Goodluck To Otuoke As Jonathan Returns
IT is evening, a cloudless sky with luminous sunshine bounces of the long winding road to Otuoke. The crisp May air whips through the open window of the Gulf car conveying passengers from Yenagoa, as it skims through the Yenagoa-Elebele-Otuoke dual carriage. Though, some more work are still expected to be carried out on the road to put it in final shape for its new status, it is a significant milestone in a region where roads are often narrow and less of the priorities of government and oil companies.
From Opolor roundabout, the vehicle drives at a snail pace, as it snakes through the road sandwiched by bushes on both sides. The road leads on somnolently until you get to Elebele, a rural community brightened only by a few businesses. Then it goes on to Emeyal 1 and 2; two sleepy towns awakened temporarily by the presence of Federal Government.
For the about 20-minute drive, there are no intersections, except the bridges linking the communities from Elebele to Emeyal 1 and 2. However, the road is littered with potholes. In fact, driving through the treacherous bends, and navigating the shoddily constructed road that leads to the community brings pains. Even for the quick and nimble, driving for 20 minutes to Otuoke could be a chore. You have to be careful of children coming back from school and chugging commercial vehicles vying for space. Worse still, you have to be patient on those drivers, who stop to pick or drop passengers or exchange pleasantries with passersby without any notification.
From Emeyal 1, this part of Ogbia Kingdom comes alive, as shanties of years back have given way to modern buildings. Mud houses, which used to dot the community, are gone. All the buildings along the road are either reconstructed or renovated.
As the vehicle navigates its way out of the pothole, it hits a stump, almost skidding off the road. The driver suddenly heaves a sigh of relief. “This road has been patched over and over, I wonder what would happen when Jonathan leaves office.”
As if conspiratorial, another avers, knowing that the passenger from the town has alighted. “I’m afraid too. Our people have disappointed him.”
Another passenger adds, “the president has done his lot by ensuring that money is released for developmental purposes, particularly, in the area of road construction, but the people, who are given the contract keep the money in their pockets and never execute the project. And the president is handicapped because they are his people.”
The driver, who gives his name as Victor from Elebele, says, “let the rains come again, everything would be washed off and there won’t be temporary contracts for the chop-chop politicians in our community.”
After about four minutes, relief comes for the car at Otuoke junction. The road is surprisingly different. It is smooth and free of potholes. The road wears a bitumen smile, winking to you, invitingly, Welcome to Otuoke, home of Goodluck.
The first indication that President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s hometown is not one of thousand others in the region is the number of heavily armed, but well-behaved security personnel in the community.
From the junction, the vehicle moves for about three minutes before it stops at a police checkpoint. As it passes the checkpoint, it approaches the Skill Acquisition Centre, where another checkpoint bids you welcome. Between Otuoke junction and the university, there are five checkpoints.
“Is there war in this town that checkpoints have become a common feature here?” A passenger asks.
One of the security men tells The Guardian, “as the president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, he must provide security for the nation and his people. Don’t forget that he has his family here and people may want to get at them in order to distract him from the job he is doing. So, security operatives are for the safety of the community and not just Mr. President’s relatives. Don’t forget he is our father, son, and big brother. There was a time hoodlums went to burgle and burn down his house. It was as a result of that the presence of security around his house and the town was beefed up. Don’t forget that as number one citizen of the country, he is entitled to security cover both at home and in the office. So, that is the essence of the presence of the security operatives in the community.”
It was gathered that soldiers were formerly in charge of security, but things changed when the president’s brother was kidnapped last year, so, policemen took over.
Samuel from Okporein compound, who has a shop on the stretch of road linking Ebele Street, says, “anybody that knows Otuoke will tell you we are a very hospitable people, even before our son and brother rose to power. People move about at will, and there is no molestation or harassment of our visitors. So long you are not a criminal, you have freedom to move about.”
