Remembering the Late Olu of Warri, HRM Ogiame Ikenwoli, as Itsekiri Nation mourns - Paul Ukpabio's Blog


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Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Remembering the Late Olu of Warri, HRM Ogiame Ikenwoli, as Itsekiri Nation mourns

... Our Last Interview with the Late Monarch in Warri


The Kingdom of Warri has always been in the news, Warri, an inland port on the Niger River in the Niger Delta is today blessed with a new generation Olu who aspires and craves for development in the coastal region.

His Majesty Ogiame Ikenwoli The Olu of Warri in this interview with Paul Ukpabio and Biodun Adeyewa shares the beautiful history of the people and the cultures and traditions that have evolved as a lifestyle for him and his people over the years. 

Being the Olu of Warri, do you feel fulfilled? 

I thank God for the privilege to serve my people as their king. When you say fulfilled, it applies to someone who applied for something. It applies to something that a person aspired to get or have and when you get it then you are fulfilled. But in my own case, I didn’t apply. Mine was just to accept. I didn’t plan to be the Olu of Warri. All the same, I give God all the glory. I thank my royal family members for recommending me along with two other of my brothers. I thank the Council of Chiefs for selecting me and I thank my ancestors for confirming my selection through the oracle. All the glory belongs to God.

What are the things from your early background that has moulded you today?

I was born in the palace and I grew up in the palace like my other brothers and sisters. Our father was a disciplinarian. He taught us how to have the fear of God, to be humble, to be respectful, to be hard working and to always tell the truth. These are the things that have really moulded me.

Who among your parents influenced you most?

My father influenced me most. That was because I was very close to him. All those qualities I told you just now are things that he drummed down into my ears. He taught me to work hard. In fact the motto on his letter head was ‘Truth crushed to the ground, must rise again.’ So he believed in truth. I imbibed those qualities at a young age and they are still handy for me today.

What were the influences that shaped the kind of education you received?

My father took interest in our education. He gave me the drive. It was not just about me, it applied to all of us his children. His influence is in the way I live, the way I relate with people and the way I do things generally.

What early memories do you have, living in the palace?

Life in the palace now has completely changed in the sense that when my father was Olu, he had so many wives. We all lived together. We referred to all the wives as our mothers. If you are not close to us in the palace, you won’t know that we have different mothers. Another thing that readily comes to mind now is that the palace then was two dimensional worlds for us. There was the male and female. We, the male children, were more attached to our father. As soon as we were ten years old, we were banned from the royal harem. You couldn’t even go to your mother’s house. You couldn’t even touch your mother. We were detached from our mother. If you mistakenly stumbled and touched your mother, she would have to tell or confirm that it was not intentional, and there would be a ceremonial sanctification at our spiritual home with some sacrifices. All the clothes the child was wearing that day would be removed and taken to the river to be buried. So those were the kind of things we used to experience in those days. So at that age, we were cut off from the royal harem and attached to our father and the palace workers.

Also when my father was alive, he made us to believe in the supremacy of God despite the fact that he was a traditional ruler. We used to have early morning prayers at 5am. There has always been a church in the palace even from that era. At a time Foursquare was here. But it was Christ Apostolic Church that was here when my father was on the throne. It was also my father that influenced the Christ Apostolic Church to come to Warri and its environs. The Catechist comes to the chapel at 5am and we would all be there. Though there was a line that we could not cross between male and female household members. At Nine o’clock in the night, we repeated the same routine. So till today I have imbibed that culture. I pray in the morning and in the evening. Every Friday then, we used to observe fast, though when we were in the boarding house in school, we may not observe it, but at the palace, we had to observe the fast till 12 o’clock, while our mothers and father fasted till 5 or 6 o’clock pm. So till today I fast twice in a month.

Since coming to the throne, one of the first things that you called for was the development of the entire kingdom involving all the stakeholders. What motivated you to initiate this move and with months gone by, how has the committee for this development fared?

