Welcome Address by Dr. Aruegodore Oyiborhoro, President of Urhobo Historical Society (UHS) on the Occasion of the 12th Conference on this day November 26, 2021 at Urhobo House, Uvwiamuge, Agbarho, Delta State.
It is my pleasure and special privilege to welcome you all, the President-General of Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) Worldwide, Olorogun (Dr.) Moses Taiga, our Royal Fathers, Iloroguns, Ekakuros, respected Chiefs, and distinguished ladies and gentlemen. I want to thank HRM, Air Vice Marshal (Rtd) Lucky Ararile for accepting our invitation to deliver the keynote address.
I thank Chief Simeon Ohwofa a key supporter and organizer of UHS activities here at home, for accepting our invitation to serve as Chairman of this occasion. Also, I want to welcome members of Urhobo Social Club, Lagos; Urhobo Leadership Forum, Abuja; Atamu Social Club, Lagos; Urhobo Solidarity Club, Port Harcourt; Urhobo Renaissance Society represented here; our school children; and our Urhobo people and friends in the Diaspora, and those who are connecting to us via Zoom from Canada, the United States of America and Europe.
We Have Come a Long Way
In 1998, the Urhobo National Forum, USA was formed by a group of us from New York and Minnesota, including John Harry Ofurhie, Michael Akpobome Egi, and myself.
We immediately organized a lecture, which later became an annual event, at LaGuardia Airport Hotel in Queens, New York to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the passing away of an icon of the Urhobo people, the legendary Chief Mukoro Mowoe. Little did we know then that Mukoro Mowoe was going to give us his modern-day version, in the person of Professor Peter Palmer Ekeh, the founding President of Urhobo Historical Society (UHS) in the year that followed.
It was following the Mukoro Mowoe Lecture in 1998 that UHS was inaugurated on August 28, 1999. As Peter Ekeh put it, in the rationale for inaugurating UHS, “If you do not write your people’s history, others will. If they do, you may not recognize it. If you do recognize it, you may not like it”.
Peter Ekeh’s primary objective for UHS was to “Serve Urhobo History and Culture,” by documenting the simple lives that the ordinary people lived in their neighborhoods, the history of our towns and villages, the survival of our language, system of justice, protection against internal and external enemies, our traditional religion, festivals, and all facets of our lives.
In serving Urhobo History and Culture, UHS adopted three platforms to achieve its objectives. First, was to create, develop and maintain an award-winning website, www.waado.org as well as http://www.urhobodigitallibrary.com.
Second, was through publication of Monographs focusing on various aspects of Urhobo history and culture; and third, by organizing annual Conferences where matters of interests to the Urhobo people would be discussed and appraised.
In the 22 years of its existence, the Urhobo Historical Society has held steadfastly with great dedication, and commitment to its vision and mission to serve the Urhobo Nation.
Five books have been published:
Olomu and Development of Urhoboland & Western Niger Delta (2014);
T.E.A. Salubi: Witness to British Colonial Rule in Urhoboland and Western Niger Delta (2012);
History of the Urhobo People of the Niger Delta (2006);
Studies in Urhobo Culture (2005); and
Warri City & British Colonial Rule in Western Niger Delta (2002).
The latest book, The Urhobo People of Udu and Ughievwen (2021) is being launched today, November 26, 2021.
Two websites, (www.waado.org) and http://www.urhobodigitallibrary.com are currently in operation. Urhobo Historical Society continues to cherish the tireless efforts and dedication of Professor Peter Ekeh to the study and documentation of Urhobo history and culture.
Please allow me to use this rare privilege to remember and pay homage to other intellectuals and professionals who have recently passed on to glory, and who demonstrated enthusiasm and strongly supported in one way or the other the vision of Peter Ekeh’s Urhobo Historical Society.
I am referring here to Professors: Onigu Otite, David Okpako, Rt. Rev. Sam. Erivwo, Senator David Dafinone, Deacon Gamaliel Onosode, Chief Johnson Ukueku, Chief Daniel Obioma and Dr. Peter Obakponovwe.
I humbly crave your indulgence to please rise up to observe a minute of silence in honour of these heroes of the Urhobo Nation. May their souls rest in perfect peace, Amen.
The first four conferences of the Urhobo Historical Society were held abroad. The first one took place at Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, from November 3-5, 2000. Senator Dafinone, apart from giving the first keynote address, provided UHS with much needed start-up funds which became handy during the early years of the organization.
The second conference took place at Parsippany, New Jersey, USA, from November 2-4, 2001, before moving the third and fourth conferences to London, UK from November 1-3, 2002, and October 31-November 2, 2003 respectively. There was a strong representation from home at these conferences.
At the urging of Chief Johnson Barovbe and others, subsequent conferences thereafter were to be held in Urhoboland in order to expose our people to the ideals of UHS and to encourage a greater participation.
At the beginning, some of our people were unsure about the mission and role of the Urhobo Historical Society in Urhoboland. A boycott of our conferences was actually organized and implemented, but fortunately, turned out to be unsuccessful. UHS remembers and will always value the support and participation by HRM Orodje r’Okpe, Maj. Gen. (Rtd) Felix Mujakperuo who defied the boycott in an unexpectedly unconducive conference atmosphere at that time.
After a couple of conferences in the Homeland, it was decided in 2014 to move the operations of the Society from the United States to Urhoboland, although the Editorial and Management Committee (EMC) members still reside in the United States. Professor Ekeh gladly donated his personal property at Okpara Inland to serve as the headquarters of UHS. The property includes space for a library, a conference room, a computer centre, reading cubicles, and bedrooms for the comfort of researchers who are on extended stay at Okpara Inland. The office now maintains staff members who coordinate the affairs of the organization here at home. Indeed, considering the amount of work yet to be done, more hands and efforts are required to adequately meet the challenges. We are very welcoming to volunteers and patriots who wish to contribute their knowledge, skills and finances to fostering our vision at Urhobo Historical Society.
