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CONSCIENCE, NURTURED BY TRUTH
LAGOS. NIGERIA.     Saturday, August 03 2002

 

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Horatio Agedah's Excting Times With Career, Tradition
BY KABIR ALABI GARBA

ROOFLESS, dilapidated and abandoned, the palatial bungalow in the expansive courtyard heightened the anxiety of the visitor that Friday evening. Similar pictures of ruined buildings starred him on the way to Odi town in Bayelsa State, from the junction where a banner conspicuously welcomes one to Odi, "the sunshine city of the Niger Delta".

Upon a gentle knock on the wrought iron gate, an elderly man appeared from another building directly in front of the isolated bungalow. "We have been expecting you. My oga had informed about your coming," a receptionist who seemed to be the security man in the compound responded as the guest announced his mission.

Shortly, the visitor was seated in the living room of a new building adjacent to the bungalow. Although the construction has been completed (it has been painted too) there is much work left in fitting, decoration and other support materials. "This is the new building I'm hurriedly putting in place after I lost that bungalow to the invasion of Odi town by the federal troops in 1999," said Chief Horatio Nelson Oyenke Agedah, an Officer of Order of Federal Republic (OFR).

"I do not want a situation whereby my body would be kept in mortuary for years while my children are making attempt to build a house here before the burial is effected," the renowned broadcaster and accomplished journalist further remarked.

But why would the Oloko-Owei I of Odi prefer building another house to renovating the damaged one? He burst out: "It is not possible to renovate it because it is not a question of fire burning it. This is a question of dynamite actually being thrown at it. "And you will see that all the walls are cracked. Some of the houses in this town now, when there is heavy rainfall, the walls just begin to collapse,"he explained.

"So, if one has to rebuild it, you have to break down, demolish the whole thing and start all over again. In any case, I want this to be as a monument, a reminder. If tomorrow, I tell people that this was what I had and I have been reduced to this, people may not believe. So, when people come and see exactly what happened, then they will appreciate the gravity of the suffering we have here."

Specifically, the grouse of the radio man who retired from the services of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) in 1978 as deputy director-general was the failure of the federal government to fulfil its promise to compensate innocent victims of the 1999 invasion by troops. "That the government raised the hope of everyone in Odi when they sent out experts to come to Odi and evaluate the amount of damage done without any result is more agonising. As a matter of fact, the residents of Odi were even invited to state specifically their losses in terms of building properties, household equipment and other personal effects.

"And everyone sat down and listed all these things, submitted them to the government. If government had even just given a sort of token compensation to the inhabitants, individuals particularly those who lost parents, wives and so on. My own security man was killed, and nothing...! No compensation of any sort; no relief of any sort! Except public spirited organisations; non-governmental organisations that brought relief materials in terms of food and clothing among others," Chief Agedah lamented.

The Ibenimiowei of Kabowei Kingdom in Delta State insisted that because some of the losses suffered can not even be quantified "there should be some measure of compensation to people". "For instance, I lost a whole library; my electronic gadgets including a 40-KV generating plant were looted. I don't want to remember some of these things".

Indeed, the lamentation over his losses could simply be linked to his sentimental attachment to the destroyed property. He narrated the incidence leading to the construction of the complex shortly after his voluntary retirement in 1978. "Because I did not have house at home (Odi) then, people were abusing me saying 'but he said he was a big man, we have not seen anything he builds at home'. Then he approached a good friend and former classmate at the Baptist Academy who later went to King's College, Lagos, J.S.K. Macgregory, a chartered surveyor and town planner, to design a nice storey building for him.

"But I was marvelled at his response. 'You want to go and build a storey building in your village! Is something wrong with you?' He then asked about how often I do go home stressing that even when I retire and intend to settle down permanently at Odi, it would be at an age when I may not be able to climb stairs. 'Therefore let me give you a nice bungalow'.

He continued: "And he gave me that design; when it was finished, it became a showpiece in town. That building had played host to Bishops because it was just behind St. Stephen's Anglican Church. So, I had a sentimental attachment to the building which has now been totally destroyed".

