relevant because his music came from deep within, even my kids were not born by the time he died, but they listen to his music and enjoy it. Fela’s music is still relevant, not just what he sings, even his soundtrack. You could feel the soul of the music. Modern music is more of craft than art, but won’t last long, it will make the chart, but for a very short time. It won’t be an all-time, evergreen “.

Between talent and nurture

“Talents still have to be nurtured. No one works harder in music than Fela, he rehearses over and over again. The talent was there, but he kept on nurturing it. If you don’t nurture talent they will say the talent is there, but you will never reach the peak. So you have to keep on nurturing it, it’s like fine steel you’ve got to put it in the fire, burn it so it gets hardened then you sharpen it, shine it. Talent and nurture work hand in hand, talent is a gift, nurture is what you do to enhance the gift “.

The problem of the Nigerian youth

The challenge is a lack of opportunity. Our youth are hard working, more exposed, but frustrated. The average youth cannot go to a bank to borrow money, because the conditions are not encouraging. You can’t borrow money and pay 30 per cent interest, you cannot succeed.

The business environment is very frustrating. So, only a few succeeding businesses rhyme. Recently a company in Agbara Estate set up about $300million now they are all shut down. Part of the problem is the banking industry. The sorts of interest rates that are being charged are so high. So why the migration to other countries we are talking about is because of lack of opportunities.

I know a certain lady who wanted to set up a food chip factory and needed N10 million. She did her study, very exposed, she’s an auditor. But with 30 per cent interest and overheads another 50 per cent, the investment is over N10 million that’s about N8 million in the first year. She quit. You can’t borrow N10 million and in the first year, you’re paying N8 million, which means you have to generate more revenue. It’s not possible and there are thousands of people like that.

And each person that will get an enterprise like that will employ at least five persons and take them out of the poverty bracket. Banks are frustrating them, people go to borrow money because they want to do something, and you must have affordable credit.

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