Why Ologbotsere’s absence won’t stop today’s coronation of Olu of Warri —Ariyo, Itsekiri Kingdom spokesman
Robinson Ariyo, a legal practitioner, is the Egogo (Mouthpiece) of Warri Kingdom. In this interview by EBENEZER ADUROKIYA, he speaks on the issues that arose since the transition of the Ogiame Ikenwoli, the succession events for the Olu-designate, Omooba ‘Tsola Emiko as the 21st Olu of Warri and other related matters. Excerpts:
As the secretary of the Central Working Committee, how has it been managing the exercises since the demise of the Ogiame Ikenwoli?
It’s been a very long journey. I think this cycle of succession is the most turbulent that we’ve had in recent history because for a very long time, we’ve not had an occupant of the seat of the Ologbotsere of Warri Kingdom. The way the position is configured is such that the holder is very powerful. In his wisdom, Atuwatse II, who reigned for 29 years, refused to appoint an Ologbotsere. Coincidentally, when the immediate past Olu of Warri, Ogiame Ikenwoli, came on board, he received several warnings, both physically and spiritually, not to appoint an Ologbotsere and in particular not to appoint Chief Ayirimi Emami as Ologbotsere.
Why? What’s his offence?
Because he was perceived to be insufficiently mature, unfit and improper to handle that position, and it was predicted that if the king went ahead to confer the Ologbotsere title on him, it was going to result in a chain of disasters. And remember there was unrest over his selection and the late Ikenwoli then promised not to confer the title on him. He listened to the reasons given by the senior chiefs why such a sensitive position should not be conferred on such a young fellow even though age is not really a barrier but a function of psychological content. People around this young man also attested to the fact that he was unfit for the position. But somehow, someway, the late Ogiame went ahead and since, according to Itsekiri customs and traditions, we’re practically like Zombies before our monarch as whatever the king says everyone must eventually follow, we had to succumb. I was one of those who spoke against conferring such a title on the young man because holders of the title wield enormous powers.
What are some of the powers the Ologbotsere wields?
One of them is that as soon as a king joins his ancestors, he’s the person to initiate the move to make the announcement and to play some critical roles before other organs will eventually come in. Those who play strategic roles in the making of an Itsekiri king are logically, equally powerful. By the Declaration which many people are calling Edict which is not actually an edict, it is boldly written on top of the document that this is a Declaration Made Pursuant to Section 8 of the 1979 Traditional Council and Chiefs Edict, Bendel State. There are four critical organs in charge of the succession process with the Ologbotsere as the person who initiates and ignites the process. There’s the Olu Advisory Council: the moment you begin to hear about the Olu Advisory Council that tells you all may not be well with the incumbent king because the body only comes into existence when a transition process is in the offing and as soon as a successor emerges, it automatically dissolves. The Ologbotsere, who’s currently on suspension, is the chairman of the Olu Advisory Council and could not perform the function. Ordinarily, as soon as the Ologbotsere confirms the passing of an Olu, he triggers off the succession process. He summons Ginuwa, the First Ruling House for a meeting. Ginuwa the First Ruling House is the only royal House in Warri Kingdom. After the summons, one of two things happens: either the ruling house will project the eldest man in the family known as Olar-Ebi or they’ll nominate a person who, though not the eldest man, but is put forward as the head of the family (Olori-Ebi). This is expressly contained in the Declaration that they’re calling Edict. But because the Olar-Ebi may not be strong enough to go through the rigorous process because of old age, most times it is the Olori-Ebi that is appointed. In this particular instance, Prince Emmanuel Okotiebor was unanimously appointed as the Olori-Ebi of Ginuwa The First Ruling House. The Ologbotsere will intimate The Ginuwa First Ruling House, led by Olori-Ebi or Olar-Ebi, who now summons the 32 Gates of the ruling house that they should prepare for a successor. The different gates will now return home to shop for possible candidates. Before the coming of the Declaration which they call Edict, the succession was usually thrown open to the 32 gates but because of the increasing number of the gates, they now streamlined the successor to the last three Olu of Warri. Anybody that must emerge must be a son of the last three Olu. However, preference is given to the sons of the last Olu. The last three gates now go into closure to shop for possible candidates for the throne and they apply different criteria in selecting them since they know their children. The selection process is exclusively within the jurisdiction of the ruling house and presided over by the Olori-Ebi or Olar-Ebi. In this case, the Ologbotsere conceived himself as the one to do the selection when actually his first role ends with the intimation of the ruling house of the demise of the king thereby bridging the doctrine of separation of powers.
