The political atmosphere in Abi/Yakurr Federal Constituency became somewhat clement after INEC published the list of candidates for the 2023 election, without the name of a certain John Ifere who has been campaigning in the area and his online followers making efforts to sway support towards his direction. Till date, INEC has not recognised him as a candidate but his followers are still campaigning, especially online, for him.
This is perhaps worrisome to the Paramount Ruler of Y akurr and Obol Lopon, hence he asks Ifere why he is still campaigning. This was the question he asked in this interview with TNN. He also spoke on other issues, including the recent Leboku Festival.
Let’s start from Federal Polytechnic in Ugep. People have been employed and academic activities will soon start. How do you feel about this polytechnic sitting on your soil?
The Federal Polytechnic Ugep… it’s very heart warming that in my tenure as the Obol Lopon, the federal government approved a polytechnic that is sited in Ugep. I feel very highly honoured.
In 2018, I visited President Muhammadu Buhari and one of the requests I made was siting a higher institution in Ugep. I requested that a federal university of science and technology be sited in Ugep because we have six geopolitical zones and the other five geo political zones, they have the federal universities of science and technology but the south-south has none. So I demanded that a federal university of science and technology be sited in Ugep because we have an institute of management and technology. So, we want the federal university of science and technology to take over that place. So, they gave us a federal polytechnic. I feel very highly honoured, I feel very happy that I have made a demand from Mr. President, he has honoured me by approving the federal polytechnic for Ugep. The work is in earnest, very, very seriously progressing and before the end of the month, I think they will start academic work. They have made a few employments and very soon they will also start the second phase of employment, but they said let the school take off first before employment. So we are very happy. Ugep people are happy, we are blessed to have a school like that.
Dr. Alex Egbona supported my request for that school. In fact, when he got to the ministry of education he was shown my letter that I applied to request for the school and he told them that since it’s me that is applying he will withdraw his own request, because he also wanted a polytechnic for Abi Local Government. So since my application was there before his own, he withdrew his own, he said he is supporting me, I think that was a good one. So we are very happy.
Your annual festival, Leboku has just finished. How was it?
How was it? Leboku as usual, every year we have new things that happens. Leboku for us is an event that must happen every year and I wouldn’t like to be associated with a history that in my time, Leboku did not happen. Leboku failed to happen because in those days, when we had hunger, in 1816, 1817, those days, there used to be severe hunger on the land after planting season; our planting season is from January to March, some extend to April. So after planting, between April and July, they normally have severe hunger on the land.
Until the discovery of cassava; and cassava was discovered in the 50s when our police and soldiers started going for peace keeping in Congo, so it brought that cassava to Ugep and it has supported our population, it has supported our feeding. Cassava, there is nothing you can throw away from cassava stem. The leaves are consumed by most countries, while the stem, we plant the stem, the fruits inside, they are very, very good, we use them for garri, use them for Akpu, use them for different types of food. So cassava is very.
So since the discovery of cassava, hunger is no more as it was when cassava was not discovered because before cassava there was yam, yam was the food, the chief crops, so when we plant our chief crop during the period of April, May, June, July, there used to be severe hunger until new yam comes. In new yam, we gather to thank God for keeping us alive to see the new season of Leboku, and after Leboku we are no longer hungry, we can now go to farm and get some yams to eat and during that time of Leboku the yams that will get home is the women’s yam. The women have their own type of yam and we have our own, the male have their own.
The male yams are harvested in December, while the female yams are harvested from August to that time. So, even though when they go to farm they cut the tuber of yam, the head is left in the farm and covered. Before December, it has started germinating again, it will bear other yams, one head will bear more than 15 small, small yams. So, it’s a mystery that we don’t know how God does it. Our people founded that festival for us to be happy, to come alive again. It’s a period of arms giving. During the festival, no death is buried, we keep our dead ones in the mortuary until after the festival because it is a period of celebration. We make friends, maidens come out to find their husbands at that time, young men come to look for their wives during the Leboku festival.
What you are saying is that from anywhere in the world, once it is August and you are a young man, you are looking for a wife to marry, you come to Ugep
(Cuts in) Come to Ugep. Yes. Leboku period is between the 15th of August to the 30th of August. All that period is the Leboku festival. That is festival period, everybody is under that festival spirit at that time.
You talked about the women’s yam and the men’s yam.
How do we differentiate between the two?
The female yams are cut off. They are half, they are not full yam but it could come and bear small, small, smaller ones under it. They can cut there to plant, they can cut there to eat, the male yam is a full yam, they harvest their own, they don’t cut their own, that’s the male yam, it’s full, full stem, you remove it like that, you see it.
You’ve always had words of counsel for politicians. Campaigns have started for presidential and National Assembly elections. What would you want to tell politicians who are contesting from your domain?
I am not a politician, I’m a traditional ruler. So from my own point as a traditional ruler, it is to advise our sons and daughters who are interested in politics, that politics is a game like every other game. You don’t need to go and fight, you don’t need to go and impose yourself.
