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Chief Okpabi’s dethronement was avoidable. The complaints of the agitators were not given attention and closed out. The matter was left lingering for over 7years writes Benson Obele

I have carefully read the article and all the comments that followed. Let me tell you something: Chief Godwin Bebe Okpabi’s dethronement was avoidable, if he had swallowed his pride and apologised to the people and reinstated those family names he substituted on the Shell Petroleum Development Company Right of Way (Pipeline) list. Shell pays rent periodically to families who own the spaces through which they ran their pipelines. This has been on since 1958. None of his predecessors changed that. And whenever it was time for the payment, Shell paid the families publicly in the town-hall in Ogale.

This changed when Chief Okpabi ascended the throne of Ogale. The usual practice of the families signing their money directly from Shell publicly at the town-hall stopped. No prior information as regards any change of method of payment was given to these families by Shell. Shell never held any town-hall meeting to inform the families that they would no longer deal directly with them in town-hall payment and the new method of how their money would get to them. Shockingly, the money was channelled to Chief Okpabi and he dished it out at his own discretion privately.

The people stopped hearing from Shell and began hearing from his own pocket on the Shell Right of Way payment. The families did not know what amount was coming in for them from Shell since Shell didn’t pay them directly as before. They didn’t know whether what he was paying some of them was exactly what accrued to them from Shell because he didn’t declare the money to them. Some of the land owners were not even paid at all. He went the extent of substituting their names with his and those of his cronies.

How could one blatantly be this mistaken? How could one bring someone from another family to register them as a member of the original family? Even if the original families are gaining a penny each from that land, that is their inheritance and their pride. You should not trample on it. They will fight you to finish, even if it takes 30 years to win the fight. In some cases, he went over the head of the elder of a family to choose someone lower in rank in that family that was loyal to him to represent and sign for the family. That was an embarrassment and humiliation of the elders of that family. Such actions are capable of tearing a family apart.

As the traditional ruler of Ogale, Chief Okpabi had every opportunity to address this issue properly and had it closed out because it lingered for long for over six. If they wanted to dethrone him as he claimed, they would have dethroned him back in 2012 when they found out he embezzled their money. In six weeks he would be out of the throne. This is 2019, so, it is correct to say it took about seven years to dethrone him and that no one was after dethroning him back then. All they wanted was their inheritance and peace in the community. And in the interest of an amicable resolution of the matter, they took their case against him to Eleme Council of Chiefs, the police and explored every other legitimate means available to them. The Eleme Council of Chiefs reached a resolution on the issue.

They asked him to go and restore the original names of families and ensure the land-priest makes peace and reconciliation between him and the people. Why did he not enforce the resolution of the Eleme Council of Chiefs? The people made efforts for peace. Can he prove that, as their king, he made any effort? What mechanism did he put in place to make sure this matter was settled and peace reigned in Ogale? A protest was going on and he never addressed it. He didn’t even set up an arbitration committee to look into the matter.

As a traditional ruler it is his primary duty to quench any fire burning in his house, it does not matter whether he was involved in it or not. Whether he was right or not, whether the agitators were right or not, as the king of that community, it was his responsibility to call for a solution and solve the problem once and for all. But he chose to let the fire burn. He refused to give the people and their protest a deserved attention. And the people were not relenting in their protest. What was he expecting? That the people would get tired and vanish? It was in his palms to resolve this but he chose not to, maybe because he counted himself invincible and immutable.

Chief Okpabi should have encouraged the land priest to hold the reconciliation that was ordered by the Council. He should have used that meeting to show remorse, apologise and promise to correct himself in future. Even if he does not have the money to pay them back, I believe such move would placate the people and make them reconsider him and allow him a second chance. But, he thwarted that effort because of his pride. He felt that he was too big to be summoned by a land-priest or anybody for a meeting even when his house is burning. It is only a foolish father that dresses up and goes out for a function when his house is on fire.

Honestly, he underestimated the strength of his subjects that was what landed him to this situation. So, whom does he blame now, himself or the people who dethroned him?  As I said earlier, he had enough time of over six years to close out this matter. Obviously he didn’t understand the power of a determined mind seeking justice and protesting against injustice. It is natural that when you neglect smokes like that, they can turn to flames. When such issues are not attended to, they will naturally continue to build up pressure on the agitators. Such pressures strengthen them and encourage them to fight on. It can lead to different thoughts. Thank God they did not turn violent and attack people and burn property. In some communities where they cannot manage this kind of pressure, it ends in violence. He was on the government’s payroll as traditional ruler to keep the environment peaceful and safe for the government, yet he allowed room for crisis in his domain. This means he was sabotaging the government’s efforts for peace in the state.

As a king, one must give ears to all petitions and complains that come to his table. You don’t neglect anyone because it could give rise to crises if it is not addressed. All the while, they were not pointing at dethronement they were just calling for their inheritance. It was when he refused to do the needful for these people that the community got fed up and decided to dethrone him. When a child is crying and pointing finger in a direction, if you do not give that child attention, it will give you a sleepless night. If you give the child that attention, you could find a snake in the direction the child is pointing finger at. Neglecting agitation does not stop it, it fuels it. It instils fresh determination to continue and to devise better strategies, especially when people are fighting a cause or protesting against injustice. It is not about answering a paramount ruler. It is about taking up your responsibility and keeping your community peaceful.

I commend the people of Ogale for their patience and maturity and sense of peace. For them to toe the paths of due process and reconciliation, it means they are not violent people. If they were violent people they would have caused fights and violence in the community all these years. I commend them for this noble behaviour. They should keep it up.

Culled from Mike Osaro Facebook page

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