In a region largely hallmarked by broken institutions and communities, degraded values and land, polluted air, rivers and distressed people, a few gallant personalities stand tall above the widespread smallness of life and opportunity, offering hope in possibilities when people work for the common good. National Point’s Ibiba DonPedro was able to get the busy, respected monarch of Ekpetiama Kingdom, Chairman of the Bayelsa State Council of Traditional Rulers to speak on critical issues in the kingdom and Niger Delta wide matters including the challenge of leadership in divided oil rich communities, inclusive development for women.
Your Majesty, I would like you to take us through how it has been, handling the challenges in the kingdom because you are in the midst of it, I do know that you are part of the forces shaping issues in the State and communities.
I became king in 2016, that is six years ago. That means that I took over a kingdom that has been affected by oil and gas exploitation for about 60 years, which means that the communities that I took charge of are not what they used to be or they ought to be. They have already been affected by oil and gas, you know oil and gas politics or oil and gas business and oil and gas mismanagement. So, you having communities that are looking like shadows of themselves where leadership is some kind of an all cormers thing, where participation is all about personal benefits, where togetherness becomes a challenge, where it is a little difficult to say these are Ijaws kind of. However, we are Ijaw people and we speak Ijaw and we desire to be our best. I am fairly young when you look at biology, though culturally I’m a hundred and sixty years old, but there are community leaders who are in their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, some of these have been on their own thrones for 40, 50 years. So, the question will be, if you are Ibiba DonPedro, for 50 years you are in-charge of a particular enclave and the enclave is looking chequered, looking incoherent, it also puts a big question mark on you. So, that is what I saw and I can tell you that in the last six years, that thing which I just described, has been slowing me down. You may know that I was born in Otuabage, where the first oil well was drilled, that is our land and I grew up at the Refinery quarters at Eleme-Okrika. I did my primary school at Okrika so, all those early years of post civil war, I saw oil and gas business. I saw the tankers, I saw the pipelines, walked on the pipelines. My school was by the pipeline, I saw the ships coming to lift crude oil to God knows where. So, I have seen all of that. My secondary school was at Shell’s pioneer operational headquarters in Nigeria, at Okobiegiama-Otuabage. So, I saw what was left of the oil industry after the civil war. So from 1976, I was there, I saw everything-burst pipes, tankers and tanks, I saw all of these.
I’m trying to bring this background, so you can understand that my desire has been to quickly take us somewhere, where we will be what we ought to be. So, with this mind set, you now have people who are more or less trying to con me, all the time you know. So, you tell them this is it, I have known this of course. You know I was in the Army as well. I know this. So, this is the way to go, and someone says, No, that is not the way to go. You argue and argue. And well, you can’t quite beat them because, a lot of things have changed. If you beat up somebody today for example, the police will come to say, “Why you beat am naa? It is against the law, you have taken the law into your hands”. So, most of the time you let them be. But what I have been able to convince them and I give that example is that the way I am today, if there is apollo in this room and you are all feeling itchy around your eyes and you want to cure it and in your ignorance you say, ‘Okay you’ve gotten a perfect solution to prevent it, cure it once and for all’, and then what you think is the way forward, is to grind that greenish glass which looks beautiful to you into dust powder and when you put it in the eyes, it will just clear the apollo and forever you will not have apollo again. So, I come to hear that and I say, are you people crazy? How can you? Do you know that is a bottle? That you are going to get blinded whatever and they will say, ‘No, look at him, he has come again. But, the truth is that you cannot put it in my son’s eyes, Her Majesty’s eyes and you cannot also put it in my eyes and you can’t put it in the eyes of anyone who says he is not going to take it. So, you will administer it to yourselves and then a week later, a month later or a year later, you all come with your burst eyeballs. So, now I have fresh crisis in my hands, crisis of 100, 200 or 500 persons that are blind, because they refuse to listen. So if you take this, recall it is about land. Is it about that? Yes each time you try to counsel them, they are always smarter. In Ijaw we use to say “Paabikorikori” which means, everybody has an idea, everybody is equal, everybody is king of his own, more so when you are like me a young King.
And there is age long reverence for the elders in our culture. So how do you balance this, the challenge of being youthful, your activism and role as King in a land with huge oil and gas resources?