When you do like that, you create problems for us. So we want people who are unanimously accepted by different parties to come out and contest and during the voting, people will go peacefully and vote. We will come out en-masse and vote properly and go home, we don’t need to fight about the people, we don’t need to fight about what you are going to take, whether you are going to win or not. Even in rulership, you don’t need to select yourself, people have to select you. So, as a politician you have to come out so that people will love you and like you, make good speeches. But if you come out you don’t make good speeches, you don’t behave well in the community, people see you, people watch all of us, so your behavior in the communities will make you win or lose, that is my own, so that when you are coming out for politics you better come out well, you better play according to the rules of the game, it’s a game like a football game. So if you are out, all these have their rules and regulations.
I wouldn’t want them to fight each other, because in politics, some years you look at, they will be firing among themselves, they hire thugs to fight for them to win. No. Thank God these days, they said election now you cannot rig it because they have made so much efforts in making election not to be rigged, snatching of ballot boxes does not matter to anybody, if you snatch a ballot box, you go, nothing, it will not be counted because if you follow the new rules of the game, government has made a lot of improvements.
The last time we had a telephone interview, we were talking about one of your sons, John Ifere. Unfortunately, INEC did not list him as a candidate for the election for Abi/Yakurr Federal Constituency.
Have you spoken with him between then and now, have you…?
(Cuts in) Well, he is still campaigning, he’s still campaigning. I am not a politician, I don’t know, I don’t know, since his name was not listed I don’t know how he will get his name listed. Yes, all the contestants are my sons, Alex is my son, all the contestants are my sons. I am not supporting one, I will only support whoever is qualified by government, qualified by the rules, those are people I will supports So if John’s name was not listed as a contestant then he has to withdraw, there is nothing we can do, if his name was not mentioned or listed to contest, then he has to withdraw.
And then, this morning one of your sons too, a lawyer, a former presidential adviser, Obono-Obla…. I read something he posted this morning that it was shocking that John Efere was still campaigning.
I can’t know where he is getting his strength from. Everybody has his strength somewhere, he will not be able to maybe open up to us and say he is sure that his name will come out so that is why he is still campaigning, because if he knows that his name has been removed and he will not contest, what I think would have been better for him is to stop campaigning. But if he is still campaigning and going on to campaign, that means he is sure, his power is coming from somewhere, maybe he has been assured that his name will be listed, that I don’t know, I am not a politician.
You keep talking about Alex Egbona. What does he mean to you?
Well, Alex Egbona is our member in the House of Representatives. He has been a very close friend before going to the federal house, a very good man but he has been having a lot of distractions, problems that will make him distracted. I know before he went to the federal house he contested election three times or two times before he finally won. You remember his election was cancelled in his constituency in Ekureku and a rerun election was ordered, himself and John Gaul Lebo.
Alex Egbona is a very good friend of ours, a very good friend, before election, before coming into politics he has been a very close friend of the palace and up till now, even as we are speaking, he is a very good friend of the palace.
Even as I speak to you now, Alex is a very good friend of the palace; if I call him, he will answer me, he does not reject my calls. We regard him as a friend of the palace, a friend of the Ugep people, because I remember his first election, Ugep people voted massively for Alex Egbona against John Gaul, Ugep people voted massively. He is our son.
The Ugep man and Ekureku man are one person, that is the history I need to explain to you. Ekureku man and Ugep man are brothers, they don’t see each other’s blood. An Ekureku man comes to Ugep what we cannot do he will do it for us, the same thing, if Ugep man goes to Ekureku, there are certain things the Ekureku people cannot do the Ugep man will do it for them- like cutting this tree here, outside my house here, no Ugep man will ever touch a knife there except an Ekureku man.
(Cuts in) Why?
That’s the tradition, I don’t know myself, that’s the tradition, we are one person, Ekureku and Ugep people are one person. There are many things, in those days when we had so many trees in Ugep, when we want to cut down a big tree, we will go to Ekureku and get some men to come and cut the trees for us. There are certain trees in this town that we cannot cut, except an Ekureku man. So Ekureku people will come to Ugep, it’s their community, Ugep people go to Ekureku it’s their community. It’s like that.
I spoke with the traditional ruler from Abi yesterday, and part of the things he said was, you know the Abi/Yakurr seat is actually supposed to be for Abi and then for Yakurr, and then he recalled that Yakurr took it for 20 years, since 1999 and now he has only been there for like three years now and so he had expected that there will be no contest from Yakurr, he had expected that there will be massive encouragement and support from Yakurr without giving the Abi person a hot chase. So how do you look at this?
