•How we can all live peacefully in Warri
•Things I can no longer do as Warri monarch
•Turning point in my life
•Strangest thing that has occurred to me
•Speaks on Delta Sea ports, Fulani Herdsmen and Buhari’s govt
By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, Egufe Yafugborhi (Warri) & Brisibe Perez (Ughelli)
You reportedly waited 28years to ascend this throne, how was the wait?
I do not know why the press would want to use that word, I keep telling people that you cannot aspire to be Olu of Warri because there are processes and procedures before you dream of becoming Olu of Warri. You would observe that the Olu does not die. The day the calabash is broken is same day a new Olu emerges or announced. That tells you it is a continuous process. Unlike Benin where you have the Heir Apparent known from birth, in Itsekiri you cannot determine who would be the next Olu until the translation of an Olu.
As soon as the Olu go to meet with the ancestors, that is when the work starts for the royal family members. They sit among themselves and decide on the throne. At the end of the day, the chiefs write to them to present three candidates for them to choose. They address the letter to the head of the royal family, in my case, the Emikos. They gather among themselves. The children of the transmuted Olu do not participate in such meeting.
There is an edict dictating how a new Olu should emerge in Itsekiri land. The edict spells out all the procedures. One, the children of a metamorphosed Olu must have an Itsekiri mother or an Edo mother. In my own case, my late senior brother had no Itsekiri or Edo wife. The wife is from Abeokuta or so and that ruled out all his children first. Most people do not understand this.
If the Olu does not have any child that qualifies, the lot now falls on his brothers. That is why they nominated someone like me in the first place, so if the Olu had a male child from an Itsekiri or Edo wife, my case would not come out at all. When the Olu leaves to meet his ancestors, the first choice of successor is his children.
Therefore, as his brother, I did not aspire to be Olu and did not actually wait for 28years. Maybe by providence, God just said let me be here, otherwise I did not aspire for it and that is the truth.
Now that you are the Olu, what is your mission for the Itsekiri nation?
First, I give God the glory for being the Olu today. I thank my brothers, family members and royal leaders, who nominated me. I also thank the chiefs that worked tirelessly for my installation and the Itsekiri kingdom, which accepted me as their Olu.
We are a peculiar people in this state. Not that many, we are from the three Warri local government areas. That is where the Itsekiri man comes from. Originally, we had one council area that we claim to be our own, but today, government had split it into three and we have Urhobos and Ijaws, who are part of our local council areas and they are all part of us too.
My first mission is to make sure all the communities in my kingdom are living in peace, unity and love among my people. I want to take that further by extending the olive branch to all my neighbours, be they Ijaws or Urhobos, who are our immediate neighbours. I want to make sure we all see ourselves as one people from same tree.
I see an Ijaw man as my brother from another mother, same with an Urhobo man and that is how it should be because we all are inter-related. Most Itsekiris have Urhobo connection, it also applies to the Ijaws. When we see ourselves as one, we can love ourselves and live in peace and there will be unity. When these three blend, development will come.
Niger Delta Ports
Today, a team from the Nigeria Ports Authority paid me courtesy call. One of the things I told them was about the Warri port, which is not working. Back in the days, it used to be a major source of employment for youths in the area and there was nothing like restiveness then. Meanwhile, Lagos ports are overflowing with some ships berthing for a whole month before they are free to offload cargoes. It is like there is a calculated attempt to frustrate the Delta ports from working so that nothing happens here apart from oil tankers used by NNPC. It is the same at Koko port while they have converted Sapele port to the Naval Base.
If we were not a minority, such would not happen but it is never too late. We are appealing to those concerned including the Minister for Transport, Rotimi Amaechi and President Muhammadu Buhari, who has come with a good programme to revive Nigeria, to engage our youths and create job opportunities for them.
My immediate mission
Therefore, my immediate mission is for us to live in harmony among ourselves and with our neighbours so that progress and development would come. When that happens, everyone will be happy because once you engage people; it will reduce youth restiveness to the barest minimum.
Beyond the immediate three Warri councils, which is the nucleus of your kingdom, the Itsekiri community in Edo seems to be distinct even with leadership stakes from the others outside your immediate kingdom, how well do you relate with them?
