By Emma Amaize & Theresa Ugbobu
One of the monarchs that have carried himself with admirable gait and candor in Niger Delta, nay Nigeria and the world is His Royal Majesty, HRM, Benjamin Ikenchukwu Keagborekuzi, Dein of Agbor Kingdom, an Igbo town in Delta North Senatorial district, Delta State.
Born June 29, 1977, the 38 –year-old monarch, who became the world’s youngest monarch when kingmakers installed him in 1979 at the age of two years, four months, has demonstrated wisdom beyond his age. The Guinness Book of World Records captured the rare feat in its 1981 edition.
He has avoided scandal like a plague and rarely grants press interviews. However, he broke his time-honored silence, last week, when he played host to a team of Vanguard, led by the Editor of Niger Delta Voice in his palace. Excerpts:
WHAT was childhood like, how did you grow up?
As many people know in Nigeria, I crowned at the age of 2 years, 4 months and not too long after that for security reasons, I had to travel abroad. As at the time that I was crowned, I will take as honour to Nigeria because honour to anybody in Nigeria is an honour to the country.
The Guinness Book of Records recorded the country as having the world’s youngest crowned monarch at the time. I grew up in the United Kingdom; it was very interesting and as far as am concerned, that was the building block of who I am today.
Rather than growing up with silver spoon in my mouth, which I would have grown up with had I been here with my father, instead I grew up in a country where I had to be very silent about who I was for security reasons. However, the relevant authorities, royal palace and queens’ palace knew who I was and where I was. The headmaster in the schools always knew who I was, but thanks to those who made it so and I am very grateful for this, I was able to grow up pretty normally without the rest of the children knowing who I was and I have always enjoyed that. Therefore, it was somewhat a strong training ground for me. I finally came back to Nigeria in the year 2000; I had been to Nigeria previously on two occasions for short visit. The final coming back was after I aged 15, I had become very pro- African after understanding that Africa is actually the cradle of civilization. Africa is where the great stories of the Bible mainly took place, Africa is where you can find the Garden of Eden, we are great people in Africa and at 15 years, I dedicated my life to making sure that the world one day will recognize Africa as it was in the distant past.
So, it has been a very interesting life, it has taught me one thing, we are all human beings, those in position of power and leadership are simply in a position of trust, our people trust us and we must dedicate our lives to serving them. Once again, being abroad taught me that even it is once every year, those in leadership should go somewhere where nobody knows them.
Arguments and problems
It will make them to remember that we are all the same, I drive and I go out incommunicado on my own, we all bleed, we all cry, we all have good days and bad days and we will all join our ancestors one day. Therefore, what we do in life is cherish what we have and people around us and stop the war, the arguments and problems, be your brother’s keeper, these things are part of my growing up and what made me who I am today.
There was a report then that the Oba of Benin took custody of you then, can you confirm this?
Certainly, you can imagine that the Oba of Benin and Ooni of Ife were quite instrumental with the government of the day in making sure that I was crowned. Many people do not understand that the relationship between Benin and Agbor kingdoms is a very ancient one.
We are direct blood brothers, so at that time, there was a lot of pandemonium, my life was at risk, the safest place for me then was to have stayed with my brother, the Oba of Benin. Therefore, I was there briefly before they finally took me abroad.
At what point in your life did you find out that you are a king?
From the moment I was born, I knew that I am a monarch to be, just like my son, he carries his royalty very well.
There was this succession battle while you were outside the country, how did it play out?
First, there was never anything like a succession battle, so you have two assumed facts that are very incorrect. We have a tradition here that dates back to 721 BC, which is our first dynasty of which I am the 19th monarch. From 1270 AD, the monarchy here is hereditary, so if you know that there is a hereditary monarchy and there was a vacuum, then there cannot be a succession battle. The interest then was simply a matter of the Regency Council; a regency council had to be in place to manage the affairs of the kingdom.
Of course, the regency council is just like an authority, an agency, it is something that happens whenever there is a vacancy anywhere in this country, so everybody was very interested, that was simply what it was.
Can you recall while in the UK how you carried yourself knowing you are a king?
