Our personality of the week is Jonathan Agbejiagwe , the President General, Abavo Clan Union. In this interview with Lawrence Uche, he shared his life story, religion interest, challenges as a clan president general and also talked about Abavo kingdom.
Can we meet you Sir?
My name is Agbejiagwe Jonathan. I am from Ugbe-ohulor community in Abavo Kingdom, Ika South Local Government Area. I was born on December 12,1960 to the family of Mr. Sunday Agbejiagwe Nwokenye and Mrs. Susan Agbejiagwe (nee Umeri). I am the first son of my family. We are seven in number; two boys and five girls. All my siblings are still very much alive to the glory of God.
Early days and Education?
I attended Holy Rosary Primary School from 1968-1970 (Primary 1-3). I moved to Lagos in 1970 and completed my Primary Education in Ajeromi Central School, Ajegunle in 1973. I came back home to Abavo where I had my secondary school at St. Charles College, Abavo from 1973 to 1978. After my Senior School Certificate Examinations, while awaiting my result, my uncle, Mr. Francis Umeri took me to Lagos where I was made a clerical officer in Management Enterprises Limited. I worked with them for about six months. When the results came out, I made division one. That year, there were only five of us that made division one from my school. I was still in Lagos when the Principal, Mr. Agholor went round Abavo, asking about me. He arranged for me to teach at Gbenoba Grammar School in 1979. I was there from 1979 as a teacher until 1981 when a law was enacted by the State Government to redeploy all School Certificate holders teaching in Secondary Schools to Primary School.
I was then posted to Omie Primary School in Ekuku-Agbor where I taught briefly and got admission into School of Business Studies and Accountancy, Uyo which is affiliated to Calabar Polytechnic. After my O.N.D in Accounting, I traveled back to Lagos and took up a job with Bode Ogunleye Chartered Accounting firm at Surulere. I took a professional body examination and got a Diploma in Auditing. I worked with them for a while until I started developing interest in business. I developed so much interest in electronics business so, I resigned and went to Kano where I opened an electronics shop. I stayed there for a while, got married and had children.
Tell us about your parent?
My father, Agbejiagwe Sunday Nwokenye was a disciplinarian and a traditionalist to the core. He believes so much in community work and the culture of Abavo. He was a farmer and also a tailor, as he never went to school. My mum is a renowned garri trader. They are both late now.
What influenced your moving to Kano?
The mindset at that time was like one traveling overseas. People who had traveled there would tell us it was very easy to do business there. One of my in-laws did not go to school but while he was in Kano, he was fortunate to work with one Alhaji Isiaku Rabiu and within a short time, he had about three houses in the village and ten buses on the road for commercial transport. He urged me to come to Kano, saying that business opportunities abound there. When I eventually got to Kano, he accommodated me for about six months and then, I started a business of my own and was able to raise a family.
How long were you in Kano and how was business over there?
I was in Kano for about five years and business was really good until all of a sudden, my business started crumbling. I had an outlet where I sold oil in Sabongari Market. I even sold spare parts to some people from Niger. I also went into crude oil sales but how everything suddenly crashed, I could not tell. It was as a result of this that I left Kano.
After you left Kano, what next?
After my businesses crumbled, I became shattered, frustrated, confused and mad for about four years. How I left Kano, I cannot categorically explain. I left Kano in pain and not knowing where to head to next until I found myself in Aduwawa, Benin City where I became a Muslim. At that point I became a Muslim, acquired Arabic education, I became sane and began to enquire about my wife and children. I went back to Kano to get them and returned to Aduwawa and became an Islamic Scholar.
Are you still a Muslim?
No! I am no longer a Muslim. I think God used that faith to bring me back to my sanity. I have a detailed account of how I became a muslim and my conversion back to Christianity in my yet to be published biography.
How did you reconnect with your family?
