WARRI—PALACE chiefs rose from a meeting in Warri, Delta State, Sunday, asking the Olu of Warri, Ogiame Atuwatse II, to withdraw his controversial statement, last week, denouncing his “Ogiame” traditional title because it is purportedly associated to a river goddess.
The chiefs handed over the order to the monarch just as the Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, weekend, intervened in the feud between the monarch and his subjects.
In the past two days, some Itsekiri youths have laid siege to the palace of the monarch for allegedly renouncing his traditional title of Ogiame on grounds that it is associated with a sea goddess and also dissociating himself from some of the kingdom’s age-long traditional practices, which he described as paganism.
As tension builds up in Warri kingdom over the affair, security agencies have been forced to beef up security, both at the palace and the monarch’s residence, while the governor cut short state matters in Asaba to personally mediate in the matter in Warri.
The governor is not alone in the peace moves. 37 members of the royal family had earlier waded into the matter. Vanguard learnt that when they met with the monarch in his palace, he stuck to his gun. They had to dissociate themselves from his action.
Itsekiri woman leader, Chief Rita Lori-Ogbebor, had also met with Olu of Warri on the matter, but after their deliberation, she said there was no headway yet.
Uduaghan relocates to Warri
On his part, Governor Uduaghan, abandoned other state matters to meet with some of the contending parties, yesterday.
The youths who occupied the palace grounds said they do not want to listen to any emissary and asked the governor to come and address them himself.
A source said it was obvious to the governor when his emissaries returned with the message of the protesters that the crisis of confidence between the monarch and his subjects could go out of hand if not properly managed.
He, therefore, came and addressed the youths, urging them to maintain peace, as government would wade into the matter and ensure the matter was resolved amicably.
The governor implored them to allow the chiefs and elders to look into the matter, saying that dialogue was the only way out.
So far, his intervention has calmed down frayed nerves, as some leaders urged him to meet with all the parties and talk to the Olu to be more diplomatic, while some hardliners insisted he should tell the monarch to resign.
The source said: “As I speak with you now (time was about 3.00 pm on Sunday), the governor is to meet with Itsekiri chiefs at the residence of the Iyatsere of Warri kingdom, Chief Gabriel Mabiaku over the matter.
“After the meeting with the chiefs, he will meet with the youths. But the meeting is yet to start.”
An aide of the governor, who did not know that his boss left Asaba for Warri told Vanguard at about 5.00pm, “I do not know the position now, and it is only the governor that can speak to you on the matter. What I know is that we are expecting him in Warri tomorrow (today), but if you say he had arrived quietly and is already meeting with them, I do not know.
“What I can tell you, however, is that the governor is particular about his peace and security agenda and he will do anything possible to ensure that the boat is not rocked.”
Govt confirms Uduaghan’s intervention
Delta State Government, yesterday, in a press statement also confirmed that the governor has waded into the internal crisis between the monarch, Ogiame Atuwatse II and his people.
“The Governor appealed to the men, women and youths to remain calm and peaceful as efforts were on to ensure that reasons prevailed over the matter.” the statement said.
“Dr. Uduaghan who addressed them at the Olu of Warri, Ogiame Atunwase II’s palace ground, assured the people that everything will come back to normal soon as all efforts were been made to address their grievances.
“He informed them that he has already discussed with Olu of Warri, Ogiame Atuwatse II, chiefs and youths and all parties were willing to give peace a chance.
Governor thanks the youths
“The Governor thanked the youths for conducting themselves in a peaceful manner and urged them to remain peaceful.
“The leader of the youths, Mr. Omolubi Newuwumi , had appealed to the youths to listen to the governor as he has come to ensure that peace was maintained in the kingdom.”
Pastor urges Itsekiri to support Olu
However, Pastor K. Okoni, of Power Grace Ministries, Effurun, near Warri, urged the Itsekiri sons and daughters who have risen against their monarch because of his decision to renounce idolatry and other fetish practices to simmer down, as he was on the right track.
His words: “The Olu of Warri has taken the right decision by giving his life to Jesus Christ and renouncing everything that has to do with idol worship.
“All Christians in Itsekiriland should stand by him and support him in prayers. His fight is for the Lord’s people in Itsekiriland, it is not for himself alone, they should pray. This is the time to pray, they should pray ceaselessly for the Lord to take control and speak to those who do not understand what the battle is all about.”
Olu should resign —Newuwumi
A royal blood of Iwere (Warri) kingdom, Prince Omolubi Newuwumi, who led the protesters on the siege to the palace, told Vanguard, yesterday, “There is no going back on our position, it is either the Olu vacates the position, resign or we will force him to leave office. He cannot sit on the throne and abuse our tradition.”
