By Emma Amaize,
Regional Editor, South-South
PARAMOUNT ruler of Seimbiri Kingdom in Delta State, His Majesty, King (Dr) Charles Ayemi- Botu, popularly known as Lion of the Niger, has expressed anger at the sickening underdevelopment at many Ijaw and Itsekiri communities with rough topography in the coastal belt of the Niger Delta region, saying it was embarrassing.
The monarch, a former national chair of Traditional Rulers of Oil Minerals Producing Communities of Nigeria, TROMPCON, bared his mind in an interview with Saturday Vanguard ahead his silver jubilee celebration/book launch today.
He said, “Frankly speaking, due to the peculiar geographical terrain and harsh ecology, the Ijaws and Itsekiris that occupy the coastal belt, better still riverine communities, have been grossly and brazenly underdeveloped and either by commission or omission, left out in the scheme of both human capital, infrastructural development.”
“My Kingdom (Seimbiri) especially is bereft of political appointments, both federal and state governments in the past and present dispensation. We are fervently praying that the Almighty God would touch the new dispensation effective from May 29 that they would have listening ears and do the needful,” he added.
The monarch opined that Niger Delta was safe and highly secured than some other parts of the country and everybody could attest to it with the unabated oil production at its peak, so there was no reason for the federal government not to develop the region.
Graveyard peace in Seimbiri since my enthronement
On the import of his silver jubilee celebration, he said, “Wow, how time flies! Permit me to express my profound gratitude very profusely to the Almighty and ever living God for His merciful kindness in steering the ship of the Seimbiri Kingdom on my behalf for the past one score and five, which is 25 years. The ancient Seimbiri Kingom comprises of five communities and four satellite villages and one of the largest voting populace in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State. The people of Seimbiri are blessed and peacefully disposed and enjoy churchyard peace since my enthronement.”
His words: “My solemn advice to my subjects is to pray for peaceful co-existence, beginning from the the family to the community and then the kingdom to local, state and federal governments. If we can sustain it and be your brother’s keeper, then the world would be a better place to live in, bereft of envy, jealousy, nepotism, greed, avarice and the dirty practice of winner takes all syndrome by those at the corridors of power will be reduced to the barest minimum.”
How we fought Obasanjo over NDDC
Asked why TROMPCON seemed to have lost its significance in recent times, the monarch asserted, “There is this common parlance that a dancer does not know how he performs, but only the spectators can give a true assessment of his dancing prowess. Excerpt from a book on the last days of Adolf Hitler, “Irresponsibility of the Leader causes Irresponsibility of the Subject” tells it all.”
“That is the summary of why TROMPCON which had attained glamour and became a household name suddenly fizzled out due to lack of focus and ideas thus giving out its leadership roles to Host Communities of Nigeria, HOSCON, which was the foot soldiers and subjects of TROMPCON.
“It took the symbiotic efforts of TROMPCON, pioneer chairman, Oil Mineral Producing Communities of Nigeria, OMPCON, Chief Wellington Okrika, late Matthew Fuludu and elder statesman, Chief Alfred K. Horsfall , pioneer executive chairman, defunct OMPADEC to jerk the principle of derivation from a meager 3 per cent to not less than 13 per cent in the early 90s. This was during the reign of former military titan, late General Sani Abacha.
“We all went through thick and thin, during the Constitutional Conference of 1994 and he also created the Ministry of Solid Minerals with portfolio that came to effect in 1996. The 13 percent we sought for was to increase the earlier 3 percent granted for the funding of OMPADEC, which was grossly inadequate.
“But alas the 13 per cent revenue was held back by General Abdulsalami Abubakar and enshrined it in the 1999 military- doctored Constitution, Article 162, Sub- Section (1) & (2) and left it in abeyance, purporting that the amount accruing was too enormous to fund a regional body that is capable of fueling secession.
“ However during the return of civilian dispensation, the South- South governors capitalized on the lacuna and prevailed on then President Obasanjo, who released 60 percent of the 13 percent and kept the balance for the NDDC, which he created by changing the nomenclature from OMPADEC to NDDC. Obasanjo maintained the commission was built on a sandy soil because his perceived antagonist created it.
