On Wednesday, May
22, 2013, I checked in for a Port Harcourt-Abuja flight and waited for four grueling hours before boarding was announced. As I was about to step on the staircase of the aircraft, my peripheral vision caught the unmistakable, towering frame of a man my generation of old Rivers State (Rivers and Bayelsa) owe so much for whatever we have today; a man whose record as governor of Rivers State in terms of infrastructural development, detribalized governance, human capacity building, with special reference to education etc, is yet to be threatened after almost four decades of leaving office. With my forehead almost abrading the tarmac, I said, “Your Eminence” and the distinctive baritone voice of His Eminence, King Alfred Papapriye Diete-Spiff, Amanyanabo of Twon Brass, boomed “Jason, how are you?” I felt exceedingly proud that he knows me personally as I stepped aside immediately; he stepped on the first rung of the staircase of the aircraft and I followed.
Ascending the staircase, I maintained the close distance of a step behind His Eminence and, in the bowel of the metal bird, what I saw humbled but did not surprise me. I saw a stenciled and glowing ear-to-ear smile on the faces of many of the passengers and a glimmering sparkle in their eyes. I knew that those passengers recognized Diete-Spiff and remembered his works as Governor of Rivers State. It is not unlikely that they were beneficiaries of his good governance. I surmised this from the specks and patches of grey hair on their heads and the faint lines on their faces, which are tell-tails of years on earth; tell-tails that placed them within the brackets of my generation. Spiff took his seat in the business class and, naturally, I proceeded to where I belong as a classroom teacher.
Seatbelt fastened and in a soliloquy, I asked: what value or price can be placed on those smiles and twinkles of the passengers? Venturing an answer, I said in silence that they were unquantifiable in monetary terms; in other words, no amount of money can purchase those kinetic expressions that welled from the bottom of the hearts of those people in the airplane. Spiritually speaking, those smiles and twinkles generate positive vibrations that reverberate beyond the energy fields of planet earth, across the universe and blend into the peculiar environment of the abode of the Divine part of which the earth is only an infinitesimal component; they are vibrations that are spiritually more efficacious than the boisterous prayers in modern day Christian worship. In my opinion, being responsible for generating such positive vibrations in individuals is what seeking and finding the face of the Divine is all about. It is not found in the temple, synagogue, church, mosque or “chursque” if you care; rather, it dwells in the temple of God, which is the hearts of every individual in creation irrespective of color, creed, location and station; Christ told us so. It is found in our thoughts, utterances, actions and inactions with special reference to our attitudinal disposition in our relationship with our fellow human beings, including our performance in positions of trust.
In the immediate post civil war years, hundreds of Rivers people of my generation and more had access to university education across the world, based on the liberal educational policy of Governor Diete-Spiff, who was, incredibly, in his twenties. At the time, there were only five universities in Nigeria with one in the totality of what we now know as southeast and south-south zones, which means none was in old Rivers State, so admission for those of us from the minorities was Herculean. Based on Diete-Spiff’s education policy, all you required as an indigene of the State, were the basic qualification and admission into a university anywhere on earth and “wham” you were on your way there. Personally, I had the good fortune of making the transition from rock’n’roll musicianship to broadcasting and disc jockeying in Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), Port Harcourt. One day in between 1972 and 1973, a colleague, Stella Amachree, and I left the NBC studios on William Jumbo Street in the hands of a rookie called Chima Okor and headed for the Catering Rest House on Harley Street. On our way back through what is now known as Cookey-Gam Drive, we caught sight of the unmistakable and imposing frame of Governor Diete-Spiff, strolling towards us with some Naval personnel following at a close distance. No one else, but Stella and I were on the street; so, we stood still as a mark of respect.
With his superior height and ramrod frame, the governor seemed oblivious of our presence as he continued in our direction. Stella led in the greeting and Diete-Spiff responded with that peculiar jazzy voice, stopped and asked for our names. (I learned quite early in life that when you are with a ravishing beauty in the presence of a “big man,” you watch your tongue) so again, Stella led the way in giving out our names. With a poker smile, the governor commended Ship Ahoy and Shaft Corner, which were two of our radio shows; then he said, “We should build a Rivers State Radio” and walked on. Wow! Good God!! Goodness gracious!!! Stella and I were in total shock at the fact that not only was he familiar with our names, but he also appreciated our programs.
