Shendam Stool: My integrity saw me through, while others bribed with millions of naira and cars – Miskoom Martin Muduutrie Shaldas III
The battle to be enthroned the new Long Goemai of Shendam in Plateau State was not a tea party, as the tussle was fierce and dirty. But the Shendam Kingmakers knew whom they wanted. And they went for the very best, despite all the temptation, blackmail and intimidation. Initially, 15 princes wanted to become the Long Goemai, but even before the Electoral College could make their final nomination, one of the contesting princes died, leaving 14 aspirants. Expectedly, politicians wanted to have a say at all cost in who emerged as the new Long Goemai, as intrigues, name-dropping and raw display of wealth became the order of the day. At the end, however, His Royal Highness, Miskoom Martin Muduutrie Shaldas III, emerged the new Long Goemai of Shendam. How did this happen? What was the magic wand he used to beat other 13 candidates, among whom were men of means? The Palace Watch spoke with His Royal Highness, Miskoom Martin Muduutrie Shaldas III, who was crowned the Long Goemai of Shendam on February 27, 2017.
Congratulations, Your Royal Highness. Your emergence as the new Long Goemai of Shendam was a surprise. You were the least candidate most people thought could win this race. What was the magic?
Every tradition and people have their own ways of selecting chiefs. In my place, we have six electoral colleges, and the state government has gazetted this process. And the process is acceptable to my people.
After the draft document was taken to the traditional council by the state government for their approval, this same document was sent to the Plateau State Ministry of Local Government, which processed it, and sent it back to the state government for final approval. This process is meant for all the first class Chiefs in Plateau State. It, therefore, behooves the state governor to approve whosoever has been so selected via this process to become a chief. It was through this process that I, alongside other aspirants went. It was rigorous, but fair to all.
You were relatively comfortable before you were selected. Considering that there is not much money to be made as a traditional ruler, why did you accept to take up this position?
My friend, the issue is not about money, comfort or what have you. It is not about what I can or cannot make, the issue is simply about our tradition. Firstly, you must be a prince. Secondly, you have to be a chief in my place before you are ever considered to lead our people. To be honest, I prefer to be a Chief of my people than become the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It all depends on the way and manner or the perspective you look at issues. It is not about comfort, rather, it is about service, as it relates to my people’s culture.
To me, the welfare, wellbeing and culture of my people are things that are very dear to my heart. This is the peak of whatsoever I have ever aspired to be in life. It is also the peak of my career as a person. If you must know, my great grandfather was a chief in this place, just like my grandfather, my father and my elder brother, who was the immediate past chief. My pride in life, therefore, was to become a chief, which God has bestowed on me and made possible today.
So, it is not a question of comfort or anything. Rather, it is a question of what you really want to be in life. I have always wanted to be a chief to my people.
Presently, there are a lot of challenges in Shendam. How do you intend tackling them?
There is no problem that can’t be solved, once the resolve is there. It only becomes a challenge, if such a problem(s) is left unattended. But, it is not going to be a challenge, when you decide to carry your people along, and ensuring that whatsoever the problem(s) is, it is collectively tackled. If you were here during the traditional selection, the outcome and when I was coming back from where I went to perform the traditional rites, you would understand that my people are solidly behind me.
In all this, the point that must not be lost is that I am just their chief. I am surely going to work with some people that will help me deliver. So, I am putting it to the people that we really have to work together to move this domain forward. Collectively, we are going to look at any problem that concerns them. Once this is done, such a problem will no longer be a problem. It is only when you choose to be a dictator that you will end up having problems with your subjects. But I am not going to do anything like that or lord it over my people.
This was part of the reasons the kingmakers trust me and decided to choose me as their new Chief. If you have carefully followed my careers, you would discover that I had virtually spent 28 years of my working life in the local government. There, I rose through the ranks to the peak of my profession. I started my local government career, when we were still with the Benue-Plateau State. And when Benue left, we had Nassarawa and Plateau States. I retired as an Acting Permanent Secretary in the State Ministry of Local Government.
For so many years, I was a director in the Local Government service, but in the twilight of my career, there was a change of government that led to my removal as a Permanent Secretary. Invariably, I was chosen to take over this position as the Acting Permanent Secretary in the Plateau State Ministry of Local Government.
On the day of your Coronation, why did you give chieftaincy titles to Governors Al-Makura of Nassarawa State and Lanlong of Plateau state?
