Olu’s Reign Will Be Peaceful, We’ve Seen The Sign, Says Ogbebor
Notable Itsekiri activist, leader and Igba of Warri, Chief Rita Lori-Ogbebor, says she has no doubt that the new Olu’s reign would be peaceful and fruitful for the Itsekiri people because he is a tested man of honour, intellect and peace. Excerpts:HOW would you assess the new Olu-designate of Warri as a chief in the palace?
The new Olu is a man who has been with his people. He grew up amongst his people, went to school here in Warri, went to the University of Benin amongst his people. So, he is not a man who left his people. He is a man who grew up at home and knows his people; this is what makes him very different. Secondly, he was brought up and was very close to his father, Erejuwa II. So he is a man that is very rooted in our tradition. For example, when he left university, he worked in many oil companies because he wanted to know how they operated. So, he is aware of the problems of his people. He worked almost like a labour-hand in the EGTL Project so as to know the sufferings of his people. This makes him very close to his people and he knows the area. He is a king who knows the rural areas and the rural people know him. This is what makes him very unique. He is not a king that was educated abroad and just came in to rule. He is very dearly loved by his people.
What is the place of the Olu of Warri in Delta State?
The Olu is an institution; it’s not a personal thing. The institution of the Olu has been in existence before Nigeria. For instance, during the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates of Nigeria, the Olu was one of the kings who signed for Nigeria to be amalgamated. So, in that context you are not talking of Delta State; you are talking about the whole country. So, the institution of the Olu of Warri is that of the whole country. He is one of those recognized by the white men when they came, and at the time they came, the Itsekiri were already civilized because they had started owning their good houses. There is a saying among the people of this area that the Itsekiri ‘finished’ before the white man came. We were in the Western Region at one time and the Olu of Warri was in the House of Chiefs as second in command.
When Delta State was created, he was supposed to have been number one but then politics came in because of majority issues. We have other tribes that are more than us in population; so there was this agitation that the position of the Chairman of the Traditional Rulers Council should be rotated. We felt very unhappy and sad but we had no choice. So, today, the chairmanship of Delta State Traditional Rulers is rotated, and you know the Itsekiri nation has only one king unlike the other tribes that have so many kings. This is where we are playing a losing game because the institution of the Olu of Warri is one that dates back to the 15th century AD and created to look after its kingdom and this is where our concern is. Now, it is a kingdom within a government. We have a lot of challenges – whatever politicians want is not for the good of everybody but for the good of themselves first. We pray that Warri Kingdom and its institution will continue to march on.
What do you think are the critical interests of the Itsekiri people at this time?
Our most critical interest is the poverty, the degradation that has taken over our kingdom. A kingdom that is about 500 to 600 years old is now crippled by poverty. The kingdom where we had discipline under monarchial system is now crippled by violence. The Itsekiri people are very liberal; that is why today when you hear of Warri city and you hear comedians joke about ‘Warri boy’ and all that, it is the happiness everybody had coming to Warri. Itsekiri are liberal people and accept everybody. Politicians have made it a place of hell to suit themselves and, of course, the oil pollution has crippled all our businesses. You can’t farm, you can’t fish. Even the oil which people thought would be of advantage has become a disadvantage.
For instance, illegal bunkering and stealing of oil which were not the ways of the Itsekiri people is now common. Lastly, the Itsekiri produce 30 per cent of the oil in this state and one would have thought that we would be reeling in good times but it is not so. The Federal Government has given out derivation formula and all states were now getting money for the amount of oil that is in their state, but Delta State was taking everything.
I went to court to challenge former governor James Ibori and at the tail end of his tenure, he created what is called DESOPADEC. In it he said the state would take 50 per cent and the remaining 50 per cent would be for oil producing areas. But it was not so. They continued to use the full 100 per cent of the oil revenue despite the fact that we were asking for 100 per cent. The 50 per cent they promised to give to us never came; even DESOPADEC has no focus; it’s just empty. They just assemble workers from the ethnic groups, give them money to keep quiet which they call salaries. Some go to work once a month. It suits the politicians because what they do is that they just collect the money and they share it depending on the strongest man among them and the governor is the strongest man. They share it and that is it; that is what is obtaining now. So the youth became violent in order to keep getting their share. The present Olu knows about this; he was a victim of this and at a time he took them to court as an ordinary man for wasting Itsekiri money, wasting the lives of the people. He won the case but what came out of it? We have to move Itsekiri out of the pathetic state that we have come to find ourselves.
What is the significance of breaking the red pot before a new Olu is announced?
It signifies pain; that the former Olu is gone. It’s like the gnashing of teeth. The pot is significant because it contains everything. So, when the pot is broken, it’s like announcing that an important thing has happened. It’s a way of showing how painful the situation is. Once we have broken the pot, a new king is announced because breaking of the pot also symbolizes finishing of an era and the ushering in of a new one. Once a king goes to join his ancestors, before it is announced, a lot of things are going on in the palace in an effort to get a new king. Laboriously, all the chiefs are working. Finding a new king is laboriously done because as you know, the Itsekiri don’t accept abdication once a king is made in Itsekiri land; he is on the throne until the end of his life.
There are guidelines for the selection of a king; there is no man whose mother is not Itsekiri or Benin that can be king in our land. Number two, when you have gone through all the procedures, it would be subjected to the findings of the oracle. The oracle must accept that the reign of this man, the Olu, will be peaceful.
When we are done as humans, the oracle speaks as the last clearing-house. We already know the signs that this Olu’s reign will be peaceful because when the kingmakers who select the king chose him, they knew his reign would be good for the Itsekiri people.
When we say we’ll have a peaceful king, we mean a king who would love us and work for us. But if the country is not peaceful, it is not the fault of the king. If there is violence, it is not the fault of the king, but he has the grace of God to stem violence and continue to lead. This is why we do not play with our king because nobody wakes up in Itsekir land and say ‘oh, I have money; I want to be king’ because the king has a clear part to play in the kingdom and we give him that respect.
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