A Revered Traditional Ruler And Rotary District Governor
His Royal Majesty Noble Eshemitan, the Ovie of Oghara kingdom, Delta State, is said to be the first monarch ever to be made Rotary District Governor. In January 2013, he was presented staff of office by the then Delta State Governor, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan as traditional ruler of Oghara kingdom and a year after, July 2014 precisely, he became the Rotary International District 9140 Governor. In this interview with CHIDO OKAFOR, the monarch spoke on several issues including the daunting task of running both unique institutions simultaneously.
Could you give us an insight into Rotary International and what they do in Nigeria?
Rotary is an international humanitarian organization which was formed by a lawyer called Paul Harris about 110 years ago in Chicago, the United States of America. He and other four persons started this movement in 1905. The organization has grown to become the foremost biggest service organization. Currently, there are about 1.2 million Rotarians across the world. Rotary International consists of about 35,000 Rotary Clubs in about 200 countries around the world. They are spread in Asia, Europe, South and North America and Africa. In all the continents of the world we now have Rotary Clubs and by extension, Rotary International.
Is it true that one must be wealthy to be a Rotarian?
It is not correct that you must be wealthy. In fact, you don’t need to be wealthy to be able to join Rotary. But one thing: you must have a source of income. You must be a businessperson or a worker before you can join Rotary. Rotary as you see, is out to contribute to society; you do not give what you don’t have because to contribute to society, it is necessary you have a source of income. But you don’t need to have so much or too much before you start giving, the spirit of giving must be in you.
The financial status and requirement of Rotarians varies from locality to locality. In places where income is not large, you are expected to pay annual dues that are low but able to meet the Rotary Club’s local financial obligations and then Rotary International in terms of dues. But it is most appropriate and better if the cream or top members of society are members of Rotary Clubs because you need to have to be able to give. I was at the Rotary International Convention about four weeks ago at Sao Paulo, Brazil where, during a plenary session at the convention, the former president of Costa Rica, Dr. Arias, said why we have problem in society is because many people do not know they have to provide for the needy and live a decent, corrupt-free way of life.
Why did you join Rotary?
I joined Rotary club of Effurun in 1993 and before I joined, I had a little knowledge about Rotarians although I used to see Rotarians as influential people in society. I know they are involved in humanitarian service. A friend invited me to Rotary Club of Effurun, and then they were holding their meeting in Mid-West Inn, Effurun-Warri. When I went to the meeting for the first time, I saw people who cut across all strata of society: engineers, lawyers, businessmen, bankers, and I was excited meeting them. I shared the fellowship and there were so many funny jokes they said. I repeated the visit, and in one of the visits, I found out they were trying to donate a bus to an orphanage in Enerhen, Warri which was built by the Rotary Club of Warri. I took time to follow the club members to the orphanage when the bus was being presented. At that stage I received a rebirth in spirit when I saw the smiles on the faces of people of the orphanage; they were singing and thanking Rotary for the bus donated. They said that now that the bus has come, they will no longer struggle to get transport to hospital or take the inmates to school. There it dawned on me that I am in a good organization where you have this personal fulfillment for being part of service to humanity.
You are on your way out as District Governor. How has the journey been so far?
Yes, when I look back, I see times of successes and times of challenges. There were certain things I thought I could do, for example, raising about $500,000 to support Rotary Foundation. I was only able to raise a little less than $400,000. The Rotary Foundation is the source of the huge sums of money Rotarians get to do all the good work to humanity around the world. Why I said it was challenging is this: the economy of Nigeria and my district have gone down and there is less money to do work. I was able to increase membership (get more members to join Rotary clubs) to about 200 which was impressive when compared to the previous year that got only 11 new members. This is significant because doing good work in the world requires getting more hands on deck to do the work. One of the main challenges we always see in Rotary club is ability to get more Rotarians.
As a further way to increase Rotary membership, I was able to lead the district currently consisting of 114 Rotary Clubs in the south-south and south-east of Nigeria to the situation where we are dividing it into two; what you call redistricting. This is a major achievement in my year. Dividing the district into two is to ensure we have two district governors. I have already carried the constitutional procedure and have selected two district governors for the 11 states. The beauty of dividing into two means governors will not have to be travelling long distances, for example from Auchi to Calabar to do supervision work, or travel from Auchi to Abakaliki, it’s a far distance. The consequence of the redistricting will now have seven states on one side and four states on another. This takes effect in 2017. We will now have Edo, Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers states in one district, then the five Eastern states of Ebonyi, Anambra, Enugu, Imo, and Abia plus Cross River and Akwa Ibom will now be another district. This has been approved by Rotary International. So right now, I have already selected two governors that will assume office by 2017/2018.
You are said to be the first traditional ruler in Africa to be a Rotary District Governor. How have you been able to combine the two unique positions?
Yes, you are quite right to say I’m the first traditional ruler in Africa to be made Rotary District Governor. In fact, the records are there that I happen to be the first traditional ruler to be district governor in the world because we have not heard of or seen any record where we had district governor of Rotary who is a traditional ruler. So it could be I’m the first. It was quite challenging after being nominated a district governor for the year 2014 -2015. It became clear that my people also selected, nominated and installed me as their traditional ruler because of my good records. When the news of my installation as monarch started filtering in, Rotary people in Nigeria, especially in my district, were worried because they were wondering how I could do the work of a traditional ruler and that of a district governor. They felt in their mind that a traditional ruler is that person in high position of reverence, how can such a person in such revered position descend to serve humanity and become a server? That was their fear. But before I became a monarch I had become a Rotarian and I had given service to humanity as part of my passion to life.
There is this ‘Rotary molded my life forever’ mantra. Can you shed more light on it?
When I say ‘Rotary molded my life forever’, it is a fundamental truth. Before I joined, I was not immediately open doing things with integrity. When I joined rotary I saw the four-way test of Rotary –the four way test of saying and doing things. Is it the truth, is it fair to all, will it build goodwill and better friendship, and will it be beneficial to all concerned? These are the tenets of Rotary. If you imbibe these tenets, they will change your life for good. I have been dealing with everybody with these tenets of Rotary and I begin to see that it has worked for me. Another aspect is this, when I give to Rotary and look backward to see what I have benefitted from Rotary; I think I will remain grateful to Rotary. I’m a chartered accountant and also an hotelier. When I wanted to open my hotel in 1995, I looked around my friends to see who would help cut the tape and open the place. The person who cut the tape was the Base Manager of TOPCON (Texaco Overseas Petroleum Corporation of Nigeria) but now TOPCON has been bought over by Chevron. But that man, after opening the hotel, told my manager ‘come and meet me in my office’. Unknown to me, he asked my manger to apply to the company so that my hotel can be used. Just like that, TOPCON started using me. But that is not the real magic; when TOPCON was bought over by Chevron it also took my hotel along as one of the hotels they were using.
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