By Nehru Odeh
Tsola Emiko, the Olu of Warri- designate is in the eye of the storm. Six years after his father’s demise, he is embroiled in a kingship tussle capable of tearing the kingdom apart
However, the intriguing thing about this crisis that has seen many baying for blood and the kingdom divided into opposing camps is that it played out in 2015 shortly after his father’s death. Then, as it is happening now, the debonair prince wanted to succeed his late father, Atuwatse 11, but couldn’t.
He was disqualified not on health grounds, but for the sheer fact that his mother was not an Itsekiri or Benin woman (his mother is Yoruba). The Chieftaincy and Traditional Edict of 1979 stipulates that the mother of an Olu must be either an Itsekiri or Benin woman. And the 37 year- old prince, who was 31 at the time, accepted his fate in good faith.
In good faith? Certainly. However, six years after, in what seems like a déjà vu, the Olu- designated is being haunted by the same demons that stood on his way to succeeding his late father. But he is not going to kowtow to those demons. This time, the gods have spoken through the Ifa Oracle and allegedly designated him Olu, but some high-wired mortals are kicking against it.
He is facing stiff opposition from many in the kingdom, including the Ologbotsere (Prime Minister) of the kingdom, Ayiri Emami who reportedly disqualified the Olu-designate after he had been chosen by the oracle as the next Olu.
According to Emami, the process leading to his selection was not only illegal but fraught with inconsistencies because due process was not followed.
Emami says not only was he not carried along in the selection process, his emergence did not follow the stipulations of the Chieftaincy and Traditional Edict of 1979, which clearly states how the Olu should be selected.
“You know we have 1979 Edict (The Chieftaincy and Traditional Edict of 1979) Section 2 of that edict says if the Olu is indisposed, the Ologbotsere will invite the Royal Family to tell them to get prepared to bring somebody that can be talked to that is, the Ola-Ebi or Olori-Ebi. So, when the condition is passed, he will now tell them go and get me a successor that is Olu-designate.
“Tsola happens to be Atuwatse’s son who was supposed to be the king in 2015. But he was disqualified because of Article Section (4) of the Edict in 2015. We now have two sections that are against Tsola that I’m talking about. Section (2) which says succession goes from father to son; if the son is not suitable, it now moves to the brother; if the brother is not suitable, it goes to the Uncle; if there’s no uncle, it goes to the grandson; if there’s no grandson, it goes to other family member where Tsola belongs
“So, what I’m saying is subject Tsola to pass through this process. Let me go through the son, the brother, the uncles if there’s any, the grandson then it gets to you. You cannot just come and tell me that the oracle disqualifies. I am the only person and the other five Chiefs that can take anybody that is picked out, that passed through this process to the oracle,” Emami was quoted to have said in an interview.
The Olu advisory Council headed by the Ologbotsere also backed up their claims by saying that the Olu designate had earlier been disqualified in 2015 from succeeding his father, the late Olu of Warri, Atuwatse 11 because his mother is Yoruba. The Chieftaincy and Traditional Edict of 1979 stipulates that the mother of a candidate to the Olu of Warri throne must be an Itsekiri or Edo (Benin) woman.
Emami also stated that of the seven kingmakers in the kingdom, only two were present at Ode-Itsekiri, the ancestral home of the Itsekiri people.
“I don’t support illegality. You don’t buy Itsekiri customs and tradition … The throne comes to you. I’m not part of what is going on there. That’s illegality, and that’s why I am not there.
“Out of seven, it’s only two kingmakers that were there. I am urging Itsekiris and, indeed, all Nigerians to remain calm. Itsekiri will announce their king when the time comes. Emami as the Ologbotsere of Warri will never support illegality in any form, Emami averred.”
Still, the question is: Will the Itsekiri announce a new king different from the one earlier presented? That certainly is not in the cards. And the Olu-designate, it seems, is not ready to allow the stipulations of an edict prevent him from being King,
However, the kingship tussle has degenerated to a point whereby not only are the two opposing camps holding their grounds it is already tearing the ancient Warri Kingdom apart.
