A Narrative Account of Urhobo Unity Summit

Culled from:
The Urhobo Voice, August 17, 2009 edition, page 4

Urhobo Unity Summit:

Urhobo State, University, Cultural Coherence Take Centre Stage

By Kenneth Young-Emretiyoma

Editor, The Urhobo Voice

Greater political coherence and cohesion, the quest for an Urhobo State and an Urhobo University were among major issues for discussion and analysis at the recent 2-day Unity Summit organized by the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU), umbrella body of the Urhobo People of Western Niger-Delta.

From the welcome address by Olorogun (Senator) Felix Ibru, UPU President-General, to the different remarks and speeches by Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, former Governor James Ibori and other personalities who graced the summit, the need for Urhobo unity in present day Nigeria was lavishly acknowledged, even as speakers after speakers, including renowned academics, technocrats and politicians espoused their views and suggestions on ways to repositioning the Urhobo as a formidable ethnic nationality in Nigeria, Africa and beyond.

Olorogun Ibru in commending the vision of past Urhobo leaders submitted that, “We can borrow a shred of wisdom from Chief Mukoro Mowoe and the other pioneers of the Urhobo past. They foresaw clearly that the Urhobo progress required the friendship of our ethnic neighbours in the Niger-Delta and the Nigerian Community of ethnic nationalities…Chief Mukoro Mowoe worked hard for the friendship of all communities in the Western Niger-Delta…made friends from all corners of Nigeria, especially in those areas where Urhobo Communities were settled as economic immigrants.”

Clark Blasts Urhobo Politicians

In his goodwill message, contained in an eight-page pamphlet, Chief (Dr.) Edwin Clark described the event as a “glorious occasion for all Urhobos both in Nigeria and in Diaspora and for those of us who have Urhobo blood flowing in our veins.” Reminiscing on the days when Urhobo called the shots in the old Warri Urban District Council, Clark lamented that he “Watched with deep sorrow and disappointment the creep of Urhobo in the affairs of Warri Province, now Delta State, particularly Warri Urban, eroding away due to lack of committed leadership as was provided by past fathers as President-General, who had very little of western education, were very intelligent and very much committed to Urhobo cause and their neighbours respected them.” The elder statesman called on Olorogun Ibru to appeal to “all our politicians, young and old, to return to the path of honour and give the Urhobo nation the pride of place in polity of Nigeria.”

He expressed his disgust at seeing “Urhobo sons and daughters playing second class politics for their selfish gains without having a say in the state and national politics,” and pleaded that the National UPU executives have the will power “to reconcile all Urhobo wherever they may be and not to worship politics of money at the expense of the pride of the Urhobo ethnic nationality.”

Delta Opposition Members Snub Summit

Prominent members of the opposition in Delta State, and known activists including Chief Great Ogboru, Barrister Moses Oddiri, Prince Mike Asaboro, Chief (Barr.) Andrew Oru were visibly absent at the 2-day event. However, Chief Peter Okocha sent a goodwill message in newspaper advertorials.

Failure of UPU Responsible for Urhobo Political Woes, says Ibodje

In his paper presented on the Challenges of the Urhobo Nation, Professor S.W.E. Ibodje said the main challenge facing the Urhobo nation today is the “challenge of how to convert her potentials into political assets at the state and national levels.” He argued that the poor performance of the Urhobo nation in the present political dispensation is the result of the failure of the UPU since the end of the Mukoro Mowoe era to maintain vision of the union and the necessary central structure of leadership, standards and focus left behind for the ethnic nationality.

Ibodje fingered the following as responsible for the poor political performance of the Urhobo nation: A lack of effective central leadership structure, personality conflicts among Urhobo leaders, the role of the political class, effects of social and economc change and the value system of Urhobo people;  the nature of the relationship between Urhobo and other groups. He emphasized that to move forward, the Urhobo nation needs to return to the Mukoro Mowoe era of a strong central leadership structure built under the umbrella of the UPU with a well-articulated national vision. “The Urhobo of our era must not only identify her challenges, it must confront such challenges with a clear vision, which must not be known to the leadership alone, but also to the average Urhobo man and woman. Again, the Urhobo voice must be heard on major national and regional issues…,”Prof. Ibodje said.

