I had all along heard a lot of good stories about Calabar, the capital of Cross River State, and the heartland of Efik among others. Growing up, my first connection with the city was the story we were told in elementary school about Mary Slessor, the Scottish missionary who came to the place to spread Christianity. She was so loved, accepted and respected by the natives that she soon became one of them. Widely credited with eliminating the killing of twins in the area, Slessor lived, worked and died in Calabar.
But as the years went by, Calabar began to hold a different attraction for me. By most accounts, especially during the reign of Mr. Donald Duke as governor, Calabar became one of the most beautiful cities in Nigeria while the state, with its enchanting Obudu Cattle Ranch, emerged the number one tourist destination in the country. People talked about its well-paved streets, its orderliness and cleanliness, its irresistible cuisine as well as the warmth and friendliness of its people. And when the great annual Calabar Carnival started years ago, the city’s effect on me became even stronger.
By Road or By Air?
For two weeks I struggled within myself whether to hit Calabar by road or go by air. I had never embarked on a journey this far in my entire life but I was filled with “adventure syndrome” like my close friends would call it. Now the moment of decision had come I said to myself. The Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalists (WSCIJ) seminar to which I was invited as WESTERN POST Correspondent was a few hours away. I called my boss to hear his opinion about the seminar and how I would go, he was opposed to my traveling by road thinking the organizers would provide me flight tickets. But unknown to him, part of the criteria for attending the seminar was that attendees would come by road. They had also thought all the attendees were coming from the South-south. I was determined to attend the seminar no matter what. The seminar was already too close and getting a flight ticket would mean one would have to pay through her nose. Around 4 pm Monday October 27, I made a call through to the organizers of the seminar that I would be coming for the workshop in Calabar. Having informed her that I live and work in Lagos and that I would come by road, the Centre Coordinator took a deep breath and said, “I would be expecting you”. I’m sure she must be thinking about the long distance travelling by road.
October 28, 2014 was the arrival day for all participants in Calabar. I got up early so as to arrive at the bus station of Cross Country Transport Service at Yaba in Mainland Lagos by 8 am. I was so lucky to meet the last seat available. And so we took off for the unending journey, from Yaba Park to Calabar.
Moving from one village to the other was so much fun. I saw people in different shapes and sizes and heard people speaking different languages. As the hour went by, we crossed over 28 communities and even by then we had barely gotten to half of the journey of estimated 763km. My heart beat twice than normal when I realised that the estimated time of traveling by road to Calabar remained 9 hours going by Google map and 13 hours by Cross-Country account. We were then still trapped along the lonely 252km Benin-Ore 3 hours after. The longer we travelled it seemed the short the distance we had covered. I dosed off in the bus until I heard a loud noise from a little child “Daddy this water is plenty” then I woke up, I looked around and saw the beautiful sight of River Niger. Surprised I stayed close and glued to the window beside me to be double sure it was indeed River Niger. By then we had covered some 343 km from Lagos. It was 9 pm and we were still on the road. The Center co-coordinator was getting panic-stricken; she kept calling to know how close I was to Tinapa, the venue of the conference. I was getting worried too; I kept on asking no one in particular when we would get to Calabar. I kep on asking how unending the journey was turning out to be.
Finally 8 Mile
Then finally we arrived 8 Mile, which is the junction linking to Tianapa Lakeside Hotel. Again, luckily enough for me, we got a cab who dropped me at the Hotel. As I got into the Hotel, Mrs.MotunrayoAlaka, the Centre Coordinator who had been monitoring my movement, was waiting at the reception to receive me. We exchanged pleasantries and I was checked into my room and we all departed to our various rooms to get ready for the next day when the conference would begin in earnest.
Day One, October 29
Lecture commenced with a quick introduction of the facilitators and participants. We were taken through the history of the foundation. Mrs.Alaka also gave a run down on the topics we would cover like- Understanding the Fundamentals of Women and Girls, Laws and Policies on Girls and Women Rights, which focused more on International laws and Nigerian Constitution. At noon, it was time for tea break and the duration was 30 minutes. Thereafter, Premium Times Editor, Mr.MusikiluMojeed took us through the topic- Sourcing References and Disclosure Provision for Gender Data. And after lunch, it was the turn of the Editor-in-Chief of Premium Times, Mr.DapoOlorunyomi, who is also the founder of WSCIJ, to preach what I call the good gospel on the Art and Act of Story Telling. I took a front row seat because I was determined to learn the glaring difference between narration and description.Before we knew it, Day One had come to a close so soon and it was time to call it a day. I retired to my room for a sound sleep
Day Two, October 30
I was very agile for the day. After breakfast at the restaurant, I hurried down to the lecture room for the seminar. The day’s WSCIJ seminar commenced with a brief summary of the lecture. Participants were asked to talk about what they learnt the previous day. I said a few things about the unique topics on Imitation, some aspects of narrative and creative process of a story. Mr.Olorunyomi was again on hand to take us through the topic- Media Ethnic and Professionalism: Its Theory, Case Study and Ethics to follow while writing a story, which would help to guide us against laws and rules guiding institutions in the state. The training further touched on the topic- Investigative interviewing ways of asking questions, techniques when working as undercover reporter and how to carry out the operation.
Finally it was time for a wrap-up. The training was very impressive. All of us bounded well. We all took pictures side-by-side, all of us. Well, I was keen on having autographs of our facilitators, which I was pleased to get. Group pictures were taken to mark our presence.
After the official closing of the training, I took to the pleasure of going on a boat trip around Tinapa Resort Centre, across the bridge and then back. I must say that I had the pleasure to feel the fresh waters of by the mountains of Tinapa. I retired back to my hotel room to prepare for my journey back to Lagos, this time by air.
Day 3, October 31
At about 7 am breakfast buffet was ready . I had a light breakfast with a few of my fellow participants. We compared notes and shared our experiences on various story ideas we had executed in the past. Most importantly, we all reminisced on the seminar and its impact on our jobs. I learnt that writing is an art not an act; the difference is quite clear but this difference is mistaken by a few. Also I learnt about the various drastic steps to take when reporting and investigating female related issues in Nigeria. We exchanged banters and contacts because we hope to keep on networking with each other after the seminar.It was time to say good bye. It was as if we had all known each other for years. As we left for our various destinations, my good friend AsamAsari, a renowned make-up artisite who resides in Calabar came to pick me up at the hotel and took me through the city of Calabar. Glancing through the window, I could see clearly that calabar is a very clean and green environment with a lot of trees and plants everywhere, Though I never had much time to see the city at its best but my observation is the city is beautiful and serene.
I stopped over at the Zaron Studios in Calabar, at the behest of my friend Asari who did a quick make-over for me. “Don’t I look cute,” I asked after it all. After spending an hour at the makeover studio it was time to hurry to the airport for check-in formalities. My journey to Lagos this time aboard Aero contractors took just 45 minutes, something that had taken me well over 13 hours by road three days earlier. As I touched down in Lagos, it was to the warm embrace of a cool breeze of the Ikeja airport. But it was not long after that I began to feel the hectic hustle bustle of Lagos city. Please welcome to Lagos. In all, my experience on this remarkable journey gave me the opportunity of understanding and appreciating my role as a woman journalist, which is to help lend a voice, using my journalism background as platform, to promoting issues relating to women. And at the seminar I learnt the ways and means of carrying out this noble assignment. Thank you WSIJ.