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In the ‘cockpit’ with Gov Suntai

But that Thursday phone call jarred my nerves as I sat behind my desk.  I instinctively knew what was going to happen next. The talks…

But that Thursday phone call jarred my nerves as I sat behind my desk.  I instinctively knew what was going to happen next. The talks had been on that I may get a political appointment with the Taraba State government in my capacity as a media person.  So when a highly placed member of the state’s executive asked for my names, I knew “what’s up” as our people would say. I quickly called my wife and said it appears the thing would happen after all. To be honest, I wanted the whole experience of getting into government and finding out for myself what’s happening.  Taraba, my own state, intrigues me the most.

I could not understand how a state that has so much good and has produced some of the finest minds in both the journalistic world and the arts can become so silent in the media. I was bothered about the fact that when I was the Sunday Editor of LEADERSHIP, I expended energy dealing with other states, promoting them, while Taraba remained in the dark.  Naturally, as Editor, I had contacts with some governors, but each time I was with any of them, I felt a tinge of guilt because I had never met my own governor. That includeds the taciturn, self- effacing Pharmacist Danbaba Danfulani Suntai.

As political editor of Daily Trust, I had met former Governor Jolly Nyame. I was not impressed by his partying antics. And I really wasn’t smitten by him and his administration. I still don’t like the way he administered our state and I considered his era to be Taraba’s biblical years of the locusts. Suntai’s coming restored hope in me and I knew we were in for a better deal. I mean the man is urbane and calm enough for the task of redeeming the battered image of the state.

But I got worried when the state went into a lull again, media-wise. I had made quite a few attempts to meet the top man himself; to tell him I can help with the state’s image problem and to let him know that one of his own is doing well in the media. Now, you have to know that only a few of us from Taraba have made some modest impact in the media. So, I wanted that sort of opening to at least interview the man and get answers to the many questions that gnaw at my being each time Taraba pops up in my mind. At a point, I began to reach out to my elder brother and predecessor, the baritone-voiced Sylvanus Giwa (he is popularly called SY).

One day, SY stopped me midway when I started haranguing him over the deplorable state of media in the state. He said point blank “His Excellency is not a media person. So don’t worry me about that”. I gave up. In my mind, I began to wonder about the type of politician who did not want publicity or does not want his praises sung. Or a politician who can afford to spurn the media. I mean, I deal with politicians all the time in the line of duty. My odyssey with them began when I started out as a political reporter in Daily Trust.  As Sunday editor of LEADERSHIP, my main stories were political. I know that politicians love to have their name, pictures and “achievements” in print. I know about calls from media aides, in the middle of production, who will promise heaven and earth to have their “oga’s” piicture on the cover. The picture may just show the man exchanging banters with another politician. No problem. It is would do for image-making. Then, there are adverts of all sorts of “milestones” or “giant” strides of the man in office.  The big man himself would do anything to be in the reckoning of all as a “man of destiny”.

To this end, he would buy up chieftaincy titles, get all sort of doctorate degrees. He would give boring lectures and get to be chairman of all sorts of forums. That is the archetypical Nigerian politician for you. It is all about the razzmatazz and an obnoxious tendency to flaunt.

Not Suntai. From what I heard, he likes to humbly take the back seat everywhere, relax and observe events. I was intrigued by that too and wanted to get to the core of the quiet one. So when the opportunity came, I jumped at it. I would finally get to see what happens in government at close range and get a chance to learn. One thing led to another and the day came when I was billed to meet the governor. Hassan Mijinyawa, the Chief Press Secretary to the governor, drove me to the sport complex where Suntai always play tennis in the evening. Ok, I said to myself, so he plays tennis! A man who finds time for such recreation must be open-minded, I consoled myself, unsure of what the first meeting would look like. Meeting governors as an editor, I guessed is a lot easier than when you are now in the employ of one of them. As editor, you are accorded the privileges of an august guest everywhere. His game done, Suntai walked up to us as Mijinyawa made the introductions.

He smiled and erased my tensions. A practical man, he promptly told me that we were billed to be in Kaduna the next day and that Mijinyawa and I should fly with him. My job had begun. The next day, we were almost late to the Jalingo airport. When we got in the plane, I looked around for the governor. I was informed that he was in the cockpit. He would fly us himself! So, I said to myself, if a Nigerian governor is versed enough to fly a plane, he probably knows one or two things about control.

We went to Kaduna. We returned. I have had other meetings with him and I can safely say I know the man fairly well. He is given to details and eschews praise- singing. He told me his problem with media people. He told Mijinyawa and I that he did not believe in blowing his trumpets and that he would not forgive us if we sing his praises. Of course, we can go around and talk about the potentials of the state. In fact, he had instituted a policy whereby the state information commissioner is expected to brief the state on progress made each month.

He speaks with correspondents on regular basis and knows many of them by name. And, yes, he reads all the newspaper and commentaries and knows many columnists by name.

Bello is Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to Taraba State Governor

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