Biblically, traditional rulership is naturally bestowed on any one God has chosen based on his love and favour. In Eleme Kingdom of Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State, there resides a woman of immense honour and respect who bestrides the Women Traditional institution/rulership of her immediate Aleto Community, Nchia Clan and Eleme Kingdom in general. She is Her Royal Majesty, Chief (Mrs.) Evelyn Ada Gokpa, Owa eh Aleto, Nchia/Eleme III, the Queen Mother of Eleme Kingdom.
She is considered a woman of inestimable value and commands a wealth of influence among the women of the kingdom.
The Emereowah Eh Nchia/Eleme Kingdom, is vivacious, sound and very outspoken. By all standards, she can be clearly described as a human rights activist and a great and fearless crusader for the rights and welfare of women in the entire Eleme Kingdom.
Chim Ogutum National Point’s senior correspondent was at Aleto Community, palace of this 74 – year- old agile retired teacher /headmistress of 35 years, where she spoke on sundry issues ranging from the menace of Fulani herdsmen, the nonchalant attitude of Port Harcourt Refinery management to HYPREP failings and others.
Ma, may we know your name, title and what you are in your community, Clan/Kingdom?
Thank you! I am Her Royal Majesty, Emerowah Mrs. Evelyn Ada Gokpa. I am Owa eh Aleto, Nchia/Eleme III, the Queen Mother of Eleme Kingdom.
Does your stool cover only the women of your community/kingdom, or generally women and men)?
At times it covers the women, and at times when the men have their own problem, I will be there; it is not only the women.
Please can you tell us what is happening in Eleme?
We have problems facing us- the Fulani herdsmen and their cows destroying our farms and raping women in the farms and doing certain things that are not good. These things the Fulanis are doing disturb Eleme women and Eleme in general. This is because, after sometime now, the men will cultivate the farms and thereafter share to the women and leave. From January to December, Eleme women are in the farm without our men. These Fulanis and their cattle are disturbing us too much. They and their cows will march all the food that we have planted in our farms deep into the ground, shit (defecate) there, and the crops will not come up again. And it is from the farm we get what we eat, send our children to school and get money to buy the wrappers we tie. Farming is our occupation and that is our source of livelihood. These Fulanis and their cows don’t allow us a rest, they’re disturbing us!
For how long has this been going on?
It has taken a very long time.
As Her Majesty and traditional head of Eleme women, what have you done to address this problem?
I have done all I could to make them put an end to their negative activities on our farms. When you ask them why they are dong they’ll tell you, “Go and ask your chief, it is your chief. These cows belong to your chief”. With this information, I was moved to mobilize the women of Aleto community (not Eleme in general). In Eleme, we have 10 clans, Aleto is one of the clans. So, I grouped the women of Aleto, and we went to the chief and asked him how and why he owned the cows that are destroying our crops in the farms. And the chief said ‘No!!!’ A young Fulani boy was the person managing and pushing the cows.
I also went to our local government chairman, Chief Hon. Oji Nyime Ate Ngofa. The chairman tried, he wrote to all in Eleme, summoned meeting; invited the Fulani men and all the chiefs in Eleme about this worrisome situation. Indeed, he did something positive and we were happy for his effort. But when he left office, nobody answered us again. Last two months (March 2021), I heard that the herdsmen went to Agbon-Chia, and the men of Agbon-Chia came up together with their women; they went to State Security Service (SSS) station at Alode, and there was result. So, when the women are complaining, it is good for men to follow because, at times, like me as Her Majesty, the men would say, “Who asked you to talk, what authority do you have?” And, “You are a woman, why not you consult us?” Here in Aleto, it was a different ball game. So, the Agbon-Chia men and women grouped themselves and went there and stopped it.
You talked about meeting the Chief. In every community, clan/kingdom there are many chiefs. What is the name of this chief that owned the cows you grouped the women of Aleto to meet?
The chief that I went to is His Royal Majesty in my own community, and the chief of Eleme. At that time he was Aleto community chief alone. That was when the Fulani men and their cows were disturbing and I went to him; that was the time he was the Chief of Aleto. Then he was His Royal Highness, Soro-Bile, eta Aleto, but today he is His Royal Majesty of Eleme Kingdom, after the death of His Royal Majesty, Samuel Ejire.