Agedah, the Amona Olu-Are Basegun of Ode-Remo, Ogun State faulted the claim of the soldiers that the attack was to suppress the activities of hoodlums : "We can not just understand that. Their plea was that hoodlums waged war against them. That was their argument. I was not there. I was in Lagos. I did not really know the actual fact. But everybody will make a statement to justify his own deed. They had made that type of statement to justify what they did, otherwise how many hoodlums are there to wage war against military might of the government? Who were those hoodlums? What arms do they possess?

"These are the questions the soldiers have refused to answer till date. And if they had just come to put fire on houses, people would re-roof their houses and re-paint them. But this is a rare blasting with bombs, flattening the whole village ."What about innocent people that were killed. Are they hoodlums?"

Another dimension to the attack according to him, is the rise in casualty since the incident. He claimed that because of that trauma , "almost every other day, since that time, people have been dying. This is essentially as a result of chemical weapon used. Just yesterday (Friday, July 26) I was told about a woman, a relation who died, just like that. It is no excuse at all".

That Odi indigenes are gradually putting the ugly occurence behind them registered boldly last Saturday at the opening ceremony of the 45th anniversary of Odi Ogori-ba Uge festival. It is a yearly, week-long event. during which virtually all sons and daughters of the Odi community particularly those living outside the environment would gather to mark what Bayelsa State governor, Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha tagged "a celebration of victory and triumph over a mysterious killer Buffalo that terrorised and ravaged the indigenes of Odi between 1953 and 1957". Agedah, 73, was in town because of the festival.

Incidentally, the genesis of the festival has a direct link with the Agedahs as their father, Chief Thompson Nengi Agedah (alias Mallam-de-Tara) was renowned to have facilitated the means that resulted in the killing of the wild animal .

Every adult in Odi believes that sometime in 1953, an animal identified as a bufallo started to destroy crops and terrorise the people. As a result, passing through Woo, the road from Odi to the ferry-point, became a death trap. And in a matter of weeks, five people were killed by the wild animal. The situation became so alarming that hunting expeditions were mounted by both indigenes and foreign hunters but to no avail. At this point efforts were made to seek help from neighbouring countries and it was Chief Thompson Nengi Agedah that contacted one Mallam of Tara in Benin Republic and negotiated for some herbal medicines.

On his return, the charms were buried at strategic points immediately behind the town. Even with the assurance of the efficacy of the charm, people were very skeptical. But they were suprised on July 27, 1957 when the bufallo was sighted grazing at a church compound. The killing therefore ushered in a new era of peace and stability in Odi. And as a result, July 27 every year is marked as Odi National Day. The festival week always features traditional dances, canoe race, acrobatic displays, pageantry, among other activities.

"Arrangements have also reached advanced stage to transform the Odi Ogori-ba Uge annual festival and others into tourist centres. Bayelsa State may soon become one-stop tourist destination in the Niger Delta sub-region," remarked the governor at this year's festival at the bank of River Nun. "As we celebrate with you today for conquering the killer Ogori," the governor admonished that the anniversary should facilitate a strong unification and continuous building of Odi "from the ruins the destroyers left behind two years ago.

The attention later shifted to the Owigiri Love Boat, a carnival-like procession on the River Nun as the ship provided by the state government moved from Amatu to Oboribeingha with music supplied by Ebisindei Fred.

It was ecstacy as the boat berthed at the bank of each community for a mini reception by the people who had gathered to register their solidarity. The story was similar in all the nine communities that comprise Odi as each hoisted its flag at the river bank to express preparedness to host the boat. The occasion lasted till the middle of the night, terminated by all- night reggae music party anchored by Jussy Will and his Exodus of Kaiama.

Overwhelmed with joy and sense of fulfilment, Chief Agedah who had specifically wanted his guest to cover the festival as an answer to a question on his attachment to his root declared: "Hopefully, you have heard the role my father played in the demise of the wild beast. And you have seen how deeply I'm involved in all aspects of life in my home which where I'm the Oloko-Owei I (meaning the legal adviser to the traditional ruler), the Amadawei of Odi Chief J.B. Komonibo, who is the father of Odi and his traditional council".

No doubt, at 73, the veteran broadcaster had had an enterprising career that had brought him fame across Nigeria and beyond. Basically, he was inspired into journalism by mere love for sports. Born on Wednesday, July 24, 1929, he secured an appointment as third-class clerk in the Nigeria Marine in 1948 having successfully completed his secondary education at the Baptist Academy, Lagos in December 1947.