One fateful day, while I was still a muslim, some clerics and I, were heading to Abakaliki to preach, we stopped for a rest in Agbor; at a mosque along Yoruba Street and I was asked to deliver a lecture as it was a Friday Jumat Service. After the preaching, while leading the prayer, they told late Alhaji Isima, the owner of ICON; a very popular rich Muslim who was an Ika man that I am from Abavo. He was surprised but doubted that no Abavo man had gotten to that level in Islam after seeing my apprearance with full beards, caftan and muslim’s regalia. At the end of the service, they asked me if I knew him and I answered in the affirmative. I spoke with him in Ika language, he inquired about my identity and declared that he would not believe until he takes me to my father’s house for confirmation that I am really from Abavo. Alhaji Isima in a bid to confirm my true identity, drove me down to my father’s house in Abavo while I directed him.
On getting to my father’s house, my father who was sitting outside refused to answer my greeting as I greeted him in our dialect. My mother heard my voice from the back of the house, ran outside but could not recognize me because I was strangely appareled with very long beards. She could only recognize my voice as I greeted her. I had to remove my glasses, turban, caftan and the agbada I was wearing before she could recognize me and immediately, embraced me. My father asked Alhaji one question: “Where did you see this useless and foolish man?” Before then, a large crowd had already gathered. Then, Alhaji replied, “This is one of your best sons. He will lead this community and he will lead well,” but my father said nothing. The only unfortunate thing is that my father died before I became the President of Abavo Clan Union. Alhaji Owa brought me bak to Agbor at Yoruba Street; I was well recognized as a scholar and I stayed there for a while.
How and when did you refrain from the Islamic faith?
One fateful night after we concluded our fasting and prayers in the mosque, I heard God’s voice saying to me, “It is enough. Return to me!” I have shared this testimony several times. I came back to Christianity when I had that voice. That period was like a thug of war within me, it was not an easy decision to take but today, I am happy I did and I am a happy Christian.
Many Abavorians are now Muslims including some chiefs in Abavo. It looks very strange. What is your take on that?
I became a Muslim before everyone of them. The issue of faith in my opinion is a personal conviction. However, you believe you will get to the Almighty, it would be difficult for anybody else to convince you not to, if it is working for you. For, chiefs and others in Abavo who are still Muslims, it is a personal conviction but I must say this; from my experience as an Imam who have travelled almost round this country, preaching Islam in so many big central mosques and having an Islamic name as Mallam Ahmed Agbejiagwe; I can say that most people become Muslims for financial gains, for connections and maybe, other benefits. I thank God for the lives of Muslims in Abavo and I believe that God would direct them the way he did to me at His right time.
Do you still remember the Quranic readings and doctrines?
Of course, I still do. Early this year,at a gathering where the Commissioner of Police visited Abavo, after a Christian had said the opening prayer, they needed a Muslim to say the closing prayer, since there was no response, I volunteered and said the prayer. It was a public event. I still have Qurans in my house and still go through them once in a while.I still have all those doctrines in my head but they are no longer useful to me.
Now that you have gone to both sides, do you have comments?
The practice of Islamic faith centres around Mosaic Law while that of Christian faith, to the best of my knowledge, centres on Christ and grace. Both preach love but I can say clearly that in the Islamic faith, there is a lot of violence attached and that violence have overruled that love being preached. Christian faith though, has its lapses but I think it preaches 100% love, the practices may be 70% but the Islamic faith preaches 100% love but practices about 40%. This is my conviction and I am not afraid to say it.
For many years now, there had been construction of a mosque in Abavo yet to be completed. Why has it taken so long?
Yes, when the building of that mosque started, we were told it was being sponsored by one Alhaji Isima (late) as his own personal contribution to the growth of Islam in Abavo Kingdom. Of a truth, millions of naira has been pumped into the project from different organizations, individuals and corporate bodies. Currently, there is a demarcation on the land and the building is still on-going but how soon it will take, I cannot say.
After your O.N.D., did you go back to school to further your education?
I did several trainings, went for seminars and professional courses. I did not go to any higher institution to pursue Masters, Ph.D or even a first degree but the Diploma in Auditing I have was equivalent to a H.N.D.
How come you resettled in Abavo?
