Having heard so much about London -‘ebe oku na-enwu n’elu (where light shines from the top), I set out for this trip with so much excitement. This excitement which I can only compare with the one I felt when I first heard the life-changing cry of my daughter Munachimso, was so engulfing I couldn’t sleep on the eve of departure. I walked on the wind. I was so enthused I smiled at virtually everybody and everything.
Sunday September 22nd 2013, remains indelible in history as another group of 16 carefully selected Journalists in Delta State embarked on the second round of the training at the highly reputable Thomson Reuters Foundation in United Kingdom. The training which is the brain-child of the innovative Chairman of the state NUJ, Mr Norbert Chiazor, backed by the powerful vision of an intelligent Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan and the magnanimity of the Commissioner for Information, Barr Chike Ogeah, can be compared to none in the career of every journalist. Bravo to Delta State.
I recall that 13 Journalists in Delta State were also flown to the UK last year for Reuters training, the first of its kind in the history of Journalism in the state. Except for Comrade Macaulay the SSG who laid the foundation as a pioneer chairman of the state NUJ, no tenure had impacted so positively on journalists in the state as much as Norbert Chiazor’s selfless leadership. Posterity will surely judge him fairly.
Little wonder why my big boss, the Permanent Secretary of Lagos Television, Mr Lekan Ogunbanwo, my Directors of News and Marketing, Messrs Ayo Agbesanwa & Hakeem Adewunmi and the Director of Admin, Mr Morakinyo Akinrinnade not only gave their permission at a very short notice but supported me immensely. As my superiors, they obviously knew the importance of the training to me as an individual and to the Station as a Corporate body.
Bearing this in mind, I set out with optimism that couldn’t be daunted by the turbulence on air enroute London. For me, it was only a lesson as I practically followed the map with the pilot all through the six hours flight. It was another Geography class but this time, advanced. On getting to Heathrow Airport, looking round at the parts of the facility that I went through, I saw and appreciated the classics of the Asaba International Airport which before now, was just beautiful to my then un-informed mind. I quickly pointed that out to a colleague who affirmed Dr Uduaghan is very intelligent, has travelled round, chose the best of what he saw, improved on it & came out with the Asaba Airport. The margin could only be spotted from the attitude of the staff there and the one here. There is always room for improvement.
Like the Biblical royal welcome for all true christians to the promised Paradise, amidst friends and relations who came to the airport to welcome us was His Royal Majesty, Obi Dr Emmanuel Efeizomor, the Obi of Owa kingdom in Ika North-East Local Government Area of Delta State. The first class chief whose son, Victor Efeizomor of Thisday Newspaper was on the team, gave us a royal welcome with his entourage. We were no strangers. His smiles and general warmth showed his support for Dr Uduaghan’s developmental strides. His dressing of jeans and sweaters was my first insight on what London does to class. I was so used to seeing this very respectable citizen in his full regalia as a king back home in Delta.
The next day was Monday, we are set for class. I noticed that in London everybody is in a haste. People trekked more than they rode. It was a classless society where everybody ran to catch the train & stood when the seats are occupied, no matter who you are. I also noticed that Londoners respond to greetings with artificial smiles unlike the warm African way of greeting. When they bothered with verbal replies, they were most times curt.
The cordial attitude of the people I met on the streets and in the trains gave me a mindset that was somewhat dis-abused by the warmth-infusing welcome I got from the Reuters staff. The Public Relations Officer of the foundation Belen Beccerra was at the reception amongst other members of staff, and of course our own amiable Chike Ogeah, to welcome us with joy & laughter. It couldn’t have been better.
The hull of the visit – the training on Investigative Reporting started in earnest with two very practical instructors – Melanie Cheary & Andrew Gray. My old school days came back so fast. The drilling by the duo, class work, homework & practicals ! Oh my God, you must achieve the objectives of the training at the end of the five days. We all forgot our positions as Correspondents, Reporters, Managers & even Permanent Secretary and became students. At one of the practicals, I was paired with Sir Austin Mowah who is the most senior staff of the State Ministry of Information. I saw the humility in him as we did our work together and waited for our scripts to be graded. I can recall how the General Manager of The Pointer Newspaper, Mr Bosah Iwobi bit his fingers when one of his assignment scripts was graded and he remembered something he would have written. I laughed at him like I would a classmate in secondary school. In that instance, the seriousness of the course gingerly walked past me, urging me to wake up and follow suit.
