HRM Etinyin Etim Okon Edet is the Chairman of the Cross River State Traditional Rulers Council and doubles as the Paramount Ruler of Bakassi local government council. In this interview, the Royal father said Senator Florence Ita-Giwa and himself remained foremost among millions of Nigeria’s Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who the federal government has blatantly refused to resettle. He also spoke on other issues of great importance. Excerpts:
You were quoted in some news reports as saying you would make government officials go blind for not treating Traditional Rulers well as compared to how politicians are treated. Why such a threat Sir?
What you heard was a case of sheer misrepresentation and quoting someone out of context. It is a regrettable misconstruction of what I said on Tuesday to my august guests in the state capital. This quality of sensationalism by a seemingly reputable media organisations is absolutely unprofessional and in bad taste. Why should I make government officials go blind? Am I God? Is that what my ancestors taught me to do? How could I prioritize inflicting pain on another person for a perceived wrong?
But what actually happened was that the People’s Democratic Party, PDP Cross River gubernatorial candidate, Prof. Sandy Ojang Onor, accompanied by former governor Donald Duke and deputy governor, Efiok Cobham and a host of others paid me a visit as part of their campaign tour for the forthcoming general elections in Cross River. As you know, our duty is to receive anyone from all the political parties who seek royal blessings. We are for all because as they say, the political race is like a pregnancy which you do not know how it would end.
What I said was that normally, all of us would work hard, queue and vote and do everything to ensure the political space is alright for all of us, but after that, politicians, who would take over power, would begin to do empowerment only to themselves forgetting that traditional rulers were also involved in their emergence.
I said politicians should also empower us and not behave as if they are blind to our needs too. I advised that they should not only empower politicians and forget that Traditional Rulers also custody political culture of the people. I told them that I was still bemoaning my palace I left behind in Abana, my ancestral home when Bakassi was ceded, and then jokingly I said this time around people would indeed be blind if they despise us as they have been doing, and everybody just laughed it off.
And then a reputable media house decided to create a sensational report from it. The report was just too unfair to me. I did not say I would maim any government official or cause them to go blind as erroneously reported. If I have any issue with government officials, I call and tell them my mind. I have the Governor’s phone number and I can speak with him directly and not go into making threats through the media. That report was uncalled for. However, the publisher of that report has apologized to me and even published a rebuttal.
You said something about leaving behind a palatial palace in Abana, can you throw more light on that experience?
I feel bad anytime I remember that ugly experience. I left behind my fishing trawlers, fishing nets, my palatial homes and assets worth millions of Naira in the peninsular because I did not want to be forced into being a Cameroonian. When former president Olusegun Obasanjo visited Bakassi before the final ceding and saw the palace, he asked me ‘Ete, how did you come by this magnificent palace?’
The palace had a sound proof electricity generator, a hall with a seating capacity of not less than 1500 persons with air conditioners and exotic seats, well furnished. Even the United Nations team who came with former president Obasanjo was impressed. Obasanjo told me the government would replicate what they saw there in another place that I would relocate to and that was how I left my home, believing in a fake promise.
If, as a young man, I did not have a property in Calabar, the State capital, I would have been most miserable. Till today, the government of Nigeria has not fulfilled its promises to me. The former president is still alive, ask him, and I know he will remember that meeting well and his promise.
I expected former president Goodluck Jonathan to fulfill that promise but he did not do it, and I am now calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to do something about our plight as Bakassi Internally Displaced Persons. In fact I am the number one IDP in the whole of Nigeria, followed by Senator Florence Ita-Giwa and others who no longer have ancestral homes.
I am crying out to Nigerian government that I am still an internally displaced person who has been abandoned to my fate.
For somebody like me to leave my father’s house in Bakassi, which was a centre of attraction, and sojourn in Calabar, calls for concern. As I said earlier, I left my palatial palace with everything intact in Abana, my business has collapsed. My fishing boats and trawlers had since gone. Only God is keeping me and it takes only God to subdue the psychological trauma of that experience and till today, nobody is talking. Government is behaving as if nothing had happened. My displaced subjects are still suffering.
The Cross River State Traditional Rulers Council suspended a Paramount Ruler last year for allegedly taking part in political meetings but today some Paramount Rulers are endorsing and adopting politicians of their choice and even directing their subjects on who to vote for. Considering this background, was the Council fair considering the fact that someone else has taken the place of that Paramount Ruler?
We know that no human being is apolitical. Politics is not meant for politicians alone but there are exceptions. In our edicts, Traditional Rulers are prohibited from belonging openly to political parties because of their sensitive position as fathers of all. A Traditional Ruler is not allowed to sit down to select political parties candidate as the man in question did. We do not register as card-carrying members or officials of political parties. The one you are talking about fully participated, in spite of warnings, in the selection process of a candidate.
As I said earlier, no one is completely apolitical. You could take a personal position on who to vote for after all, we are all political animals. As a traditional ruler, you have the right to receive a visitor or politician who pays you visit. If you say, ‘look, my people and I would support Mr A, Y and Z candidate because of this reason or that,’ the law does not prohibit you.
I keep on saying that we also custody political culture in addition to other things that we custody. I could as well cause a town crier to ring a bell directing that because of this and that reason, no one should vote for a particular politician and they would obey because they believe in my leadership.
Before now, we had Department of Political Affairs in which the Chieftaincy Department was under. We also do selection of our leaders at that level, we adopt democracy in what we do and so we are not exempted from politics.
We all know that Traditional Rulers do not actually have constitutional roles in our system. Are you satisfied with your current roles and is there anything you could do differently if the constitution should accord the institution additional powers?
The truth is that politicians are afraid of us for reasons we do not know. In this institution globally, we have people who had held government and other professional positions – medical doctors, lawyers, engineers, military men, architects, so many, I mean men who government could still tap from their wealth of experience to improve on the general well being of citizenry. Regrettably, this is not the case.
Government should give expanded roles constitutionally to traditional rulers at both local, State and national levels and see the impact they would make in ensuring peace, security and harmony of different ethnic groups. We are having problems putting the country together because we have thrown traditional institution away from decision making.
I believe strongly that giving traditional rulers constitutional roles, giving them additional voice and powers would help in mitigating insecurity and engender peaceful co-existence amongst different ethnic groups in the country.
As a Onetime Chairman of a Local Government Council, what is the difference between your time and now?
My time was different because today, the local government councils are no more operating throughout the federation; I mean they are not functioning as expected despite the fact that they receiving allocations and so the people are not benefiting from government except the Chairman and other council officials, and that is why there is crisis at that level. Since 1999 till now, the local government system has collapsed and this is affecting the overall system and stalling development at that tier of government. I am afraid that things would remain the same for our people if something is not done urgently about the anomaly.