I have two questions: The main one is about conditions in your domain and how you are bringing all your experiences to bear? Are companies coming, even small companies, coming in to take advantage of this 24-hour power supply?
Okay, no. That has become a challenge. A challenge because in my thinking, the prevailing or the subsisting community leadership before I came on board messed up most of the things. I was part of the GMOU [Global Memorandum of Understanding] that brought about this light, the 24-hour power supply. Again, that happened because of my nature. If it’s anyone else there would have been no light.
Is that so?
Yes, because I believe that they could have been bribed; given some small gifts and they could have forgotten about it. So, I brought about this power not long after. The power was 2008 and in 2010, I left. So, having left the environment, a lot of things happened, people started playing games and all of that especially with the company. They were not able to make the company understand. The purpose for the light was for the community to have a better quality of life. It wasn’t just for us to use it in playing music. It was for us to use it to prosper. Prosper means, to do business as well. But at a point it was like, ooh you know some of us were now bringing in people to do cold room and so on and the company threatened to cut off power. Someone had gone to sign some kind of things behind the scene without the community knowing, all kinds of nonsense. Even when I said they should give power to Niger Delta Television [NDTV], community people came up and were doing all kinds of nonsense playing pranks here and there and so on and so forth. I am king, not a community chief; all those kind of small small stories, bringing in all those their plenty wisdom you know. Right now, a major company will need major power source to function because if they come, Shell will say you are a business outfit like us, so, get your own power. But small businesses like tailoring and a lot of things can still happen. In fact, with the computer, you can edit videos and to produce that and that and that. Like my writing is enhanced because I have power all the time. So, I wake up in the night, I write a few lines when I wake up the next morning write a few lines. But the truth is that we are not maximizing it
I can imagine that
Now, we are not maximizing it again because rather than thinking about how to properly maximize it, you are thinking about how to cheat the system. So, you are preoccupied with cheating the system rather than thinking inward.
Yes, thinking positively.
Thinking of, what can I do with this stuff? You know it’s not because people don’t handle money. People get money during politics. People get like N3millon. But then, what do they use it for? What are their priorities? So, generally there is improvement. If people want to drink water, the water is cold. And if they want to store their food and stuff.…and for those who want to sell cold drinks. Yes! So, a lot of savings are being made. Most of the people in this town cook with electricity. So, they have saved most of the monies that they would have used to buy kerosene or gas or something and even the ordeal of firewood and all of that. So, when you look at it, it is a lot, but what is left is for them to have the understanding that all these monies that you have been freed from, can you convert it into something else? Productive instead of using it to go and sue the King! [ Laughter]
Can you use it more productively, you know and all of that. You know before now, we were fairly very good with this osusu that they contribute to help one another like in their Ogbos, that’s their groups.
So, if like the festival, they are using it, they could do more and do better in such groups so long as, they remain honest to one another. But a lot of 419 women have also appeared. Na only men go do 419? [Prolonged laughter],
So, in all of this, Your Majesty, what are the positive experiences you’ve had in the years you’ve been King of this kingdom, leader of this kingdom that excite you and inspire you to go on doing what you have to do?
Yes, there is a lot of positives as well, you know. First, being the Ibenanaowie of Ekpetiama kingdom has given me a lot of visibility. I speak with the authority of an Ibenanaowie with all the gods on my side, ancient and modern together. (Laughter). Everything together you know, both seen and unseen and real and unreal you know, that is one. Yes, I think that is the major one and that gives a lot of excitement. And contrary to what people thought, I am able to write despite being as busy as I am.
That was going to be my last question, how’s your writing going?
I will get back to it, so I’m able to do that as well. And I have big opportunity to meet with others from outside here. So, I am able to make them understand for example, the catastrophe that oil and gas mis-exploitation has caused in this part of the world. Now, most people policy makers, international experts and all of that, don’t seem to see the correlation between oil and gas mis-exploitation or mismanagement and even the security of this country. They don’t see it. So, when I have the opportunity, I always dissect; open it and show them what they have caused. And so, except we adjust to the system, this is our punishment. What we are having, is actually our punishment. Insecurity in Nigeria is punishment for mismanaging the oil and gas of the Ijaw. So, give us our fundamental oil and gas rights and then, everybody will have peace. But, so long as you want to still be smart and half smart, I will say then you can’t quite sleep well. So, it gives me that as well.