He said, "As a civil servant then, you could not write on politics. You can only write on non-political subjects. So, I chose sports because I was a keen follower of sports.," Indeed, at the Baptist Academy, he was captain of the school's boxing club and a member of the first eleven (11) in football. This is an addition to being a star swimmer, winning a number of prizes at the J.K. Randle Memorial Swimming competitions.

Agedah's extra-curricular activities did not diminish his ingenuity as a brilliant student. This is evident in the double promotions that dotted his education in secondary school.

Starting off in 1935 at the St. Stephen's School, he had hardly finished the fourth year in St. Stephen when his late uncle, captain 'Nobody' Oyenkah Agedah, master of the Lagos/Apapa Ferry Boat Kathleen, of the old Nigeria Marine took young Agedah to Lagos and he was re-enrolled immediately at Ade Oshodi Memorial Baptist School,Epetedo,Lagos in 1939.

The school was a walking distance from his uncle's residence at Okepopo Street. Because of good performance in the end-of-year examination, he and a few others were transferred to the parent Baptist Academy at No. 24, Broad Street, opposite the old colonial secretariat building, to continue in standard three in 1940. In the following year, 1941, he was promoted to standard four. Under a system then in vogue at the Baptist Academy of giving rapid advancement to promising children, he was promoted from Standard Four to Class (Form) one in the secondary school.

He completed the six-year course in December, 1947, passing the university of Cambridge overseas school certificate examination in the first grade, with exemption from the University of London Matriculation Examination.

It was even at the threshold of his public service career that the stuff Agedah was made off began to manifest He rose rapidly to become stenographer and later confidential secretary to the director of Marine, Captain Francis William John Skutil, who later became the first head of the Nigerian Navy, as Commodore F.W.J. Skutil.

With this public service, he commenced his career as a freelance sports journalist, writing reports and commentaries for Young Nigeria, a news journal for circulation among boys and girls club, under the auspices of the government and social welfare department. This metamorphosed in 1951 into a column in the Daily Service. Titled: Football Post-Mortem. At the same time, he became a regular contributor to the Times Group of newspapers, Daily and Sunday Times specifically. The popularity of his reports was such that the newspapers sometimes carried more than one article from him, in the same edition. One feature would be under his proper name and the other would be under a pseudonym T.K.O for boxing and Goal Kick for football. But Chief Agedah would soon join electronic media, still reporting sports.

The Nigerianisation policy had been launched and expatriates manning strategic positions were to hand over to Nigerians. Agedah appeared to be the first beneficiary of this policy. In 1954, he was invited by the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (now Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria) to take over presentation of the weekly sports talk from Mr. R.B. (Darby) Allen, the expatriate secretary/Treasurer of the Nigeria Football Association. At that time, the programme was the only "intra studio" sports production on radio in Nigeria, and it served as an appropriate platform for Agedah to establish himself in broadcasting.

As a pioneer, he was the first Nigerian sports journalist to cover the Olympic Games for the electronic media. Indeed, he was flown, at a short notice, from a working attachment with the British Broadcasting Corporation in London to join the Nigerian contingent to the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. There after, he devoted time to sports administration, and was the first indigenous chairman, Lagos Amateur Boxing Association in 1961. He served meritoriously in many other boards of sports including the Nigerian Football Association to the extent of being honoured with National Sports Award in 1988.

With a desire to pursue broadcasting as a career, he later applied for a senior service job in the radio and attended an interview in the then civil service commission. Although he passed the interview, the appointment was not offered immediately and when it eventually materialised, the question of releasing him from Marine service delayed Agedah's official joining of the National Broadcasting Service (NBS).

Precisely, he went into radio Journalism in January 1956, and quickly distinguished himself as the first Nigerian to broadcast daily, reports of Proceedings in Parliament (The House of Representatives and the Senate). This programme was previously handled personally by the expatriate head of the news department, Mr. Norman England. He also became famous as a political analyst and commentator. His election campaign supplements were a regular feature during electioneering periods.