He said leaders from over 112 Itsekiri communities would form a congress to dethrone the monarch if he did not retrace his steps.
His words: “Yes, I am the leader of the protesters, Ogiame Atuwatse should withdraw his statement , he is not in the position to make a law on our traditional beliefs and let nobody deceive him, there are protocols that must be followed before certain things can be done.
“You must read what he said about the title of Ogiame being synonymous with the goddess of the sea. Let me tell you, there is nothing he can do about it, 75-80 per cent of Itsekiri people live within the sea environment. They are things that are natural to the sea, which he cannot change.
“Sometimes, you could see some violent moves in the sea, it suggests something, maybe a corpse refused to float or something happened, the gods have something to say in such cases. When we do Umolokun, it is respect we give to the goddess of the sea, it is our tradition, he cannot change it.
“Nobody is stopping him from being a Christian, he should vacate the stool and go and practice his Christianity but not to tell us that we should no longer sing the Itsekiri national anthem because he is a Christian – is he the first Christian in Warri?
“If he says the tradition of Itsekiri people is making him ungodly or unholy, he should leave it for us and go with his holiness elsewhere. Does he know that a two-year Itsekiri boy can recite our national anthem and that there is a bond that ties us together when we sing it.
“As far as I am concerned, some of us now see him as a past Olu of Warri until he retraces his step. More than 50 per cent of the chiefs of Warri kingdom are with us in this battle that Olu must go if he does not come back to his senses.”
Vanguard gathered that the Olu of Warri had sent emissaries to the protesting youths to meet with him, but Newuwumi said, “we are not ready to listen to him as long as he is not ready to listen to us.
“We have taken over the palace, it is our palace, he cannot dictate to us on our traditions. If he is not ready to abide by them, he should go.”
How crisis started
Trouble started, last Wednesday, when the monarch allegedly read out to a small crowd of Itsekiri people at his palace a message that he had renounced the title of “Ogiame”, as it is associated with a water deity and other gods.
He also said he was renouncing all pagan religious practices of his ancestors till date and submitted Warri Kingdom and its people to Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, as a born again Christian.
As soon as the news spread to Iteskiri towns and villages, anger was stirred against the monarch, who made it clear that he was changing the Ogiame title to a yet to be announced title.
Those against him said Warri kingdom has been synonymous with the Ogiame title since 1480 and it was wrong for the monarch to wake one day and upturn history.
In a swift reaction, Itsekiri youths from across Delta State mobilized to the palace at Ajamimogha to protest what they termed sacrilegious and unacceptable action of their monarch.
They set up bonfires everywhere, chorusing the Itsekiri national anthem, which the monarch prohibited by his new order.
Comrade Omolubi Newuwumi, a prince of Warri Kingdom, confirmed that he was leading the “mutiny” against the monarch.
Vanguard learnt that night masquerades overtook the palace’s surrounding throughout Friday night such that the DPO in-charge of the “A” Division had to come and inspect the place midnight to verify an allegation that some parts of the palace fence had been broken by the protesting Itsekiri youths, which turned out to be a false alarm.
Omolubi, however, said the youths were not out to destroy or cause any havoc but only to ensure that the culture was not bastardized further and the name, Ogiame, retained as of old.
Royal family rejects Olu’s stand
In the face of the tense atmosphere, members of the ruling house of Warri Kingdom, the Emikos, went into the palace to discuss with the monarch, last Friday.
The meeting was deadlocked as 37 members of the royal family came out with a statement, dissociating themselves from the declaration made by HM Atuwatse 11, the Olu of Warri.
The statement read in part: “That historically when Prince Ginuwa left Benin to become the first monarch at about 1480, it was with the authority and blessing of his father (Olua, then Oba of Benin) to reign over the rivers, hence the title, OGIAME, meaning King of the rivers.
“That the whole gamut of history behind the Itsekiri throne is captured or encapsulated in the title, Ogiame.
“That the property in the title ‘Ogiame’ belongs to the Itsekiri people who have so addressed the monarch right from inception over 500 years ago.
“We consider the history/pedigree of the Ogiame title as sure that the Itsekiri people hold it dear and sacrosanct to the extent that it should not be cancelled for whatever reasons.”
Lori-Ogbebor, other chiefs meet Olu
Itsekiri chief and amazon, Mrs. Rita Lori-Ogbebor, led other chiefs to consult with the monarch for about three hours only to come back with no positive result. She promised that they would return for further consultation with the hope of gaining some compromise from the king.