Osinbajo should act fast to sustain relative peace in Niger Delta
-HRM Pere S.P. Luke Kalanama VIII, The Pere Of Akugbene-Mein Kingdom Delta State
Akugbene-Mein Kingdom is one of the mainland Ijaw territories in Nigeria. The town is situated in Bomadi Local Government Areas of Delta State. The kingdom was established some 700 years ago. Historically, Kalanama kingdom had its origin from the present Benin Kingdom. In 1485, the first ruler of this ancient kingdom, Kalanama The First, went to Benin to obtain permission from the then ruling Oba of Benin, which was granted him to rule over his people, who were living in the Riverine areas of the great Benin Kingdom. Kalanama Kingdom is, therefore, one of the oldest Kingdoms in present day Ijaw land. In this ancient town lives a 51-year-old monarch known as His Royal Majesty Pere S.P. Luke, KALANAMA VIII. He ascended the throne of his forefathers exactly 20 years ago.
He is a Geology graduate from the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Port Harcourt. He later obtained a Master’s degree in Corporate Governance at Leeds Metropolitan University in the U.K.
In continuation of its tour of the Niger Delta Region, the Palace Watch had an interview with Kalanama VIII in his palace.
One of the noticeable features in these areas is poor infrastructures and infrastructural decay, especially roads, even though your kingdom is a major oil producing area. Has it always been like this? Has there been any major improvement in infrastructural facilities in these areas, since the current democratic dispensation?
I must first thank the former Delta State Governor, Chief James Onanefe Ibori, who on assumption of office, conceptualised a bridge across River Fokados to Bomadi. This project was kick-started in 2001, and by 2005, it was completed. It was former President Olusegun Obasanjo that did the official commissioning of the bridge, which opened up our area a bit.
Before this singular effort by ex-governor Ibori, the whole of these areas were completely cut off from the other parts of Delta State and Nigeria. Today, Bomadi Local Government Area headquarters of Ijaw land is linked to other areas of Delta State. This is one of the numerous reasons why we will not forget Ibori in a hurry, no matter what anybody might say or do. This same bridge also made it possible for other areas in the hinterland of Ijaw, both in Delta and Bayelsa States to be connected to a certain extent with the rest of Nigeria. This bridge also made it possible for my kingdom, which is about 50 kilometres away from Bomadi to be linked with the rest of Delta State.
The Niger Delta Development Commission, (NDDC) again constructed another bridge, which crossed the River Remos. Again, this bridge linked Ijaw hinterland with the rest of Niger Delta areas.
Gradually, I must say most rural areas in Ijaw land have been connected, although the process is still ongoing. We must, however, thank the Lord that the process of infrastructural development in this part of the country has kick-started. Slow and steady, they say wins the race. Slowly and steadily we are progressing. I do hope the present government at the centre will continue to pay attention to other areas requiring urgent development in this part of the country.
If not that there was a change of government at the Federal level, there would have been significant developments by now in these areas, especially with the tempo the Federal Government was going then. If not for funding issues, by now the development in this part of the country would have been massive. By now, we would have had roads straight to my palace and Akugbene-Mein Kingdom, which is the headquarters of this area.
The Ijaw people are in the majority in the entire Niger Delta Region. They are in Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Edo State in the Gelegele Sea port area and part of Ondo State. Former Governor of Bayelsa State, D.S.P. Alamieyeseigha used to call himself the Governor-General of Ijaw Nation in an effort to bring the Ijaw people together. How coordinated would you say the Ijaw people are now, especially after his demise?
In fairness to Alamieyesiegha, while he was the Governor of Bayelsa State, he did his very best to galvanise the Ijaw people together. If you must know, Ijaws are not only found in the places you already mentioned. But predominantly, the Ijaws are also to be found 100 percent in Bayelsa State, which is a homogeneous state. Coming to Delta State, you have about three homogeneous Ijaw Local Government Areas there. You have another three heterogeneous Local Government Areas in Delta State. These are Warri South-West, Warri-South and Warri-North. Warri South-West, where you have the headquarters of the Local Government Areas in Ogbeijo is a homogeneous Ijaw community.
If you also go down to Akwa Ibom State, where you have the Ebenos, they are also Ijaw people, just as you will also find some Ijaw people in present day Cross River State. The Ijaws are the most dominant ethnic group in the Niger Delta Region. In the South-South zones, the Ijaw people are the largest in the six states that make up this particular zone. Because of the terrain we find ourselves, access to roads have actually hampered the growth and development of the Ijaw areas of this geo-political zone. And because of lack of access to good road network, electricity, quality education, the ease with which human and goods are transported in waters in modern days, we could not develop. We also lack other facilities that aid modern day development; hence, we seem to be backward. In view of the picture I have just painted about this place, there is a very high rural urban drift in this part of the country. These problems have actually hampered the general development of the Ijaw nation.
Can we in all honesty question God for putting us where we are today in the Nigeria nation? I will say “NO.” The simple fact is that God, in His wisdom has reason(s) for putting us, where we presently find ourselves as Ijaw people. Yes, I agree that our terrain is a very difficult area to develop, but that is why the same God put the resources you find in this part of the country here. It is, therefore, expected that the government of the day, both at the state and Federal level, should say, “Yes, this area is difficult to develop and so, God has placed the wealth of the nation there. Let us, therefore, do our utmost best to develop these areas.