A lot of young men and women who are also listening come here every day every time and they learn lessons of life you know. So, I have been a teacher actually. I have an opportunity of teaching them all the time. While a lot do not listen, a lot are listening. It is just that a few who do not listen constitute sufficient nuisance, just like a white clean shirt. You don’t need everything to blacken it. You just need one or two stains
Just one spot, yes.
Exactly! So, those stains are the ones I was emphasizing. But I think the bulk of people are listening and learning their lesson. With every passing day, I believe that the lessons are learnt. But of course, since no one will live forever as time passes through, some will fade away with time.
So, that is the experience, and yes sometimes it is frustrating to see that people don’t want to learn. That you can point to them the positive way that will benefit them, but they are blinded by greed. And they will refuse to learn. Yes, it has happened countless times. In fact, I have just remembered one occasion before I became King. It was a political season and we were up and about. We were doing so many things, I wanted to get a Yenagoa Local Government Area chairman from this area, and a friend of mine from Obunagha came. You know one John Essiebo; he is a Prof now at the University of Port Harcourt, so good a candidate. So, I was pushing it. Unknown to me, my cousins here felt that Obunagha is doing a case with us so, an Obunagha man should not become the chairman. Okay, here is my Obunagha friend ooh! And then what am I even doing by my own level? Leaving from that time I felt, even to become anything in a local government setting okay, I can’t.
Yeah! There are things you feel no, I don’t want this.
Okay exactly! All the other things like all these other appointments, councilors, Special Assistants [SA] blah, blah, blah. They are the ones I was looking at. So, if anything comes in, it will get to them. But here, they were trying to sabotage the effort. So, eventually they actually sabotaged the effort; not they alone but, generally the effort was frustrated and then one Biseni man started coming. So, which was their choice and then the man came to this town and demanded to see me. Among everyone else, I was the one he was hammering on. So, I managed through and then my cousins came to tell me that, abeg ooh, make you near this guy well ooh (laughter) That is, I should near their candidate ooh, so that, if better thing come, so that they will get something. Meanwhile, there was a direct one. I said, No be una man be this? This is your guy. So, make una near well so that if something come, una go bring to me. So, eventually the man also failed. So, this is a typical mind set, every time they are smarter than you. Even when you are spending your money, they are smarter than you. It’s just selfishness. So, that is about that. What is the other question?
The other question is, how is your writing going?
Okay, my writing?
The last time you and I spoke on the phone you said you were working on another book. How is ‘The Riddle of the Oil Thief’?How is it doing? And how are you doing? You are working on another book you mentioned?
Yes. ‘The Riddle of the Oil Thief’, is doing well. There’s a lot of awareness. Yes, my first publishers. We had issues. But it’s okay. It’s part of the learning process. I am trying to publish with Massobie Books now. The book could have been smaller than, ‘The Riddle of the Oil Thief’ the way it is. We are looking at 350 pages but, it jumped to 500 and something at the last moment.
Which will cost you more…
Which actually cost me more and all of that. I felt that was dishonest as far I am concerned. Massobie is trying to do a reprint.
A reprint right now. I just demanded for the raw design…The raw cover design and they are sending me PDF. I say no bi PDF. There is always a lot of funny stuff about it. I say no. I need the raw one so that if I want to change something, I can change. I paid for it you know. But they want to have control. They can’t control! In fact, even when we did the copyright page, they brought their own. I said no naa. I am paying for everything, put my name! Copyright is it your own? They said it doesn’t matter. It matters. Don’t let anybody tell you that. I say it matters. It’s my property. If I do it now tomorrow, una go come begin speak grammar. In fact, the people no even gree listen. It’s like a woman wey dey available to be married. She come put married. Nobody go come naa, because dem go say she married. (Laughter) Anyway, they are trying to play that small wayo; they are giving me that small hassle.
