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Need To Immortalise Rex Lawson

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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.

 

Jason Osai

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Features

Using Weather Forecast To Boost Agric

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The Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet) predicts a below-normal rainfall, dwindling amount and duration in many parts of the country.
Observers, therefore, posit that the pattern of rainfall can affect food production except there is sensitisation to climate-smart agricultural practices and proper weather information dissemination to the farmers.
Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) is an approach for transforming and reorienting agricultural systems to support food security under the new realities of climate change.
Researchers believe that widespread changes in rainfall and temperature patterns threaten agricultural production and increase the vulnerability of people who are dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods.
According to them, the threats can be reduced by increasing the adaptive capacity of farmers as well as increasing resilience and resource use efficiency in agricultural production systems.
They note that CSA promotes coordinated actions by farmers, researchers, private sector, civil society and policymakers towards climate-resilient pathways.
Minister of State for Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika, while reviewing NiMet’s report admits that the country is expected to experience a below-normal rainfall season.
He observes that rains are expected to start late, especially in the northern part of the country while the south eastern zone as well as the coastal areas will experience a normal onset of the rains.
He notes that most of the northern states will experience earlier-than-normal end growing season while shorter length of the growing season is predicted for most parts of the country.
He also says that there will be frequent and severe dry spell over the northern region during the rainy season.
“Dry spell will be more frequent and severe, ranging from 10 to 18 days in some parts of the extreme north around June and July, while the little dry season or (August break) in parts of the south is expected to be pronounced.
“The expected below normal rainfall in parts of the country does not rule out the possibility of isolated flash floods due to high intensity rainfall at the peak of the season, especially in places that are naturally prone to flooding.
“In every season, dry spells occur and in certain cases, lead to crop losses; farmers and other stakeholders are advised to get in touch with NiMet to access meteorological updates within the growing season.
“This is because these are risk factors for farmers in the affected areas and have to be carefully and scientifically managed.
According to Sirika, early release of the SRP before the beginning of the rainy season is to ensure effective harnessing of the climate resource.
He agrees that such information will further guarantee minimal losses from associated hazards, which are becoming quite devastating in this era of climate change.
He says that an increase of at least 30 per cent agricultural yields can be achieved if relevant meteorological information is utilised.
Similarly, Prof. Sani Mashi, the director-general of NiMet, says that farmers in the northern part of the country, mostly the Sahel zones are advised not to plant early as the country is likely to experience late onset of rains.
Mashi explains that early cessation of rains in the northern part will lead to shorter length of growing season and recommends  early provision and access to improved and drought resistant variety seeds.
“Normal onset is expected over coastal and some south-east states while the earliest onset date is predicted to be from March 7 around the coastal region of the south-south region.
“The onset dates are expected to change northwards with areas around Maiduguri, Sokoto, Katsina, Dutse, Potiskum, Kano and Nguru having onset of rains from June 16.
“The earliest cessation dates are expected to be from September 29 around the north-western parts of the country while most of the north is expected to witness cessation dates within October,’’ he explains.
He explains further that while the growing season is expected to end between late October and mid-November, parts of the central and southern states are expected to experience end of the season by mid-November to early December while the season is expected to end by late December along the coast.
According to him, governments at all levels are advised to embark on awareness and sensitisation of farmers and other stakeholders on CSA practices such as on-farm water harvesting structures, soil and water conservation practices and land preservation.
“Farmers are also encouraged to make provision for irrigation water during the predicted periods of dry spell.
“The warmer-than-normal temperatures predicted in February and April are expected to affect livestock in some parts of the country, particularly the northern states where rainfall has not yet established.
“Decrease in fodder production from dry land, increase in vector-borne diseases, internal parasite infestation and mortality rate is likely to increase during these months due to temperature fluctuations, shell quality and egg weight in layers may also be affected.
“The colder-than-normal daytime temperatures in March may affect day old chicks and increase feed conversion ratio in layers and broilers while the spread of heat-related diseases is likely to increase as a result of the predicted warmer conditions in most parts of the country.
“Good veterinary practices for livestock vaccination, fisheries and aquaculture management should be adhered to because fish production is likely to be adversely affected as a result of warmer-than- normal conditions especially in the northern part of the country,’’ he warns.
Ogbaje writes for the News Agency of Nigeria.

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On Housing For Rivers Public Servants