These are the challenges, you can’t really blame them. Like I said, the oil and gas mismanagement in the country is at the bottom of everything. So this behavior I’m trying to describe is actually as a result of oil and gas mismanagement. Hope you are aware today that the Naira to the Dollar is N600 to a dollar or thereabouts. The economy is down. May be from the age of eight or so, some persons have been taking care of themselves. Fathers are no longer fathers and mothers are no longer mothers. The child is an adult of his own, where he has been managing his affairs, even though he doesn’t have all the knowledge. So that is the type of society we have. So, in getting through, getting across became a challenge. For example going further, when I was installed as King, some guys tried to play a fast one on me coming out of extreme greed. There is a community they call Tombia. No, this is Gbarantoru, this Tombia has an Amananaowei that is about 97 years now [King Otobotekere] He is alive and in-charge for about 50 years. This is a long time you know. Just before I became King, his cousins and a few others tried to create a new town, and the new town, when I mean carve out, they used the word’ carve out’, trying to create a new town out of an existing town, and I said, this is not right to do and it is not possible to do. That communities start out small and then they grow over time and they could become big. They are not amoeba, that will grow and split into three and four, that is not so. If you want to form a new town, you will move somewhere may be one kilometre away, five kilometres away, ten kilometres away. Go to so called virgin land and start your life there and if there is prosperity and you attract people, or you marry many wives and you have so many children very quickly, it becomes a big town in 10, 20, 40 and 50 years.
And where was this new town going to be located?
As you were coming if you observed on this main road, there is one place after the bridge, very close to the LNG junction there is place to the left; It used to be a palm wine tappers corner, a small one. That thing has been there for close to twenty something years. It is not more than four huts. It’s about thirty years, but it’s like that. So, for communities to evolve to this type of size is not a twenty years thing. Sometimes, it takes more than a hundred years before it becomes okay, this is now a community to become recognized as a community. Usually it’s for it to remain like an appendage of the nearest community or it is called a hamlet, a gbeni or a camp forever and something must attract people there before it becomes big and all of that. So, I explained this to them but they did not agree Meanwhile, they have this greedy ambition from about 2009 and made all types of attempt. I can’t say all of them today. So, those things were there but, sometimes wisdom will prevail. And then the political influence; they were not able to pull it until 2016 when I was to be installed. Surreptitiously, they came to the coronation ground and announced a new community and gave a certificate to the guy. They tried to disrupt the event. But the event was too big to be disorganized. It even went unnoticed.
How did you resolve that challenge?
My first meeting, I suspended that community because that was not doable. They said, ‘why?’ I said I don’t know how it came about. In our constitution, we have seven communities, and these seven communities participated in the process of my emergence. Why should I come and start my work with eight? Where did that one come from? So, I was not going to take that. So, I suspended it actually. The guys behind it decided to run from pillar to post for a while. Eventually, they were counselled to come to me. So, they came and I advised that this is what you need to do. But the fact is that these things are not done this way. And what he was trying to do is that because he is Otobotekere’s cousin, he has been working with him closely; he has been seeing drink to drink. He has been eating with him and when Otobotekere died, the other compound was going to have a chief. He didn’t want to subject himself to the other people. And because he wanted food for himself he had to plot. But then, it was difficult to work with us. If he severs it, then Otobotekere is going to be dethroned. Otobotekere houses have to be cut. if you cut Abonnema and Buguma into two for example, one side will go one side. So, it didn’t work. But now he felt here was now an ‘idiotic king’ that was coming in, it was the time to smuggle it in. And so, they brought it in. But me, I’m conflict myself. So, I seized it and suspended it. It took a while and I said, let me investigate. I am an international traveler. If you are an international traveler, you will learn how to pack your baggage yourself. That is usually the question. ‘Is this your bag? Did you pack it yourself? Okay open it let us see what is in side. Anything inside, it’s you that brought it.’ So, I wouldn’t want to take a baggage or luggage that I didn’t pack myself. So, let me unpack it. So I unpacked it. I finished the unpacking. I started the questions including questions like, ‘How many are you?’ He said, ’emm, well, we are not up to hundred but, we are close to hundred.’ That is less than a hundred for a community.