When I came back to Agbor, I was still a full time muslim. I moved to Benin where I worked in the Central Mosque, praying for people and making good money. It got to a point after God had told me to return to Him, I left the fate and received a sharp negative reaction from the Muslims there towards my new person. I could not remain there or come back to Agbor. Out of fear, I moved to Asaba. When I got to Asaba, there was no job; I starved for most of the days I newly arrived. While I was a muslim, I lacked nothing, I was very comfortable but I already made up my mind to leave the faith no matter what. So I remained in Asaba. Those days as an Imam, anytime I visited Abavo, the convoy of Hausa people that went with me, the flamboyance of my arrival told much of my prominence then. Even during my father’s burial, the contributions of the Hausa Community was enormous, I was made to feel like a king, but all that, I had to abandon as I decided to return to God. I made up my mind not to stay with or depend on anyone for my survival. There was a block industry I approached and offered to work with, they immediately employed me since it needed no academic requirement or certificate. My job was to carry blocks from into the vehicles every day. There was some sort of room arranged for moulders constructed with wood, that was where I had to put up. While I worked there, a day came when the driver could not come to work. I already learnt how to drive while I was still a Muslim but I never mentioned it to them until that day when I decided to drive the vehicle. They loaded the blocks into the vehicle which I delivered the blocks to its destination.
On my return, the Director of the block industry immediately appointed me to be the driver and increased my salary. I was now being paid for loading blocks into the vehicle and also for driving. The owner of the block industry was an Ibo man who was very popular and supplied blocks to many places in Asaba. After a year of working with him, I advised him on how to keep financial records and proper documentation. That was when he enquired if I had any educational qualification. I informed him I have an OND in Accounting and a Diploma in Auditing, he immediately employed me as the Accountant. That was how I got fully settled in Asaba before returning home to my people at Abavo.
Why did you decide to return to Abavo when you were making money in Asaba?
It was not an easy decision, there was this urge to go back home. I realized that I was making money yet cannot do anything tangible with it. When I make a hundred thousand naira, I always had a problem of two hundred thousand naira until one day, myself and two of my colleagues were heading Nnewi to confirm supplies. An elderly man with walking stick walked passed us and then called us to come back. We all answered when he said he was referring to me in particular. He told me the story of my life and informed me that until I returned home and start afresh, I would keep going up and down, struggling and failing and it will get to a point when I would not even be able to eat. He further told me that if I should return, I will be mocked for three years and after that I would begin to enjoy peace of mind and financial bliss. I immediately returned home to Abavo with my bags and looked around to find everywhere strange again. That was on February. 13, 2011. For good three years it was very rough, I had no farm, my children are not there, my father and mother were late and I don’t have good relationship with my siblings as at that time. Exactly three years later I was elected as the P.R.O Abavo Clan Union.
How did you fully settle into the kingdom as an important person in the scheme of things in Abavo kingdom?
In January 2012, members of the royal family came to me and asked me to join them in the struggle they were in as at that time, which was to reclaim their royal right. The struggle started gathering momentum from 2011 and had already as at 2012. I immediately accepted their request and gave my heart to it. In 2014, I became the P.R.O of Abavo Clan Union a post I had before I became the President.
What were you doing to make ends meet when you returned to Abavo?
For the first three years, I involved in sales of palm wine, pepper soup and other petty trading after which I engaged in farming, which fetched me little earnings I used to fend for myself. At some point, I had to go into politics. As at today, I can say that I am a politician even though I can’t go into it fully because of my position as the President General of Abavo Clan Union.
How and when did you join politics?
I started politics in 2013 as a member of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) left PDP when my friend Reuben Ekoma was denied his councillorship slot. I protested against it and angrily left to join the All Progress Congress (APC). God favoured me there when I met are one Bar. Felix Morka, who happened to be one of my students at Gbenoba Secondary School. He was so good to me that he gave me every support, financially and otherwise, even when I was to contest for House of Representatives (HOR) he facilitated it financially and even gave me a car to run my campaign I contested for the Federal House of Representative under APC, Ika Federal Constituency in 2015.
How was the political terrain in Abavo at that time?
My community, Abavo is predominantly a PDP community. When I became the President, I felt that I could not lead my people in opposition or work against the government plans. Based on that, after giving it a very serious thought and considering the fact that our son was contesting for the governorship position, and will all have to join hands to support him, I came back to PDP. Today, I am a part of the PDP family. Although as President General, I may not be able to take part in politics, being a father to all parties, APC, PDP and all others.
Tell us about your candidacy for the House of Reps in 2015 elections, the intrigues and drama, as there were speculations that you sold your candidacy?
