…Power of the people and the course of history
By Egufe Yafugborhi
July 25th revolt by subjects against an act of exalted Olu of Warri, His Majesty, Ogiame Ikenwoli, marked a repeat of history, underscoring the height at which the maxim, “the strength of a king derives from the strength of his subjects” finds expression in the over five centuries of the throne of the Itsekiri people of Delta state.
At dawn that fateful day, teeming Itsekiris, young and old, besieged the Aghofen Palace, Ekurede Itsekiri, Warri South local government area. Their mission: To picket the palace and make entry and exit impossible for the Olu or anyone else for as long as it takes the monarch to rescind his intention to install youthful industrialist and politician, Chief Ayiri Emami as Ologbotsere (Prime Minister) of the kingdom.
To make strong statement of the protest mission, “Public power and water supply at the palace were cut off by the demonstrators. The people were really very angry”, an unconfirmed source was quoted at saying in the heat of the moment.
Before this least expected baptism of fire, the 20th Olu had enjoyed enviable honour and loyalty from his subjects since his enthronement 2015. Ogiame Ikenwoli’s predecessor, HRM, Atuwatse II, tasted similar bitter experience. He was found guilty in the court of his subjects, for attempting to discard touchy aspects of their heritage.
The 19th Olu had on Wednesday, September 4, 2013, declared; “Today, I renounce our allegiance to Umalokun and other gods of the sea. I also repent from the title of “Ogiame” that my ancestors and I have borne as it connotes our allegiance to Umalokun and other deities of the sea, all of which are false.”
Spontaneously, that declaration perceived as reckless by his people rebounded a chaotic protest during which his subjects called for his dethronement. The traditional council eventually resolved the issue, but not without the monarch retracting the vexed declaration.
A touchy issue
Perhaps the delicate nature of installing an Ologbotsere underscores why, in over five centuries existence of the Itsekiri monarchy, only three Ologbotseres have been installed between just two of the past 19 Olus. According to Itsekiri scholar, Dr. Jackson Ireyefoju, “Ginuwa I who founded the throne in 1480 did not sojourn from Benin with Ologbotsere. And for 280 years, Ologbotsere was alien to Itsekiri.
“The title was first introduced in Benin in 1713 during the reign of Oba Akengbuwa I. In Benin they call the title holder ‘Ologbo-Iyase’( Housekeep for Iyasere). Erejuwa I imposed Ologbotsere on us in 1760. By 1951 when Erejuwa II installed Majuku Ologban, the second Ologbotsere, the choice of who becomes the Ologbotsere became the exclusive responsibility of the descendants of Ologbotsere comprising the 12 children of the first Ologbotsere.
Same Erejuwa II after demise of Ologban, projected Chief O. N. Rewane from Uwangue title holder to Ologbotsere. Before this point, the crowning of a new monarch was the responsibility of the Uwangua. Having transmuted to Ologbotsere, Rewane said he was the father of Uwangue and cannot allow Uwangue successor take the glory of crowning a new Olu at the death of Erejuwa II. That changed the course of history as Rewane as Ologbotsere crowned Atuwatse II on May 2 1987.
Atuwatse in his 28 years reign never installed an Ologbotsere following the death of Rewane in 1987. Just before his first coronation anniversary, His Majesty, Ogiame Ikenwoli, the reigning Olu had told Vanguard in 2016 that he would not sustain the interest of leaving the sensitive traditional titles, including Uwangue and Iyasere, vacant while he reigns, vowing to fill the vacancies in due course.
Irony of fate
Paradoxically, Ogiame Ikenwoli, unlike Atuwatse II, never broke any proven traditional code to have earned the recent revolt. It is the subjects’ arm-twisting him to change the course of tradition that has sparked the raging conflict over his intention to install of an Ologbotsere.
The Olu, breaking his silence Wednesday before heads of Itsekiri communities, opinion leaders and descendants of families who hold title to the traditional chieftaincies, said he has not disqualified any nominee for conferment of Ologbotsere, Iyatsere and Uwangue traditional chieftaincies even as he suspended the exercise following revolt by his subjects.
The Olu who addressed the gathering in Itsekiri said recent tension being generated by his subjects’ perception of his actions were based on deliberate lies to malign his person and paint him in bad light, tasking anyone confronted with stories and allegations to verify same from the palace to ascertain the truth of any matter.
