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Awolowo, Zik used media to achieve Independence, Akran of Badagry speaks

His Royal Majesty, De Wheno Ahonu Menu-Toyi I, OFR, was News Editor, New Nigerian Newspaper (South) until he became the Akran of Badagry. Recently, he was appointed as Chancellor of the University of Port Harcourt by  President Umar Musa Yar’Adua.
The Akran spoke to BASHIR ADEFAKA at his palace in Badagry.  Excerpts:

What were the challenges and probably the regrets you had in journalism?
I have never regretted anything because journalism is a noble profession and in my time I worked in many papers.   I started out as a senior member of the Fourth Estate of the Realm in 1961 with the West African Pilot.

oBA AKRAN:...You do not court traditional rulers only when there is trouble
oBA AKRAN:...You do not court traditional rulers only when there is trouble

Three years after, I became a Diplomatic Reporter and later Chief Reporter with the Post Group of Newspapers.  When the Post Group of Newspapers closed down, I joined the Daily Sketch as a Senior Sub-Editor.  I later moved to the New Nigerian Newspaper where I became the News Editor (South).

As a senior journalist, my performance, earned me a grant under the International Press Institute to study at the University of East Africa where I obtained a Diploma with distinction and also got a prize on the Law of the Press alongside a journalist from Uganda.  I have since  continued to support the growth and development of journalism in Nigeria and in other African states.

In those days, there was over concentration of newspapers’editorials on political affairs and the reportage of political activities top the list. The reason could be understood.

For instance, in the 50s, 60s before independence, people like Zik, Chief Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello and many others, who were political giants, were in the field.  Many of them owned newspaper to fight the course, I mean they fought for independence and after independence they continued and many of them held positions of authorities like the President, Prime Minister, Premiers and it continued til the second republic.

I left in 1976.  By January I was capped and by April, I was coronated.  So up till the time I left, journalism still played very important roles in the affairs of the nation and we were not afraid of the oppression of the military.  We did our best.

You  quitted journalism because of your traditional rulership appointment?
You are right (laughs).  But I still remain a journalist because that is my professional constituency.
How did you emerge as the Akran of an historic community like Badagry?

It wasn’t easy for me to ascend the throne.  Vacancy occurred when my predecessor passed away.  That time I was still working as a journalist and, you know, when vacancy occurs, people will look for who is most suitable to occupy it.

There was dispute about who would be there because there were many contestants.  And I had no ruling house to put up my candidature because, at that time, before my predecessor passed away there were two ruling houses.  My own ruling house was removed long time before the passing away of my predecessor.

Then when the vacancy occurred, I protested that my ruling house should be included and my ruling house was placed number one making the ruling houses now three.  Thereafter my own ruling house elected me as their candidate, the appointment procedure was duly observed among the three ruling houses.  I was on the long run appointed.  They forwarded my name to the Lagos State Executive Council and my appointment was approved by the council and that was it.

Since you had to fight for the resuscitation of your long removed ruling house to be able to put up your candidature, did that not mean that you had ambition ab initio to be the new Akran?

I wasn’t originally interested in it, but I had to come in because I felt my ruling house must be resuscitated.  I fought for the resuscitation, we got it, in the end, they put up my candidature and by the grace of God, I was installed the Akran.

Badagry is known as a centre of tourism, culture, agriculture and many others.  What effort has government made to exploit these potentials?

The Lagos State Government, successively, has paid adequate attention to developing the resources in this place.  When General Johnson was governor of Lagos State, he made sure that Badagry and most parts of the state were placed under acquisition for development purposes.

And successive governments  have been responding, trying to explore the many opportunities that you rightly observed abound here in Badagry.  But response by this current government of Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola has been wonderful.

How do you mean,  Your Majesty?

I mean that the attention that Governor Fashola has given to development of Badagry is an all-emcompassing one and it is highly commendable.  First he wants to expand the Lagos-Badagry Expressway for easy accessibility.  This, I think, is because they know that no workable development can be achieved without good roads.

You would notice that your coming to this place and going back have not been easy talking about traffic; I think you spend three hours on each trip as against the about fifty minutes that it should be.  Fashola is tackling that as problem number one.

Let me quickly add that when Alhaji Lateef Jakande was governor, he focused on agriculture and tourism in Badagry and he did his best. But, as you can see, that is being built upon especially since the coming of Fashola.  There have been activities here and there.

The construction of roads, sand-filling of the Marina, expansion of the tourist centres, the effort to build an energy city among others. We also want to have hotels and a film village. The government is also trying to build jetties to promote travels around, through the waterways.  Governor Fashola is doing so much and he is also encouraging investors.

What is Motherland Group into and what is it supposed to do in Badagry?

The group is made up of some African-Americans who are interested in bringing cultural troupes into Nigeria and Africa, particularly Badagry.

The government, I must assure you, is encouraging investors to come over to Lagos State and Badagry will have a share of that.  Of course, we will have the Motherland Group situated within our area.

If you were here in the morning when they came, you would have seen the model of the big resort being planned for Badagry by the Motherland Group.  We thank God for the response on the part of government.

So if the arrangement works out, it means Badagry is likely to be Tourist attraction?

That you can be sure of, by the grace of God.

The Federal Government in recent time charged Traditional Rulers in Nigeria, through a National Council of Traditional Rulers of Nigeria to take up the duty of peace making in their respective areas.  What is your take on this?

Traditional rulers have played big roles talking about peaceful co-existence among people in the country.  It is good that there should be a national body where all traditional rulers across the country will be fully represented so that whenever the need arises to intervene in national issue, the monarchs through the body will come in.  But when the arrangement is done through a fire brigade approach like it is being done, I am not approving of it.

You do not court traditional rulers only when there is trouble and after you have used them and you now dump; only, again, to call them again when problem comes up next time.  That is not done.

If they (the monarchs) have their own council at the Federal level, good.  It will enable them to watch situation and intervene at the appropriate time.  And chairman of Councils of Obas in each state should be members of the council.

Outside official traditional engagements, what does His Majesty do?

I do exercise myself.  Then I watch television, I listen to news and also I read and do all things.


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