AN OPEN LETTER TO HIS MAJESTY ON THE STATE OF ITSEKIRI NATION: OUR CONCERN.

We recall, in hindsight, the unsavory combined effects of politics and the diminished relevance of


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AN OPEN LETTER TO HIS MAJESTY ON THE STATE OF ITSEKIRI NATION: OUR CONCERN.


 

IWERE CONSULTATIVE FORUM

ISAIAH ROAD, UBEJI

WARRI SOUTH LOCAL GOVERNMENT AREA, DELTA STATE

NIGERIA

His Majesty

Ogiame,

Atuwatse III, CFR

The Olu of Warri,

Olu of Warri Palace,

Warri.

Your Majesty, Ogiame Suoo,

 

AN OPEN LETTER TO HIS MAJESTY ON THE STATE OF ITSEKIRI NATION:

OUR CONCERN.

 

We send our sincere felicitations and greetings to His Majesty.

2. We recall, in hindsight, the unsavory combined effects of politics and the diminished relevance of traditional rulers in the body politic arising from the adoption of a Republican Federal Constitution in 1963, the ugly events that led to the deportation of Erejuwa II to Ogbese.

It does appear to us that recent happenings in our homeland appear to mirror the crisis that led to the deposition and deportation referred to above.

It is, therefore, with great respect that we approach you through this medium. Please indulge us.

Ordinarily, we would have made this letter private but we observed with dismay that there is nothing suggesting to us that our previous letter(s) to His Majesty on sundry of issues were delivered to Your Majesty hence the adoption of this open medium of communicating to your office our concerns hereunder highlighted.

3. Effects of Current Events on the Oma-Iwere

We have had cause to discuss the goings-on in Itsekiri nation in the last two years or so with various well meaning Itsekiri individuals and respected groups following which we resolved to humbly bring our views on these happenings to the notice of Your Majesty.

It is our observation that our people are undoubtedly confused by the events rocking the Itsekiri Nation and are unsuccessfully, trying to make sense out of the situation. We also observed the withdrawal of our people and or development of cold feet towards any matters concerning the Itsekiri Nation. It is as if somebody or something has removed their interest and or participation in matters concerning the Itsekiri Nation.

This to our mind, is a very worrisome situation, Unfortunately, the reasons for this lukewarm attitudes, from our point of view are not farfetched.

We will attempt to examine, in some of the following paragraphs, what, in our view, are the reasons for the underscored attitude.

4. The Effects of the Uncertainties Surrounding the Olu and Wrangling Arising There from

With the number of legal challenges on the succession of the incumbent Olu of Warri, there is uncertainty, consequently confusion and an attendant apathy of most of our people. We dare to observe that nothing in the actions taken by the Olu has alleviated these uncertainties and consequent fears rather, more and more confusions and or squabbling pervades the Itsekiri space.

5. The Role and Powers of the Olu in a Republic

It is our view that arising from the legal challenges, we can say we have a de facto Olu of Warri but the jury is still out as to whether he is necessarily a de jure traditional ruler.

There even appear to be a lot of misconceptions, downright ignorance or mischief on the part of the traditional “advisers” and hangers-on to the Olu, as to powers of a TRADITIONAL RULER, their roles, internal and external, and consequently what should be the people’s expectations from our traditional ruler. This all-pervading misconceptions, especially from the “advisers”, have become, again , very worrisome.

For the avoidance of any doubts, we must make certain clarifications as to the matters that may have been misconceived:

• In a Republic, such as Nigeria, SOVEREIGNTY usually belongs to the People (but in Nigeria sovereign is vested, by the people, in the State).

• By the Delta State Tradition Rulers and Chiefs Law, the Olu of Warri is a Traditional Ruler. He is neither a monarch and nor a sovereign!

We can, thus, address the Olu by whatever title and appellation we may like, it does not change the fact that he is, ipso facto, a traditional ruler within the meaning of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and the law(s) of Delta State.

To understand the situation better, we invite Your Majesty to a speech delivered by Omo N' Oba N’ Edo Uku Akpolokpolo Erediauwa II, during the National Conference on Traditional Rulers and Local Government under the auspices of Department of Public Administration, University of Ife, on the 25th day of April, 1983.