The same way I have always carried myself with the knowledge and responsibility that I have people that are relying on me. It is the same way that I still carry myself knowing that if I embarrass myself, I embarrass my people.
Interest in parties
Anybody in a position of power should know that, I have always kept myself very quiet; I have never been interested in parties and going out with friends and or that. My interest is to serve my people and how best to promote Africa. We produce the resources; Africans feed the world, so it has always been very important to me that Africans should organize themselves so that we regain back our glory from the days of Egypt. Unfortunately, every nation goes through its bad stages. Africa has gone through its bad stage of slavery and it disorganized us. During slavery, they carried away the best and fittest of our people, they took them away to build Europe for them, build America for them, we are proud of these things, but at the same time, we, as Africans have to look back and start doing for ourselves what we have done for others.
Therefore, in England, I have my friends, I have my Indians friends and African friends too and I enjoyed it because it was a period of learning for me, just like any other young man at the time.
What are the odd things that you have had to go through in life?
Odd things, I have not had odd things in my life. As I said, I have always kept myself to myself; I try to stay away from contention and problem. From when I was very young, I have never really been with people of my own age because I find them talking about girls constantly, about cars and parties. It is quite boring to me, especially when people are dying and need help. I will rather be talking about how to rebuild Nigeria, how Nigeria can take pre-eminence in not only Africa, but in the international world.
We are hoping that our present President, Muhammadu Buhari will follow up on what former presidents of Nigeria have done and improve on it. I think here in Nigeria, we like to talk about negative things too much and when you talk about the negative too much, you will be surprised that you encourage the negative to happen, this is a great nation, and we have many things to celebrate, let us talk about the positive things in life and celebrate them.
What is the strangest thing that has ever happened to your in life?
The strangest thing that has ever happened to me in life, it to be in a country that is very rich and the people are very poor. The strangest thing I have ever seen is to have such a great nation, to have such a great people, Nigerians are very intelligent people, if you go anywhere in the world, check their great institutions and achievements, you will find that there are one or two Nigerians behind the feat.
Who played the role of father to you after the death of your father?
Once again, as you mentioned earlier, Oba of Benin has played that role for me, his cousin in London, Dr. Robert Obaze also played that role. Equally, the Ooni of Ife has played that role; the Emir of Kano has played that role. In current times as I always joke with him, I call him big bros; the Sultan of Sokoto has recently been a very big brother since he ascended the throne of his ancestors.
Chief Alex Duduyemi is another man that has been a great influence in my life, I cannot forget the former president of this country, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, is a great father to me. He is somebody that I turn to when I have difficulties or I need to discuss things, I enjoy his company, I enjoy his wisdom and I thank God that he is still willing and able to fight for this country the way he had fought.
Having spent a good part of your life abroad, what are you missing now you are in Nigeria?
I am missing good roads, instead of five hours from Lagos to Agbor, I would rather if the road is good want to spend two hours, I enjoy driving, I love powerful cars, it gives me pleasure but we do not have good roads. If we have, I will like to drive myself while my chiefs can follow me, although they might not like the fact that I am driving. However, somebody has to relax somehow; but certainly, I miss the fact that we do not have good roads because without good roads, we lose many lives.
I miss constant electricity, I feel sad that so many successful business executives in this country, rather than spend their profit on building a stronger company, they have had to dedicate so much of their profit to buying diesel and I think it is counterproductive. I also miss a lawful society, disciplined police force, but we are working towards that, I think everybody is sitting up now that we have a very strict president, we thank God for that. This is the follow up from President Obasanjo that we have always wanted.
How has it been occupying the sacred throne of your fathers for about 15 years effectively?
It has been challenging, I have been on the throne for about 36 years now, not 15 years effectively as you said. In Africa, the young ones are supposed to be seen and not heard, but circumstances have brought a situation where the young ones are now heard, many elders are not comfortable with this, many elders would prefer to talk to the young ones and be talked back at.
Silence in His presence
I say this is not the best, the young have the strength, I have always said that when I meet God, his ears are going to be full because I have so many questions to ask and I know I will be given the liberty to ask those questions.
