House of representatives should be replaced with house of chiefs
At a very tender age, King Suanu T.Y. Bariadam was called upon to ascend the throne of his ancestors on May 6, 2008. And in spite of the daunting challenges, he has been able to steer the ship of the volatile Ogoni Kingdom for 10 years. On May 6, 2018, the Ogoni people will honour their king in a grand reception, to thank him for his efforts at making Ogoni land a better place. Palace Watch had an interview with him.
How has it been on the throne for 10 years? WELL, it has been well. First, we thank God for His mercy and for giving me the opportunity to serve the people of Ogoni land for these years. Even when one is a king, it is a rare opportunity to serve the people and to maintain peace and security in the domain. Although it has not been very easy, we have to thank God all the same.
What has been your major challenge on the throne?
One of the major challenges in Ogoni land is the issue of unemployment. Youth restiveness, cultism and armed robbery are some of the problems we have here, which are due mainly to lack of economic activities. Often times, most able-bodied youths spend valuable time lazing around in their homes, with no job to do. If these youths were engaged, leave home in the morning and return late in the night, they would not have the time to be involved in criminality. To God be the glory, with the help of the state government and other kings around here, we have been able to put this ugly trend under firm control.
What specific measures did you put in place to put the dangerous trend under control?
We had to deploy the power, which God gave to us. We consistently spoke to the people, warning them about the consequences of their actions. We made them understand that they cannot continue to engage in criminality because there is poverty in the land. Having no job is not at all an acceptable reason(s) for them to be involved in cultism and armed robbery. We made them to understand there is a brighter future out there, that looking at what we think will happen in the future, such as the planned cleanup of Ogoni land and the issue of modular refineries and other related matters, the employment they are looking for will eventually come, once they are penitent.
Mind you, these youths are not stupid. Before believing whatsoever we say, they would first assess you to know whether or not you had been involved in the activities you are now preaching against. Once they can’t tag you with such ugly activities, they are bound to believe you.
With all the struggles over the years, would you say Ogoni people are now better off?
I would say yes and no. Yes, in the sense that Ogoni people’s struggle is now a global issue, thanks to the late Ken Saro-Wiwa and others. The global community now knows that there is a place called Ogoni and that we are suffering here, in spite of the enormous oil that has been taken from this place by successive Nigerian governments. My people are left to suffer. On the other hand, even though the world is now aware of Ogoni people’s problems, these problems have not been solved. There are no economic activities here. My people are still drinking the same contaminated and polluted waters they have been drinking for years now. The issues of cancer and other related health hazards are still very much prevalent here.
What happened to President Buhari’s plans to cleanup Ogoni land? That scheme was launched with fanfare…
I have said it times without number that the cleanup programme launched by the President Buhari administration is nothing but a political statement. I am saying this because, as a matter of fact, since that supposed programme was launched nothing, absolutely nothing is going on here. Where is the place they are cleaning in Ogoni land? Let them come and show me. I am the king here, and I should know. Nigerian politicians are dishonest. This type of attitude does not make for a good country, especially when people in government cannot be trusted. It is so sad and depressing. As we speak, no land has been cleaned. There have been series of noise on the activities they promised to do. None of these has been done and we are all here waiting for them to come and commence the cleaning of the place. Anyhow, we are still keeping faith that, one day, this will eventually happen.
What do you think should be the ideal role of traditional rulers in governance?
As a people and as a country, where top government functionaries often run to traditional rulers, whenever they have major problems to solve, traditional rulers’ visibility in government should be more pronounced. I am for more visibility for traditional rulers in the way and manner we govern ourselves. This is the only way we can ensure enduring peace in Nigeria. During colonial era, it was the traditional rulers colonial masters used to communicate with the people. That was why indirect rule was to a certain extent successful. Because the country’s traditional institutions still command a lot of respect among the people, most top government functionaries still leave these exotic positions in government to go for the throne.
