His Eminence Ntenyin Solomon Daniel Etuk, Oku Ibom Ibibio and paramount ruler Nsit Ubium Local Government Area is the chairman, Akwa Ibom State Council of Chiefs. The first class royal father also doubles as the chancellor, Akwa Ibom State University. The patriarch of the Ibibios world-wide in this interview with Crystal Express speaks on Nigeria at 60, the state of Akwa Ibom and the traditional institution among other salient issues. Excerpts
Your Eminence, Nigeria has just celebrated her 60th Independence and what is your take on the unity of the country?
I am a pre-Independence child, having come into the planet Earth about a year and six months before the country’s Independence from Britain. Today I am slightly above 60 and have seen a lot from the cradle to where I am today. We are united. Nigerians are united otherwise we wouldn’t be where we are today. After the Nigerian Civil War we have had enough turbulence and in spite of that, we are still living together. This is an indication that we are united and will continue to be united. We cannot at this time be divided and if there will be one, the reason must be cogent and has to be legislated upon before the separation. But as far as I am concerned, we are very united.
Recently the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osibanjo, talked about cracks in the country which can make disintegration possible. What is your take?
I think that was a very personal remark. In Akwa Ibom State we have embraced and enjoyed peace and if there is any major issue affecting Nigeria’s unity, we ought to be properly briefed or be in the know. For now our representatives in the National Assembly are yet to brief us on anything that will possibly divide Nigeria.
Having earlier said that Nigeria is united, what are the indices to show that we are indeed united in Nigeria?
You can see that from Akwa Ibom State we are very peaceful which is a sign of unity in Nigeria. In spite of the Boko Haram problem in the North which is a section of the country, we still tolerate one another. I know also that security agencies are working to stop the security breaches there. We must remember the positives notwithstanding the negative things happening in some areas of the country. Positivity is what kept us where we are today. I may not go into all the details of the indices of what make us united but we understand ourselves and know where we are going and that has kept us united.
As a patriarch and custodian of our culture and heritage, what in your opinion can be put in place to guaranty the unity of the country?
To whom much is given, much is expected. Nigeria’s leaders should realize that there are different geopolitical zones and ensure equitable distribution of national wealth which will foster togetherness. No section should be isolated. Nigeria’s leaders must be seen ensuring justice, equity and fair play in their relationship with every section of the country and avoid injustice and nepotism at all times.
It is said that bias in leadership is a major bane in our society today. What is your take?
I have said it time without number that we must live and let others live. In leadership you must try and have the fear of God at the back of your heart. A leader must never be self-centred; he must not look down on people and must have the desire to do good always in his heart. A leader must ensure justice and equity in all his dealings with every section or stratum of the society.
How did the traditional institution fare in the pre-colonial Nigeria and in today’s Nigeria?
I want to say that the pre-colonial days was when we had our societies led by various traditional institutions as against government leading the traditional rulers which is what is applicable today. Then we had our traditional native laws from the royal fathers for the communities with penalties if violated. Then the core value system was really promoted. But today we have government in charge of governance and we cannot overlook them taking certain decisions as a traditional ruler. In fact, your decisions must align with government policies. However, I must thank the government for the adequate recognition they have accorded the traditional institutions. I also pray that the traditional rulers’ roles be properly enshrined in the constitution and very significant assignments given to them to play in governance in addition to the tangible contributions they are making to the growth of the traditional institution and the people of the nation.
What is your general assessment of Nigeria from independence till now?
Nigerians are very peace-loving people because going by the challenges we have experienced so far, there could have been an outbreak of another war. But what we experienced in the earlier civil war and the military regimes of the past are enough lessons for Nigerians. In 1999 with the coming of democracy we had a fresh beginning and things are looking up in education and infrastructure among others.
No nation can do without agriculture. What roles are royal fathers playing to ensure that agriculture has a pride of place in their domains for food security?
Thank you. As traditional rulers we are very close to the people. We promote agriculture and also lead by example. I have my own farms which can sustain a reasonable number of people. Without embarking on agriculture how will we survive? A lot of our people in the rural areas don’t do white-collar jobs but live on subsistence agriculture to keep body and soul together. However I must thank the governor of our dear state for his massive interest in agriculture. I have passed a message to all our royal fathers who are equally committed to agriculture to remain passionate. I am involved in farming, fisheries and others. The governor is doing well in that regard by promoting mechanized agriculture in the state. President Muhammadu Buhari is also encouraging massive investment in agriculture.
