The Vindication of Atuwatse II
Despite the five-hour time difference between Boston and Warri, I followed last Saturday’s coronation of Ogiame Atuwatse III, the 21st Olu of Warri. That a blindfolded monarch picked that title (from the 20 ceremonial swords bearing the names of his predecessors) could not have been a coincidence. It is a testament to the courage of conviction exemplified by his late father, Ogiame Atuwatse II. I congratulate the Atuwatse III and the entire Itsekiri nation for how this story has ended.
At the Aghofen Palace ground in Warri on 30th November 2013, then Prince Tsola Emiko had joined his siblings (Nere, Toju, Ola and Neye) and their mother to publicly seek forgiveness from anybody their father (then just deceased) might have offended. His elder sister, Princess Nere Teriba who spoke on behalf of the royal family said on that occasion, “forgive him (Atuwatse II) if he had offended you. Find it in your hearts just to let it go. He blessed everyone. He never kept or harboured grudges against anyone. He kept us on our knees praying,” said the Princess who pledged support for their uncle who had been selected to succeed him. “I thank Iwere nation for honouring my father when he ascended the throne. Growing up as a young man, the elders and chiefs honoured and crowned him, even though he was not a conventional king.”
Many could not understand this act of grace from the immediate family of Atuwatse II, especially considering that the crown prince had just been denied the throne on account of where his mother hailed from. Besides, the Itsekiri people didn’t believe the late monarch did anything to warrant the forgiveness being sought by his family. In fact, the much-revered Igba of Warri, Chief Rita Lori-Ogbebor, was almost angry about it. “Obviously, the children are innocent and ignorant of the tradition. From the day he was crowned 28 years ago, Atuwatse II transformed from being just their father to being father of the entire Itsekiri nation.” She added that the Atuwatse II on whose behalf his children were apologizing was a great monarch who merely stepped on a number of big political toes.
Remarkably, the transition from Atuwatse II to Ikenwoli went without rancor. But with his death last December, there was a consensus among Itsekiri people that this time, Tsola Emiko should be the next Olu of Warri. Of course, there were also a few powerful chiefs who insisted on using a contentious 1979 military edict to rewrite history and the tradition of a Kingdom that began in 1480 with Ginuwa who reigned as the first Olu of Warri until 1510. At the end, the will of the people prevailed last Saturday.
Before I conclude with the substance of this intervention, let me take readers back to my column of 19th September 2013 on the late 19th Olu of Warri, Atuwatse II. Titled, ‘The Olu of Warri and His God’, there are embedded lessons that his son, Atuwatse III, may find useful as he begins what promises to be a long reign on the throne of his forebears.