16 March 2015, Lagos – Chairman Silverbird Group Ben Murray-Bruce, has been making whistle stop and door to doorcampaigns fn his Brass East Senatorial Zone with tumultuous crowds cheering along the way for the man they call the Obama of Africa. Traversing seas, thorny paths and deep forests, Murray-Bruce looks like a breath of fresh air in the midst of wallowing poverty, disease and hopelessness among the waterside people of Brass East. NDUKA NWOSU who visited Murray-Bruce in Los Angeles and Bayelsa State while on holiday recounts the experience:
It is mid-morning and the party is about to begin. The entourage proceeds in a motorcade to the Ogbia Jetty on sea to Twon Brass. Ben Murray-Bruce, PDP Senatorial candidate for the Brass East Senatorial District in the March 28 slugfest, is running a race against time; his reflexes define his desperation to get things done for the sake of posterity.
Today his campaign team proceeds to Twon Brass where he will join the Bayelsa State Deputy Governor and Deputy Chairman State Presidential Campaign Committee, Rear Admiral Gboribiogha John Jonah (Rtd), with other State and National Assembly candidates. The waiting crowd of idle youths roars and cheers to welcome this black man who looks and speaks like Barack Obama. Murray-Bruce responds with a victory sign in the air.
He looks around him to take a deep survey of a decrepit environment he hardly comes in contact with; an air of depression sinks into his psyche; for a while he remains speechless and withdrawn, his countenance changes and you can tell he is crying without tears rolling down his cheeks. He picks up and waves to the crowd once more walking in quick steps and calculated gaits to the waiting gun boats ready to fly him and his team across the creeks to Twon Brass.
All around the swampy vicinity, quaint looking huts silhouetted against the back drop of brackish water beneath it, complement batchers on planks, contrasted with abandoned, obsolete zinc sheets, an architecture of the downtrodden meant for human habitation. This is the true face of the Niger Delta, the oil producing people.
The potential voters hanging around the pathway ask for nothing but cash which for them makes more difference than the promise of empowerment through good education, job creation and “let there be light,” Murray Bruce’s mantra in this election period. Where no cash exchanges hands, the angry crowd, some semi-demented arising from abuse of some substance or having got hooked to alcohol, curses and threatens to no end. If “how for do,” some cash comes from a Good Samaritan in the campaign train, the curse even becomes more pronounced with the threat that someone would pay the price in the kidnap industry for handing over peanuts. James Heineken, a young man in his early twenties runs helter skelter like a masquerade on the rampage in the market square, his handkerchief folded round his head like an imagery from the Islamic Brotherhood camp dropped into the middle of the creek town. “I no gree oohh. Tell Uncle Ben Bruce he must settle me today. I be welder oohh, my hands don scatter where me they weld all my life. Now I no fit oohh, na kidnap I wan do oohh and I go feed my family oohh, my wife and children oohh.”
The rampaging masquerade in human form had, judging from his early morning fragrance, soaked himself with this local brew called ‘kinkana ,’ asking for more if only some ‘quid’ comes his way. The personality he is asking for is somewhere in Kiagho paying homage to traditional rulers. Frustrated at not reaching his target, Heineken becomes an object of harassment to some members of the entourage left behind for want of space.
The party proceeds as Murray-Bruce shielded from the thickening crowd manages to disengage from his guards to speak hope and a future that can make a difference if only it will be part of his deal with the youths of Brass East. While some applaud the wake-up call, others want an immediate result indicative in their restless moves and shuffles almost wanting to jump into the waiting gunboats; but the presence of the soldiers and the smoking guns of the boat repel them, expectedly.
At 40 nautical miles per hour, Lance Corporal Efegi Padiki sets his throttle eastwards defining his destination against the backdrop of the roaring water, presently disturbed by the dazzling movement of the JTF gunboat. An hour and thirty minutes later, the Murray Bruce Campaign Network is on ground at the Yenagoa Jetty welcomed by an equally vote for cash crowd of young men and a sprinkle of young women mostly teenage mothers with their love kids strapped to the backs.
