On Sunday, January 12, 2020, I listened to an audio clip of an unreleased song by Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson; the clip came from the ebullient Daag (Dagogo Josiah). Having had the rare privilege of playing on stage with Rex, I could “see” the entire band as every instrumentalist did his thing throughout the song. It was nostalgic. There was the rich effect of two guitars, which was novel for the highlife genre at the time. I could see Chike Charles on drums maintaining the beat and lacing it with rolls, which constitute cues that conduct the performance of the other instrumentalists; in the same department, I could also “see” Tony “Akatakpo” Odili practically caressing his congas as he joins in conducting the band; Franco Oviebo on alto sax and each and every other member of the band consummately delivered their part that culminate in the unmistakable sound of Rex Lawson and the Mayors/Majors Band. At the end of that reminiscence, I sent a text to Daag saying thus: “it is a tragedy of our history that the greatest ambassador of old Rivers State was never caught on video.” This article is inspired by the above twenty-word lamentation.
At about 5pm on Saturday, January 16, 1971, King Sonny Brown and I stood with Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson at the Sokoto Street side of Afro Bamboo, No. 35 Aggrey Road, Port Harcourt and spiritedly endeavoured to talk Rex out of travelling to Warri that day. Our reasons were very cogent and simple: (1) given the time, it was going to be a night journey, which is usually dangerous in this part of the world, (2) General Yakubu Gowon’s post-war Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction (RRR) policy had not materialised in good roads at the time, especially in the areas affected by the civil war, and (3) the road from Port Harcourt to Warri via Onitsha (East-West Road and Kaiama Bridge had not been conceptualised) was highly treacherous. Rather unfortunately, Rex was in very high spirit such that our admonitions did not hit the target. He had taken delivery of a brand new Ford Transit Taunus Bus from J.O. Allen Motors on Aba Road late that afternoon and that was the kickoff night for his new contract in Warri, a city he loved so much having played there during the formative years of his career. He was worried that the fans will be disappointed and the hotel proprietor will be angered by his absence. Inevitably, the “Pinaoyibo” King and I waved Rex goodbye as they set off.
Rex and I were not great friends; if anything, we were adversaries of sorts: he was the undisputed Global King of Highlife and I was just a provincial personification of Pop and Soul, which were morphing into the Rock genre at the time; Rex believed that my type of music was “transient” while I insisted that Highlife was destined for the dustbin of music history. He drank gin like water and had the biggest wrap of herbs I ever saw while I was a teetotaller. As if taking side in the matter, publisher Berepele Davies gave me a highly effectual shot in the arm by placing my photograph on the cover of Flash Magazine, which was one of the only two magazines in Nigeria at the time; the other one was Newbreed. Rex and I were worlds apart. The previous year, Franco Oviebo (Rex’s alto saxophonist) had offered me to join them on the British tour but I turned it down. Rex’s first public performance on his return from Britain was with my band, The Blackstones; it took place at Romeo Star Hotel, Victoria Street, Port Harcourt. Rex came in the middle of the show and requested to sing; I was outvoted in my objection and when Amakiri Photos came to take a shot of the performance, I moved from camera-way but the head of my Egmond Bass Guitar was captured in the photograph. Again, at the end of the show, Rex requested for a group photograph with the band, I walked away from it and he took the shot with the other members. Interestingly, these two photographs are in a book on Rex written by Sopriala Hutchinson Bob-Manuel. Irrespective of the seeming conflict, Rex and I related with utmost cordiality and that was the general mood amongst us all. It is a reflection of the easy-going attitude of musicians. Virtually all of us lived and performed in the same vicinity: Afro Bamboo, Rex’s residence, was No. 35 Aggrey Road by Sokoto Street; No. 31 Freetown Street, the residence of The Blackstones, was on Freetown Street by Sokoto, LudoNite Club was on Hospital Road by Sokoto and Hilsom Inn was on Bernard Carr Street by Sokoto; so, our world revolved around the same vicinity with Sokoto Street as the common denominator. By the way, LudoNite Club and Hilsom Inn were the happening places at the time. Cedar Palace Hotel on Harbor Road was elitist, Romeo Star Hotel and Land of Canaan Hotel were in the fringes while Copa Cabana and Executive Club 67 were on the drawing board.
