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I wish for more female traditional rulers – Calabar Village Head

Sixty-year-old Henrietta Efa Akpera is the village head of Akai Efa community in Calabar Municipality of Cross River State. Penultimate week, Governor Ben Ayade recognised…

Sixty-year-old Henrietta Efa Akpera is the village head of Akai Efa community in Calabar Municipality of Cross River State. Penultimate week, Governor Ben Ayade recognised her with a certificate after eight years of coronation. She spoke exclusively to Daily Trust on Sunday on her traditional role.


Who is HRH Henrietta Efa Akpera?

I am from the Efa Royal House in Calabar. I was born in Calabar and I am 60 years old. I have three biological and several other foster children. I attended Holy Child Convent School, Edgerly Memorial Girls Secondary School, all in Calabar. Later, I moved to Kano State where I attended School of Catering and Hotel Management, and obtained a HND. As a caterer, I have attended many professional courses.

You said you once lived in Kano State, can you speak the Hausa language?

Yes. But I am not very fluent.

Are your parents still alive?

No. Both are now late.

Do you have siblings?

Yes. We were five but we lost the youngest. We are three males, one female. I am the eldest, the Adiaha. Adiaha means first born daughter. And you know that the Efiks place high premium on their Adiaha.

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Tell us how you became a village head. Is it hereditary?

It is hereditary. There are six families in Aka Efa community. The kingship rotates amongst these families. It happened to be the turn of my own family.

Didn’t your family prefer your brothers to you?

As you may know, in Efik culture, we do not discriminate between female and male children. Both have equal rights. The Adiahas are well-valued in Efik culture. The family got together and said ‘Adiaha, you have to pick up the traditional mantle.’

Did you envisage this?

It’s something that was well known in the family that it can happen any day. So, I was expecting it. The community agreed that I should take over. There was no acrimony or power tussle at all.

Aside your family, is everybody else comfortable with you as a village head?

Everybody else is comfortable with me. You should have seen when the certificate was presented to me, how joyous everyone was.

When were you enthroned?

I was enthroned in 2015

But why didn’t the state government recognise you until now. Were there any problems?

As I have told you, the family had to screen and introduce me to the community first. The community too will do their screening and present me to the clan head. He will screen and present me to the paramount ruler who will forward it to the local government council. It is the LG Council that will formally present me to the state traditional rulers council for their own findings. After all these, they will recommend for state certification. The processes are really tedious.

Why the long screening process?

The intention of the long screening sessions was to determine whether there were any disagreements along the line. So, this is what accounted for the eight years delay. Besides, since assumption of power in 2015, this is the first time that the state governor, Prof Ben Ayade had time to attend to the traditional titles’ certification.

With the recognition by state government, does it mean that you could possibly become the Obong of Calabar one day?

Haba! No oo! I may only rise to become a clan head, if at all as we have never had a woman clan head.

How many villages make up a clan?

Ten to fifteen.

Are you the first woman village head in Calabar?

No. There was an elderly woman in Ikot Uduak when I was a little girl. I am actually the second. Mine may be seen as popular because the governor has signed my certificate. He even wanted to personally present it to me in my palace but later directed the chairman of state traditional rulers council to represent him.

How many men are in your traditional cabinet?

There are 13 men. There are two other women who are treasurer and financial secretary respectively. You know women are very good in the area of keeping money.

Do the men who are in majority oppose you, or feel a woman cannot take decisions for them?

They do not. I subject all matters to deliberation before arriving at decisions. We don’t have any problems. Sometimes, as a leader, I may raise my voice, but soon after the meeting, I do apologise in case anyone of them was angry. I am not bossy. I am not too big to apologise. I do apologise to my own children if I feel I wronged them.

Do you enjoy your position as village head?

Yes, I do. But the stress and inconvenience that come with it is too much. I do not switch off my phone. Sometimes midnight, I am called to settle issues.

Doesn’t the role tell on your health?

No. I am now used to the stress, so it has become part of my life. Mothers go through stress a lot. I am always up and about.

Do you wish that many more women become village head like you?

It has been my lifelong wish to have more women traditional rulers in the state. It is also my desire that women aspire to higher positions, not skewed to small corners. I give motivational talks to encourage young women too aspire. I caution my male colleagues to break traditional inhibitions against girl children.

How was crime situation in Aka Efa before now?

The crime rate was high. It was really tough. But God has used me to reduce it considerably. There’s pronounced peace. Ask anybody. My youths are very close to me. I dialogue frequently with them. They see me as their mother and I act likewise. Secondly, I do not work with thugs. I maintain very good rapport with state security agencies, which is the reason they work closely with me.

In the eight years of your reign, what has been your impacts and what have you achieved?

In over 100 years, there was no school. My people had to attend schools in neighbouring communities. But we had NDDC to intervene with a primary school. With block support from House of Reps member Eta Mbora, LGA chairman Donatus Etim and ministry of education, we also have a secondary school now. With supports from Dr Betta Edu, then director general of Primary Health-care agency; Dr Asibong Inyang, former Commissioner for health; and Sen. Gershom Bassey, we now have functional and equipped healthcare centre. I also approached former Chief judge of the state, Justice Michael Eden, and today, we have customary and magistrate courts. We also have a market near the town hall. This will soon be expanded.

Would you say it is by virtue of being a woman that these amenities came about?

Yes, indeed. May be a man would not quickly pay attention to the health centre and market. The health centre has helped to reduce the death rate amongst our pregnant women.

What’s the estimated population of Aka Efa?

We are over 8000.

Increasing urbanisation is affecting local customs and values. What can you say?

I am worried that our cultures and traditional practices are dying. Our children are not interested in them but rather in western lifestyles. This is why the Obong of Calabar has insisted that we, the elders, must retain them. For instance, we must conduct our traditional sessions in our local dialects. It seems people are not proud of their cultures. I weep. They say it is because of Christianity. But the Bible says ‘Give to Ceaser what belongs to him and to God what’s His.’  Maybe it’s because we no longer comply that’s why many things are happening in our societies.

Do you conduct your meetings with Efik language, and do you pour libation?

I do not pour libation as a woman. What is done is that when the bottle of drink is brought to me, as the leader, I will only touch it as a sign of approval. Then, the elder will sprinkle it three times, praying to the ancestors to stand by us.

We use Efik language to conduct our meeting. Except when we have matters that involve non-natives, it can be interpreted. My secretary records proceedings in Efik language. All these are so that we can sustain language.

Do you wear traditional attires at meetings?

As a rule, my cabinet members must appear in my meetings in traditional outfits. The men must tie the Usobo wrapper, while the women will wear our colourful Anyonyo dress that flows to the ankle complete with the headgear.

What’s your message to the incoming and outgoing governments?

They should emphasise on unity and security. They should de-emphasise party alliances. Succeeding government should consolidate on the projects of predecessor. Everybody should be carried along. The youths should be given opportunities, skills training and education. This way, it will allow peace to prevail and attract economic development.

What do you advocate as role for traditional rulers?

They should be well placed as advisors and consultants in matters pertaining to grassroots people. They know better. Government should place premium on their welfare and increase their stipends. Their roles should be well funded. State House of Assembly should enact a legislation in this regard. They should be consulted regularly, and meetings held with them.


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