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Peace initiatives begin in troubled Itsekiri land

Olu of Warri,

By Gabriel Omonhinmin

The protracted crisis which has been rocking the Itsekiri kingdom since the demise of the immediate past Olu of Warri, HRM Ogiame Ikenwoli, which resulted in the disappearance of the 378 years old crown, seems to be coming to a close.

Palace Watch can now authoritatively report that all the warring factions in the imbrogilo, which pushed the kingdom to a breaking point, are now making frantic efforts for peace.

The five kingmakers led by Chief Yayah Pessu, the Ojomo of Warri, other chiefs and nobles of the kingdom are presently reaching out to one another across board trying to make peace.

Reasons given for the new peace initiatives, according to them, is in line with an old Itsekiri adage that says “It is senseless to allow the elephants to be urinating into a river whose banks are already overflowing.”

A member of the House of Representatives, representing one of the constituencies in Warri Kingdom, Mr. Thomas Ereyitomi, is said to have waded into the matter, begging all sides to come to the negotiation table for peace.

His efforts alongside other prominent Itsekiri sons and daughters have begun to yield positive results. Some members of the warring factions in the Itsekiri crisis, who did not want their names mentioned, told Palace Watch, “From all indication, although, this matter is already before the Nigerian Police, the Police cannot, and does not have the capacity to resolve a traditional matter like this.

We were all, again, invited to report at the Nigerian Police Zone 5 Headquarters in Benin City on Wednesday, May 12, 2021 by 10 am. We shall all proceed from there to somewhere in Warri on that same day, where we will all sit down around a table, to negotiate and tell ourselves the home truth as Itsekiri people. The disgrace and humiliation the Itsekiri people have suffered since the commencement of this crisis is more than enough.”

The Nigerian Police Zone 5 Headquarters in Benin City was last week Friday, May 7, 2021 taken by surprise, when hundreds of Itsekiri youths and women, stormed the station, to protest against the refusal of the warring factions in the crisis to sit down and settle whatever differences they have.

The protesting youths and women said: “We can no longer stand the humiliation and public odium, which this prolonged crisis has brought upon our people the Itsekiri nation, its custom and tradition. And as such, this crisis must stop forthwith. That is why we are here in large numbers. We are not taking sides with any faction in this matter.” The youths and women, were armed with various placards with inscriptions such as, “Peace must reign in Warri Kingdom.” “Itsekiri is tradition & Tradition is Itsekiri.” “We say No, to destruction of our heritage.”

They stressed: “We are forced to embark on this protest, because the major actors in the crisis, Chief Johnson Atserunleghe, the Iyatsere and Chief Ayiri Emami, the Ologbotsere, the traditional Prime Minister of Warri Kingdom and some members of the Ginuwa ruling house, have refused to sheath their swords because of their selfishness and personal interest in this matter and over-blown egos.

Thus, systematically destroying whatever is left of the Itsekiri custom and tradition. We can’t continue to fold our hands while they continue with these disgraceful acts.”

Palace Watch then asked one of the leaders of the protesting group, Mr. David Iwere, “Will you, in all honesty say, that this protest is not pre-arranged and sponsored by one of the warring factions to intimidate the other factions that might want peace, who are not here today?

And why did the Itsekiri youths and women wait this long for this particular crisis to fester to this point, before embarking on a protest like this?” Iwere reacted in this manner: “All this while, we waited patiently, thinking that common sense and sanity will prevail in this matter. As Chiefs and nobles, we honestly expected them to be reasonable.

But the warring factions and more appropriately some of the Chiefs in this matter, have refused to come to the negotiating table to resolve whatever differences they have, hence this intervention.

The Itsekiri people are no fools! Some of these Chiefs and their backers are only using the Olu of Warri issue as a smokescreen. We can no longer allow them to continue with this act of recklessness.

I must tell you categorically, none of the warring Chiefs is behind our protest here today. The Itsekiri as a race are very organized and civilized people. Yes! Whenever an Olu of Warri stool is vacant, there must be people, who are for and against the incoming king.

