Gov. Umo Bassey Eno; Abigail Frederick, Jr Pope: Lessons for Nigerians.

By Bolaji O. Akinyemi.

Are we forever trapped in our tragedies or there are possibilities of at least taming our tragedies?

These are questions that came to my mind as I was watching online the burning of Morg plaza in Abuja and the effort being made by the crowd gathered to extinguish the fire and salvage the building just yesterday. The big issue wasn’t the fire, but the absence of safety as a culture in our country. Fire fighters arrived on time, but were obstructed by a vehicle wrongly parked. That sorted, there were no water hose in a building of that size. I bet most of the businesses in that building weren’t insured; how do I know? At the point evacuation was the reasonable thing to do, risky risk was the options for many, who were daring the fire to save half burnt, phones and laptop computers!

The attitudes to fire brings to mind the tragedy on water that hit the Nollywood Industry and the Nation last week. On Land or on water, we are challenged with safety and I believe education and awareness in this regard should be our priority.

I am not into film watching, I do occasionally in duty to marriage, if you know what I mean. So it is understandable that I never heard of Junior Pope until the public outrage of his death and the rumour of his resurrection and final confirmation of his death!

Junior Pope Odonwondo, aka Jr Pope, wasn’t the only unfortunate soul snared by ignorance of a nation and her citizens to untimely death. The usual silence on crew about their welfare in the industry and the public, played out again. The face seen was the face known, and was the soul we all are mourning. I must commend the Chairman of the Federation of Nollywood Guilds and Associations, FONGA, who accepted the plea of his Vice Chairman and honoured the memory of the crew members who were on the set of Adamma Luke’s “The other side of life” along with Jr Pope, which are, Abigail Frederick, Vice Chairman CDGN Akwa Ibom a makeup artist whose body was found in the afternoon of Thursday 11th April 2024, her body was identified by her grieving Parents and was later buried. Onward journey to the other side of life and never to return. If Abigail can’t return to life, her body should at least return to Akwa Ibom to be buried, that was the position of Governor Umo Bassey Eno and he gave everything needed to see that done.

Involved in the accident were Jr Pope, from Anambra State, member Actors Guilds of Nigeria with Emeka Rollas as President, Abigail Frederick, from Akwa Ibom, member CDGN with Joy Osawaru-Akinyemi as President, Precious Oforum and Joseph Anointing who unfortunately weren’t registered member of any Guild or Association in Nollywood. My question is, if they have no association or guild, how about family and state. Jr Pope I learnt is from Anambra the closest state to the scene of the accident. But figures seem to be all that matters in Anambra now, both in Naira and Kobo and in counting of votes. I am yet to hear any thing from the state privileged to have produced a Junior Pope. If the crowd that followed his body from hospital to hospital in hope of his resurrection are registered voters in Anambra then the next gubernatorial election result in the state is readily predictable.

The biggest challenge of Crew in the Nollywood Industry is negligence, they often suffer this both in life and in death. The glamour is reserved for those who are actors, but then, by providence Angel Abigail Frederick changed the story for she was a privileged citizen of Akwa Ibom State with a Governor with the heart of flesh against the common stones we have gotten used to as Nigerians. The effort of the Executive of the Creative Designers Guilds of Nigeria, led by their President, Joy Osawaru-Akinyemi and her Secretary, Leo Omosebi, the hidden egghead in CDGN that God is preparing a place for in Ondo State goes to prove one thing; when elections are free and fair, and the electorate gets the leaders voted, followership can be very supportive, I commend all members of CDGN. They found a comforting shoulder to lean on in the Executive Governor of Akwa Ibom State, His Execllency, Governor Umo Bassey Eno, from the moment His Execllency was briefed, He became the Chief Mourner. Abigail was all the hope her poor parents had in life. Like the lady Coper from Cross River State who was human and humble and proud to celebrate her poor parents who traded their need for a house for her education. To whom Governor Umo Bassey Eno gifted a house her parent may never be able to build. Gov Umo Bassey Eno, human as always; took charge of the unfortunate situation birthing fortune at every twist and turn for the family of Abigail. Umo Bassey Eno’s goodness is being talked about in Cross River and Akwa Ibom States. Keeping this up, It’s only a matter of time for his brand to become a story of goodness everywhere, apologies to #Win9eria.

