A time was when the traditional institution in Akwa Ibom State regaled in prestige, sanctity and dignity. A time was when political leaders always sought advice and guidance from traditional rulers. A time was when an erring politician would literally freeze in the presence of a traditional ruler. In those good old days of yore, politicians dared not conceive the idea of influencing, pocketing or sabotaging the traditional institution.

Sadly, the reverse is now the case. Political office holders, in their bid to pulverize the institution, have resorted to brigandage propelled by greed. The institution is being subjugated by politicians in the same Akwa Ibom State that was created via the toil and sweat of traditional rulers and elders.

The negative effects of the situation are very glaring, and great danger looms. Danger that will plunge the State into irredeemable disrepute. Danger that will destroy all that we hold sacred. Stripping the traditional institution of its sanctity is just the prelude but the grand plot is to cut off the institution’s taproot.

In extending their yards of greed, politicians have descended to the local level to put price tags on village headship. What was hitherto the exclusive responsibility of kingmakers (Family Heads) in a village, has now been hijacked by politicians. The story is identical throughout Akwa Ibom State. Village heads are now certified without the consent of the village kingmakers and the entire village. The office is now for anyone that can afford to literally feed politicians with plots of land and money. Anyone, even of questionable character, is sure of being certified as village head by government, so far he affords to feed the greed of politicians. And this has dangerously become a ‘state’ policy.

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Things have also fallen apart so much that any traditional ruler who exhibits any tendency of independent-mindedness, stands the risk of being humiliated, by way of dethronement, withdrawal of certificate, or outright termination of stipends. That is a violation of their right to freedom of expression, as enshrined and guaranteed in the constitution and many international charters to which Nigeria is a signatory.

This should no longer be discussed in hushed tones. It is an alarm that must be sounded out loud atop hills, in cities, in towns, and down to our respective villages. Well, Paramount Ruler of Uyo Local Government Area, His Royal Majesty, Edidem Sylvanus Effiong Okon recently volunteered to grab the bull by the horns. He refused to shudder, or mince words despite the inherent risks. The occasion was the commissioning of the 17.95km Anua-Mbak-Ishiet Road with Spurs in Uruan and 1.65km Outfall Drain in Uyo. HRM Sylvanus Okon took to the stage and scored the outgone administration well but reserved some praise due to the niggling issue.

“Governor Udom Emmanuel has done very well. I score him 99% but I’m withholding the 1% because of sad happenings at the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs caused by the Secretary to the traditional rulers council, Mr. Emmanuel Umontuen,” the Paramount Ruler thundered.

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He asserted that Umontuen, who is under the supervision of the Commissioner in charge of the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, has developed a hobby of inordinately auctioning certificates to aspiring village heads. The Uyo Paramount Ruler then called for Umontuen’s removal from that office.

But is Umontuen acting independently and without coverage? We heard from the horse’s mouth. We heard that the Ministry, which was under the supervision of Hon. Frank Archibong, was running an “organized crime” using Umontuen as a poster boy. That was the nauseating testimony of a traditional ruler whose domain has become hunting ground for power gluttons. Checks reveal that Anua Offot and other villages in Uyo Local Government Area are victims of the heinous cash/land for certificate barter.

It is further gathered that Paramount Rulers have also complained bitterly about the meddlesomeness of Umontuen into Village Headship matters. They accuse the ministry’s officials of issuing certificates to persons who were not recommended by the respective local government areas’ Traditional Rulers Councils (TRCs).

As I write, the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs has not denied the allegation. Hon. Frank Archibong, the immediate past commissioner in charge of the ministry never deemed it necessary to address the weighty allegation which has several elements of truth. Archibong’s loud silence constitutes a further indictment of the ministry he steered.

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Recently, Umontuen audaciously issued a circular, directing all traditional rulers to submit their credentials – all in a bid to extort them. That demand should have been rightly carried out through the Paramount Rulers. It’s reported that there have been some other policies taken without prior knowledge of Paramount Rulers or their overall head. Umontuen and his master, places themselves far above the Paramount Rulers not even to talk about Village heads and Clan Heads. The duo hold sway. Umontuen has suddenly become a large scale farmer following lands fleeced from traditional rulers.
The immediate past Commissioner lives lavishly, dispensing funds and cars like oil baron! The question is: where are the monies from?

The heist has to be discouraged now that a new administration is in place. The duo should go. I look forward to the redemption of our traditional institution from the vice-like and exploitative grip of politicians. I therefore call on the Pastor Umo Eno led administration to listen to the Uyo Paramount Ruler’s cry because the monetization of the traditional stool down to the village headship level is a recipe for disaster. The status quo shouldn’t be a state policy. Acting otherwise will amount to foisting upon the citizenry, a society of ‘anything goes.’

©Daniel Uffot