AMANYANABO OF ABONNEMA TO KALABARIS:
LET’S WORK IN UNITY
…CLOCKS 10 YEARS ON THE THRONE
The Amanyanabo of Abonnema and Chairman of Akuku Toru Council of Traditional Rulers and Chiefs, His Majesty King Barr Disrael Gbobo Bob Manuel, has appealed to the people of Kalabari Ethnic Nationality to work in unity in order to achieve peace and progress.
He made this appeal during an exclusive interview with Kalabari Times in his residence in Port Harcourt, last week. Justifying his call for unity, the Abonnema Monarch said without unity, there will not be peace and without peace, there will not be progress. In the course of the interview, which was held in commemoration of his 10-year coronation anniversary, King Disrael Gbobo Bob Manuel reflected on his achievements in the past ten years of his reign as Amanyanabo of Abonnema. He also spoke on other issues that have to do with Kalabari interest. Excerpts.
Your Majesty, we understand you’re not celebrating this ten-year coronation anniversary now. Why is it so?
I’m trying to establish wholesome peace in Abonnema that cut across from Owukori down to Waterside. We have achieved peace in the Owukori Group of Houses. There is no dispute among any of the chieftaincy houses. The dispute is the case between Georgewill and Fyneface Groups of Houses. That problem has been on since 1938. And here in this parlour, I spoke to them. The first direction I gave, one faction did not accept it and they went to Court. There in court, they now agreed that they should come back to me and they should accept what I said. They came back to this house with their lawyers. The court has signed the document I signed. So, that chieftaincy, the first occupant was the father of Odoliyi Lolomari. Odoliye Lolomari himself is 93 years. Then, imagine how old his father was. His father was the one who occupied the stool in 1938. That was the last time somebody sat there. Now, with this resolution and settlement, I’m going to install the next Chief on the 29th of this month. The Iju chieftaincy group, I spoke to them. Some of them have agreed to make peace. One of the persons have died, others are queuing up. They had a very bitter quarrel but that has been resolved and we’re happy about that.
Another thing, I have two of my chiefs who recently died, still in the mortuary. So, with these issues on ground, I don’t want to jump into celebration. But I want to mark the date. Apart from that, there are security issues in the country right now. The governor has imposed a curfew from 7p.m. If people come from Port Harcourt to do anything and they’re going back most of them will be stranded on the road before getting to their houses. People from Abonnema will just enter their houses but people will come from outside. So, these are some of the issues that have made it difficult for us to agree to celebrate now. What we will do is just to look at the things that have happened in these ten years.
Okay sir. Now that you’ve told us why there won’t be celebration for now, could you please highlight some of your achievements in these ten years of your kingship?
It’s not just me; it was all hands on deck. All the chiefs were involved. The government was involved. The ordinary man on the streets of Abonnema was involved. So, it’s not traceable to me but traceable to the community. The community is eager to live in peace and harmony and the community has agreed to generate all of these things.
We want to use this opportunity to thank the governor for being in solidarity with the people of Abonnema each time they had problem. We thank the local government chairman, the members of the House of Assembly, the councilors. We thank the commissioners; the same way we thank the chiefs and everybody, including the market women, the clergy, Nimi Fyneface. He has been very helpful. The peace we have in Obonoma today –he’s the chairman of the peace committee. A lot of people have helped us to get to the point where we are. Of course the first thing I will like to mention is the issue of upgrading of the stool of Amanyanabo of Abonnema. It’s a plus for the Kalabari Ethnic Nationality. At least today, they have two first class monarchs in Kalabari. Although know that there are local governments that have more and I know that by the time we understand ourselves better, we also look forward to the upgrading of stools which are very old. The other ones are projects that have been commissioned by the state government and by other people. For instance, before we used to have a rickety bridge linking Abonnema and Obonoma. And at that point, it was very dangerous to go over it. But now we have a solid concrete bridge linking Abonnema and Obonoma. This was by His Excellency the governor within 100 days of him being a governor. If we’re talking about roads, the government also spent hundreds of millions to construct a ring road from Owusira linking Obonoma. That is for us a big advantage and it happened during this period. At one point NGS (Nyemoni Grammar School) was a shadow of itself. It was completely dilapidated, nobody could agree to enter that place. But the governor, also during this period, has renovated that school and re-equipped it. That’s a major achievement to our people because NGS has produced over 18 professors. Some of the professors you hear about are products of NGS. Professor Nimi Briggs himself, Professor Oruambo, Professor Kelvin Bob Manuel, he’s the first professor of marine engineer in West Africa. They’re all from here. A lot of them. So, that school coming to life is very important to us. Then, of course today, Abonnema has the first fire service station in Kalabari Nation. I don’t know if any other community has a modem fire station in Kalabari Nation. The station is being roofed as we speak, to show that it’s work in progress, and the location is off the ring road. I located it there so that it can serve other communities easily. If there’s an emergency — in Degema, in Obonoma, in Buguma or any of the surrounding communities, it can go round. And then we have had issues with potable water. We have the European Union Water Project which has reached its final stage. As I speak to you now, the water is running but we have not commissioned it because they’re just test-running it and we want the water to go round the communities. For the first time, we have potable water in Abonnema. That will save us a lot of hospital bills: cholera, water-borne diseases and all that. Sometimes you go to the well to fetch water, you see a snake or frog or lizard which died. So, that water project is important to us. Then the general hospital, like in other places, has been renovated and revamped. All these happened within this same period.
