Scio-Political History And Challenges Of The Kalabari Kingdom

Source: Alabo T.O Graham-DOUGLAS
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A Speech On The Occasion Of The 80th Birthday Celeration Of His Majesty King Professor T.J.T

Princewill, Amachree XI

By Alabo T.O Graham-DOUGLAS
I am very happy to be here today and I sincerely feel honoured for being thought fit to be the Chairman of this grand occasion. I have always associated with my genealogical relation with you, whose root stems from the Amachree Royal Family in Kalabari Land. In Abonnema in particular, the offspring of your prodigies in Madam Abiotoaa, Princess Adida, Chief Awoye Otaji, Chief Oku (or Okoroafor) and Chief Awoye Owukorik bask significantly because of this Loyal linkage. It is therefore imperative for me to be present here at all costs on this epoch octogenarian event. My Beloved Cousin, “it is good to have a good Cousin” and Happy 80th Birthday Celebration.

The Kalabari Kingdom dates back to about 1066 AD at Old Shipping (Elem Kalabari). Due to warfare and efforts to control the sea routes, trade and markets, the scene became too hot and family groupings began to emigrate. One group moved to Bakana in 1881, another followed to found Abonnema in 1884.

Despite these migrations, the Kalabari still maintained a solid homogenous front and the Kalabari Kingdom in which today's celebrant and ancestors held kingship was recognized even in colonial days. In Eastern Nigerian classification of tools of the 8 recognized non-classifiable paramount traditional rulers, Kalabari, Okoloba (Gand Bonny) and Opobo were the riverine groups recognized.

The Kalabaris became visible and politically conspicuous because of inseparable unity by its forbears. Their foresight to develop educational excellence led to the building of such a great institution as Kalabari National College, a singular united endeavour placing them in an advantageous position in the then Eastern Nigeria. The were also astute business men and encouraged the establishment of a sea port at Abonnema from where commercial trade passed through the Sombreiro to Orashi, Nun, Niger and Benue Rivers, organized defensive measures and afforded protection to satellite communities around them.

At the onset of politics, because of the cosmopolitan nature of the Kalabari Kingdom, they spoke with one voice despite the diverse opinions which eventually they must have had. Therefore, they always chose the best candidates to represent them. However, with political sophistication, other ethnic nationalities began to divide the homogeneity of the Kalabari political structure. Disunity and mistrust set in into their rank and file. The commanding kingship influence enjoyed by the 33 towns and villages of kalabari Kingdom began to suffer the weakness of the lattices of their political fabric.

The emerging situation gave rise to conspiracies and intrigues to the extent that the unity that was the strength of the Kalabaris began to wane. Our competitors began to exploit these weaknesses and portrayed the Kalabaris as having dominated in every sphere, which earned them tremendous hatred. Successive governments manipulated this weakness and further divided and ruled the Kalabari hierarchy with inexplicable marginalization. On the other hand, Kalabari elites began to establish various niches of imaginary control; therefore never coming together to have a strategic plan for the common populace.

Our political homogeneity, which at one time gave us a senatorial District, was progressively dismantled by our competitors with strong feelings that the “so-called” Kalabari influence and dominance must in perpetuity be made to vaporize.

You will observe, Your Majesty, that besides the few endeavours that our children in government establishments were able to achieve infrastructurally, successive governments of the state have paid lip service to the development of the Kalabari areas and I personally feel it will continue to remain a far cry and great expectations on the part of any Kalabari to expect magical metamorphosis. It will not happen.

Your Majesty, the synopsis I have given is meant to serve as reflections, reminiscences and recollections of the kingdom you now rule. Your legacy at this 80th birthday therefore should, amongst other factors, focus on some of these aspects – Kalabari unity and patriotism, development of the Kalabari kingdom infrastructurally, socio-cultural rejuvenation, industrialization and commercialization through the resuscitation of the kalabari trading expertise. We should go back to the old realities of establishing a sea port, come together to form a University of Technology to advance the technical prowess of our children, support in the creation of more states in order to advance the aspiration and the well-being of commonly associated socio-cultural ethnic nationalities.

Your Majesty, recently, what seems to be an organized indifference against the Kalabari Kingdom is being placed in the pan at all cost. You will bring all the Kalabari ethnic nationalities together to fight for their ancestral right. It is no longer a hidden story that efforts are being made to excise from the Kalabari Kingdom some oil producing communities, namely; Kula, Abissa, Idama, Soku, Elem Sangama, just to mention a few. These are communities that constitute the 33 Kalabari towns and villages. They are bound together linguistically, culturally and by ancestral genealogy. Since the amalgamation of these component units to form the Kalabari Kingdom in the 15th century, we have lived together as a homogenous entity without extending our territorial boundaries.

When Degema Province was created, it also administered the Brass Division and its environs whereby the Province adjudicated in the settlement of land and related matters. The ambition of excising the Kalabari areas because of the oil potentials dates back to the early 1990' when political adventurists, through the subsequent creation and administration of Bayelsa State, nurtured the idea which is playing out today. With the envy and dislike of the Kalabari man suffers today, we certainly have no sympathies.

Your Majesty, I suggest you make a formal protestation through the Governor of Rivers State to the highest political authorities of the country. The situation I envisage could be a potential danger to our internal security as unnecessary conflict of interest will trigger off ugly situations. A stitch in time saves nine. So, Your Majesty, please ACT NOW.

Finally, Your Majesty, I wish to congratulate you on your appointment as the Chairman, River State Council of Traditional Rulers. I believe that in your tenure you will visit the reclassification of the Chieftaincy Institution whereby consanguineous and unbroken hereditary stools will merit rightful place while enhancing the prestige, honour, sustainability, empowerment and political significance of the institution.

Thank you, I wish you well and many happy returns of the day!!!

Orubibi VI of Abonnema