Ayiri Emami, a Victim of Vaulting Ambition?

For the ousted Ologbotsere of Warri Kingdom, and billionaire businessman, Ayirimi Emami, it is apocalypse. On Thursday, September 2, the man popularly called Ayiri, lost the exalted position of Prime Minister of Warri Kingdom that had given him so much visibility, airs, and clout, to the erstwhile Iyatsere of Warri, Johnson Amatserunleghe who now occupies the pride of place as the highest ranking chief, next to the Olu of Warri in hierarchical order.

The traditional change of guard was announced by the Olu of Warri, Ogiame Atuwatse 111 at the recent plenary of the Warri Council of Chiefs. It was the outcome of a revalidation exercise of the council of chiefs which commenced September 2, 2021 as announced by the 37-year-old monarch 10 days after his August 21 coronation. Recall that Ogiame Atuwatse 111 had in a personally-signed statement dated September 1 but released August 31, 2021, dissolved the traditional council, all committees and sub-committees in Iwereland with immediate effect and announced a revalidation and confirmation exercise to commence September 2, 2021. Citing Section 25 of the Delta State Traditional Rulers Council and Chiefs Law, CAP. 2 Laws of Delta State of Nigeria 2008, the Olu said “the process of registration of all chieftaincy titles with the prescribed authority in accordance with the provisions of Section 25 of the Delta State Traditional Rulers, Council and Chiefs Law, (supra) shall follow immediately after the revalidation and confirmation exercise.”

Apart from Amatserunleghe who was upgraded to ‘Ologbotsere’, a title held by Emami under the former Olu, Ogiame Ikenwoli, other chiefs, were revalidated and retained in their positions. Ayiri however failed to present himself for the revalidation exercise.

This new development could not have come to many as a surprise. To the discerning, it was bound to happen. It was the natural consequence of one man’s brazen affront and rebellion against an institution that had endured, and one that made him. The royal sledge hammer may however have come down hard sooner than expected. Even in his worst state of naivety or fantasy, the embattled disrobed prime minister ought to have seen it coming. With his failure to stop the coronation of Omoba Tsola Emiko, then Olu of Warri-designate, as the 21st Olu of Warri Kingdom, Ayiri Emami, who had put up a spirited fight against the choice of the first son of Ogiame Atuwatse 11, became the proverbial man whose head was used to break a coconut but did not live to partake in the sumptuous flesh.

Ahead of the historic grand and colourful coronation ceremony, feelers from prominent Itsekiri sons and inside palace sources hinted TELL that the then suspended Ologbotsere, may lose his traditional title. He was appointed Ologbotsere (Prime Minister) October 20, 2017 in very controversial circumstances, amid widespread protests by many members of the Itsekiri nation such that until his ignominious removal, he was never respected and accepted by many as their Ologbotsere.

Leading the groundswell of opposition to the choice of Emami was the irrepressible Itsekiri Amazon, rights activist and traditional chief, Rita Lori-Ogbebor who at a press conference in Lagos, kicked against the conferment of the title on Emami against the wishes and collective interest of the Itsekiri nation, declaring that he would not be recognised.

Expressing surprise that Ogiame Ikenwoli still went ahead to make him the Ologbotsere, Lori-Ogbebor said: “I will, therefore, not believe that the Olu will rush to confer a title on anybody because there is no reason to do so. Above all these reasons is the fact that there is a saying, which guides the Itsekiri throne and it is ‘Mi ni mi ni I gbo, I gbo mi ni’, meaning the people own the palace, and the palace owns the people. It is this marriage between the people and the throne that makes the Itsekiri throne unique. This is why people would die for the throne and the throne should do same. Simply put, the Olu does not take a decision on his own without proper consultation. It would be sad if it is true that the Olu conferred any title on Ayiri”.

Not convinced that such event actually took place, Lori-Ogbebor said “I only saw the Olu, Ayiri, and three chiefs somewhere. I do not see anything that suggests that a chieftaincy title was being given out. If it is true that a chieftaincy title was given, the Olu would be putting his credibility on the line”. To those protesting the appointment, she urged them to “Please fight nobody, but just ignore Ayiri as an Ologbostere of Itsekiri people”.