Sunday, January 17, 1971, The Blackstones were performing at LudoNite Club; at about 11pm, a crowd of young men and women came to the gate and announced that Rex was dead. We froze on stage, Mr. John Oki, the proprietor, was in shock; however, shortly thereafter, the music went on; we could not stop the show because that required refunding the patrons, which was not an option at all. At about 1am Monday, January 18, 1971, an enlarged crowd returned with rage and patrons, band and staff of the club scampered to safety and the show was over.
Rivers State (present Rivers and Bayelsa States) went into mourning. Governor Alfred Diete-Spiff announced that the State Government will underwrite the burial. On D-Day, we gathered at Port Harcourt City Council Hall where Rex lay in state with his trumpet and its mute lying still beside him. Every one of note in the State was there; people from far and near were also there; so also were all the musicians in town. For The Blackstones, we wore black on black. King Sony Brown did not look kingly at all; he was obviously devastated. Rex had sheltered all of the Rivers musicians during the war and they lived like brothers at Afro Bamboo; with Rex gone, Brown had an oversize shoe to wear. And Rex was interred with great fanfare.
Fast forward to 1975, Emmanuel Dokubo had joined me at Murray State University, Murray, Kentucky, USA to study Radio/TV-Broadcasting and he came along with a music album by Rex. For a course in Directed Public Performance, I was assigned to manage WKMS, the university radio and television station, during mid-semester break. At about 6.15 one morning, I played Rex Lawson’s So AlaTemem and other songs from the album and was savoring the sonorous voice and tight instrumentation in the songs on the seventh floor of Nathan Stubblefield Building when my Head of Department, Professor Robert Howard, stormed into the studio and ordered me to stop the record; I did and he gave me a brief lecture on Federal Communication Commission (FCC) laws that forbid playing songs delivered in foreign language. He was more worried than irate not knowing if the monitors at FCC would pick up the slip-up. When classes resumed at the end of the break, Professor Howard, addressed the issue during our first meeting. He dwelt more on FCC laws and eventually zeroed in on Rex. He subjected So AlaTemem to critical analysis and surmised that it must be a love song; when he turned to me for a verdict on his adventure in music appreciation, I was lost. The class was rather surprised that I did not know the words of the song meanwhile I had told them that Rex and I are from the same State; I had to deliver a brief lecture on Nigeria’s multiculturalism and multilingualism. In the end, Professor Howard’s analysis of So AlaTemem and the enthusiastic responses from my Caucasian fellow students opened my ears to the beauty of Rex Lawson’s music and, of course, my eyes to the genius that he was. While Ibo language was virtually the lingua franca on the streets of pre-civil war Port Harcourt, Rex had crowds in Onitsha, Enugu, Warri, Lagos, Calabar and other cities in Nigeria joyfully singing in Kalabari language and energetically dancing to the rhythms of Sea Water percussions.
As we remember Rex on this forty-ninth anniversary of his demise, I appeal that efforts should be commenced to produce a film on him. Granted that some structures have been named after Rex and one or two books, and a few articles written on him, the visuals and dialogues of film give details of the story and, therefore, leave an indelible imprint in the minds of the public. Within the timeframe of one year, this objective can be achieved and presented to the public on the fiftieth anniversary. Tony Odili is still strong and kicking, Dumo Oruobu who, I hear, wrote his project on Rex, yours truly and a few others who knew Rex can help in the narrative. Department of Mass Communication in Rivers State University and Department of Theater Arts in University of Port Harcourt should be able to help in the production. Thank God for technology, Jamie Fox played Ray Charles and “sang” his songs effectively through the technology of lip-synching; this technology is available here today.