‘Do you have land?’ ‘You know the whole community doesn’t have land. The land that we use now is Gbarantoru land.’Tombia land is actually Gbarantoru land, so, you want to build a city in the air, in the blue. No land. Did you go for those who said it was a good idea, for boundary inspection to see whether there is actually a demarcation between your left side and your right side? They said they did not go. Did you tell the other communities in this ward that this is what is about to happen? They said they did not. You see just a few persons, just four of us are taking this decision inside one room somewhere in the town. So, they were exposed. Some even denied, some even said their signatures were forged. That they are doing some preparation, all that is just background story. One other example I gave was because the focus is about the throat and the usual throat is to see yourself as sub-human which is annoying. Okay, the sub-human level we put ourselves, it’s not only in this village. It’s everywhere around. But now that sub-human level is that you are expecting someone to bring you rice ‘like now Tinubu wan come, you expect him to bring you rice, bring you money kind of a thing. So you want to position yourself like a funnel like an ‘Ingoo’ to collect this thing. So, that is the whole contraption here, because the way it is, when it comes you don’t seem to be getting enough. So you wanted to, and I’m thinking why should you expect Ibiba to bring to you? Why don’t you work hard and may be also take to Ibiba? You should. Sometimes It’s about governor, may be someone wants to be a governor to bring money. Why can’t you produce governor in your village, where you bring all the money to yourself? So, the usual thing. Let’s say Dudafa brings twelve bags of rice to this ward. This ward is Gbarantoru, Ebidaka, Tombia, three communities. So, it’s going to be shared 4,4,4, 4×3=12. Now, if Tombia divides into two, you now have four communities right? So, you bring the same 12bags you now have 3,3,3 but the Gbarantoru people are not idiots. So, they will know that Tombia people took one of their bags. Ebidaka people are also not idiots, they know that Tombia people have taken one of their bags because 3+3=6 3+3=6. So, now they have 6 and you have 3, 3, That community has just cheated you guys, So they should also do something isn’t it? So, you should also divide your community into 3 so you have an advantage that is the basis of benefits, Gbarantoru says three communities, Akabiri says two. Akabiri is not so big so, let’s say two communities.
So, now you have how many?
Seven communities. You now have seven communities in the new enclave 3+2+2=7, so you have 7 communities. Then, Tombia is actually bigger and now feels a little disgruntled. They are taking equally with Akabiri. So, they also want more communities, so every day, every week and every year I have to be signing new communities that have not moved, that have not grown bigger just because con men want to have access to someone else’s rice, as dumb as this is. To cut a long story short. I eventually gave a position and the position is, This won’t fly’. I made them understand. So, it is more like I schooled them. Some were not happy and a lot of persons were happy and brought peace. The last moment I told them ask Otobotekere. I said are all of you on board on this? They said yes they are. I asked are you sure?’Yes’ are you sure ‘yes’? Okay, call the chief, because the chief was going to be the hardest hit because he has been on the throne for forty something years, and I was going to dethrone him. By that action, I was going to dethrone him and if he had said yes, I would have dethroned him. So, they called him, he wasn’t there he didn’t come that day. They called and he said’ Haa, I no dey ooh’! I dey for the community side, I said okay since you said everybody was part of it and this is the major stakeholder and said he is not part of it, then, get away from here. I gave a position eventually, of course they had to put their tails in between their legs. But they did not give up. They keep scheming. After trying a few things, after about a year or two, 2018 or 2019, they took me to court.
On what basis?
Yes! That I have refused to recognize a community that has already being created when they were given a certificate,
They mentioned the people now. brought all those things and I smiled and said okay. So, I had to go and answer. Cutting a long story short, by February this year, they lost. Now they had a few other masqueraders, and then another community again.
Looks like a lot of struggling to create enclaves just to access advantages?
Yes, yes! Even in this town, while I’m here! Some persons from another town sat somewhere with some masqueraders and then they did one small paper work, and said they are creating a new a town, a town that has no boundary, amorphous. One compound here, another compound there and then in between is a whole community. Then, so how do you now form a community like that? But they did the paperwork. But I had to arrest them you know and then they did all that they could to manage to survive then eventually they went to court. Two weeks ago they lost. I heard one declare that ‘I masuwaie’ that is ‘him no join again. Him no join! Him no join again, “this kind enmity, him don tire”.
What am I saying, I’m bringing this example to say that the King will give you counsel from his understanding from this modern world and you will be so smart but, eventually you will come back to the same place. You would have lost money, you would have lost things and so on and so forth. These are just a few examples. Land cases are similar. When they bring it, you tell them about employment about everything, they will hesitate. If you will, take those ones are moving forward, while those other ones are constituting a drag. So, that has been the journey so far and it’s not an interesting journey. Like we have an Ekpetiama Security and Development Blue Print expertly done. Okay, we sat here close to a hundred persons gathered here, some of the best guys. We discussed for months and came up with a document that if used, we would become like New York city.
We will be following you up on that, will be watching how
They explain it down, it was done in 2019. It was 2019 before the COVID, I gave copies to all the Chiefs, gave copies to all the bodies, entities in the communities. Go read it.