Somehow, it is fun to welcome the man they have heard of, seen on television and celebrated by newspapers and magazines home and abroad. But that is as far as it goes. What is the cash value of this homecoming, they demand. Is it worth a king’s ransom just like Sir Arthur and his Men of the Roundtable? Is this our own Robin Hood or ‘Alibaba and the 40 Thieves’ about to steal from the rich for the poor or has he come to impoverish us the more? Their looks and body movements spoke of nothing else but the anger of a deprived group. The answer? Definitely not. Yet, as sad as the situation presents itself, the fun of contrasts goes on to a comedy of politicians and their potential voters this season.
Well it is not very clear at what point the decision to run for public office became an issue and a feather to add to his already festooned cap of achievements. What is known about his early life is that Ben Murray-Bruce was a Senior Prefect in his days at St Gregory College Obalende-Lagos, was already an organiser of events and played a role in the making of the famous Ofege Group, students of the institution whose music and stagecraft, patterned after the Jackson Five, ruled the airwaves in the 1970s.
Later in life, Murray-Bruce’s encounter with Jessie Jackson during his Presidential campaign and African tour saw the young man giving himself a job as he toured some African states with the black civil rights leader. He obviously picked some principles from the powerful politician, orator and preacher. And having studied in the US, Murray-Bruce saw the power of those who offer to serve rather than be served.
Murray-Bruce served his apprenticeship in public life as director general of NTA, and now chairman Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) , a media mogul who campaigned for Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan. Successful in business and showmanship, his ability to charm his audience is long a mastery that stands out the men from the boys.
Shortly before he embarked on this journey, he told his admirers, he wanted a hero figure from the African continent, somebody that connects with modern governance, not tainted by the spoils of office. That man turned out to be Paul Kagame, the Rwandan warlord and administrator who is fast turning a country which in recent times was the focus of global discourse and for the wrong reason-genocide, to a world class investment destination. Kagame, who has piloted a constitution that has a zero tolerance for corruption, did not disappoint Murray-Bruce.
According to him President Kagame’s strong vision is driving the economy to the point of being counted as one of Africa’s leading investment destinations. Going forward Murray-Bruce advocates, we must pick what is best for the Nigeria of the future, a country which someday under the PDP, must be corruption free and nobody in public office, repeat nobody standing as custodian of the public treasury, will steal such fund and get away with it. That will not be accomplished through the current stance of both political divides pointing accusing fingers at each other. No, he says, all hands must be on deck and we as a people must move the country forward through our collective decisions.
It is about everybody agreeing that any one who wants to serve the people must get it right so that the collective wealth and God given resources should be utilised to the benefit of all especially the people
What Murray-Bruce has promised his Senatorial Zone is that there is no way his presence in the Senate will be for the purpose of enriching himself or negotiating away their common patrimony for a mesh of porridge. Says a popular chief during a church service to welcome Murray Bruce and his campaign organisation led by Austin Dresman, a former Vice-Chairman of All States Bank: “Here in Sangana, our son listen and listen carefully, ecological fund that will help fight erosion has been embezzled by someone or a group of economic renteers and prebendal, self-seeking politicians; look at that place, far into the horizon, far, far across the sea. That was the extent to which this town, your mother’s place was known. Today, see what erosion has done to us. You sent us something to help celebrate our centenary and we thank you. But I tell you at the rate the sea is eating up our land, this may be our last centenary and we will have nowhere to call our own. We need your help.”
Perhaps for Ben Bruce going into public office is to serve and do good. Mrs. Philomena Hammond first daughter of the patriarch William Murray Bruce captures the true essence of it when she speaks forcefully on this current assignment. Ben, she admits, wants quick results insisting we prayer warriors did not do enough to pray down the miracles when he first gave indication he wanted to run as governor. I told him it was not God’s wish, not because our prayers did not get to Him. Now we are praying and he knows he is not going to Abuja to negotiate for contracts using the goodwill of the people he has come to serve. That name William Murray-Bruce stands for integrity and Ben knows we are not asking for anything less.”