Well, what moved me to do that was during the ethnic crisis in Warri, most of our communities were vandalized and destroyed by those that were contending against us. Many of our subjects abandoned their communities and they have been hibernating in the cities, Warri, Sapele, Benin and some are even in Lagos. Till today, some of these communities are still abandoned. In some communities, you see very few people there. When I came, I took it as one of my cardinal responsibilities to have the people re-locate to these communities. There is a development programme put together by Chevron. There is an amount of money stashed away for the development of these communities. The organization goes to these communities to build two bedroom or three bedroom bungalows for the people. But it has been noticed that when these buildings are erected there, they are not inhabited because there are no means of livelihood to keep them there. That is why I called for a committee that should focus on development of cottage industries, farms, fish farm, poultry, piggery and whatever other livelihood there, so by the time more people go there to work and live, it will encourage more habitation of those abandoned communities. And that also will ginger development.

You asked how they have fared. What I can say is that the committee right now is working towards that, but not as fast as I would want it. But I am encouraging them to try and do more, to get more and more people from the urban to the communities.

Warri used to be vibrant with social life. But moving around, one noticed that Warri is quieter these days. What can you say about that?

Yes, you are right. Warri in those days used to be a very vibrant, social, and cosmopolitan city! But it all boiled down to that same ethnic crisis that we had. So since then, Warri has never been the same, coupled with the fact that armed robbery has greatly increased, kidnapping too and other vices, like it is in most urban areas in Nigeria and even on the highways. These days, people find it difficult to stay out late at the night. And Warri social life is mainly in the night. We have night clubs, cinemas and so on. I still remember that when we were young, we sometimes left night clubs at 2am or even 3am. Most of the area down here to the palace was thick bush then. But we were walking freely. There was no fear. These days it is becoming increasingly difficult to do this. Even in broad day light people have been kidnapped. So that has affected the social life of Warri. However, since I became King, I have been preaching peace, love and unity among my people and our neighbours and this has been sinking down. There is also a social group called ‘Warri Rebirth Initiative’ made up of Old Waffarians. Warri boys and girls are referred to as Waffarians. They are meeting regularly to see how they can bring back the social life of Warri and they are enjoying my support. So, gradually healthy social life is returning to Warri and we are optimistic that it will happen faster.

As a prince, did your peers relate differently to you when you were in school based on the fact that you are royalty?

When we were in St John Christ Apostolic primary school which was just right opposite the palace, 6 of us were all there at the same time. Now the school is called by a different name. The palace warden used to walk us to school. The whole town knew us as prince and princesses, but there were no special treatments that were reserved for us. We were treated like any other person. If we were on break and you returned late to class, the teacher flogged you! (Laughs) Discipline was rife then, not now that a parent of a flogged child will probably go and arrest the teacher, that’s if the pupil or student does not gang up his colleagues to beat the teacher. Those days there was discipline. Even in the secondary school, we were not treated differently. At a time we were eleven children there, my father had 5 and the rest were my cousins who also attended the school with us, trained by my father. The only privilege we enjoyed was that my father requested that we should be allowed to come to the palace every Sunday, to attend church service at the palace. And the principal obliged. He used to send a car to pick us on Sundays.  After service, we played at the palace till evening when we were returned to the school. Apart from that we could not leave the school without an exeat from the Principal or House master!

Can you recall any prank that you used to commit as a child?

I have always been quiet and reserved. Though I had opportunities of being the opposite! I started seeing and handling money at a very young age. In 1967 when I was in primary 5, I was on a salary of 3 pounds as a ‘Sword Bearer’ to my father. My name was given to them in the Council, and I was on the pay roll. The first time, someone came, took me there. I didn’t know why. I was made to sign several files and at the end of it I was given 3 pounds. I didn’t know what it was for. When I got to the palace, I showed it to my father and asked him what it is for. He told me that it is my money. He told me to take 2 pounds from it and told me to share it to my brothers and others. After that I was going there every month to collect my pay. If I was wise then maybe by now I would have owned houses in Warri because at that time one could buy land with one pound in Warri. But I was not spoilt. I was always with my brother.

What is your dream for the proposed University of Warri?