You see, Governor Almakura and I met, when I first came to Lafia, as an Assistant Secretary in 1980. Then, he was the chairman of the youth wing of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). We became friends and lived in the same area in Government Reserved Area in Lafia. At that time, we were playing lawn tennis together almost every evening after work. We became very close. I would, therefore, say I have come to know Governor Al-Makura sufficiently enough as a good person.
After he became Governor of Nassarawa State, I had cause to traverse the state during my career. I spent 15 years of my working career in Nassarawa. I was therefore, not surprised that during my coronation, he left all he was doing in Nassarawa to attend the ceremony.
The government of Plateau State was virtually closed down for my coronation day. And for this, I am very grateful. Governor Al-Makura is a good person, who never abandons his friends. As a friend, he is dependable and reliable; hence, I had to honour him, too.
What is your relationship with the present Governor of Plateau State?
He is a son of Shendam and he had a relationship with my family for a very long time. I am his chief. So, as they say in government parlance, “he is the number one citizen of my local government.” I am just a custodian of our tradition, but he is presently the head of government in Plateau State. He was very magnanimous, because during the contest for this exalted position, he did not participate. He also refused to interfere in the selection process, in spite of the enormous pressure put on him.
Some politicians went to the extent of dropping his name, saying he had a candidate, which was not true. In spite of this, he kept quiet and kept away completely from the selection process. That is one of the qualities of a good man.
How do you intend handling politicians who take advantage of traditional rulers?
Well, if you follow my growth or track record in the public service, you will know that I am used to this type of people; it is all about managing interests, especially politicians’ interests. I worked for 35 years in the public service before retirement. Out of that, I spent 28 years in the local government. So, without being immodest, I would say I understand local politics. I would also say I know politics generally to an extent.
I am supposed and expected to be a father of all. I might discuss politics generally with politicians, but under no circumstances would I dabble into their areas of interest. I do not allow their individual interest to overwhelm me or to allow some persons or group of persons now own me. As President Muhammadu Buhari would say, “I belong to no one in particular, but in the same breath, I am owned by the generality of the people.”
Culturally, you are the head of your local government area, while the chairman is the political head. Often times, money allocated to the local government does not fully get there. What checks are you going to put in place to ensure that money allocated to your local government area not only get there intact, but is also properly utilised?
Well, I don’t know whether local government funds are being diverted. But again, these are political statements. The General Abacha administration made sure every traditional council in the country gets five percent of the allocation to his area to manage its affairs, although such funds are not sufficient. After my retirement from public service, I had the opportunity of serving as a Commissioner in the Plateau State Board of Internal Revenue. While there, I was involved in the task force to generate revenue for the state. Therefore, I know a little about the process of collecting Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). And don’t forget, I am a grass-roots person.
So, if I have a project I want executed at the local government level, I know how to go about it. For example, today, the Plateau State government has paid a counterpart funding for the execution of some projects in the local government areas in the state with one of the foreign donors. This is for the purpose of community development work. This is a vanguard or vehicle for any serious chief to want to bring development to his people. I intend to take advantage of this opportunity, to use it to bring development to my people to the best of my ability.
Aside this, the state governor has gone into procuring farming equipment to boost agriculture in the state, as we are an agrarian people. So, I have a partner in the Governor of Plateau State in my determination to bring progress to my people. From the foregoing, it will be extremely difficult for a politician to come here and want to deceive or bamboozle me. It won’t work.
What would you want to be remembered for?
I craved to be a Chief of my people because my father was one, just like my brother. I want to do better for my people than those before me. I want my reign to be better than that of my father’s and brother’s. I would want to be the best chief this place has ever produced. I will do my utmost best to make sure my people remember me for whatever they choose to remember me.
Why do you think the Shendam people love you?
If you were present at the three traditional rites my people performed before I ascended this throne, you would have seen that the majority of my people, at least 80 per cent of my people are solidly behind me. In the process of becoming a king, there were some politicians who wanted to pull me down at all cost. And when lies and deceit didn’t work, some aspirants gave the kingmakers up to N20m to share. Others not only gave out millions of naira, but went a step further to buy cars for the kingmakers. However, in my case, I did not give out even a wheelbarrow, because I had no such money.
Interestingly, that did not stop the kingmakers from making the right choice in the overall interest of our people. That is the way we are. My people are focused and principled, no matter what anybody does.