Was the Ologbotsere not aware of the limits of his role in the succession process?
The truth is that over the years, he has enjoyed exercise of absolute powers. In all honesty, he was like a king. Whatever he said was the law during the five years reign of Ogiame Ikenwoli. And when a man enjoys sufficient powers to some extent, he easily forgets his assigned roles and limits especially if such a man is not sufficiently educated.
In shopping for possible candidates for the throne, you rolled out some of the criteria for selection in which you mentioned conduct before you digressed. What are the other criteria?
Apart from good conduct, a person not yet married cannot be Olu of Warri. A person whose mother has children for another gate from another tribe cannot be Olu. A person who’s not mentally stable cannot be. That’s why most times the first son of a king may not necessarily be the successor. For instance, late Atuwatse II had a son from a woman from another tribe but cannot be king. If it was automatic that the son of the immediate past king must be king, as some people are now saying, then Ikenwoli wouldn’t have been king after Atuwatse II because he was Atuwatse’s brother, not son.
After the ruling house has selected some candidates, they go to the Ifa oracle for divination and after the oracle clears the air, they return to the larger house to present the result and the larger house will write the Olu Advisory Council where the Ologbotsere is the chairman and presents the candidate to the council. The Ologbotsere then calls a meeting and present the choice to the council. By the declaration, there’s a check to look at what has been done. And the Declaration states that the decision of the Ifa is final. Then the Ifa is further consulted in the open for all to see by Ifa priests under an oath from all the five aboriginal communities of Itsekiri who migrated from Yoruba land. This process was followed before Omooba Tsola Emiko emerged as Olu-designate.
So what, in your opinion, led to the succession imbroglio?
When the Ginuwa The First Ruling House wrote a letter introducing Omooba Tsola Emiko as its choice to the Olu Advisory Council, the suspended Ologbotsere, Chief Ayirimi Emami, did not approve of him. So, he allowed his own personal preference to set in. He instigated a chief to come out and say he’s older than the Olori-Ebi, instigated him to write another letter introducing Prince Oyowoli, one of the sons of Ogiame Ikenwoli, as the Ifa-approved successor. However, the letter came to the Council on the 25th of March, 2021 but was dated 19th whereas that of Olori-Ebi introducing Omooba Tsola Emiko came on the 18th of March. The Ologbotsere then pretended to be confused because there were two letters announcing two candidates. So, it was a self-inflicted confusion. He wanted something to rely on because as long as the king is not crowned, the Ologbotsere will remain a star. By the Declaration which they tagged Edict, the selection should not exceed three days. The late Ogiame Ikenwoli joined his ancestors on the 20th of December 2020. The succession imbroglio started in March 2021. Reconcile three days with three months! People were already agitated. The Ologbotsere was rather travelling around and indicating that nothing was actually going to happen. So the confusion polarised the actors in the selection process. Strangely, throughout this confusion over the choices, the Ologbotsere never called a meeting of the Warri Council of Chiefs which is an act of courtesy because the Olu Advisory Council is the executive arm of the Warri Council of Chiefs and without being a member of the Council of Chiefs you cannot be a member of the Olu Advisory Council.
So, what then happened was that on the 19th of March 2021, after we became so worried, we now called a joint session of the Warri Council of Chiefs and the Olu Advisory Council at the Olu palace and by that time, youths were already demonstrating and blocking the palace gates and we were feeling embarrassed as chiefs and we didn’t want things to gravitate to lawlessness because Ginuwa The First Ruling House had completed their stage and it was now for them to call the Ifa Oracle. We called them, including the suspended Ologbotsere and we asked them what the problem was and they said some people said if a candidate’s mother, according to the Declaration (Edict), is not of Itsekiri or Benin origin, he cannot be Olu of Warri and with all due respect, I pointed out that the Declaration talks about ‘Edo’ origin not Benin. We then made some resolutions that the Olu Advisory Council should drive the process from where Ginuwa The First Ruling House had handed over to them candidates and we came to a compromise that if the chairman of the Olu Advisory Council was insisting that there were two candidates, then they should be taken to Ifa Oracle to decide who should be king among the two. We also asked the Olu Advisory Council to come up with the timetable of the transition so that we could lay to rest the departed Ogiame Ikenwoli. We gave the Council seven days ultimatum because the time limit of the Declaration had been far spent. As of 31st of March, 2020, nothing had happened. We then summoned another meeting to find out what was amiss. This time around, Chief Emami and those loyal to him did not attend the meeting. The other members of the Olu Advisory Council attended. They told us that Chief Emami wrote a letter disqualifying Omooba Tsola Emiko, interpreting the Declaration himself. And we the Warri Council of Chiefs said that was not acceptable. They said Chief Emami became angry and said without him the Ologbotsere, nothing can happen. So I moved a motion passing a vote of no confidence on the Olu Advisory Council as constituted under his leadership. This is because he had already performed some of his roles and where there were no Ologbotseres, kings had been crowned in the kingdom in the past. For instance, we’ve had 20 Olus and only four Ologbotseres. What does that tell us? It means majority of the time, it was not Ologbotsere that crowned the king. In fact, the Ologbotsere has only crowned one king of the 20 Olu of Warri. So it is permissive and not compulsory that the Ologbotsere must do the crowning. When late Ogiame Ikenwoli was crowned in 2015, there were no Ologbotsere, Iyatsere, and Uwuangwe and that’s the number 1 to 3 in hierarchy after the Olu and Ogiame Ikenwoli was crowned.
One if the gravest errors made by the Ologbotsere is ascribing to himself a status of “either me or nothing.”
On the same day after the vote of no confidence, we got a letter from Ginuwa The First Ruling House that they were worried too and that they wrote the Ologbotsere a letter requesting a follow-up to the candidate they had submitted to him. He asked the messenger to wait and shredded the letter in his presence, enveloped it and sent it back to Ginuwa The First Ruling House! So he threw caution to the wind. We kept hearing from outside that a coup was organised.
In all honesty, when we have a society where things were supposed to be done with due diligence and 110 days after that thing has not been done, and there’s no seriousness or reason attached to it, life abhors vacuum. The Declaration did not anticipate that there’ll be an Ologbotsere who would not want to drive the succession process. Nobody is indispensable. At the end of the day, it is the people that make their king. An Itsekiri expression says “minimini igbo, igbo minimini” which means the people own the king. We then decided that the ruling house had brought a letter and we have a code of conduct in the Warri Council of Chiefs that when a petition is written against a chief, we set up an adhoc committee and being the head, the Ologbotsere can no longer preside because he’ll compromise the investigation and the findings. We then moved a second motion that he should step aside and that his second in command, the Iyatsere should take over. And we started the process. Even though the Ginuwa The First Ruling House had suspended him, we didn’t go with that because we were not too convinced that they had the powers to suspend him until a court of law decides. But we have a code of conduct which governs us. Before we suspended him, we wrote an invitation letter to him, he refused to come, the Ginuwa The First Ruling House was invited and they came and they testified; we wrote another letter to the Ologbotsere, and he refused to come and we recommended that he should be suspended. So, the Ologbotsere has two suspensions on his head. If the Ologbotsere is incapacitated in anyway, another person performs his functions. The entire structure cannot be allowed to crumble just because one person is incapacitated.
What activities trailed the suspension of the Ologbotsere?
The moment he was suspended, and new members from the existing Warri Council of Chiefs were nominated to join the Olu Advisory Council to carry on the same mandate, of which I am a member, Chief Emami and his followers are strongly suspected to be behind the breaking of the palace and carting away royal artifacts including the crown.
At what point were the royal artifacts suspected to have been stolen?
I told you that we took all the decisions on March 31st 2020. That day, we resolved that we were going to consult the oracle. We agreed to be unbiased to the two candidates. We went to meet Prince Oyowoli and his brother because we were allowing them to remain in the palace house. We wanted to tell Oyowoli that Ifa consultation would come up April 1st – that is, the following day. We called him and he kept telling us he was coming; for 45 minutes that we waited, he refused to show up. So, we left unknown to us that that night, there were plans to move the artifacts from the palace. About 10:19p.m of that 31st March, one Chief posted on his Facebook wall that the Governor should come to the aid that people were breaking into the palace and carting away the crown. And that event hadn’t happened. The incident happened around 3:00a.m 1st April the following day. Immediately I saw that post, I cropped it and kept it and shared it with a chief. The next day, the poster had removed it from his Facebook page. And that was the basis upon which we found him a person of interest? It›s either he›s a soothsayer or one of those who broke into the palace and he›ll help the police.
What could be the reason for carting away the royal artifacts?
The whole idea of making away with the 400-year-old crowns and other artifacts is to frustrate any crowning process. They went away with the royal beads thinking that they could frustrate the system and they could go and crown their own king. I’m sure you heard of one planned coronation somewhere in the kingdom.
Was that for sure?