Never in our history as a people, has a matter like this, been allowed to fester or degenerate to this ridiculous point. We are henceforth, determined to stop this disgraceful drift in the general interest of our people and culture.” Palace Watch then contacted Chief Ayiri Emami, the Ologbotsere of Warri Kingdom, over the concern raised by the protesting youths and women. Chief Emami said, “Some peace initiatives are being made as far as I know, but I cannot comment now, until I see that concrete steps have been taken by all concerned that will help bring about a lasting peace in the kingdom.

I am for peace in Warri Kingdom any time any day. I would not want to say anything that will further ruffle the feathers. Because, I believe very strongly, that in spite of whatever is happening now, and no matter the point of our disagreement, we as a people, will one day overcome these particular problems and come together again, for our own good.

We are all Itsekiri people. In the absence of a sitting Olu of Warri, it is my sole and traditional responsibility as the Ologbotsere to act on his behalf. Part of my responsibilities is to ensure there is peace and harmony in Itsekiri land. I can’t therefore, be seen to be working against the peaceful co-existence of the Itsekiri people. This is exactly what I have been trying to do, and working very hard to achieve, since this unfortunate matter began.

Despite what has happened these past months, I have been working very hard to maintain peace, because I know, my opponents if anything goes seriously wrong, will be quick to say, Chief Ayiri Emami is crude, he is also an illiterate, any surprise, this type of incident is happening or has happened during his time as Ologbotsere?

But sadly, it is the so-called book people, who are educated and civilized that are today causing all the problems and instigating the crisis in the land just because they want everything they say, to come to pass. Things are never done this way in a civilized society. For me, whatever, it will take to maintain peace in Itsekiri land is what I am for.

That is the reason, I have been reporting at the Nigerian Police Zonal Headquarters in Benin City, whenever the Police say they need my attention.”

From all indications, Chief Johnson Atserunleghe, the Iyatsere of Warri Kingdom and his group, who might have had a pre-knowledge of the Itsekiri Youths and Women protest in the Zone 5 Police Headquarters in Benin City were conspicuously absent from the place while Chief Ayiri Emami and Chief Macgrew Richmond and some other persons were seen going into the Police Zonal Headquarters in Benin City while the protest was on.

Palace Watch insider source at the Zone 5 Police Headquarters in Benin City, said, “from the prevailing circumstances right now, as you can see for yourself, there is nothing we can do until all the parties in this matter are gathered here once again.

We are therefore extending another invitation to all concerned persons to assemble here in Benin City on Wednesday May 12, 2021 by 10 a.m.” Palace Watch immediately reached out to Chief Johnson Atserunleghe, and asked him, “Why did you allow this Chieftaincy disagreement to fester in the way and manner it has gone, and why have you also refused to reach a common ground on this matter with Chief Ayiri Emami and his group, if not for any other reasons but for the sake of peace and harmony among the Itsekiri people?”

Chief Atserunleghe in his reaction said, “If not for the negligence of Chief Emami, this matter would not have gotten out of hand. Let me put it on record, it was not me or the other chiefs in the Warri Palace that suspended Chief Emami as the Ologbostere of Warri Kingdom, it was the Ginuwa ruling house that suspended him.” Palace Watch then asked Chief Atserunleghe: “Are you not aware, that the Ginuwa ruling house haven’t got the powers to suspend Chief Emami, why did you not advise them against such an action, considering the fact, that the Ologbotsere title of Warri Kingdom belongs to another family entirely, who have now come out to say in a letter they wrote to the Ginuwa ruling house, that they were not consulted before Chief Emami was allegedly suspended by the ruling house as Ologbotsere?

The Iyatsere again reacted thus: “It is not within my powers to defend the actions or inactions of the Ginuwa ruling house. You can reach out to them, and find out why they did what they did. The Ginuwa ruling family have capable people who are experienced men and women, who will give you cogent reasons why they took the action they took against Chief Emami. As I earlier on pointed out to you, Chief Emami allowed the process to drag for too long; this was part of the things that angered the Ginuwa ruling house.

There is a saying in Itsekiri land, ‘You do not allow the rain to beat the white chalk for too long.’

