Clan Head and Paramount Ruler of Onne, His Royal Highness, King (Dr.) John Dennis Osaronu recently marked his 81st birthday. In this interview with our correspondent on this special occasion, the former Minority Leader of the Rivers State House of Assembly bared his mind on many issues. Excerpts:
Inside Eleme: Sir, briefly introduce yourself
King Osaronu: His Royal Highness, Emere, Dr. J.D. Osaronu, the Paramount Ruler of Onne Clan, and a Second Class Government recognized traditional ruler.
Inside Eleme: Sir, you just clocked 81 in March this year, as one of the oldest traditional rulers in the land, what advice do you have for Eleme people especially on ways to sustain the culture and tradition of Eleme people?
King Osaronu: My people of Eleme are a special group of people. We look small in size but we are special people and everything is complete in Eleme. The people of Eleme are peasant farmers but as companies began to come into Eleme, companies like Indorama, NAFCON, NNPC, and others have made Eleme people not to be actively peasant farmers, we do some business and we trade.
The Eleme people are very peaceful people, we have no enemies. We don’t have any enemies.
As for the promotion of Eleme culture, we had age groups in those days, we have what we called Egelege wrestling, and we have Egony for farmers. If you are a rich farmer you must know how to dance Egony. We can preserve our culture through age groups.
Inside Eleme: Sir, as a famous politician back in those days while you were in the House of Assembly, what will be your advice to Eleme politicians of today especially in the delivery of the dividends of democracy for the benefit of the people?
King Osaronu: In our time, we practiced developmental politics. It’s now that people are fighting themselves, no it was not so during my time.
I was the Minority Leader then in the Rivers State House of Assembly. But I nearly turned out to be the Majority Leader, because I was not regarding my colleagues of the NPN as enemies. We were working together, ours was to make proposals which we feel will be alright for the governance of the people.
Our own group and political party, NPP was not a group formed in opposition. There was nothing called opposition. People use to regard us as people in opposition. Some time they make mistake and referred to me as leader of opposition, there was nothing like that. In our time, I was a Minority Leader, we examined all proposals put forward by the ruling party. If they are good, we accept and if they are not good, we say so and then put forward our own proposals. If they want to enact a law and we look at it that that law we not be useful to our people, we will say so, we will not just regard everything as bad. There are certain proposals from the NPN group which we accepted and they use to like me as the Leader of Minority because I was not a man who was quarrelsome on the floor, not so.
Inside Eleme: Sir, please counsel Eleme people on the importance and need to protect the territorial integrity of Eleme kingdom?
King Osaronu: In our time, we were not just politicians of a sort; we go out to look for money. As far as we were concerned, we made sure that what is ours is ours. Our land belongs to us. We fought to make sure what belongs to us was given to us. In the State House of Assembly, I was the Eleme representative. Okrika had three members, the one from Ogu/Bolo, the one from Okrika and the one from some Okrika encroached in Port Harcourt, we use to call him Port Harcourt man, but it was difficult for them to cheat me. They were unable to put me down whenever we were arguing on land. Okrika people could not defeat us, they could not defeat me particularly. I made it impossible for them to defeat me. And we have always been winning Court cases, almost all the cases we had in court, we won. It is difficult for Okrika people to claim that they have won anything, it’s difficult, we won all the cases. So we Eleme people, we are very conscious of our right over our property, over our land and over our sea, the rivers, so one aspect is that we decided that we will not just leave our property to be taken by other people.
Inside Eleme: Sir, please what do you think Eleme people ought to do for Ekporo to return to their home?