In fact, they just left here this morning. Apart from these three Warri council areas, we have Itsekiris elsewhere. In Uvwie here, Ugbolokposo is an Itsekiri community. We preach to all of them to live in peace in their environments. The oil Edo state boasts of are all in Itsekiri communities. From Ologbo to Otumara, Kolokolo and others, they all have oil. It is one thing God has blessed Itsekiri with; there is hardly an Itsekiri community without oil.
How specifically do you want to forge relations with the Ijaws, who appear to be the most difficult neighbours Itsekiri have?
You do not build bridges of peace overnight. It is something you must harness and have to grow. Being in conflict with the Ijaws is the most unfortunate thing to have happened to the Itsekiris, because they are supposed to be our closest neighbours, with whom we have inter-married the most.
My father of blessed memory, Erejuwa II, his mother is from Escravos. The five prominent Itsekiri royal families today their mother is Ijaw. Most of the problems we have with our Ijaw neighbours are more political because an Ijaw man, who knows how the relationship has built up over the years, would not attack an Itsekiri man on whatever ground.
Look at the Nigerian Maritime University that is causing problem for my own brother, Tompolo, the land in question belongs to Omadino, but somehow, they did the negotiation with Tompolo. Most of the oil wells in those areas today; Itsekiris would have two/third while Ijaws would have one/third and this is by a Supreme Court judgment. We have been eating and living together for years, but we, Itsekiri, are not aggressive. We believe in the rule of law.
Rather than carrying guns, we go to court. I am preaching the gospel to my people that there is no reason for us to be fighting ourselves as God has brought us to live together. The earlier we understand that, the better for us. Thank God, they too are preaching peace to their people.
Following accusations against Tompolo on the recent pipeline explosion, some Itsekiris stood up saying no, Tompolo was not responsible for the explosion, which is how it is supposed to be. When President Goodluck convened a national conference, there were many Ijaws there without a single Itsekiri man nominated. Chief Tunde Smooth, an Ijaw, was the first person that wrote in the papers that it was wrong for an Itsekiri man not to be there before we later got a nomination for Chief Isaac Jemide at the conference. That is the spirit. The Ijaw man should fight for an Itsekiri man and an Itsekiri man should do likewise. The same thing should apply to an Urhobo man and this would in turn make us a strong body defending each other.
That is what I expect. It is important we tell our people that it is not necessary to fight. Recently some Ijaws visited me and I encouraged them that this is how it should be. We must work together as one body. We should table our conflict and settle it through dialogue. Let us start with dialogue, I have been visiting our neighbours; I have gone to see the king of Uvwie, the Orodje of Okpe. The first visit after my coronation was to the Olomu king. I went there with all my chiefs and the man was so happy. He is the oldest Urhobo king today and I still have plans to go and visit more of them to preach peace.
For those familiar with history of the Niger Delta, Itsekiris are not weak. Many Itsekiris have made impact historically. Chief Nana is there in Koko, Chief Dore Numa leased all these places out to the white man, we were dealing with the white man before Nigeria was created and we were at ambassadorial level with Portugal, so we are not a new kingdom but Nigeria has brought all of us together which is acceptable to us. I believe we can live in peace without war and become greater and everybody would be happier for it.
Before this time, you maintained a low profile in the Itsekiri nation, people knew you as an activist too, fighting the cause of the Itsekiri nation. As head of the Itsekiri chapter of HOSTCOM, you even took DESOPADEC to court for using the monies meant for growth of the Itsekiri nation to develop police barracks and all that. On the throne now, is the activism going to continue?
By God’s grace, that Itsekiri activism is still in me but on a higher and mature level. I was behaving maturely then though. I would not want to see my people unnecessarily shortchanged by anybody or group of persons or even government, so largely, I still believe the activism is there. However, as a father now, there are certain things I cannot overtly do. Rather than come out and display activism as you think I would rather talk to my chiefs and call my subjects, make them carry the banner and fight the anomaly while I am still patriotic and active to the cause of my people.