But, my position now as chairman of council gives me an opportunity. I have given the book to Osinbajo, directly autographed. I gave to Amaechi, directly autographed. I gave to DSS students on this kind of NIPSS kind of thing, direct. I gave it to Nigerian Society of Engineers; their President came. So, every major guest that comes to this State, that comes to the council gets our story, a bit of it and in summary and gets our book. So, it is going places and then, some young people are also helping in pushing it on social media for everyone to see and attend to it.
I am supposed to do a review, which I have not done. I thought it was going to go with our interview. Then, I will do it for CANDOUR magazine. What I planned is a lot of focus on literary works. I am hoping that in July/August, let me see what I can gather together.
Okay! So that is ‘The Riddle of the Oil Thief’.They are on T-shirts now that young men are wearing
It’s actually a few samples for the guys who are pushing it. It’s for them to wear. I am going to travel abroad soon. I ought to be wearing the T-shirts. Wherever you are, you should promote your own works. Now other works, I have resolved to do four books per annum. It make sense to have them published and launched at once here. It is not commercially very good but, I don’t mind.
Because it is expensive, you must know what you spent, because I’m there too I know what it is about.
And even about selling four books at once. But I am thinking that in the long run it will still be okay also because of the subject, which makes it attractive. There is no time the Niger Delta will not be. Forget about what they are saying they are focusing on the North East, the Niger Delta is still the issue in Nigeria. So, four books and all books are topical. So, I have about five to six manuscripts. I have three with the publishers right now and there is one that is titled.
Are you sending that book for the LNG prize? You should.
Em no. When it gets to the time.
There are different categories. When it gets to my category, I will send it. In fact, I will send two. So I have another one that is titled, The African Voice. ‘African Voice’ is also with the publishers, there is one they call ‘Once A Soldier’.
‘Once A Soldier’ is like an autobiography?
Yes, autobiography but, its written in such a beautiful form they say, that you will like to read it. It is explosive. It is explosive because it is a little political as well. It tells the true story of how I got out of military service, including the utterances of the commandant, at that moment when he was booting me out.
Was it in connection with your brother?
Yes, it was completely in connection with the fact that I am a brother to and then, I am from the Niger Delta and I have oil. So, all of those are inside there. So, their names are written in gold (laughs) and their actions. In fact, my trial at the NDA is captured graphically yes, with names of parties mentioned you know. Some say it is worse than ‘The Riddle of the Oil Thief ‘in terms of its capacity to upset things(general laughter)
So, it is a beautiful book. Let it happen, let it happen please!
The other one is ‘African Voice’. ‘African Voice’ is a Pan Africanist work. Okay? Yes! I feel that Africa will not develop in this bits and pieces that we are, small, small enclave.
Yes small, small enclave. That’s how we can just summarize it.
So, we should find a way to have the United States of Africa, the kind of Africa that Kwame Nkrumah, Marcus Garvey, Thomas Sankara, Fela proposed. That is what the book is about. But it has a lot of romance in it.
That will be attractive (laughs).
It has a lot of love in it. But they are all realities and all of that. But it’s an unusual book. It is going to blow you apart if you read it. The styleeeh! You know me. I’m a writer and I’m very interested in writing. The style of ‘The Riddle’ is very interesting you know. So, this one is like that, unique and very uniquely done, I will treat you to a bit of it.
Then, I have another one, ”The Kingfisher and I”. ”The Kingfisher and I”, is actually the shame of oil and gas exploitation in Ekpetiama. But it’s a wayo book. It is a wayo book because (laughs) you put stories under it. Yes, so, the real story is that we have been devastated by oil and gas in this place. So, it is Ekpetiama story, Ekpetiama and Shell specifically. But it is coming from the Kingfisher. The Kingfisher is a small, vulnerable beautiful bird.
