September 30, 2022

I grew up to know and reverence the Graham-Douglas family of Abonnema. The reasons are legion.

My father’s first house at Usokun-Degema was where “Bobo”, now late, was born to the family of the legendary Chief Nabo Bekinbo Graham-Douglas; PhD (Law), QC, SAN, CFR. The former Attorney-General of the Eastern Region, then of Rivers State and finally of the Federation and his wife were adherents at the Prophet Elijah Healing Home under the leadership of Prophetess Mary Sangoju. Bobo, son of the effervescent, colossal legal giant and physically towering personality, was your nephew.

“Mama”, as we called her, foretold my birth nine months ahead of my arrival at a time my mother had lost hope of childbearing. She had a daughter very early on in her marriage to my Dad but lost her four days post-delivery. My mother would go “barren” for the next nine years before that epic encounter with God and the woman of God whose prophecies God always honoured. The story of the coming of Bobo is another evidence of the huge impact of her prophetic calling and ministry. The story is Bobo was born in the same room my father gave me when I arrived teenage. But this is not about Bobo or his parents. Neither is it about me or mine.

Alabo Tonye Omubo Graham-Douglas was a quintessential gentleman until his homecall yesterday. He was a man of uncommon class and a superlative cultural icon. You cannot miss his dress sense each time he adorned himself with the traditional Kalabari attire. He was always draped in corals that qualified as classics on every score. Many folks knew “Alabo”, “T. O.” or “Ete” for many reasons. I knew him too in some of those most popular folklore that he became. But above all, a particular encounter unraveled the man like a flag is unfurled ahead of a military parade.

This was in 2002, some twenty years ago, at his suite in Muriela Suites, Old GRA, Port Harcourt. Bayern Munich and Real Madrid were the two gladiators on the Champions League night and boy…was I stunned at the deep sense or knowledge of the game and the teams by this one-time Rivers State Commissioner for Youths, Sports and Culture who would go on to clock Minister of the Government of the Federation in an unprecedented number of appointments. He knew the players by their names and voiced expert opinion about the tactical formations of both teams at the break that could deliver the victory either of those two wanted.

Alabo was watching the game in question with the Late Dr. Marshall Sokari Harry in the wee hours of the struggle by the Rivers Democratic Movement (RDM) to unseat Dr. Peter Odili as Governor of Rivers State. Incidentally, both dramatis personae were the two pivots upon which the mercurial business mogul, Chief Victor Odili (Onwa Ndoni), drove the Peter Odili governorship home in 1999. Both were until their respective deaths Kalabari leading lights in their own rights.

Next to the remarkable mastery of football that Alabo Tonye Graham-Douglas demonstrated on that night was the rare privilege I enjoyed keeping these political giants company in that Hotel suite. Of course, I gulped shots of elite Crystal and watched Alabo “bounce” a Kalabari Chief whose identity I would insist on not disclosing out of respect. However, I am glad that I joined him and the slain Dr. Marshall Harry on that Champions League night even though most of the promises and pledges I got did not materialize after the RDM chiefs failed to steer the ship of another gubernatorial quest to safe harbour in 2003.

My other moment of sublime recollection of your avante-garde father figure was at the “introduction” of Tonye Patrick Cole to you after his emergence on the gubernatorial ticket of the All Progressives Congress in 2019. I was on the entourage and I can still recall how delighted you were at the prospect. Prince Tonye Princewill and a large number of the contemporary Kalabari political estate were in attendance and you regaled us with very deep insights into your relationship with Dr. Patrick Dele Cole from your infant days and the role you played as Tonye’s father at his birth following the request of his biological Dad who was away on D-day. That was how we got to know how the Architect, Pastor and businessman took the name that made him your namesake. You were activated by the good news and full of praises for Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi for the choice of your son. I could see many aeons drop off your face as it lightened up!! I can only imagine your deep frustration with the abortion of that dream when the Judiciary took Tonye Cole off the ballot. Ironically, the man has reactivated his bid just before you boarded the exit flight.

Marshall Harry is gone. Chief Mannah (a retired Police officer from Ahoada) is gone. Maulo Siminialayim Oruene-Hart is long gone too. And so is Chief Bekinbo Alalibo Soberekon gone. Now Alabo Graham-Douglas has followed. The RDM hovercraft is empty as it stands. This is the end of an era. This is where we stand on the podium as vanquished troops with dreams unfulfilled. The last of our Generals has bowed at the last post. One of the true Rivers sons who were civilized and broad-minded enough to cede political power to parts of the State not theirs when it was absolutely in their hands to take it has departed.

Thank you, Opu Alabo. Thank you for your nationalism. Thank you for your altruism. Thank you for the high standards of Statesmanship that you set. We are condemned to watch those who prey on the noble ideals that inspired your decision to field an ethnic minority as Governor in 1999. The fight is still on to redeem the balance. Yes, the struggle for Equity and Justice by the remnants of the struggle has been left smouldering at the seams even before you bowed out as the last Don. You died not witnessing the reversal of your kind gesture by today’s Rivers power brokers with the inauguration of a Governor of the Riverine extraction. You died watching people trample on the principles of Equity you practiced, advocated and fought for in 23 years. But rest in peace assured that the very ideals you left behind would inspire another generation of Rivers men and women of noble spirit to stand on the elevated platform of honour until the tranquility of our Great Rivers State is established and men no longer sacrifice our inner peace by bowing to the fleeting pleasures of transient power.

Martin Luther King Jr. did not live to see the coming of a President in Barack Obama but cometh the hour cometh the man and the deed was done. You also did not live to see the end. However, you will smile one day in Heaven when the dream of a Rivers State where equality of all our people and equal opportunities are taken for granted becomes the rule rather than the exception. That era is upon us already.

Rest, for we also are done!!

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