I am a part of the Nollywood Industry being the privileged husband of Joy Osawaru-Akinyemi, a lady with two caps in the industry, first as the President of Creative Designers Guild of Nigeria and 2nd as the Vice Chairman of the Federation of Nollywood Guilds and Associations. Living with a woman whose life is centred around the industry and whose passion to see growth of the industry has made me a burden bearer with her of the Industry. Though, I am an Apostle by calling and a Nation Builder by passion, my wife’s dogmatism to spirituality can be very challenging, woman instinct or spirituality, it’s difficult to pin point but most times, she is often right. For about a month now she has been very persistent on the need for corporate prayers by industry stakeholders. I have failed her by not being able to reach the men of God she wanted for the meeting till this last tragedy happened! And please, don’t blame me for being weary towards prayer in the country where special prayers are regularly called to see Naira triumph over Dollars.

My condolences to all Industry Stakeholders.

However, this isn’t a moment to allow ourselves to be clouded in mind to the near absence of safety procedures in Nigeria, particularly with respect for water transportation.

No one can deny Lagos State her place as the most advanced state in safety related administration in Nigeria, but not even Lagos has been spared of this snare that the nature’s gift of the body of water around us has become. This re-occurring tragedy is without abatement on our waterways, this should be the last suicidal trips Nigerians are compelled to take for our failure to regulate water transportation!

Way back in 1983, I was in company of my cousins to take a Baba Kekere (a ferry) from Mile 2 to Taqua Bay. I got on board and requested for life Jackets for all onboard. A life jacket for my weight couldn’t be found, I refused to be harassed, but insisted my size should be provided. I delayed others “unnecessarily”. But the right thing was done and we proceeded on our journey.

I wasn’t that lucky on another experience on my way back from Taraba State September 2023, in a bid to avoid the terrible route through Ibi, (Ibi is the home to Wadume, an APC chieftain just released from prison back to business) via a bridge to Wukari notable for kidnapping. We opted to sail both passengers and bus over river Niger at Logo to Zaki Biam on a badly made wooden boat. I asked for a life jacket but no one seems interested in my grammar to deserve a response!

Forget all the face saving comments in respect of life jackets. It is what it is with water transportation in Nigeria. My unwilling horse was dragged across the water in fear without a life jacket. All thanks to God we made it by mercy to the other side, not of life but the river.

It is about time that safety related professional knowledge should find their ways into our educational curriculum. Acculturation of safety is a lacking ingredient at building value driving citizens through our educational system.

Superstition of belief is another snare of safety in Nigeria. May the soul of Bro Dele be restful. Talking about Dele, I was unfortunate to lead my workers to the beach to refresh in appreciation of a very productive year, that was December 1993. We got to the beach and a Brother, Kelvin who was a sailor called my attention to the change in colour of the water and concluded it wasn’t a safe time to enter the water, he had hardly concluded when one from among my workers shouted at me, “Dele is drowning”! Till today Dele’s body is never to be seen. We went to break the sad news to his father but he seems to have his shocks absorber prepared; “but Dele knew he should never go near water, Omo omi ni Dele”. Meaning Dele knew he should never go near water for he is a child of the river, for that was where we got him”. I won’t be surprised if those who drowned are accursed of being “omo omi”. If the children of the river are drowned at the river, what then is the fate of those who aren’t. But no child of the river has drowned anywhere in the world with a life jacket on.

The sailors education saved my sanity for a superior knowledge had found its way into my mind before the “omo omi” things entered inside. The changing colours of the waters was one of the things he left with me, further lesson from my sailor brother is the best time to travel by sea, which he said should be in the morning between, 6am-11am and that from 12pm upward sea turbulence by the reason of waves will increase and as such may come with very rough sea conditions!

Beyond the life jackets and their sizes matching your weight is the need to make sure you are wearing the life jacket rightly, there’s a certain way you have to wear the jacket, it has to fit in very well and tightly too. For If you don’t wear life jacket properly, if any accident happens, the life jacket itself may drown you.

