THE CRISIS OF THE ITSEKIRI MONARCHY AND BRITISH CONSULAR INTERVENTION
What was the situation in ITSEKIRI-LAND from the time Olu AKENGBUWA died in 1848 until a Leader was appointed for the ITSEKIRI People in 1851?
There was no doubt that in spite of the appointment of a Council of State Headed by IYE, there was none among the Royals who had enough popular support and the wealth to get himself accepted as KING (OLU).
IYE who had the power was a Woman. The ITSEKIRI Constitution did not provide for a Female succeeding to the Throne. It is doubtful whether she was herself anxious for any other member of the Royals to become King.
The picture which we have of her is the one painted by Beecroft of her in 1851. “On entering Princess Dellu’s mud and switch Mansion,” he wrote “there were a host of relatives seated on each side of the yard. She received me very kindly… She complained of being poor and miserable through so many deaths in the Family.”
There seemed at the onset that many of the ITSEKIRI People were themselves not anxious to have any of the Sons of AKENGBUWA on the throne and this may have contributed to the request for the Candidature of IDESO, one of the surviving Sons of OBA EREJUWA.
There was nothing in the Constitution to stop an earlier King’s Son from succeeding his Brother. There were some of the Chiefs who were inclined to have this man.
The succession to the ITSEKIRI Throne was more complicated than all that. Two conditions had to be satisfied:
1. The Candidate’s mother should not be a Slave (Eru) or the Daughter of a Slave (Oton-eru)
2. And the same time, the Candidate must be accepted by the ITSEKIRI Oracle.
IDESO failed on the two counts. At the same time, we must add that he was not wealthy enough to make himself acceptable.
When he was later consulted by Beecroft whether “he did not consider himself equal to the task of carrying out the duties of a Chief, or Ruler, he made a stammering reply and intimated that he was not fit on account of his poverty”.
#There were three Sons of Olu AKENGBUWA who had some chance of nomination.
First among them was ORITSEMONE who had established himself in the Large Village of UGBEGUNREN where he had a large number of trading Canoes manned by his slaves and we are told of how he sent a big Pig as a present to Beecroft in 1851.
From Beecroft’s estimation, “he was the most intelligent and the one most likely to rule with success, if supported”. Unfortunately however, the Candidacy of ORITSEMONE for one reason or the other was not acceptable to the Leaders in the Capital.
Beecroft tried to get some of the Royals to accept him and in a meeting in his Ship in March 1851, this proposal was accepted.
This move was of course Unconstitutional since the Oracle was not consulted and the Chiefs responsible for Nomination and Crowning of the King of ITSEKIRI were not present. IYE, aware of the British Consular move, did not attend the meeting and when the decision arrived at was communicated to her, she immediately armed all her slaves to the teeth to resist such an imposition, claiming that the White men were coming to attack the town.
The other Person who had good claims like ORITSEMONE was his junior Brother, IYONWUREN who was also living in his own Village. Intelligent and eloquent, he was one of those characters who could have made a brilliant Barrister.
According to Consul Burton who visited WARRI in 1862, he was the Lawyer and Chief Spokesman for his senior Brother ORITSEMONE.
Burton had this to say about his eloquence:
“The immense loquacity displayed by the expecting Negro, who loves to ventilate his eloquence, and his vicious taciturnity when expected to speak the surprising stupidity of some remarks and the excessive acuteness of others, the artful special pleading and the incautious admissions of the pleader, the ambitious comparison of himself with the White man, and the confession of an unlimited inferiority when he gains it, the extra cunning which always over-reaches itself, and the sound good sense, and, finally the looks, the bye-talks … these contracts and conditions form a picture that must be seen to be understood.”
The third Person who was in between ORITSEMONE and IYONWUREN was ERI. Since both those two did not win the support of IYE, she decided on the expedient of appointing a REGENT (OLOTU).
She hoped that any Person who filled the Post would control the affairs of the Nation under her direction until an OLU acceptable to herself was duly appointed.
She therefore got in touch with ERI who was junior to ORITSEMONE and less independent. But ERI was frightened of assuming any position that might jeopardize his life. It was only when IYE sent all the Wives of the deceased King to see him that he finally agreed to her proposal.
How long ERI remained the Regent, we do not know. His name did not feature at all in the documents of the time. Only Burton mentioned him in his report, but then it was only to dismiss him as an inveterate drunkard.
When ERI’s appointment was confirmed by an Assembly of the Free-Born ITSEKIRI Community, he was given no administrative function. But annually with the help of two aides, he performed the Ritual Sacrifices by slaughtering Bullocks to the Souls of the departed OLUS.
It is true that meetings were sometimes held in his Palace and National matters were discussed, but he granted no lands and unlike the OLU, the OLOTU was not regarded as holding any land in trust for the People to be leased as he wished.
The position in ITSEKIRI LAND was that there was no Central Government capable of wielding its influence all over the land in the way the former OLUS did.
One main reason for this was the poverty of the Royals arising from the diversion of trade from the Forcados and Warri Rivers to the Benin River, where ITSEKIRI Settlements had grown.
END OF PART TWO
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