Garbati: The last Supper - Paul Ukpabio's Blog


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Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Garbati: The last Supper

By: Frank Meke

The news about the death of Mrs. Fati Garbati was devastating yet profoundly instructive in a lot of ways. Indeed, the death of anyone or that of anyone close to me processes the realities of certain hubris of mankind, the dreams, the fights and wars, fear, pride, ego, riches poverty, achievements as lack of it and above all the power of God to recall man or woman to himself.

Garbati while she lived cuts the mother figure image and goes about her business in such a way not just to survive but to win souls to her tourism dreams and expectations. Ile Ife, the soul of Yoruba culture and history presented Garbati the rare opportunity and privilege to say goodbye to an industry she labored in humility and great sacrifice to nurture, contribute and collaborate to flourish. Did I say flourish?

I recall that Friday night, just some weeks ago, she had ‘displaced” my security detail and sat quietly in the front seat of the car allocated for my trip to Ife. It was barely some minute past Seven O’clock in the evening and we were headed out of the majestic Grand Ife Resort to a dinner date. Otunba Segun Runsewe, the Director-General of National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) led the team. I recalled to had told the DG that am not too comfortable with dinner arrangements earlier made for us and would prefer an exploratory encounter outside the resort and to which he reassured that my suggestion would be a fall back plan if indeed the earlier arrangement failed.

In stark and sober reflection of the events leading to this last supper with Garbati, her choice of riding in my car to the venue and the long dinner table at the Quantum Restaurant, Bar and lodge located at old life toll gate were all divine arrangement to give us a platform to share some glorious last moments with this great tourism amazon of our time.

Sadly, while I rode with Wale Olapade of Nigerian Tribune and John Omololu of Travelscope and ANJET super Secretary General to the venue with her sitting in front of the vehicle, we could not strike any meaningful conversation, even though she muttered some words which I also could not contribute or escalate.

It was a dark night, wet and gloom even though we were headed to a supposed dinner date. At the venue, Otunba Segun Runsewe made a way for Garbati, respectfully led and served her himself. This gesture is not new with Runsewe who is always a perfect host to any event or programme which he organized. However, this night was different as he led Garbati like a queen to the dinner table.

Where I stood behind Runsewe and Garbati, there was a deep reflection of the night and not minding the process of thought on the industry, our failings, weakness, strength, the fights and wars, yet here we were, same table, same roof, sharing food and water with minds far, very far from each other.

Having captured the sociology of the dinner table and the reality of Garbati’s last moments with us at Ife, I knew she came to say Goodbye. She came to share her fears and dreams, to offer hope and provide shoulder for us to lean on and showcase her national identity and not clannish and pedestrian testimony of her strides on the sand of our tourism evolution.

Though I did not regret staying far away from the dinner table that night, I however regret not making efforts to see Garbati who had sought my attention through Emeke Anokwuru, a tourism journalist and a close confidant of this elegant lady. Oh yes, I was burdened by the many lies and too much egostic wars in the sector which that night denied me the pleasure of reconnecting with Garbati.

She is gone no doubt and may her soul rest in peace yet there is this pain in my heart about that missed opportunity to see her when you asked and requested my presence. Maybe she needed me to pray for her, maybe she wanted to share some fears of the industry, her baby NATOP or maybe to encourage or rebuke my absence at that dinner table, that last supper to which unknown to many of us present, was a goodnight, farewell outing for the beautiful, dramatic, ever smiling and tough touch bearer of an industry abused and left to ruin and flatter without help from government.

Flash back: Moments with Garbati

Sao Tome and Principe: Garbati convinced Captain Nolle who went huge in domestic and chartered airline business to try out Sao Tome, oil rich and ocean island state off the golf of Nigeria. Garbati listed me as delegate but my passport needed renewal, so I told her to proceed without me. No way Garbati screamed and sent me off to a contact in Festac Immigration Office. Protocol broken all over and in less than four hours, replacement was ready but not until I was made to see the “Oga Kpatakpata” who told me he was ardent reader of my tourism column in the Vanguard Newspapers.

At Ikeja airport, the aircraft was ready to depart as I waggled through terrible traffic to meet up others at the airport. Garbati was ready to delay that aircraft because of me and she did!! She told me to call her on arrival as she would hide in the toilet and there is no way the aircraft will leave without her, all in loving kindness to have me on board.

When she became aware am at the check in counter which she kept open, she appeared from nowhere, collected my passport and gently pushed me through immigration like her son and into the aircraft apologizing and smiling to douse irritations of the exploratory team to Sao Tome. Garbati held that aircraft for me, a gesture to which I would never, never forget. She loves deeply if you win her trust and confidence.

FTAN Politics: Garbati was deep in mentoring, expression and show of care, hence was able to grow a community of apostles and followers. She likes people with deep thought and tells it as it is when confronted with decisions to do so. Garbati attempted federation of FTAN presidency not because she is ambitious but because some of us believed she could turn around the national tourism body. Goodie Ibru as first FTAN President failed us; ditto Munzali, Dantata, so the “progressives” needed a face, someone tough, a go getter and Fati Garbati fits the bill. She was not a hard sell for me and due to the collective, nationalistic flavor in discharge of some of her projects and events on tourism; we felt she would make a difference.

For my deep understanding and long stay in the sector, I was privileged to be chosen by the FTAN collective to chair the electoral committee. Garbati was a candidate and from all available information and selfless mobilization by team progressives, Garbati was a clear winner. Sadly Munzali Dantata struck with certain documents and unproven allegations against Garbati, I saw our woman going down, not just over mere disqualification but over a well-crafted agenda to ruin her reputation.

I grabbed and exercised the full powers of my chairmanship of the electoral committee, turned the table against Dantata who wanted to impose his candidate on FTAN and got Late Pa Matts Ebaboje Da’silva as FTAN Trustee boss to call for a behind the scene settlement of the log-jam. I knew many people hated me for that intervention and of course, Dantata who is my friend cried foul and we parted ways thereafter, to settle our differences years later in faraway Spain. Long story for another day.

I stood behind Garbati, returned her trust and love and protected her image battered on mere account of sacrificing her future for the sake of tourism. Garbati, as a strong character, picked up from there, went to NCAA and followed me to Christ.
Christ? Yes! She did, though she did not become a Christian but her world view revolved around God and the supremacy of his power. She encountered the Mercy of God and I recall today the many secrets we shared and to which God alone is the ultimate decider of our fate.

As you read this piece on Garbati, do you fear God? Good for you if you do, even then the demons fear and tremble!. As a friend and a confidant, I could not tell all about Garbati here but she does made impact around the sector and among many that came her way. Like all human, she had her failings yet what counts for those of us still living, is to leave a legacy that will impact in the life of others.

Garbati is a national tourism figure, never clannish or boastful, did her bit in humility and sense of responsibility, so she must enjoy the testimony of history as a planter and nourisher of hope. Sadly, the team tourism progressive is broken asunder on account of fear, cut throat competition, gossip and unbridled ambition.

Will the death of Garbati rekindle the dead spirit of progressive tourism politics? We watch and pray. Goodnight my dear mother tourism, my friend. We shall hold forth!!.

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