Recently in Edo State the way and manner the Oba of Benin tamed politicians against embarking on violence during the last election stopped anticipated violence in the just-concluded election. Can the royal stool replicate such actions during elections here in Akwa Ibom?
It is not about replicating it, for as far as I am the Oku Ibom Ibibio, the chairman of Akwa Ibom State Council of Chiefs, if such scenario plays out here, I will call my sons and they will come from all political parties and I will give them strict advice that the peace and unity of our people must never be jeopardized. I will put my feet down that no violence or bloodshed will be tolerated and my people will respect the position of the throne and the stool which I occupy today. Before now we have been talking and advising our children on the need to remain peaceful in all their political undertakings and they have been obliging. Again, I must advise that those who are saddled with positions of authority must discharge them with the fear of God. For all aspiring leaders they must key into the moral values. You cannot succeed in any chosen vocation without giving adequate attention to the biblical laid down principles as envisaged by God. Again, it is always advisable to respect constituted authorities.
As a well-respected first-class traditional ruler in the country, do you meet with your colleagues and other high ranking royal fathers across the country to deliberate and give words of advice to the President and government of the country?
Even from the ongoing interview, I am already sending a message to the President and Commander-in-Chief of the country. I know the message will get to him through any of the platforms. We have had conferences and meetings with the President but the arrival of Covid-19 pandemic which has ravaged humanity has slowed down our activities. We have been meeting in the past years with Mr. President and we always offer our piece of advice on how to move the country forward. Our advice, no doubt, is optional to him. He either takes or leaves it.
In Akwa Ibom State, have the traditional rulers been given adequate responsibilities, and how about their welfare by government?
Just few days ago, one of the best secretariats of the traditional rulers in the country was commissioned by the governor of Akwa Ibom State Deacon Udom Gabriel Emmanuel, with official residence for the chairman. My speech captured the mood of the day in which I explained that this is one government that has had a robust relationship and perfect synergy with the traditional rulers in the state. The incumbent government regularly interfaces with us and also provides the needed atmosphere for us to function effectively in our assignments within our domains.
I can tell you that here in Akwa Ibom, the royal fathers have no cause to complain over their welfare packages or other entitlements due to them. Those who have medical challenges and put them in writing to the governor always receive immediate attention. Some of our palaces are being renovated by the governor. In spite of the economic downturn occasioned by Covid-19 pandemic in the state, he was able to give us a unique masterpiece of a secretariat and for giving us such a wonderful place as a permanent secretariat, we are grateful to him.
Thirty-three years after the state creation can you say that notwithstanding the multiple ethnic groups in the state, Akwa Ibom has enjoyed stability and peace?
In Cross River State out of which we were created in 1987, they have majorly the Efiks and in northern Cross River there are people from other ethnic groups but they are all Cross River people. Over there in Cross River we can possibly count about 300 languages within a small group of villages but they are still identified as Cross Riverians. Akwa Ibom is Ibibio land and we are all living as brothers, small difference in accents does not change anything. Oro people understand Ibibio language and Ibibios understand Oro language, the same applies to Annangs. We are one people and should not overemphasize the minor dialectical differences.
A former Imo State governor in his tenure liaised with traditional fathers to amend lists given out during proposed marriages and burial rites to lessen the burden on people. Can such reprieve be done here through the intervention of royal fathers?
Marriage is a creation of Almighty God. I remember somebody came into our family and wanted marrying one of my relatives and we gave him a small list but he insisted on adding extra three each to all the items. He was not forced to do so, it was optional. If someone wants to marry my daughter, the same list given to my father when he wanted marrying my mother is what I will give out, which was palm wine, native gin and few other things which may seem insignificant but that is what it used to be. I cannot collect more than what was collected before my mother got married to my father. We are going to deliberate on that very extensively and see how we can cut down to enable the younger generation marry and stay happily married without going to borrow to marry. The list which our fathers used is not what is obtainable today, it cut across families but I think we are going to come out with something. Whether your child is a Ph.D holder or with any special status, the payment should remain same. If it is four bottles of hot drink, it should be so across board. It doesn’t stop the proposed son-in-law from doing more if he so wishes. But there will be a standard list which we will deliberate and agree upon. I want to use this opportunity to tell all of us that once they lose any of their parents, he/she should be buried within a record time, such as a day, two days or a week. And when you are ready for funeral ceremony, you can invite the whole world to join you and celebrate their transition. But make sure that you bury the dead immediately having reached out to other family members within a day or two days after his or her demise. The church even said two weeks but we have cases of corpses being kept for two months, six months or even one year which is not acceptable by our own tradition.
