I took my destiny in my hands- King (Prof.) T.J. T. Princewill, Amayanabo of Kalabari

I took my destiny in my hands- King (Prof.) T.J. T. Princewill, Amayanabo of Kalabari

King (Prof) T.J.T. Princewill, CFR, JP, Amachree XI, Amanyanabo of Kalabari Kingdom  fielded questions in this interview with Daerefa-a Braide, the ed

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King (Prof) T.J.T. Princewill, CFR, JP, Amachree XI, Amanyanabo of Kalabari Kingdom  fielded questions in this interview with Daerefa-a Braide, the editor of Today’s TOPNEWS, a Port Harcourt based tabloid about his early life, education, work life and kingship.  

His Serene Majesty King (prof) T.J.T. Princewill, Amayanabo of Kalabari

 In his introduction to the interview,  the publisher of Today’s TOPNEWS, Sir Ngo Martyns-Yellowe wrote that: “I took my destiny in my hands” was the graphic narration of King (Prof.) T. J. T. Princewill CFR, JP, Amachree XI, Amanyanabo of Kalabari Kingdom, in describing his experience during his student days in the United Kingdom when he was faced with the challenge of deciding to return home with a lower level professional qualification or to stay back and utilize the opportunity to acquire university degrees to the doctorate level.

“A university don turned highly revered traditional ruler, King (Prof.) T J. T. Princewill is a delight to talk to; his interviewer is kept at ease by his enthusiasm to take and answer questions. The professor of microbiology retired from the University of Port Harcourt in 1990 where he had also served as Dean of Students Affairs. On retirement from Uniport, he negotiated with the University Management to spend part of his accumulated sabbatical leave at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, now Rivers State University, after which he took up contract appointment with the RSU in 1992 until he ascended the throne on 23rd March, 2002.

“The interview gathered that just before his retirement from the University of Port Harcourt, he had a shot at the Vice-Chancellorship of the institution when he was among five professors invited for interview by the University Council, out of which he was the best, but never got the job. The rest, according to him, is history.

“Probing for how he became confined to wheel chair, the 88-year old monarch of the Kalabari Kingdom, who demonstrated tremendous mental alertness had this to say: “I had a back and waist pain that made me have difficulty in walking. I was then referred to a hospital in India for a lumbar surgery in 2014. After the surgery I became lame, hence the wheel chair aid.

“King Princewill has an only son, Prince Engr. Tonye Princewill, a leading politician in Nigeria, currently of the All Progressives Congress (APC) stock and former gubernatorial candidate in the 2015 general elections in Rivers State on the platform of the Labour Party”.

 Excerpts of the interview that was first published in Today’s TOPNEWS:

King (Prof) T.J.T. Princewill, Amayanabo of Kalabari

Your Majesty, kindly take us through your early life.

I was born on January 4, 1930 in Buguma. I was a little boy when my father became the King in 1932. I went to Baptist School, Buguma in 1935. In those days the classes we were attending were infant primary la, lb, class 2 and class 3. I stopped school in 1936 due to some family problem, but later continued in 1939 in class lb, I passed to class 2 in 1940. After my first term in class 3 in 1941, the school abolished class 3 which was then called the infant primary and so those of us in class 3 were all transferred to standard one. Those days the senior primary was called standards.

In my standard two in 1942, I was playing outside the school, doing wrestling and I broke my collar bone and spent a term at Bukuma town for treatment after which I came back and continued my standard two in the same year 1942. I finished my standard six in 1946 and I got admitted at the Kalabari National College, KNC, Buguma in 1947. At the end of my first year in 1947 I did very well and got double promotions from class one to class three (1948).

Justice Chukwudifu Oputa

The Kalabari National College was originally brought by the Baptist people but at that time, the Kalabari people were united to take it over from them. The Kalabari National College was the reason most of us went to school. Our teachers were drawn from all over the country, including foreigners. For instance, the Late Justice Chukwudifu Oputa of the Supreme Court fame was principal of KNC when I started class one. At that time, he was doing postal tuition to get his inter-BA and later BA, and then he left and one Nwosu, another Igbo man took over and after him Mr. D. D. Tom George came on board.

In class Four, I did the Junior Oversea School examination (Junior Cambridge University Oversea Examination) in 1949 and passed, so I continued till I finished class six.

After your class six, did you further your studies or you simply took up a job?

After my class six, I went to work. What happened was that I was unfortunate not to have passed the school certificate examination. Those days it was stringent. What happened to me was that I had a “F ” in English, I offered nine subjects: 1 got credits in seven of them but got “F” in two -English and History, so I failed.

And moreover, by the time we were in class five, government introduced another exam called the “Civil Service Entrance Examination” you had to pass that exam to get a job in the Civil Service, but unfortunately I did not know it was important, we were thinking if you had a school certificate, that was it.

