The truth must be told that I did not catch it mistakenly as Yibo had put up notices on Social Media (Facebook) that Seki would be on air a particular time that day and so we waited and we saw it.
As I watched thew performance and how the house mates watched in awe I couldn’t help but remember the last time I met Yibo. We do not meet too often as he is a big man and I am not, so I remember every time I meet him.
Hotel Presidential in Port Harcourt
So I met Yibo Koko at the Hotel presidential in Port Harcourt one week before the inauguration of the new Rivers State government team. That should have been something like the last Thursday of the month of May 2019.
That was the night the former Super Eagles players arrived for the Novelty match in Port Harcourt played for the inauguration of the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike and I was at the lobby of the hotel when they came in to take their rooms.
There were Peter Rufai, Okechukwu Uche, Austin Eguavoen, Friday Ekpo, Samson Siasia, Tarila Okorowanta, Mutui Adepoju et al. But the one that surprised me the most was Finidi George who I had not seen attend any event in Nigeria with his mates since he quit the National Team. I know Finidi was in Lagos a week earlier for the Governor Ambode farewell match, but wasn’t this something?
I walked up to him and reminded him that the last time I was that close to him was when he played at Sharks in the 90s even though at the Super Eagles during the 2002 World Cup Qualifiers hosted in Port Harcourt, I did not really get close to him. He smiled and simply went, “That was a very long time ago.”
If you know Finidi George as we knew him, he was the life of Sharks between 1988 and 1993. Yes, for two years in-between, he moved to join Calabar Rovers, but he was our boy. Like my late friend, Amainye Ibama would say back then, “If Finidi play well, Sharks go play well, if Finidi no play well, Sharks no go play well,” but I am I drifting away from why I am writing this piece?
We stood for a selfie (Finidi and I), but this piece is not about the Super Eagles but Yibo Koko, my last meeting with him and the Seki Dance Drama.
I was at the hotel for a meeting that lasted late at night and I just sat in the lobby waiting and chatting with the Super Eagles players as they walked by picking their room keys- Mobi Oparakwu, Obinna Nwaneri and the rest
But back to Yibo
As I sat in the lobby, Yibo moved towards me and sat on the next chair and after exchanging pleasantries, we got talking. There were two others sat with me, a senior police officer in mufti and another fellow who I do not remember right now.
Yibo was a very popular person at the University of Port Harcourt in the late 80s and early 90s. I was not popular at all so I doubt if he remembered me from school. I was just the son of the Deputy Registrar, but he? Who wouldn’t remember him? He led a student army that cleansed the university of the scourge of gangs, known as campus cults back in the day.
It was a very long time ago, but from the way I remember it, he led the UNIMOG army, a group of students who decided that they were tired of the way campus gangs had instilled fear in the student populace. At that time, the Nigerian Army was in Liberia to help keep peace and the group was called ECOMOG or ECOWAS Monitoring group, hence the name, UNIMOG or University Monitoring Group.
The University of Port Harcourt was basically gangland at the time and though there were no deaths then, it was getting worse and seemed just a matter of time.
This army (UNIMOG), fished out these boys, popularly called cultists, one after the other and after a beating and public humiliation, they were handed over the operatives of the State Security Services or CID. For me at that time it was amazing to see how these boys were were all scared off started running away from school and how they became, small, powerless and scared the moment they were caught. It was also amazing how the same students who feared these boys suddenly grew the balls to chase them around school and apprehend them, no dangerous weapons, nothing, just unity in purpose.
It was an adventure then at the university and as a young boy in school then, I enjoyed the drama. I experienced some arrests myself, some basically unknown students and others some high profile cases like the current Mr. Uniport at the time, the Student Union Government, SUG president and some others, but that is a story for another day.
As Yibo sat next to me, we got talking and he regaled us with the UNIMOG days, how it started and what motivated him to do it. Again, this is a story for another day.
Rivers State in 2019
He then got talking about the security situation in the state and there was only one reason I listened to him.
There are three kinds of people that talk about such things in Rivers State- the pro- PDP who never see anything wrong in the state even if it hits them in the face, the pro- APC or anti- PDP who will politicise everything just to discredit the government and then the neutral who just wanted the best for the state.
I really do not know Yibo’s political leanings but I thought he spoke from a pure heart about the security situation in Rivers State. He spoke like a true Port Harcourt boy who wanted to see changes in the state. If you ever met a true Port Harcourt boy you will know and you will love him immediately.
He started by asking us why the lobby of the Hotel Presidential was so empty on a Thursday night? He asked us how the lobby of the hotel should be at that time of night.
Then he told us that even if we were all Port Harcourt boys, we knew it was not safe to be out at night and we were only outside our homes at that time because what ever took us out was pretty important. He bet with us that we will all be scared to go home and wouldn’t breathe well until we got home safe and sound. He was right.
He told a story about how he escaped death a few years ago at GRA when he was almost robbed and bullet went through his body, making a clean exit.
If you know Yibo Koko like I do, then you will agree without argument that he knows how to wow an audience. He had a very interested audience on the night and he made
good use of the opportunity.
Why Seki Dance Drama?
Then we talked about the Seki dance concept which he had pioneered and apart from trying to explain what it meant, Seki, there was a charge to the people of Rivers State, the South South region and Nigeria to discover themselves.
Now according to Yibo, the Seki Dance Drama is an attempt to promote the culture of the old Rivers State that now cuts across Rivers, Bayelsa and some parts of Delta. The Ikwerres, Kalabaris, Ogonis, Okrika, Opobo, ijaw, just name it, are represented in the Seki. It is an attempt to show how the Europeans brought in their own culture to take over the native culture of the indigenous people of the area.
Seki also attempts to show the world that it is not only violence and poverty in the Niger Delta but a rich cultural heritage that can stand firm anywhere in the world.
That, Yibo told me was the big idea behind the Seki concept.
“We must embrace our culture,” Yibo told me. “Not everything about our culture is bad and evil. That is what the Christian missionaries told us and that is what our people believed.
“Our culture is not evil, it is not of the devil, it is actually our own originality,” Yibo said.
“We have our own thing. But because we do not always show it, we are like a people without a history, a back ground, a culture.”
I was starring at him as he spoke, exactly thirty years after I starred at him at Delta Park gate at the University of Port Harcourt where he addressed us on why campus gangs had no place in our society.
Yibo had not changed one bit, he was just a little older, well thirty years older. And just like my brother, Precious said twenty five years ago, “People do not change, they just get older.”
Yibo Koko had not changed one bit, he was just a little older. His words would pierce through your heart; they could be the difference between a docile and an active youth. I think Yibo Koko needs to talk publicly some more.
As I watched him, all adorned in his regalia, doing the masquerade dance in the Big Brother house, I could not help but smile.
I remembered those days in the late 70s and early 80s when we would go to the village to watch the yearly masquerades (owu) at Oduoha Ogbakiri. I still remember some names like Oforn’ogwu, Oburukwe, Doroh, Owuoma, Obuoimo amongst others.
The rhythmic music, the dance steps, the machete play, the Eri-ikwnu and the overall aesthetics was always a sight to behold and we looked forward to our trips to the village, especially in December because of the masquerade dances and sometimes wrestling displays. I hear the last time there was a masquerade dance in Oduoha Ogbakiri was three years ago, and before then, I do not know. I have not personally watched one there in at least 35 years.
And this is what Seki aims to bring back- our culture on a high pedestal where the whole world can see it, appreciate it, learn and study it too. Seki is our life, it is the language of the people, it is the Niger Delta.
This was my encounter with Yibo Koko. I wait to read your thoughts on this.