Growing up, we learned your father taught and prepared you for the role that you are playing today, how did you grow up?
My brothers and I passed through same upbringing, having been born here in the palace. We all went through same orientation. Only that as the third son of my father, largely, I was involved in most things he did traditionally as I was either carrying his sword or blowing his trumpet. To that extent, I learned some of these things as I was always around when they came to them traditionally. When he went to appease the sea goddess, to the shrine at Ode Itsekiri, I was present. As sword bearer or trumpet blower, I was closer to him. He did not single me out specifically for any grooming as an Olu to be.
On the day of your installation, it was tense for strangers and even your subjects waiting to see how you would pick your title sword. Anxiety was high if you would pick a new sword signposting a new title or an existing one, were you as tensed as your subjects were?
Really, anxiety gripped me, but I prayed, as that was the climax of everything because Itsekiris do not accept staff of office. Our staff is the title sword you pick. They label them after past Olus but they always add a blank one that is unnamed. That is why I am answering my name today. They blindfolded me and held my hands as they guided me to the spot.
I prayed, God let me pick the sword that would bring glory to your name. My hand landed on one, which was the unlabelled sword. When you pick an unlabelled one, they give you liberty to choose your title name and that was how I choose my name, Ikenwoli.
My plan for Ode-Itsekiri, Itsekiri ancestral home, aka ‘City of Itsekiri’s Olu’
What would you regard as the turning point in your life?
My installation as the Olu of Warri even though I was not aspiring to be, God has placed it on me to be what I am today. It is a turning point because many things have changed. Everybody wants to see you. People come with so many problems and expect you to have a magic wand in solving them all. It is a new outlook to life but I believe with God on my side and my people, by His Grace, we would be able to do our best.
Dethronement Of My Father
What would then be the strangest, perhaps weirdest thing that has happened to you in life?
Unforgettably, when they dethroned my father in 1964, I was so young, in Primary 2 or thereabout but I was knowledgeable to know what was happening more because of the weighty impact. That time, the palace was not as big as it is today. Suddenly we saw police officers surrounded the whole place and took my father away for political reasons. That is why they say traditional rulers must not be actively involved in partisan politics.
My father was not the only one affected. There were many of them but my father’s case was peculiar because he was an active Action Group member and the coalition government at the center then was the Northern People’s Congress and NCNC. NCNC was more dominant and advocated stringently for creation of the Mid-Western region, which my father objected seriously to because he felt we were better off with the Western region, being a close associate of the political sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and there was no doubt about that.
Just like when they were going to create Delta State, Itsekiri said no, because when you know you are living among people who do not like you, even though we are doing everything to forget the bitter hatred, you tread and make decisions carefully. Incidentally, with NPC and NCNC at the center, we found ourselves in the Mid-Western region. They removed my father from here and took him to Ogbese in Edo State, behind Okada.
I still picture the entire thing as am sitting here. They stopped his salary; it was a bizarre experience for two years. After sometime when the whole thing turned around, the army came and killed many people, killed Okotie-Eboh and many of them. Suddenly again, we were there at Ogbese when two truckload of soldiers came fully kitted with my late uncle, Dr. George Emiko, saying the military governor wanted to see him (my father).
The governor, who came to his rescue, was Major General David Ejoor (rted.), an Urhobo man, to tell you we are better off together.
An Urhobo man brought my father from there, saying, ‘go away, go back to your throne’ and that was it. I would never forget that experience. It explains the transiency of life. Today, life can be so rosy, all of a sudden; you can be down there, which is why I revere God a lot in my life because with Him nothing is impossible.
You reportedly gave an order that Itsekiri youth leaders should no longer be above 40 years, what informed that proclamation?
Youths are the cause of the problems we have in my communities. Even before I came in, I knew youths were supposed to be part of progress and growth in a community but they cause many problems. You go to a community, you want to build a house and youths come and stop your work in the name of “deve”. They would dictate to you how much you pay the labourers and workers.
If you go to most of my communities, there are many abandoned projects because of problems from youths. Most of the problems I noticed were elongation of tenure of community executives. The second is old men claiming to be youths. It is only in Itsekiri you find someone all grayed claiming to be a youth even if it is same age as me. The other one is the position of the Olaraja, the oldest man in the community.