Now, I personally provided land –Owukori Land– for the fresh construction of the health center. There’s a big health center inside Abonnema. That land where the health center is, was allocated for the palace of the Amanyanabo of Abonnema. They said there was no land for the construction of the health center. I said instead of them to take the health center away, they should construct it there. So, I’m happy. Then, we have an ICT Center, a computer center. It’s fully functional; it has generators, it has everything. We have made it a JAMB Center. So nobody needs to go far to write JAMB or other related exams that you need such facilities for.
I must also mention that we have been lucky and blessed by two prominent men of God. Pastor David Ibiyeomie of Salvation Ministry has visited Abonnema within this period and committed Nyemoni into the hand of God for protection and peace. These are respected men of God whose prayers and blessings mean so much to us. We are lucky to receive the General Overseer of RCCG, Enoch Adeboye, who came personally to Abonnema, prayed for people, visited my palace and prayed with me as well. For us who believe in God, such visits mean a lot. There are other places in Nigeria; there are other places in Rivers; there are other places in Kalabari but they chose to visit Abonnema. For us it is important because it brings with it peace and development. So, that makes us happy as well. When we’re talking about peace, it’s important to mention that, after the 2019 election, as we all know, Abonnema was bloody. We had a lot of bloodshed here for no fault of ours. This now led to the first peace and security conference in Akuku Toru Local Government Area. This peace and security conference, being the first in all the 23 local government areas of Rivers State, was also supported by the government of the state. They were in solidarity with us and we were able to sit down and look at what our problems are. That peace and security conference is something that we have realized we will continue to do in order to resolve our problems and talk to the youths. For us, that’s a milestone too — to be able to get everybody to the table and have a discussion and resolve our problems. We’re also trying to ensure that there’s peace all over Abonnema. You must have heard about the peace that has come to the Oruwari House. We’re happy that has happened. We congratulate the people of Oruwari House, the chiefs there for making peace in Oruwari House. Similar peace is being generated in the other groups –in Iju, Otaji, Owukori. They’re small small issues but peace is coming to the community. In furtherance of that peace, the Council has granted a kind of amnesty to all persons who are in any form of conflict with the Council. In order to encourage other persons who are away, we have told them to come so that we will sit and resolve the issues. We gave a period of thirty days for those who are interested, because it’s not everybody that is interested. There are persons who may like to continue to do what they’re pursuing but we’re appealing to them. Some people said “you’re begging them,” I said “yes, I’m not afraid to beg for peace.” If you’re not a strong man, you won’t beg. It’s only the weak that are afraid to beg for peace. I want to use this opportunity to say that whoever has issues with us within the period, please make yourself available and come and talk either with me or the Council or anybody, so that we can make progress and bring peace to the community. Because we’re at the echelon of the community, we need to lead by example. I cannot go and confront any erring person when me and the chiefs are quarrelling. We must settle so that others can emulate us. So, these are some of the things that happened within the period. To revive the Amateke is something that is very dear to our heart. Even during the Covid period, I still wear my mask and attend. Because that’s the place we call the Almighty God to come and save us. A lot of problems in Abonnema, if not for the intervention of the Almighty God, it would have been terrible. But each time we call upon him, he comes and protects us. But something that is a mystery is that when the Amateke is about to start, the sun will shine until the Amateke finishes, it starts raining. It’s a mystery that it has not rained, even in the thick of rainy season, during Amateke. It’s something that we hold dear to our heart. The Abonnema Town Hall has been rebuilt. When the Community Trust came and said they wanted to do something, I told them to do something that the entire community will benefit. Now the town hall is there and everybody is using it for one function or the other. There is the Finance House (Micro Finance Bank), where the old Post Office is. We remodelled it. So, we’re trying to modernise the community.
One major breakthrough within this period was the thank-you visit to the governor by the Kalabari Council of Traditional Rulers and Chiefs. Beyond that, what are other objectives of that Council?
