FROM WIG TO CROWN: Celebrations Galore As Amanyanabo Of Abonnema Marks 10 Years On The Throne
…Reels Out Achievements
Some leaders are born while others are made. HRM, King (Barr) Disrael Gbobo Bob-Manuel II, Ekineye Gbobo Owukori IX, Amanyanabo of Abonnema belongs to the privileged few that are born with leadership traits.
Through King Disrael Gbobo Bob-Manuel II’s visionary and dynamic leadership, he has brought succor, peace, unity, progress and stability which has earned him so much love, admiration, commendation and respect not just among his Kalabari people, but Rivers State and Nigeria at large.
Apart from his royal status, the Amanyanabo of Abonnema, King Disrael Gbobo Bob-Manuel II has also had an accomplished career as a lawyer, which already brought him fame and recognition before he accepted the call by his people to ascend the ancient throne of his forebears.
In this special edition devoted to celebrate 10 years on the throne of an iconic leader, a royal father of note and the 8th Amanyanabo of Abonnema, whose stool was recognized and elevated to 1st class status by the Rivers State Government on January 18, 2017, National Network Editor, Ken Asinobi led the trio of staff reporters, Ngozi Anosike, James Febebebo and Margret Ikiriko to an interview session with the King of the renowned Kalabari ancient island.
The Abonnema monarch who spoke on a far reaching issues of his kingship, history, community, state and the nation. The Amanyanabo also chronicled his achievements in ten years as wellas a thumbs up to the administration of Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike and Executive Chairman of Akuku-Toru Local Government Area, Hon. Rowland Sekibo for job well done.
NN: May we join the rest of humanity to felicitate with His Royal Majesty on this auspicious occasion of your 10th year anniversary on the throne of Amanyanabo of Abonnema. Could Your Majesty tell us about himself? Who is King Disrael Gbobo Bob-Manuel II?
HRM: I am a son of Bob-Manuel. In Abonnema, the Owukori House produces the people who will be Amanyanabo of Abonnema. When I became Head of Owukori Royal House, I automatically became the Amanyanabo-designate, and on the 20th of May, 2011, I was installed Amanyanabo of Abonnema. In a place where you have polygamy, you may not be able to remember all your father’s children. In our place we marry several wives. We even have concubines who have children for you.
On my mother’s side, we are six and I am number two. The name of my father is Wellington Disrael Bob-Manuel. Wellington Disrael Bob-Manuel is the son of Sokari Disrael Bob-Manuel. Sokari Disrael Bob-Manuel is the son of Disrael Gbobo Bob-Manuel. Disrael Gbobo Bob-Manuel is the son of Bob-Manuel. Bob-Manuel is the son of Owukori. Owukori is the son of Awo and Adida. Adida is the first daughter of King Amachree while Awo is the first son of King Kalagbae. That is who I am.
NN: What’s your academic background?
HRM: Professionally, I am a lawyer. When I got into the university, I managed to study for two degrees, one after the other. I acquired a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and a Bachelor of Law in Law. From there I went for Youths Service and afterwards, joined the Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs. After eleven years, I went on voluntary retirement.
Thereafter, I went into private practice and was doing that until my family called me to be the Head of the Owukori War Canoe Chieftaincy Group of Houses. I have to stop work because you can’t be working and also be in the Kingdom.
NN: Why did you abandon your thriving legal practice to answer the call by your people?
HRM: I’ll like to say that it’s not really a question of abandonment. It’s a question of choice. In our tradition, when your people call upon you to come and serve, the first thing that occurred to you is the honour to serve.
With all humility, I would say, I had a good practice. I was in Lagos for a while and moved to Port Harcourt. Whilst here, my predecessor departed, my people asked me to come and serve and I have to say yes because, that’s how it is. My father didn’t serve when he was called for personal reasons. Bob-Manuel family is a big family where all the children are entitled to serve as Head of the chieftaincy House.
I have no regrets whatsoever. Coming to serve the people of Nyemoni, people of Abonnema and the Kalabari people for me, it’s a far higher call than serving elsewhere. If I were the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and the Abonnema people or the Owukori House says they want me to come and be the Head of Owukori War Canoe group of Chieftaincy Houses, I will resign as President of Nigeria than come and serve. This is my root and I feel that is a more important and far-reaching way live your life.
