His Royal Majesty, King Bubaraye Dakolo, Agada IV is the Ibenanaowei of Ekpetiama Kingdom, Bayelsa State. In this interview, he speaks on the role of traditional rulers in the present day society and Nigeria’s unity, among other issues. PAULINE ONYIBE reports
Can you compare the traditional stool in the 1960’s with what is prevalent today?
That will be a little bit difficult for me to do so. I’m not very conscious of what the traditional stools were like in the sixties. I’m a contemporary traditional ruler, so I only know of how the institution is like today.
You will agree with me that the world has evolved from 1960 to 2020s and it will be stupid for anyone to think that the traditional institution will remain static while the whole world is changing. There are traditional rulers who speak English today.
In the sixties, they may have been speaking their community languages or dialects.
So, if anyone is expecting that while the whole world is changing and the traditional institution will remain static, the person should think again.
One thing I could say is that the traditional rulers even in those days were fashionable people. They were comfortable financially. They were leaders of their communities and leaders of their kingdoms.
They were warlords of a sort because they led their people into the complete protection of their people or to conquer others for a better economy and I think that today traditional rulers try to do that. At least, I try to do that, but remaining static, I don’t think so.
But most of the current traditional rulers don’t stay in their domain… Why?
What is government meant to do? Government is supposed to protect lives and properties. When government fails to protect lives and properties or life and property, then it becomes unfashionable for anyone to remain in a place that is at risk.
The first question is, has the federal government with all the security apparatus kept your life secured and safe? If not, then the monarchs, chiefs and traditional rulers have flesh and blood like you. They could be killed and a lot have been killed.
It appears the roles and duties of traditional rulers have been misplaced. What are primarily their duties?
The traditional ruler in most cases is the custodian of the people’s culture and tradition. As much as possible, he tries to ensure that his tradition stays alive. It doesn’t mean that there may not be minor changes because change is the only constant thing in the world.
The traditional rulers’ duty, which he inherited from his forebears is to maintain that culture and tradition, the language, the plays, the vocations, the hunting, the fishing and to protect their territory.
Is it right for traditional rulers to be involved in partisan politics?
Yes, it is right. Is there anywhere in the constitution that debars a traditional ruler from being involved in partisan politics? A traditional ruler can even be a party chairman, if he wants.
There is nothing that says that he shouldn’t. Human beings are social political animals and it will be stupid for anyone to think that the traditional ruler becomes non-human and politically dumb because he is now a traditional ruler.
The reason why some of us do not want to be partisan is for us to be an unbiased umpire. What I’m underscoring here is that there is no constitutional crime that a king or any traditional ruler will commit by even carrying a card. But traditional rulers vote.
So, if they are voting, it automatically means that they are going to choose somebody.
But can a traditional ruler contest for an elective office?
Why not; if your people will vote for you, why not? It is a function of the value you place on your stool. Sometimes your people may even want you to go there.
But you cannot handle the two positions?
How do you know? You guys should not think for the person who is wearing the shoe. If I win the House of Reps seat now, I have a deputy and chiefs that can be doing the work.
They may even do it better. You must know how these stools came about. In those days, the stools were such that the kings or whoever that were in charge were also the ones collecting tolls.
They were like the most significant people in the communities but these days, you have some political people and business people that have money than the king because the Nigerian constitution has taken away almost everything. They are supposed to provide security, in fact, everything.
There is a way I will go and do something now and it will be illegal. So, you have taken almost everything out of the traditional rulers. You must understand that the world is changing.
Can it be said that traditional rulers who ought to be custodian of culture are gradually losing grip?
Cultural things are fading and about being stolen, but the culture is not for individual alone. It is for a people.
So, if there a about 100 persons in my kingdom and 99 per cent said an icon is not valuable anymore, why should I be holding unto it, only me. The truth is that cultures evolve. There is no fixed culture anywhere.
Do traditional rulers have any specific roles in the 1999 Nigerian constitution?
No! When people are empty including those in position of authority, there is always a problem. I have heard someone argue that the traditional institution is useless. That it is supposed to be washed off completely.
If someone like that was a president or something somewhere at the time the 1999 constitution was written or concocted, he will prefer that the traditional institution be washed off. May be that was what happened. They didn’t look at other important things that culture does
. Do you not think that if it continues over a period of time, our tradition will be washed away? It is already being washed away. How will describe the oil exploration in the Niger Delta region?
It has been the major undermining culture and tradition of the people and has led to the death of countless number of people in the last 70 years. It has impoverished the Niger Delta people to the level of penury. It has also created insecurity in the Niger Delta and in the entire country.
While oil exploration has brought boom for the oil industry and their key collaborators, it has brought doom to the Niger Delta people. Other regions are not beneficiaries contrary to what people think because if you go to other regions, you will smell poverty.
It has also affected the economy of the country negatively because everybody is rushing for oil money neglecting all other economic activities.
Are you of the opinion that Nigeria should continue to remain together?
Nigeria being together or not together is not the issue here. It is about justice and equity. If we go our separate ways and cut into pieces, the pieces will still cut into other pieces. It doesn’t make any sense.
Why will someone want to separate? It is because the person perceives injustice.
So, if there is justice, fairness and equity, the clamour for separation will cease. If they do the restructuring and the regions have their money and then pay some money to the centre for maintaining the country, it will still be fine. Here, we are not practicing true federalism; that is the problem.
True federalism is actually a restructured country where everybody has a voice. We have not been sincere to ourselves at all levels even within the groups that are looking for separation. It is about being sincere and be ready to build a collective nation.
The crisis you are seeing in this country is because of the injustice to the Niger Delta. Once you are unjust to the Niger Delta people, you won’t have peace.
Is it right for a sitting governor or president to be involved in the selection of traditional rulers?
The traditional ruler is usually selected by his people.
For some decades now, what the government tries to do is try and tap from the traditional ruler’s mastery of his environment by identifying and trying to control him in a way by saying we have given you a staff of office.
So, by giving you staff of office, it’s like I have admitted you into my university. By giving staff of office, you have been admitted into the government somehow but I don’t think that any government goes straight to the people and impose leadership on the people.
There could be bad cases though. Assuming there is a friction between a stubborn traditional ruler and a stubborn government, there will be war. They could delegalize the traditional ruler by seizing his staff of office.
Is it supposed to be so?
The traditional stools were there before Nigeria. The state controls all the money. They recognized the stools and gave them classifications. If your stools is not classified the government doesn’t recognize you. You don’t even come out.
What is going on now is that gradually the traditional institution is being undermined. But when the traditional institution is fairly sophisticated, when you know your right, they tag you a stubborn king.
But if every traditional ruler will be useful to his people then, we will have fewer problems.