On the ROLE OF TRADITIONAL RULER IN LOCALGOVERNMENT, Oba Erediauwa asserted thus:

" ... it can be said without any fear of contradiction that since independence, traditional rulers no longer have any roles whatsoever to play in local government, except what the community, customs and traditions enjoin them to do.“

He maintained that under the Bendel State Traditional Rulers and Chiefs Law, 1979 (applicable to Delta State) that "...in my view, traditional rulers are mere ceremonial heads, observers and advisers in the Local Governments set- up without any specific functions and they are ineffective in the National Council of State". Therefore, he argued that this is because Traditional rulers do not have executive, legislative or judicial functions.

The above position of The Omo N’ Oba N’ Edo remains up until just now uncontroverted and as such, it is very safe to say that it is what the customs and traditions of the people placed on the traditional ruler as his roles and functions that are his roles and functions.

7. Some Historical Facts As They Relate to the OLUSHIP and IWERE LAND

There are some historical facts that need to be understood also.

a) Historically speaking, the Itsekiri nation is not a conquered Nation. The Itsekiri had, at least, five separate city states or communities before the arrival of Ginuwa I. This affirms a historical truism, that people predate kingdoms.

(b) There is no known historical record that Ginuwa I ever ruled the geographical area described as Iwere land.

Infact, it was not until his son Ijijen went to Ode Itsekiri, met and was acclaimed by the aboriginal Irigbo people that we can, historically be talking of the makings of a kingdom.

(c) The Itsekiri people had their distinct language, traditions and mores which were later influenced by Bini traditions though, NOT in any major way. There are more aspects of our tradition that are influenced by Roman Catholic Church rites and Portuguese names

Therefore, the OLUSHIP was, at that time, and still is, at best, what can be described as a “Constitutional monarch”, which terms and conditions, to all intents and purposes, was negotiated with the aboriginal people. It is clear that the

Olu consulted with the communities, which had their own distinct leadership, on serious matters before he made pronouncement on such matters.

8. Traditional Appellation of “AFOMASIN”, A general misconception

One of the traditional Appellations of the Olu that has been misconceived and misused is “AFOMASIN”

Traditionally, the Olu's appellation of “AFOMASIN”, in the original context, means that no Olu’s pronouncement comes back unfulfilled because, before the Olu pronounced on any matter of traditional and political importance (before the Olu speaks, that is, “FO”), it had been fully discussed and agreed, with Chiefs, community heads and influential Itsekiri sons. (ASIN NEYIN REN).

It did not mean that the Olu could not be countered on any matter that may have unjustifiable negative consequence(s) on the people and their culture or that the Olu was infallible. On this point we take refuge on the protest against Atuwatse II for about 7 days under which he was forced to retract his pronouncement on the Ogiame Appellation. For the purpose of emphasis, AFOMASIN only means that in such issues, there have been wide consultations and a consensus has emerged.

There was always a door through which the Olu could backtrack on unpopular decisions. In this respect, to provide for this opportunity, the Olu does not speak directly to the people. A chief normally speaks as interpreter to the people for the Olu. It will be instructive to understand the role of the “IDIGBE” (a beaded mouth piece that usually covers the Olu’s mouth) in the full regalia of the Olu, especially when consequential pronouncements are to be made to the Itsekiri Nation.

9. Consultation of Traditional Rulers, “Governors” with the Leaders of the People

There are documentary evidence that these consultations took place and continued even during the interregnum when Diare, Tsaninomi, Olomu, Nana, in that order, were Governors and later Dore Numa, was charged with the responsibility of running the affairs of the Itsekiri Nation. There are photographs of these regular meetings in the reigns of Ginuwa II and Erejuwa II.

There was, also, even a method of influential Itsekiri persons holding important meetings with the Olu, without him, the Olu, sitting on the throne. At these meetings the Olu was confronted with his “errors” and truths were told. One wonders whether such meetings and community consultations can hold nowadays; because of misconception, ignorance and or mischief.

The Olu does not summon the people, as would an autocratic despot, in town Hall meetings, without regards to the need for consultation.

The Olu does not possess any land in the Itsekiri Nation. He holds land in trust for communities and or families.