Ordinarily, I would not have contested on a very serious note. APC was like a baby then, not many people believed that the party could stand and not many were ready to go into opposition or contest in an opposing party here in Ika Federal. Constituency when I decided to run, there was nobody that showed interest, Bar. Felix Morka spoke with me, advising me to run for the position that it is good the party has a candidate. He assured me that the party will back me up knowing fully well that I lacked the financial capacity. He paid for the form and facilitated the whole thing. After I had confirmed my interest, another candidate from Ika North East came on board. A primary election was conducted and I won massively because people had already known me through my write-ups in Ika-Weekly Newspaper. Before then I used to write articles constantly on articles and the happenings in Abavo and that made me easily acceptable by the voters and got massive votes. Yes parties brought money but I handed it over to my party. Then I was not very experienced but I contested against Hon. Victor Nwokolo of the PDP Party and Doris Uboh of Accord Party. There was a time Doris Uboh came to me saying that there is need to form a coalition so that we would be able to defeat the PDP but I did not go along with her.
I never collected money from anybody, I told them that I will prefer to run and fail so that it will be in my CV that I contested than to take money and step down for anybody. When people made allegations that I collected money, I laughed because it is totally untrue. When Doris Uboh came to my place at Abavo, it was in the open, every meeting we had was with witnesses and I made my paint very clear. I never sold out, I ran that election with the mind that I will either win or lose. The fact that I will lose the election was very glaring, yet I still stubbornly distributed monies to my campaign team for mobilization the night before election. Thank God Doris Uboh would get to see this publication and confirm that what I am saying is the truth.
Why did you feel you would not win?
The situation on ground at that time shows that PDP has very massive support and the person I was contesting against has a very strong structure and he is financially well to do while I depended on the stipend I got from our party.
Talking about the leadership tussle in Abavo where and when law and order almost broke down, can you speak on that?
First I must say I am not from the royal family. The kingship is always around the royal family, the Ohaefi ruling house. When the crises started I had not returned to Abavo. Early in 2012, Prince Andrew Jegbefume (late) came to me and said he was sent by members of the royal family that they want me to be part of this struggle, I asked him so many questions like, where were they when the current Obi, was crowned and also why did he played a very big role in the installation of Aje, the father of Obi Uche and that of Uche himself. He replied that when these things were done they never knew that the gods would be angry and that they knew they had done the wrong thing. So I agreed since majority of the community (people) were behind them.
After I had joined, there was a picture that went viral on facebook which was the coronation of Chukwuka which I fully took part in, at that point the crises broke out fully. Actually I played a role as the spokesman. I was like the coordinator or the arrowhead. There were so many people who were supporting in cash and other means buts do not want their names in the public. What actually led to the crises was that there were lots of allegations that Aje was not from the royal family that he was brought by Prince Jegbefume Most of us, even the agitators do not know the genesis of the matter, we mostly relied on the story we heard that Aje was not from the royal family.But Overtime we were able to read between the lines.
What part did Smart Ajaja play?
Smart Ajaja also was not from the royal family, he is an activist who believes in not being cheated over his right. He heard all the stories leading to the kingship tussle like many of us did including the news that members of the royal family were dying because of what they did. As an activist, he bought the whole idea, supported and contributed financially to the movement to re-claim the throne in which we struggled for. He is also a good writer.
Is the crisis over now?
Yes it is and everything has been resolved with the Court Ruling on November 22, 2018 declaring Uche Irenuma the authentic king of Abavo. It was very difficult for people to accept the court rulling but eventually we did. For me it was a very difficult situation. As the President General, I already took side before and during the crisis. when court the gave judgment against us, many called me saying I should let go, others called saying I should not accept the judgment. I had written and fought against this for about seven years, to have a change of heart became very difficult for me. What I did then was to hold an Abavo mid year conference and invited the 16 communities, groups and association including the political class and then I tabled the matter, Abavo people, and asked where do we go from here? Do we still say we remain with Prince Chukwuka or we accept the court ruling and go back to his royal majesty Uche Irenuma”. People started commenting and the dialogue was extensive because people from both sides \the royal families and those against were also there at the gathering. The consensus that day was that even though the general community was behind Prince Chukwuka, now that the court has ruled in favour of Uche Irenuma, we should all return to Uche Irenuma while members of the other side of the royal family who are agreed and involved should continue their battle internally. I immediately picked up my phone and called HRM from the hall and told him I was coming with Abavo people. He didn’t believe it, we all en-mass from the hall went to the palace where he received us and declared, ‘no victor, no vanquish’.