When you met with him then as Aleto Chief over this Fulani herdsmen disturbances, and his ownership of the cows, did he call other chiefs in his domain to tackle the issue?
I don’t know.
What about the CDC and youths, because they say youths are the pillars of the community; did you meet with them, and what was their action?
For me, I cannot tell you now that I went to the youths. I did not go the CDC. According to what the Fulani boy told me, that was what I did. I didn’t consult the youths, and I didn’t consult the CDC chairman.
While all these were going on, did you petition the state government, the police, DSS, and other relevant authorities?
I didn’t do that. When the Agbon-Chia women came to me, they told me that they have done everything. So, Agbon-Chia’s own is settled and I have not heard anything again. No community came to me again; Aleto is my own community.
But, your main source of worry are your farms which the Fulani men and their cows are destroying and raping the women?
Yes, they are destroying our farms too much and I am not happy with the situation.
Recently, there was a meeting held by Southern States governors in Asaba, Delta State. The governors came up with a communiqué banning open grazing in all the Southern states. Do you support their action?
Yes, I strongly support their action. This is what I am saying. Their action is lofty and I am happy for that. If the chiefs of the community cannot do it, and the Governors Forum came together to do it, I am there and support them fully.
Apart from these Fulani and their cows disturbances, do you have any other problem?
Yes, we have this problem of HYPREP. You know that we are from Eleme; anytime and anywhere you go during the raining season, when you dig the ground you see the colour of the water completely changed. Hope you passed through the Aleto stream? That is where we get our drinking water from before. But now, you cannot even use that water to wash your face; it will destroy your face not to talk of your whole body. But, the HYPREP we hear are bringing us money for drinking water, we have not seen anything yet from them or their establishment.
Last year, 2020, there was a meeting in my house; they asked me to write a letter as their Majesty through the secretary of HYPREP and they signed and sent me copy. So, I want the HYPREP to come to my palace and let us discuss. We don’t have good drinking water; we don’t have where to plant food again. We don’t have any other thing again, they have spoilt our land and HYPREP has not done anything for us. In 2019, one of our men from Onne sent me a special letter that HYPREP officials are coming to my house, and that I should gather all Aleto community and inform all the women about their visit. Thinking HYPREP was coming to help alleviate our situation on that day, I hired canopies, chairs, tables and everything. They came and interviewed us, showed us their map and told us that after sometime they will come and get my women for training on special skills that will help them, and that through this skill, they can do special farming, fishing and other things.
Since 2019 till now, I have been calling the man, that is the HYPREP man representing Eleme; he is from Onne. Last year, 2020, he sent a message to me that I should bring three women for the training. The three women I brought went to Songhai Farm in Ogoni for the training the first day, second and third day. Till today nothing happened again. They asked them to bring their account number, bring this and that, and they sent but that was the end of everything. HYPREP too is another problem both men and women of Eleme have.
You talked about that river, what do you call it?
Yes, the River, we call it Aleto Mokulu. That is another problem we are having.
You mean the river along the Petrochemical? They are digging sand there, isn’t it?
Yes, you are right.
Who are those digging the sand there? Are they Eleme women?
Laughter! No! Not Eleme women; they are our children. They are digging sand there because of poverty. They don’t have work, and no employment. So, the way for you to eat and train your children in the school is to dig the sand for survival. And they have dug and dug the river very deep and wide. One thing I am experiencing and fearing from the sand they are digging, is that it may cause a landslide because if there is, food on that land planted by our women will be destroyed. And the same thing will happen to buildings around there, they will all collapse and fall inside if care is not taken.
The water is not good for drinking again, it is not good for the fishes; we (used to) drink water and get fish from that water but nothing, nothing again from the water.
As Her Majesty, Eleme Kingdom is very blessed with corporate organizations. Have you utilized the opportunity of writing to these organizations for courtesy visit with your Eleme women to discuss your problems with them?
