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Why we coronate Olu of Warri at Ode-Itsekiri




In 1986 when his father, Erejuwa II, the then Olu of Warri, died, the mantle of succession fell partly on Pius Ebiyemi Emiko, but he humbly declined being crowned Olu. It thereby paved the way for the emergence of his elder brother, the recently deceased Olu of Warri, Atuwatse II. Emiko spoke with CHIDO OKAFOR on several issues concerning the Olu of Warri throne, especially the unique qualities of the new Olu of Warri that favoured him for the crowning scheduled for tomorrow.

Almost all the meetings that led to the selection of the new Olu of Warri were held in your house. What is your relationship with the late Olu and the new Olu of Warri?

The late Olu, Atuwatse II, Godwin Toritseju Ayomigbesimi Emiko, was my brother. I’m Pius Ebiyemi Emiko; the Olu-designate is Godfrey Ikenwoli Abiloye Emiko. You can see that Emiko is a thread running all through the names. We are brothers of the same parents. Our father was Erujuwa II who was the Olu of Warri from 1951 till 1986. My brother took over on May 2, 1987 until this year when he unfortunately passed away. So, we have a blood relationship; we are of the same father.

When the Olu died there was this palpable silence by the Itsekiri traditional council which refused to confirm or deny his death. Why was this so?

We have a procedure for announcing the demise of any Olu. As Itsekiri, we have our customs and tradition and those customs and traditions must not only be followed, but must have been seen to be followed assiduously. So, before we announce the passage of any Olu we must indeed have a successor. That is the difference between us and Ife and many other kingdoms in Nigeria; we do not announce that the Olu has passed away without immediately announcing a successor because we do not believe that the Olu dies. The Olu goes away to join his ancestors and immediately the Olu comes. So we say Olu has passed and Olu has come. That is the connection; immediately you announce that the Olu has passed away, in the same breath, you announce that here is the Olu. It takes a while for the ruling family to work with the Olu’s advisory council to agree on the next Olu before an announcement is made.

What did the kingmakers see in Ikenwoli that made them select him as next Olu?

Well, he is humble. He was tutored by my father to succeed him. Somebody who was groomed by Erejuwa II eventually was not chosen and he was never bitter throughout the 28 years that Atuwatse II reigned. In fact, when some of my other brothers were unhappy he was the one encouraging us to say Atuwatse II is our elder brother and that we should work with him to give him all the support. How any people will do that? He is a man of peace and prayers because that was how he was able to stay without bitterness. He is not a Muslim but he prays three times a day, so there is something mysterious about him and you can see 28 years after the thing came back to him effortlessly. All the meetings we have been holding about succession he did not interfere; he didn’t call anybody one day to lobby – he stayed away until we concluded and said it was him. We now sent for him and asked him if he would accept to serve the people of this kingdom and he said yes, otherwise he never interfered.

The Olu’s position is not what you aspire to, no; this is an institution that is sacrosanct. We do not aspire to it. When the family sees the quality they come to you and say please come and serve the people. So, our hope is that his reign will be peaceful and we’ll have plenty in the land and improve relationships with our neigbours.

What is the relevance of crowning the Olu-designate at Ode-Itsekiri and not main Warri?

Ode-Itsekiri is the ancestral home of the Itsekiri which we call Big Warri. So, basically, the last Olu, if you will recall, was crowned at Ode-Itsekiri in 1987. So, this one will not be any exception. On coronation day, we are all going to be at Big Warri to witness the crowning of the new Olu of Warri. So, on December 12, the day the new Olu will be crowned all Itsekiri will be there.

Why did the new Olu have to wait for 90 days to be installed? Why was the seclusion necessary?

That is, again, tradition and customs. There is what we call Idanike rites. Remember I told you the Olu is a Benin man. In Benin you have what is called Idaite, but here we call it Idanike. In Benin they go to Uselu to perform the Idaite rites. As soon as the Olu passes away, the successor is the one who takes his body to Ijala to perform certain rites of passage. Once that is concluded, the Olu-designate immediately proceeds to Idanike and must be there for three months (90 days). And in that period the noble men, the elderly in the land come there to tell him ancient stories, tutor him, bring to his knowledge a whole lot of things he probably won’t know as a young man. So, the 90 days is a period to actually groom and tutor him in the deep custom and tradition of our people. Within that period he would be abreast with the dos and don’ts preparatory to his coronation.

It true that within that 90 days the Olu-designate must not be seen by anybody?

That is not true. But he can’t go public or grant you an interview. If he doesn’t complete that rite of passage he cannot be made Olu. We have had situations in the past.

I’m sure you are aware we had 88 years of interregnum in Iwere land when we had no Olu. What happened at the time was that Akengbua II passed away and his first son, Omateye, was suppose to have succeed him. Akengbua II passed away today and the next day Omataye, who would succeed passed away. So Omateye’s younger brother, known as Ejo, was the one who then performed the Idanike rites. He completed the three months of Idanike rites and he, too, passed away. So there was riot in the land that these men can’t be passing away just like that and that something must be amiss.

So, their sister, who was very powerful at the time, now mobilized some slaves and warriors in the land and said that no other person would become king. So there was riot. Now, after 88 years when the Itsekiri were ready to comeback – what we call the second dynasty – they started with my grandfather who was Ginuwa II. So, they started tracing Ejo’s line who performed the last Idanike rites and traced it to Ejo’s grandson, Emiko.

You are the youngest of the two Olus. Is it possible that you would be Olu in future?

I’m not the youngest. I still have so younger siblings behind me. Let me say this: this is not the first time we’ll have a brother succeed a brother. We’ve read all kinds of crap on social media where some people out of ignorance are saying all kinds of things. The Olu of Warri is a Benin man; maybe a lot of people don’t know this. He is Benin by blood relation and lineage because the very first Olu of Warri was a son to Oba Olua; his name was Inua. He left Benin about 1480 to come down here to establish the Warri kingdom. He went by the title of Ginuwa I. When he passed away his son, Ijijen, succeeded him as the second Olu of Warri. Ijijen was actually the one who founded Big Warri, Ode-Itsekiri. Ginuwa did not make it to Big Warri; he passed away at Ijala, somewhere behind the Warri refinery. Since then, all Olus are actually buried at Ijala. This late one was buried there at Ijala as the 19th Olu of Warri whose grave would be marked so. Ijijen was the second Olu who was son to Ginuwa I who left Benin to establish Warri Kingdom. The third Olu was a brother to Ijijen and he was Irame and he went by the title Ogbowuru I.

So, you can see that way back in the 15th, 16th century, we already had a tradition of brother succeeding brother. Then if you come back to Don Domingo who was the seventh Olu and one of the very popular ones, the reason for this was that he had a mulatto mother, his mother being from Portugal because his father had sent his to study in Portugal. He came back and he was made Olu at about 1620 or thereabout. So when Don Domingo who was Atuwatse I passed away, his son was crowned Olu and he went by the title Oyenakpara I. When Oyenakpara passed away, his brother, again, was crowned Olu and went by the title Omoluyere I. So, you can already see that we have brother succeeding brother with the 14th Olu of Warri who went by the tile Atogbuwa II, brother, again, to the immediate past Olu of Warri at a time. This is not the first time brother is succeeding brother and this will not be the last.

So, the Olu stool is a dynasty?

Yes. There is only one ruling house.
But a chief said there were two ruling houses not long ago at the palace premises…

No; that is not correct. Look at the gazette which was signed into law in 1979. The very first line says there is only one ruling house in Warri kingdom and that is Ginuwa I who left Benin to establish the Warri kingdom. If you are not from that lineage you cannot be Olu. It is one ruling house and that is why it is easy for us to manage unlike in some other places, like Ife, where people box each other in the battle to find who will succeed. Here we have just one ruling house. And because it’s just one ruling house it is easier for us to manage. But within that ruling house you have different gates. It’s either from father to son or from brother to brother in the same family. Atuwatse II has passed on; that’s one gate. The next Olu is coming; we don’t know the title he will pick; that is another gate. You have to be from that ruling house, Ginuwa I, to qualify. So, when an Olu passes away the preferred candidates to succeed him immediately are his children, but when you cannot find a suitable person from there because there are other guidelines – like your mother must be Itsekiri or of Edo origin. So, once you don’t meet that immediately you are disqualified, otherwise the immediate children of past Olu are preferred. But when you cannot find a suitable person given the provided guideline we go to the Olu’s brothers. And when you cannot find any amongst his brothers you go to his uncles and when you cannot find any amongst his uncles you go to his grandchildren. So, it’s clearly spelt out in our selection processes.

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