Normally, it is not something you can impose. It evolves peacefully in all communities, as everybody in a community knows the age of everyone in that community. For the youths, because people claiming to be youths are not youths, they cause problems. I decided that a youth is a teenager, who is between the ages of 13-19 years, but so as not to cause too much problem, I said let us take it up to 40 years
Anything above 40, you are no longer youth. It caused a lot of rumble among the people but they must adjust to the new order. All is to minimize the problem of youth management in my kingdom because as a teenager, they listen to instructions and follow guidance. An old man with grandchildren that claims to be a youth does not fit in. This is more so, as he believes he knows as much as you do and above management.
What is your dream for your ancestral home, Ode-Itsekiri, the state governor said about a fortnight ago that his administration was making plans to open up the place.
We have been agitating, trying to encourage people. Within three months before my coronation, anyone that had been there before would notice that there has been a lot of transformation. Ode-Itsekiri (Big Warri) used to be a fine country home for the Itsekiris until the Ijaw and Itsekiri crisis came.
Some Ijaw elements went there and burnt the whole place down, looted and vandalized everything. After the attack, those you find there are mainly youths apart from those, who go for funerals of their loved ones. My desire is to revive the place back to its former glory of a serene environment you go every weekend to enjoy yourself with your family close to nature. We are working to make that possible and thank God, the state government has helped us to tar some of the roads.
We call it Ode-Itsekiri Olu, meaning the city of Itsekiri’s Olu. The live-wire of Ode-Itsekiri is the Olu. I intend to spend some weekends there. Once an Itsekiri man knows am going there, they would want to come from wherever they are and spend the weekend with the Olu and by so doing, we intend to bring back life to the place. Therefore, we are happy about what the state governor has promised to do. We have confidence in this government, that he is going to do a lot for others and us too because he is a man of vision.
You recently predicted doom for oil pipeline vandals in Niger Delta; do you not think you are stepping on a dangerous ground?
There is no time you would not step on dangerous ground; security agents are hunting all over for those destroying the pipelines, doom is already imminent for them, not because Olu says so. With the condition, Nigeria is today, for somebody to go and blow pipeline, that person is the enemy of all Nigerians. Therefore, if I say doom, that person is going to suffer doom.
I do not see any dangerous feet I am stepping on, if the person feels what he has done is good, let him come out because we are all suffering as there is no money anywhere while the little one that is being gotten is used to go and repair pipelines because you are angry? For what, if you are angry, fly placards to the government and let them know your problem. If it is something they can, they will solve it. You do not solve problem by creating more for everybody, so it is doom, which is the truth.
Where I want to take Itsekiris
Royal fathers in the state have become endangered species, is this correct?
It is better not to make yourself easy target for criminals, a royal father wearing T-shirt and jeans, driving himself in a Jeep. In the first place, Jeep is the desire of every armed robber to snatch. When I went to Olomu the other time, I applied for full police escort. I have them all over here and by God’s grace; I cannot expose myself to such danger.
Therefore, I advise my colleagues not to make themselves easy targets for kidnappers. If they are going anywhere, they should go properly as royal fathers. Let your people go and surround you. It would be difficult for anyone to come and carry you in the midst of your chiefs. Let us stop making ourselves easy targets.
They said one was going to the saloon to carry his wife, who had gone to make her hair somewhere in the South East, while they kidnapped another on his way to a pool house. Once you are a royal father, you must behave in a royal manner; there is the case of a royal father, the Obi of Ubulu-Uku Kingdom that they killed, it is so unfortunate. Therefore, royal fathers help the criminals by making themselves easy targets and they should stop it.
The stool of Ologbotsere has been vacant for several years in your kingdom. Does it not have any implication for your kingdom for such a critical stool to be vacant for this long?
The Ologboshere title is not the only important title that is vacant. We have seven of them; Ologbotsere is just the most senior. We are going to install them, but they are not titles you rush to install because they are tied to communities; the Ologbotsere title for instance has linkage to five communities.
