The place of the Elite in Urhobo Leadership

Urhobo Historical Society


Professor Olorogun  F.M.A. Ukoli
University of Ibadan, Nigeria

Just before putting pen to paper, I thought it expedient to refresh my memory about the meaning of the word elite which I always thought had something to do with a select group or class within a society. I did a double take when Webster’s Dictionary definition made a serious rethinking of the import of the title of this lecture inevitable. Says Webster, Elite: “The few who are considered socially, intellectually or professionally superior to the rest in a group or society.” It dawned on me that many kinds and levels of elitism are implied in this definition. Thus while there can be a political elite, a social elite, an educated elite, an academic elite, an intellectual elite, a university elite, a military elite etc, in a given polity, it is immediately obvious that there are various categories within each of these select classes. For example, while a university graduate can be classified as belonging to the educated elite in, say, Ughelli community, humility will dictate that such a one should refrain from laying claim to such an exalted status in an academic community like the University of Ibadan, dominated as it is by professors, lecturers, doctors of philosophy etc. On the other hand, while an Ohonvworen can justifiably be said to be part of the social and political elite in Kokori, it does not necessarily follow that he would automatically qualify to be accorded similar recognition as the Ehonvworen of Agbon kingdom or the Ekakuro, who constitute a more exclusive elite class of a higher status; not to mention the Ovie who, according to Adjara III and Omokri is “the distributor of authority … a most feared, revered and adored leader…”(1)

 Then again, membership of the social/political and intellectual elite classes may not be mutually exclusive. A man may quite easily gain admission into the former, but may be considered ineligible for the latter. So where do we go from here?

I think that it is safe to assume that “elite” in this context refers to the social and political elite in Urhoboland. I make this assumption because of my impression that the Urhobo man is unduly preoccupied with the issue of elitism, particularly when it has to do with leadership. And leadership is another concept with which we have to come to grips — but later.

The Urhobo constitute an ethnic group, but there is great diversity in the origins of the various clans as well as diversity in their culture. Indeed, the differences are so marked that H.R.H Adjara III and Omokri, in their recent book Urhobo Kingdoms, elevate the 22 clans which constitute the entire Urhobo tribe to the status of kingdoms.2 Each kingdom is headed by an Ovie who is vested with religious and secular powers; he sits at the pinnacle of the social and political elite, exercising administrative, judicial, legislative and religious authority over his domain, while reserving the power of bestowing chieftaincy titles on deserving persons who constitute the social and political elite class. And yet it is ironic that no recognizable aristocracy has emerged, not even at the clan level, with such a vibrant and respected ovieship system. However, in the absence of an aristocracy, there has developed in the traditional Urhobo social organization, a number of titled societies and associations, prominent among which is The Ohonwvoren Institution, which ranks next to the ovieship in importance as a traditional institution. “The title Ohonvworen is conferred on individuals adjudged to be of high integrity and moral standing … promoting them above commonality. It is a mark of recognition in society, a mark of honour and nobility…. The titled chiefs have come to assume the status of a political elite in the clan and now constitute members of the Ovie-in-Council and hence advisers to the Ovie.”3

How does one qualify for membership of this institution? According to Adjara III and Omokri, “it is predicated by ability to perform prescribed initiation ceremonies and pay the necessary (prescribed) fees ….”4  Professor Onigu Otite’s terse description of the procedure for obtaining the chieftaincy title as “long and expensive”5 is an understatement covering a multitude of requirements designed to keep only the affluent, the men of substance, in the race. Only those who, in popular parlance “have arrived,” dare to aspire to membership of this class. Indeed, according to Otite, “the expense in the whole process of obtaining a chieftaincy title is prohibitive.”6

How did one come by such wealth in the traditional Urhobo society? The answer is simple; success in farming and trading, which were the two main occupations of the Urhobo. At home in the villages, this means subsistence farming — to keep the body and the soul of the family together, with little left over for exchange, and petty-trading — peddling a few items of assorted goods around neighbouring villages on their various market days; hardly two of the surest ways of accumulating wealth and influence. But some people did emerge from such humble beginings to attain elite status as defined above.

But greater prosperity was assured for those who could break away from the limited opportunities at home to literally seek greener pastures. Thus Urhobo migration, a topic on which the renowned anthropologist and sociologist, Professor Otite, has worked extensively,7 became a major feature inUrhobo history and heritage. The inborn adventurous spirit of the Urhobo took hold of the young, strong and enterprising men from virtually all the clans, in search of their fortunes, far and near. They went forth and, for want of a better expression, colonized most of the rural areas of the Yoruba country, so that from at least about the 1920s to the 1970s, Urhobo communities were scatteredall over Yorubaland, engaged in farming, palm oil and palm-wine production, fishing and trading in various goods. Thus Urhobo settlements flourished in such far-flung places as Ilesha, Okitipupa, Ikorodu, Osogbo, Ondo, Shagamu, Akure, etc. Though far from home, they retained their identity, and they maintained their culture. There were interactions, and while cases of inter-tribal marriages were not unknown, they were kept to a minimum. They worked hard, and they saved.

The pull to maintain contact with home was strong and so these migrants were not lost to the tribe. A young man who felt ready and able returned home to take a wife or sent home for one. Any one of middle age or near who had achieved a measure of success in his work went home to erect a building in the family compound — the bigger and more opulent the better — as an indicator of his success. But of particular relevance to this lecture, many who were confident that they had accumulated enough wealth and were old enough to contemplate retirement from active service returned home to settle down and worked towards their receipt of chieftaincy titles. The migrants were not the only group that could repatriate their externally gotten gains in exchange for chieftaincy titles. Petty traders who, by dint of hard work and business acumen, later evolved into merchants and made it big in the urban centres of Warri, Sapele, Benin, Lagos, Jos, Kano, etc., were also able to acquire the fortune required for the acquisition of chieftaincy titles. You don’t need me to tell you why they did not spread eastward.