Agedah's joy was the pass mark he got from his predecessor, Norman England, that he handled the programme properly. He seemed to have done it satisfactorily "to such an extent that Norman England himself wrote a tribute to me in the Radio Times which was the official publication of the NBS".

Even the comment of the leader of the House at that time, Chief Festus Okolie was complimentary. "Since Horatio Agedah started the nightly report of the proceedings of the House of Representatives, I am sure that members have been far happier with his report than those of the expatriate head of the news department" as contained in the Hansard of the period. His commitment to duty paid off in 1962 as he was promoted director of News and Current Affairs, the first Nigerian to hold the post.

For working journalists covering the activities of the National Assembly, they have a duty " to be fair to all concerned. That is the government and the opposition." He gave similar admonition for the coverage of political activities particularly during the electioneering period. "Right now, every registered political party must be given a fair hearing. But unfortunately with the introduction of private radio/TV stations and by implication, commercial broadcasting, you find that some parties may be able to pay huge sum of money to secure airtime while others can not afford it.

"This is where I think the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) might have to step in to regulate the airtime given to each party particularly during period of electioneering."

A new feather was added to his cap on November 30, 1973 when he was elected President, Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) at the group's annual conference held in Benin City. Later in February 1975, he was returned unopposed at the conference in Kaduna but he could not complete his term because of the promotion in Radio to the administrative position of deputy director-general in charge of programmes . Dr. Christopher Kolade (now Nigerian High Commissioner in United Kingdom) was in charge as director-general.

From this position, he was seconded to the Federal Ministry of Information in 1977 as executive secretary News Agency of Nigeria Implementation Task Force under the chairmanship of a renowned civil servant, Mr. Arthur Edward Howson-Wright, (MFR.) who was also the first Secretary to the Government of Lagos State.

Although Agedah's return to Radio also as Deputy Director-General was celebrated , the Management reshufflement occasioned by the voluntary retirement of Dr. Kolade and subsequent promotion of George Bako (who happened to be a junior to Agedah) to the post of the director-general forced Chief Agedah to contemplate voluntary retirement too. "Afterall I had done about 30 years in the public service at that time. And my age too encouraged that plus the fact that I had already become a lawyer and I wanted to go out to practise law," he noted.

Comparing broadcasting then and now, he asserted that developments had expanded the frontier of the profession. "During our time, there was only one radio channel - Radio Nigeria. That was before the old Western regional broadcasting service was started by the late Obafemi Awolowo. We had what could be called "captive audience. And listening was encouraged by the introduction of re-diffusion boxes.

"It is an entirely different story now. There are many radio stations; both private and public. Listeners have a wide choice of stations. There is competition calling for improvement in standards both in programming and technical skills."

A man of many parts who got involved in virtually all human endeavours, including politics, however detested being described as a card-carrying member of the defunct National Party of Nigerian (NPN).

His reaction: "I'm surprised to be described as a renowned card-carrying member of the NPN. I very much doubt whether it will be right to describe Dr. Christopher Kolade, Nigeria's new High Commissioner in the United Kingdom as a renowned card-carrying member of the People's Democratic Party (PDP). In my case, I had left broadcasting on voluntary retirement before I was invited to serve in some important political positions during the period.

"In deed, I could not have been in any political party at all at that time. Because I was a member of the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) under the chairmanship of Chief Michael Ani. My conscription; and I use the word conscription deliberately, into FEDECO is another story entirely."

"And after the elections, Chief Melford Okilo, Rivers State Executive governor seemed to have developed a very soft spot for me. I believed during my days in broadcasting, he was anxious to have me in his government. And he spoke to me but I said look I have just been with FEDECO how can I now join your government and people say I rig the election for you. But in order to keep me as part of his outfit, he made me governor's special representative in Lagos.

Is he serving the state (Beyelsa) in any capacity now? "No! Government is now in the hands of very young men. Some of them have just celebrated their 40th birthday anniversary. They would want to work and take advice from people of their own age group. If you are an old person, being a seasoned administrator does not matter. They would simply say 'that was your time. Things are different now'. That is where the problem lies. Things are different now!"

And to succeed in life, Chief Agedah stressed, "integrity is the key." Chief Agedah is now busy with the training of fresh law graduates through Aluku Chambers in Port Harcourt.

 

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