It is an experience this writer will not forget in a hurry. It is such an experience that makes one to wonder about life, its pleasure, its vanity and what forms inner contentment and fulfilment.
It was on a trip to Bayelsa state, considering the risk and hazards of travelling by road to an area considered volatile in Nigeria going by the frequent reports of militancy, armed robbery, sea piracy, abduction and kidnapping, the writer opted to travel by air from Abuja to Port-Harcourt from where he would take a vehicle to Yenegoa, the capital of Bayelsa state which is about two hours journey by road.
Everything was normal at the Abuja International Airport: travellers were either checking in or arriving from various destinations. Some VIPs were seen going and coming with retinues of aides as well as officials doing what they know best; they appeared serious even when they are not actually doing anything serious.
Then the moment came, when people turned to have a glance at a particular individual who clutched a small humble bag. He looked lone, very ordinary but he was not just an ordinary personage because of the attention he attracted.
He looked seemingly humble, simple and walked in measured gait. The clothe he put on where devoid of any attraction, just a shirt and trouser. He is Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, former governor of Bayelsa State who had been arrested and convicted for stealing.
As the airline announced the boarding for passengers leaving for Port-Harcourt, this writer joined others to a bus on the tarmac that would take us to the step of the aircraft. It was while waiting for other passengers in the bus that Alamieyeseigha sauntered in, again alone without a single bodyguard or an aide. There was this feeling of excitement that could not be described. It was neither of joy nor of sadness: it was a mixed feeling standing face to face with a man that is alleged to still be among the richest people in Nigeria, whether through corrupt enrichment or clean business. He didn't look different from other mortals rather some bystanders or some poor citizens look healthier than he did.
There was a smile on his face while nobody seemed ready to vacate a seat for him and the bus was jam-packed. Two young men, though they didn't look like militants, stood up for him but he politely declined their offer even when they insisted.
At that moment past memories flashed through this writer's mind. The image of a pot-bellied and huge governor of oil rich-state waving to his people in a campaign podium; travelling in a convoy of state- of- the-art automobiles with body guards; blaring siren ceaselessly to clear the road for his passage; accumulating chieftaincy titles and honorary doctorate degrees from different institutions at home and abroad; surrounding himself with the prettiest ladies money and power could bring; using his constitutional powers and state revenue to enrich himself and pauperise his subjects; receiving solidarity visits by traditional rulers, religious leaders and pressure groups to demonstrate their love for him. That was first elected Governor of smallest state in Nigeria between May 1999 to 2005 before his impeachment engineered by former President Olusegun Obasanjo through the Nuhu Ribadu-led Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Then horrific pictures set in: A man in an expensive hospital abroad undergoing plastic surgery to reduce his big tummy; the foreign media announcement about the arrest of a Nigerian who stocked millions of foreign currencies in his house in London; then sneaking into the country with his masculine visage in women attires; the breaking news from Nigerian Television of a man in handcuff alighting from an helicopter. From a grace to grass, the former governor Alamieyeseigha was found guilty of money laundering, convicted and sentenced to two years in prison after the court had tried him of the offences. He is the first ex-governor to be convicted for graft.
Though he pleaded guilty to embezzlement and money laundering he is alleged to still own multi-million dollar mansions and huge investments in Nigeria and abroad. He is one of the major campaigners for Goodluck Jonathan for 2011.
At this juncture, this writer's mind came to life as they entered the same plane that Monday evening to port-Harcourt. The plane could not takeoff immediately, as the pilot announced that all airlines had been barred from taking off because there was a presidential movement. This is a practice in Nigeria where everything must wait because the Presidential Jet conveying President Goodluck Jonathan was in the air and approaching the airport. From our windows, we could see the policy and other secret service personnel in the airport tightening the security expecting President Jonathan who was the former deputy Governor to Alamieyeseigha and beneficiary of the latter's arrest as he became the governor and later Vice President before becoming the President after the death of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua.
As usual drama ensued outside. Some overzealous bodyguards harassed people that attempted to be funny as well as those who looked suspicious. About 20 vehicles with officials were at the airport to receive President Goodluck Jonathan on arrival, only God knew what could have been going through the mind of his former boss who was waiting and watching from a commercial aircraft that was delayed for 40 minutes.
On arrival at the Port-Harcourt Airport everyone went his way.
Curious of the brief encounter at the airport, this writer summoned courage to unsuspectingly seek the views of people about Alamieyeseigha. Although he stole their money, he is still adored and respected mostly because, according to some of them, he performed well and executed some gargantuan projects as well as doled out money to people including various community leaders and religious bodies. Their belief is that once one can give out money and execute some projects nobody cares how much one stole. This accounts for the heroic reception accorded him by the same citizens whose treasury he was convicted of looting, after his release few years ago.
A trip to his community in Amayasabo also shows his palatial mansions as well as the roads that were constructed with interlocked stones instead of asphalt during his reign as the governor.
The face-to-face brief encounter with a man of power and riches makes one wonder; what is in this life after all? No matter one's mundane accumulations, it does not change one's physical being and I doubt if such individuals have peace of mind compare to the poor or ordinary citizens that eke-out a living through decent endeavours.
Yushau A. Shuaib