Towards the above project, I hereby appeal to Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, the Governor of Rivers State, to shoot the first salvo by directing the Ministries of Culture and Information to constitute a team to drive this objective. Also, the Chairmen of Asari-Toru, Akuku-Toru and Degema Local Governments should be able to support the State Government in underwriting the cost of production and presentation.
Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson earned this; he deserves it. Let us oblige him.
*Dr Osai is a lecturer at the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.
The Wike That I Know
Several comments, interpretations, narratives and theories have greeted the recent letter written by Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike of Rivers State to President Muhammadu Buhari, expressing the sincere appreciation of the Rivers State Government and people to Mr. President, for approving the sum of N78.9 billion to the state, as refund of monies expended by the State on federal projects in the state.
Most of these responses have either been mischievous, absurd, totally misleading and some even trying to conjure and configure fabulist narratives, celebrating the mystique and magical influence of the power of money on the human psyche.
But the most remarkable of these is the one written by Femi Adesina, the Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity, titled: WIKE VINDICATES BUHARISTS.
To be sure, Femi Adesina’s opinion on any topic immediately attracts considerable attention and commands tremendous weight, not just for the fact that he has been a seasoned journalist over the years, but indeed in recognition of his status as the Special Adviser to Mr. President Buhari on Media and Publicity; which makes him one of the recognized spokespersons of our President, whose views unequivocally represents the opinion of the Presidency in all matters.
It is therefore, in due cognizance of this latter responsibility and authority of his portfolio, that one must appreciate and commend Femi Adesina for his endorsement of Governor Nyesom Wike’s decision to thank President Buhari for approving the refund of N78.9 billion to Rivers State, and also the quite remarkable request for the President to oblige Rivers State with a State visit.
Of course, Femi Adesina’s admiration of Governor Nyesom Wike and his bold Thank You letter are embedded copiously in his article, though couched in the unerring profiling of the Rivers Governor in some lyrical passages and in some truculent, pro-Buhari obsessiveness in others.
The point needs to be made unambiguously, that the Rivers State Government, by way of emphasizing what Governor Wike rightly stated in the letter, appreciates the magnanimity of President Buhari,with profound gratitude and deep sincerity.
It was Aesop, the legendary Greek fabulist and writer of fables, who said that “Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.” There is certainly no doubt that one man who stands tall and proud, courageous and fearless with great nobility in today’s political space, is definitely Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike.
For instance, what Femi Adesina describes as “crying wolf” and “pontificating” is nothing more than the ability to say and do things which other people are too frightened or lily livered to say or do; what we refer to in Nigeria as “dying in silence. ”
What Mr. Adesina surely knows is that one virtue that Governor Wike possesses is courage. He has never hesitated to call anybody out including the President, his own party members and even multi-nationals operating in Rivers State, whenever the need arises and Adesina himself, has already agreed, by confessing to responding to some of these wolf cries in his write up, that these calls were necessary at the time they were made.
If Governor Wike’s courage to speak up when others are silent and cowering in fear, leads to the approval of the refund of the N78.9 billion which the Federal Government owes Rivers State, then the expression of gratitude that recognizes and appreciates such appropriate magnanimity is the highest form of nobility.
Like Mr. Femi Adesina rightly pointed out in his essay, the Federal Executive Council (FEC), chaired by President Buhari, approved the REFUND of N148 billion to five states in the country for repair of Federal roads, for which Rivers State got N78.9 billion. But that is not even half the story.
For the avoidance of doubt and to set the records straight, it will be germane at this juncture to tell the true story of the refund and set the records straight, as presented by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, once and for all.
Giving a background to the reimbursement, Lai Mohammed had explained that the decision was sequel to a huge bill sent to the federal government by the entire 36 states of the federation in 2016, seeking a refund of funds they expended on the repair of some federal roads in their respective states.