An Ibo woman, who sells drinks opposite Magel’s Resort Limited, says, “there has been significant change in the town, particularly in terms of road construction and network, especially, with the emergence of an Otuoke’s son as president.”
The lady, who relocated with her husband from Yenagoa in 2012, says, “in the last few years, the story of the town has surprised people and beat every imagination, which the indigenes feel so ‘passionately proprietorial’ about. Much of the credit for this must go to President Jonathan.”
Emeka Okpalla, who is into restaurant business in the town, says, “when I first came to the town, there was no building around this place, where my shop is. The only building here was, Magel. This was in 2011, but today you can see that this place is a complete new layout with life of its own. There is never a dull moment here with students around.”
He adds, “business activities are growing, especially, with the students in session. I know things will be better.”
Godwin Prosper, an indigene of Otuoke, says, “there has been tremendous transformation in the town. When you go round, you will see new projects dotting the town. A lot of people now come to buy land and develop their properties here.”
Godwin, who is a graduate of the University of Port Harcourt, says, “establishment of university in the town has really opened up the community in all aspects —infrastructural developments like road construction, houses and businesses.”
Joy Ilumogu, an Isoko, Delta State-born lady, who is a student of the Federal University, says, “the town is growing, and it is very encouraging.”
According to her, “the government of Jonathan has really done well for his people. Though, I’ve been here for only seven months, what I have noticed is that the roads are tarred, even the smallest of roads. You can’t but commend the efforts of the man.”
Years back, Otuoke was more ‘lifeless’ than most of the other towns in Ogbia Kingdom. A tour of Otuoke then would have meant an adventure into maze of destitution, squalid streets and chronic poverty. It was a town nobody wanted to visit. But today, the town is brimming with new houses; new zincs and streets kept scrupulously clean. At present, there are a lot of businesses springing up, here and there,” reveals Okpalla.
There is Margel Resort, a hotel owned by the wife of the President, Dame Patience, opposite Federal University, Otuoke. Some other land marking features of the town include, the ultra-modern St. Stephen Anglican Church, which was donated to Jonathan by Gitto Construction Ltd, an Italian contractor working for the Federal Government, a Skill Acquisition Centre that has been handed over to the university. In addition, there is a mini ‘Eagle Square’ — The Dame Patience Jonathan Square — built by former Governor Timipre Sylva and named after Mrs. Jonathan.
Before March 28, the community was one massive construction site: from the federal university to the Otuoke Hospital, and road projects and new houses, it was bustling with development activities.
On the streets, the Bayelsa State Government, Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and other Federal Government agencies strove to outdo one another in the race to develop Otuoke.
It was an incessant staccato of buzzling motorsaws and echoing hammers, as scores of workers put finishing touches to building projects being constructed round.
To ensure that members of the National Youth Service Corps serving in Otuoke enjoyed the benefit of serving their country in the president’s community, the state government built a fully-air-conditioned 40-room facility with a kitchen and restroom attached to each room.
The state government, under Dickson, apart from the NYSC Lodge, also completed one of the most modern hospitals in the entire state in the town. Simply named Otuoke Hospital, the N3.5bn facility was conceived as a cottage hospital by then Governor Goodluck Jonathan, shortly after he succeeded his impeached boss, Diepreye Solomon Peter (DSP) Alamieyeseigha. But the project dragged for years before Dickson revived it. The Millennium Development Goal (MDGs) put the finishing touches to the project.
But the main catalyst for the massive development in the hitherto rustic and out of the way community is the university. The establishment of the higher institution unleashed a flurry of economic and social activities. While some are building hostels to accommodate students, others are providing hotels, clubs, shopping malls and shops to key into the increased social and economic activities.
For Otuoke indigenes, God has been so magnanimous to them. In a spate of 16 years, their son, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, has occupied the offices of deputy governor, governor, vice-president and president. “It is a thing of joy for us. Yes, we had so much from him as his people, but it must also be noted that he is not Otuoke president. Mr. President is not a selfish man; he is not self-centered, neither is he somebody who monopolises things or his own people alone,” says Promise Ariwetoni, a motorbike, popularly called okada, rider.