Adds Mrs. Hammond: “Members of the Murray-Bruce family are public servants; we live and share what we have with others. That is the great Rotarian spirit for which daddy was known all his life. He was a simple man who made fortune to elevate mankind and he did not believe in waste. “Every envelope that came to his mailbox was unfolded and turned to a new envelope and he worked hard to make his staff happy. That is the spirit of Ben and every one of us here. We are humble, and love to serve. I know the family shield Ben is carrying will not disappoint him.”
Beyond the shield, in Sangana, the people presented him with a florescent lamp lit as a symbol of his guardian angel leading him and chasing away dark alleys and evil spirits as he proceeds to fight their cause.
Back in Twon Brass, after rest at the palace of King Serena Dokubo, he proceeds to the home of Beimo Spiff Cameron, a former commissioner and PDP chieftain before mounting the rostrum to address the ecstatic crowd too eager to hear him speak. Says the Senatorial aspirant: “No man, I repeat, no man was born poor or illiterate except for the circumstances piloting the affairs of such men.” Therefore, he insists, “let no one imagine he cannot be what he wishes to be. There is need to create the right environment to help each one of us get to his God driven destination. ”
In the fashion of the Saviour, escounced by anointing pastors and reverend gentlemen, he adds: “Silver and gold have I not, but when I get to Abuja I will mobilise my friends in the two parties, my friends across the north, south, east and west to pass a bill legalising all illegal refineries and with loan which has been lying idle at the Central Bank, you will be empowered to build modular refineries. You should be able to create jobs for the thousands of your brothers and sisters who walk aimlessly because there is no work to keep them busy I will get the NNPC to sell crude oil to you and there will be no more cases of pipeline vandalism and illegal refining of crude oil.
“Let me restate, I chose not to drink or smoke but to follow the path of sanity so as to remain sober and think clearly. That is why I am here today and if you listen to me the sky will be your limit. Trust me” Cheers and jubilation.
Out from the loudspeaker, the music of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti boomed and Murray-Bruce tells the crowd: “That is Rhythm 94.7 based in Yenagoa from the Silverbird stable serving the people of Bayelsa along with Rhythm 93.7 and Silverbird Television in Port Harcourt.” He quickly makes a job offer for a skilled engineer from his Senatorial Zone, a broadcaster male and female for the radio station. The crowd goes wild with joy and he responds in a baritone voice of “how ‘you doing?” Grreeaat came the thunderous response.
Murray-Bruce is reminded that King Ebitimi Banigo grandmaster of merchant banking in Nigeria has put everything in place in his palace at Okpoma Brass 2 to give this unique august visitor in January a befitting royal welcome in his kingdom. In his absence the king’s most senior chiefs welcome the businessman/politician to the palace with royal gifts from the king; this is reciprocated with gifts from Murray-Bruce. He receives prayers and blessings and is asked to go and conquer.
Still at Okpoma Brass, a crowd of admirers is waiting to hear the Senatorial aspirant present his address. “This is the land of your ancestors. I tell you don’t let anyone intimidate you as long as you live according to the laws of the land. Don’t steal or break pipelines, refrain from the kidnap business; don’t smoke weed or any harmful substance. This is my deal with you; when I get to Abuja I will fight your case. Trust me.” Applause.
It was getting dark. Lance Corporal Padiki and his platoon were on duty to steer the warriors-the gun boats homewards. As Murray-Bruce approaches the boats, the Jetty Boys of Brass are waiting impatiently with a plethora of requests. Papa Murray-Bruce, grandson of the patriarch, on hand to negotiate such wishes, receives curses for daring to satisfy them with peanuts but he gets along with them anyway. Papa, always the last man standing, boards his boat as Padiki hurries down the sea with a zooming speed, tearing the waters apart trailing the second boat, back to Yenagoa, headquarters of the campaign organisation. Everybody is glad as notes are being compared but tomorrow may well mark up the tempo and fever. It did not fail in expectations.