On Urhobo State and University

Professor Peter Ekeh, Chair of Urhobo Historical Society, enumerating strategies for achieving the goals of Urhobo Unity Summit suggested a Committee on the case for an Urhobo State; an Urhobo Lands and Boundaries Committee, and a Committee on Good Governance in an Urhobo State. Prof. Ekeh said a well-crafted case for an Urhobo State is essential in planning for the new campaign. “A committee, which will work mostly behind the scenes, should articulate a case that the Urhobo people as well as other Nigerians will find appealing and convincing.” He offered that in the renewed campaign for a State, the Urhobo should gain several lessons from previous experiences and outcomes, and guard against ill-consequences that could defile good governance in an Urhobo State; the control of the UPU in Urhobo affairs, the institution of the Ovie and the right of vote among the Urhobo People.

On the Urhobo University, Ekeh suggested that an Urhobo University should find its model in the private-not-for-profit category, which relies mostly on the returns of their endowments, partially relies on student paid tuition and survives on disciplined management of their resources within the funds that flow into their strictly controlled foundations. He said an Urhobo University Committee should be constituted to study the many issues and steps surrounding the setting-up of a University.

Ekeh also reeled out comprehensive plans for combating violence in Urhobo land, warning that the quest and establishment of an Urhobo State and University will only be meaningful if an enabling environment for their existence prevails in Urhobo Land.

University will bring Urhobo behind UPU—OKPAKO

On the part of Prof. David Okpako, the idea of the University emanating from the UPU will unify the Urhobo people behind the UPU, “and the UPU will be able to function again like the days of Mukoro Mowoe, just like the establishment of Urhobo College unified the Urhobo behind Mukoro Mowoe.” Okpako agreed that the idea of a University is essential and worthy, declaring that the University will afford “our people the opportunity to develop ourselves.”

Prof. P. Kuale wants the agitation for Urhobo State creation to come an end, canvassing, instead, the restructuring of the whole country, just as Prof. Bright Ekhuerare appealed for anti-violence mechanisms in Urhobo land to curb violence.

People Sponsored to Divide Urhobo, Igun says

Former Vice-Chancellor of DELSU, Prof. Uvie Igun appealed that the UPU bring together all diverse political groups in Urhobo under one umbrella and monitor them from time to time. He also asked the Summit to come up with a task force to carve out a vision for the Urhobo people.

On 2011, Igun talked of the urgent need for Urhobo to dwell on how to confront 2011. He called for the setting of various task forces, such as: Urhobo National Vision Taskforce, Urhobo Political Task force, Urhobo Political Vanguard, UPU Leadership Committee (comprising mainly of traditional rulers.) Igun said an Urhobo Political Tactics task force should work out the Urhobo tactics for 2011, and the Urhobo Alliance Standing Committee to work out alliances between Urhobo and other ethnic groups towards achieving Urhobo aspirations.`

Other Personalities Present also Offered Opinions on Way Forward for Urhobo.

The Ohworode of Olomu Kingdom, HRH R.L Ogbon Ogoni-Oghoro1 (JP) frowned at the non-use of Urhobo language by the present generation of Urhobo youths. Expressing worry at the lack of academic interest and patronage of Urhobo language, the monarch admonished the youths to embrace and take advantage of the Urhobo Language Studies at DELSU, Abraka, even as he also lamented the lack of respect and recognition for Urhobo monarchs, especially at social functions, and called for a change. HRM Oghoro 1 related to the gathering how all Urhobo local government chairmen shunned invitations to them by the traditional rulers for a meeting to examine how the LG bosses could provide better services, extend democratic dividends to the people and develop the communities.

Chief Simeon Ohwofa, vice president of Urhobo Social Club, Lagos, in his contribution, mentioned the need to strengthen the structure and necessary leadership of the UPU in maintaining the Urhobo vision. He added that political groups by Urhobo politicians should be for Urhobo’s interest and not for personal gains, just as he called for a strategy to come out with a pool of human resources.

Marginalisation of Urhobo in Warri

Chief Daniel Obiomah advised that in making a case for an Urhobo State the Urhobos in Warri should be inculcated in any boundary to be drawn. In an emotion-laden voice, Obiomah lamented the marginalization and discrimination being suffered by the Urhobos in Warri “because we are Urhobos.”

Chief Godwin Ogbetuo wants the Urhobo nation to ensure proper succession in her political leadership, while Dr. Adasen appealed for a committee to resolve the post-election crisis in Urhobo Land.

For Senator Fred Brume, the Urhobo must establish industrial parks, priotise the Osubi Airport, which must be upgraded to international standard (Prof. Amos Utuama, the deputy governor, who chaired the session, later informed that the Osubi Airport is already billed for upgrading to international standard), and encourage tourism. Brume also called for Christian revivals in Urhobo areas.

