The Rescue Mission government is hoping, no doubt, for a smooth ride back to power in next year’s election. But it will not count on the votes of the languishing ex-workers of Imo Newspapers, their dependants, communities and well-wishers. For whatever that group of voters is worth, it will be a sure turbulent storm in the electoral tea-cup of Gov. Rochas Okorocha next year when even half a vote will expectedly mean much for the victor.
Their matter with the government has gone beyond niceties, pleading and appeals. They demand desperately to be rescued from prolonged hardship and premature death by being paid their pensions and gratuities (retirement benefits).
Nearly 28 of them have been sent to the world beyond by the horrible circumstances in which the Rescue Mission and the governments before it left them. A number of those living are close to the grave. Old age has caught up and is catching up with many. In that condition, ill- health, suffering and hopelessness have taken their toll. Hardly did they know or foresee that such fate awaited them – gradual, painful perishing for years, ending in death.
Their story is all too familiar. It has been told many times. But the rescue mission government chooses not to regard them as part of the Imo humanity it came to rescue. They don’t know why they were singled out for such punishment. Well, surviving ones have gone home to their villages to wait for the government at the polls, wishing them all the disaster. They hope a new government that will rescue them can come up after the coming election.
If you want to know their story, let me put it this way. There was an establishment along Egbu road in Owerri, just as “There was a country”, which Chinua Achebe wrote passionately about in a book published before he died. That country was. But now it is no more, though people who believe in it are still there. Like the Achebe country that was killed, Imo Newspapers is now government-forsaken. It will be correct to say it is dead too. The government threw away the birth water with the baby. This was a place that once was the pride of Igbo people everywhere.
It was a great legacy of the first governors of Imo State, particularly the star governors, Ndubuisi Kanu and Chief Sam Mbakwe, which, it appears, Igbo-hating federal governments and their lackeys who govern in Imo State are doing everything to wipe away. The newspaper proved the exceptional journalism and newspaper-publishing dexterity of the Igbo people. Even in media practice generally is there any doubt today that Igbos are proving their mettle? I wish to firmly state, as a personal opinion that Imo Newspapers (Statesman) had to be killed, like Biafra, to deny our people a powerful mouth piece or voice that would have continued the Biafran struggle if there was need, and to liberate the Igbos from the bondage of Nigeria and of neo-colonialism. This is the only reason I can see for submerging the newspaper and neglecting all those who made it what it was, the most readable State newspaper in the country at the time.
Emmanuel Emenike (not real name), now a chief in his village, worked in Imo Newspapers and retired. His people made him a chief upon retirement, since he was a big man in the government, who had come home with his wealth of experience to help in their affairs. The community swore that Emmanuel will never be disgraced. They also are one with him in condemning the cruel treatment and raw deal the government has given him, to the extent that this government will never receive one vote from them. His chieftaincy title has to be defended with money. The honour and respect his church accords him also has to be sustained through occasional donations. Since leaving the service, over 20 years ago, nothing has been given him as pension or gratuity. The many times he has had malaria, to buy paracetamol was a problem. He had to stay in, praying until the malaria runs its full 7 days course, leaving him only bones. He is never sure of the next meal. Most of the time, the chief drank garri with sugar. It is a great feast if he could find ground nuts to go with it. Now chief has symptoms of diabetes, which will force him to select what he eats. He sits at home on an overheated chair, too weak to get up. He is always looking up to the Merciful God to change the heart of Governor Rochas Okorocha. This matter is squarely in his court, Emmanuel said to me. Whether I go straight to the grave from here or live hereafter, all depends on what he can do in the next few hours about this matter. This is a true story, even though the name is not real. Bringing out the chief’s ordeal in the most touching manner is my work and duty as a journalist. I won’t care whose ox is gored.
Tell me, is Emmanuel unfortunate? Is he un-employed or un-employable, when he has put in dedicated service during the most productive and active period of his precious life. Is it not the governor’s fault that he is poor? Does he just sit down there until he drops dead? If he cries or complains, to whom does he direct it? Talking of access to those who govern us! This man is restless during a well-deserved rest. How can the just God overlook this injustice – to not just one person, but to so many people?
Chieftaincy requires him to wear flowing gowns which are not cheap. His wife is also required to dress up as lolo. He must have his red cap on. He and his wife must wear many necklace and rings. He should be clutching his ivory or cow-horn staff and a feather fan – one on the right, one on the left. These are a burden to bear as a chief with cost implications. There is no money to back it up. Nothing at all in the pocket! Emmanuel looks at the billions government burns, sometimes on projects that are not urgent and he cannot believe it. He shakes his head.
The other day he visited a former colleague in the same predicament, as ex-workers in Imo Newspapers. They talked the whole day, lamenting. They had fun too discussing their days in Imo Newspapers – the camaraderie, the dedication to duty, the unalloyed loyalty to the government, the risks, their sacrifices made to cut the best of image for the government. They passed sleepless nights to do that. They defended government’s faults and mistakes. They followed up without being prompted to get the best out of public opinion for the government. Seen from the larger picture and in general terms, if there ever was an ozo Igbo ndu, it was the Imo Newspapers (Statesman). All the present ozo Igbo ndus have never done anything close to what the Statesman did for the Igbo, under the iron grip of the NPN made up of many arch-enemies of the Igbo race.
Fresh from a lost war and when the Igbo race faced political annihilation as well; when we faced the firing range leading to final extinction, the Imo Newspapers staff, now forgotten and perishing stood firm and defended chief Sam Mbakwe and his team over, among other things, the abandoned property issue. They helped to preserve what we enjoy today as respect and Igbo national pride. They reclaimed many abandoned property, which was Igbo wealth saved out there. Was this patriotic role they played perhaps their undoing? When Igbo patriots like these suffer in the hands of Igbo governors, people cannot help wondering if these governors were not imposed by our detractors to actually deal with us while appearing to be governing. Were they sent to deliver the final blow that will demolish the remaining Igbo drive after the war? The present day leaders in Imo State, in letting this happen have a lot of explanation to do to prove that they know what the strategic interests of Igbos are and that they can defend them; that they came to damage and not to manage Igbo affairs. By their fruits we should know them.
The current workers at the newspaper are without incentives. Imo Newspapers premises have been partially converted into a so-called Professional College of Advanced Studies, which appears to be a non-starter and something dead on arrival. I stand to be corrected. Pray, this school and the newspaper, as originally conceived, which one serves the interest of the people better? Ex-workers of Imo Newspapers cannot be denied their retirement benefits much longer, or indefinitely at their helpless old age. This must end. Governor Okorocha cannot do this. Not when he parades the undisputable reputation of a large hearted, compassionate humanitarian and philanthropist. After all this what he should not leave anybody in doubt about is his Igboness as far as saving the lives of the languishing ex-Imo Newspapers’ workers is concerned. If he does, the cost will be too much. Let wise counsel prevail. Nobody can belabour this issue. It cannot be too late to be revisited. They should be thanked for their services, without further delay. What is a greater inducement for corruption, if the worker is to be treated this way? He would then feel justified to take what he can, when he can. If this man is not dead, he is forever a disillusioned and disgruntled man who feels no obligation to be loyal or patriotic to any cause whatsoever. The government that made him so is responsible. If the money is big and cannot be paid in one go, if not half, one tenth bread is better than none. And jisie ike is good for a man in the hospital. Need I say more? Too many words for the wise!