The first thing we’re looking at is to ensure that there’s a continuous platform where traditional rulers of the Kalabari Ethnic extraction can sit and talk about what is happening in their region, take major decisions on how to bring about peace in our region, take decisions on how to advise our politicians with respect to what we want in our region. These days, people talk about having their turn in many aspects. You can see the Igbos are saying it is their turn to produce the president. But we all know that the Ibos, although they deserve to produce the president, they cannot provide all the votes necessary to get a president. Therefore, what should be done is for people to go to other nations, go to other people and explain to them why they must support them to achieve this. You cannot say you want an Ibo president, just as I cannot say I want a Kalabari governor; but I can say I want somebody from Kalabari to be governor, because if he’s going to be a governor, he will be governor for everybody. If you keep saying that type of thing, then, you will isolate yourself. But you must look at it from the point of view and use the proper terminologies because it’s not everybody that will understand your intentions. They can take your word from the face value. And then you now have to go from local government to local government. You have to go from ethnic nationality to ethnic nationality. And then you mount the rostrum and say, bring out 35 people. They will think you’re not serious. You must prune it down to a very manageable number. And all those people coming out must be people with genuine record. People that can be trusted by the other ethnic nationalities and people who are coming with you to represent Rivers State, so that everybody will be comfortable.
Your Majesty, we understand that Bakana has some internal. What effort are you making to ensure that Bakana finds her feet?
I have had several meetings with different interest groups in Bakana. Two or three of the House groups are claiming that they have the right to produce the Amanyanabo of Bakana. Now, the next step is to call representatives of the groups and have a meeting with them on how to resolve that issue. We have appealed to the governor to give the Kalabari Nation one more first class. We have Amanyanabo of Kalabari, who of course is the father of all, and we have Amanyanabo of Abonnema as first class, justice demands that the next first class should be Amanyanabo of Bakana. But this will not be when they have issues. So, the important thing is to resolve those issues. We were going into that when I was told that local government chairman was holding meetings with them to resolve the issues in Bakana. When that happened, I said let’s allow him finish what he’s doing because being the local government chairman, if he has any process that will bring peace, fine. We all are looking for peace. So what we will do is to encourage them and see how far it goes, though I have not heard from them since then. During this period, I’ll clarify from them on the position of things and then we will continue with that. That’s my take on Bakana. Definitely, Bakana issue is very very important and dear to me. We cannot allow it to go unresolved. They’re our brothers and sisters; we share the same boundary, the same history. It’s just the movement from Elem Kalabari that separated us. I’m one of those who believe that when Bakana left Elem Kalabari to form their own kingdom, they suppose to have Amanyanabo of Bakana, not Chief. The Kalabari people are a nation. We’re an ethnic nationality. We’re big. Three major kingdoms and thirty-three smaller ones. So, we must believe in that.
Your Majesty, as a lawyer and a traditional ruler, you must be very busy. How do you unwind?
The only time I get to do exercise is when I go to play golf. I try to at least once a week go to the field and do that, because the work we do is a sedentary job. Like, before you came, I was sitting with somebody. I go to Rivers State Traditional Rulers Council, I sit down. I go to Abonnema Council of Chiefs, I sit down. So, it’s a lot of sitting down. When I get the opportunity to play golf, I go. It takes about four and half hours to go round the field. That’s a lot of trekking in the bush or course. People say it’s a bush. The golf course is where you have a lot of trees, so the air there is clean. That’s about that. People like me can’t jog.
Do you have any regret being Amanyanabo of Abonnema?
I have no regrets because I see what I’m doing as more of providence and also what I love doing for my people. The people before me have done so much. They’ve kept the place together. Anybody who comes should improve on what is there. So, we’re trying to improve on what we’re seeing. For instance, there was a water project started by NDDC and the project lasted for 23 years. And we did not see water. That became a major issue for us –that we must get water to drink. That’s why we’re pursuing the EU (European Union) Water Project. This year, we will commission it. Before me, the ring road had started. That’s what you have going round uptill Feddy Alabraba’s house. Now, we’re grateful that the governor has given us another ring road. Then, the land reclamation project. We’ve heard this misfortune about sand-filling. The sand-filling projects that had come to Abonnema, not one was completed. There’s one that they started. They did a little and ran away. They just took the money and ran away,
The NDDC then came and gave the job to another people. The people came, they said NDDC has not given them money and they left. So, when the governor came and awarded the contract, I celebrated. We know the governor as not abandoning any project. If he gives you a project, he will tell you the time he wants it to be ready. The money is there. That one is another phenomenal project. I’ve already set up a committee to meet with Obonoma and Krakrama and also persons whose land is captured in that area. So you can imagine what that land will do to Abonnema. It will open up the place. The young men will have a place to build on, even if it is two rooms they want to build. Those that want to build skyscrapers will build. We will have land for other things. The community will expand. I’m sure before this administration’s tenure is over, that project will be complete. We’re happy, these are what have happened in these ten years.
Finally, what’s your advice to your people?
As one of the most senior Kings in Kalabari Land, what I will canvass is for us to continue to work in unity because it’s only unity that can bring peace and it’s only peace that can bring progress. If you don’t have unity, you cannot have peace. If you don’t have peace, you cannot have progress. Our forefathers have tried to bring us up to where we are. We haven’t made much progress since then. If we check their achievements in the last hundred years, it seems as if we’re not catching up with them because they had no electricity; they had no GSM. They didn’t go to school. But they were there and they did business with the white people. They made money; they made name. So, we should proceed faster. That’s the advice I have for my people. Unity, unity, unity, respect for each other.