Because God gave me eyes, mouth, nose, ear and brain to use, He did not give them to me to be silent in His presence. So similarly, I find it difficult to see something wrong and not say something, I will not find out that you are involved in bribery, 419 and other crimes and you expect me to keep quiet, it does not matter if you are my brother or sister. I must say something though I try to be diplomatic about it. It does not matter if you are the governor, I can tell you that the former governor of Delta state, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan had his earful with me because he had a duty, we have federal character, and we have to recognize our brothers and sisters, who are all indigenes of the state. Just because I am the king of Agbor does not mean that I am better than others are.
That was why at the height of the Niger Delta problem, I volunteered and took myself to the creeks. Very few people knew that. I saw that the country was burning, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan then was very sceptical, saying His Majesty, what of if you go down there and they kidnap you and I said they would not kidnap me because these are young men and they see me with them.
So I took the risk, I took it for the nation, for the good of all because I could see young men that were on a dying situation. Not understanding how to move forward was causing destruction and that destruc-tion would affect all of our lives, that was what inspired my trip to the creeks. I was very shocked when I got to the creeks, I went with one of my subjects, who is now a chief, Rear Admiral Elumah (retd), I thank God I had a naval man to help navigate the water. The other person, who is an army general, was not too comfortable on the water, but I thank God that we got there and I saw that there is huge potential in the creek. We can turn the creeks into Miami and California, it is beautiful there but unfortunately, oil has caused so much damage.
And indeed after hearing all the horror stories of kidnap and all that, as my boat was going this way, I saw Dokubo-Asari going the other way and I was wondering what have I gotten myself into, but while I was expecting to see a very huge leader of the militants, a very violent person, I was completely proved wrong. An amiable, respectful and soft spoken and humble Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, walked in and we sat down and discussed.
He told me what their grievances are and he took me to his house, which he had built to make a statement that it was possible to develop the creeks. After showing me the house, he asked me if the state government cannot do likewise and I remember that very clearly, his intention of building that structure was to prove that if he can do it, what is stopping government from doing it. In addition, he took me round several projects in the creek communities, which both the state and federal governments have been doing, many of which remain uncompleted.
I can tell you, these were what made the boys bitter and I took that away with me and until this day, I will never forget how they shouted, how they hollered, the Dein of Agbor in the creeks! Nevertheless, why not, is this country not my own as well. If Nigeria is embarrassed, will I not as a Nigerian abroad be embarrassed, I will not want them to single me out when I am travelling because I am a Nigerian to search me and suspect everything about my passport.
People see Tompolo from different perspectives depending on what they know of him, how do you see him which year was this famous voyage?
It must have been around 2007 or 2008 at the height of the problem. Many Nigerians I have noticed in the 15 years I have been here comment on people they have never met before. If I listened to people before I met Obasanjo, I would not have met him because I have heard all sorts of horrible things about him. However, when I met him, I found out that he loves Nigeria and is a good person. I have said this earlier.
The same thing with the young man Tompolo, he is fighting for his people, he might not necessarily be doing it in the best of ways, but his intention is simply struggling for his people. Now, can you imagine if we do what is correct, as President Obasanjo had tried to do, as Jonathan tried to continue and I am sure this present regime will also continue, will we not be able to tap minds like Tompolo, Dokubo-Asari instead of exerting their energy against the country? Tompolo is a man that is soft- spoken and respectful. My advice is not to judge people before you meet them and find out who they really are.
Let us be our brother’s keeper. What happens if Dokubo-Asari with all his fire and strength is fighting to push Nigeria forward, I think we will all enjoy it, these are very strong people, let us not always give a negative picture of our people and the worst thing you can do in life is to judge somebody before you ever met him. We do it far too much, it is a very dreadful thing, discuss with somebody first. I did not know who I was going to meet when I ventured into the creeks and as I told you, I was very shocked at how quiet Tompolo is. I have never heard an angry word from him, he speaks with such a silent voice that you start to wonder that when a quiet person blows up, the world trembles.
Therefore, please Nigeria, Buhari is a very quiet person, let us not upset the man, when your brother does something that is wrong, do not embarrass him in public.
