Rivers State Government And The Song And Dance About N82 Million “Dinner”
For months, officials of the current administration in Rivers State were looking for “evidence” to justify their much-touted corruption allegation against the former Administration of Hon. Chibuike Amaechi. And last week, they finally “found” one.
At a lavish press conference in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State Commissioner of Information and Communications, Dr. Austin Tam-George, called on anti-corruption agencies to investigate the expenditure of N82 million made to host Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, during his 80th birthday celebration.
Unfortunately, and perhaps to show the sinister intent of the whole issue, to which the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have also shown undue excitement, references were made to Prof. Soyinka as a “friend of Amaechi”, without putting in context what necessitated the honour for the Nobel Laureate by the then Rivers State Government.
While the whole claim is nothing but bare-faced lies deliberately hatched to smear the literary scholar as well as the Acting Managing Director of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Mrs. Ibim Semenitari, it is a shame that officials of government would indulge in this kind of gimmicky just to settle petty scores. We feel particularly sorry that Tam-George, barely a week in office, has manifested such gross incompetence in the procedures of his office as spokesman of government.
The background to the decision of the then Rivers State Government to honour Prof. Soyinka, his family and friends, had a link to the great literary feat the then Administration of Hon. Amaechi achieved in securing Port Harcourt as the UNESCO World Book Capital City 2014. The feat, which put not only Rivers State but indeed Nigeria on the global map, had not happened before and one of the people who assisted in that regard was Prof. Soyinka, a cerebral literary icon, an authority in global literature and The Arts generally.
However, was the total amount of N82 million spent on the dinner alone, as Tam-George, PDP and their cohort would want the world go to bed with? The answer definitely is NO, even as we challenge him to release the entire documents as contained in Mrs. Ibim Semenitari’s Memo REF: MOI/COM/C./82/Vol. III/227 to cover Dance Drama by University of Port Harcourt Arts Village; Great Singha & His Highlife Band; Set Design, Stage Lighting & Costume Design; Costume Design & Stage Property; Dinner; Transportation and Accommodation of guests from outside the country and those outside Rivers State; Decoration; Travels & Logistics, etc.
Indeed, nothing can be more callous than the imputation that the dinner was because Prof. Soyinka “is a friend of Amaechi”. Having turned down several other overtures for an open honour to his enormous contributions to the growth of the literary industry in Rivers State, it was a decision of the State Executive Council to celebrate a man who had been a strong DNA in the birth of Garden City Literary Festival (later Port Harcourt Literary Festival) which catapulted the state to a global player in The Arts.
Rather than face his urgent job as Information Commissioner to see whether he can help reposition an administration that is fast losing credibility in the eyes of civilized people in Rivers State, Tam-George would rather prefer to smear the exalted reputation of Prof. Soyinka, a man whose shoes’ lace he would be unable to untie all his life.
We can forgive Tam-George’s attempts to smear the reputation and hard-work of Semenitari, who meritoriously served Rivers State for six years, since he must be suffering from a serious complex. But to drag the name of Prof. Soyinka into their coven of inferiority is beyond the pale.
We, therefore, state unequivocally that if the media invitation to anti-crime agencies to probe Semenitari was on the expenditure of the N82 million, her doors are open any day, any time to welcome them.
Special Assistant (Media) to the Ag. Managing Director,
Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC)