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16 Dec 2017

I don’t worship any idol as a traditional ruler –Igodo, Eben-Ibe of Atissa Kingdom, Bayelsa

The immediate past chairman of Bayelsa State Council of Traditional Rulers and the Eben-Ibe of Atissa Kingdom, King Godwin Igodo, in this interview with SIMON UTEBOR, talks about being a traditional ruler and the challenges that come with it.
Nobody would know that you have even clocked 80…

Well, I am fairly old. I was born on April 5, 1935. I am 82 years old now. Our kingdom hosts the Bayelsa Government House. I am a first-class traditional ruler in the state. In fact, I was the Chairman of the Bayelsa State Council of Traditional Rulers. The current chairman and former Military Administrator of old Rivers State, King Alfred Diete-Spiff, took over from me.

When did you ascend the throne?

I actually started ruling in 1974. First, I was the head of a small community. I was there until the traditional ruler of this clan (Atissa) died. We appointed one person and that one died too. Then, I formally ascended the throne in 2006 as Eben-Ibe of Atissa Kingdom and the traditional ruler of the clan.

Was your kingship by election or did you inherit the throne?

I didn’t inherit it, it was by election. I was elected to the throne. My people found me fit and decided to elect me. There was no much opposition when I was elected the paramount ruler of the Kingdom.

During your days, education was not so common, how far did you fare in education?

Well, in our days, to go to school was a problem. The school was very expensive then, not like now that schools are everywhere. I started my primary school here in Yenagoa.  At that time, Yenagoa had only one primary school. The primary school was not up to Standard Six in those days; it was later that they got their Standard Six.

Does it mean you didn’t complete your Standard Six?

I completed it. Because we didn’t have Standard Six here in Yenagoa then, I had to go to Onitsha to join my uncle. It was there that I completed my Standard Six. Later, I got admission into a secondary school, Aggrey Memorial Grammar School in Arochukwu (Abia State).

Did you work in any government establishment after your secondary education?

Yes, I worked in many places. I started working earlier in the Central Ijaw Council in Yenagoa. Later, I resigned and went to Port Harcourt and got employed at the Nigerian Ports Authority. At NPA, I didn’t retire; I resigned to do a little business for myself.  I thought that would be easier for me to equip myself.  That too, in the long run, was not favourable. So I opted out and started a private business, which I have been doing until I became the traditional ruler.

But did you ever work with the Bayelsa State Government?

Bayelsa State was just created recently. I was born before the creation of Bayelsa. I started my traditional ruling before Bayelsa State was even created. The old Rivers State was created in my presence.

Where does your kingdom extend?

I am in charge of 12 communities including Yenagoa, Ovom , Onopa, Agbura, Ogwo, Swali, Akaba, Ogbogoro, Famgbe, Ikolo and Yenaka.

A lot of things have been said about the roles of traditional rulers in the country. In your view, what do you think the roles of traditional rulers should be?

Traditional rulers have a lot to do even in the political era because they are at the grassroots. Politics starts from the grassroots; I am not talking about partisan politics anyway. There are other types of political activities; you will arrange your people, organise your people, and caution them. If a governor wants to visit the community, you have to be there, you have to make all the necessary arrangements and if your community needs anything from the government, you are the voice of your people.  But in these days of partisan politics, it is the ‘party boys’ and the ‘party girls’ that have taken over part of our duties. They now protect our interests the way they feel.

There is the perception that traditional rulers worship idols…

I don’t know what type of idol worshipping people are talking about. Well, let me talk for myself. I think you have seen this place, there is no idol being worshipped here. I don’t do anything idolatry. Whatever I am doing is what my people asked me to do. I am a Christian. I belong to the Anglican Church and I am a Knight of St. Christopher.

Was there any kind of taboo in your kingdom when you ascended the throne?

There was no taboo. I am not aware of any taboo. I told you I am a Christian. We do not forbid anything. I eat what others eat and here in this community, we don’t forbid people from eating anything, apart from reptiles. Since I was born, my parents never ate reptiles and I’ve not seen people around me eating it.

You must have been confronted with some challenges being a traditional ruler…

I must say, quite a lot. There are always requests from indigenes and non-indigenes for one thing or another. The greatest challenge is how we can live well with non-indigenes. You know, the non-indigenes have come from their own areas to settle in our community. There is always a threat or disturbance, but we have been trying to contain the whole thing.  There are also political challenges and there are a lot of agitations. Some of our people are feeling that we are not being fairly treated – that the politicians are not taking good care of us. However, there is no time we will be satisfied.

What roles, in your own opinion, do you think the traditional rulers should play in the circumstance?

In this political era, particularly this partisan politics, traditional rulers do not have much to do. Their own job is merely advisory – to tell the politicians to go this way; tell them this is what they should do to protect your own people, to cover the interest of your people. So there is nothing set aside for traditional rulers apart from directing the politicians to the necessary areas of fair interest.

Do you find that situation satisfactory as a traditional ruler and a first-class monarch?

To the best of my knowledge, I think the governors have been trying their best. It is difficult to satisfy everybody because every time, people are demanding they want to be this, they want to be that. So I think the government is trying.

Are you saying the government has been fair to the traditional rulers?

What can I say? Anyway, they have been doing their own part and they have been trying their best.

There has been a contention between the Epie and the Atissa people about the true owners of Yenagoa. In your view, what is the true position?

Yenagoa is Atissa town. When you talk of Atissa, you are combining two clans. The side where my kingdom is located is Atissa, the other side is Epie. Although we speak the same language, we are two separate clans. In the olden days, we were one but being humans and as we started developing, everybody thought we were big enough to be separated and so we separated. Now we have two clans, we have the Atissa clan and the Epie clan. The area I am ruling is Atissa. I am not talking about who came first.

Then, who are the original settlers or owners of Yenagoa?

When you say Yenagoa, then you are talking about Yenagoa town alone. If that is so, then it’s the Atissa people. The Epie people have the area where they settled, we also have the area where we settled.

There is always an issue of youths’ restiveness in the Niger Delta region and we know your kingdom is not insulated from this. What do you think is actually responsible for such development and what advice do you have for youths?

I think what is mainly responsible for youths’ restiveness is broken promises by politicians. The politicians make lots of promises which they fail to keep. They will say, ‘We are going to bring this, we are going to bring that’. But in the long run, when they find out that those things they were promised were not fulfilled, there would be the tendency for them (youths) to be restive. Although in our kingdom, the youth are comparatively quiet and not as restive as the other areas of the Niger Delta, that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a problem. We certainly have issues with youths’ restiveness but we try to contain our own.  However, my advice for the youth is that they should play politics with some level of constraints and they should be very careful about politics. The youth have the feeling that the other communities are getting more than their own and that the other person is getting more. That is what brings about the restiveness. But what they can do is to avoid those unhealthy comparisons and develop the spirit of endurance and perseverance. This is so because nobody can satisfy everybody at the same time, we will get it gradually; it will come to you at the right time. It is not your turn today, but as time goes on, it may come to you one day. That should be paramount in the minds of our youths.

What then do you advise the relevant authorities to do in this regard?

Let the politicians try to fulfil the promises they made during electioneering. They make a lot of promises and when people see that they are not keeping them, they get annoyed. Back in the days, people were not as developed as we are now, so it’s difficult to do a proper comparison. What is happening now did not happen in the olden days because they were not politically-minded before the war. During the British colonialism, that was a different era. Their own way of politics was different from ours. The politics at present is different from the politics of Zik and Awolowo. In those days, they played their own parts. But now, everybody wants to be a leader, everybody wants to be a millionaire. If you look round, you will see some people who are doing nothing but they drive the best cars; they have many buildings here and there. This kind of thing worries people and they begin to ask about the man’s source of income.  That is part of what causes restiveness in our communities. Some people will stay in a community, not doing anything yet they have buildings here and there. It is a worrisome development that should be checked in the overall interest of the country.

Do you have any regrets in life?

No. I do not have any regrets. At this age, I have trained all my children. All my children are graduates, so I have no regrets whatsoever.

How many children do you have?

I have 12 children, males and females.

Are they all from one woman?

I have two wives.

Some believe that polygamy is not good. Do you see it that way?

I don’t know. That belief is for those who hold that view. As for me, I do not see it that way; I am coping with my two wives.

Do you have issues being a polygamist?

It’s a normal issue – wanting this and that, wanting to be taken equally and there is no way you can take the two of them equally. You may not be conscious of what you are doing but in the long run, you will find out that you are taking interest in one more than the other one but you may not know.

What food do you like most?

When I was young, I was eating Fufu but now, they said it is not good. Even the garri , the doctors say it is too heavy. So I now eat more of wheat. I also eat rice with plenty of vegetables.

Do you drink alcohol?

I used to drink alcohol before but I don’t anymore. I only take water.

What is your profession?

I worked as a civil servant, later I became a contractor, then later, I decided to stay on my own because of my age. I don’t want anything to disturb my quiet life.

How do you resolve disputes in your kingdom?

I have other people that sit on the council with me. If there are issues in the kingdom, the council sits to resolve them. Apart from that, we meet monthly to discuss matters pertaining to the kingdom. In some cases, we appoint a committee that looks into every dispute. This method has been helping to sustain peace in our various communities in the kingdom.  But if the matter is beyond what the kingdom can handle, we then look up to the government to assist us.

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