NN: So, how has it been, 10 years on? Has the journey been an interesting and exciting ride?
HRM: We thank God for his mercies. It was not easy because there were quite a few issues that came on that we struggled with. Just like you have in many other Kingdoms, each time there is a new person, some will say yes and some will say no. That is the fact and that’s what happens. I was following up with the issue of the case of Olu of Warri. The same thing panned out with some saying yes and others saying no. But at the end of the day, the people reunited again and moved the family and community forward.
If you asked how it’s been, I would say it’s been an interesting journey. Interesting because the community is growing and developing. We initially battled with the issue of insecurity. But by the grace of God, everybody has come together and we have overcome the problem. There are developmental projects that are going on. The state government has come to support the kingdom from all aspects. Our politicians are doing well and coordinating events. The chiefs are also doing well despite one or two areas of disagreements. But generally, things are coming together very well.
NN: How did you feel when the ancient Owukori stool was upgraded to first class during your tenure as a King?
HRM: That was one of the biggest and greatest things that has happened to the people of Akuku-Toru Local Government, people of Abonnema and people of the Kalabari ethnic nationality. This is because, for a long time, we had only one first class in the whole of the three Kalabari local governments, so you can imagine when the second one emerged. It called for joy and celebration.
So, it’s also another opportunity to say thank you to His Excellency, Chief (Barr) Ezenwo Wike for doing so. The proclamation was done in this palace and we thank him once more for doing the right thing and for helping to elevate the ancient
NN: In these past years of your reign as Amanyanabo of Abonnema, what would you say has been your greatest challenges?
HRM: The greatest challenges that I have had has been the issues of insecurity. Because of abject poverty, generated by unbridled oil exploration that has no support. If you look at the whole of Abonnema and Kalabari, you will not find one industry. So, there is no employment anywhere for the youths. The youths are growing every day and they see people drive cars and they too want to drive cars. You cannot subject them to begging for food every day. People say our people are proud but it’s not pride any way because we are self-respecting. We cannot go to somebody and keep begging him for food on a daily basis. So, they want to get something to do. And if they don’t get something to do, you know the idle mind is the devil’s workshop. From time to time, you see them deviating into criminality. So, the biggest challenge has been insecurity.
It is caused by lack of employment and sufferings. What we always pray for is that such businesses that will allow the youths to work will be established in our area. In the past, we didn’t have these things because there was a sea port in Abonnema. By that time, I saw ocean vessels entering Abonnema. In fact, the materials with which they built NPA in Port Harcourt were brought in from Abonnema because there was no sea port in Port Harcourt. All the materials that came from UK and other parts of the world were berthed in Abonnema. They shipped them by barge and used it to build the NPA.
But since oil exploration went into full gear, that port has been shut down, for two reasons: one, political, during the NCNC period. Apparently, the support was on the wrong side and that was when it first went down. Then, secondly, Shell and others came and crisscrossed the place with pipelines. Ocean base vessels were stopped from coming. From day one, the people were traders – importing and exporting. Many of our people who went to UK to Liverpool, Portugal, went through here. There was no airport or any other seaport at the time. Everyone who went abroad at the time, did it through here in Abonnema.
But today, the place is empty. If you go round, you will see abandoned ware houses of UAC, GBO and other European companies. There is no more trade and so the children and the elders have nowhere to work and nothing to do. That normally will breed insecurity because man must eat.
Now, if you say but there is supposed to be fishermen. Yes, but where do they fish? In this river? As a young man, I used to go and catch fish. In the morning, after swimming, I will throw my hook and I will catch fish, two, three. Today, you can’t even see the smallest fish by the shore anymore because we don’t go by canoe. We just stand by the shore and cast out or hook and catch fish. We catch crabs and oysters but now, oil is on the shore and everywhere.
There are no oil wells here but oil exploration elsewhere flows into our rivers. Because of the tide, when the water comes up, it brings all the debris from elsewhere and leaves them on our shore. When it’s going, it leaves the oil on the shore. So, that’s the problem but we are hoping that we are going to get something to generate income for the youths.
NN: Do we take it as a call on the authorities to revive or do something about the abandoned Abonnema Sea Port?