The immediate past Olu of Warri, Ogiame Ikenwoli, as you are very much aware, joined his ancestors on the 20th of December, 2020. Chief Emami made sure the body of Ogiame Ikenwoli was kept in the Palace while the traditional rites that were supposed to be done, were not done.

He kept the body of the late Olu in the palace throughout the remaining days of December, 2020. The inaction followed all through January, 2021, February, 2021 up to the end of March, 2021. He locked up the king’s body and went about his personal businesses. He forgot, that this particular king is a father, he had a family, brothers, sisters, and he was an uncle to some people, who wanted all the rites completed, so that the man can be laid to rest peacefully.

All entreaties to him for Chief Emami to do the needful in this particular matter, fell on deaf ears. And when the Ginuwa ruling house invited him for a meeting over this matter, he will not attend, saying, it was not within the powers of the Ginuwa family members to invite him for a meeting.

That it was Chief Emami’s responsibility to invite the Ginuwa ruling house for a meeting. Even when the Ginuwa ruling house, finally decided to suspend him, I told him to go and beg them, he refused. In this case, you don’t expect me to cry more than the bereaved, so I left him alone.

“You see when HRM Ogiame Atunwase 11 joined his ancestors on September 02, 2015, all that was expected to be done, were quickly done without much ado. By December 12, 2015, we crowned HRM Ogiame Ikenwoli as the new Olu of Warri.” Chief Atserunleghe, continued, “you see, when things were heating up, I tried once again to talk to Chief Emami, he will not take my advice.

Chief Emami is a man, who ordinarily likes and enjoyed making trouble. Instead of taking our wise counsels then, he went ahead and reported us to the Delta State Commissioner of Police. It was when the Delta State Police Boss was making frantic efforts to arrest some of us that is when we had a meeting in the Warri Palace and decided to do a petition to the Assistant InspectorGeneral of Police in Zone 5 Headquarters in Benin City.

This was how this matter got to where we are now.” Chief Atserunleghe, however, promised to call Palace Watch on a later date and give a run-down of all that have been happening in the Itsekiri nation that have unfortunately snowballed into a full-scale crisis. Palace Watch then reached out to Prince Yemi Emiko, a prominent member of the Ginuwa ruling house, and asked how it came about the nomination of Prince Tsola Emiko as the new Olu of Warri designate, considering the fact, that the title of Olu of Warri is primogeniture, a title that goes from father to son?

We again asked him, “does your family have the powers to suspend Chief Ayiri Emami as the Ologbotsere of Warri Kingdom considering the fact, that, Chief Emami’s title belongs to another family entirely, who have written the Ginuwa family, saying that they were not consulted before Chief Emami was suspended as the Ologbotsere of Warri Kingdom?” Prince Yemi Emiko replied: “When the stool of the Olu of Warri became vacant, I was one of the people rooting for Prince Oyowoli, the son of the immediate past Olu of Warri, HRM Ogiame Ikenwoli, to be made the Olu of Warri designate. As a matter of fact, as at that time, we had various camps in the family rooting for various individuals to be the king. At some point, I was being tipped for the Olu of Warri position. We were all 19 princes gunning for the vacant throne then. My own father, who was the 18th Olu of Warri, Ogiame Erejuwa II, Wilson Ayonronmintsigbesimi Emiko, who reigned for 35 years, from March 24, 1951 to December 17, 1986, 15 male children were all in the race for the Olu of Warri throne. While the 19th Olu of Warri Ogiame Atunwase 11, who was my own father’s son, had two sons Tsola and Tobi.

The 20th Olu of Warri Ogiame Ikenwoli, who was another son of my late father, had two sons, Oyowoli and Omasholi, these were all Princes, who were qualified to ascend the Warri throne. “In one of our family meetings, I told my brothers to count me out of the Olu of Warri race.

And it was I who pleaded with the rest of them, saying “the Olu of Warri stool should be left alone for our children, who are now of age as two of my father’s children Ogiame Atunwase 11 and Ogiame Ikenwoli have ascended the Warri throne in quick succession.