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The significance of providing accommodation for public servants in government establishments in this part of the world has been neglected over the years and regressively underestimated. It is a typical fact that a well relaxed mind is the head that wears the thinking cap. A mind can be relaxed only if it is less burdened with the responsibility of providing basic physiological needs; for instance, decent and affordable accommodation which, in turn, bolsters effective comprehension, enhances productivity, profitability and professionalism at the work place.
Over the years, successive government administrations in Nigeria had, at one time or another, adopted one housing policy or the other. The first known housing policy in the country can be traced to the days of colonial administration in 1928 when the outbreak of an ill-fated bubonic plague prompted the establishment of the Lagos Executive Development Board (LEDB), which was saddled with the responsibility of managing public housing schemes and interventions. This, of course, was the experimental version at the time. This pilot scheme was aimed at addressing problems of housing at the national level. The center of attention then was predicated on the need to provide accommodation for expatriate workers and selected Nigerian staff in establishments such as Armed Forces, Police, Marine and the Railways. This included the construction of senior civil servants quarters in Lagos and regional headquarters like Enugu, Kaduna and Ibadan. The scheme also made provision for rent subsidies and housing loans to deserving public servants.
Over the years, the national housing policy has been severally overhauled to perform better compared to the era of its inception. The modern era began with the promulgation of Decree No. 40 of 1973, establishing the Federal Housing Authority but the actual take-off was in the year 1976.
Right from then, the authority had been saddled with the responsibility of providing affordable and livable houses for the masses until 1977 when its functions were complemented with those of the Nigerian Building Society; a brain-child of the colonial administration which later metamorphosed into the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria. This served as the main engine room for public housing delivery with a dual function of primary and secondary mortgage institution in the country.
From 1976 till date, decrees emanating from defunct Supreme Military Councils and laws from the National and State Assemblies have been used in drafting legal frameworks for housing policies for the people at different levels. But the fact remains that decrees and laws on their own cannot provide accommodation for the masses, only the political will of the executive arm of government accounts for the overall success of government programmes.
The United Nations General Assembly in 1948 adopted and proclaimed the Rights to Adequate Housing as enshrined under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Thus, the human right to adequate housing is the right of every individual, male, female, young, old, child, rich or poor. This proclamation has been domesticated by the Federal Government of Nigeria but not much success has been domesticated by the Federal Government of Nigeria but not much success has been recorded.
Here in Rivers State, successive administrations had tried their hands on one housing policy or another to provide livable houses for the citizenry. Today, the present administration led by His Excellency, Chief Nyesom Wike, in 2016 called for collaboration with the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) on the way forward toward providing affordable houses for the people of the state. The Governor made the call during a courtesy visit on him by the Managing Director, Federal Housing Authority, Professor Mohammed Al-Amin, at Government House, Port Harcourt.
Governor Wike then directed the Management of the Greater Port Harcourt City Development Authority (GPHCDA) and the State’s Ministry of Housing to liaise with the FHA to fashion out a development framework for affordable housing for public servants in the state.
Since then, Governor Wike, being a man with the magic wand, in his magnanimity has demonstrated his love for public servants in the state by providing affordable and livable homes for them. So far, the overachieving governor kept his promise by providing 24 units of three-bedroom flats at Lagos Street, in the old Port Harcourt Township.
There are also 14 units of six two-bedroom flats and eight three-bedroom flats all attached with one-room service quarter at Amassoma Street, Amadi Flats, Port Harcourt. The Judiciary in the state is not left out as 20 units of five-bedroom duplex with two-room service quarter have been duly completed at Elelenwo Street in new GRA axis of Port Harcourt for judges in the state. The Governor in his first tenure had provided 50 units of two-bedroom flats at Iriebe in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area.
A vox pop of some public servant who are currently savouring the benefits of living in government quarters accorded the governor accolades for overhauling the sector. Mr. Francis Igwe a beneficiary in one of the estates said: “I am happy with the governor for the work he is doing to provide accommodation for civil servants in the state. He has done well for us and I believe he can do more by building more houses to accommodate more civil servants”. Another beneficiary, Mr Austin Ezekiel-Hart, a management staff in the civil service and an occupant of one of the newly constructed housing units expressed his mixed feelings thus: “The government has done very well in building new housing units and I am a happy and proud occupant. The problem I have is that some occupants of these housing units are very insensitive to maintaining the structures. The government in its wisdom has provided these facilities but some occupants are not just interested in maintaining them. They erroneously believe that government should come and sweep their environment, evacuate their sewage, fix broken windows and even paint their buildings. These are things that the occupants can easily do if they come together. I think it is time the occupants of these facilities complement government’s effort”.
Another proud occupant, Mrs. Akiyata Anyanwu, shared her experience as follows: “I have been enjoying this facility for over five years now and I’ve not had any reason to regret. The environment is calm; neighbours are co-operative and the security of the area has been optimal. In my opinion, the government has done well, but I still think that more housing units should be built to accommodate more civil servants in the scheme.”
A judge in the state judiciary who pleaded anonymity due to the sensitive nature of his job said: “Though I am not currently an occupant of the facility, but I am very happy with what the governor is doing in the housing sector. It is obvious that the gesture will go a long way in improving the psyche of workers, especially the judicial officers”.
In her view, Mrs Ominini Cheetam-West, a beneficiary, applauded the efforts of Governor Wike for fulfilling his promise of providing accommodation for civil servants in the state but pleaded that the government should endeavour to build more housing units in different parts of the state to accommodate more civil servants and added that a well relaxed civil servant will be more productive in the work place.
With these achievements, Governor Wike has truly shamed his critics who go about insinuating that he does not love or consider the plight of workers in the state. Workers are grateful to him for his magnanimity in the housing sector. He has demonstrated that he is a man of his words but there is still room for improvement. Some stakeholders in the housing sector have opined that Governor Wike’s achievement in the sector speaks volumes and is worthy of emulation for other state governors. We, therefore, solicit that more housing units be constructed to accommodate more workers in the state. Frankly speaking, if workers in Rivers State are provided with the right environment to retire to after the day’s work, it is certain that such workers would have enough time and space to rest and prepare for the next day’s challenge with much ease. Once again,it is said that a relaxed mind is the head that wears the thinking cap. Godam is of the Rivers State Ministry of Information and Communications.