It’s a dream like you said. We will see how we will bring it to fruition. We have already secured a site and we are working to make sure that development goes on. I am trying to bring everyone necessary together, so that we actualize the dream. I am optimistic that we will get there in no distant time because the interest is growing.

What was life like in the university?

(Laughs) I went to school as a big boy. I was already grown in age and I had worked and made money. I actually owned my car. And at that time only very few students had cars on campus. On weekends the whole campus will be filled with cars because some of the students would go home to bring their parents cars. But we were just seven who had cars on campus regularly in the school then. The few who had were my immediate younger brother and I, then Ibori and a few others. Life was sweet! But like I said, I didn’t allow that to go into my head. I was there as a senior boy. I was 30 when I entered university.

How did you handle the girls on campus?

I didn’t have any girlfriend. But my wife didn’t know. She thought I had girlfriends on campus. Sometimes she came unannounced into the campus to see me (laughs). It was after I finished on campus that her friends told her I didn’t have a girlfriend. That was when she believed. I was chaste. I am very reserved when it comes to womanizing. I thank God that I went to campus and came out successfully.  

But did you enjoy life on campus and did the ladies rush after you?

Yes, they did as expected especially when I had a car. But sometimes they did not rush that much because maybe they saw that I was a reserved man. And I knew why I was there; I faced my education and got out of campus. The good thing was that I had a wife, who was always around me.

There seems to be a mutual understanding between Your Royal Majesty with the Oba of Benin and then also, the Ooni of Ife, what can you say about this?

Historically, the Oba of Benin seats atop the throne of our Father. The Olu of Warri was the first son to Oba Olua and heir to the throne. He was eventually mandated to come and rule in the riverine area, which is why I am Ogiame, a Benin appellation that means King over the rivers - ‘Ogie Ame’. That was in 1480. So I owe him filial respect. But I must emphasise that the Itsekiris are not from Benin; it is only the Olu that came from with a monarchical system of government which the people accepted. The Itsekiris hold the Oba in high esteem as the one sitting on the throne of the father of their king. So recently when he came to visit Warri after his coronation, as part of his thank you visit, the whole kingdom was agog with excitement. Our people went to meet him kilometres from here, with Chiefs dancing along with masquerades; they escorted him to the palace here. The level of welcome they gave to him is next to none which he appreciated a lot. About the Ooni of Ife, he is in our bloodline! The Ooni is in our bloodline. We are related by blood. I think there is a theory in mathematics that if A is equal to B and B is equal to C then C must be equal to A. So if I am related to the Oba of Benin by blood and the Oba of Benin is related to the Ooni of Ife by blood, then I am related to the Ooni of Ife by blood. I am not going to go into the controversy of who begets who between the Oba of Benin and the Ooni of Ife but what endears the Ooni to the entire Itsekiri people was when he came to honour us with his presence during my coronation. It was a week after his coronation. A time when he was supposed to be resting, but he came! So all Itsekiris like him and love him for that because it was the highest demonstration of love. Those are some of the reasons why we are very close. I have also gone to see him as well. I spent a night with him at the palace there.

Any advice for Nigerians and the government?

At this time I will appeal to Nigerians to be more accommodating of each other. My dream of Nigeria is for all us to be able to live in any part of the country that we may choose to live without fear of being molested or harassed. Nigerians should be more prayerful. Also I want to make a special appeal to Mr. President that the two ports that we have in my kingdom should be working. Right now one is working and not working enough; meanwhile in Lagos trailers are blocking part of the road that is congestion, meanwhile we have two ports here laying fallow and not utilized. We need the development here, we need the ports here to be working and there will be less restiveness in this area. This will make us happy too.  

How do you spend your leisure?

I try to read when I have the time. I do exercises. I did this morning and I do at least twice a week, Wednesdays and Saturdays. I love swimming though my swimming pool is not ready yet.

What are the things that appeal to you?