When I finished class six, I went to Jos, where my sister’s husband was working in the National Veterinary Research Institute, Vom, to look for a job but I was handicapped because I did not pass the exam, but somehow, I managed to get a job in the Department of Veterinary Research where I worked in the laboratory as a Laboratory Attendant in 1952, that was where I developed interest in science. I was subsequently upgraded to Temporary Technical Assistant, following a Federal Circular which allowed those who were yet to get their school certificate and Civil Service Entrance Examination to be employed as Temporary Technical Assistant until they passed the exams. I was in this category and so after a year as Laboratory Attendant, I was converted to Temporary Technical Assistant which enabled me to earn the standard salary. From there, I passed the exam at a second attempt and subsequently got the opportunity to apply to be a student in the veterinary school in Vom.

At some point, while at the Veterinary School, Vom, we were being sent to Ibadan to go and get oriented to medical science. We later passed the intermediate examination of the Institute of Medical Laboratory Technology, Britain, after which I was among those given scholarship to go and do the finals in Britain and that was how I became interested in higher studies.

The scholarship was for three years but in two years I was able to get the Membership Certificate in Microbiology at the Bromley Polytechnic, Kent. I later decided to spend the remaining one year to do a second subject in parasitology at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. But during the programme, Vom recalled me without allowing me to finish, so I returned home with the Associate Membership of the Institute of Medical Laboratory Technology in 1961.

King (Prof) T.J.T. Princewill, Amayanabo of Kalabari

When I got back to Vom, I headed a section in Bacteriology Division. I was in charge of one vaccine production called BQV (Black Quarter Vaccine) Black Quarter is a disease in cattle caused by a bacterium called Clostridium and species we were handling for that was Clostridium chauvoei.

I did a study and published a paper in a British Scientific Journal of Tropical Medicine. The article was titled ‘Effect of Calcium Chloride on the Germination and Pathogenesity of Clostridium chauvoei”.  This publication more or less made me an authority.

I later got a non-degree laboratory studies scholarship to study in Leeds where I met a world-renowned professor in Laboratory studies, Prof. C. L. Oakley who took interest in me and gave me some of his specimens he did in the laboratory for me to analyze; at that time, he had also given me some books to read. I analyzed all his specimens and placed value on them and when he compared them with his results, they all matched.

Consequently, he queried why I did not do a degree at once and I told him I had not got an opportunity, he asked if my department at Vom would allow me if he asked me to do a degree, I replied that if I wrote they might not allow me but that if he wrote they might.

But up till the time I left Leeds, Vom did not reply to his letter. So, when he did not hear from them, he asked me if he gave me the opportunity, could I support myself? And I told him that I would confer with my wife. Then I went home and conferred with my wife and both of us decided that I should take the opportunity and further my studies.

At that point, I took my destiny into my hands and stayed back. I finished my research and published my thesis after which I became a Fellow of the Institute of Medical Laboratory Technology, now British Institute of Medical Science.

Prince Tonye Princewill and his father

Meanwhile, back home in Vom, my employers wanted me to return but because of my insistence to remain abroad, my salary was stopped. I therefore arranged with my wife, Tonye’s mother, to get a job, while I would also get evening jobs to do to pay my fees and manage the home. That enabled me to do the first degree in Microbiology at the University of Leeds.

Professor Oakly later encourage me to do the second and third degrees. That was how I became a PhD holder in Microbiology.

During my PhD studies, I applied for a lecturing job at the University of Leeds and got the job among several applicants, so I combined my work and studies.

But before I could round up my studies, I lost my mother-in-law and my wife and I decided that we would relocate back to Nigeria after my studies to handle family matters.

On getting back to Vom, I was made a research officer above my former designation of laboratory technologist. That time, a Yoruba man who was the Deputy Director talked me into applying for the position of a Director, following a vacancy that occurred with the resignation of the former Director, so I applied. He was thinking they would not call me for the interview at Ibadan, but when they did, he refused giving me a warrant to go, unknown to me that he too applied. I insisted and he gave me the warrant but without my allowance.

I got to Ibadan and met so many others across the country, but surprisingly, he did not come to Ibadan for the interview but rather went straight to Lagos, the Permanent Secretary there was his classmate and friend, so with that connection, he got the job while we were waiting for it at Ibadan.

As he became the Director, I became his target. And there was a promotion coming, we all got ready but in the presence of everybody, including the external supervisors, he said he would not interview me.

That incident got me angry, but I was lucky because one of the external supervisors from outside the department was a Kalabari man from Bakana, his name was Victor Braide, a Veterinarian and Director of NITA (Nigeria Institute for Trypanosomiasis Research), he (Braide) told him that if he refused to interview me that he would take me over to his department and truly he did that and gave me the same position in his department.

But while reshuffling Directors, the Yoruba man was now posted to NITA and transferred Victor Braide to another place, so when he got to where I was, he started his problems again so I left and transferred my services to the University of Port Harcourt as a senior lecturer in the Department of Microbiology and shortly with my experience, I became Head of Department (HOD), then called Director of Studies. From there I was appointed Dean of Students Affairs from where I rose to a Professor after being a Reader (Associate Professor) for two years.