Therefore, it goes without saying that the Olu is not sovereign or a monarch in the sense in which the words are used and meant today. He cannot make any proclamation on Itsekiri traditions and mores, without consultation with the community(ies) leaders and heads; and those that are considered influential people in the Itsekiri Nation.

We have reliable information that Atuwatse II, of blessed memory, was advised that it was illusory on his part to pretend that he could rule and reign at the same time. The result of his quixotic desire is still with us. It would appear the misconception that informed his unfortunate and misplaced ambition is still with us.

10. Sundry Events in Iwere Nation and Our Observations, Advice and Questions


Please permit us at this point to make some observations and ask some questions.
• Again, it bears repetition that the Olu is not a SOVEREIGN, either historically or in contemporary terms, especially with regards to our traditions, mores and practices. The powers and functions are regulated by the combined effects of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Delta State Traditional Rulers and Chiefs Law. To see him as anything besides a traditional ruler, as described above is not helpful.


• Having regard to the paragraph above, the Olu “proclamation” in respect of “Oloris” Atuwatse II and III, is otiose and of no moments, as they do not conform with the Itsekiri traditions and practices and as long as these traditions and practices have not been amended. Olori is neither a position or an office known to Itsekiri traditions. It is interesting to ask what would happen if an Olu has more than one wife, which he is entitled to have?


• The Olu’s “proclamation” on the different classes and prescribed different insignia for each class of our people is discriminatory, derogatory, unworkable and is “generally misconceived and generally misdirected” even as we opined that the proclamation is unconstitutional.

It is generally misconceived because it was meant to resolve what the “Princes” have found unpleasant and derogatory in the “Declaration Made Under Section 8 of The Traditional Rulers and Chiefs Edict 1979 Stating The Customary Law Regulating Succession to the Title of Olu of Warri” (Succession Procedure).


Paragraph 2 thereof makes a distinction between “descendants of the last three Olus” which it refers as “..Oton Olu’s Company (Otolu’s) and “..descendants of the Olus who had previously reigned and referred to Omajaja Company.“Our understanding of this paragraph is that Princes are always Princes. There are Princes who are descendants of the last three Olus and Princes who are descendants of the last four Olu and beyond. It must be noted that the nomenclature used to describe the Princes in the edict above only becomes operative on the demise of an Olu. It is in place only for administrative convenience and for determining who is eligible for succession to the OLUSHIP and rest Princes being only members of Ginuwa I Ruling House.

It is in resolving this nonexistent problem that the Olu made a “proclamation” which had combined effects of being unconstitutional, pretending to amend an existing law without legal authority. It goes further to prescribe insignia and uniforms for different classes of Oma-Iwere, that are ILLEGALLY, UNLAWFULLY AND UNCONSTITUTIONALLY CREATED!. This is very sad!

The question that comes to mind is, where are the Olu traditional advisers - the Chiefs? Where are his handlers, confidants etc?

We feel that the Ologbotsere matter, should have been handled differently, with more circumspection
and with more regard to Itsekiri integrity.

 

The present spat between Chief Mene Brown and Prince Yemi Emiko does not augur well for some parties in the existing legal suits. We feel it does not spell well to the foundation of the coronation. We will for sub judice make no comment further on this matter even as we feel that it may be near impossible to involve the members of the peace committee in any Itsekiri enterprise in the foreseeable future flowing from the event of Friday 14th and Sunday the 16th days of April, 2023.

Is the experience of Erejuwa II whose legitimacy on the throne was never questioned not enough for Itsekiri people, at least, as a cautionary tale? Again, where are the traditional “advisers” and or the “handlers” of the Olu?

11. Change the only thing that is Constant in nature

The only constant in nature is change, tradition will evolve over time and Itsekiri traditions, mores and practices will change and be “modernised” with time. However such modernization will not come by fiat or through the actions or proclamations of a “sovereign” or “monarch”. It will come by suasion, consultations and consensus. The traditional ruler therefore, foisting such change on the people by way of fiat may have consequences.

It is with the above in mind that we draw the attention of His Majesty to some of his conduct that he must necessarily pay attention to in order not to seen as a traditional ruler having no regard for the tradition of his people thereby threatening his own relevance.