About the Urhobo People of Udu and Ughievwen
Why have we gathered this year? Whom are we celebrating?
This 12th conference is celebrating the uniqueness of the Udu and Ughievwen peoples and their very robust contribution to Urhobo advancement. Udu and Ughievwen share so much in common to justify a collective study of the two subcultures as we have done.
The Udu and Ughievwen have a contiguous land mass and share common similarities in their culture and traditions. This is why some of us from Agbon and other Urhobo subcultures, for instance, find it difficult to differentiate dialects of Udu and Ughievwen.
But more significantly, three aspects of Udu and Ughievwen uniqueness stand out. First, Udu and Ughievwen pass easily as immensely skilled, enterprising and business minded Urhobo people. There is the legendary “Ekakpamre Market,” which served Urhobo well. We are proud of the many successful Southern Urhobo entrepreneurs such as the Odibos, TJ Sokohs, PB Djebahs, and J.K.B. Gbemres who emerged from Udu and Ughievwen. J.K.B. Gbemre was said to be the designer of the then-popular “butterfly wrapper” which was distributed all over West Africa in those days. The wrapper, for which he had the sole patent, was produced for him in the UK, and imported directly to his Warri Main market warehouse. Distributors came from Lagos, Onitsha, Ibadan and Ghana to buy the material. These are some of the kind of legacies that we cannot forget.
Udu and Ughievwen are skilful and innovative people, and have contributed immeasurably and largely to the economy of the Urhobo Nation. The production of ogogoro (our own brand of gin) is almost exclusive to the Udu and Ughievwen people. Okwagbe and Ujevwu are presently the ground zero of this enterprise. The gin produced from these areas are exported to every nook and corner of Nigeria.
Udu and Ughievwen people have also demonstrated courage and leadership in the past. Oshue Ogbiyerin of Orhunwhorun was the first to successfully organize and execute the first Lord Lugard’s post-amalgamation anti-tax revolt in Nigeria in 1927. This was long before the Aba tax riots which occurred much later (thanks to Chief Jefia Notoma, the PG of Udu, who provided this information).
The Udu people are also among pioneers of Western education in Urhoboland. Ezekiel Igho of Ohwrode was one of those sponsored by the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) to study at Cambridge University, England, United Kingdom. He returned in 1949 to assume the position of first Vice Principal of Urhobo College, Effurun, making him the second Urhobo university graduate after McNeil Ejaife.
Two landmark projects – the Udu Bridge (1976) and Delta Steel Company (1980) not only hastened the urbanization of Udu and Ughievwen communities, but also brought a huge transformation of infrastructure and expansion of the economy of Urhoboland. The dual expressway that stretches from the Steel Plant in Ovwian Aladja to the NPA, Warri, is one of the developments that the Delta Steel Company (DSC) helped to produce. One of the heroes being honoured at this conference is Late Senator Fred Brume. UHS and indeed all Urhobo people salute Senator Brume for the opportunities that his administration afforded to Urhobo youths and people at the Delta Steel Company.
The now-internationally recognized Udje song-poetry is a major contribution of Udu and Ughievwen to the advancement of Urhobo culture. Profs. J.P. Clark (who is maternally Ughievwen from Erhuwaren, David Okpako, G.G. Darah and Tanure Ojaide have helped to draw global attention to the richness and profundity of the Udje song-poetry.
UHS celebrates this accomplishment of our forebears such as Oloya of Iwhrekan, Gbogidi and Memerume of Edjophe, Kpeha of Otor-Owahwa, Yembra of Ubogo who created this music genre. We also commend the scholars who have brought this heritage to global consciousness. The depths of thoughts of the Udje poems are now being compared to Shakespeare’s writings and romantic poetry of 18th century Europe. The book that will be launched at this event is a rich and comprehensive collection of these many contributions of the Udu and Ughievwen subcultures to Urhobo advancement.
UHS Endowment Fund
Urhobo Historical Society’s source of funding from its inception has been through annual dues by its members, the annual levies paid by donations by each member of the Editorial and Management Committee (EMC), and free-will donations from individuals and socio-cultural organizations who share our passion for Urhobo advancement.
To support these sources of funding and in order to meet the huge financial cost of running the organization, UHS, under the leadership of Professor Peter Ekeh, created the Endowment Fund which was launched in 2014, and chaired by Olorogun Moses Taiga. Among the objectives of the Fund is to “raise and invest capital monies on behalf of Urhobo Historical Society, manage the yields of such investments, allocate funds for projects which will, within the parameters of the mission of UHS, bring development to Urhoboland”.
We hope to take full advantage of this wonderful initiative which was so ably led by our founding president to pursue investments in agriculture, the media, education etc. UHS will be able to, in the process, create jobs and generate dividends for Urhobo investors in these projects.
Let me sincerely thank HRM Ararile for accepting our invitation to deliver the keynote speech in this year’s conference. His presence has added a royal grandeur to this occasion. We are also grateful to all the Urhobo organizations across the country which are represented here today, and to the various monarchs who accepted and honoured our invitation.
I must now thank Olorogun Moses Taiga for his exceptionally generous financial support of UHS. I think it is fair to state that from the day, many years ago when the goals and objectives of UHS became clear to him, Olorogun Moses Taiga’s support has been steadfast, unwavering and invaluable. He has been our champion and our patron. We salute him.
Let me happily urge everyone to enjoy every moment today with us as we promise to make your stay and participation a worthwhile and a rewarding experience.
Dr. Aruegodore Oyiborhoro
President, Urhobo Historical Society.