The tussle has taken the form of musical chairs. Shortly after the Ologbotsere announced the disqualification of the Olu-designate, the Ginuwa ruling house, which produced the Olu-designate in turn disqualified the Ologbosere, asking Chief Johnson Atserunleghe the Iyasere of the kingdom to take over his duties.
According to a historical report, the first Iyatsere who is next in command, and, the most senior chief, accompanied Ginuwa I from Benin to found the Warri Kingdom. Still, Emami is holding his ground saying that he cannot be disqualified by a ruling family.
Majority of the Itsekiri people are apparently behind the Olu designate, who is not only suave, debonair, urbane and western-educated, but exudes a confidence associated with his blue blood and good breeding; though that confidence is currently being put to the test.
However, the kingship tussle has escalated. It almost turned into violence recently when hundreds of protesters, mostly youths, stormed the Olu of Warri palace, located on Ajamimogha Road in South Council Area of Delta State.
The youths, mainly in support of the Olu-designate, occupied the palace, bearing placards with the inscription “We must follow Ifa oracle”; “Itsekiri is not your property” and “We are tired of waiting”. And they all rejected the disqualification unanimously.
A statement by the Regent of Warri Kingdom, Prince Emmanuel Okotie-Eboh, which was read by Prince Toju Emiko, a member of the Ginuwa I Ruling House and Secretary of the Emiko Descendants Forum, said: “The Ginuwa I Ruling House, which is the only ruling house in our land and which has exclusive powers to nominate a successor to the throne, has been meeting in the last three months after a convocation of bona fide members of the house to nominate a successor to the throne.
“In the end, Prince Tsola Emiko was picked as the most qualified person to sit on the throne at this time. This was done only after his name was submitted to the ruling house by a majority of the descendants of the last three Olus, even in compliance with this vexatious edict (of 1979).
“The edict does not give them such powers; they have no right whatsoever to disqualify any candidate presented to them by the Ruling House.
“Their only prescribed function is to summon the elders and senior officials of the Ruling House and in the presence of the regent consult the Ifa Oracle one last time.”
Meanwhile, the Olu designate has other troubles to contend with, aside from the stiff opposition from the other side of the divide. Two historical crowns are said to have disappeared from the Olu OF warri place. The 410 year-old crowns – a pair comprising diamond and silver for Ogiame (monarch) and his Olori (queen) respectively – have been used by 14 past Olus since Ogiame Atuwatse (Dom Domingos) in the early 1600s.
The problem now is that the Itsekiri nation is in a dilemma as the Olu-designate cannot be be installed without the crowns. The coronation of Emiko as the 21st Olu is scheduled for early July in Ode-Itsekiri, the ancestral home of the Itsekiri.
“We expect the crowns to be back before the coronation. Every Itsekiri son or daughter knows that the coronation (Oyoekoro) of an Olu without the crown is unthinkable,” a source close to the palace the Nation.
However, the dust raised by the missing crowns had hardly settled when another claimant to the throne Prince Harrison Jalla stirred the already turbulent waters by filing a suit at the Delta State High Court. In that lawsuit, Jappa, who ostensibly doesn’t belong to either sides of the divide, is praying the court to annul the steps already taken so far in the selection of Tsola Emiko as the Olu-designate.
Prince Jalla, a member of the Olu’s Company, claims he is qualified to be the next king and has indicated interest to participate in the selection process.
He also said since his immediate family had nominated him for the highly-coveted position, he is waiting for the Ist and 2nd defendants to kick-start the process of selecting a new Olu of Warri in accordance with the customs, traditions, practice, and procedure of the kingdom.
He listed contending parties in the kingship tussle, which include Prince Emmanuel Okotie-Eboh, Chief Ayiri Emami, the Ologbotsere of Warri Kingdom, Prince Oyoewoli Emiko, Prince Tsola Emiko as well as Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, the State Attorney General and the State Executive Council as defendants.