There are pockets of agitations for more states to be created from the present Akwa Ibom State from Obollo and Annang people. What is your take?
The idea to have more to ourselves is part of human existence. If people have their way they will create an empire for themselves in their country homes, especially when there is something to gain. If there should be a thing like that we will all sit down in a town hall meeting and discuss and agree on why we need more than one state now. But so far, I see that as mere agitations which anyone is entitled to. State creation is a very sensitive issue, agitators have their right to do so but the process involves the entire National Assembly and the executive too. However I don’t think it is necessary now.
What is your take on the security situation in Nigeria 60 years after Independence?
What is happening in the country is mind-bogging, unnecessary bloodshed, heartless killings and cheapening of human lives by terrorists. It is very disturbing and my strong appeal to President Buhari who is doing very well, is to tackle as a matter of priority the insurgency, so that the poor people can remain in their communities and manage their lives. The killings are very unfortunate and sad. However, in Akwa Ibom the government of the state in partnership with security agencies and traditional rulers are doing extremely well to ensure security and peace in our domains. The royal fathers work with the respective divisional police officers in their communities. The security challenge here is extremely low and I must say that Akwa Ibom is very peaceful. We must value human lives and ensure security of lives and property remains paramount. Those saddled with security must live up to their expectations; they must protect the citizens and anything outside that means they have failed.
The wife of the governor, Mrs. Martha Udom Emmanuel, called on you recently to help intervene and stem the tide of rape and violence against women and children. How far are you doing that with other royal fathers across the state?
Royal fathers are the closest government to the people and we have first-hand information on the issues happening across our domains on daily basis. Let me tell you that there was a time we were having child theft and later discovered that some disgruntled parents were actually selling their children for money to strangers. We have also heard cases of fathers raping their children, especially minors and destroying them in the process. It is a spiritual problem and we are not resting on our oars to arrest such societal ills. We have sounded the traditional native drums on this matter. There is a heavy sanction traditionally for culprits which include isolating them as outcasts from associating with other members of the community. We cannot even allow such people come near community market or stream used by others. We ensure that for several generations to come, the stigma sticks to the culprits. There are those whose grandfathers stole during the war in this community like several other communities across the state and the stigma is still affecting the aspirations of their children from being entrusted with public offices today. Those who indulge in such abomination may also be dragged to the village square where they are given the treatment they deserve. The persons are usually adequately sanctioned. The only penalty we don’t enforce is killing the culprits. We are working silently but very hard. Every village has a village council which reports to the apex traditional ruler. We also involve the law enforcement agents where necessary and do take traditional measures when the need arises. That is the situation.
I advise children to embrace academics to improve themselves and become useful citizens to the society and the nation. The society of today is so challenging unlike several years back. If a child refuses to go to school today, government should investigate such child. We have youths mainly boys who opt for driving commercial motorcycles against going to school in a state education has been made free from primary to secondary school. Government may soon come up with policies that will forcefully push some of the people back to school. In most universities today you have more ladies than men. The men are busy out in the name of hustling for money. If they are hustling to go to school better but if it is just for immediate consumption then they have no future. I am also happy that sizeable numbers of people have embraced education, learning new things and are not stagnated in life.
On the newly inaugurated secretariat for royal fathers by Governor Udom Emmanuel.
The new secretariat is a masterpiece, massive in size and beautiful. The serenity of the new secretariat will enhance the functions of paramount rulers. The new secretariat will also proudly host dignitaries visiting from all walks of life in a very cozy environment. The facilities are also fitted with a residential lodge for our high profile guests. The new secretariat will help us do our jobs with ease and comfort.
How do you cope as Oku Ibom Ibibio; chairman, Council of Chiefs; paramount ruler of Nsit Ubium and chancellor, Akwa Ibom State University?
I do things with ease and take it one thing at a time. I also work hard, do the ones I could in a day and continue the next day. As a chancellor in the university my job is mostly advisory and I also give it out to the best of my knowledge. I also spare time here as the paramount ruler to listen and address the challenges of my people in the grassroots while still performing creditably my duties as the chairman, State Council of Chiefs. I handle one thing at a time and ensure it is properly done.