HRM: We have made several efforts by way of representations to see that something is done but you know the way bureaucracy is. It’s not something you can just stand here and say you want something done and it is done. Just like people have been shouting, ‘we want state police, we want restructure’. These things take a process so it’s not something that can be done immediately. But we have already spoken to the authorities concerned. It is investigations that revealed the pipelines crisscrossing the water.
We are hoping that at a later date when NNPC and Shell will now agree, they will now relocate those pipes. It’s a small contract which they can afford to do because the pipes are close to the surface. And that’s why there is breakage. If the pipe is deep, it will take more energy to go down the belly of the river to go and cut it. But some of them are even on the surface. So, it will be easy for those who burst pipes to go and burst them to do kpo-fire. So, if they can relocate the pipelines, it will be of benefit to everybody, both to us and to the owners of the crude and for security. So, that’s what we are fighting for right now.
NN: What will be the special message to your people on this 10th anniversary of your enthronement as Amanyanabo of Abonnema?
HRM: My special message to Abonnema people, Akuku-Toru as well as the Kalabaris is to do the following: One, we must make effort to be unified. I say this because without unity there won’t be peace. Without peace, there won’t be progress and all we are looking for is progress. Where we presently are, was founded by our forefathers when they left Elem Kalabari. Elem Kalabari was where we all were, and it was called the Old Shipping. That was where all Kalabari people were before we started to move to our present locations. So, the Kalabari Kingdom was there. The first group that moved was the people of Bakana in 1880. By 1882, our own chiefs also left and came and settled in Abonnema. In 1884, the Amachree group left and settled in Buguma and then other communities that make up the Kalabari followed suit, about thirty-three of them.
So, we need to be in unity. We need to jointly ensure that there is peace in our Local Government Areas. And it is only this peace that can bring progress and development to us. We also need to ensure that during politics, we don’t use our various communities and kingdoms to divide us as a theatre of war. You all know what happened to us in 2019 in Abonnema. When I go to the press, I tell them that what happened was worse than what happened during the civil war.
We were all in Abonnema during the civil war and I did not see where anybody whether police, soldier or Boy’s Brigade, openly fired at people. Worst case scenario is that you may be arrested and called saboteur. Although Abonnema was bombed twice. I remember once a meeting was called for 3 pm at the market square. By 3.05pm when everybody had gathered, an aircraft started bombing and shooting everywhere. Abonnema had gone through some traumatic situations. But all we need is unity, peace and progress.
NN: The country is currently enmeshed in state of insecurity with Boko Haram, unknown gunmen and Fulani Herders wreaking havoc on innocent citizens every day. Government has appealed to traditional rulers to talk to their subjects to stay away from troubles. As a frontline traditional ruler, what is the remedy to end this anomaly?
HRM: I think where we got it wrong was where they carefully excluded constitutional roles from the traditional rulers. You ask me to keep the peace and all that I have is my staff and walking stick! If I secure any weapon, it would be illegal and I would be in conflict with the law. So, I don’t have a gun and I can’t carry a machete. All I can carry is my walking stick and staff. So, how do you expect me to do all of those things?
You say if there is a kidnapper there, they should hold the traditional ruler responsible. What and how do you want him to do that? You forget that the traditional ruler also wants to be secured. If you look at our Memorial Halls, each has armaments. In those days, canon shots were strategically positioned and every traditional ruler had war equipment. Up till now, my great grandfather’s armory is still there. So, you will see canons, guns and other weapons those days. Those are things that have not been fired for over one hundred years now and no longer in force.
The point I am making is that in those days, the traditional ruler had means of coercion. If you are misbehaving, there are many things they can do. You cannot come to their kingdom and cause trouble because they will arrest you. And, if anybody or group comes to fight, they will fight back. But, today we cannot fight back. We just sit down because we had surrendered our freedom to the State. It is now the responsibility of the State to defend us. That’s my take on traditional rulers.
Apart from that, we have the convincing power. If the DPO comes here now and calls my people to tell them something, they would not believe him. They won’t even talk to him. But if I tell them, they would take what I said. For instance, the Governor imposed a curfew for 7pm to 6am, none of them, not even the GOC can come and tell them to enter house. They will listen to him but it won’t be as effective as when I tell them to go in.
So, immediately the governor made the announcement, I called the town crier and told him that governor had said so, and we must abide by it. And the town crier went round the town that same day. And by 7pm, everybody was in their houses because the town crier said ‘Amanyanabo gbem’ meaning that ‘the king says’. So, we still have that voice to tell our people to do this or don’t do this.
