Unless something is done fast, the structure will continue to send wrong signals about the attitude to the press in Port Harcourt and remain a drawback on general efforts to restore the garden city.
It is a sight that would have filled the late journalist and lawmaker, Ernest Ikoli with revulsion and perhaps drawn base reactions from him. And to think that the dilapidated centre was actually named to immortalise him.It is hard to imagine if his weather beaten statue that reinforces the claim that the centre is named after him would not have walked away in disgust and leave curses in its trail, if it could just look back at the neglect accentuated after the rainstorm of April 6, 2010.
But alas, only visitors to this centre of Port Harcourt, where all the arms of government are in touching distance, look in shock and disbelief and sometimes voice out their consternation at the desolate state of the NUJ Secretariat/Press Centre. One visitor was overheard wondering how the skyline could be allowed to be so defaced by such a structure that should otherwise have been prided as a bastion of democracy rightly positioned adjacent to the magistral Rivers State House of Assembly complex and by the imposing Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation NNPC zonal secretariat. Or indeed, some metres away from the judiciary complex where magnificent structures seem to sprout. There is no gainsaying the grandeur of the Rivers State Government House. The axis boasts a skyline that only reminds or alarms any perfunctory observer about the neglect of the fourth Estate of the Realm, the torch bearer of democracy that we all benefit from. It would be seen that the government even with members that use to work in that secretariat and the elite of the state, especially the loud public analysts on radio have not only turned a blind eye to the centre that now looks like an old war relic.
Perhaps, it was what pushed the state chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Mr. Opaka Dokubo, to take his case to the popular “Nigerian pidgin language radio station Wazobia FM, to further drive his appeal for assistance.
However, Mr. Dokubo averred that the union had actually made a request to the governor, through the Commissioner for Information, Mrs. Ibim Seminatari, a journalist and was still in the process of securing the desired assistance. The state secretary of the union, Mr. Stanley Job told The Tide On Sunday that it was the wish of the body to have completely new structure that would complement the architectural pieces in that axis, match the expectations of people on what a state press centre should look like and add glory to Rivers State, but for now it has decided to scale down its ambition. The long and short of the representation to the government is that there has been no word other than a non-definitive date in July to discuss the issue. It is short of expectations of a union with a sizeable number of their members in government.
Though Mr. Dokubo admitted that there were professional colleagues in government, he said, members of the union in the state were aware and all had a responsibility to the development of the union and its infrastructure whether they have been formally solicited or not. The fact is that the union has since held meetings on the issue and only the Commissioner for Commerce and Industry and former Commissioner for Information, Mr. Ogbonna Nwuke had attended the meetings and made useful contributions. Mr. Dokubo disclosed that the only other entity that it visited so far, the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA) had responded with reasonable donation that was still not enough. He explained that the body had decided to do a simple renovation but the estimates were beyond what the union, even with the RSSDA support, could deploy to meet the cost for now.
The thinking of some members has been that, though there may be no formal budgetary ties, as the Fourth Estate of the Realm, the government could help. “We have travelled round the country and there is nowhere you can see this kind of thing as press centre”, said one journalist. And that was even before the constant seeping of water from the de-roofed floor started leaving watermarks in the offices below and causing other damages.
In the views of the state council chairman, any government or entity that treasures democracy, good governance and the relevance of the fourth estate to its success had a responsibility to contribute to its growth. “Anywhere in the world, government should have a hand in building a vibrant press,” the chairman said.
He explained that what the state council needs to fix the roof is N3.2 million, even if their ambition is a structure that will help raise funds and assist the union fulfill other obligations.
What the executive of the union seems to have is a healthy dose of optimism. However, unless, something is done fast, the structure will continue to send wrong signals about the attitude to the press in Port Harcourt and remain a drawback on general efforts to restore the garden city.