• ‘Govt must involve monarchs for security arrangement to be effective’
• Speaks on his achievements on the throne
By Alemma-Ozioruva Aliu
HRH Alhaji Aliyu Kevin Danesi is the Aidonogie of South Ibie Kingdom in Etsako West local government area of Edo State and the Secretary General of the South-South Monarchs Forum. In this interview, Danesi speaks on issues concerning his community and the nation among others.
When did you ascend the throne?
I ascended this throne on the 7th of February 1998 and I was given the staff of office 22nd of May 1999. So, effectively, I have been on the throne for 20 years.
How has it been?
That I have survived till today, I give glory to almighty Allah because, when you are alive, despite all of the tribulations you may have gone through, you have cause to glorify Allah for having put you through the whole process and you came out unscathed. It has not been smooth; nothing good in life comes easy, that is my policy.
Anything that is too easy that you get, it fizzles out before you even know it, before you enjoy it, because you never laboured for it. So whatever challenges I may have come across in trying to stabilize on the throne, they have enabled me to understand my people better and to manage them effectively for the overall benefit of all in terms of economic, political and social development and I can tell you that, in the last 20 years, we have developed in all spheres.
Economically, my people are better off than they were 20 years ago; individually, their lives have improved because we have put so many things in place for a good number of our working population to be engaged; we have also made efforts to get our younger ones gainfully engaged in order to keep them away from restiveness.
At the community level, at the time I came on the throne, government presence here was almost nil. So I decided that, that is an area I should work on and, in doing that, there is a giant post office that was built here around 1984. It was supposed to be the sorting centre between the North and the South for all mails but it had never been put to use.
I approached the Post Master General then who told that they had a case in court with the contractor. I promised to settle the case which I did. After the settlement, NIPOST rehabilitated the place but even after rehabilitation, I am still begging them to come and use the place.
If you want development, the first thing you do is to make sure that the place is secure to give confidence to potential investors. We built a police station which is one of the best in Edo. I got all the maternity centres rehabilitated. We also made sure that our politicians use the money allocated for constituency projects for the benefit of our people. What we lack now are facilities for the primary health centres.
We don’t have the money to do that and government is also short of funds. I have used my influence to contact some international organisation and by the first quarter of next year, we will equip the primary health centres. I also brought a police cottage hospital to the community. One painful part is that I got an approval to bring the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) Study Centre here.
I spent up to N30 million of my personal money to get the place equipped. Unfortunately, the same people who published unwholesome stories about me and my kingdom were the same people who wrote NOUN to say that the community does not want a study centre; that if they went ahead to bring it, they will burn it down.
I have a copy of the petition. Of the people who signed that document, only one of them is alive. So we would have had a study centre but for that little snag. However, we are undaunted. Insha Allah, in another five years, we will have a state-of-the-art university in South Ibie. I have a development plan. I give scholarship to our children to go abroad to study, some locally; some are doing their PhD now.
After the chieftaincy crisis which brought some disaffection, I felt the dust had settled and there was need for us to come together. So I decided to set up the South Ibie Consultative Forum. That forum initiated Ibie Day to unite all South Ibie children both home and in the Diaspora. We did the seventh edition last year. The eighth edition comes up next year during Easter and it has been a unifying program for Ibie people; every person from Ibie looks forward to that day to come home and fellowship with one another.
You seem to be at home with your people. What is the secret behind this?
The most peaceful place I have known all my life is South Ibie because I can take my mat and go and sleep outside and I will not be afraid of any attack. I have put in place the best vigilante group in Nigeria, I am not saying in Edo State. We have rescued several people from kidnappers without a dime paid as ransom because of the kind of organisation I gave them. You cannot commit a crime here and remain in Edo, we will fish you out.
That is how effective our internal security network has been and we have used it to secure this community. I am a Muslim. When I ascended the throne, the Jumat Mosque was in a sorry state so much so that l asked whether l was going to host prominent traditional rulers visiting here like the Sultan, who is a personal friend, and the Emir of Kano, also a personal friend, there.
I had to renovate the mosque so that it would be a befitting place where God will be happy to accept prayers because our God is not a dirty god; the environment must be clean.
How do you ensure religious tolerance among your subjects because they are Christians and Muslims even though Muslims are more?
We have learnt to tolerate each other. Christians talk about God, Muslims also talk about God. Is that enough to cause crisis between us? Is God not enough for everybody? It is only what is not enough that you fight over and, since God is enough for everybody, why should we fight? When the Auchi Catholic Diocese was established, the bishop came to me and said they wanted to put the pastoral centre in South Ibie.