The ruling house in their wisdom agreed with my suggestion. This was how the Olu of Warri race was narrowed down to Prince Tsola and Prince Oyowoli Emiko, who are our children. Before consulting the Oracle, I even wanted all the 19 qualified Princes to be locked up in one of the rooms as a form of “conclave” so that they can vote whosoever they want as the new Olu of Warri. We, however, decided to consult ‘Ifa’, an oracle as stipulated in the 1979 edict.

This particular edict says clearly that ‘the decision of Ifa in this matter is final.’ Even at that, the names of all the qualified Princes for the throne were put forward though. Surprisingly, the Ifa rejected all the 17 other names of the Princes put before it. The Oracle made it clear, that if Prince Oyowoli is made the Olu of Warri kingdom, he will only reign for three years.

It will be wicked of me, no matter the desperation to allow my nephew to take up such a title. As I will not want to lose him, Oyowoli for any reason. Not after the painful exit of his late father, whom I was very close to. Mind you, I was one of the people in the Ginuwa ruling house that opposed the candidature of Prince Tsola Emiko in 2015. After which I invited him, Tsola to my house, and told him, to be patient, that if he is ever destined to be the Olu of Warri, it will surely come to pass. It was as if I had power of clevoyance then.

So it was Ifa- the Oracle that picked Prince Tsola Emiko as the new Olu of Warri designate. And we all as a family stand by this decision.” Palace Watch then asked him, but section 4 of the 1979 edict you just quoted says “To qualify a candidate’s mother must be an Itsekiri or of Edo origin and his father must be an Itsekiri. The new Olu of Warri designate, Prince Tsola Emiko’s mother is a Yoruba woman from Ilesha in Osun State. Is this not a violation of this edict?”

Prince Yemi Emiko: Who says? Are the Yorubas not of Edo state origin? It all depends on who is interpreting the edict, or who is arguing. If the Yorubas are arguing, they will say that Edo is of Yoruba origin. And if the Edo man is arguing, he will say the Yoruba are of Edo state origin. If the Edo people are arguing, they will say it was one of their Prince Idio-duduwa, the name corrupted to be Oduduwa that left Benin and was made a king in Ile-Ife. This same Oduduwa is the progenitor of the Yoruba race today.

If the Yoruba is arguing, they will say the son of Oduduwa Oranmiyon was the one that founded the Benin dynasty. Head or tale, the Yoruba race is of Edo state origin, or Edo State is of Yoruba origin. We cann’t wish ourselves away. “In the case of Chief Ayiri Emami suspension as the Ologbotsere of Warri Kingdom, that decision has been taken and it stands. What is important now, is that deliberate efforts are being made to reconcile everyone, so that peace will again reign in Itsekiri land. Chief Emami and all the opposing groups are already cooperating, some of them are Chairmen or members of the Olu of Warri Coronation Committees. Chief Emami you must note, is not just an ordinary Chief.

He is not the type of Chief, you will say to, your matter has been resolved and you are reconciled with other Chiefs and as such just go and take your sit among other Chiefs in the kingdom. He is the Ologbotsere, the traditional Prime Minister. We are working very hard to give him a soft-landing that will not offend the people, who have already assumed his role or position in the kingdom. Once this is done, we will all be on the same page again in this matter. It’s the duty of an Olu of Warri to reject or reinstate him as Ologbotsere.

This will be done in due course.” One of the 70 Chiefs in Warri Kingdom, who spoke to us, and pleaded not to be mentioned for security reasons, said: “the sad thing about this crisis or developments is the uncompromising attitudes of Chief Atserunleghe, the Iyatsere on this matter. He wants to appropriate everything to himself and to his group without shifting grounds to accommodate the other group. Both Chief Ayiri Emami and Chief Johnson Atserunleghe, are two power-hungry persons, none of them is good.

The Ginnuwa ruling house over-reached themselves in this matter. They have no powers under the Itsekiri Custom and Tradition to summon Chief Emami as the Ologbotsere. It is the Ologbotsere’s duty to summon members of the Ginuwa ruling house and inform them about the passage of the Olu of Warri, and then ask them to present an eligible candidate among them for the throne.

