From the creeks to the castle: Celebrating Timi Alaibe at 60
He was one of the most noticeably young faces at the December 2000 inauguration of the foundation board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in the federal executive council chambers of the presidential villa, Abuja.
Nigeria’s president at the time, Olusegun Obasanjo, had initiated the NDDC as a more focused, impactful, enduring, and more sustainable replacement to the Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC).
In the course of his consultations and campaigns ahead of his election in 1999, Obasanjo had been severally inundated with strident calls and clamour for fresh developmental impetus for those parts of the country which literally lay the golden egg.
The new president reckoned that OMPADEC, like similar outfits established by preceding administrations, had failed to impact the growth and development of the oil-producing sections of the country as intended.
This was inspite of humongous sums regularly voted by previous governments for the transformation of the zone via the machinery of OMPADEC.
He responded by promptly establishing the NDDC just as he consented to the remittance of 13% of accruing fiscal resources by the federal government to the oil producing states, to boost multi-sectoral development in the oil-bearing states.
The new board was largely composed of technocrats of various hues. Top flight economist, journalist and administrator, Onyema Ugochukwu, was chairman; while mining engineer and first indigenous deputy managing director at Shell Petroleum, Godwin Eyarubere Omene was managing director.
38-year-old Ndutimi, better known by the short form of his name, “Timi” Alaibe, an accountant and banker, was executive director, finance and administration of the new creation, among other appointments.
The 19-man board of the NDDC also drew members from the ranks of professionals, university scholars and bureaucrats to broaden its knowledge base and experiential vistas.
Alaibe would rapidly become a very familiar face and dominant force, all through the teething years of the organisation.
The overarching mandate of his official brief which accorded him superintendence over almost a dozen directorates and departments, made him the virtual rotor of the new baby.
Amiable, accessible, charismatic, his office was ever bustling with top officers, bureaucrats within the system, contractors and guests alike.
Even at that, Alaibe’s forehead never betrayed furrows of fatigue or discomfort as he helped to emplace a seamlessly functioning work environment.
He routinely retired to an adjoining room behind his desk, whenever he needed to catch his breath. His friends and close aides named that room a “coven”!
My relationship with Ugochukwu, chairman of the board, implied I was a regular face in Port Harcourt, especially between January 2001 and May 2005.
The typically warm, friendly and receptive Alaibe, appropriated my friends and I as his own guests on our fairly frequent visits to the “Garden City”.
With his beloved wife, Alaere, who went to be with the Lord, over a decade ago, Alaibe’s home was always wide open to receive us.
His love for good music and tennis were unmistakable, madam’s kitchen ever active, satisfying us with delicacies. Alaere, by the way, had native-speaker competence in Yoruba, which privileged my culinary options on our visits!
Timi Alaibe was an integral part of the team, steered by Ugochukwu, which developed a regional masterplan to guide systematic development in the Niger Delta.
This is a region spread across 5000 communities, covering 185 local government areas and collectively straddling nine states in the region, in three geopolitical zones, the south-west, south-south and south-east.
He had reason, on a number of occasions, to oversee the affairs of the organisation in the absence of substantive chief executives.
In no time, higher responsibilities beckoned in the NDDC as Alaibe was appointed managing director in 2007, a position he held until 2009. This capped his near one decade of stewardship in the NDDC.
The aggregate experience Alaibe garnered on this brief, the rapprochement he developed with critical stakeholders prepared him for further national assignments.
Successor to Obasanjo, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, established a Presidential Amnesty Programme as part of the continuing efforts to assuage restiveness in the Niger Delta region. In 2009, Yar’Adua appointed Alaibe Adviser on Niger Delta Affairs and coordinator of the programme.
Part of his job was to superintend the demobilisation, rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-militants, who accepted the amnesty proclamation. He has, ever since, become a recurring decimal, not only in Niger Delta affairs but on the national stage.
Alaibe’s trajectory had its beginnings in Igbainwari, in Kolokuma-Opokuma local government area, in the heart of the Ijaw country, in Bayelsa state, where he was born June 10, 1962. He began his education at Isoko Primary School, Marine Beach, Apapa, Lagos in 1967.
Following the relocation of his parents to Port Harcourt in 1970, he continued his education at Christ the King School, Oromenike, graduating in 1973.
For his secondary school education, Alaibe attended Government Secondary School, Kaiama, in present day Bayelsa State. He subsequently earned a bachelor of science degree in accounting from the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, (RSUST) and a masters in business administration from the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ile-Ife, Osun state.
Between 1986 and 1998, he worked in accounting firms and several banks, earning his stripes and medals in the industry. He cut his teeth at Peat Marwick Ogunde and Ani, which is now “KPMG,” a reputable, top-of-the-range accounting firm.
He was also in the erstwhile African Continental Bank, (ACB); All States Bank, (ASB) as well as the Bancshares Ltd, a reputable finance and investment organisation.