King Osaronu: Well, that’s a very serious issue; I don’t think that we have done enough on our part. As Eleme people, we have not done enough in support of Ekporo, but in 1946 when we had problem with Okrika, when Eleme had an open war with Okrika, the Ekporo people were supporting the Okrika people, the Ogu people. Ekporo was having market with Ogu, we were not having our own market, Onne market was closed. Alesa market closed. Alode market closed but Ekporo was on very good terms with Ogu at that time, they did not know that Ogu will begin to play on their intelligence. So, the people of Ekporo have not done much on their part and I don’t blame them because they are very small. It’s a very small Community but in those days, we use to regard them as a powerful Community because we believed that time that they use to use fetish means to fight, that is juju. We believed that they are strong but now we found out that they are not doing well, they are scattered. They are not even speaking with one voice. It’s appearing to me that Ekporo people, it will be very difficult for them to return. The Ogoni people of Nonwa who were supporting Ekporo people have turned against them now. They are now farming on their land.
Inside Eleme: What should Eleme people do to assist Ekporo return to their home?
Well, we should either go straight to the Court and establish our rights in the Court or if it becomes very possible that there will be a clash, we would not fail to show them that we are equal to the task. We will not fail to show Ogu people that we are equal to the task. I remember Onne and Ogu had a face-off sometime ago, and we sent our youths to Ekporo to invade Ogu, we wanted to exterminate them. Truly speaking, I am speaking the truth, the people of Onne wanted to exterminate Ogu but Late Chief Ngelale said that he is afraid that we want to turn their place into a war front so he did not allow us to pass through that place to attack the Ogu people, and you see what he was fearing has happened now, if he had allowed us to attack them because that time we were strong to defeat Ogu and we were ready to do so, taking two fronts, the front from Onne and the front from Ekporo, we thought that we could exterminate them if they don’t want to see reasons, but Chief Ngelale stopped us. So there is not much we can do now because Onne people feel that Ekporo people are not friendly with Onne people. Ekporo, as they were taking refuge, they took refuge in Ebubu and Nchia, I don’t think up to ten persons have taken refuge in Onne, we consider that they do not love us, they are not our friends, if they are our friends they could have been coming to us so that we team up to stop this type of forced exile.
Inside Eleme: Sir, what is the Eleme of your dream, how would you want Eleme to look like in the near future?
King Osaronu: I want Eleme to be a united people. That they should be united, that they should love themselves; and make sure that they do not allow people from other areas to penetrate into Eleme. Eleme should be, as I’ve said before united and as I’ve said before, they should love themselves.
Inside Eleme: Sir, On your 81st Birthday, what would you want Eleme people to remember you for?
King Osaronu: Eleme people should remember me because I have been in the forefront of the fight against those who are intruding into our land. I have written so many books on Eleme/ Okrika war, and Eleme/Okrika disputes. I’ve been in the forefront and Eleme people should remember me for that. If they don’t remember me for that, then they are not grateful to me. All the lawsuits between Eleme and Okrika, I featured prominently and made sure that we won.
Inside Eleme: Sir, what will be your advice to Eleme people on security?
King Osaronu: My advice is that, our people should guard against just playing into the hands of our enemies. We should not play into the hands of our enemies. Eleme should know its right and establish its right. Eleme should not think that this area is near the coast and that area is not near the coast. For instance, Ebubu, Ogale and Agbonchia are not near the coast. The other seven towns are near the coast. The other people who are not near the coast should not neglect to assist their neighbours who are at the coastal end. And these their neighbours are being troubled by coastal neighbours. Mostly our problem has been from coastal neighbours. Those three communities should not regard themselves that it does not concern them. They should regard themselves as partners, partners in this struggle, the struggle to establish Eleme. I am convinced that in the very near future, Eleme will be a very great place, if only we can do our best to keep our rights for ourselves, and not to play double role. You are here today, tomorrow you are there. Let your yes be yes, if it is no it’s no.
Inside Eleme: Please what is your birthday message to the people of Eleme?
King Osaronu: My birthday message is that, as I’ve said before the Eleme people should live together in peace. They should love themselves and should not be fighting on things which do not have any meaning.
For now I see that there are some communities where there have been a lot of disagreements over chieftaincy and so on. We should avoid all those things, just to make trouble and begin to dethrone, enthrone and dethrone. They should avoid dethroning people and enthroning people, rather they should support their chiefs and encourage them, so that everything work well for us.