By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Editor
Sometime in 2011, I received a call from Chief Rita Lori-Ogbebor, asking if I could visit her Surulere residence before the end of the week.
Two days later, I was at the home of the revered Itsekiri matriarch.
“Dr, meet Charles, my son,” she said in her usually firm voice.
“How are you, Charles. Pleased to meet you,” a dark-complexioned man, whose age you could hardly place, said calmly with smiles.
“Charles, Dr. is my younger brother. He lives in the UK. He is here for an assignment on behalf of an Itsekiri group he leads in the UK,” Lori-Ogbebor added.
The conversation that followed with Dr. Merick Lori, revealed a man of few words, who despite residing nearly 4000 miles away, emotionally lives with his people, the Itsekiri.
His visit was in furtherance of efforts being made by Itsekiri people resident in the UK in promoting and preserving Itsekiri culture.
Instructively, that wasn’t the first time the group was embarking on such a project.
Before that particular visit, the body, Warri Community United Kingdom and Ireland, WCUI, which he led from 2007—2017, had been deeply involved in sociocultural affairs of Iwereland, another name for Itsekiri, an ethnic group with rich history and culture in Warri South, Warri North and Warri South-West Local Government Areas of Delta State.
During and after the Warri Crisis from 1997-2000, which remains a sad memory to the Itsekiri nation, Lori played important trouble-shooting roles.
These, he did as an official of the elite Itsekiri body in the UK and as an individual who cares much about his people.
At the time, all Itsekiri in the UK responded to the instability in their homeland, using the WCUI to lend support to affected kinsmen.
Specifically, Lori and others didn’t just provide material support for the displaced and injured, they also were involved in the rehabilitation of victims.
For instance, as the President of WCUI, he, alongside his executive, introduced a scholarship scheme for indigent Itsekiri students.
It was a programme that provided N50, 000 annually for each student until they completed secondary school. That was in addition to the option of skills acquisition for those interested.
The aim, Lori, told this writer during one of his visits, was to assist the children of victims of the crisis and others who couldn’t have afforded basic education.
He had explained that the ethnic violence left many either orphaned or with a single parent, thereby darkening their hope of going to school.
For him, education shouldn’t be a privilege but a fundamental human right.
As far as the soft-spoken Lori was concerned, education plays a key role in overcoming poverty and transforming a nation.
His love for Itsekiriland, which is immeasurable, is on the lips of many. Testimonies of Lori’s commitment to motherland abound like the water of the Atlantic coast in Iwereland.
In the words of ex-President Ugbajo Itsekiri UK, Jolomi Omagbitse, “Ododo was a man of many parts. He presents himself as multifaceted but could be simple at close range. He loves playing the centre stage especially when it involves Itsekiri matters. He plays the role of ‘Ogedegbe’ in any gathering in admiration. I met him personally in an official capacity as the then President of Ugbajo Itsekiri ,UK. We had a vision of an umbrella body as we felt all the Itsekiri meetings or organisations, even Individuals not in any organisation as it were, would benefit in no small measure, especially with his leadership. He was very passionate about what he believes in, as he felt there was one already in existence.’’
He also meant nearly the same thing to Mrs. Janet Kuyatsemi, a member of Warri Community.
“He is a good man, hard-working, kind and friendly. During the war between Ijaw and Itsekiri in 1997, he played a very active part in raising funds, collectively and individually. All the money we sent to Warri to help stop the war.
It was a joy to attend meetings with him. We looked forward to attending meetings with him.
During the meetings, he would make us laugh. Even though members brought light refreshments, he always brought his refreshment.
After the war had ended, we the executive members decided to give the children of the fallen heroes scholarships to continue their education. DR. A. M. Lori for the past 13 years, had been going to Warri alone to give the children money for the scholarship.
He also gave their mothers clothes, money and food. The children also looked forward to seeing him. We are all going to miss him. When we had any domestic problems, he was the first person we ran to and with open hands, he helped to solve them for us. We all missed you, Ododo,” she said.
Emphasizing Lori’s affection for his people, Lori-Ogbebor, said: “He loved Itsekiri and worked for Itsekiri in England the way I worked for Itsekiri in Nigeria. During the pogrom against Itsekiri by her neighbors, today popularly referred to as Warri crisis, he worked tirelessly in London as I simultaneously laboured in Nigeria. Today, I ask myself, was he doing what he was doing to please me? I don’t think so, his actions transcended that of a brother who wanted to make his big sister happy, and there was an inexplicable metaphysical connection as was revealed by the seer to our mother.
“In any case whether he wanted to please me or that we were metaphysically attached, I feel replenished and fulfilled that I can live this legacy, to say thank you to my brother who captured me entirely with his humility and unquantifiable love. Thank you, Merrick, as I welcome you to your new home where you can continue to serve the Itsekiri people and the world at large more than you ever did before. My only promise is to do the best I can to keep the light burning by the Grace of the Almighty God in Jesus name.”
The list of those who acknowledged his commitment to the betterment of his Iwereland is endless. Such a consensus easily gives rise to the question: What could have a made someone who had spent decades in the UK this connected to motherland?
Perhaps having royalty in his blood accounted much for Lori’s loyalty and commitment to his ancestry
Vanguard learned that the late medical doctor and his sister, Chief Rita Lori-Ogbebor, the Igba of Warri Kingdom, are paternally and maternally linked to the Warri royalty.
Maternally, it could be traced to PrinceYonwuren and Agbeje family of Ugbuwangue.
Prince Yonwuren was a direct son of the 16th Olu of Warri, Ikengbuwa 1, aka Eyeolusan, 1807-1848.
Tungben, one of PrinceYonwuren’s wives, gave birth to seven children, one male and six females.
Popular among them was Ofesi,male, and six females among whom was Orighomisan, female. She was married to Ukorogbo and had Kenekueyero, female. Kenekueyero was married to Amara and they had Mejebieghare, who in turn married Oritsetimeyin Lori.
The marriage produced Chief Rita Lori-Ogbebor and Dr. Merrick Lori.
Paternally, the deceased and his sister descended from Prince Okunuwa, a direct son of Olu Erejuwa I, who ruled from 1760-1806. He was the 15th Olu of
Born on June 13, 1945, in Warri, the late gynecologist and obstetrician, after his primary school, attended Urohbo College and Hussey College, Warri.
He obtained his West African School Certificate, WASC, and his Higher School Certificate, HSC. He studied at the University of Ibadan and the University of Legon, Ghana where he qualified as a medical doctor in 1974. He worked in England hospitals including the prestigious Whipp’s Cross Hospital where he specialized as a gynecologist and obstetrician.
For more than 40 years, he practiced medicine in the UK up until his death at Hillingdon Hospital, London, on June 24, 2021.
Interestingly, Lori fathered four children, who are all medical doctors—a feat that possibly qualified him for the Guinness Book of World Records.
To preserve his legacies, structures have been put in place in two fields that were dear to him: culture and medicine. Specifically, a cultural centre and medical centre, have been built in Warri in his memory.
The cultural centre, named Itesekiri Cultural Centre, would serve as an institution for the preservation and promotion of Iwere culture while Dr. A.M Lori Medical Centre aims at providing affordable healthcare.
Of note, a free-standing building constructed as a monument enclosing his interment space is also sited in the premises hosting the facilities.
As Lori’s earthly remains are interred on October 2, 2021, in Warri, no doubt, his spirit would find comfort residing amidst culture and medicine-two areas that meant so much to him.