 

By: Eric Godam

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On Lagos Okada, Keke Ban

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Recently, Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, outlawed commercial motorcycles (Okada) and tricycles (Keke Marwa) in the state, leading to pandemonium and criticisms from every nook and cranny of the state. From government’s side, the action was targeted at reducing the crime rate in the society.
Admitted, most of the heinous crimes are perpetrated in collusion with Okada operators which clearly manifested recently with the arrest of Okada riders with handguns and other arms concealed inside parts of their motorcycles, which could only be detected with eagle’s eyes. Kudos to the Police Intelligence Response Team (IRT) led by DCP Abba Kyari. The group has continued to show expertise in the career and, therefore, deserve encomiums.
However, as the society is tensed up over the unemployment ratio, it must be noted that tricycle and motorcycle transportation have been bridging the gap in unemployment, and thereby contributing positively in a measure to security of lives and properties. The question is; if with the engagement of such a great population of operators, security challenges are pronounced in the society, what will happen when they do not have means of livelihood. Sensibly, there will be fire on the mountain.
To ban the masses’ major means of livelihood without first providing alternatives is not ideal. Many of the operators opted for the vocation as a last resort after some ugly incidents knocked them out of the ring. Presently, there are no welfare packages for the masses and the microfinance banks that are supposed to support Small and Medium-Scale Enterprises (SMEs) do not help matters. Clearly, there are no sufficient job opportunities even for the employable class as are available in other countries. Many that are willing to work are roaming around.
Suffice it to say that Lagos State Government should responsibly plan it well; instead, it could put stringent measures in place towards organizing and monitoring it adequately for security reasons. Particularly, there should be compulsory registration of the operators and essentially, restricted in some designated routes. For operation in the highway, certainly, that’s a no-go area.
However, what then becomes the fate of residents in the remote area that, due to bad roads, can with less difficulty move around through motorcycles. Suffice it to say that it goes beyond banning but putting necessary infrastructures in place. If there are good roads for vehicles to ply especially mini-buses, certainly, many commuters will not go for motorcycles or tricycles.
The ban similarly occurred in the federal capital territory leaving commuters to suffer in moving around since the long buses in the fleet of Abuja Urban Mass Transit Company are insufficient and, therefore, rarely available at needed times. Commuters are getting excessively stressed up in the Federal Capital Territory unlike before while going to work and other places. So, governments must always ensure that palliative measures are put in place before adopting radical policies so as not to imperil the same lives they intend to protect. Government is essentially about service to the people.
Without doubt, the operators will find themselves in extreme tight corner without any means of survival. If government had designated mini-buses with a hire-purchase scheme as a model, the motorcycle and tricycle operators could key in, and the idea would be unique but to chase out poor masses that are struggling to survive without any provision for them is unconsciously endorsing insecurity.
Absurdly, this is a society where a minister, or lawmaker goes around in official fleets worth over N100 million, yet, ordinary social facilities to the masses are unavailable. The outrageous allowances in the legislative arm is a no-go area. Government must ensure that its policies, no matter how good they may become in the long run, do not first drain the masses.
To expect every business to operate in a modern plaza is a positive plan, however, not realistic vis-à-vis different financial capacities. Rome, they say, was not built in a day. As a coin has two sides, so is any society. Hence, there is need for equilibrium to be able carry both sides along. Otherwise, democracy may shift to become a government of the affluent and for the affluent. So far, the masses are not participants in reality, but reserved valuable assets for campaigns just to get into power. After this phase, everyone is on his own.
Recently, a former ‘distinguished senator’, on Twitter, brashly justified his passion for insatiably acquiring luxury automobiles when the people in his locality are living in abject poverty. Not even a factory or serious business of his anywhere to create jobs for his people, but displaying customized posh cars with special numbers in the garage. Yet, during electioneering campaigns, the masses put their lives into it for little or nothing.
Recently, about 40 stout bank accounts in foreign and local currencies were allegedly traced to former Abia governor and serving senator, Theodore Orji, and his son, Chinedu (Speaker of Abia State House of Assembly) by the anti-graft agency which buttressed the point well. Imagine the ones yet to be traced!
No wonder many unoccupied estates littered in many places particularly in the FCT with no identifiable owners, possibly for fear of investigation. Nigeria’s democracy presently reflects ‘lootocracy’ than democracy. Apparently, the military sold a looting template to the people, and not democracy as practiced around the world.
To sum, a society that neglects the masses in its plan cannot wake up with radical changes overnight, otherwise, the good policy may end up doing more harm than good. There are millions of adults willing to engage in one lawful endeavour or the other, but find themselves handicapped due to unavailability of jobs and capital. Ideally, any responsible and committed government must take cognizance of this, and put them in the blueprints prior to bans.
Umegboro, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Abuja.

 

Carl Umegboro

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