We are queuing up behind Olu to develop Warri
Chief Tony Ede, Uwa Olu Etan of Warri Kingdom
On December 12, 2015, after the demise of Ogiame Atuwatse II, His Majesty Ikenwoli Godfrey Gbesimi Emiko was crowned the 20th Olu of Warri. Precisely one year and nine months after his ascension to the throne of his forefathers, His Majesty selected two illustrious sons of Warri Kingdom for honour.
On Wednesday, September 27, 2017, the ancient city of Warri Kingdom was agog with activities and lots of celebration. At the elaborate installation ceremony, the Olu of Warri honoured Chief Tony Ede with the title of “Uwa Olu Etan,” literarily meaning, “The wealth of an Olu is inexhaustible.”
Chief Ede, a typical Warri boy, left the shores of Warri for the United States in the early 70s. He returned in 1978 after studying political science and mass communication at Illinois State University and Sangamon State University. From 1979 to 1988, Tony Ede worked as a news reporter/producer with the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA).In 1988, he was appointed the pioneer head of communication at the Central Bank of Nigeria. For 18 years, from 1988 to 2005, Tony Ede served as the apex bank’s spokesperson.
Palace Watch recently caught up with Chief Ede and the following discussion held:
I know you to be a very reserved person. How come the Olu of Warri singled you out alongside another man for a chieftaincy title in Warri Kingdom?
I am not the only person who has been honoured with chieftaincy title by the Olu of Warri. Before September 27, 2017, when I was honoured alongside one other son of Warri, three other persons had been given various titles, and the Olu will honour one other person on October 14, 2017.
I usually tell people: when they wake up every morning and look in the mirror, what they usually see is oftentimes not a true reflection of who they are. People are seen and respected, based on the testimonies or how others see them.
What I think the Olu of Warri is trying to do, by bringing people like us from humble background, but with vast experience into his council of chiefs is to assemble high quality minds that will assist him in steering the ship effectively. He is, no doubt, bringing together people of calibre, people he can consult with, people who are ready to work to enrich the decision-making process of the Olu-in-Council.
If there are any other reason(s), I would say only the king knows. When I retired from CBN, I had more time to do things for myself and travel home frequently. In the process, I began to get more actively involved in the affairs of my people, and do the little I could for them.
But my activities became noticed during the Itsekiri-Ijaw-Urhobo crisis in Warri. If you would recall, the crisis started in 1997 and then escalated in 2003. As at that time, because I was still in service, I could not actively get involved in the resolution of that crisis. So, when the crisis blew open, I had to do the little I could in my own little way to ameliorate the suffering of affected people. This I did by organising Itsekiri people in Abuja, and we kept sending relief materials to people back home.
What, in your view, was responsible for these unfortunate incidents in the first instance? And what structures have you people put in place to ensure lasting peace in Warri, so that such a crisis does not reoccur again?
I don’t think it would be right for me to say such an ugly incident will not occur again in Warri, because the causes of these crises are still there: expansionism, lack of jobs, general lack and poverty are still very visible in Warri and environs. All the ingredients that brought about the crisis are still there. The political imprudence that further fueled this crisis has also not gone away. If things were done rightly, nobody will bother or care who becomes the president or Local Council chairman, once they know that development will come to their areas.
Sadly, however, that is not the case presently. Hence, these crises will not go. It is not possible to keep youths in the villages without jobs. The waters in our areas have been polluted, which makes matters worse. These youths go to Abuja and see what oil money from their places and backyards has established in Abuja, Lagos and other places. They immediately become aggrieved. The sad aspect of all these things is that the youths are no longer interested in farming. They no longer want to do all the menial jobs they were used to. The fish that used to cost so little, when we were growing up, is now so expensive that the villagers can no longer afford them.
When we were growing up in Warri and environs, our parents used to start cooking at home, run to the river, throw in their hooks to catch a fish, and then rush back home to continue with the cooking. This is no longer possible, because of the massive pollution of our waters and the environment. This experience is long forgotten.
There is palpable hardship in our lands, hence these agitations by our youths, who turn out to be militants that will not go. All the immediate ingredients families need to survive, which they could get without having to go to the market to buy anything, are no longer there. This was the reason market days were always every four days. But today, you throw the hook into the river, and you will be at the riverside for days without fish.
During these crises, the soldiers that were deployed to Warri to maintain law and order ended up supplying arms to the Itsekiris and their Ijaw brothers at different times. They would give the Ijaw time to attack their targets and also give the Itsekiris time to carry out their own attacks on their soft targets, thus giving us ample opportunity and supply of weapons to destroy ourselves.
These military men were enjoying themselves, while we were foolishly killing each other. Then, there came a time we had to sit down and tell ourselves that what we were doing did not make sense. It was at this point we met and agreed to have peace in Warri. As I speak to you, we now have a body called ‘The Three Is.’ Who are “The Three Is? The Ijaws, the Isokos and the Itsekiris. They are the three major oil-producing areas of Delta State today, and they meet frequently to ensure that the unfortunate war does not repeat itself.
As a member of the Olu-in-Council, what would you say the present Olu of Warri is doing, since ascending the throne to ensure that this peace initiative endures?
His Majesty was a witness to all that happened in Warri during the period under discussion. Fortunately, God called on him to become the Olu of Warri and when he ascended the throne, his number one priority was to ensure peace in Warri. At every meeting he calls or presides over, he always emphasises that he does not want any crisis during his reign. To show that he meant business, immediately after his coronation, he visited all our neighbours.