The monarch said it was not his place to nominate candidates for the sensitive titles, saying grievances from any quarter should be targeted at the title families who he gave up till October to reopen broader interactions and carry relevant persons along to resolve all differences and present consensus candidates amicably.
The Olu, however cautioned the nominating authorities to be guided by basic conditions for the Ologbotsere he desires, listing that the right man must be truly loyal, bold, vibrant, has the pains of the Itsekiri nation at heart. He said he would not install a chicken-hearted person who cannot hold his own and would bolt away at the slightest sign of trouble.
How we picked Ayiri – Ologbotsere family
Secretary General to the Ologbotsere family, Mr. William Anukun, in response to the Olu’s charge said, “His Majesty earlier gave the charge that all aggrieved persons should direct concerns to us even since July 25th following the protest. Today, no one has come forth to raise any issue. It speaks to the fact that those raising issues were aware that we followed due process.
“All Itsekiris know that picking Ologbotsere is not every Itsekiri’s responsibility. The rigours that went into the selection of Ayiri are probably the most painstaking in the history of selecting an Ologbotsere.
“After arriving at the final candidate, Pa Hugson Oporokun, current head of Ologbotsere family, going extra mile, insisted that all heads of the 12 families sign the final nomination document. However we have heard the Olu. We are waiting for the dissenting voices to come up and we see how it goes but I doubt if that will change things.
Reservations against Ayiri
For the Ugbarajo Omajaja, the gathering of Itsekiri masses, who are vehemently opposed to the choice of Ayiri, any process that fails to take cognisance of the larger Itsekiri interest in the selection of an Ologbotsere cannot be said to be due and justified.
As a palace chief and prominent Itsekiri opinion leader puts it during penultimate Friday’s enclosed gathering to restate the mass rejection of Ayiri, “The sentiment that tradition forbids Itsekiris outside the traditional families to decide who becomes Ologbotsere is not logical. If the people did not revolt over the family nominated Ologbotseres in the past, it was simply because the nominee was worthy and he appealed to the acceptability of the larger Itsekiri.
Harping on the standards set by inimitable Chief O. N. Rewane, the late Ologbotsere, he continued that, “It is not enough for you to have some money in your pocket. Ayiri does not have the maturity to function as Ologbotsere. He does not have the experience, depth of knowledge to become the Ologbotsere. What’s his background, economic or social, what’s his profile, his calling in life? That position is for a seasoned technocrat.
“If in the selection of an Olu the larger Itsekiri society have a place to reject even an Olu nominee presented by the Oton-Olus (descendants of the ruling house), who said we are alienated from who becomes the Olu’s second in command? The Ologbotsere Itsekiri needs today should not be open to outburst. He should be very diplomatic and command impeccable credentials.
“An Ologbotsere, when installed from the title family, transforms into an Ologbotsere of entire Itsekiri, not of his family or the Olu alone. We have a number of capable persons, it certainly can’t be Ayiri and under the circumstance, the choice of the masses becomes the choice of the title family and that of the Olu”, the opinion leader said.
Among the masses’ alternatives, names as Capt. Abel Memuduaghan, Vanguard publisher, Sam Amuka, Chief Brown Mene, Jolomi Rewane, Rear Admiral Franklin Nesiama, Chief Oma Eyewoma, former GM of Conoil, who was rejected by the selection college in preference for Ayiri on the limitation that he is linked maternally, Victor Eburajolo, among others were suggested at the Ugbarajo Omaja.
Underground, there are also personal anger against Ayiri by foes, bothering on his political leaning, the Itsekiri Regional Development Council debacle, his perceived arrogances among others. If Ayiri were to still be a PDP members, some of the persons heating up his rejection wouldn’t do so. It’s a lot personal, this agitations”, one of Ayiri’s supporters said.
With the Ologbotsere family selection team reluctant to cancel Ayiri’s nomination and the larger Itsekiri masses bent on going to any length at ensuring the emergence of a popular nominee even if it means reawakening the spirit of revolt, events after the October deadline the Olu gave for resolution of the debacle will either sustain the status quo or, more likely, change the course of selecting an Ologbotsere in the history of Iwere-Land.