Chief Emami in his ungentlemanly attitude, when the Ginuwa ruling house wrote him a letter over the rites that are supposed to be performed for the late Olu of Warri, instead of being civil in his response, he tore the letter sent to him by the ruling house and sent the pieces of the letter back to the Ginuwa ruling house.

He did not just stop at that, he placed it on the internet in an attempt to ridicule them. It was this insult that angered the Ginuwa ruling house.

This was the reason, they claimed to have suspended him as Ologbotsere, even though they do not have such powers under any law, or custom and tradition of the Itsekiri people.” On the emergence of Prince Tsola Emiko as the Olu-designate, the Chief said the Ifa-Oracle decision was manipulated by Chief Johnson Atserunleghe and some members of the Ginuwa ruling house to favour Prince Tsola Emiko.

Ifa, he stressed, also rejected the candidature of Tsola Emiko as the Olu of Warri. The Chief stressed: “ordinarily, there are five known kingmarkers in Warri Kingdom as we speak. Chief Ayiri Emami, who is the Ologbotsere, the traditional prime minister of Warri kingdom is the number one in the kingmakers ranking.

Pa Jemide is the Oshodi and number five in ranking. Chief Yayah Pessu, who is the Ojomo of Warri Kingdom is another kingmaker and number four in the ranking. They are all on one side of the divide with Chief Emami.

While on the other side of the divide, we have Chief Johnson Atserunleghe, the Iyatsere, who is number two in the ranking of Kingmakers and Chief Gabriel Awala, who is the Uwangue and number three in the ranking of Kingmakers and also the person in charge of the Olu of Warri’s wardrobe. In this particular case, we have three king makers to two king makers. But in this matter, the minority with the active support of the Ginuwa ruling house, are saying, they must have their way willy-nilly.

Things are not done this way and they don’t work in this manner too. “Of particular interest in this case, is the fact that it was Chief Yayah Pessu, the Ojomo of Warri Kingdom, that was the most senior king maker when Ogiame Atunwase 11 died in 2015. He single handedly performed all the rites and effectively piloted the process that led to the installation of HRM Ogiame Ikenwoli in 2015, when the late king ascended the throne.

He made sure every single rule was followed to the letter without any breach of the 1979 edict, and the whole Itsekiri people were happy with the outcome. And when he had cause to brief the Warri Council of Chiefs after the rites and ceremonies leading to Ogiame Ikenwoli installation were completed, I remembered him saying, that a special form will have to be completed and sent to the Office of the AttorneyGeneral of Delta State, affirming that the 1979 edit, was strictly complied with.

Now that they have deliberately breached some section of the 1979 edicts in this case, let’s wait and see who will fill that form and what they are going to tell the Delta State government.

Chief Pessu in this particular case, has told whosoever cares to listen, that he will not at the twilight of his life, connive to be doing the wrong thing or backing the wrong horse for whatever reasons.

Hence, his resolve to go with the Ologbotsere and others, who are pushing for the right thing to be done. “I am afraid, with all the wrongs, these people have done, the incoming Olu of Warri, might be the first Olu to be removed from the throne, via court’s decision.

And this will not be good for the Itsekir people. Before now, Prince Tsola Emiko, the new Olu-designate, has always been well regarded and taken as a gentleman in the entire Itsekiri kingdom. Why he decided to make himself available to be used in a situation like this by two out of the five king makers, who are being remotely controlled by few members of the Ginuwa ruling house, is still a shock to most people, and yet to be understood.

“This time around, reasons finally prevailed as Prince Tsola Emiko surprisingly made himself available on Monday, May 10, 2021 at about 6.30 in the morning and was led by Chief Johnson Atserunleghe, the Iyatsere of Warri Kingdom to Ode-Itsekiri, to perform the burial rites of Ogiame Ikenwoli at the Royal Burial ground in Ijala.

This was a rite he never wanted to perform. He had wanted to delegate this role to one of his uncles, Mr. Dudu, whose father is an Ijaw man, to go and perform this particular rite on his behalf. But the Olotu Ijala insisted that the Olu-designate must come to perform the rites himself.