I was both a regular member of Senate as well as council, the two highest organs of the institution. I was also Dean of the School of Graduate Studies at the University of Port Harcourt when Prof. S. J. S. Cookey retired as Vice- Chancellor and I am proud to say that I applied for the position of VC and was among the final five that were invited for interview by the University Council. I was first of the lot at the interview but was not given the job. The rest is history.

Failure to clinch the job of VC and subsequent events that played out, made me to retire from the University of Port Harcourt, but not before I had negotiated to do my accumulated sabbatical leave at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUT) now Rivers State University (RSU). It was from this appointment at RSU that I got the position of King and had to return home to serve my people.

Amayanabo of Kalabari Kingdom, King T.J.T. Princewill

How long have you been on the throne now?

About 16 years now I was crowned in March 2002.

What are the processes preceding the appointment and installation of a new King?

Someone could be appointed a regent from anywhere, but that has changed now, the person should belong to the Amachree family line and the king makers are from the Abbi family. The Kingmaker will choose the king by selection and election and the new king to be so elected should already be a chief in the Amachree family line. I ascended to the stool of my grandfather Abbiye-Ogo in 1990 but the process started in 1988.

 What about the alleged case in court challenging your kingdom?

Yes, the case has been in court, we are now at the Supreme Court. There will always be cases in court on chieftain matters.

 What difference have you noted in your life as a university don and your life as a King?

The academic experience broadens your mind to see reasons in any situation. Life is more structured. Life is more structured as an academician and your engagements are often guided and pre-determined. But the situation is not the same as the King of my people, while some engagements are scheduled, many are not. While as a Don, you can decide on who to see or associate with, it is hardly so as a traditional ruler. A woman can come in to the palace to complain that her husband beat her up and in such a case, you instantly turn the palace into a court to hear the case. As a university Don, life was more peaceful and quiet while in the palace there are frequent movements in and out of the palace. In effect, the palace is at the same time a court, settling disputes or dispensing justice and attending to several other routine chores, such as holding meetings and receiving guests.

Amayanabo of Kalabaro

What is your typical day like as the Amanyanabo of Kalabari?

I wake up at 5am; do my prayers; toilet; take my breakfast at 7am; have my quiet moment (like siesta but this is no longer possible due to the heavy human traffic in and out of the palace even at odd times.

We used to know you to stand on your feet very strong. How did you get on wheel chair?

I had a back and waist pain that made me have difficulty in walking. I was then referred to a hospital in India for a lumbar surgery in 2014. After the surgery, I became lame, hence the wheel chair.

When were you chairman of Rivers State Traditional Rulers Council? And how long was your tenure? How many traditional rulers were in the council during your tenure and how many were they in the various categories of 1st, 2nd and 3rd class?

My appointment as chairman of the council was announced by the then Governor of Rivers State, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, on Friday 1st January, 2010 and I took over from His Eminence, Sir (Dr.) Chukwumela Nnam Obi II, OON, JP, Oba (Eze Ogba) of Ogbaland. My tenure ended on May 28, 2012 and I handed over to King G. N. K. Giniwa, JP, OFR, Gbenemene of Tai Kingdom. During my tenure, we had 16 First Class, 12 Second Class and 12 Third Class Chiefs in the council.

Do you have any biological relationship with Abonnema?

Yes. My late mother was from Abonnema, she was by name Queen Jiba J.T. Princewill. She was the daughter of late Chief Tom Don Pedro, one of the founding fathers of the community. His other brother was Chief Charles Granville. Another one is now at Bakana, where Chief Bealnut Don Pedro migrated to reside. Their father, Don Pedro was also known as Chief Amabibi. This is also my connection to Bakana.

How many children do you have?

I have an only son, Tonye. He is an Engineer but now a big-time politician. He has given me three grandchildren also have several nieces and nephew whom I am responsible for.

Prince Tonye Princewill and his father, the Amayanabo of Kalabari

Not too long ago, there was controversy about the role you played or did not play during the chieftaincy crisis in Abonnema. You were alleged, in certain quarters, to have taken sides with the “aggrieved” chiefs against the Amayanabo of Abonnema. Your Majesty, what is your reaction this allegation?

In the first place, a mediator cannot be party to any side to a controversy. In fact, both the Amayanabo of  Abonnema, my brother Disrael Gbobo Bob-Manuel and the other group of chiefs had at different times, paid courtesy visits to me in my palace on the conflict between them.

The Amayanabo of Abonnema, HRM Disrael Bob-Manuel

Apart from the fact that the crisis was happening in a sister community Abonnema and in my domain, it was not out of place for me to mediate for peace. Besides I am also an Abonnema son through my mother, the late Queen Jiba J.T. Princewill. She was the daughter of late Chief Tom Don Pedro, one of the founding fathers of the community.

High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs

Some people misunderstood me and also misconstrued the situation and it was for this reason that I decided to suspend my mediator role at the moment.#