So, to that extent, we can go on. But anything other than that, is difficult to achieve. So, I do agree with you what they are saying, especially what the Southern Governors were saying, in order to make peace, traditional rulers should be involved. Yesterday (Friday, May 14, 2021), I had a meeting with the Hausa Community in Abonnema and they all came and we had a discussion and we did Salah for them, took photographs and they introduced themselves. We told them to number themselves and let us know how many they are. We asked them to know and tell us if there are new people. And if there are people that want to make problems, tell them we don’t need problem here. They can go elsewhere. In that way, we interact with different ethnic nationalities in our kingdom.
NN: How would you rate the performance of the returning Chairman of Akuku-Toru Local Government Council, Hon. Rowland Sekibo? Following on that, what is your assessment of the present administration under the leadership of His Excellency, Chief (Barr) Nyesom Ezenwo Wike in terms of governance?
HRM: Those are the two tiers of government that we interact with. We don’t have the opportunity to interact with the federal government. All the tiers of government have their own roles. For instance, you saw how our road (the only road leading to Abonnema) is? That road leads to three oil-producing local government areas. It’s a scandal that up till today, this is what we go through to be able to enter Akuku-Toru, Degema and Asari-Toru. That road is a death trap with thick bushes left right and center. Tell me, when you are crawling in and out of those holes and these crazy boys come out, where can you go?
So, some of these things sadden us. It shows that they don’t care about us. Otherwise, what does it take to do that small patch of road. It takes nothing! Areas that do not have resources elsewhere, have good, massive roads going there. So, what did we do to deserve this punishment? I know I have been to Abuja before to discuss this with former President Goodluck Jonathan and he promised that it will be handled. But since that time in 2015 till now 2021, nothing, they can’t even patch it.
In terms of the governor, His Excellency, Chief (Barr) Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, and Hon. Rowland Sekibo, Akuku Toru local government area Chairman, we are proud of them. Proud of them in the sense that there is no time they have been called upon to come and assist, that they have not come to assist us. So, when you have people like that, your own is to support them at all times. Because they feel that you are a human being and that your people are important in their lives.
If you look at when the governor came to campaign here, we showed him the Obonoma Bridge and he said in his 100 days of his entering office, he will construct that bridge. Some people laughed but those who know him said we are lucky and that if he says he will construct the bridge in his first 100 days, he will do it! And, within 100 days of his entering office, he constructed the Obonoma-Abonnema Bridge as he promised. It’s a short bridge but very useful. Without that bridge, we can’t cross the Alisokolo as we call the creek.
That done, within the 10 years of my reign, he has fully revitalized, renovated and refitted the Nyemoni Grammar School, Abonnema. NGS is very dear to us because that’s where most of our people schooled. This is a school that has produced about 15 professors. In those days, when they do WAEC, you see them coming out As.
During this 10-year anniversary on the throne, the Governor has also revamped, remodeled and renovated the General Hospital, Abonnema. I am happy because during my 10 years, the governor had come to do things like this. Once upon a time, we had a scam water project that lasted 26 years and failed because no water came. But the governor came, during this 10years and helped us to pay the counterpart funding for the European Union water scheme. As I speak with you, clean, portable water has started running in Abonnema. It’s not yet all over the place because they are still working. But it’s something because we have not had portable water for 150 years! So, if during my 10th year, the Governor comes and do this, it makes me happy because I know that my people are happy.
You look at roads for instance, you were all here when we commissioned the first Ring Road here. That Ring Road was built right on top of the swamp. So, we now have a Ring Road and it’s during my tenure. And then the Governor has also given a contract for 52 hectares dredging here by the ring road which will join Abonnema with Oboloma and move towards Krakrama. That is a massive project. With the small land inherited from our forefathers finally we are able to expand it. Land is very important for us because of the fact that we are an island. Those of you who are from Ikwerre, Etche, Ogoni and so on do not even know what land means.
When somebody asks for land, you will say go and take. But here, a table size of land, if you touch it, the case will get to the Supreme Court! They can spend N100m to pursue that size of land. So, land for us is gold. You can see where my palace is. You cannot even drive in. You have to park outside. Even me cannot get land in Abonnema, so who can get? That little building outside is Bob-Manuel’s house, built in 1845 by the Portuguese. We are keeping it for historical purpose. There are not many houses built in 1845 that are still standing. It is still standing because it was built by the Portuguese and every material used in building it was imported.
