Tuesday, August 16, 1977 was one of those days in the United States of America (USA) that everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when news of Elvis Presley‘s death broke; the bit about his funeral being billed for two days later was part of the norms of American society. Given the superstar social status of Elvis, it was obvious that Memphis, Tennessee will be a circus in the next two days and more.
With pockets full of dollars (God bless Diete-Spiff forever), Emmanuel “Iyo” Dokubo and I took off early the next morning in his aerodynamic Chevrolet Camaro from Murray, Kentucky to Memphis on the eastern banks of the Great Mississippi River; we needed to arrive early in the city of Stax Studios and Isaac Hayes prelude to the funeral procession the next day. Elvis was one of those who influenced us as young lads into venturing into music, albeit briefly. So, in our mind, it would be a great personal tragedy if we did not partake in bidding the King of Pop Bye Bye from this dimension of planet earth.
Expectedly, on August 18, 1977, the funeral was attended by music legends: Chet Atkins; Ann-Margret with her husband, Roger Smith; James Brown; Charlie Hodges; George Hamilton; Ginger Alden; Linda Thompson; and Sammy Davis Jr. Other mourners ranged from pre-teens to middle-aged and older men and women. The crowd outside the Graceland Gates was estimated at one hundred thousand despite the sweltering heat. A virtually endless motorcade of fourteen white Cadillacs along with the hearse bearing the King’s remains lined the streets from Graceland to Forrest Hill Cemetery where he was laid to rest.
The next morning, Iyo and I took the privilege of the outing to have Dream Breakfast at Lorraine Motel and walk past the historic Room 306 on the corridor where the legendary Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr was fatally shot at 6.01pm on Thursday, April 4, 1968. In wide-eyed youthful exuberance, we went to Singing Trees Avenue to meet Steve Cropper of Booker T. and the MGs but only met his estranged wife who politely directed us to Ardent Studios. From there, we went to the renowned McLemure Avenue, where the MGs did their mimicry of the Beatles’ Abbey Road. We also visited the eastern banks of the magnificent Mississippi River, which is the second longest river in the US; it draws its headwaters from Lake Itasca in Minnesota, flows 2,320 miles south, connects Ohio River and Missouri River and empties into the Gulf of Mexico.
At the end of the escapade, we decided to swing into Nashville, Tennessee to watch Dolly Parton perform at Grand Ole Opry and on to Murfreesboro, Tennessee to hang out briefly with Eben Dokubo (Iyo’s younger brother), Bernard Graham-Douglas and his wife, Caroline, and other Rivers fellows at Middle Tennessee University. Can my generation ever stop praying for Alfred Diete-Spiff?
It was a rousing welcome at Murfreesboro. We reminisced over our days in Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), Radio Nigeria, Port Harcourt and relived the day Stella Amachree and I chanced in on Governor Diete-Spiff on the street beside Government House, Port Harcourt which has now been incorporated into Government House. How Spiff recognized Stella and I by our programmes and casually said “we should establish Rivers State Radio,” how everyone in NBC, Port Harcourt that day jubilated at the news and how that casual statement morphed into public policy and many of us were the first set of beneficiaries by way of scholarship; incidentally, I was the numero uno. Mike Oku and Pat Ketebu went to Aberdeen, Scotland while many of us came to America to study Broadcasting/RadioTV, preparatory for the establishment of what is now known as Radio Rivers.
Radio Nigeria, Port Harcourt was home away from home where every artiste rushed to daily even if s/he did not have a programme. The level of camaraderie was palpable and incomparable and it was singlehandedly inspired by the producer, Seniboye Itiye. Ernest Ogbanga and the management team were a safe distance away from us and it was convenient for us to keep it that way and work with Itiye. A pipe-smoking and guitar-strumming consummate motivator of persons, Itiye remains the best boss I have had throughout my life. The bubbly Family of Talkers “sired” by Itiye was made up of the gentle and soft-spoken Mike Oku, the witty Bob Bikefe, Ifiemi Ombu, the beautiful and brainy Stella Amachree, the energetic and highly creative Cornelia Omoniabipi, Chituru Wachuku, Peter Brown and Pat Ketebu, my colleagues from The Blackstones Band, Florence Olali – a strict lady who got married to a medical doctor in Germany and happily left, Boma Erekosima who turned out a great comedian, Steve Bubagba, Matthew Mieyesiegha, Emmanuel Dokubo and Tony Alabraba who joined me at Murray State University, Monima Kelly Briggs, Sunny Meshach-Hart, Chima Oko who joined much later and, of course, Bernard Opubo Graham-Douglas.
