THE news broke like they do every day but would not vanish like others before it. The reported death of the revered Itsekiri monarch, the Ogiame Atuwatse 2, the Olu of Warri, remains yet in the realm of speculation as both the media and the watching public have yet to be furnished with an official position on the health of the monarch. The conjectures and hearsays being touted notwithstanding, the Olu Palace Council, the appropriate authority, which ought to guide public thought on the issue, seemed perplexed so far on how to reach out to the Olu’s subjects, who have been itching that the air be cleared on the issue.
At best, what the public has had has been Itsekiri groups speaking on the issue. One of such was the Iwere Integrity Group (IIG), which said in a statement issued on Thursday that the Olu of Warri, who was said to have had a fall in his house, was not dead but in a coma. “We promise to let you know, through the Warri Traditional Council, should his condition improve or deteriorate,” said the statement, signed by its chairman and secretary, Moses Fregene and Fancis Ariyo respectively.
In the circumstance, while the Warri Traditional Council is being awaited to brief the nation on the health status of the reverred monarch, a flash back on the life and journey of the monarch would be refreshing at a time he dominates newspapers’ headlines and confusion reigns over his health. Formerly known as Godwin Toritseju Emiko, before he was crowned and he took on the traditional appellation of the Ogiame Atuwatse 2, the Olu is the second son of Olu Erejuwa 2. A lawyer by profession and the second university graduate to ascend the great throne of Warri Kingdom, he was crowned on May 2, 1987.
The Ogiame Atuwatse 2 held his office with carriage and sustained all the myths and majesty for which it has always been known. At least for those coming to know about the office of the Olu of Warri in the contemporary times, the office and its holder are almost invincible; rarely seen, rarely heard, but always felt. The mythical character of the Olu and his office might even be said to be responsible for the persisting silence over his current state, especially as the rumour of his death refuses to go away. An Itsekiri elite who was once reached for progress report on the state of the king, when the rumour first broke, after claiming not to have heard of the development, also added: “No true Itsekiri son will confirm what you are looking for to you. It is a taboo; Olu no dey die”.
However, in the course of his eventful 28-year reign, two very critical moments would define the time he has been lord and king over his propel. According to an Itsekiri man, who preferred not to be named, (the Olu is considered by his subjects almost as a demigod whose issue must be discussed with caution), the reign of the Atuwatse 2 has many unique signatures that marked it out, but three of them have been most significant. Number one would be the profound political growth and influence of the kingdom because it was under his reign that the Itsekiri nation produced a governor. Number two was the proclamation of renunciation of the title of Ogiame, which almost sacked him from the throne and the third being the brutal Warri crisis which led to deaths and destructions.
The first signature, according to the source, would always be taken as important to the Itsekiri nation, about the smallest ethnic nation, in comparison to its immediate neighbours and which has been described by some as ‘the minority among minorities’. Although the emergence of Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan as governor of the state was not physically made possible by the Olu, the fact that it happened during his reign, a feat that might not materialise in any political environment where ethnic number would determine who gets what, remains a plus.
The source said: “His reign brought profound growth, not necessarily in the development of Itsekiri as a nation per se, but more in terms of the political growth of the kingdom. It was under his reign that the Itsekiri, who are supposed to be the minority among minorities, produced the governor. With the rare privilege also came a lot of recognition, appointments and projects.”
Going further, he recalled the unpleasant occasion in 2013 when youths and other subjects of the Olu rose against him in indignation for daring to attempt a change to their cultural heritage. The Olu had on Wednesday, September 4, 2013, put out a declaration renouncing the title of Ogiame, which in Iwere or Itsekiri language means King of the Rivers. His reason for the action was, according to him, because it carried some fetish connotations, which run contrary to his faith as a Christian.
“Today, I renounce our allegiance to Umalokun and other gods of the sea. I also repent for the name and title of “Ogiame” that my ancestors and I have borne as it connotes our allegiance to Umalokun and other deities of the sea, all of which are false,” he had declared. But this singular act almost cost him the throne. That was besides the chaos that went with the protest. This led to a revolt, during which Itsekiri people called for his dethronement, but somehow the traditional council resolved the issue and he withdrew the declaration.
The third defining event was the Warri crisis, which will go down in the people’s history as one of the bloodiest experiences they have seen. “His tenure also witnessed the height of disagreement between the Iwere people and their two immediate neighboursthe Ijaw and the Urhobo. Prior to his time, it used to be just verbal. At worst, they slugged it out in the courts. But during his reign, it went physical, so much so that lives were lost and millions of naira worth of properties were destroyed. I even heard that during the crisis, in some places, children were tossed into fire or smashed against the wall. The situation got that bad,” a source said.
Whenever those that are vested with the responsibility of overseeing the welfare of the Olu come out to tell the world about his state, it will definitely not be the case of a monarch without a story.