Ogiame is occupying our traditional stool and must, therefore, adhere and be seen to adhere to the tradition and culture of the Itsekiri people.

The Olu is not the tradition of the Itsekiri Nation, but the custodian of the tradition. He cannot pretend to, willy nilly, change them.

Some of the occasions where our traditions are of utmost concern to us are:

The Olu’s sitting Arrangement in Itsekiri Official Functions:

We observe with dismay how Ogiame sits as a King on the throne while the Olori sits side by side with him as a Queen, this to our mind is a misnomer. We are still battling researching on kingdoms all over the world with both a King and a Queen at the same time.

Traditionally speaking, the Olu sits on the throne as “Okparan” while been flanked (with reasonable space) by Ologbotsere to the right and Iyatsere to the left as “Ori-Eni” without more.

The Olu’s Dress in Public We understand the pull to “modernise” the tradition or, as a “monarch”, claim the “authority” to decide what is and what is not acceptable as fashionable. He is an Itsekiri traditional ruler. Therefore, to dress like an Arab gentleman without a kaffiyeh or as a caricature of “Father Brown” (on “BBC Brit” available on DSTV Channel 120) in a cassock of the wrong colour, in public, is antithetical to the Itsekiri tradition and culture, especially as they relate to Itsekiri monarchy.

Olori Atuwatse III The Itsekiri Nation is aware that the incumbent Olori is an accomplished woman being a lawyer, a multi business owner, promoter of charitable foundations and organisations etc. Her interest in business covers, amongst others, fashion houses. We are blessed to have her as an Olori.

However, when she became an Olori of the Iwere Nation, there is an understanding that there is a need to balance her former life with demands of the traditional institution.

For example, her preference for western clothes, inpublic, is incompatible with Itsekiri tradition and culture.

The urge to be a “fashionista” in the public eye and be relevant to social media as an influencer is also not in tandem with our tradition.

More importantly, an Olori walks at least steps behind the Olu in public, It is a taboo for her to shake hands with anybody and or to interact with men, without the observance of the Itsekiri traditional safeguards.

It bears reminding His Majesty that Ogiame carries the myth, mysticism and embodiment of Itsekiri Nation and people, and he is, therefore, expected to be circumspect in seating with Olori in public and the Olori's interaction with the public, particularly the distance she must keep at all times.

Ogiame can imagine the consternation of Itsekiri Nation when it appears in pages of newspapers that the Olori was appointed to the inauguration Committee of the incoming Governor of Delta State!

The embarrassment to the Itsekiri Nation and, indeed, her friends, well wishers and those who held the Itsekiri peoples in very high esteem, is indescribable. Some of our neighbours were embarrassed for us. It was very embarrassing to us as it is against the Itsekiri tradition, culture and mores. It puts the Itsekiri crown squarely in the political arena with its attendant risks, it brought to fore a feeling of déjà vu.

The Olu and His Traditional Residences

Itsekiri have two official residences for the Olu: one in Ode-Itsekiri and the other in Warri. They are built to house the Olu and to provide facilities for his traditional and other public functions.

We observe that the Olu does not reside in either of the palaces. We cannot fathom any reason why Ogiame is not living in the palace. It constitutes a major challenge to the Itsekiri tradition, culture, mores and a blow to

the Itsekiri psyche, for the Olu to live outside these designated official residences.

When an Olu is crowned, he is crowned the Olu of Warri, that is 1,625 square miles described as IWERE LAND known and referred to as the Kingdom of Warri. It is expected that the Olu lives and performs his functions from any of the two residences referred to above. However, we have observed the Olu barely lives in any of the two residences. It does appear that Ogiame not only does lives outside the residences but appears he lives outside Iwere land. Ogiame only comes to town for scheduled events. This is antithetical to both Itsekiri culture and tradition and puts Ogiame in a position of conflict with existing laws and institutional practices.

“Desecration” of the Ogbowuru Hall and Deities

As posited earlier, tradition and culture is dynamic, however, there are certain elements that are basic and fundamental.

Over time, Itsekiri developed a system of beliefs that can be said to be the irreligion. This may be sacrosanct to their existence. For those adherents, it is a taboo to desecrate their holy shrines, grounds, deities and gods.