But unfortunately, that is not the case. Past governments, especially the military, have been in the habit of exploiting our areas, without making commensurate efforts to put something back. This is why at some point; you continue to have issues of agitations in the region, which of course, is normal.
In the course of this discussion, you agreed that former President Goodluck Jonathan was unable to do much for his Ijaw people during his six-year-tenure. What are your expectations from this government?
As a monarch, I would always call for peaceful dialogues in all situations we are confronted with. When President Muhammadu Buhari first travelled out of the country from early January to March this year, there was what I will call “a dangerous silence” in the Niger Delta areas of the country. Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, who was then acting as President, got the message and took the initiative to douse tension. Osinbajo actually did what was expected of him as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. To a very large extent, he was able to visit the people of this region preaching dialogue and peace. Today as we speak, there is an ambience of peace in the Niger Delta Region. I would, therefore, plead with the Federal Government.
Now Professor Osinbajo has come with the message of peace, by the grace of God, we the people of the Niger Delta Region have equally responded to his call for us to sheath our swords. Before his appeal, we had such various militant groups as the Islanders and the Niger Delta Avengers, alongside other groups that were agitating for a fair share of all the resources from the Niger Delta Region. But because of the Acting President’s visit and the assurance he gave us, that we should not worry the Federal Government has heard our cry and complaints, and that at the right time, government will respond to these complaints, with this approach, Osinbajo was able to douse a lot of tension in this area. But what he needs to do to keep the tempo is to act fast. So that after all these efforts, the agitators do not have any reason(s) to go back to their trenches.
I would say again, Now that there is peace in this region, the Federal Government should reciprocate this gesture by commencing the construction of infrastructures in these areas. The crude oil production quota from this region has gone up considerably, just as oil prices are also gradually going up. Now is, therefore, the time for the Federal government to act so that the country’s economy could further stabilise. In order to manage the enormous goodwill he presently enjoys here, the Acting President need to quickly match words with actions. Once the development of the Niger Delta Region begins as expected, all hands will be on deck, as most people will be very busy. Nobody, from this region would want to be associated with any type of militancy or agitation of any sort.
Now, let me answer the question you asked about former President Jonathan. I know it is because Jonathan is from a minority tribe that the media, located mostly in the Southwest region, deliberately went after him and did all they could to pull him down from power. What did Jonathan do then that people in government today are not doing? But nobody is saying anything about it. Yes, he was not bold enough to take certain decisions or steps or go about his business as expected of a President. He was obviously very careful, because he thought he could get a second term. The second term he wanted eventually backfired and he lost out.
President Muhammadu Buhari simply asked his aides to write a letter to transmit power to Vice President Osinbajo, since he was going out of the country for medical treatment. Osinbajo, while he is away, will act as Nigeria’s President. Were you surprised that this did not go down well with some cabal in Aso Rock? This very powerful group in the Villa, who has not been comfortable with Osinbajo being Acting President, had to write the letter in such a way to suit their whims and caprices. What type of letter did he get at the end of the day? A letter as a “co-coordinator,” instead of what the constitution expressly stated in black and white? Where is the Southwest press that was pontificating during Jonathan’s regime? They are all silent. Shame! Were this to happen during ex-president Jonathan administration, all hell would have been let loose. Do you need any further evidence to show that Jonathan was pushed out of office, because he is from the minority tribe? What has this administration done about the Fulani herdsmen, who are daily carrying out all manner of carnage in different parts of the country? Had it been Jonathan was still the President, would this type of incident be allowed to go on unquestioned? I am bold to say NO. Yes ex-president Jonathan did not develop the Niger Delta Region, the way he should have done. He was so sure he would get a second term and that during his second term, he would have concentrated his efforts on the massive development of this region, which was not to be. His loss was our collective loss. It is as simple as this.
Most youths in the Niger Delta Region before now, were unemployable because they didn’t have quality education, and therefore had no skills. What are Ijaw leaders and traditional rulers doing to change this attitude of the youths for the better?
When bombing was still going on here on a daily basis, our national leader, Chief Edwin K. Clark, called a meeting of all stakeholders of Ijaw nation. This particular meeting had in attendance traditional rulers, opinion leaders and political leaders from this region. At that meeting, the major thing preached was the need for our youths to embrace dialogue and maintain peaceful co-existence. At that same meeting, we as traditional rulers also helped to appeal to the youths to embrace peace. Thank God everybody in Nigeria today now knows that we spoke to our youths and they heard our appeal. It is not as if the agitations of these youths were wrong.
It is not as if they do not have the right to fight for their own rights. We spoke to them because fighting for your rights and carrying arms against constituted authorities, especially the Federal Government, amounts to insurrection, which on its own is a crime, hence, our decision then to appeal to them to stop. This is why we are equally appealing to the government of the day at the centre in Abuja, saying, “Now that you have come to appeal to our youths to lay down their arms and embrace dialogue, so that peace can reign and we can all work together, the Federal Government must also make strenuous efforts to meet the region’s demands. This is expected to bring development to this part of the country. The oil companies that have their headquarters outside this region must relocate here. This is the only way these companies will feel the pinch of what is happening here and appreciate our people better.
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