The coronation of a dashing monarch in the oil-rich but impoverished Delta region has sparked a resurgence in royalty, tradition and ancestry among some young Nigerians.
Thousands thronged the streets and dignitaries and well-wishers flew in from around the world as the Itsekiri people of Iwere Kingdom in Delta state crowned a new king, Ogiame Atuwatse III.
Born Utieyinoritsetsola Emiko, the 37-year-old is the 21st Olu of Warri to ascend the throne and one of the youngest to do so.
Inspiring a new generation
The prince has inspired a new generation with his progressive attitude and his speech was the highlight of the ceremony for many who have often lamented the failures of leadership in the country.
In a wide-ranging speech, he called for the region to look “beyond oil and gas.”
Nigeria is the largest oil-producer in Africa, contributing 86% to the country’s total export revenue.
The Niger Delta, in the southernmost part of the country has had to battle with insurgents, oil spills and pollution caused by behemoth energy companies in the region.
“We must look beyond oil and gas, and channel our energy in the right direction, towards the endeavors that will result in added value across the board,” he said in the speech.
Many have expectations on the new Olu of Warri to set things in motion to rewrite the narrative of the region.
“The Niger Delta has had either the narrative of pollution or the narrative of insecurity, and I really feel like this is a turning,” Oritsema Jemide told CNN.
‘Women no longer invisible’
The Olu of Warri also pledged that women would be given agency to play an active role in the community.
“We will ensure that women, both old and young, honored and respected not only by word, but in actual cultural practice.. So I say to our women today, you will no longer be invisible.”
As is common in monarchies, he also bestowed new titles on his mother and wife to be known as Iye Olu Atuwatse III and Olori Atuwatse III.
Itsekiri entrepreneur Tara Fela Durotoye attended the coronation ceremony.
She told CNN citizens of Warri, from all stratas of society were filled with excitement at the promise the new king brings to his people.
“I saw people break out in dance at his appearance. I saw people exclaim… I think Nigerians are looking for something different and something new, something fresh. And he represents all of that, in his age, his exposure, his educational background, the pedigree,” she said.
“He brought so much to the throne, to see a forward thinking monarch, who understands technology, who understands entrepreneurship, understands the role of women. It was such a beautiful, beautiful experience and being a part of it gave me hope,” Durotoye told CNN.
Notable leaders including former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the Ooni of Ife, the king of Ile-Ife in South West Nigeria, were present at the ceremony to pay homage to the Olu of Warri at Ode-Itsekiri, the ancestral home of the Itsekiris.
Across the country and in the diaspora, many tuned in to local broadcasts and gathered at viewing centers to witness history.
The Itsekiris are an ethnic group who live in the westernmost part of the Niger River delta.
Durotoye, told CNN it was the second coronation she was witnessing, crediting the first attendance to her father, a historian who ensured his children were conversant with their culture.
“As a young girl at 10, I attended the coronation [of the present Olu of Warri’s father] and there was so much love for that king… every home was talking about the coronation…with different activities counting down to his installation as the Olu,” she said.
“Sitting there today, as a 44 year old woman, mother of three children, and getting to participate in and be present at another coronation in my lifetime was very humbling. “
Hope for the diaspora
Before his speech the Olu of Warri thrilled the audience with his rendition of Christian worship songs. However, this met with criticism from some quarters who expected the monarch to embrace the traditional faith of his forebears.
The Olu also reversed an ancestral curse, said to have been placed on Nigeria by his grandfather Olu Erejuwa II.
“As a firm believer in the intricate interconnectedness between the spiritual and the manifestation in the physical. It is our firm belief that the matter needs to be addressed today,” he said.
“As the spiritual, cultural, political, and traditional ruler of this land… I hereby reverse the curse and in its place, I release forgiveness and healing to the federal government of Nigeria, whose minds was used to propagate that offense.”
For some like Jemide, the new era offers hope for Itsekiris in the diaspora that an enabling environment will be created for those who wish to build stronger ties with the community.
“I feel like this coronation is particularly significant for me because I have been toying with the idea of spending a lot more time.. building a foundation..and putting down roots, ” she says.
“It’s very significant to have someone who is now on the throne, who I feel carries a vision for the kingdom that will create an enabling environment for those dreams.