In the process of His Majesty becoming an Olu, he adopted and followed traditional rites which employed the use of Itsekiri traditions, ife, shrines, “Ebura”, emblems, totems etc. We cannot comprehend why and what Ogiame went to do in front of Ogbowuru with “anointing oil”, a Pastor and a prominent Palace Chief acting as the “uda” bearer. Needless to say that the action did not sit well with discerning Itsekiri. We noticed the exercise at Ogbowuru Hall because it was embarrassingly in the public domain. We are not sure if other deities precious to the Itsekiri Nation have not been desecrated.

We know as a fact that Atuwatse II, as a Christian avoided the Ogbowuru Hall in his 28 year reign.

The Olu’s Insignia and the Itsekiri Coat of Arms

The Olu’s Insignia which is the Itsekiri Coat of Arms contain what the Itsekiri nation considers items relevant to the people. These items are historically and or environmentally important to the people. Thus, the people hold this particularly close to their heart. Therefore, the insignia and national coat of arms, cannot be changed without an input from the people themselves. This is what is done in other climes, therefore, the redesign of the insignia with the removal of two “uda” supporting a crown and replacing same with Awerewere leaves, is reprehensible.

12. Too many litigations

The Crown and palace are involved in too many litigations, this to our mind constitute an embarrassment to the people. Some of the matters can and should be amicably resolved.

Communities' Leadership Disagreements

Our different communities are in turmoil. Attempts to appoint their leadership and the community administrative organs lead to intractable disputes. The intervention of the palace seem to be compounding their challenges, matters that are brought before the palace appears not to be given deep, serious, well thought out, fair, equitable and just considerations. For now, we appear to be losing at the community level.

There appears not to be a robust, knowledgeable, fair minded palace organization. This suggests an absence of traditional advisory back up or the presence of mischief in conflict resolution function set up at the palace. The palace administration does not have to know everything, however, it should be willing to undertake wide and thorough consultations, which, hitherto, has been one of the hallmarks of the Itsekiri Nation.

12. General

We want to note here that the situation in our Kingdom is moving at a frightening pace that something should be done fast to ameliorate real and perceived wrongs and misgivings.

Again, we must understand that Ogiame is not sovereign. He, like other traditional rulers in Nigeria, is not guaranteed special protection by the Constitution in a democratic setting, as we have in the country today. His powers are at the behest of Itsekiri, Ogiame is the Lord of the people but Itsekiri own the Ogiame (mini mini igbo, igbo mini). His powers are derived from Itsekiri. Over time, the powers have been delicately poised to enjoy the loyalty of the people. It is this loyalty that the Olu must strive to maintain for the crown to continue to be relevant. Unlike in the past, the Olu does not have power over life and property. The relevance of the Olu is dependent on his disposition, fairness and appeal.

We must remind ourselves, again, that the place of an Olu and indeed all traditional rulers in Nigeria today is under the Local Government Chairman. This makes it imperative to be extremely conscious, calculating, wise, fair, just, trust worthy and equitable, but not over bearing.

Given the aggressive nature, expansion tendencies and bellicosity of our neighbors, the crown and the people cannot get it wrong. Our neighbors, friends, well wishers, foes and indeed the world are watching the Ogiame and us. It is our sincere belief that the charade and drama are enough. The crown should not be doing anything to compound existing problems. The challenges are not insurmountable if only we have desire to make peace and reconcile every aggrieved party. The acrimonious environment is toxic and is breeding disaster.

Itsekiri cannot afford a divided nation even as it appears that our neighbors have over taken us in every sphere. It does not need a soothsayer to posit that we may be heading towards doom or extinction if something positive and radical is not done quickly to harness, harmonize and unite Itsekiri nation. Nothing and nobody is too big for the cause. It is for the survival of the crown, people and land of Iwere Nation.

On a final note, it is our humble advice that His Majesty be wary of perambulators and or praise singers on royal corridors scavenging for royal recognition coming with different negative stories about other Itsekiri.

 

Yours Faithfully,

For and On behalf of Iwere Consultative Forum

 

Prince Clem. Ade Omotoye, Esq.

Chairman

Arubi Ajofotan

Secretary


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