He said: “You will recall that in 2016, 36 states of the federation sent a very huge bill to the federal government, asking for compensation for money that they have expended on federal roads. This prompted Mr. President to set up a committee to go and verify the claims of these 36 states, whether indeed, these projects were actually constructed. Were they completed in line with the federal government standards?
“At the end of that exercise by an inter-ministerial committee, chaired by the Minister of Works and Housing which also had ministers of education, transportation (and immediate past Governor of Rivers State, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi), minister of finance, minister of state for works, Director-General of the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) and permanent secretary, cabinet office as members, the committee recommended that the federal government should refund N550,364,297.31 billion to 31 of the 36 states, after they were convinced that, yes, indeed, the projects were completed and they were federal government roads.
“But the claims of five other states – Cross River, Rivers, Ondo, Bayelsa and Osun – failed on the grounds that they did not do proper documentation and the committee felt they needed proper documentation. So, the committee went back with new terms of reference to ensure that the claims of the five states were in order. That is why the BPP is on the committee.
“So, at the end of the exercise, the committee now reported that the five states – Cross River with 20 roads and one bridge will get a refund of N18,394,737,608.85; Ondo with six roads to get a refund of N7,822,147,577.08, and Osun with two roads and one bridge to get a refund of N2,468,938,876.78.
“Others are Bayelsa with five roads and one bridge to get a refund of N38,040,564,783.40 and Rivers with three roads and three flyover bridges is to get a refund of N78,953,067,518.29.”
From the above therefore, three important points stand out for particular interest and reference, viz:
1. The money is neither a generous loan gift or a desperate bailout package as people like Femi Adesina are shaping the narrative to sound, but a REFUND of monies already spent by Rivers State on Federal projects.
2. Rivers State was initially denied the refund until proper documentation was provided; a situation which many Rivers watchers will recall, prompted the Minister of Works, Babatunde Raji Fashola, to visit Rivers State in March this year.
3. Rivers State got the approval for the amount of refund simply because Rivers State did the most comprehensive, qualitative and enduring projects.
For record purposes, let us state clearly that President Buhari has the authority to visit any state he wants to in Nigeria, whether he is Invited or not. He is the father of the nation and Rivers State enjoys a candid, honest and robust relationship with the present Federal Government, especially the presidency.
On August 19, 2017, Governor Wike was among the dignitaries that welcomed President Buhari after 103 days in London where he received medical treatment for an undisclosed illness.
While naysayers were busy misinterpreting the gesture, Governor Wike explained that no sane person would not be happy that his sick President was back home.
Recall alsonthat Governor Wike was the first PDP Governor to congratulate President Buhari after his second term election victory was upheld by the Supreme Court in September last year. Indeed, the warm, cordial, respectful relationship between President Buhari and Governor Wike, captured in several widely circulated photographs, of the President’s visit to Rivers State to commission the international wing of the Port Harcourt international airport speaks volumes.
We need not also remind Mr. Adesina that as far back as February 2017, when Governor Wike was not even up to two years in Office, he had already been christened “Mr. Projects” by none other than the Vice President himself, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, who not only affirmed that Rivers State was an important state to Nigeria and the Federal Government, but has since endeared himself to Rivers State and Governor Wike.
This brings us nicely to the part of the letter where Governor Wike unequivocally appeals to President Buhari to honour Rivers State with a Presidential state visit and we ask Mr. Femi Adesina: ‘what is wrong with the Rivers State Governor inviting the President for a state visit. Is he not the Father of the nation again. Is Governor Wike not one of his children?
Considering the fact that the approval for the refund was also made for monies expended by Rivers State for Federal Projects, isn’t it equally apt that Governor Nyesom Wike should invite Mr. President to come and at least see the work for which the refund was made? Indeed, it will also provide Mr. President the grand opportunity to see first hand, the amazing and fantastic infrastructural wonders which Governor Wike is delivering in Rivers State. This is absolutely the right thing to do by a grateful recepient.