At the radio station, it sounded like a fairytale when we narrated the experience to our colleagues. The prospect of a Rivers State radio? Wow!!! From Cornelia Omoniabipi and Peter Brown, who, along with Stella and I, were the microphone crew of Shaft Corner, through Bob Bikefe, Mike Oku, Bernard Graham-Douglas, Ifiemi Ombu, Pat Ketebu, Lolo Berepiki, Emmanuel Dokubo, Sunny Meshach-Hart, Steve Bubagha, Monima Briggs, Matthew Mieyeseigha, Boma Erekosima, Tony Alabraba, Chima Okor to Seniboye Itiye, our very affable producer and boss, everyone was elated-we were practically walking on cloud nine.
Behold, that casual statement by Governor Diete-Spiff turned into a public policy; so, it came to pass that I traveled to the United States where Bernard, Ifiemi, Emmanuel and Tony joined me in studying Broadcasting; Stella studied law at Oxford University, Peter went for metallurgy at University of Manchester, Mike and Pat went to Scotland and studied Broadcasting and Accountancy, respectively. In other words, most of us flew overseas on the wings of the dreams and developmental drive of Diete-Spiff; that exodus created entry space for Siene Allwell-Brown, Maudlin Park and other Rivers people in the “talk industry.” Today, I have the special privilege of holding the oldest BSc (Broadcasting) in old Rivers State-a tiny little place in history. That scenario at NBC was replicated at various subsections of the Rivers State community during that epoch-one man’s selfless dream lifted a generation of his people; the developmental multiplier effect of that achievement is a topic for another day.
My take on the essence of man’s quest for the face of the Divine is that, in our sojourn in this corporeality within the context of the eternal pursuit, what we keep is what we give, not what we take. The Time Traveler of Ecclesiastes sums it up in his extensive but concise treatise on materialism and vanity. Diete-Spiff gave his heart to the Rivers community; and today, Rivers people, especially my generation, hold him at the highest esteem and virtually worship him. No one can take that from him-not natural disaster, ill health or even the grave can take that from him. Even if he has never seen the inner walls of any house of God, he will eternally keep the essence of that which he gave.
The spiritual nucleus of those positive vibrations generated by those smiles and twinkles aboard that flight in 2013 sang and still sing Diete-Spiff’s song and dutifully delivers the quintessence of the his being to the Divine as part of the testimony of his life here on earth-a veritable testimony of service to humanity. According to Jane Fraser, a globally acclaimed female banker, “if you don’t have humanity, you have nothing.” Financially speaking, Diete-Spiff may not be classified as one of the rich people in old Rivers State but he is certainly exceedingly wealthy, spiritually. Because he did not want, the Lord became his shepherd; so, he shall never lack; and this is the difference between those who seek office to serve humanity and those who starve humanity by selfishly feathering their nest. This is an eternal lesson our leaders of today should learn; lessons, which, if learned and the essence of Psalm 23 embraced by all, the ever-expanding frontiers of corruption will be reined in and human society will achieve the intendment of God-“[His] kingdom come on earth.” Unfortunately, with the preposterous permissive philosophy of vicarious remission of sins, Christendom has lost sight of the essence of the admonition of the Man from Galilee thus: “do not be deceived; God is not mocked; what a man soweth so shall he reap.”
Today, Diete-Spiff lives in blissful serenity with his social environment and will live positively forever in the everlasting memories of my generation and our posterity. And I ask: How many of our past leaders live in the tranquility Diete-Spiff enjoys? And how many of the present leaders covet it? Keep your answer close to your heart. “He that has ears let him hear.”
Osai is of the Institute of Foundation Studies (IFS), Rivers State University of Science & Technology.
O. Jason Osai