A Royal Visit: King Benjamin Ikenchuku Keagborekuzi visits UAlbany
Photo by Lauren Mineau Royal Majesty King Benjamin Ikenchuku Keagborekuzi with UAlbany student Kenneth Aduba.
By Kassie Parisi
His Royal Majesty King Benjamin Ikenchuku Keagborekuzi I recently came to New York on a diplomatic visit. King Ikenchuku is the Dein, or king, of Agbor, Nigeria. Agbor is a town in the Delta state of Nigeria. At thirty-six years old, King Ikenchuku is a young ruler in a country where, in his words, “children are to be seen and not heard.”
In between his trip to New York City and his visit to the College of Nanotechnology, King Ikenchuku set aside time to speak with the Albany Student Press about his visit, his experience as a ruler, and his role as not only a king, but as an educator.
ASP: How has your trip to New York been?
KING IKENCHUKU: This is the very first time I’ve been to the United States. Having grown up in England obviously, the English and the U.S have their peculiarities, so I’ve always wanted to come but I’ve never had the opportunity to visit. But I will say that the United States people have been very very hospitable. I’ve really had an incredible time.
ASP: And you met with Mayor Jennings?
KING IKENCHUKU: Yes, he actually welcomed me into the city for which I am very, very grateful. I am grateful that he has taken the time to make himself available. I was really quite shocked at that. He’s a wonderful man.
ASP: He’s a busy guy…he’s at the end of his term.
KING IKENCHUKU: That’s right. And you know, I’m very impressed at how much he has dedicated himself towards the education program. That was actually quite pleasant to find out.
ASP: Going off that, since you’ve been to a lot of places, what do you think the value of education is worldwide?
KING IKENCHUKU: I like learning. I like knowledge. As they say, “knowledge is power.” The more you educate yourself, the better it is for you, your family, and everybody around you. I think when you have something around you as negative as fear, all one needs to really understand and move past fear is education. If you fear something and educate yourself about it, it might not be as fearful to you anymore simply because now you have a better understanding of it. And that, once again, is given through education. So education for me is actually very key.
ASP: What’s it been like to be such a young leader among older people?
KING IKENCHUKU: I was crowned at the age of two and a half, so I didn’t have much say in the whole thing. I was entered into the Guinness World Record as the youngest crowned monarch at the time. Africa is a place where young people are to be seen, and not to be heard. But God has judiciously afforded me with the opportunity to be a young person who has to be heard. I see it as a responsibility, but I also see it as an opportunity. I think that more of our leaders around the world need to understand that to be a leader really is to be a servant and to give voice to people who might not have a voice. So it certainly has been challenging dealing with an older generation of people. In the West it’s not so problematic because in the West we are very used to passing the baton on to our younger generation. We actually encourage the younger generation, which is something I would like to see a bit more of happen in Africa, especially in Nigeria. I will say I’ve had a lot of encouragement from the former president of Nigeria, President Olusegun Obasanjo.
He was the one that made me a chancellor, one of the world’s youngest chancellors of the University of Ilorin. So yes it has been challenging, but at the same time, I have a lot of respect for my elders. Tradition sets that I am the oldest person in my kingdom, as I am the monarch, but I understand that I am young. I am thirty-six years old. I appreciate that I still have a lot to learn from my chief. I believe that both the young and old are there for a purpose. I believe we’re meant to embrace each other, and we’re meant to learn from each other. As I often say to my people, I will allow a five year old to talk in my meetings because as far as I’m concerned, I mean, the Bible does say, what is hidden from the wise and the prudent shall be revealed through the babes. So at the end of the day I think that everybody has their place in society, and everybody should be respected and listened to, regardless of their age.
ASP: Is there anything you’ve learned during your trip to the states that you might take back with you and use going forward?
KING IKENCHUKU: Certainly. Africa, we have still have some ways to go. Nigeria even more so because Nigeria is a leader in Africa. Nigeria is being looked up to, and we certainly need to get our act together and be the leaders that our population, our very large population actually, says that we are. Certainly there are some of things I will take form the U.S. Having grown up in England, I was in the U.K from the age of two, I basically grew up there, so for me, there has always been so much you can take back from the West, back to Africa. Even after Mayor Jennings has left office, I’d still very much like a relationship him and I’ve told my governor how very interested Mayor Jennings has been in the younger generation and in education and I think that is something that we could also take back and make sure that we express to the younger generation the importance of education and the importance of knowledge. So one of the things that I will take back from here is Mayor Jennings’ love for the younger generation and everything that he has tried to do, especially with this nanotechnology college that you have here. I do see that as being very prominent and something that is going to do very well for not just Albany but for the city overall.
