By Ogaga Ifowodo
What does the storm fomented entirely out of a “born again” king’s tea cup tell us about our rulers, “spiritual” or “temporal?” By a proclamation, the Olu of Warri, Ogiamen Atuwatse II, sought to abrogate the ancestral title of Ogiamen on the ground that it implied worship of a false god, Umalokun the Itsekiri deity of the sea. It was an attempt to rewrite Itsekiri history and folklore according to the Pentateuch. Yet there had been no conflict between the personal beliefs of Itsekiri monarchs and the tenets of their monarchy, as he was promptly informed by his outraged “subjects.”
“I solemnly confess and testify that there is only One God,” the crusading king began his public confession of Christ as his Lord and personal saviour, seeking thereby to also make that confession on behalf of all Itsekiris, irrespective of their individual convictions. It happens, however, that he means the “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the fathers of Israel,” the “Creator of all people and things . . . all worlds and realms, kings, thrones, dominions, principalities, powers, seas and abyss.”
It matters little to me what religious dogma a person chooses to believe. After all, one goes to “heaven” or “hell”or simply rots alone. If one person believes in an almighty God that lives in the sky, a concept borne of the old belief in Sun-worship—incidentally, Moses borrowed the idea from sun-worshipping in Egypt, hence the never-ending battle to impose this God on the previously heathen and polytheistic Jews after the exodus —and another believes in an almighty power beneath the earth, the realm of dead-but-living ancestors, while yet another espouses no religious convictions, all should, so to speak, have their day under the sun. The problem arises when one dogma seeks to denigrate and dominate the other.
As in the shocking instance of the Olu’s inability to distinguish between his role as a ceremonial monarch and his personal quest for eternal life through a foreign religion.“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s,” Jesus enjoined his disciples. But in his frenzy, the zealous Olu gave no ear. Thus, no indication that he has ever thought about the proper relations between the spiritual and the secular, or heard of the doctrine of separation of state and religion. Consequently, he yearns to be priest, prophet and king; a potentate whose personal whims and caprices must be adopted by everyone.
He could not even say, like Joshua, to his people: “Choose you this day whom ye will serve . . . as for me and my house, we shall serve Jehovah, God of the fathers of Israel!” With no faith in his people’s history, ethical values, or metaphysical system, he deems them unworthy of his confidence. Hence, his troubling premise: that he was exercising his power “as a priest in the Order of Melchizedek” and using “the authority . . . name . . . and . . . power of the Blood of Jesus to destroy all ancient and new altars in Iwere(Warri) land not raised up to the Lord by the laws governing the new covenant of life in Christ.” A charitable response to this sort of Sunday school drivel might be that the Olu would rather be a miracle-peddling pentecostal pastor than a monarch. For then the miracle of transformation of the king of a riverine community in Africa into a priest of the tribe of Judah might be understandable. Even then, one might wonder why he professes Christianity, and not Judaism.
Still the question: Why did the Olu feel compelled to publicly renounce his history for that of another nation, to pledge his people to “the fathers of Israel?”A king, the pious Olu ought to know, symbolises the collective memory of his people, the “unbroken” connection of his people to their font of being and to humanity at large. I do not know what DNA tests convinced the Olu that he is not only a scion of Noah but, specifically, a son of Shem who was Melchizedek.
A part of me is shamed by the price of self-abnegation that His Royal Highness had to pay for this coveted identity. Yet there is holy precedent for it, and on the authority of Christ no less. The gospel of Mark at Chapter 7 tells the story of a gentile woman who beseeched Jesus to deliver her daughter of “an unclean spirit.” But “salvation is of the Jews”as a birthright, not for gentiles! “Let the children first be filled,for it is not meet to take the children’s bread,and to cast it unto the dogs,” said Jesus. And the distraught woman? “Yes,Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs.” Only then does Jesus relent and deliver her stricken daughter. “For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter,” said Jesus.