His Royal Majesty, Miskoom Martin Mudu’utrie Shaldas, is the Long Gamai of Gamai nation in Shendam Local Government Area of Plateau State. He spoke with FRIDAY OLOKOR on his throne and the kingdom generally
Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born in Shendam. I had my primary school in Shendam but I had to live in Zaria. Our elder brother that I succeeded was then teaching at the Institute of Administration in Congo, Zaria (which later became a campus of ABU, Zaria). We had to come back when he was going for a training course in Birmingham; that was around 1966. When we came back, the Nigerian Civil War broke out. I finished my primary school there and in 1967, I went to Gyem Commercial College at Bukuru. I then went to Kaduna Polytechnic to read Local Government administration. From there, I went for a diploma course at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University). I stayed in Angola Hall. I left Ife in 1980 and was posted to Nassarawa State for the National Youth Service Corps Programme. I would say that I spent all my entire career life in the local government.
I actually traversed almost all the local governments in Plateau and Nassarawa states. I rose to the position of Director of Administration and was Secretary of Local Government, I was also sole administrator in the council. As a matter of fact, I started Jos South Local Government in 1991. I was in Nasarawa, in Lafia; from Lafia to Lantang, Lantang to Obi, Obi to Federe LG, from Federe to Kanam, from Kanam to Bassa, Barkin Ladi, Pankshin, and to Doma, Keffi. From Keffi, I was Sole Administrator of Bokkos LGA. I came back as Secretary of Jos Local Government, then to Jos East. I came back to Jos LG, this time round and was now transferred to the ministry and the state civil service. From the cabinet office, I was transferred to the Ministry of Finance. I was the Director of Administration in the Ministry of Finance. From there, I was transferred from the Ministry to the local government from where I retired. After I retired, I went into business of selling tricycles; we were ordering tricycles. We had a contract in Niger State. When I was there, I was appointed a board member of the State Internal Revenue and Commissioner. From there, I returned home and got the title of Churuma, that is Kanai in my language and it was there that I became Long Gamai of Gamai.
What was your dream as a young man and did you envisage that you were going to be a traditional ruler one day?
As a prince, you can never rule that out, but it was actually not on my mind.
When I was in service as a director in the LG, I was involved in policy making and I got to know about people generally, those who were doing contract and so on. I then decided that I would not be a contractor after retirement because my area is agrarian. I said I would deal in grains, improve on it if I could, add value to it and sell. In essence, my vision was to be a farmer. And even at that time, I built my house in Shendam because there was no need for me to come and stay in Jos. At that time, the roads were good and telephones were working and I could transact my business from Shendam to anywhere. My dream was to just be a farmer.
Would it be correct to say that you were privileged to have access to education on time?
Fortunately for me, Shendam, my home town, was the first port of call when the missionaries came in 1906 or thereabout. The Catholic Mission particularly came to Shendam and it was from there that they spread. Most of our people then were teachers, teaching religion. Education wise, we were lucky to have relationship with the missionaries. They encouraged our parents to send us to school.
Can you give us the brief history of Shendam kingdom?
We are from the Kwararafa dynasty and we have relationship with the Jukuns in Taraba State, the Alagons, the Idomas, the Igalas. The first recorded Long Gamai was in 1778 and that was before civilisation and colonisation in Nigeria. We have a robust tradition.
When the reality of becoming the king dawned on you, what came to your mind?
Like you just said, my great grandfather was Long Gamai, my father was Long Gamai, my elder brother before me was Long Gamai. I wasn’t the eldest son, I have an elder brother. We princes have a way of relating to ourselves but we couldn’t agree on who should contest. But normally, it is the people that judge; we have kingmakers whose work is to select a worthy prince.
I don’t know what happened but I decided I would contest because I believed I had the chance. Moreso, my career growth in the local government gave me good knowledge about being a king if I wanted to be and I grew with my father at home. I was there when he was king. Like a roadside mechanic, I learnt on the job and so I learned from him. It is not something I thought I was going to become. Honestly, it never crossed my mind that I would be king one day. Like a struggling person and with the small businesses I did, I used to drive a lot. I would say that I was a little rough rider and I drive myself.
Do you drive yourself now?
Well, occasionally if I have to.
Since your ascension to the throne, what have been the challenges?
The challenge is that once you’re a king, you’re everybody’s food; everybody depends on you for counselling in their little quarrel or domestic issues, they come to you for counselling. If there is anything about development in Kwararafa, before the community members go to farm, they come to you, they come to you for fertilizer, seedlings and even farm lands. Those are issues that you have to do for your community as a king.
What were those things you were doing before your ascension which you had to stop because of the position you find yourself?
As a young man that has traversed so many institutions, there is this youthful exuberance that everybody does. I don’t think I was an exception; we had excitement and adventures. The one that was negative was smoking; I was smoking and drinking but I’ve stopped now. That was even before I became king.
How large is your kingdom and area of control?
Shendam Local Government in Plateau State as a whole is my domain.
How many communities are there in Shendam?
If it is the natives, it’s just two, but there are other none-natives that are there and I can’t count them.
As a king, are there things that are taboos for you?