This was the situation until Ogiame Ikenwoli joined his ancestors barely five years after he ascended the throne and Ayiri Emami, the most senior traditional chief, started to rabble-rouse unknown to him that he had embarked on a journey of self-destruction. Standing against a popular choice, the then prime minister insisted Omoba Tsola Emiko was not qualified to ascend the throne and he did everything humanly possible to stop him. But like the Bible says, “Who is he who speaks and it comes to pass, When the Lord has not commanded it?” (Lamentations 3: 37). Ayiri’s antics came to naught.

And like the Scripture also says, ‘Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16: 18) Emami has turned out the greatest loser in the kingship brouhaha he stirred in his self-appointed role as the policeman, enforcer and judge of the Itsekiri customs and tradition. The first indication that Ayiri Emami was a goner was his suspension from the Council of Chiefs March 22, 2021 for alleged “misconduct” by the Ginuwa 1 Ruling House. Trouble started when the Emami-led Olu’s Advisory Council, disqualified the choice of Omoba Tsola Emiko by the Ruling House.

Then came the sacrilegious invasion of the palace of the late Ogiame Ikenwoli where the over 400-year-old crown and other paraphernalia of the Itsekiri traditional stool were carted away. Though the then Ologbotsere was rigorously quizzed by men of the Assistant Inspector General of Police, AIG Zone 5 Headquarters, Benin City, Edo State, and two princes suspected to be complicit in the disappearance of the crown declared wanted, the crown remained missing such that another had to be hurriedly made for the coronation.

An obdurate Emami is also in court to challenge the choice of the now Olu of Warri, and his suspension as Ologbotsere. The last straw that broke the camel’s back however, was his perceived campaign of calumny and desperate moves to discourage the Delta State Council of Traditional Rulers and Chiefs, and other prominent Deltans, from attending the August 21 coronation ceremony having failed to secure a restraining order from the court to stop the ceremony. To his utter disillusionment, the court adjourned the case to September 28 when the event would have long held.

Announcing his suspension, the Regent of Warri, Emmanuel Okotie-Eboh, who emerged following the demise of Ogiame Ikenwoli 1, flanked by members of the Ginuwa 1 Ruling House, said “Chief Ayiri Emami, having exhibited actions and tendencies unbecoming of the position he occupies, and having proven himself unworthy of the Ologbotsere stool, is hereby suspended from the Warri Council of Chiefs.

“He is to immediately step aside as the Ologbotsere and stop parading himself as such.
The Iyatsere, who is next in command, and in fact the most senior Chief that accompanied Ginuwa I from Benin to found the Warri kingdom, is hereby appointed the acting chairman of the Council of Chiefs and the Olu’s Advisory Council.

“He is to take over immediately and steer the remainder of the process to give us an organized speedy closure. Enough of Ayiri’s drunken antics and scatter-brain approach to our affairs”. Ogiame Atuwatse 111 was to seal his fate Tuesday September 2 when he replaced the rambunctious Ayiri with the former Iyatsere after a revalidation of his traditional title.

The magazine’s investigation however revealed that the billionaire businessman is a victim of a vaulting ambition; a kingmaker who wanted to be king for as long as he could hold the throne hostage. Though some Itsekiri leaders of thought were wary of conferring Ayiri with the Ologbotsere title, the highest chieftaincy title in the kingdom, he was however backed by some powerful politicians who wielded enormous influence in the kingdom. As far back as October 2017, Lori-Ogbebor had raised the red flag that “There are people who want to take Itsekiri throne and palace because of the resources and this is what the people should worry about. Let it be clear that as the custodian of the Itsekiri throne, we shall not surrender our throne”. Now, the chicken has come home to roost.