In 1994, he moved over to the former Societe Generale Bank, (which has been reincarnated as Heritage Bank), functioning in several departments which afforded him very broad exposures in the entire gamut of the banking industry.
It was from his position a general manager, corporate and investment banking, that he was appointed into the NDDC.
Over the last decade, Alaibe has made forays into the private sector as an entrepreneur. His interests are in dredging, civil construction, offshore marine logistics and support services.
He is equally active in the hospitality industry, and owns a highbrow hotel in Port Harcourt. In an attempt to give back to his people in Bayelsa State from where he grew from the anonymity of the creeks to national acclaim, Alaibe has taken aim, on a number of occasions, at the governorship of his state.
In 2003, he contested the gubernatorial primary against the first governor of the fourth republic in his state, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha. He also threw his hat in the ring for the same office in 2007 and 2011, respectively.
More recently in 2019, he squared up against the incumbent governor of Bayelsa State, Duoye Diri, in a very acrimonious primary. Both men, who come from the same local government area, made peace early this year and resolved to work together for the people of the state.
Give it to Alaibe, he is almost ever loyal to friendship. Once he receives prior information about an event concerning his friends and acquaintances, he makes every effort to put up an appearance at the programme.
About this same time last year, he accompanied his younger friend, Osim Iwara, to Cross River state, for the rites of passage of his elder brother, Eko Effiom Osim, a retired air vice marshal, (AVM).
November 9, 2021, he showed up unannounced, at the 77th birthday ceremony of his former boss at the NDDC, Onyema Ugochukwu, in Abuja.
And as recently as June 1, he strolled into the Abuja residence of Ehigie Uzamere, former senator representing Edo south, to rejoice with him on the occasion of his 67th birthday.
His dressing at such events, is an eternal contest between a number of preferences. He is either in formal outfits synonymous with the corporate world, or simply blazers. He equally turns out regularly in various designs of the now globally adopted woko or etibo, simply labelled with the generic name “Niger Delta dresses”.
On such occasions, he compliments his regalia with a bowler hat and a swagger stick. I should also add, that some of Alaibe’s aides have been with him for as far back as I have known him in year 2000. This speaks to the quality of a man with the capacity to sustain relationships.
If you are a consummate follower of musical trends in Nigeria, you probably would have heard the song “Port Harcourt First Son,” by the Rivers state-born artiste, Duncan Mighty, released over a decade ago now.
A very danceable tune, Duncan Mighty serenades Alaibe as one of the authentic “Port Harcourt Big Boys,” listed and celebrated in the hit. Nyesom Wike, Rotimi Amaechi, Magnus Abe, Kenneth Kobani, Tonye Harry, Harcourt Whyte, Georgie Amangala, among others, are equally saluted in the track.
Alaibe’s heartthrob, Augustina Alaere, succumbed to lung cancer on January 31, 2009, after a long battle. She was an inspirational personality committed to the development of underprivileged women for whom she set up a non-governmental organisation (NGO), the Family Reorientation Education and Empowerment programme (FREE).
It was designed to educate and empower women from the Niger Delta region where she herself, like her husband, hailed from. He has tried as much as possible to keep alive the flames of that project, in eternal memory of his wife who hailed from Trofani in Bayelsa state.
Not a few friends have said to my hearing that Alaibe can be unreachable in instances, both on the telephone and by way of physical accessibility. They believe he has also imbibed that streak of elite arrogance, which forbids “big men” from taking their calls.
I have always had to rationalise such observations by reminding people that apart from his work and politicking, Alaibe is both a lone father and grandfather, in his present circumstances. His union with Alaere was blessed with five beautiful offsprings, including Ebitimi, his eldest daughter, who got married in November 2018.
And don’t be surprised the way Alaibe will hail you and serenade you with appellations whenever he encounters you, especially if you are one of those with whom he shares mutual nicknames.
He smoothly disarms you, throwing the question back to you, that it is you who doesn’t keep in touch. Code-switching effortlessly between pidgin English and the conventional variant, he breaks into a broad smile, stretching his hand for a fraternal engagement with your phalanges.
From Igbainwari, to Port Harcourt, to Lagos and to Abuja, Alaibe is a homeboy in every sense of the word. He has painstakingly built the blocks of amity around and about across time, such that he is in touch with allies and associates, just by the snap of a finger, or a familiar whistle.
He has chosen on this occasion, to invite family and friends to celebrate his diamond age birthday ceremony with him in Lagos, the city where he first began his odyssey in life.
This is wishing my brother “MSD”, (he knows where this is coming from), the man some of his younger friends call “Principal,” a memorable 60th birthday celebration. I also pray he savours many happy returns of this special day.
Hearty congratulations, MSD! I trust my brand is ever assured!!
Olusunle, poet, journalist, author and scholar, is a member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE).