His Royal Majesty, King Okpoitari Diongoli Opuokun the IV, the Ibedaowei of Opokuma Kingdom is a journalistturned- traditional ruler. In this interview with PAULINE ONYIBE, he touched on many issues. Excerpts…
What are the objectives of the PAN Niger Delta People’s Congress?
I was one of the key drivers of the Pan Niger Delta People’s Congress. For purposes of emphasis and clarity, let me state that what the Pan Niger Delta People’s Congress had always advocated was a paradigm shift in their leadership of the Niger Delta. We now have a new leadership. The leadership that was there then had served the Niger Delta and the Ijaw Nation credibly, and it was time for them to bow out when the ovation was loudest. There is a difference between the leadership of PANDEF and PANDEF as a body.
How comfortable were you with leadership of Pa Edwin Clark?
The leadership was headed by Pa E.K Clark at that time and for over 50 years, he was at the forefront of the struggle for the economic and political emancipation of the Niger Delta People. Even in the civil service or public service, if a man had worked up to 35 years, government policy is for such a person to retire. So, for me, it was a matter of principle. The Niger Delta is blessed with abundant human and material resources. We have people who are capable of leading the Niger Delta struggle.
After all, how old was Isaac Adaka Boro when he embarked on the 12-day revolution with his people. Incidentally, we are marking the 50th anniversary of his death. Look at what is trending in the world now. Today, France has a president that is just barely 40 years. The president of North Korea is about 33 years or there about. It is the global trend.
The world is moving towards a direction. And if you look at this country, right from the time of Gen. Yakubu Gowon, even our military heads of state were not old men. There were some a little less than 30. Some a little above 40.
That is the age where you can have effective leadership. So on a matter of principle, I have nothing personal with Pa EK Clark. I respect him and will continue to do so. But on principle, it was better to bow out when the ovation was loudest and that was my position and our position.
But to God be the glory, people saw reasons with our positions and today as we speak, there is a new executive in place. Even though I still hear of Pa E.K. Clark attending certain programmes and functions which I’m not too comfortable with but it is not a personal thing. If it is a collective decision that he should be there so be it. But the truth of the matter is that as Izon people Izon means truth, we need to tell ourselves some bitter truth. It is time for us to organise a befitting reception to tell the man thank you for serving the Ijaw Nation and for serving the Niger Delta. Let him retire and stay at his home in Kiagbodo.
That is his home town. Let him stay there and let the leadership of the Niger Delta, the leadership of Izon nation, the leadership of IYC and even some of the governors of the Izon-speaking states go to him at Kiagbodo to brief him.
To consult with him. If there are issues if they need to discuss with him, let them go and consult and seek his fatherly advice. That makes him a more honoured and respected elder statesman and father of Izon nation, not by him going from one place to the other.
It does appear that we are people who do not have regard or appreciate the efforts of our heroes past. For me that is my position. And I think that those of us who started the Pan Niger Delta People’s Congress that has been our position. It was not a personal thing. Well it is also possible that there may be one or two persons that may have had some beef with him. But count me out. I’m not part of that.
How do you see the Adaka Boro’s struggle?
When Adaka Boro and his team of lieutenants started the struggle and engaged the Federal Government in a 12-day revolution, it was driven by ideology, principles, passion, based on fundamental human right.
The people of the Niger Delta, the oil-bearing communities were deprived, alienated from government. What Boro and his team did was to draw attention of the government to injustices meted out to the people of the Niger Delta.
That was why he talked about self-determination. And Boro didn’t start the call for self-determination. The London conference of 1957 where Sir Aaron Dappabriye presented a position paper of the Niger Delta people and in the London conference the Niger Delta delegation called for self-determination. And it was as a result of that call and one of the resolutions of that call was that the Niger Delta has been declared a special area that deserves special attention.
Unfortunately till day the area designated as Niger Delta region has not been given that desired attention. But when Boro took up arms with his team, they re- echoed that same demand. Self-determination, resource control, devolution of powers to enable the Niger Delta people and the state to develop according to their own ability and resources available.
But I must tell you that the struggle today as it is, is a far cry from the foundation that was laid by Boro and his team. Each time I meditate on the position of Boro and the present state of the struggle, I weep. I bleed in my heart. The struggle has been commercialised.
Contractors are now taking advantage of the struggle to line their pockets to make billions of naira for themselves while the majority of the people are suffering. The issues that made Boro and his team to take up arms against the federal government are still left unattended to.
This year’s edition is the 50th anniversary after the struggle. Where are we? Niger Delta and indeed the Nigeria state is still in a state of tatters and rested development. Nothing is moving and nothing is working. But I think it has become worse because those who are claiming to be fighting for the people of the Niger Delta are doing so for their pocket. Not for the collective good of our people.
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Boro, my message to our people is that let us continue to be guided by the ideals of and vision that Boro and his team stood for and as a young boy when I came from Lagos to attend secondary school in Kaima, I lived in Boro’s fathers house.