Is it that one that has blue colour, orange, yellow?
Yes. There are two of them. There is one that is reddish, all of them, so beautiful. That bird does not have parents, does not have a father. So, they cannot get a press conference; they cannot write any book, they cannot protest. Now, this bird’s environment is polluted by years of oil and gas. He has no voice, so where it normally goes to procreate, burrow and hatch, became so polluted, this bird had to come to nest in this Palace. So, they came to nest in this palace. That is the story and then they had to get their chicks. Should I read a bit of it?
But that was not what I was planning to read anyway. [general laughter]
Okay read; read something for us.[more prolonged laughter]
Yes! Now, the other one that is being done is about piracy. It is titled, Chatham House. I am trying to put piracy in the true perspective.
What is it all about? Few weeks ago, we had an event. Some people came from the EU, we had an event organized by Judith, a few of us and it was about piracy.
Uhm! And then, we had a near experience. When we were going to Sangana, the boat driver had to divert to one creek. We were wondering if we were going to end up in Accra, Ghana or whether we were coming back to Nigeria (laughter).
So, which one do you want?
Can we have a bit of both?
Which one do you want first?
Okay, you want the Kingfisher. [Laughter all round]
It sounds interesting and because it is such a beautiful bird.
Okay, The Kingfisher is going to blow you apart. That is the King Fisher!
Okay, that one with long chirping that makes a long sound, okay!
They are here, because they actually breed here.
We will take some photos of them.
Are you sure, you are going to see it?
Where is the one that was chirping now?
It’s in the kitchen, there is a hole.
Where they stay?
Don’t worry, make I just read small.
It’s a wonderful way to spend a Sunday!
So, this is like Chapter One, “New Year’s Day in Paradise”. Okay, I am trying to call this place paradise. It was the first day of the year 2021, January 1st on the Gregorian calendar.” Many know it as New Year’s Day, and that is what it is. Yella, that is my daughter’s real name, had just clocked 10 on Christmas Day and Doifiye her older brother was looking forward to being 13 in two months, precisely on the 2nd day of March, 2021.Unlike most us of the pre-Nigerian civil war era, being of the ICT generation, being disruptive technologists of their own right, their birthdays are a big deal and they endeavor to make everyone around them know that. One way or another they hold those dates very dearly, and surprisingly those of every cousin or friends of theirs too. And without the aid of any tangible reference materials, these guys as exact as London’s Big Ben, as exact as Big Ben will always remind you, reading out the precise dates of everyone’s birth date in due time. They just know how to keep them safe somewhere around the tip of their little pink coloured thumbs.”Down in the kitchen of my home, that fateful Thursday morning. So, the dates are actually correct, if you go to the calendar, you will see that it’s actually a Thursday blah, blah, blah. Thursday morning, trying to execute my jealously kept daily fit keeping rites, which includes fixing for myself a drink of fresh coconut water from the numerous, carefully sourced, exotic coconut trees I had planted some years earlier behind the kitchen, close to the natural drain around the bushes for this purpose, in turns came a loud, a certain high pitched “kepchururu, kepchururu” sound from a pair of adult Kingfishers and about half a dozen Kingfisher chicks chirped ceaselessly in excitement just above our heads in our kitchen. Perhaps, anticipating commencing their own daily fast breaking rites for that day, which I believe their parents have been dutifully carrying out. Hoping against all odds that perhaps their species, their exceptionally beautifully plumaged species- they are unquestionably admirable inheritance from their forebears, will survive a few more generations in the face of the sustained deadly affront they have being facing for decades in the River Nun bathed Ijaw Kingdom of Ekpetiama in Bayelsa State of Nigeria.
However, in response to the chirping of the newly hatched wild kingfisher chicks, native to the Ekpetiama segment, our segment of the ever-flowing historic great River Nun as their parents dutifully bring them breakfast in unisom, my children Doifiye and Yella asked me the most thought provoking question of all time. They asked, “What would have been the fate of these little birds and their chicks, if you had not left that blue colour, six inch PVC exhaust pipe linking the smoke expeller in the kitchen, open for all these years?”