ASP: What are some of the differences you’ve noticed with the University here and education system in Nigeria?
KING IKENCHUKU: Well, your funding is a huge positive. The University of Ilorin is the only university in Nigeria that does not take part in the strikes. Right now, the university system in Nigeria has been on strike for almost four to five months. The only losers in that are our younger generation, our kids. At the same time, one has to appreciate what the association of public universities are demanding, and at the end of the day what promise the federal government made to them. But I would still like to see the teachers and the professors remember that the universities are really there for the younger generation. They’re for the children. So I am very grateful to my vice chancellor and the staff and the people that help to make the University of Ilorin run. I am very grateful to them and that they have decided, despite everything that is going on in the country, to continue to give this education to the younger generation and not partake in the strike. So that has been very important to me. By God’s grace, president Obasanjo gave me the chancellorship of one of the best universities in the country, and I’m really quite grateful for that.
ASP: Well I think that’s pretty much it for us.
KING IKENCHUKU: Ask anything you wish to ask. I always tell people to ask any question they want. I’m not a politician so I have nothing gain your votes for. All I can do is tell you the truth the way I see it.
ASP: Well, our campus is pretty big, so you should be ready to walk around.
KING IKENCHUKU: That’s fine. I look forward to it.
ASP: It’s good that it’s nice out, because we heard it was raining when you went to New York City.
KING IKENCHUKU: Yes it was, very heavily, so I didn’t get to go around so much, so I had my fingers crossed that it wouldn’t rain today. And it’s lovely out!
ASP: I had one question. It’s regarding technology. It’s all over. How do you plan to use or have you implemented technology for young people and education?
KING IKENCHUKU: Well, one of my sons, by the name of Jim Ovia created one of the most successful banks in West Africa. Zenith Bank of Nigeria. And a few years ago he retired form being the chairman of the bank. One of the things he had been extremely interested in was the Internet, to bring more technology to the younger generation around the country. Nigeria is quite large. We have a huge population of well over one hundred and fifty million people. A lot of that population of course is in the rural areas, so it can be a challenge, especially as we have not quite gotten it right where it concerns power generation. We do not have electricity around the country. For example, myself, we have two generators in the palace. One is for during the day, and one is for nighttime. I’m spending and excessive almost thirty thousand pounds a year, just to keep light. There is nobody in the country that is going to be able to afford that. It is quite ridiculous. But thankfully, our current president, Mr. Goodluck Jonathan, is doing as much as he can to try and move that forward. My state governor, Governor Uduadghan is trying to use independent power supplies to try to produce electricity within the state, so, certainly, access to the Internet will be improved when we can improve the power supply within the country. We don’t quite have Broadband yet. They say that it is Broadband but the speed is certainly not the way I understand Broadband. But we’re getting there. We’ll get there slowly, but surely.
ASP: And you think that access to the Internet will facilitate the educational process?
KING IKENCHUKU: It isn’t even a matter of thinking it. That’s just the case. We will certainly move forward by leaps and bounds. But obviously, the first thing we need to do is provide this electricity and make sure that the electricity gets through to the rural areas. You can only imagine a child who has never had the opportunity to read books and to gain knowledge and many other things in that direction, if you were suddenly faced with a small computer, if you were able to get on there and ask any question you want…children are inquisitive. It is their nature. So certainly once the ability is there to learn, most children will jump at it. So certainly once we get the power provision and Internet is made widely available. Hopefully Mr. Ovia will continue to help. He has recently created a secondary school in the kingdom, which has taken off. I am very sure that, because he is so interested in the Internet and so interested in technology that he will certainly want to make sure that the school is provided with Internet facilities, and he actually, a few years ago created an Internet structure. So Jim Ovia really is trying, and I know that I know about the college of nanotechnology, as an investor in that particular area, I would certainly want Jim Ovia to come to Albany, New York, and visit the nanotechnology university and see what we might be able to do in the way of partnership and see what we can do in the kingdom.