Infact for the records Boroh’s father then was still alive and he was instrumental for my gaining admission to Government Secondary School, Kaima and before we moved to the hostel, I lived with him in his house. That was in 1976. This is 2018, that same building is still standing there. It is even worse.
What is the goal of Pan Niger Delta People’s Congress?
We stand for restructuring. We stand for resource control. We stand for devolution of powers from the national. The central government is just too powerful. The central government is too far from our people. And then we want our people, the Niger Delta people and the Ijaw nation to feel the impact of government.
The government is too far and then the little resources that get to our state. Look at every month, our state government go to Abuja for a handout which will barely be enough to pay salaries.
Where are the mega projects? It is only the federal government that can embark on a mega project. But if they want the state to do that, then reduce the federal allocation and increase the state allocation and that of local government. And then their responsibilities too, reduce their responsibilities at the federal level or central level and then increase the responsibilities of the states with funds so that they can do major projects.
Is restructuring an agenda for the 2019 election?
Well I’m a royal father, and as you know, and as royal fathers, we are supposed to be apolitical. Therefore I will not want to comment on 2019 but restructuring is the way to go. There is no way out. There is no option at all.
So any government that does not talk about restructuring then the government is not listening and is not sensitive to the yearnings and aspirations of the people. I can tell you this from the North to the West, from the South to the East, it is one song that everybody is singing including the North now.
They are now talking about restructuring. So any government that says you are the government of the people, by the people and for the people, then you should do what the people say and what Nigerians want, I think is restructuring because it is overwhelming.
Is it right for traditional rulers to remain apolitical when they have something to offer?
Our democracy is still evolving. It is an emerging one. Besides, the key players are also not developed. As we talk about restructuring of the polity, the economy of this country, we need to also restructure the political class.
The political class are also not matured enough. Anybody that comes from any political party supposed to be our subject. We are supposed to be neutral as fathers so that when they come, we receive them, bless them and wish them well. If royal fathers and traditional rulers begin to shift from that responsibility and want to be partisan, there will be problem.
And because our political class are also not mature enough or our democracy is not mature enough, if the person eventually wins, they would want to say this traditional ruler didn’t support me so, I will also not support him or I will want to dethrone him and all that. And by so doing, you would have exposed your stool and crown to political manipulation and ridicule.
And you are carrying the crown, the banner of an entire kingdom, therefore it is not you. For instance, in my kingdom, it is not about me Okpoitari Diongoli. It’s about the Opokuma people by extension the Kolokuma Opokuma people and by extension the Ijaw Nation. And I’m seen as father and a monarch.
If I expose my stool to political manipulations and all the rest of them, then it must have been an error in judgment. Therefore you can really excuse the monarchs because our political culture is not as developed as that you have in the western world.
You were talking about PANDEF being led by old men but we equally know that an old man is leading Nigeria.
It’s unfortunate, I think it is an irony of fate because he became Head of State in 1983 as military leader. Officially he is 76 years or there about. Now from 1983 let’s assume and this is 2018, if you do the mathematics, you will know how many years. So, how old was he? How old was Gowon?
How old was Ibrahim Babangida? How old was Sanni Abacha when they were heads of state? In other words, I think somebody is trying to run away from the truth. Even the policy of the federal government and the state when a public servant serves for 35 years whichever one that come first. If you are less than 65 after your 35 years in service, you retire. If your 35 years coincides with your 65 years, you retire. So, I think that our youths are not lazy.
We have youths that are creative, innovative, youths that are industrious and compete with their peers elsewhere. And that has been proven again and again. When our youths go outside the country whether in the academics, whether in sporting arena, whether in the movie industry, they do very well.
We export some of the best. I think it is not fair. It was not appropriate. It was a misjudgment to describe youths of Nigeria as lazy. Youths of Nigeria are very strong.
Do you not think there should be a time limit for a politicians to retire?
My personal opinion now is that if we need to have leaders who are very functional and will be effective at all levels, that leader should not be more than 60 years. But we have a problem, the constitution does not place any limit or age barrier for anybody who is qualified to contest election.
Age barrier is not one of the criteria and then the electorate that will elect or determine who becomes their leader. So, I’m just an individual monarch. My individual opinion may not really count in this circumstance.
But if you ask my personal opinion, I will tell you that if a leader is more than 60 years, he should bow out and allow fresh minds, younger people to lead the country, to lead the state, to lead at all levels. That is where I stand and even for PANDEF and Pan Niger Delta People’s Congress or indeed any other organisation.
Do you think the oil companies have treated their host communities well?
My position is known to the industry very well. Multi nationals have always stood by the people, for the people and I have always told them. Answering your question directly, I will tell you no. The multi nationals have not been fair to the impacted communities. But you see, when you engage them constructively, they have their own sides of the story.
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