I want better things for Nigeria because we are a great people. I am commending the effort of Jim Ovia, who is from here for going to build a petrochemical plant of 1.5 billion US dollars in Akwa Ibom state. I hope Akwa Ibom governor will remember that it is an Agbor man that has invested in Akwa Ibom and that he will equally encourage his people to come and invest here in Agbor kingdom. Dangote, I thank you, you have been able to build yourself to the level that you are, creating many jobs, you are a role model, and we need men like these. We should be celebrating as a people; we should stop the bickering and fighting.
Bickering and fighting
We should not be saying that I am a Yoruba person or an Hausa person first before we are Nigerians. America’s power is because you have Chinese, Germans, British there and once you become a citizen of USA, first and foremost, you are a citizen of USA no matter where you come from, that is what a great nation is built of, we must put down this tribal propensity and recognize that we are nothing but brothers and sisters.
What are the unique things about Agbor Kingdom?
Agbor kingdom dates back to 721 BC with three dynasties, which is one unique in Agbor kingdom. We have old ties with the ancient Egyptians and the world is proud of our history and contributions. In Belgium, you must be 36 years old of age before you can be given a national honour, but Belgians were so impressed of the things that I, as the symbol of Agbor kingdom is doing that they made a ratification of their law to give me their national honour at a young age 27 years. For me, that is something I will always respect and cherish and the glory is for Agbor kingdom. Again, my dear brother and friend, a father figure to me, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo made me the youngest Chancellor ever in the world. That is not only celebration of Agbor kingdom or Delta state, but Nigeria.
My father was a one-time director in the Nigeria Shipping Line while my grandfather was a member in the Western House of Assembly. Not many monarchs can boast of these things, my people are amazing to have stayed 30 years without a monarch, remained together as a people and fought to keep their monarchy alive, which is a feat that not many nations have been able to go through.
Agbor kingdom is an amazing place; it is an amazing kingdom, as you know the Central Bank Governor, Godwin Emefiele is from Agbor. We have one of the most successful business-persons in Africa, Jim Ovia, from Agbor kingdom too. We are almost right in the centre of the country, Agbor is certainly where you must pass through to get to other parts of the country.
What are the challenges facing Agbor kingdom?
No road, education is not what it used to be, no electricity. In the time of our ancestors, we have water running, but now, no water, lack of understanding of ourselves, the same problems we have here in Agbor kingdom is the same in Nigeria.
How have you tried to solve them?
Government of the day, I am not attacking you, just do your damn job. I had numerous problems with the past governor of the state, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan. Like the present governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, he is the number one servant of the people. He is an amazing man, honourable, always trying to help his people. As a servant, you must do the will of your people, without the people; there will not be a nation.
If the people are not happy, it shows the governments are not doing their work and you are not taking the welfare of the people seriously, meaning you need to work hard.
Leading people is difficult, we, as a people need to encourage the government, if you scold your baby negatively, he will not learn, but if you scold him positively, he will learn his lessons. We should encourage our govern-ment officials; our media should put a stop to negativity.
You tried to call warring NURTW members in Agbor to order and tackle cultists at a time, how did it go?
National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, was not helpful. Where an organization fails to understand they are managing people, then they have failed. In the area of cultism, you are from an age group when cult started, earlier it was for positive things, unfortunately our boys turned it to be negative.
Given an object, gun, which is for hunting to collect something that does not belong to you means you are a thief. Cults are not the actual problem, but the mind of our children. We no longer correct our children in our society; our boys roam round the streets for lack of job, lack of getting things to do with their lives and an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.
What is wrong, we learnt that the Ekuku Agbor people are on a secession path from your kingdom?
You are not correct, the Ekuku Agbor people are very peaceful and loving people, it is just for few individuals who learnt oil was flowing in their place that decided to lead some people astray, saying that few people are enjoying the dividends from the oil company, Pan Ocean, while others are suffering. These few individuals are trying to make money for themselves while others do not know what is happening, not every Nigerian is corrupt but few Nigerians, not every policeman is corrupt but few police officers are.