Nembe, a city of two towns is ready for the distinguished citizen in waiting, Ben Murray-Bruce (OON). With the deputy governor he is presented to the Nembe Kingdom. Inside the Nembe Town Hall, inscriptions made by the great architects of the city tell the story of how the Lander Brothers were kidnapped but after the king of Nembe paid a ransom on their behalf, they were released to Her Majesty’s Government. The goodwill did not go unappreciated for the white man made a pact with Nembe as trade partners that exposed the city to early civilsation. Someone curiously adds: “So this kidnap and ransom business did not start today?”
However, Murray-Bruce takes a divergent view asking the youths of Nembe just as the Association of Nembe Students counselled on their billboards, to stay away from such acts that have given the Niger Delta a bad name inclusive of kidnapping, cultism, prostitution and teenage pregnancy. The Deputy Governor, King Amalate Johnny Turner a member of the Presidential Committee, other dignitaries and Murray-Bruce ride on a canoe for a five minute drive to the other side of Nembe; as usual the reception is grand but the icing on the cake is the welcome at Akasa and Sangana, Murray-Bruce’s ancestral roots.
At the jetty, a flag waves as the crowd jubilates on sighting from afar the approaching gun boats. The dance groups and their drums beat with ecstasy; their own brother has arrived. The jubilation knows no bounds. At the reception, Murray-Bruce speaks greets the chiefs and the people in local dialect: “Anua oohh, Anua oohh (I greet you my people.) He speaks of his humble background and how hard work and stewardship have brought him this far. He speaks again on the need to create jobs promising to introduce or sponsor 10 bills that will help improve their lot when elected to the Senate. He offers a job both in the broadcast unit of Silverbird’s 94.7 F.M. Station recently launched in Yenagoa, adopts a young boy with the prospects of good education anywhere in the country that will not be of inconvenience to his parents. The boy, he says, will read to any level and will be sponsored by the Ben Murray-Bruce Foundation.
Great ovation! His first official assignment is the cutting of the tape to open his campaign office in Okpokiri Akasa. Adds Harcourt Adukeh his cousin and a prominent architect who runs a construction company in Port Harcourt: “That house was built by Ben’s father for his sister who happens to be my mother. Akasa is a lovely town, which was why the British who came here settled with the people. Down there is the defunct UAC premises where our grandfather worked and here is mother’s graveside. I had to come to welcome Ben and his entourage. With the seaside facing you, I sometimes carry my chair to live with nature. We encourage them to come home, build more houses and with his new clout we need motorable roads in Akasa.”
That is a problem. No cars operate in Akasa and Murray-Bruce’s Rolls Royces and limousines long left for rentals and entertainment cannot come to Akasa. Instead of cars only okada motorbikes are available for the rich and poor. A member of the campaign organisation and elder brother of the aspirant, Willie Murray-Bruce, an accountant and former Air Force pilot who saw action during the Biafran-Nigerian war, remembers the days when a boat came from Nembe with chilled drinks and comestibles making a boat ride a pleasurable experience.
All that is gone and the oil companies only build roads that guarantee a walk and an okada ride. “What these companies have done to the community,” laments one indigene, “is left to the Almighty. They dig your oil and leave you impoverished in a conspiracy nurtured by our own people.” In the circumstance, Murray-Bruce comes as a breath of fresh air with hope for tomorrow. Says Murray-Bruce himself: “We will ask those who drill our oil to cede 40 percent ownership to the people. I am referring to wealthy Nigerians who received gifts of oil blocks and marginal fields through their oil companies or in collaboration with their foreign partners.