For them to nestle! For some years, these beautiful birds have made that four inch hollow in the kitchen, my kitchen, my kitchen wall their maternity. Coincidently, all of our numerous visitors testify to the increasing numbers of Kingfishers in particular and other bird species around the vicinity of our home. It does not take long for these beauties to launch a spectacular unsolicited display for my guests or anybody whatsoever who spends a while, out in the garden around my home. More so, with my little exotic ponds carefully stuffed with the right stuff, being just around the corner. The birds have since learnt to ignore the equally nearby mighty River Nun for most of their daily need. They want it where it is safe and clean.
And easy! (Laughs)
Who or what on earth will not choose a paradise, over a Shell inflicted hell when given an option? The birds instinctively also know enough to choose freshness over pollution any day. And then, as if I was struck by two dozen 7.62calibre bullets fired from the GPMG on sustained fire roll but, fired at a point blank range, piercing right through the left side of my chest, through my left ventricles through my breaking heart, I was invariably heartbroken.
It all happened in a flash my heart rate leaped to what doctors will call a tachycardia approaching a deadly high rate of 244 beats per minutes, from the normal rate of 68 beats per minute, which mine, has been for years, when not excited. I could neither move nor breathe. But loud and clear, I could hear my heartbeat. It dawned on me that the seven decades of oil and gas exploitation in the Niger Delta, has not only poisoned us the people of the area, as we frequently canvas in one form or another for the land, water and the air, it utterly destroys what is a natural habitat of these little lovely creatures and their offspring too.
Exactly! And they have been here longer than us, they own this place.
Exactly! With the thick-blinded blinds of ignorance lifted, I could see and feel the commonalities in our fates, that of the Kingfisher and I. As if concurring to my realising our shared destinies, came yet another set of kepchururu kepchururu, from the dome and then another louder round of the chirping of the excited chicks followed, in unison from the concrete ceiling above our heads. Okay, so this is the way it goes. It goes this way and then eventually there are hard statistics in terms of the pollution, the drilling time and ….. Like the statistics will be boring for most people. When you build a beautiful story of nature of the birds like the Kingfisher and all you know, it makes it easy to digest.
I am also thinking the world particularly the civilized world, will resonate with The Kingfisher. But with the capture of nature, they will say actually these guys are being instructive, because you will not just throw in the statistics alone. Yes! So, the statistics will be exact Ekpetiama/Shell conflict you know and all of that. There is somewhere that is about the war.
The civil war?
Yes, inside this book because it’s like when they started and then my own civil war experience.
Are there still crocodiles?
Yes there are.
Yes, there are.
In your Kingdom?
Yes but quietly. They are there. We still have vast bushes.
Wow, it will be nice to experience that too!
Okay anyway, you can’t have too much. I will just give you a few more paragraphs. Across the River With My Mother.
This one is the second book?
No. This is same book.
The same Kingfisher?
Yes, so across the river with my mother Woiyo! My mother, your grandmother. Okay, so eventually I had to bring my children under that coconut to tell them stories. Yes! So, by the time I finish telling them the stories the book finished.
Yes! So I am telling them now. I am getting them ready for the process of going with them to go and bring their books and come sit down on that Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, for us to sit down and discuss because they have asked a question. “What would have happened to the birds blaa blaa blaa.” So, I want to answer them. I decided that even though they are young, they have asked the question which means they are ready. They have been thinking!
So, I was now going to tell them about these things. So, across the river with my mother, your grandmother managed through the war days, taking me and my four years older than me elder brother, Sammy everywhere she considers safe or fit. Still vividly in my memory is the event of a particular day that I did only hear the hissing sound of flying bullets near my hometown.
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I have two questions: The main one is about conditions in your domain and how you are bringing all your experiences to bear? Are companies coming, even small companies, coming in to take advantage of this 24-hour power supply?