Of course, plenty. First, we have a strong tradition. We have our gods which are very supportive and our shrines. You need to be pure in mind and in heart, if not you don’t enter into our shrines. Today, our mode of worship is better than some of the major religions in the society. I see some pastors and churches doing businesses, either family business or whatever. But if you are a Long Gamai, you must be fair to your people and be a role model to them. You must not involve yourself in controversies. Long Gamai is a utility king, if you see my traditional regalia, you can see that some people can even swear with Long Gamai and that is to show you how it is. But now that Christianity has come in, all those things have been left aside a little.
Can you shed more light on some of the taboos?
The king as far as we are concerned, does not eat; so you can hardly see me eat in the public. You are expected to set standards and examples.
Are you a Christian, a traditionalist or a Muslim?
We were born Catholics, and I told you the Catholic church has influenced us a lot. There are certain things that I am still discussing (with them); I can not remove my cap in the public because it is a taboo and if I do that, I’m desecrating the tradition.
Do you have a council working with you and how do you constitute the council?
The council was there before I was born. There are special chiefs that are meant for the princes; there are other titles for the uncles, there are people who have certain roles in the society that are exclusively for them; those who will go for the gods of rain, gods of farming, you know, all those people are there.
In the process of selecting a new Long Gamai, we have about seven title holders who got their titles by inheritance and so, there are certain families that have been exclusively reserved for running or maintaining those systems.
In Africa, certain sacrifices are done before a king is crowned. It is believed that human beings are used as sacrifices before installation of a king. Were there sacrifices that were done before your installation?
Of course yes! There are about three shrines that you need to go and pour libation and these libations are normally done with chickens and goats; that’s in the first place. After that one, they will give you this red cap to wear and from there, we move to another one under a hill where a horse will be sacrificed and used. After the sacrifice, there is another shrine where they will put the tusk and the crown on you. After that, you’ll ride on a horse and go back to the town; that is when you will finally come to town as the king.
When you wanted to get married, how did you go about it? And as a king, can’t you marry as many wives as you want?
You can marry hundreds if you want. I was already married with two wives before I became king. Our tradition permits those who want their families to get chieftaincy titles to bring their daughters if I want and give to me, that one has no limit.
Did you have any of them like that?
I didn’t show any interest, I’ve not shown any interest for now.
When you wanted to be king, did your wives kick against it?
My decision is more than them. In some cases, like my second wife when we were courting, she said if I wanted to be king, she would not marry me; I didn’t even discuss about that with my first wife. The only small snag I had was with my mother because when I was growing, I had a white girlfriend and she insisted that I should go and get an African woman because if I got married to a white, my offspring would be white and my people would not agree to give them the kingship. That is the only issue I had and apart from that, nothing.
What are the major ceremonies celebrated here in Shendam kingdom?
There are plenty. There is ceremony for harvest, ceremony after harvest, ceremonies to pray and call for rain, ceremony generally like annual festivals, depending on the time of the year, and we have different kinds of masquerades and those masquerades have their own time of celebration. A senior masquerade can organise for celebrations.
The issue of the crisis between herdsmen and farmers has reached an alarming dimension. As a citizen, are you really bothered?
One must be bothered. It depends on how and why this issue started. You see, politicians and some clergy men have distorted these crises and I don’t think they are helping the situation. A lot of them are just trying to use it, maybe to execute their personal agenda. If not, it is unnecessary. I have always advocated this fact; Fulani have been migrants and when I started work at an early stage in 1971, I started when it was local administration and I knew there are cattle routes because at that time, ordinary budget when we started, a template was normally sent from the Federal Ministry of Finance where our statisticians from the Ministry of Finance would go and bring development plans in which you were supposed to key in. We would send our five to ten years yearly development plans, budget, taking it from the templates; the one that is sent through the ministry. But today, you’ll discover that most local governments do not even have a development plan and they don’t keep to it; every chairman will come and will just think about what to do outside the budget and he will do it, and the (political) party will back him. That brings in corruption, you cannot monitor the budget. The legislators cannot sanction the chairman, even if he goes out of the budget to do anything. There was a time when I was a member of a committee in a local government, we discovered that the local government in this (Plateau) state, some of them have more than 70 personal assistants and they will collect salaries.
Another problem is that the traditional rulers do not domesticate their securities. You don’t have sufficient police in the towns and local governments. In the whole of Shendam, for instance, I don’t think they have more than 150 policemen. By domesticating them, you must allow your village heads, clan heads, to have a relationship with the people at that level. And if they are able to have that, they will now begin to know the issues that are creating this rift between them and herdsmen.
There are traditional means of settling this problem between farmers and herdsmen, because this problem has been there. If there are ways of settling this problem, why should it blow up to that extent? We tried to ensure that the relationship between the herders and us are cordial. Why has this problem suddenly almost got out of hand? It has been there in the past.
If you recall during the last administration (of Jonah Jang in Plateau State), the problems were there; the present administration (of governor Simon Lalong) came and tried to stabilise it for about two to three years; suddenly, it erupted again. And instead of the traditional rulers to take charge, you will discover that development associations are the people that have become the mouthpiece of the people.
If you look at the development associations and you go a little bit deep, how did they evolve? It is the politicians that put them together. And if it is the politicians that put them together, definitely you won’t blame them for singing their masters’ voice and becoming politicised.
Since you became king, do you still relate with your friends? Do they still have access to you?
I still have my childhood friends; I don’t always have time for visit when I’m in the village but when I’m in Jos, I sneak out and come to see them. We are in a very free atmosphere.
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