T. O Graham-Douglas: Political magician of incredible talents
Mr.Tom Adokiye Fabyan, former M.D. of AP had just arrived from Lagos after completing his school cert. in Methodist Boys High School, in 1956. He met T.O. Graham Douglas in Ibadan during a family Christmas holidays in 1951. I had arrived in Port Harcourt in 1954 to start school in Baptist High School.
Ete (as he was fondly called) Graham Douglas had also arrived in Port Harcourt and we were enrolled in the school. I frequented the house of Dr. Nabo Graham-Douglas who was a legal luminary in Port Harcourt. He was married to Christiana Amachree, a graduate of the University of Ibadan, also my teacher at Baptist High School, Christiana Amachree was the older sister of Mina.
Relationship between T.O.G., T.A. Fabyan and P.D.C. quickly charged up. We were inseparable. We took the photograph in December 1956 at Owo Studios, Niger Street, Port Harcourt in 1956 to record our close friendship which continued till his death. Even last year 2021, the three of us took another photograph to commerate a long lasting and inextinguishable friendship.
We soon separated to study overseas- T.A. Fabyan (Tommy) and T.O.G. to the United Kingdom, and P.D.C. to New Zealand. Even so our friendship endured despite the distance.
Tommy finished his studies in Economics, came back to Nigeria to end up as M.D. of African Petroleum (A.P.). T.O.G. finished his A. levels but was prevailed upon to return to Nigeria, which he did, enrolling in the University of Lagos, where he read Biology. After graduation he went back to Port Harcourt and started working at the Nigeria Petroleum Refining Company in the Public Relation Department. He was among the first few Nigerians to work in NPRC.
T.O.G. (everyone called him that) but at home we called him Ete.
He rose to be the General Manager of the Public Relations Department.
He came from a truly gargantuan family. His elder brother was Melford Graham-Douglas, a pediatric surgeon and first permanent secretary in the newly created Rivers state, 1967. His closest brother was the incomparable lawyer, Dr. Nabo Graham-Douglas, first Attorney General of Eastern Nigeria under Ojukwu. He rose to become the Attorney General of Nigeria and the first S.A.N. of Nigeria, together with Chief Rotimi Williams. Nabo and Melford were marvelously huge people. Each standing about 6 feet 7 inches. They were both deliciously erudite. We learnt a lot being around them, eating with them, running errands for them and soaking up all this erudition coming out of these remarkable brothers.
There were two other brothers who were also lawyers: Donald Graham-Douglas, who became the Chief Justice of Rivers State, then there was Ono Graham-Douglas, another SAN and chairman of the Rivers State Nigerian Bar Association. (Ete) T.O.G., Tommy A. Fabyan and myself drank deeply from these profound fountains of knowledge. They were all impeccably dressed in befitting dignity. The suits were from Saville Road, the hats from Locke of St. James, the shoes hand made from Jermyn Street. Other accessories from Gerard, (so were their silver table ware) and the walking sticks from Smith of Holborn. The family were epicureans, setting impossibly high standards for Ete (TOG), Tommy and myself. All their achievements came from perspicacious hard work. We marveled at their success and determined not to let them down. For Ete (TOG) whose brothers had set such high standards, the pressure was incredible and persistent.
Nevertheless Ete met these standards and in many ways surpassed them. There was something always academic in the lives of these erudite stylish gentlemen, almost too good to be true. Their feet were not made of clay; Ete was a good 4-5 inches shorter than his brothers. That gave him the opportunity to mingle with people without seeming out of place. The Graham-Douglas’ were all extremely handsome but Ete’s earth bound handsomeness was more wholesome and easy to mingle. He never smoked or drank but all his friends and relatives smoked and drank. How a Public Relation Manager of a huge company like NPRC never drank or smoked is beyond me.
TOG’s job opened him up to the top society people in the oil business. He constantly hosted them. He could charm the devil himself with the sweetest tongue of anyone I know. He was fun to be with, he put everyone at ease. He never ate alone, his house was always a hangout hall. His people-skill was phenomenal. He had a guest house near his home, every evening he met who was who in Port Harcourt in that house.
All the military commanders stationed in Port Harcourt were his friends. Battalion commanders, their visitors, were at home with Ete. T.Y. Danjuma, Sani Abacha, O.O. Obasanjo, Akinrinade, Benjamin and too many others to mention.
T.O.G. soon became a Commissioner in Rivers State for Youth and Sport (for which the Pidgin English newsreader referred to him as “Commissioner of boys and girls and play play).
Ete built the Port Harcourt sports complex in Moscow road: swimming, tennis, squash courts etc. He came to Brazil to watch the world’s greatest carnival Rio. On his return, he set up the Carnariv- a Rivers State Spectacle of splendor in dancing, waters sports etc.
TOG set up companies for himself and the state; he was chairman of the Presidential Hotel which brought into his friendship perhaps the most successful Nigerian-Lebanese company- the Chagourys, who managed the Presidential Hotel. Today they own Eko Hotel, Eko Atlantic etc. Ete built B-beck, and TOG’s Hotel, Muriella Hotels in Port Harcourt.
T.O.G. is a consummate master planner. He is a type of person who if he was Governor of Rivers State would have transformed it beyond recognition. He spent a lot of time developing a blue print for the development of Rivers State, especially the forgotten Riverine areas of the State. His mind was always concerned about the development of projects- he had a plan for the old Kalabari Empire. The plan had roads and bridges, airports, seaports, industrial estates, holiday resorts- to bring up these benighted people from the neglect all Governments had brought to them. He sought town planners from Korea, Japan and China for these projects- each replied with elaborate plans and costing for the projects.
Ete was too handsome for his own good. He was toast of the women, and they could not leave him alone. He was too sweet for them to resist, too poetic for them not be spell bound, too generous for his magic not to transport them to incredible heights. He had many children, all of whom he trained overseas to the level of their competence.
Ete transferred his services to the Centre in Lagos and Abuja, where he was Minister of Aviation under President Babangida and Minister for Youth, Sports and Labour and Culture and Tourism under Obasanjo till 2001. He was thus the only person from Rivers who was a Minister four times. He was an Elder statesman in Rivers State and one of the founding members of the NRC and then PDP. He was responsible for PDP’s success in Rivers State, he helped install Peter Odili as Governor. He was member of the PDP Board of Trustees.
There was no Governor in Rivers State who did not seek his support, which he gave unstintingly. But the Governors’ response to Kalabari issues was always short of the mark. The Trans Kalabari highway road from Port Harcourt to Kalabari towns including Abonemma, and the industrial complex he planned and costed were never built. He had a close association with IBB, T.Y. Danjuma, Gen. Sani Abacha and other military leaders.
He was a Nationalist but that did not stop him from reminding all those in power of the debt Nigeria owed to the oil producing states, especially to the Ijaws, of which Kalabari was an integral part. He was deputy to Chief E.K. Clark who is the chairman of the Ijaw Elders Council.
Nigeria has lost a statesman and we have lost a closest friend and dear brother.
Fabyan, former managing director of African Petroleum (AP) and Dr. Cole, OFR, former Nigeria’s Ambassador to Brazil and Argentina, wrote this as a tribute in memory of Tamunotonye Ombo Graham-Douglas (T.O.G.), OFR.