So it was some time in 1998. I met the M. D. of the newly established Radio Jeremi Ltd operator of JFM Radio, 95.1FM. It’s a private FM station, the first in Delta state. He was looking for talents to strengthen the new outfit. I was into video production. I had done Newspaper journalism. l held OND in Mass Communication at the time and l was keen to explore broadcasting. I didn’t have any experience in Radio broadcasting. The man listened to me – he saw that l had a good voice and a little theoretical knowledge in journalism. But aside the enthusiasm and zeal l displayed, l had no experience. For him, that was enough. So despite that l didn’t have the requisite experience nor am l a full mass comm graduate at the time, he took a chance and offered me a job. Mr. George Ugen had that uncanny gift of identifying a talent. He had loads of ideas and felt that radio is a great platform of not just entertainment and playing music but also of eduction, information and most importantly engaging in campaign for the good of the society. In 1999, with Nigeria’s return to democracy the political space was opened up. Earlier in 1998, Niger Delta youths who had participated in the million man March for Abacha’s planned transformation in Abuja, saw how “their” oil money was used in the building of a new capital, Abuja, they returned home and started agitation for the development of the oil bearing communities.
This led to the youth restiveness in the Niger Delta. (We will not be quick to forget the reported killing of some soldiers in Bayelsa and consequent demolition of Odi by the Nigerian Army). Along side the Niger Delta conflict, there were communal clashes. Who can forget so quickly the Warri Crisis? But the big issue was the marginalization and underdevelopment of the oil bearing communities, and the destruction of their ecosystem. Of course, these gave birth to the “Resource Control” agitations. The Federal and state governments had quite a handful issues to address in the region. But it seemed at the time that there wasn’t many people who really understood how to go about attaining peace and sustainable development in the Niger Delta. Enter Mr. George Ugen! He felt a need to give a voice to all parties (the communities, the multinational oil companies and the government) to explore opportunities for understanding, peace and development.
A Radio campaign programme was drawn up. Proposals and invitations were sent out. That was how the programme “Peace and Development in the Niger Delta” was born on JFM Radio. The programme became a watershed. Host communities were given voices to express themselves. The oil companies were also offered the platform to explain what they were doing and calm frayed nerves. Government activities on peace initiatives were promoted. At 10am every weekday, Peace and Development in the Niger Delta rented the airwaves across Delta state and parts of other Niger Delta states under the JFM Radio coverage area.
Unfortunately, the multinationals and the government who were the major beneficiaries of the campaign, offered no support. However, because it was a course Mr. Ugen believed in, he was ready to allow the programme to run for as long as possible. Despite that a lot of people later used the Niger Delta crisis for personal gains, Mr. Ugen saw the campaign for peace as a mission and didn’t care about lack of support from anyone.
That is one of the many attributes of the man. He was selfless and believed in the development of his community and society, than personal gains. On a personal note, l went on to do a stint with Radio Bayelsa before l finally joined the BBC. This was possible because a man was able to see beyond my lack of experience and gave me a platform. I am what/who l am today because Mr. Ugen took a chance on me. I remain eternally grateful for this.
M.D. Sir, you still live in our hearts. To live in the hearts of those who love you is never to die.
May your soul Rest In Peace.
Mr. Chris Ewokor, the writer reports for BBC RADIO.