Yeah! Of course they had started the process. What happened was that immediately the items were missing, Prince Oyowoli and Omatsuli, whom the police had declared wanted, suspectedly disappeared with the crowns from that time till as we speak now.
Wasn’t that act, in itself, sacrilegious?
Yes it is. The truth is that because people don’t understand the way nature works is slowly but it grinds well. It’s not the day of the sacrilege that the repercussion sets in. Something similar had happened before in history. The crown was not stolen but was moved from one place to another. The man died followed by his children and grandchildren and so on. They had to consult and do a lot of sacrifices to halt the spell. The suspected thieves are actually compromising their spiritual safety. So, after the deed was done, we petitioned the police and they invited Chief Emami, and another chief and the two princes who have refused to show up till now. That was the reason the police declared them wanted. The key to the two strong rooms in the palace was supposed to be under the care of Uwuangwe of Warri, who’s the wardrobe keeper of the king. But investigations revealed that about two weeks to the disappearance of the crowns, Chief Emami went to take the key from Uwuangwe and that’s why he’s number one in the list of those to be charged to court. The investigation revealed that one: the first door of the two strong rooms was neatly opened with the key and the second door was opened but after opening it they used an axe to hit it to make it look like it was broken. The police have retrieved the key from him as an exhibit. The police had wanted to resolve the issue as a family matter and even suggested how it should be resolved but they’ve refused to listen. So what happened next was that the date the police gave to them to report back, they mobilised people and went to Zone 5 in Benin and told the police that they wanted the matter taken back home for resolution instead of agreeing to the soft-landing the police gave them.
What will be the status of the suspended Ologbotsere in the new dispensation?
The truth is that there were moves to resolve this imbroglio and the Olu-designate, Omooba Tsola Emiko, graciously, advised him on certain things that he should do that could make it possible to consider a reunion, one of which was that he should apologise to the ruling house. Omooba Tsola Emiko appealed to Chief Emami to apologise to the Ginuwa The First Ruling House for shredding their letter and sending same back to them, use his influence to retrieve the crown and royal artifacts so that the matter could end, Ologbotsere agreed but some of his advisers urged him not to accede to the honourable option and he buckled. The next thing we saw them doing was going to court. We therefore braced up to press the charges. The last straw that broke the camel’s back, for me, was their declaration on Facebook that they wanted to go and crown their own king with the original crown. Where did they get it from? So we felt that it was an audacity taken too far. Because we had actually left them for the gods to handle but they were out-stepping their bounds. A drum you stole and we’re begging you to return and you’re now saying you wanted to organise a party with it? That’s the height of arrogance! So we said we must now step in and escalate the process even though the police had been ready to do the needful all the while.
How would you describe the present mood of the entire Iwere Kingdom?
You can see for yourself. It’s joyous. It might interest you that a lot of senior chiefs such as Professor Itse Sagay, a Professor of Law, were not attending meetings at the palace over the misdemeanors of the suspended Ologbotsere before now.
What will eventually be the lot of the Ologbotsere if he refuses to apologise?
You see, there’s a unique thing about the Itsekiri. I’m not sure I’m going to be a Chief as soon as the new king is crowned because the tradition and customs demand that all the chiefs must return their beads, swords, everything and the new Olu now decides the title he wants for you.
Are you saying you’re not sure of continuing as a chief after the Olu-designate is crowned?
Exactly. The system is structured such that each king is at liberty to constitute his own cabinet as he deems fit. So, all chiefs will submit their beads and swords and every other thing immediately the new Olu is crowned. He decides who’ll will return or get what. However, the Ologbotsere could decide to return his regalia or stay away.
What’s the world waiting to see Omooba Tsola Emiko do after ascending his forefathers’ throne on Saturday?
I’m confident that education makes a man a man. We have a young man who’s coming in with much energy, and the most potent weapon of change is the young people because ideas are always in the process of evolving. He’s well travelled, educated, he’s not somebody with no means, so he’s not coming to grab or be led by the nose. We expect a re-enactment of the kind of the reign of his father, Atuwatse II because he grew up in the palace. I have a sensing, from my interaction with him, that his role model is his father. The secession process has been very tough not just because of the Ologbotsere issue; there were other forces behind the Ologbotsere. This process has brought about a restructuring of the socio-economic and political landscape of the Itsekiri; that’s why the issue dragged on so long. And there are those we call the 12 disciples who are still working solidly behind him. An endorsement by a king can open many doors.
A word for Itsekiri neighbours
Our neighbours – Urhobos, Ijaws etc will also have a taste of good neighbourliness with the new king coming in. He cuts across the aisles. It will be live and let live.
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