What have you learnt from the crisis?
The kingdom unity was tested and we learnt a lot from the crisis, now the kingdom is more united than it was. For me I have learnt not to rely on hear-says, if I had done so in the past then it is really regrettable.
Relationship with the royal majesty Obi Uche Irenuma?
It is a very cordial one; His Royal Majesty is our king and our father in Abavo.
How would you rate HRM now?
He is wiser than he was, very accommodating, listens to people and very kind hearted.
Did everybody who was actively involved in the struggle accept the general consensus of returning to HRM Obi Uche Irenuma
Actually not everybody, why I did what I did was because I placed Abavo people first. I placed my interest and that of a few others, on the back sit, that action has really put me on the bad book of some persons who feel I was paid millions to bring Abavo people back to the palace and to HRM Uche. Others said the car I was using was given to me by him which is not true. The truth is that Abavo was divided and 80% was with Prince Chukwuka as against Uche Irenuma who eventually won the court ruling. Now that resolution has come, I think more than 90% have accepted the reality, although a few people are still against the judgment but peace has largely returned to Abavo land and there is no more war. Some persons till today accuses me of betrayal, a liar, a cheat, a dupe and still saying that I was given money to sell Abavo people.
So tell us, how and when you became the President of Abavo Clan Union
I became the President of Abavo Clan Union at the general conference April 2017. I was formerly the PRO of the Union from 2014 till 2017. I played a very active role that got me very close to the people of my community while I was the PRO. Amaecu Onwuemeriem was the president; he was staying in Agbor while I stayed in Abavo. My closeness with and to the community, the elders, youths and women made me a household name among my community people. When it was time for election, I wanted to retain the office of the PRO, I was campaigning for the current President Onwuemeriem to return as President but, some funny things happened which made me change my mind and decide to run for the presidency which I won overwhelmingly.
How has Abavo Clan Union been since you emerged president?
I will leave that for people to judge. As at today I am getting the support of the 16 communities that make up Abavo kingdom even the Asaba branch that were never too comfortable with my emergence is now solidly behind me and have fully adopted me. I thank God that I have the support of all the 16 communities and the branches.
What impact have you made since you emerged as president to the betterment of Abavo clan union?
Before I came on board, the leadership of the clan union was seen as a toothless bull dog and that which does not recognize branches. The first thing I did was to stamp the authority of the president and I made sure reached out to all the branches on a monthly basis and that everything happening in community well communicated a weekly basis secondly the town hall was nothings to write home about, I had to work on it both inside and outside and that was where we used for this year’s Ogwa Ika which hosted the large crowd. Another was that the clan union did not have a regular source of revenue. When I came on board and, saw what we were generating, I initiated this “Abavo Development Journal” and have we raked in almost #3m for the clan union after its publication , it became a source of revenue and we are also working on making the Clan Union, a group that will create development strides and support the community. I also played a big role in ensuring that we have the “Abavo Political Forum.
It is on record also that some crooks were coming to Abavo to create churches and rip people off their money by deceit. Last year we organized a seminar invited all the churches and told them if you do not attend the seminar as a pastor, your church will be closed down” many of them were caught doing so many things unworthy of men of God, We arrested some of them and Many of them closed down their churches and left Abavo since they had other illicit motives in mind aside preaching the word of God. The Christian Association, Abavo Christian Congress and Pentecostal Fellowship are now very well coordinated in Abavo. Presently you cannot just come into Abavo and open a church without going through these groups. This is another feat I have been able to achieve as the President.
For How Long have you been there and how long is your tenure?
I have been there for two years and I have 5 months left.
Is there any major project, the clan union embarked on during your tenure?