Professor Andrew Ohwona asked parents to inculcate sound moral values in their children, and admonished the people to be ready to defend their votes and to elect leaders that are accountable.

Plight of Urhobo College

Mr Olori Magege, who also spoke on the urgent need for those “who offended the Urhobo Nation” to show remorse and apologise to her, called on the UPU to take over the Urhobo College, which is said to be in a dilapidated state. Magege also asked politicians to stop arming the youths in Urhobo Land as it was threatening peaceful existence and security.

“Network with Others, Know Your Enemies”

General (Dr.) Oviemo Ovadje, rtd., advised the Urhobo nation to “know our enemies before you can plan, choose your friends. We must make friends who can help us politically and socially…the riches of the Urhobo people are too limited, we must get friends from the Centre too…”

Develop Curriculum for Urhobo Language Studies in Academic Institutions—IMENE

In his contribution, Chief Ogbemure M. Imene, the publisher of The Urhobo Voice urged attention to evolving curriculum for Urhobo language studies in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions in the State, noting that the Urhobo Orators Association, made up mainly of teachers and  other educated individuals can effectively develop this task for the Urhobo Nation. In supporting Prof. Kuale’s position that Urhobo is lacking in terms of self-sufficiency on food production, he urged the UPU should note this all important aspect, even as he pleaded that Urhobo men and women of means should embrace farming.

The publisher further advised that the UPU should channel its activities under the realm of culture, since a people’s culture begets essence of their unity, adding that cultural coherency will remove friction from differences in political underplays. He said that the once we know that the people’s social, political and economic strands spring from their culture, the force of our unity will wax very strong. He also used the medium to thank the UPU and its executives for expending their resources, energy and time towards ensuring a greater, more united and socio-politically strong Urhobo nation.

Chief Emmanuel Aguariavwodo, former MD/CEO NDDC also spoke in similar vein, calling on parents to ensure their children and wards speak Urhobo language fluently. In illustrating the importance of the mother tongue to children, Chief Aguariavwodo told the story of the embarrassment a mother suffered as the son could not confide in her of his deed and spoke English to the mother’s chagrin. He said he has made some compact discs (CDs) on teaching oneself Urhobo, advising that copies are available for those who want same for their children, even as he praised the UPU hierarchy for the summit, which he said is worthwhile.

Prayer for Urhobo

Bishop Jonathan Arhavwarien wants the UPU to form a prayer committee comprising all clergymen and spiritual leaders in Urhobo Land to pray over the Urhobo nation in seeking God’s intervention and solutions. Prof. (Revd) Erivwo also supported this call, adding that Urhobo people should have the fear of the Lord because “wisdom will emanate from it, there would be unity and we would achieve our goals.” The cleric also urged parents to drive the Urhobo language into the heads of their children and wards while they are young. “We need to change our orientation towards the Urhobo language,” he said.

Chief Paul Akpofure, Dr. Abel Dafioghor, Chief (Mrs.) Judith Enamuotor, Chief Humphrey Aghoghovbia, Margaret Ojiyoma Evwaraye, President, South-South Women Forum, USA, and Godspower Odenema also spoke. Many looking forward to Chief Ighoyota Amori air his views were disappointed as the two-time commissioner and National President of Urhobo Political Forum announced that his views would be presented at the committee level. 

Showers of Pamphlets

The event also witnessed showers of pamphlets from groups and individuals stating their case for the Urhobo nation, including that by Prof. (Senator) Adegor Eferakeya, Sentor representing Delta Central at the National Assembly, which contains a catalogue of his exploits at the National Assembly.

Urhobo’s neighbours, namely the Binis, Ijaw, Isoko and Ndokwa also presented goodwill messages on the opening day of the event, which witnessed an impressive and quality turnout of personalities including one-time Governor of defunct Bendel State, Dr. Samuel Ogbemudia, Prof. B.I. Ijomah for the Ukwuani people, Ambassador Raph Uwechue, President-General of Ohanaeze and Elder Peter Erebi, President-General of Isoko Development Union.

On the last day, July 31, in spite of the heavy rains, which started on Thursday night till evening Friday, the event recorded an array of eminent personalities who stayed till the end of the programme.

A draft communiqué was read by Prof. Onigu Otite, and was adopted shortly before close of proceedings.

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