The Guardian gathered that establishing a tertiary institution of that magnitude in his small community was a masterstroke by the president. Also, within months after its establishment, structures sprung up on the large expanse of sandfilled land that is the permanent site of the institution.
With the presence of the university, land speculators and developers stormed the community. Today, land has assumed a different value in Otuoke.
The construction of Jonathan’s house, which is located at the foot of the bridge, is nearing completion. The compound has been redesigned and remodelled on several occasion, perhaps, to befit his new status.
The sprawling estate is adjacent to the creeks of Otuaba, the next village to Otuoke. When you take a bike going to that village, you’re sure to have a proper view of the President’s compound. You are sure to find soldiers and members of other security agencies walking on the long road to the gates. There’s no need to panic, only that you must get close to the building, let alone, take its picture. The place is a restricted zone. In fact, the ‘No Stopping, Keep on Moving’ on the dozen signposts there are enough warning that you have to watch your steps.
BEFORE the March 28 elections, there was constant power supply, but since Jonathan’s defeat, things have changed. This May 3, 2015, evening, there is power outage. The streetlights are not on, and there is darkness everywhere. The only sound that keeps you thinking is the howling noise from generating sets. The mood that pervades is sombre.
Many are still not happy that their son was defeated in the general election. On Ebele Street, you are likely not going to get somebody, who is ready to speak. You think they have been gagged? No way. Everybody is just bitter.
“I’m a builder, and I know what the defeat has caused the owner of this project,” a site engineer says. “Do you know I have been calling the owner to come and see how far we have gone and he has not responded?”
On the main road, you will discover that some shop owners have relocated. Opposite the Magel’s, some shops are vacant and work on the fast food joint has been suspended. Even bike riders are complaining that they no longer have much patronage because people no longer troop in to the town as they used.
According to one of the bike riders, “we have pegged our rate at N50, because people are even ready to trek than pay higher charges.”
Could this be the beginning of Otuoke’s glorious end?
“No,” the President of Otuoke Youths Council, Comrade John Godfrey, aka Gbege 1 of Niger Delta, says. “We will preserve what we have and we are equally expecting President Jonathan to help us with his connections.”
In spite of these noticeable developments, some indigenes are angry that Jonathan didn’t do too much to bring industries to Otuoke. This level of bitterness can be felt like the wall, especially, among the young ones.
The Guardian gathered that young ones in the town are angry that no memorandum of understanding has been signed between the school and the host community.
An executive of the youth council says, “a lot of our land was given out free of charge to the university and we are not getting anything in return. Ordinarily, the school is supposed to reciprocate the gesture, but they have failed to do so. Rather, they are paying the community with peanuts. The community sacrificed land, free of charge, no compensation paid. The community raised funds for the university to build its infrastructure and I’m among those who contributed. Everybody was compelled to contribute as long as you are 17 years old. You are part and parcel of the building process.”
Green Odunsi, Secretary of the Community Development Committee (CDC), Otuoke, however, debunked the impression that President Jonathan did not do much for his people. He says, “well, everybody is entitled to his or her opinion; however, in my personal view, Mr. President is not a selfish or self-centered person that will bring everything to his place. He believes in the principle of equity, fairness and justice. I guess it is based on this premise that they are saying that he did not perform. For instance, if he is bringing one bottle of wine to Otuoke, he will ensure that one each goes to the other places. Yes, as a people, we wanted more, but there is little he can do as person and that he did with the establishment of the Federal University, Otuoke and the Specialist hospital. It is not like the military regime, where the principle of autocracy is the order of the day. He was voted by other people just like we did; so, he is responsible to them also.”
Green adds, “I’m proud to say that I’m from Otuoke because we have enjoyed and benefited from his presidency, especially, with the location of the university in the community. The presence of the university has helped boost the economy of the town. Now, people are coming to set up business and there is high demand for accommodation in the community.” And if he were to grade the performance of Jonathan, he would award him “90 per cent.”