Bernard was a Duty Continuity Announcer (DCA); he had the structure, carriage and voice of an ace broadcaster and carried himself with the dignity that befits his physique and attributes. While most of us carried on like foot-loose-and-fancy-free members of the entertainment industry, Bernard displayed a persona that exuded confidence and culture bordering on conservatism. As DCA, he demanded that things should be done the way they were meant to and promptly too. Being part of the generation that Diete-Spiff psyched up and sent overseas to acquire the desired knowledge and come home to develop the state, Bernard did just that. He wasted no time in coming home after his education; he returned with the resolve to give back to the system that was kind and very generous to his generation; a generation that takes pride in its Rivers heritage.
Sadly for Bernard’s generation, the Rivers State they travelled from was robbed of its patriotic essence by years of governance by soldiers of fortune and, most painfully, the psychology of the average Riversman had departed from the firm foundation of patriotism laid by Diete-Spiff. “I, me, mine” had become the ethos and mantra of the society, which Harold Dappa-Biriye, Obi Wali, C.D. Orike, Wenike Tienabeso, Nabo Graham-Douglas, Souza-Okpofabri, Lawrence Ekpebu, Boma G.E. Charles and other well-meaning Riversmen assiduously built from the debris of a bitter civil war that devastated the land and traumatized the people.
Bernard’s generation of Rivers graduates is a product of that team of patriots whose unalloyed patriotism reflected on the beneficiaries of their public policies. Bernard epitomized the essence of a generation that was given a veritable opportunity to build its sense of self-worth through privileged education and travel resulting in so much self-confidence, contentment and the consequent commitment to give back to the system. Sadly, that generation was either politically retired prematurely or sidelined in the scheme of things thereby creating disconnect that is still haunting the state.
Bernard determinedly stood firmly against systemic foibles during a meritorious career in which he rose to the positions of General Manager, Rivers State Newspaper Corporation (RSNC) and Rivers State Broadcasting Corporation (RSBC) and Honourable Commissioner, Rivers State Ministry of Information and Culture.
As preparations are underway to commit the remains of Bernard Opubo Graham-Douglas to mother earth, it is my sincere hope and fervent prayer that his case will be revisited by the current administration of the state and let justice be done; that way, those still in service will be encouraged knowing that they are working for a system that takes care of those that serve it meritoriously.
Adieu Bernard, Rest in the Bosom of the Lord.
Dr. Osai is an Associate Professor in the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.
The Tomfoolery of RIVLEAF
Dakuku Should Stop Playing To The Gallery
Austin Tam-George: An Intellectual Prostitute Let Loose
Featured3 days ago
RSG Cancels Lockdown Of Obio/Akpor, Port Harcourt Local Government
Politics2 days ago
CROSIEC Deploys About 8,000 Personnel For LG Elections
Featured3 days ago
COVID-19 Decisions Are Taken By State Security Council – Governor Wike
Business2 days ago
COVID-19: Dockworkers/Seafarers Are Essential Workers, Exempted From Travel Restrictions, Says NIMASA
Featured4 days ago
Governor Wike Releases N450M To 2019 Presidential Election Violence Victims In Abonnema
Featured2 days ago
RIVERS Approves Review Of 2020 Budget
News3 days ago
RSG Warns Owner Of Proudest Hotel To Stop Blackmailing NCDC
Featured20 hours ago
Rivers Elders Commend Governor Wike For Consistent Delivery Of Critical Projects