Therefore, if I want to install an Ologbotsere now, I would call the elders of those communities to tell them that this stool has been vacant for a while; present me three candidates for me to choose from. They would keep bringing until I choose the one that fits after I had made enquires about the choice. Communities and families will come when we do this and I would prepare for the installation, there are also honorary titles too. We are looking at that, but I must take my time. By God’s grace, I will wait until my coronation anniversary or beyond so that I will be very choosy with all those I install as chiefs.
Under your watch in Delta State, where do you want to take the Itsekiri nation?
I want to make Itsekiris lovable people everybody would love, harmless, friendly, accommodating and kind hearted so that when you see an Itsekiri man, you would say this is my brother and this is my sister.
That is where I want to take my people to because for whatever reason I do not know, people do not like us even though they pretend, and you see it everywhere. Something happened recently at Hussey College, which you would say is an Itsekiri school even though everybody goes there. They were celebrating their 60th Founder’s Day or something like that; I was watching Delta Television when I saw the chair, Warri South Local Government Area, Mr. Edema, talking as one of the hosts at the College event. They showed Urhobo children dancing their traditional dance, they showed Ijaw and Ndokwa, but they did not show Itsekiri.
It seems inconsequential, but it sends a very bad message. In addition, I do not miss the Itsekiri request programme on Delta Radio every Wednesday. Disturbingly, every Wednesday, the radio station does not work, whether by coincidence or premeditated, I do not know. Somehow, they just avoid everything that projects us, which is not good, but I want people to see us as loving, kind, accommodating and friendly. That is where I want to take Itsekiris. When I go around, I tell Itsekiris we are all one and that is my vision for Itsekiris. If people like us and we do same, life would be easier.
How Buhari can open up Delta riverside communities
There was plan for a trans-Itsekiri-Ijaw bridge before now to open up the creeks, what is your position for we know Itsekiris had one or two objections in the past?
This bridge, the way they wanted to do it originally was to take it through Ogbe-Ijaw and I do not mind as far as it gets to Ode-Itsekiri. Through Ode-Itsekiri, it can link other Ijaw communities around. They are not too far apart.
Therefore, the federal government should open the riverine areas. Now we are talking of pipeline vandalization, instead of looking for boats from the boat yard to get to those areas in search of the perpetrators, you just drive straight to those communities; it will invigorate efforts at protecting our area and securing our facilities.
I am appealing to President Buhari to try his best by linking Ode-Itsekiri through Ogbe-Ijaw by bridge. It is a very short distance and from there it can link to other communities because once there is a road linking people together, you have bridged communication gap, there would be more understanding, friendliness and accommodation, that is the truth. Therefore, the first way to curb youth restiveness in our area is to make sure that roads link these areas together and the government can do it. Buhari should please try. However, our people (Itsekiri) said no prior to now, I am saying yes now.
What are your thoughts on President Muhammadu Buhari and his fight against corruption?
In Nigeria, we should not lack anything because we are a blessed country with human and natural resources, but today, we have nothing. Once oil goes down, we are all down even if it goes up; we are never up because some people decided to steal all the monies.
Look at the monies they have been recovering. With all the ones they have been catching, the money is not exhausted. Is $2.1billion small money? Look at Dangote, he is building industries even outside Nigeria in over five countries. Wherever he comes, he is like the President of the country because of what he is doing there, but some people are just looting the money here. Therefore, I give kudos to Buhari and pray God to protect and sustain him so that he can carry this fight to the very height.
All those who have looted monies, let them bring the monies back. It can help cushion the effect of the economic down turn we are facing. Nevertheless, they should use the money to create industries. Today we are still buying Tokunbo cars instead of creating automobile industries that would generate employment inclusive of agriculture, which is one thing that takes unemployment from every country.
Today, there is the problem of farmers and Fulani herdsman, government should create grazing sites for them so that they do not harass and kill people because they have cows and their cows must feed. However, taking your cows to go and feed on somebody’s farm or cassava is wrong. Government should also look into these flashpoints. For Buhari, I know that if he can continue in this pace, by 2019, we would be somewhere.