He visited the Ijaws, the Urhobos and the Isokos, all in a bid to pursue rapprochement and ensure that we communicate. He always says what causes crisis in most communities is lack of communication. And this constant communication has strengthened us. If you must know, the Alaja and the Ogbe-Ijaws, who were once killing themselves, were approached and peace secured through The Three I group. This was after several efforts by the state government to broker peace in these places had failed. The peace efforts are the Olu of Warri’s work. He told us bluntly and severally that he does not want any crisis in Warri, while he is on the throne. And he means what he is saying.
Today, some Itsekiris are in APC and PDP, and they think the best way to resolve any problem is to foment crisis. Thus, once money is brought into the communities, somebody or a group of persons would corner such money to themselves without bothering about the plight and feelings of the people around here. The Olu of Warri has been taking his time to look into such issues and get them resolved amicably.
In the Olu of Warri’s Palace, there is a Crisis Resolution Committee that looks into matters to get them resolved before they fester and become uncontrollable. There are other structures within the Palace, which also adjudicate in matters. It is only when such bodies can’t resolve any matter that it gets to the Olu-in-Council. The Olu is making all these efforts because he believes strongly that it is only in an atmosphere of peace that there can be development.
Why the Olu of Warri is presently doing all within his powers to ensure peace and development is not far to seek. If you want to see poverty in its naked forms, go to Delta State or the Niger Delta Region. Despite the Olu’s efforts, they are not letting him be. They are also fighting him. You see, the major company prospecting oil in Warri is Chevron. The Itsekiri Regional Development Organisation was established, but the same people that have been in this body for about nine years now still want to remain there.
When the Olu said, “no, they should be changed to give the body new faces and focus,” they went to court and abused him and said so many things against him for wanting the right thing to be done. And because of this, they carried out some protests, saying certain people should not be appointed into certain positions, not knowing that it was a disguise for their selfish motives.
You see, it is difficult to discipline this group of people, because they have the money and they also have the political machinery built around them. It is very easy to see how entrenched they are in our political system. Whenever they misappropriate money meant for development of this region, they again turn around to begin to blame the Federal Government, just because nobody speaks for the Federal Government in this region. The major or number one problem the Federal Government has in this area of the country is that there is nobody trying to explain the efforts they are making to the people.
Why has the Federal Government not queried NDDC over the enormous money it has pushed through this particular agency to the people of this region? Why has the Federal Government not queried the Delta State Oil Producing Development Programme set up? The oil companies operating in this region are daily pumping money into the region. The state government is also pumping money into this region. What has happened to all this money? Some people just end up pocketing this money and walking away freely. This is not good, and this attitude is also not helping the development of this region. It has to change for the better, if we must see the light at the end of the day.
Do you know that some individuals have private aircrafts in this region, and most of these people are all illiterates? The educated and polished people are not an example to anybody in the Niger Delta Region. They would say, Mr. A went to school, and so what? Who is he and what does he have? These guys that did not finish primary school in these areas have the whole world. People gather in their houses every morning and they dole out money. When most people in these communities have medical problems they take care of them, and take care of their children’s school fees. They claim to be in charge of pipeline surveillance, and they make big money through this process.
Young boys are driving all manner of SUVs and living in palatial buildings around. When you come around and see all this nonsense, you will end up crying for the ordinary people of this region. My take in all this is that the Niger Deltans should look inward and see what is wrong with them.
What does this title “the Olu’s wealth is inexhaustible” mean to you as a person?
In all my life, I never believed that a day like September 27, 2017 would ever come my way, considering the fact that I’m from a very humble background. Today, that same poor boy from a very poor home is now a chief in the Itsekiri kingdom. There are certain chieftaincy titles that can’t be ignored. Although I did not have the type of money to finance this title, I had to scout around for money to take the title. The title “Uwa Olu Etan” is a big one. Since the current Olu saw something good in me, I will do my utmost best not to disappoint him.
Ode-Itsekiri is the ancestral home to every Itsekiri man and woman. The place is not at all developed; it is still very rural. What is being done to develop it?
The question goes to explain what we just talked about with regard to the under-development of the Niger Delta Region. The number one problem in Ode-Itsekiri is that it is not accessible by road. One can only gain access to the place by boat. We currently have a design to build a road from Warri to Ode-Itsekiri. There is also a master plan, you can call it a blueprint of the place, if you like. As a member of Olu-in-Council, we have had cause to discuss this matter a couple of times in the council.
Already, an infrastructural committee is in place. In this master plan, areas have been designated for industries, education, residential and what have you. The design will soon be submitted to the Olu and the Delta State government, alongside prominent Itsekiri leaders, so that we can all collectively look into how the place can be developed.
There is also a plan to build a road from Warri to Escravos, the hub of Chevron activities. And the design has been ready since the Okotie Eboh era in the early 60s, a road from Koko to Epe. From Koko to Epe is one and a half hours, if you go through Ogere. If this road is built, it will open up all the riverine areas in those places. Sadly, this road design that has been ready since the time of Omi-ejoh has not been implemented.
If infrastructures are put in place, and people are allowed to stay in their villages and develop and grow, nobody will populate places like Lagos, Warri, Port Harcourt, Kano and Abuja. But if people decide to remain in their villages the way things are now in Nigeria, they will starve to death. This is where the problem lies. The Olu of Warri is determined to transform Ode-Itsekiri, and we are all queuing up behind him.
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