Our superstitious belief system are supported by such stories of the unfortunate capsizing of Mungo Park’s boat and his eventual burial in 1806 at the bank of the River Niger in Jebba where his body was found. The age long tradition of communities along river banks that those who drowned in water are sacrifices taken by the goddess of the river and therefore must be buried at the river banks, hence the calamity will trail their children found a 2nd strength in Julius Berger’s story. If white men are obedient to river myth and its snares, what then should black men do? This unwholesome tradition that is enriching river priests and priestesses, is what it is, business shredded in traditional secrecy! Truth is, we must free ourselves from enslaving traditions that deny us our rights as humans to our dead loved ones. If following ones parents is the threat for not having them buried in the place where they should be. Then it should be challenged!

Safety is a marriage of the natural and the supernatural. To be safe, transition must occur from physical cautions into a spiritual discernment!

Eph 6 vs 13 (ISV):

“For this reason, take up the whole armor of God so that you may be able to take a stand whenever evil comes. And when you have done everything you could, you will be able to stand firm.”

There are the ALL we must do before calling God. While standing in our space under his authority to exert power to forbid evil, we must do all within human ability before resorting to God.

Today, wearing a car seat belt is almost a driving culture in Nigeria because the Government rose to the occasion through FRSC to enforce its use strictly!

It is sad that Nollywood as the light of the Nation allowed this to happen to young promising hopes because there are no safety guidelines for water transportation of crew and casts!

The untimely death of those involved in the mishap must not be in vain. Many unsavoury stories are coming out of Asaba Nollywood, as practically the only place where Tom, Dick and Harry can have their way as Producers, Directors and Actors. They are completely cut off from the weak regulations in the Industry. It is better described as the jungle of Nollywood!

We should borrow a leaf from the oil industry. Safety begins with each practitioner; your personal health and safety insurance policy, you should prioritise, then operating environmental safety is the duty of Federation of Nollywood Guilds and Associations to regulate and supervise. Practitioners must have it at their fingertips and never allow themselves to be compromised. Oil Industries are operating at the higher level of safety than what is obtainable in the country. Those who should model us, unfortunately are as ignorant as we are! Nollywood should raise the safety standards of operations in their industry.

I mourn with the Chairman of the Federation of Nollywood Guilds and Associations, FONGA, Dr Victor Okhai, but as said by the Yorubas; “bi a ba nsukun, a ma nriran”, in mourning we see. I see with you a future where safety guidelines will be the preoccupations of all for the good of all practitioners. We don’t have to wait for the Government!

I personally can’t deny the great strides of their Excellencies, Governors Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State and his Edo State counter Godwin Obaseki whose infrastructural provision made possible successful filming of “Iyeoba” a production directed by Dr Henry Obidi, which will premiere in Benin on the 27th of April 2024.

Excellencies Sir, your partnership with the industry has provided better operating environment and conditions of service, I hope this will be improved upon.

However, I will use this opportunity to reach out to Governor Alex Otti whose citizen, Friday Okoroafor was one of the victims as well as Governor Sim Fubara whose citizen Precious Oforum also lost his life to please say something to do something!

I will call on the Minister of Creative Economy whose impact the industry must feel at this trying time. Ms Hannatu Musa Musawa , Hon. Minister ma’am, please unfold your roadmap for the creative industries of music, drama and dance, without leaving out the new creative world of content development and strategic communication to which I belong.

Hon Minister, the average age of a Nigerian is 17 years old. Trapped in renewable hope of your Principal is a large number of youths living daily in hope of daily bread which their creativity is sufficient to provide if only you will rise to the challenge and provide an enabling and safe environment.

I mourn with President Bola Ahmed Tinubu whose plan for the industry we all can see and relate with through the creation of the ministry of the Creative Economy. A pattern Governor Umo Bassey Eno followed to create the ministry of entertainment; the arm of mercy through which CDGN and the family of Abigail were comforted.

May grace of time be granted His Excellency when CDGN comes calling on the visit to the family of Abigail and the state to be on ground to receive them.

To the bereaved families and all Nigerians on this unfortunate but avoidable tragedy, safety is the business of all. Let’s all be concerned about the safety of one another.

“A o ni ri iru e mo o.” May we not witness such again, AMEN!

Dr Bolaji O. Akinyemi is an Apostle and Nation Builder. He’s also President Voice of His Word Ministries and Convener Apostolic Round Table.

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