NIGERIA: When Warri Froze for a People’s General

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Zik Zulu Okafor marvels at the reception accorded Chief Great Ogboru at a recent rally in Warri, Delta State

Happiness won kill me o!! Happiness won kill me o!! Na happiness won kill me so o!

Those were the chants and choruses coming from over 30,000 fans, ‘fanatics’, loyalists and admirers of the man called the People’s General, Chief Great Ovedje Ogboru.

The chants, the noise, the ecstasy practically shook Warri Township Stadium to its core foundation. It was without a doubt one of the biggest political gatherings ever witnessed at the stadium and will certainly remain a palpable historic episode whenever the story of political campaigns in Warri is told.

Date was Wednesday, January 21, 2015. The event was the kick-off of Ogboru’s governorship campaign. The people of Delta State, particularly political gladiators had waited for this day, and for two reasons. First, some of Ogboru’s opponents had spread the news that he was not going to contest again.

That having ‘lost’ three times, the man was tired and had lost hope. But the discerning minds in Delta knew that those jangling words were coming from Ogboru’s opponents, who are scared stiff and feared the remotest possibility of this political toughie coming out again.

But there was another group. These are Deltans who adore the fishery magnate, who were sure that he was going to run for the governorship but were very unsure about what the turn out for the kick-off of his campaign would be.

This fear was accentuated by the tamed publicity that preceded the much awaited event. Only one radio jingle with what has now become the Ogboru campaign signature tune – Happiness won kill me o – caressed the air from the radio. Plus a television promo titled Moment of Decision, which also popped occasionally.

But there were the die-hard Ogboru fans and loyalists. This passionate brand had vowed that Warri would freeze for yet another political odyssey of a pilgrim soul called Great. They screamed it loud and clear that Delta would stand still for this man with a granite cast conviction about the huge promise of their state and the plucky determination to actualise this promise.

And so, by 9am on January 21, people held their breath to see whether the Ogboru cult followership would resonate once again. And yes, it did. By 12 mid-day, traffic in Warri stood still. No movement. By 1.00pm, the situation had become vexacious. Buses, tricycle, cars, even okada could not move. Ogboru had arrested traffic in Warri. People stood on the sidewalk in awe of a man called General even though he never joined the military for one day.

Inside the Stadium, banners, billboards screaming, The People’s General, Ogboru: Our Highway to Freedom, Justice and Equality and Ogboru: The Sound of Hope, all hoisted in the air. With over 30,000 people inside and at least, 5,000 outside, Ogboru in clear terms told Deltans that he was the issue in the state’s politics and that he was indeed the awaited Change Agent.

It was a gathering that Labour Party showcased its very best. The National Chairman, Alhaji Abdulkadir Abdulsalam, the State Chairman, Chief Tony Ezeagu, the Senatorial candidates including Obaisi (Barrister) Ovie Omo-Agege, House of Representatives candidates and the State Assembly contestants, all were present as the Chairman performed the ritual of party endorsement by handing them their flags.

And finally, at exactly 3.41pm, the man described as Delta’s symbol of justice, the man that will construct a theatre of hope for youth employment and empowerment, the fetching symbol of freedom and equality for all Deltans, Olorogun Great Ovedje Ogboru, mounted the podium.

The stadium quaked as screaming, hoarse and ecstatic voices hit the sky in jubilation and celebration of a long distance runner, a man described as tougher than hope.

Ogboru spoke on the dynamics, dialectics and necessity of change and the need for “one Delta, one people with equality, justice and freedom for all; a Delta where education, infrastructural development, agriculture, healthcare and transparency in governance” will have primal places.

His voice carried acoustics of clear vision and inspired robust hope. As the echoes of Happiness won kill me continued to reverberate, you had to pause to ask: “Why happiness won kill people”. An old woman of about 70 years of age, sitting right there on the field amidst the mammoth crowd, dressed in a top and wrapper provided the answer. In her shaky, drowned voice, she said: “Happiness won kill me because Ogboru don come out again. Now hope don dey for Delta.              I don old but I know say I no go die. I go see Ogboru as him go become governor. After that, God fit take me. No problem”.

As she shook her head on her last word, you stood glued to your feet, head bowed in sobriety over the soul-moving, words of an old woman, who must have seen many political years in Delta – the good, the bad and the ugly. And just as you raised your sober eyes, a banner right opposite you accentuated the same mantra: “Na happiness won kill me so oo!” What a day, you muttered.

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