There had been sustained protest and opposition to the choice of Ayiri as Ologbotsere. On July 25, 2017, the people of Jakpa, joined by some leaders of thought and a huge crowd of Itsekiris stormed the palace of the late Ogiame Ikenwoli, to protest the proposed conferment of what they called Jakpa heritage title – Ologbotsere (Prime Minister) of Warri Kingdom – on Ayiri Emami based on issues of integrity and loyalty to the cause of the ethnic nationality. According to one of the leaders the of the protesters, Weyimi Agbateyinero, “Persons so nominated in the selection and nomination of Ologbotsere fall short of all known traditional standardsand requirements paraded by previous occupants of such chieftainship in terms of age, integrity, intellectual capability, status, etc”.

A follow-up meeting took place August 11, where the Itsekiri General Assembly called Ugbarajo-Omajaja, which comprises Itsekiri Leaders of Thought, ILoT, and Itsekiri masses, restated their rejection of the alleged attempt by Ogiame Ikenwoli to impose the billionaire business man as the Ologbotsere.

According to one of the resolutions at the meeting, “There was a resolve to let the Olu know that the person he intended conferring the Ologbotsere title was not deserving or qualified to hold such a title”.

So, in the face of grave threat to the Itsekiri ancient throne, and survival of the Itsekiri nation, most of Ayiri’s erstwhile supporters have since abandoned him. One of them who spoke to the magazine, said “he became like the proverbial lost dog that is deaf to the hunter’s whistle”.

With Tuesday September 28 as the next adjourned date, the magazine learnt that more troubles await the embattled Ayiri. According to an informed party in the unfolding drama, by digging up an Edict on which he based his opposition to the choice of the then Olu-designate, “He has boxed himself into a corner; he dug a pit for himself and he will bury himself there because the Edict did not really favour him. With that Edict, he has not completed the process of being an Ologbotsere, so, he just boxed himself into a corner”.

He hinted the magazine before the coronation how their relationship had gone sour over the kingship crisis. According to him, “You know when a person takes an oath with the devil, the devil has many ways of manifesting in the person’s life. That is what I told him that he’s angry with me. I said for you to be boldly doing all these things that you are doing now, you took an oath with the devil. When they were making him the Ologbotsere, it was very controversial that is why some of us said let us help him to succeed not knowing that he has his own plan of making sure that no king emerges so that he would be like the acting king for some years. He just created confusion. But by Saturday, by the grace of God, we will have our king”.

As far as he was concerned, by going to court, Emami has “dug a pit for himself, and he will bury himself there”. Asked if he could be stripped of the Ologbotsere title, he retorted: “Eighty to 90 percent possibility. He starts shouting prime minister, prime minister. The title appears too big for him. If you were the one, would you keep him?” Ayiri however insisted that by tradition, he holds the title till death do them part.

On why he did not complete the traditional rites, he retorted: “He didn’t know. You know some things can be hidden in places. He was just very excited in being the Ologbotsere. The lawyers have really dissected the Edict and they found that he has not even completed the process. Anyway, the next hearing is September 28. There are other issues that would come up. Petitions were filed against him for contempt of court because he took the case to court and he was the one all over the media ranting and making noise. All things being equal, they will start hearing the contempt charge on 28th of September; that is if more petitions don’t come in. More petitions are likely to come in”.

Following his installation as the fourth Ologbotsere of Warr at a restricted ceremony October 20, 2017, where Johnson Atserunleghe and Gabriel Awala were also conferred with the titles of Iyatsere and Uwangue of Warri Kingdom respectively, Ayiri Emami who stated that “The reward for work is more hard work”, promised to use the position “to advance the cause of the Itsekiri and Warri Kingdom”.

One of the prominent Itsekiri leaders who congratulated Emami, former Delta State governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan, prayed God to grant Ayiri “the wisdom and comportment to hold the title in uplifting the Iwere land to greater height”. From the turn of events, Ayiri appears to have frittered away the goodwill he hitherto enjoyed from those who staked their reputation and integrity for him.

As the case he filed in court comes up on Tuesday, the question is how far can he go in fighting an institution he was invested with the traditional mandate to protect and preserve as the Ologbotsere? The answer lies in the bowels of time.

Ayiri Emami Photo
Ayiri Emami

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