I gave them 12 hectares of land to build the centre; so each time they are having a programme, the bishop will invite me and I will attend. Prophet Muhammed never told us to hate Christians or non-Muslims because we are all created by God. My role model is Prophet Muhammed. I believe in his preaching and in his philosophy which, to me, is the best because, even in Medina when he was alive, there were Christians and there were Jews, there were idol worshipers and he never quarrelled with any of them.
There is no reason Muslims and Christians should quarrel. So here in South Ibie, there is religious harmony. When we are celebrating Sallah, they come and celebrate with us. When they are celebrating Christmas, our people go to celebrate with them. We believe we are brothers.
What is your opinion about agitation in some quarters that the traditional institution should be given constitutional roles?
It is not constitutional roles that we need. If you give us constitutional roles, you would have limited our roles as traditional rulers. The role of a traditional ruler is divine, our role came from God; so we don’t need the constitution to enable us function.
The only thing you may say is that our roles and our institution should be recognized by the constitution so that, in order of protocol, traditional rulers should occupy where they belong. We are close to the people unlike our political leaders who lock themselves up in government houses. For instance, how do you discuss security without involving traditional rulers? It won’t work and that is why it has not been working. If a new person enters this town today, within 24 hours, I will be aware.
So if he is a criminal, it is easy for me to know. Recently, there was this crisis at Omoku area of Rivers State. The young man who was terrorising the place was liquidated by the military. His younger brother, who was his second in command, managed to escape to South Ibie. But when he came here, my security network, within 24 hours, was aware that a strange person was here.
He came here with the intention to recruit our boys and go back to Rivers and continue from where he and his brother stopped but, before you knew it, he was identified and security agents were called in and the next report I received, as I was going to Port Harcourt to honour the invitation of the governor to attend the 50th anniversary of Rivers State, was that the guy had been caught and, in an attempt to escape, he was shot dead.
Any security plan that does not involve the traditional institution will fail because we will tell you how it is at the grassroots. Government must involve traditional rulers in planning its policies and government should not plan for the people, government should plan with them and you will be able to know their problem and know appropriate solution to proffer.
What is your advice to Nigerians as we approach 2019?
We have been watching the primaries of the political parties. We have seen how money has been exchanging hands. I urge the electorate not to vote for any politician that distributes money because if you vote for him, you will regret it.
When he gets to office, the first budget he will make, he will use more than half of it to fill where he took what he distributed to you from. Today in Nigeria, politics is not about governance, politics is about business. Government should stop describing stealing of public money in different ways like defrauding, misappropriating.
The most appropriate word for such people is that they are thieves. They have stolen government money. I am not particular about any political party; they are all the same. They only come to the television to criticize each other. When they go behind the scenes, they share our money. Politicians are the problem of this country. Politicians don’t like traditional rulers; they see us as threats whereas we are supposed to be partners.
We are no longer illiterate traditional rulers; we are all enlightened, well experienced, well exposed. We now have former MDs of companies, former ministers, former military officers, lawyers, bankers and other professionals as kings; so the narrative must change. The earlier we collaborate, the better for this country.
What is the essence of the proposed meeting of monarchs from southern Nigeria?
We are looking at the situation in the country. We are going into election in a few months time and, as stakeholders in the Nigerian nation, it is only proper that we meet and offer advice to government on the best way the exercise should be carried out so that we will have peace because it is only when we have peace that we will have development.
We have done it before. In 2011, the first time President Jonathan contested election, there was palpable tension across our country. We reached out to our brothers in other regions and had an agreement that we must have peace.
We were not particular about who would win the election. We were particular about an election being conducted without crisis so that whoever won, would govern a peaceful country. So we went out to meet traditional rulers in the North, in the West and in the East; 20 of us from the South-South. I was in the team that went to the North-West and we had a fantastic dialogue and we discovered that we were on the same page and that was one of the reasons the election was conducted without rancour.
Today, to tell you how far we have gone as an institution, anytime we are having South-South monarch’s retreat, we invite northern traditional rulers. The Shehu of Borno will drive all the way, he doesn’t fly, from Maiduguri to Bayelsa or to Port Harcourt and return by road. And when they are having their northern traditional council meeting, they invite us too. At the traditional institution level, we don’t see religion, we don’t see ethnicity, we don’t see tribe.