” Also as a Senator of the Federal Republic, I will introduce a bill to the National Assembly for the creation of a Marshall Plan for the North east to fast track its largely backward economy to a modern development oriented region or zone. The idea is to help the zone keep pace with the other more economically developing states of the federation. We must put together a package that seeks to grow a scarcely developed industrial network, develop its poor educational institutions and equip them with modern methods and skills of learning. “Again, there is need for a population control policy where we must work to determine the actual population of this country; there is need to put in place a birth control policy to check our vaulting population. The country is already a victim of a high misery index with a population that is ahead of its economic development programme. This must be reversed
“The Niger Delta deserves an Empowerment Development Programme. The people are entitled to their rich natural resources; therefore 40 percent of the marginal oil fields ceded to certain Nigerians should go to the people. “This is a fair deal; they need to be part of their God given wealth and not stand as mere spectators watching foreigners make away with their resources in exchange for peanuts.”
Besides Conoil, which has built classrooms, roads and a clinic, the other oil companies do nothing tangible for the people, laments one of the youths. Conoil, it is learnt, also pays a monthly salary of N20, 000 to the youths and this has helped calm their nerves and reduce incidents of pipeline vandalism and bunkering. Yet the question remains, does this patronizing gesture not amount to selling one’s birthright for a mesh of porridge and if the answer is in the positive, how will the people redeem what nature has bestowed on them?
It is time to move to another side of the community and the okada ride or is it okada-cade sees a lineup of over 100 machines driving Murray-Bruce and his entourage down the sandy roads leading to the town hall where he receives another impressive outing. Here again Murray-Bruce adopts a four year old girl promising he will give her the best education anyone will be proud to have. A special request for the broadcast of Akasa language in Rhythm 94.7 is initiated. The Silverbird chairman approves to the delight of his audience.
Next day is Sunday and Murray-Bruce goes to Ogbokiri; he is received at the palace of the traditional ruler, the late King Anthony by the Council of Chiefs making a donation from his mother; he proceeds to Sangana her birth place. Still on the family tree, Willie Murray-Bruce stresses: “My grandmother on my father’s side is called Bariya and comes from Sangana in Akasa. My grandmother on my mother’s side Bessy Tuguere Ahiti Lee comes from Minibie in Akasa, was born 13th May 1899 and died February 10, 1990. My mother, Margaret Dolly Murray-Bruce (nee Lee) was born October 26, 1926 and is now 88.”
The church service at the Anglican Church in Sangana is waiting for Murray-Bruce to read the second sermon from the old testament of the Holy Bible. Unfortunately the party arrives late but early enough to hear the special sermon delivered for the distinguished son of the soil. Hon Uroh Omiekumo Kiani, a commissioner in the Bayelsa Local Government Service Commission and Secretary Ben Murray-Bruce for Senate Committee, introduces the Senatorial aspirant. Venerable Loveday Njoku, Archdeacon Brass Archdeaconry, Diocese of the Niger Delta, ‘delivers a sermon on ‘Faithfulness, God’s First Requirement.’ In this election season the reverend gentleman says, it is all too common for politicians to come to men of God to seek his face. Regarding the visitor, Njoku adds, there was a revelation about this encounter through the dream of a tall tree that overshadowed him. Njoku’s wife who is good in the interpretation of dreams was not too sure of the meaning but along the line the revelation suggested the coming of a man of the people who will be a source of hope and great things to come, assuring Murray-Bruce God is on his side and that victory is his for the taking. However, he warns, he must remain a steward, not a master just like many politicians are as soon as they get the people’s votes.
At the Sangana Town Hall Murray Bruce is presented with a lantern lit to help him see clearly and as a guide from the Almighty. Again he offers jobs, promises Akasa language will be a medium of broadcast on Rhythm 94.7 and that he will always seek the interest of his people at all times. “What shall it profit me to acquire all the wealth of this world and lose my soul?” He asks adding “at this point of my life I cherish to serve, not to exploit the people because I have accomplished everything I set my hands on. He reminds all that children are God’s special creation and for each such soul he salvages, his assurance of going to heaven is sealed. Next on the campaign train are the people of Ogbia waiting to receive him. Another great welcome heralds his coming and this time the Deputy Governor welcomes the aspirants and speaks well of them with King Turner presenting them to the Ogbia Community.