I am not a politician and I wouldn’t know those rules. If a political party will give ticket to an Ugep man to contest election, the Ugep man has to contest election, if a political party says no, don’t contest, they will not contest, if they were disqualified on contest in primaries, they will not contest the election. It’s an election, you can’t say your brother wait let me go, everybody will like to go for an election because they see that as an easy way of making wealth, an easy way of becoming popular is to contest an election. So if Alex has been there for three years and Ugep man goes there and he is allowed to contest, what will Obol Lopon say? Obol Lopon is not a politician, Obol Lopon has nothing, but the electorate has to know who they are going to vote for because they will vote for the man they like. You can be an Ugep man and your behaviour is not good to Ugep people they will not vote for you, you can be from Abi and Abi people don’t like you, they will not vote for you, that is election, that we are going to vote to elect people that we love, people that we know that their character, they can do well when we send them to somewhere to represent us. But if you don’t have a good character, it is difficult to win an election. Even as Obol Lopon, to sit down here, hmm! If you see the struggle that is there, until the thing is given to one person every other person will know and look up to that person and will come together as one to work for the community, for the success of our community. So, it’s the same thing, political parties are many and contestants are very, very many. You were in Cross River, over ten people bought form to become governor. Now it has been limited to maybe three or four people. So, all others have fallen by the way side. Those two, three, four will be the people to contest, we cannot stop anybody. If you buy form and people see you not fit for that position, they will not allow you to contest election, and even if you are fit, you have all the qualifications, you are a professor, you come out to contest election, if you are not good to the community, they will never vote for you.
Yes, if you say Yakurr you are correct. Yakurr, Bassey Eko Ewa took that position for 12 years, abi 15 years.
12 years. And he is still coming out to be senator, is that what it’s supposed to be? You can’t be as greedy as that, one person alone, one person alone can’t go and win election and win election and win election. When you do something, you reach 12 years, you allow another person to try because one position we are not supposed to struggle, when you finish your tenure, you go out for another person to try his luck, but some of them will like to remain there for 30 years. I know in civilized countries people stay in assembly for more than 20, 30 years, in civilized countries like America, those presidents who become president in America, some of them are members of the parliament, they stay for many years, from their experience in the parliament they become president. But Nigeria here, even if you don’t have experience you want to fight until you die, you can imagine some politicians when politics come they will look at this house and go and call bank, they will come and collect loan with this house, if they win they are happy, if they don’t win bank will take the house and they will look for where to live. That’s desperation, if you are contesting election now, or you want to contest election and you don’t have capacity for it, you leave it for another person who has capacity.
Alright, you said something very important, you talked about two parameters.
That people should look out for.
To be able to vote somebody into office. You talked about character.
And you talked about performance.
I’m still talking about Alex Egbona since you’ve been mentioning his name here and then. He’s been there for three years, do you think he has the character to go back, do you think he has performed to be able to go back for second term?
By my estimation, yes.
Yes, by your estimation.
By my estimation, yes. My estimations cannot be your estimation. We are all from Abi and Yakurr, and we have seen him for these three years, what has he done for him to go back? Has he done well? By my estimation, it’s yes, he has done well, because like even the other day, I learnt he was still having empowerments in Abi, for people from Abi and Yakurr. Alex is always a person who looks at people, who takes people’s problems as his own problem. Alex Egbona, he has touched lives of so many Ugep people. Alex has touched their lives, so many will not forget him so soon, that is why I am saying whether Ugep man contests, those who want to vote for Alex Egbona will vote for Alex Egbona, those who want to vote for Ugep man, they will vote for Ugep man, Alex has done well for this short time, because you know when he entered he was involved in cases, he went to court to defend his position. Luckily for us, he won the court cases, after years. I think two years, he won the court cases, he has not settled election has come, everybody has his own luck, it has to do with luck sometimes, what we do has to do with luck, and it is also sometimes about our destiny, because the contour in our hands are spelt out to know exactly, are spelt out to your life, these contours you see on our palms, everybody has his own destiny, our destiny is in our hands, so, maybe that is his luck.
The last time I came to your palace I am not sure it was the same as I am seeing today, it’s looking much more beautiful and it’s looking take away.
Yes. When I took over in 2015, the structure was not like this. I have always believed in adding value, whatever I am given to keep, I will add value, whatever is put in my possession for trust I must add value. This building was not like this, the palace was not like this, I added value.
I added value. Luckily for me, Senator Sandy Onor in his community projects, added the renovation of Obol Lopon palace in his community project and when I was told, I called him, he said yes I put it there. So, around 2021, between November and December, he called me and told me they have approved that. What I intend to do is to furnish the palace, I told him no, I wouldn’t want furniture because I have furniture, because the house was licking. It will interest you to know that I am the first king to live here since this house was erected, I am the first king to live here, my predecessor stayed in his father’s house and will only come here to work, he never slept here for one day, for 29 years. So when I came in, I was asked to live here because I was the true son of the royal family. For about 62 years, a true son of the royal family came to the throne and I was asked to live here, so when I finished from a tutelage, I wanted to go to my house, they said no, I will live here. So, well I started repairing the house, you know as a young man I will see things differently from my elder brother. I am a young man who has travelled widely, worked widely, so things I see I have to bring the experience to bare here, the house was reroofed, the ceiling, everything was redone, and then we renovated it, there is a toilet here now, when I entered it there was no toilet, there was nothing like that here, when I entered here, the whole of the house was not tiled, so we have to add value to what they gave to us as young people, so that if somebody else comes he will not suffer what we suffered, so we added value.
So, what contribution did Senator Snady Onor make?
Senator Sandy Onor reroofed the house and then did the ceiling.