I have done that. I wrote and went to Port Harcourt Refinery with my women and from office to office, they were dribbling us, telling us to come tomorrow, come next month. There was a day we went there with Alesa women chief and they told us the General Manager, GM was not around and we insisted we are not going, that this is our land (Eleme land). We sat down from early in the morning to 5pm and we didn’t see anybody. They said we should come back the next day and we went but nobody attended to us. So, we returned and went to Alesa (men) Chief HRH Young Nkpe. He sent me a message that I should bring three women from my Aleto community, three from Alesa, three from Agbon-Chia and all the 10 Clans of Eleme and we went for a meeting. At that period, the management of Refinery called Okrika people to be there with us in the meeting. They called Okrika chief to be chairperson while I was called to chair the meeting.
In that meeting I told them clearly that this Refinery land that yields money for you belongs to Eleme people, and I don’t see why Okrika will come out from water to sit with me in this meeting. So, we discussed that day and left.
I also wrote EPCL (Eleme Petrochemical), they sent me a letter that I should bring 30 women, and they brought a vehicle to us and we went. That time, I was the secretary of this place and the woman leader then is still alive. There, they took us round the company premises, that land is too vast. After that day, we fixed another visit for next time, but three months later we heard they sold the company, EPCL to Indorama. Indorama called me for a meeting at Zina Hotel Eleme, where they wanted to build the first fertilizer company. The late Chief Samuel Ejiro was there, the woman from Agbon-Nchia, the one from Akpajo, the one from Elelenwo, while I am from Aleto.
In that meeting, I asked, you want to build your fertilizer company, what have you done for the host communities? You have built the first one and you want to build the second phase, what have you done? There is no way you can build anything without seeing the host communities, and we say ‘No’ to that.
The man in-charge appealed to us, promising that after building the second phase, his company (Indorama) will give the host communities’ women free loan (grant) to start any business they wanted and we all agreed and the meeting ended. When they started the project, three months later, I wrote a letter direct to the MD, an Indian woman named Masah.
Having received my letter, the MD called a meeting of all the host communities in Indorama premises. Her representative in that meeting told us that the loan they promised our women was ready. March 2018, somebody came and informed me that they were set for the loan, and I sent one of my trusted daughters (not my biological daughter) to go to Indorama and confirm what I was hearing. She returned and confirmed that I should bring five names, Akpajo five names, Agbon-Chia five names, Okerewa five names and with these names, they will give us N100,000 each. So, my secretary and I wrote the names and sent to the person in-charge. After three days, the man called me and said five names are too much, that it should be four names, and I replied that it is not too bad; four out of five, I will accept if you can give. The four names scaled through, that was in 2018. In 2019, the same thing happened but they refused to give me the actual number of persons Indorama said we should bring. But, last year’s own (2020) was the one that caused problem. I sent 13 names, they gave me six. So, I wrote and called the person in charge and asked what was happening, out of 13 names you gave me only six names? The man said ‘No, it’s not like that, this is what I received’.
So, the one of last year is what is giving us problem. I have been fighting for the betterment of the women. I just give them (Indorama) some time, this is May, and after the end of the month of May, I will send a message to them that I have not seen the one of 2021.
I have been fighting seriously but, the men of Eleme, the men of our place, they don’t recognize women. But, I am still fighting. They say how can a woman be? How can you force us! I am still struggling, I am still trying, the problem I’m passing through now is weighing me down but, by God’s grace I will still get up again. I will do what God asked me to do for the women of Eleme.
Her Royal Majesty Emereuwa, Ma, for how long have you being in this position?
For Aleto, the position is from 2005, the one of Nchia/Eleme Kingdom is from 2007. That is, I am the Owa Nchia/Eleme. The chief who installed me said I should control the women of Nchia and Eleme in general. When the chief of Nchia will call me, he calls me ‘Owa Nchia’, that of Eleme will call me ‘Owa Eleme’, and the one of Aleto will call me ‘Owa Aleto’.
Given your agility, vibrancy and outspokenness, how old are you now?
(Laughter) By September 15, 2021, I will be 74 years old.
Congratulations Ma! I am very happy for that.
Thank you. I am a retired teacher.
Oh, you are a retired teacher? For how long did you teach?
I taught for 35 years in primary school, from second headmistress to headmistress and I retired in 2007, 35 years in service.
Your Majesty, in fact, you have really taken time to bare your mind. Once again thank you and congratulations!