I like honest people. I like people to dress very neat and decently. When you are honest, gentle, humble and you tell the truth, I will like you as a person, irrespective of whether I have met you or not. I love to travel though these days I cannot travel as such unless I am specially invited. The truth is that however, I cannot honour all invitations. If a first class traditional ruler invites me fine, or the Governor or President invites me then it is customary to go.

Do you miss travelling?

Seriously (Laughs)! Nothing else (Still laughing)!

Looking at your different royal robes, they are similar to the robes of a priest. What is the connection?

We have had so many Olus that have been Christians. I am a Christian too. The connection dates back to the 16th centuries. We were attached to the Portuguese. The two crowns we have here today came from Portugal along with the regalia. ONE of our princes in those days WAS sent to the King of Portugal. Our King and their King were friendly through missionary. They were so friendly that the Olu then sent his son to live with the King there; His son was the first graduate in the whole of South Sahara. When he was there, he got married to a Portuguese white lady. Then his father passed on here. And the lot fell on him to come home and take over from the father as the next Olu of Warri. When the news got to the King of Portugal, he prepared two crowns for him (points to the crown in one of his photographs) so that when he got to Warri, he would be crowned a King and his wife too will be crowned as a queen. But when he got to Warri, he was told that according to customs and traditions, women don’t wear crown here! So the two crowns are won by the Olu. The King of Portugal also gave him different regalia. So he was dressed in the regalia along with the crown and made King. Since then, that has been part of our royal regalia.

How about the prominent cross on the regalia and crown?

Yes, the two crowns have cross on them. We are Christians but that does not deter us from our traditional callings. Even in language, there are some words today we use in Itsekiri language that are Portuguese words like Kujere which means Spoin, Kanaka or Tobele which is a drinking glass and so on. But I have done some modernization in my dress that is why you see me looking a little bit different.

As a 21st century royal, ruling in the days of the internet and social media, how do you relate it all to the traditional values and culture of your people, especially as it bothers on the preservation of your identity as a people?

The internet is a blessing to everybody. It has gingered the social media; communication is faster, richer and less cumbersome. But it has its bad sides too, because can mobilise to blackmail, abuse and commit all sorts of vices that are not supposed to be. We are living with it, because it has come here to stay. We intervene too with our culture through social media. Now before I travel the whole world is already aware. The other day I was on the way to Abuja when I got to the airport, I saw our Governor there, waiting to board a flight. But my friend had sent his private to pick me. After greeting, I went onboard with my brother and a few chiefs. By the next morning, one newspaper had my picture with the governor on front page with a caption that the governor came to pay me a courtesy visit at the palace campaigning for my support in the then upcoming election. Meanwhile we met in Benin. The following day again, another paper had the same photograph saying that myself and Okowa were sitting together in Reverend Idahosa’s church. So the internet is a blessing but I am appealing that people should use the internet positively to propagate our culture and traditions to those who don’t know us.

There has been a continuous call for the preservation of monuments and artifacts for tourism. Do you have landmarks that could be developed into tourism sites?

We have some here. At Ode itsekiri we call it big Warri that is our ancestral home; it across the river, you can get there in ten minutes. When the missionaries first came, the first church in Nigeria was established there, long before it was established elsewhere. It is no longer a church; it is now for traditional use. We have another palace there as big as this one. There is also the royal cemetery today where the first Olu was buried and which still serves as burial place for all Olu of Warri when he passes on. It’s a persevered place but has not been made a tourist site. I’m working on developing the place into a tourism site with a tourist board to take care of the place. There’s also the magical javelin that was thrown from a deity from the burial ground and landed in Ode Itsekiri. At different times the head of the javelin comes out where it landed. Sometimes it vanishes. 

I have instructed them that next time it comes out again we can have something constructed there so that we can make reference. When we left Benin, the Oba had a magical boat constructed that took the Olu and 70 sons of his chiefs. It took them a decade to get to itsekiri, We are making plans to showcase that aspect of our history too. Warri is a big place. Escavos is part of Warri, I have three local government councils in the Kingdom. There is also the war museum in Koko which has been preserved by the Nigerian Tourism Board. Those are part of the things in my kingdom that can interest Tourists.

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