Outside the professional benefits I got from this training, I got to learn more about the people around me. I discovered them. We were like family & I strongly believe we will continue to be. The training fostered brotherliness amongst the participants. Looking back now, I realize this must be one of the aims of the abroad training. Considering the ethno-religious acrimony in the country today and the Transformation agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan, the Human Capital Development focus of Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan will to a large extent be realised faster when the barriers of ethnicity & religion are overcome. This course strove to achieve that as all the participants lived as a family irrespective of tribe, religion, medium or societal position!
One fascinating aspect of my exposure is the efficiency of the transport system in London. If there’s anything perfect in life, this would be it. I was simply enthralled. You get your travel card, get on the train going your route & every stop was not only announced but you got verbal and written directions on where the stop takes you to. No abuse from the driver or the conductor nor haggling on the fare. There was no quarrel on where you would have alighted instead of the other. It was organised & orderly.
I remember getting off wrongly at a stop on my way from Paddington back to Stratford. There was need for me to get underground and join another train from Oxford Circus station. With the signs everywhere and polite directions from the attendants, I got back on course.
My experience wouldn’t have been complete if I had continued with the thinking that ‘oyibo’ has everything and so travelling abroad solves all one’s problems. The whites don’t have everything, they’re simply conservative. We have more and are freer than them. A classical illustration of this is Recycling. We bathe and throw away the water. A very informed friend who took me round, told me even the water from bathrooms are gathered, recycled-purified & brought back as good water! I was petrified & argued so but he took me to Tam Water where all these are done. The paperbags, containers, shoes etc are recycled and nothing is wasted at the end of the day.
I also learnt that their perceived stinginess is helping their economy. They don’t spend freely. Even electricity is rationed. The bulbs are sensory, going off automatically when nobody is around & coming alive when they sense human presence. Awesome way of saving energy!
I enjoyed their food quite well but longed for our own delicacies. My mouth watered countless times. In Nigeria we have loads of more nutritious, fresher and healthier foods unlike the ‘oyibos’ who depend so much on synthesized canned foods. With a small knowledge of medicine and the inherent diseases in synthesized foods, I kept thanking God I’m a Nigerian, the giant of Africa where Jesus Christ was sent to with all the good things of life. At a time, I couldn’t hold it anymore and so sought an African shop, bought the ingredients and cooked a large pot of okro soup which my friend will still savour for some weeks.
A notion which was deeply etched in me was rooted out. Its a long-standing myth in Nigeria that a news-room should be noisy. I was speechless on getting to the World’s large newsroom that’s only second to the BBC’s. If I had dropped a pin, I’m sure it would have been heard. Seeing & feeling the reflective quietness, I acknowledged journalism is a noble profession for the intelligentia, not low-lives. Its seriously academic because it leads and influences the opinion of right-thinking people. Journalists are meant to be opinion leaders and they can only do this when they are mentally balanced. A self-consciousness suddenly sprang to life in me as we toured the whole of the fourth flour of the towering, expansive building.
A visit to the Frontline Media Club which replicates our own NUJ further opened my eyes to what I profess. On coming out from the building, I saw St Mary’s Hospital where the late Warlord Dim Chukwuemeka Ojukwu died & where Prince Charles’ son was born. The Delta State Teaching Hospital Oghara with all the standard equipment came to my mind and in all, I muttered to myself, East or West, Home is the best. The nostalgia was so strong, pulling me home like the Northern wind.
Oh, I forgot to say that throughout my stay there, there was no power failure. Sub-consciously, I continually felt the need to iron my clothes & charge my devices before ‘these people will seize the light’ because my mind has been tuned to that but I was pleasantly disappointed. I have high hopes that one day, in this country, in our dear Delta State, with the PPPs and the IPPs, power challenge will be overcome. Vehicles did not blare their horns too. I can’t remember hearing any honking except the police cars’ sirens. It made the streets calmer. We’ll certainly get there.
I have the training, I love the experience & exposure, I appreciate what I learnt. God bless Delta State & Nigeria our dear country.
*IJEOMA UBA is the Delta State Correspondent for Lagos Television.