Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
The decision of the Bayelsa State government to suspend the monarch of Oluasiri Clan, Olua 1, King Iyerite Chiefson Awululu hit traditionalists in Nembe like a thunderbolt.
His suspension conveyed in a letter signed by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Community Development and Chieftaincy Affairs, Mr Gibson Egebiri accused the second class monarch of “flagrant abuse of state government directive and threat to peace and security of the clan.”
Since his suspension, extreme views have polarised the clan with the declaration by the Opu-Nembe Council of Chiefs to ignore government directive vowing that “we who installed him will regard him
as the legitimate and serving king of Oluasiri Kingdom as well as the accompanying development and youth organs.”
The Opu Nembe Council of Chiefs is like a parent body that oversees affairs in clans around it namely Ikeinsi, Obioku and Oluasiri. It prides itself of being guided by a royal creed that ensures the unity, sustenance and advancement of the kingdoms for almost two centuries.
From history, the Opu Nembe is charged with the task of installing and supervising monarchs in the three clans. And it is the belief of the Opu-Nembe that the suspension of King Awululu was “politically motivated and a direct violation of the traditions and culture of the people.”
Two members of the group, Chief BF Amakiri Do and Chief FCY Aperebo-Okpoama, chairman and secretary respectively agreed that though the state government reserves the right to resolve any friction in the clan, it went too far with the suspension.
“The moves being taken has greatly overlooked the complexities, traditions, customs and values of the Opu-Nembe Kingdom,” the duo argued.
The decision to suspend the monarch was too swift, claimed Chief Amakiri.
“We feel there is an ulterior motive which may not be unconnected to the imminent elections,” he said.
The Opu Nembe is optimistic that Governor Henry Dickson’s declaration that he will not interfere in traditional matters.
Following the heels of Opu-Nembe is a socio-political group known as the Elites of Oluasiri which has railed at the suspension of the monarch describing it as unreasonable, unjustifiable and disrespectful to the people of Oluasiri.
The group also condemned in its entirety the purported dissolution of the Oluasiri Development Union and Oluasiri Youth Executive. It said it was at a loss on why a peace loving monarch like King Awululu would be accused of flouting the state government directive.
“As a group determined to engender unity and sustainable development in Oluasiri Clan, we strongly condemn the purported suspension of King Awululu and the leadership of ODU and the youth body,” said James Irigha, spokesman of the group.
The Elite of Oluasiri which further explained its stand in tandem with the Opu Nembe rejected the suspension of Awululu on spurious charges by “unscrupulous elements hellbent on dislodging” the current leadership of the clan “for their selfish gains..”
There is a thin line that separates politics and tradition in Oluasiri clan considering the enormous natural resources deposited in the belly of the clan. It hosts the largest gas plant which contributes substantially to the federal allocations that accrues to Bayelsa. More so, Oluasiri has 31 oil wells and 66 gas wells which make it crucial for group interest, especially political parties in the control for power in the state.
In the midst of the economic importance of Oluasiri is the pertinent question of who has the final authority on who becomes king?
“The classification is the prerogative of the government. But before the government’s prerogative comes into existence, they also have to ask the community which is the custodian of the custom that can nominate and install a king. What government has done is formality by giving him a staff of office. Even if government had created the stool, that stool was there for more than 11 years and it
was until the Opu Nembe Council of Chiefs in collaboration with the Oluasiri Council of Chiefs selected and elected a king,” said a high ranking member of Oluasiri Council of Chiefs who craved anonymity.
Bomo Sarace faulted the position of the Opu-Nembe Council of Chiefs which he insisted is at variance with the Bayelsa State Laws 2006 as it concerns chieftaincy matters.
“In 1999, the Bayelsa State Traditional Rulers Council approved the request of the Oluasiri clan to have a king. There is no community or village called Oluasiri. It is a clan made up of several communities. So Oluasiri does not have a royal stool that becomes hereditary. Any Oluasiri person from Oluasiri is qualified to become the king because it is not a royal stool.”
The alleged conduct of King Iyerite during the 2015 governorship election cannot be divorced from his current travails.
Chief Iyerite became political and supported APC governorship candidate, Timipreye Sylva in the 2015 governorship election. He allowed Sylva to pay a courtesy visit and refused Governor Dickson who was the PDP candidate because the APC was at the centre government.
Added to this was the control of the economic resources which a certain Oluasiri Development Union (ODU) and Oluasiri Youth Federation (OYF) were supervising on behalf of the community leading to several answered questions. “There were many issues as to the managing of the oil royalities leading to crisis forcing the government to intervene.
It was obvious that King Iyerite has lost control of the clan.The government has the power to suspend any traditional ruler under Bayelsa State laws 2006. Section C section 6 Sub section 2 of the
Bayelsa state Chieftaincy Laws” says Chief Elkana.
The peace of Oluasiri is crucial to the stability of Nembe Kingdon and the continued dream to make Bayelsa a business hub, the earlier the uneasy calm is brought under control, the brighter the prospects for attraction of bigger investments.