Though I did not use my money but we helped in influencing the express to Ekwuoma that was tarred by NDDC. Also when Okowa, the executive Governor came to Abavo to commission the Abavo ring road phase 1, as at that time the vigilante, Local Security Unit in Abavo were having challenges with mobility and I took it up with him that there was need for him to do something. At the end, Dakwambo who came with him decided to give us a Hilux pick up van within One Month, I went and received it for the Unit which they now use in Abavo. We have been able to strengthen the harmonious relationship between the palace and the Clan union, Olotus and Chairman.
Your tenure would be over in seven months time, would you like to come for a second tenure?
I would let the people decide.
What Exactly is the Aim of the Clan Union?
The clan union is the administrative organ of the Community while the Obi takes care of the traditional angle. The Union is in Charge of Administration.
Abavo now hosted Ogwa-Ika after Many Years of Crisis, How Do you Feel?
I am the happiest person, because we were able to host it and host it in a grand style. Financially it was not very easy, our people never let me down, they corporated and supported strongly towards the hosting I thank God for the success. At the end of the Ogwa Ika, we obviously learnt from some of our short-comings and off-course praised ourselves for the exploits it brought a sense of belonging to our people and our Obi was also very happy. The Ogwa-Ika also made us to appreciate Certain cultural values. We have learnt a lot culturally and through the lecture by Prof. Sam Ukala “what is in a name”.
What do you have to Say to Onu Ika for the success of Ogwa-Ika?
I must appreciate the leadership of Onu Ika led by Elder Dan Usifo especially on the issue of human trafficking they have done a very good job.
Currently, Aside Being the President of Abavo Clam Union, What Other Things Do You Engage In?
I am a farmer and a business man.
How Have You Given Back To The Society?
If you ask any average person in Abavo he would tell you that Agbejiagwe gives his time to the community. I do a lot to ensure that Abavo Kingdom benefits. I also try as much as possible to render services to the community as an individual and also do not neglect any person who is need. In my own little capacity, I often support, if it requires services I give a hundred present and even go extra mile to assist. These are the only ways I feel I can show appreciation to God for what he had done for me.
If You Were to Re-incarnate and you were to live Your Live Again, What are the Things you would and would not like to do over again?
If there is re-incarnation,. I would live my life my life the way I have lived it over again, my believe is that everybody’s life is tailored the way God wants it. All that I have suffered and gained in my life-time, I believe have been organized by God. I believe that whatever one is to become has been ordained by God but that is not to undermine the place of prayer in one’s life.
How would you rate Okowa’s government?
Okowa is a mentor to me politically, because of his ingenuity in dealing with issues. He has performed very well, if you look at the infrastructural developments across the state you would agree that the Governor has done tremendously well. He is not sectional in constructing roads, he is interested in developing every part of Delta State. When I look back to his first 9 months in office, while people castigated him and carried all sorts of rumors, I give glory to God for his life today because we all are witnesses to the good things he is doing in the state.
You said, your Writings in Ika Weekly made you very popular, can you speak on that?
I was writing on issues happening in Abavo, from the Original source and people got enlightened through some of my write-ups. During the crisis, people were able to follow the situations as I often gave detailed information oin the latest development, Ika weekly newspaper created that platform. Some people did not even know my face, they only knew my name.
How much do you relate with your siblings?
We are very close, we talk often, we have that brotherly and sisterly affection. Though some are far away we keep in touch often
What Makes You Happy now?
Am always happy when I get what I prayed for, when good things come to my community and when I see my neighbor progress.
What gets you Worried?
The issue of the Fulani herdsmen. The menace they are causing in our community is no longer bearable nor acceptable.
What Would You Advise the Government to do regards these Insecurity challenges in the Country?
I will advise that plans on state police and Community Police be solidified and they should be duly empowered.
What is your most memorable event?
I would say the delivery of my son at the hospital in a capital in Kano which was through caesarean operation. What makes it memorable fact is that it was done in my presence.
How do you Relax?
I often find time to relax; I eat good food, regularly and don’t joke with fresh palm wine every evening, at every two days interval I pluck and chew fresh bitter leaves in the morning
What is Your Best Food
Akpu and Bitter Leaf Soup with natural palm wine to march
Advice for Politicians?
Politicians should try as much as possible to avoid the winner takes it all syndrome so a to avoid misunderstanding and insubordination.
Advice to Elders?
They should do more to ensure that they live behind great positive legacies for the younger generation who are coming behind to follow.