Is the document something we can use or its too soon?
You can talk about it, but the document is actually our document. It is like Kolokumo/ Opokuma Development Blue Print, we have one as well, Kolokumo /Opokuma has one, that all the Kolokumo/ Opokuma elites, experts sat down and designed and if you follow it, you have a developed kingdom. It is something like that, and that was done looking at what is going on here. You have an International Airport, sirens passing here everyday. This is the best place to be in Yenagoa city.
Today it’s true! Like you just said now, everywhere has no light, but we have light, we have a good land mass,
That’s a huge advantage!
LNG Gas project is here nearby, it’s supposed to be an industrial space that open place you saw before you turned right is an Industrial Layout. Everything is around here, and then the Wilberforce Island. It means that if you do not brace up and get organized quickly life will push you aside you know, so why not quickly re-organize and take advantage? The Airport has started, how many taxis do you have there? How many catering corners do you have there? Okay, so you have nothing, no plans! You are just like a spectator! Igbos will come and bring in their vehicles there. The Yoruba people will come and bring it there and then five years later, you come and do ‘oshobie’ and you want to come and fight, ‘fight wetin’, when you could have organized yourselves?
So these are the issues; go and read this thing, they are not ready. They have not gathered the town. They have not gathered the town for once that document is just there, okay but generally they wanted to make it look like naa me no serious, when the truth is naa them no serious! Eehm last Saturday, last Saturday abi? That was two weeks ago. Yes, we had the Ekpetiama New Yam festival, grand finale Okolode New yam festival 2022. Okay, so you should keep a date with us.
When is it supposed to be?
The name is what Okolode?
Yes! Okolode, 5th of June, every year that is when it starts. But the grand finale for next year is on the 17th June, 2023. It’s about a week long event, you know every community participates, This time, we will start with the lighting of the festival flame,
It’s just classic. Any plans to make it a major tourist event?
That is what it is. I’m telling you now so you can be part of it.
Now, before I became king, they said that if I become king, the festival was going to die,
Because I no dey go dance , I no sabi dance. Na so them talk ooh! No be say I no sabi ooh! Naa story! The festival was going down. It was even going down about to die. I said which means that you guys are the ones killing it, and you don’t have the capacity to revamp it, that is why it is dying. So, you should allow someone to inject fresh blood to make a difference. That is why you need me. If any of you goes in there, it will not move forward, it will still be going down, any way that just my defense, but eventually i became king.
Last two weeks or so I realized what they were trying to do, By 2017 we now had the festival. It was an explosion, we had it in 2018, it was more than an explosion. We had in 2019, it was much more than an explosion, 2021 it was just a tsunami, because at Agudama I could say that had like 3million persons even though it’s not true. Alaibe himself was shocked when he saw it, he said“Haha! Your Majesty, you mobilized” look at the political capital.
Political capital to be harvested?
To even come down from motor sef, e no fit come down. The way the youths, everybody full everywhere. Now because somehow I have discovered that some of my neighbors want to use the festival to make personal money. Okay, while I want to use the festival to make a name you know, to revamp the festival, so what about me it means that I am spending my money? Others want to get some money in the process of the festival. While I am spending my money to make sure it is a big event, so from the first year, by the second time, it was so big that even the chiefs could not sit with me, in fact they were grumbling, “haha! Okolode they are supposed to sit by me naa” they even came and complained here and I told them, look at it this way, If Okoya was there and you sit by him because of a small local event, now today I bring a king my size abi? I bring a king, I bring another king, I bring five kings, they ought to all sit by me isn’t it’? It means the chiefs will be left at the periphery and if the high table platform is not infinite and there are no infinite platforms.
Which means there is limited space?
When you cordon that space, it means you have to give the chiefs another dignified corner. But you cannot leave your special guests to go sit with your chiefs. Okay, so if the Governor comes, where would he sit? They said by me. Okay! If the Deputy Governor comes, where would he sit? They said by him. Okay, you understand! So, that is what it is, it’s getting bigger and bigger by the day. This last time I discovered that what they were thinking was to really be in charge in away, where if they say no, it flops. But now if they say no, nobody will know, nobody will notice. These last weeks, a lot of things were under, but nobody will know that a lot of things were under. Nobody will know that a lot of big men in town refused to contribute, Some people refused to bring money, they wanted to frustrate the new chief, but nobody knew there was an attempt to frustrate anybody, are you getting the point? These are some of the old ways they used to hold the communities backward, down for so long