Constitutional role for monarchs will sanitise society, reduce corruption
-HRM Eze Jonathan E. Kanegede JP, 7th Ogene of Ibedeni Kingdom, Ndokwa East, Delta State
The Palace Watch train touring the Niger Delta Region has moved from Bayelsa State to a town called Ibedeni in Ndokwa East of Delta State.
In this riverine, fishing and agrarian town located along Asse Creek in Delta State, His Royal Majesty, Eze Jonathan Kanegede JP is the king, and the 7th Ogene of Ibedeni Kingdom. This town shares boundary with the Isoko community of Delta State, and is host to one of the Independent Power Plants (IPP) that generate electricity for the country.
Until recently, Eze Kanegede was chairman of Delta State chapter of Traditional Rulers of Oil Mineral Producing Communities of Nigeria (TROMPCON). He has been on the throne for 16 years.
Palace Watch recently had an interview with Eze Kanegede on various matters affecting his kingdom, Delta State and Nigeria.
How has being from an oil and mineral producing area impacted on your kingdom?
When I was chairman of TROMPCON, Delta State Chapter, we spent the better part of our time fighting and agitating over the marginalisation of the oil and mineral producing communities. Up till now, efforts have been made to pass a bill into law that was proposed then, to make life better for these communities. Unfortunately, as it is customary with Nigerian politicians, they have been dilly-dallying over the matter. It is, therefore, no surprise to us, traditional rulers that the bill has not been passed into law. We are watching and waiting, to see what they are going to do.
The truth is that any government that comes into power wants to seize the opportunity to feed fat on fortunes from oil producing areas and leave the people and communities producing this oil in abject penury. So, what they often do in the name of little palliatives they occasionally give to us is like “throwing a bone to two dogs to struggle over.” Once this type of fight is going on, they look the other way. This is what the oil producing areas generally suffer.
Instead of paying required homage and royalties to their host communities, companies and people who come to our areas to explore oil and other minerals end up igniting crises in these communities. At the end of day, the people will begin to fight themselves, while the explorers start looting the places for their benefits and that of their political godfathers. Likewise, government is not helping matters, because if you check some of these oil-producing communities, for example the Ijaw and Ndokwa axis, there are no roads into these places, and yet they are major oil producing areas.
A glaring example of this recklessness is the current situation we have here in my kingdom. An Independent Power Plant (IPP) that generates power, which is taken from here to a turbine in Anambra State, is sited here. You will, therefore, not believe that people living around this plant don’t have electricity; that they live in perpetual darkness. This is how irresponsible our government and the companies that operate in these areas could be.
This singular act has led to a lot of agitations, even during former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration. Our people keep asking: “How do you expect us to maintain peace, when electricity generated from here is taken to another place, while we continue to live in darkness?”
But is it fair to allege that your people are being marginalised, when actually it is some traditional rulers and elites from these areas that are conniving with government officials and oil companies to defraud the people, thereby making it possible for them to be marginalised?
I honestly don’t think so. The actual problems we have here are centred on politicians mostly. The politicians play a very dubious role in all these things. So, instead of these companies’ representatives coming to deal directly with the people and community representatives, they get hijacked by some politicians, who start milking them without the knowledge of the communities.
If politicians would only allow these people to come and deal with us directly, we would definitely reach an acceptable agreement with them and ensure we benefit from whatsoever they are doing. But that is not presently the case. Politicians, who had opportunity to rig themselves into positions of authority, hijack them and then begin to dictate to them what to do and what not to do.
But why are the communities not preventing these politicians from returning to elective positions?
My brother, it is not as easy as you think. The politicians don’t actually care about our votes. They make sure our votes don’t count. They do their things their own ways. They get results and say we voted for them. This is the truth, and this is the cause of most problems in the areas. But erroneously, most people think leaders in these communities are the problems.
Surely, there must be a way to stop these politicians from continuing to usurp the common good of the people?
Yes, we are not keeping quiet, as we are trying very hard to device methods to checkmate them. Everybody knows how the Nigerian political system works. It does not give traditional rulers opportunities to do what is expected of them, as well as what will generally benefit the people. The system is screwed to benefit political office holders, beginning from the governor, senators and members of the Federal House of Representatives, down to state Houses of Assembly and Local Government chairmen and councillors.
The present political system does not give traditional rulers powers to exert authority or influence. So, all we do is just to sit and watch what they are doing.
For example, wherever roads are constructed in some of these communities, such roads usually end up in the residents of some politicians from that area. Some of them even go to the extent of installing the transformer bought by the state government for the community in their own compound. What can we do, under the circumstance?
Don’t these politicians you are complaining about come home to pay homage and bring bags of money for traditional rulers during elections?
It is dangerous for you to generalise in this case. It is not all traditional rulers that accept the nonsense some of our politicians do. Some politicians that are cultured and liaise with their traditional rulers do not have any problem whatsoever. Among these politicians, there are so many of them that don’t come home. They operate from Asaba and Abuja from where they dictate what happens back home. These are the vicious and mindless politicians, who can do anything to retain power and political position.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration is fighting corruption. Delta State is notorious and has a reputation for corrupt activities. Do you think the fight will be successful?
In all honesty, if corruption is to succeed, it should be pursued holistically. But with the current dispensation, what we have so far seen is a situation where corruption is fought seasonally, or if you like one-sidedly. With this type of attitude and approach, I do not see President Buhari succeeding in his fight against corruption. No doubt, President Buhari is upright, but that cannot be said of most top officials in his government. Most of the criminals around the President will never allow him to succeed in this fight, as they will continue to do all within their powers to frustrate him.
What other problems do you have as an oil-producing zone?
The major problem we are having here is more of oil spillages, which affect fishes and reduce farm products, as the oil has destroyed the eco system. Most farms no longer produce as expected. People now sit at home, looking for other type of businesses to do. Families that struggled to invest in their children’s education over the years are not getting returns because most of these children are unemployed.
If companies operating in oil-producing areas are gracious enough to put a little bit into the lives of the people in these areas, there will not be any agitation.
If traditional rulers were to be given a role in government, what effect, in your view, will it have on governance generally?
I think the most important thing is that if we were given a role or roles, which is constitutionally recognised, we would be in a position to play such roles effectively, knowing full well that we are recognised by the constitution. In the process, the law will back whatever powers traditional rulers will be exercising. But in this case, this advisory role we are made to play is nothing. Like former President Obasanjo once said, “If you are my Special Adviser and you advise me and I refuse to take your advice, you can’t kill me.”
So, when we advise those in authority and they refuse to heed such advice, we just keep quiet and look at them. Daily, traditional rulers across the country give advice to people in government, but if they ignore such advice, you can’t blame us. But if there were constitutional roles for the traditional rulers, and politicians ignore such an advice, first you will be satisfied that you have played your own role. Secondly, if you are not satisfied with what they have done, you have the option of going to court to effect it. This we cannot do now, as we do not have any legal backing.
With this background I have just painted, we as traditional rulers are collectively asking that the constitutional amendments be done, so that meaningful role(s) can be given to traditional rulers. This way, we will be in a position to help drive the present democratic system in Nigeria. Politicians know when to meet traditional rulers, when it is time for campaign to seek elective offices.
For example, 2019 elections are around the corner. By 2018, you will see politicians in action, coming in and going out of palaces across the country to get traditional rulers to help them mobilise their people. But after that, you will not get to see them again until the next four years.
But if traditional rulers are given constitutional function or role, they will be in a position to put politicians in check and help to curb reckless corrupt practices in our society.