Governor Wike has aptly pointed out that the decision to thank Mr. President and the appeal to invite him for a state visit was not a personal one, but a collective decision taken by the State Executive Council, to assure Mr. President that all is well with Rivers State and Rivers people are quite happy with him for approving the refund.
Like Femi Adesina correctly noted in his article, the N78.9 billion cannot be the reason for Governor Wike’s thank you letter and invitation to Mr. President. According to him: “I don’t think so. Rivers is by no means a poor state. The amount is handsome, no doubt, but the state is oil rich, and can hold her own when it comes to finances. I don’t agree less with Adesina because Governor Wike does not speak from both sides of his mouth and does not play to the gallery. His moral upbringing makes him to speak the truth at all times not minding whose ox is gored.
Finally, it is important to commend Mr. Adesina for articulating and justifying the decision of Governor
Wike to thank Mr. President and invite him to Rivers State. There is absolutely no doubt, as he so succinctly pointed out, that millions of Buharists would have actually advised the President not to approve the refund to Rivers State, and while many of them are still wailing and bellyaching at the President’s magnanimity, the icing on the refund cake is the chagrin and consternation, which even Adesina admits, has greeted Governor Nyesom Wike’s letter in their camp.
While Rivers people will not complain that the money was actually reduced from the original amount and that it even took so long for President Buhari’s fairness and justice to touch Rivers State, while he has been fair and just to other states, we are all still very happy and grateful that this approval for refund has been made, finally.
Attempts by people like Adesina to make political capital out of the genuine stance of a statesman will not be bought by well-meaning Nigerians.
What makes Adesina’s grandstanding more worrisome is that he will never comment or let the world know how much the South-West States received as refund for federal projects executed in that part of the country.
Governor Wike’s letter of appreciation and appeal for a presidential state visit is thus a clear indication that what the people thought was lost has now been recovered. All is well that ends well and Rivers people are happy.
For the avoidance of doubt, the letter to Mr. President was delivered to Aso Rock, three weeks before it was published.
Governor Wike is not like Adesina who knows how to speak from both sides of his mouth. In 2008, he said this about the Chief of Staff to the President: “Gambari enslaved himself to please his paymasters. Now 13 years after, the shackles are still tied around his neck, threatening to asphyxiate him. What an eternal lesson for fawning bootlicking grovellers to learn. Old sins indeed have long shadows.”
Now that Gambari is Chief of Staff to the President, people have been asking if Adesina still sees Gambari’s sins’ shadows or he(Adesina) has turned to a bootlicking groveller?
There is no doubt that he is currently savouring the office of Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity as a compensation, having used his positions as former Editor-In-Chief of The Sun Newspapers and President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors to feather his own nest.
Adesina should be told that no amount of political mischief will turn Governor Wike from a hero to a villain in this matter.
The Wike that I know cannot be swayed by pecuniary interests. He will always stand for the truth and defend the interests of Rivers people.
Nsirim is the Commissioner for Information and Communications, Rivers State.
By Paulinus Nsirim
WIKE: Striving To Make Rivers State Safe
“Fundamentally, during the campaigns, we also promised to secure our State. No government is worth any value if it cannot guarantee the security of lives and property. I assure you that never for a moment will our administration be a captive of politics, when it comes to public security. We have the political will to fight, defeat crimes and criminality in Rivers State. There will be effective coordination, collaboration and synergy with the Federal Government, the law enforcement agencies and our community leaders in the prosecution of the war against cultism, kidnapping and armed robbery. We urge our people to fully co-operate with us in this direction.” – Nyesom Ezenwo Wike These were the words of Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike in his inaugural address to Rivers people on Friday, May 29, 2015, at the Yakubu Gowon Stadium ,Port Harcourt. Dispassionate analysts and Rivers watchers will agree that the Governor.
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