In view of this, I am advocating that the present House of Reps, because of its expensive nature, should be scraped and replaced with the House of Chiefs. What are the members of the present National Assembly doing, especially those in the House of Representatives that the traditional rulers in Nigeria cannot do better? If you are talking of representation, who represents the people better than traditional rulers in today’s setting? Who is closer to the grassroots than traditional rulers? If traditional rulers are made to take up this function, governance will be much better and beneficial to the people. Traditional rulers can never abandon their constituents and decide to remain in Abuja. Since they are apolitical, they will be able to tell government of the day the truth. Moreover, most traditional rulers are already on salary. They don’t require all those jumbo salaries and allowances the current members of National Assembly are receiving. All that would be required is just sitting allowances.
The traditional institution is one of the bedrocks of the nation. It should, therefore, be part of the policy making of government. That is why I am advocating that a role should be created for traditional rulers in our constitution. Once this is done, traditional rulers will now have the power and authority to talk and contribute meaningfully to matters of concern to their people, which will stem the trend of politicians coming to tell lies every time they are campaigning. Since we do not own any allegiance to any political party, we will just do what our people want us to do for them. These and many more reasons are why I’m asking that traditional rulers should be given a role in the scheme of things.
At some point in Rivers’ politics, the likes of Rotimi Amaechi, Governor Nelson Wike, Senator Abe, and Dakuku were all active players. They were inseparable then. Now, not only have they gone their different ways, but are at one another’s throat. Why have traditional rulers in the state not done anything to reconcile them?
You know politicians for what they are. I am told and I have also heard that the important thing about politicians is one – where their interest lies is more important to them than anything else – and this is what has been going on here. Secondly, as a matter of political strategy, they are elected to divide themselves into various camps, and as I have always said, their interest is more important than the interest of any individual or political party. But honestly, the activities of some of my brother traditional rulers have not helped matters. I have said severally that traditional rulers should stay out of partisan politics. It is inappropriate for any traditional ruler to join in the imposition of candidates, or join the activities of one political party against another. Such acts reduce traditional rulers’ influence and control in their domains. Acts like this are some of the reasons traditional rulers have not been able to resolve political differences among these people. We have lost grip on
what we are supposed to do in Rivers State because of some of my brothers’ involvement in partisan politics. All these have given vent to the issue of disrespect by political parties, especially when some traditional rulers are involved.
As I prepare to celebrate the 10th coronation anniversary, I am making strenuous efforts to invite every Rivers man and woman. I am apolitical. They are all my sons and daughters, no matter the political parties they belong. My concern and business is how to make Rivers State a better place for our people.I am doing this because I believe strongly that traditional rulers are not supposed to get involved in active politics. I am, therefore, going to invite, all politicians in Rivers State. Hopefully, if all of them choose to honour me and come, I will seize the opportunity to appeal to them on the need for peace in Rivers State.
There is a major crack among traditional rulers in Rivers State. Would you say politics alone is responsible for this?
If I must be sincere, I would say yes. Partisan politics is responsible for the crack you are talking about. We have a major issue at hand now, where people, who are not supposed to be given positions of some class of chiefs, are given because of politics. This is not just happening. It has been there right from the previous administration in the state. There has been unnecessary upgrading of stools from 3rd Class to 2nd Class, from 2nd Class to 1st Class. This thing happens arbitrarily with little or no control. Some of these acts have balkanised the traditional institution. A lot of disrespect has also been recorded in this process. This is an obvious tool the political class is using to ensure that the political class in Rivers state is not together. I am, however, for unity among traditional rulers and institutions across the country. We will continue to talk to ourselves.
What are you people doing about some unworthy people supposedly, who are being appointed as kings over very important domains in Rivers State?
Some of us have been worried. But what can we do? It is all politics. We, as first class kings, have been talking about it. This has been an issue and big problem. We will keep telling them, whether they listen or not, before you give any person any stool, you need to go to the people at the grassroots to find out from them if such stools ever existed. Whether they listen or not, we will have to keep talking.