He has forgotten so soon, that five years ago, the immediate past Olu of Warri, Ogiame Ikenwoli, performed this same rites for his late father, Ogiame Atunwase II. What is Prince Tsola Emiko afraid of ?”

Another Chief who again pleaded anonymity contacted Palace Watch saying that he is enthralled by our factual reportage of events that are happening in the Itsekiri kingdom. He said: “the reasons why the matters can still be managed now, is because the courts are not in session, they are on strike. Once the courts re-open, it will be very difficult to predict, what will happen or follow in this matter.

Most Itsekiri people, who are old enough to know what has happened in the past, can attest to the fact, that a messy chieftaincy matter like this, once happened in Itsekiri kingdom, when one Chief Okotie-Eboh led the assault on the Itsekiri custom and tradition just the way the Iyatsere and other chiefs are presently doing. Sadly, it’s the son of that Okotie-Eboh that is the present regent in this case. What an irony. The most painful thing about all that is happening now, is the fact that, people don’t just learn from past experiences.

All the people, who participated in doing the wrongs then, during the Okotie-Eboh era, all died one after the other afterwards. The same ancestors, who passed their judgements then, are still there and watching developments. Is it not shameful, while some Chiefs are still alive, their titles have been allegedly allotted by the Iyatsere on the instruction of the Ginuwa ruling house, to other Chiefs in the kingdom?

The information reaching most Itsekiri people, is that the position of Ologbotsere of Warri Kingdom presently being held by Chief Ayiri Emami, a title that solely belongs to the Emami family, has been allegedly given to one Chief Edwin Ole. While the title of Yayah Pessu, Ojomo of Warri Kingdom, has been allegedly given to Chief Ariyo. While the title of Oshodi of Warri Kingdom, the title of Chief Jemide, has been allegedly allocated to one Charles Ikomi. If all these allegations are true, it is nothing, but a recipe for disaster and anarchy.

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“Another recklessness being exhibited by the Iyatsere and his group is the decision to try other Chiefs, who refused to toe their line in their absence. In accordance with the code of conduct which does not exist and was not signed by the late Olu of Warri, Ogiame Ikenwoli, before his demise and was also not approved by the Warri Council of Chiefs.” He gave Palace Watch a copy of the hearing notice sent by the Iyatsere of Warri Kingdom group to the Chiefs in question, saying “why do these people desperately want to take what they don’t have the powers to take?”

The hearing Notice reads as follows:- TAKE NOTICE THAT YOU ARE TO ATTEND THE SITTING OF THIS AD-HOC COMMITTEE ON WEDNESDAY, THE 28TH DAY OF APRIL, 2021 AT 10.00 AM AT THE CONFERENCE HALL OF THE COUNCIL OF CHIEFS. The notice continued: “Both Parties are required to provide a list and particulars of witnesses and copies of documents that they may wish to rely upon in support of their respective cases. TAKE FURTHER NOTICE: That should the Respondent fail/neglect and/or omit to answer to this invitation within the time stipulated above, the Petitioner may be allowed to present their case and the Ad-hoc Committee may proceed to determine the petition and make its recommendations accordingly.

That should the Petitioner fail/neglect and/or omit formally present their case before the Ad-hoc Committee on the day fixed for sitting above, the Petition may be demised and the Respondent relieved accordingly. Attention: Petitioner and Respondent.” Our source continued: “As if this is not enough insult, another text message was sent to the Chiefs, who are against what the Iyatsere and his group are doing.

The text reads as follows: ‘Sir/Madam. The Warri Council of Chiefs’ Ad-Hoc Committee on Petitions and Complaints on your issue sat today as scheduled and unfortunately you were not in attendance to defend the allegations made by the Petitioner against you. ‘The Ad-Hoc Committee proceeded in your absence and the Witness Statement together with copies of the documents already served on you were adopted by the Petitioners’ witness and the Ad-Hoc Committee then adjourned its proceedings accordingly for a date to enable it present its findings to the Council of Chiefs. ‘We do appreciate all the parties in making the AdHoc Committee execute its job within its time frame. Thank you.”

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