Elijah Ateki, chairman of the CDC, Otuoke, says, Jonathan did well, but like ‘Oliver Twist, we expected more as his people. Coming from Otuoke is not a springboard for us to get all what we want. It must be understood that he is not Otuoke president or that of Niger Delta.”
On Monday, May 4, a meeting was held to decide what kind of reception that would be given to the president when he comes back home. Another meeting was held yesterday, where a committee was set up to determine the scale and the venue considering that the town has three venues to use — Patience Jonathan Square, Community Hall or Gvernment School. The Bayelsa State government is also planning its own reception, so, the committee will make sure there is no overlap, whatsoever. Ateki reveals, “we are planning a reception for him, but we are yet to conclude on what shape it would take.”
Green adds, “if you have a son, who had gone out to serve the nation, and did that painstakingly and successful, and he returns home, it is necessary to welcome him back. The office of the president is a delicate one. It is not everyone that goes in there that comes out with his or her life. For instance, Major-General Johnson Amunakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi was there, but he didn’t go back home alive. There was General Murtala Mohammed too, General Sani Abacha, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who was our son’s boss. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo went in with his wife, Stella, but he came back alone. We are confident in God that our brother and son will come back with his family safe and sound. It is, therefore, very necessary to do a reception for him. Though, the plans are sketchy, I’m confident the town will welcome him back home in grand style. Such reception will not be planned without consulting with him to know when will be convenient for him.”
He recalls, “while growing up as child back then, we only see the president on the screen. For instance, in the 80s, when the president, Shehu Shagari, visited Ogbia town, majority of us then, as children, trekked from Otuoke to Ogbia town, the headquarters of Ogbia Local Council, which was about 23 kilometres, just to see the president. Unfortunately for us, getting to the town, we saw his helicopter taking off, and when we asked, they told us that was the president leaving. This is to tell you how much value and respect people have for the office of the president.”
WHAT role is expected of President Jonathan as a community man? The CDC secretary says, “it will be his prerogative to decide. But what I can say is, he will be involved in the development of the community, at all levels. He had participated in whatever we do before he became president and still participates more even while in office. So, his experience and wealth of knowledge will be required in moving the community to the next level. As a person, Mr. President, before his ascendance to power, has always shown concern to the yearning of the community and the people. He often carries the community problem on his head. He is a good man.”
The youth president, Comrade Godfrey, reflects, “Jonathan is somebody I have known for quite a long time. From my little age, I have known him from when he was schooling in Port Harcourt, because he used to come home and accompany his father to the bush to carve canoe as well as go to farm. He is a very hardworking person and humble.”
Still on a community role for the would-be ex-president, Godfrey says, “when he was a governor, we felt the impact, more than when he became president, because then, he was closer to the people. He was closer to the community and to the state. He has met another group of people who are not friendly and have made his job very difficult as compared to when he was governor. There are enemies; people who do not want to believe that he is working, no matter what he does. He was busy pleasing those people and making them know that he has a positive mindset.”
And the thinking of others, not withstanding, Jonathan remains a big son of Otuoke. “He is our son. Have you ever seen a parent throwing the child no matter how bad? We are even happy that he is coming home. He is coming closer to us. I know that with the happiness and joy that we are going to receive him, he will be propelled to do more after his tenure. With utmost joy, we want to welcome our brother, father, uncle and son, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We want to welcome him to our community graduation celebration, we will bring so many dances, and we will give him a warm reception. We have discussed it. The entire community will come out in enmass to celebrate him. The date he will leave Abuja to come,” he says.
The paramount ruler of Otuoke Kingdom, King Lot Ogiasa was said to have travelled abroad, but would be back before the grand ceremony. But what is not sure is the level of commitment of other communities in the Ogbia Kingdom. According to Odunsi, they will be invited and possibly allowed to play the role the kingdom is noted for.