“However, to add salt to injury, Chief Obasanjo refused to sign the NDDC Bill, which he sent to the National Assembly and it is on record that the Senate under the leadership of Right Hon. Sir Adolphous Nwabara vetoed him. It became law, but Obasanjo stifled the funding of NDDC throughout his eight- year tenure and today, the Federal Government owes NDDC billions of naira, if not trillions,” he said.
Lion of Niger moniker
Speaking on his ‘Lion of the Niger’ appellation, the Siembiri monarch laughed, saying, “The sobriquet was used as an encomium, an accolade. I was popularly addressed like that because of my prowess, doggedness and fearless record of accomplishment in my approach to great challenges during my nearly four- year tenure as the first elected national executive chairman of the Traditional Rulers of the nine Oil and Gas Producing States of Nigeria (TROMPCON).”
“I was traversing and crisscrossing the various oil -bearing communities as crisis manager / brokering peace between multinational oil companies and communities and also intra/ inter communities’ disputes. TROMPCON had to checkmate Obasanjo when he made scathing remarks during the commissioning of the corporate headquarters of the NDDC in Port- Harcourt on the 23rd.of February 2004.
“He claimed that both print and electronic media gave undue publicity to purported achievements of NDDC and he would use air and river crafts to tour the region for his personal assessment of the actual projects before deciding the fate of the regional organization. They invited me to give the vote of thanks, but the then President left the venue unceremoniously with former governor of Rivers state, Dr. Peter Odili.
“ I enquired from the then chairman Chief Onyema Ogochukwu, who said it was not yet Uhuru as the president sent appropriation bill of N17 billion to the National Assembly, but a week later, he withdrew and reduced the amount by N3 billion.
“Nevertheless, NDDC being our baby and sequel to consultation with the executive of TROMPCON, I proceeded to Lagos to address a mammoth press conference on March 2, 2004. My press conference captioned, ‘Before another Round of Crisis in the Niger Delta,’ copies of the address were sent to Obasanjo, Senate President, Speaker and Clerk of the National Assembly.
“The press did full justice to it and it became a whirlwind and the Senate President, Sir Adolphous Nwabara replied me within a week, copying the Senate Committee on Appropriation, Niger Delta and Security and assured me that the issue would be treated with urgent dispatch. To God be the glory, the sum of N36 billion was appropriated, but the billion naira question yearning for response is did Mr. Know All release the funds, including the N41 billion defunct OMPADEC funds that ought to be inherited by NDDC ? “The answer to all the above is no, due to Obasanjo’s style of administration. It was like running the country as his personal estate, the federal government is indebted to the NDDC hundreds of billions, if not trillions of naira and the sad commentary is that successive governments, including former President Goodluck Jonathan and incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, are silent about it.
“Absolutely my forays in the Niger Delta are legendary , one of my bosom colleagues, His Royal Majesty , Jabin Onesa Mukoro, (JP) Okporu Ufuoma 1, the Ovie of Ewu, ‘aka’ Osama Bin Laden, had since 2005 always hailed me ‘Lion of the Niger’ and behold today, all my colleagues had followed suit. Some went the extra mile rechristening it ‘King of the Niger’, ‘The Lion of Africa’, ‘The African King,’ so on and so forth. A renowned academic, Professor Godwin Darah, having heard my contributions, quipped after a symposium in the Unity Hall, Asaba, “I have a compendium of the Niger Delta”, while former Head of Service, Dr. Okpokpo made similar remarks in 2010.
Bori, one of the best govs of Delta
HM Ayemi-Botu told Saturday Vanguard that the choice of former governor of Delta state, Chief James Ibori, as chairman of his silver jubilee celebrations/book launch was deliberate. His words, “His Excellency, Chief James Onanefe Ibori, in my candid opinion is one of the best governors Delta State has had. His policies and ideologies are reminiscent of late General Samuel Ogbemudia of defunct Bendel State.”
“He is a true friend and administrator par excellence and has established a firm political structure that is hard to surpass through his unique leadership traits. He and late Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseiya were the major proponents of resource control and true fiscal federalism,” he added.