If you look again, we have an ICT Center, a computer center which is probably the first and only in our area. It has about 480 computers and has been designated as a JAMB Center. All that happened within these ten years. We also have a big Health Center.
The place where the Health Center is now is the land that was designated for the palace of Amanyanabo of Abonnema. But because we didn’t have land, I have to forgo it because I know my people needed a Health Center more than they would need the King’s Palace. We had the first Peace and Security Summit just to make sure there is always peace in our area. So, give and take, those are some of the achievements recorded within the first ten years of my reign. But the most exciting is the elevation of stool to first class by the Governor. It is historical and while thanking him for everything, we always specifically mention that.
If you also take a walk around the community, you will see an ultra-modern stadium which the Local Government Chairman has built. It is very useful to our people in terms of sporting activities. Finally, as I speak, we are erecting the first modern Fire Service Station in our region, courtesy of our Senator, Betty Apiafi. As I speak, it is being roofed and when it is completed, it will serve not only Abonnema but Obonoma, Degema, Harry’s Town and if need be, can even drive to Buguma. It can cover all the Kalabari local governments if there is emergency. Our communities are being modernized. They no longer fetch water from the river with all the attendant diseases, but they have pipe borne water for drinking. They don’t pray for fire, but if they have any incident, there is a fire engine to assist.
NN: In your speech at the AKULGA Peace and Security Press Conference held in Abonnema, November, 2019, you said inter alia:”Akuku-Toru has been peaceful all along but from time to time, we get it wrong. But now, I can assure everybody that the issues of the past are past. There will be no longer any unrest in Akuku-Toru because we have all agreed to work together as one family. The politicians have agreed to work together as a family. The chiefs have agreed to work together as a family. The youths and the children have also agreed to work together as a family. Therefore, I can assure you that issues of breach of the peace are now things of the past.
“We will come out with formable guidelines for peace and progress in Akuku-Toru Local Government that will be the envy of other local governments out of the 774 local governments in Nigeria”.
Could this be the reason why AKULGA is now enjoying so much peace, unlike what is obtainable in other Kingdoms?
HRM: I will not say there has never been chieftaincy wrangling or tussle. There has been tussles but we have been able to speak to ourselves and get them resolved. The average Kalabari man believes that you should not look down on him. That you should show him respect and all that. So, whatever you do, even if you made a mistake and come out and acknowledge the mistake, people will rally round you and fix the mistake. But if you are too pompous and don’t care about other people’s feelings, then the problems will continue. So, in our case we thank God that in spite of the problems that came, there are still one or two that we are trying to resolve and by the grace of God, it will be resolved. We are trying to get a situation where there is at least, 95% peace in the whole of Abonnema and not only in one chieftaincy House. Once we do that, we will move towards a proper celebration and that is why you have not been hearing so much of what is going to happen on the anniversary date of 20th May, 2021. The planning is still ongoing and we want to carry everybody along. It’s not while some are celebrating, others are frowning.
NN: How have you tried to resolve the dispute between Abonnema and her neighboring community, Obonoma?
HRM: We always call Obonoma our next of kin because it is said that your neighbor is your next of kin. If I am having problem here, the first person to hear about it is Obonoma. Before the people in Port Harcourt will hear it, Obonoma is already here. So, to that extent they are our next of kin.
In the past, one problem had existed which had even led to litigations. But a Peace Committee has been set up to resolve issues that are pending. Not too long ago, I met with the new Amanyanabo of Obonoma and we had a chat where I told him that we must live in peace the way our fathers lived in peace. There is no need for litigations and quarrels. Any time there are issues, let us talk about it. He confirmed that he is in support of what I said and he has opened up a window of discussion.
So, with Obonom, we have no problems and with Degema, we have no problems. I am in good stead with the King of Degema, HRH, A. Amos. We call each other and we discuss several times. Any time there are issues, he would call me to complain what my people have done. And I will ask to know where and I will promptly caution the offender and the matter will be resolved amicably. On the other hand, when his people offends my people, I call him and complain about it, and there and then the issues are settled. That’s the way we have been living and I must say there is peaceful coexistence among us.