Thus, until about the 1970s, while there were a fewhomegrown farmers/traders who could cover the increasingly prohibitive cost of membership of the social and political elite in Urhoboland, it was from the ranks of the successful latter-day migrant farmers and traders and the modern merchants, businessmen and contractors in the urban centres that the bulk of them were drawn. While all the Ehonvworen, by whatever means they attained this mark of distinction, could and do play the role of advisers to the Ovie (at least by correspondence or telephone, if not by personal contact), the effectiveness of those living abroad in their roles as members of the administrative and political class of the clan, and in their participation in the functions of the Ovie-in-Council, is bound to be limited because, to all intents and purposes, their impact could only be felt in absentia. Their periodic, even infrequent contacts with the home base, usually during festive and ceremonial occasions, nevertheless provides them the opportunity to appear in their gorgeous regalia, head-dress and other insignia of chieftaincy especially the bracelets and a special stiff round necklace which lays on the chest, called Agheghon, all made of beads (usually coral beads). And this is all designed to enhance their noble status, dignity, good reputation and evidence of wealth and general prosperity; public appearances provide the forum for showering the chiefs with praise names (starting with Olorogun!) to boost their ego.

On a more serious note, the foremost authority on Urhobo history, Professor Obaro Ikime, put his finger right on it when he described Chief Mukoro Mowoe as “a personage extraordinary in the Warri of the 1940s.”8 According to Ikime, Mowoe rose from petty trading, with no formal education (he was self-taught), to the status of general merchant, and was without doubt the leading Nigerian businessman in Warri Province of the 1930s and 40s. His business interests were diversified and far flung in Warri, Agbor, Eket, Calabar, Lagos, etc. He was an exporter (palm oil, rubber and cassava) and importer, dealing with a wide assortment of goods ranging from toothpaste to textiles, provisions, formic acid for processing rubber, bicycles, aluminium ware, iron pots, etc – a wholesaler and a retailer.9

He was a contractor who supplied food to the prisons in the Province, as well as a general contractor for building and road construction. He was a transporter – Mukoro Mowoe Transport (M.M.T.) was one of the leading transporters in the 1940s. He was in the foodstuff trade, transporting large quantities of garri, etc., from Warri to Lagos for sale. He was in the mining business – tin in Jos, gold in Ilesha … 10 and so on.

According to Ikime, Mowoe was known for his capacity for the sustained hard work needed to manage these various businesses spread over a very large area. In private, public and business life, he seemed to have built for himself a large reservoir of goodwill, confidence and trust; and, without doubt, enormous wealth and influence, not only in Urhoboland but in the entire Warri Province. Above all, there were no corrupt politicians in office with whom to liaise for filthy lucre. The age of shameless topping of contracts had not yet dawned. Mowoe did not make easy money. He sweated for what he made.”11

Mowoe possessed the prerequisites for the chieftaincy title in his clan many times over, and in order to be able to serve on the Ovie-in-Council, he became an Olorogun of Evwreni in the late 1930s. The Evwreni people held him in high esteem, and “the assuidity with which the Ovie cultivated his goodwill and support” are all additional testimony to the fact that he was the leading Evwreni citizen. “He played the various roles Evwreni expected of him with distinction, and the people were appreciative and adored him. He certainly was not the kind of prophet who had no honour in his own home.”12

Evwreni produced the greatest Urhobo man; Dr. Muoboghare, the reviewer of Ikime’s book, said “Mukoro Mowoe shone like a thousand stars.”13 Ikime himself said Urhoboland has not been able to produce another Mukoro Mowoe, a quarter of a century after his death.14 Alas, Evwreni was not big enough for Mowoe’s sagacity, foresight, organizational ability, and skills etc. How I wish there were a united Urhobo kingdom under one Ovie, with one Ovie-in-Council; Mukoro Mowoe would have taken his place there, bestriding the council like a colossus. Mukoro Mowoe, the quintessential political and merchantile elite in Urhoboland! At a time when the Urhobo sought identity, Mowoe became the focus, the rallying point, the one who emerged to assume the leadership of his people by the mid-30s and 40s, by virtue of the qualities he had more than adequately demonstrated. And what does leadership imply? As I have said elsewhere, a leader sets a direction, develops a vision of the future, and seeks to achieve this by motivating and inspiring, keeping people moving in the right direction.”15 Mowoe achieved this to a large extent as can be gleaned from this summary:

(1) Between 1917 – 1932 – The Age of Dogho, the British accorded the Itsekiri predominance over the Urhobo, and in many ways treated the latter as second-class subjects. Due largely to Mowoe’s efforts and stature as a man of substance and influence in Warri Province, the Urhobo position was gradually strengthened, and the predominance of the Itsekiri redressed before his death in 1948. The period from the mid 1930s to 1948 was justifiably tagged the Age of Chief Mukoro Mowoe by Ikime. 16

(2) He was one of the founding members of the Urhobo Brotherly Society in 1931 (indeed, the inaugural meeting was held in his house). This evolved into the Urhobo Progress Union (U.P.U.), and Mowoe became its President in 1934 and later Life President General until his untimely death in 1948. The general aims and objectives of this society were to foster unity amongst the clans, and launder the disreputable image the Urhobo had cut for themselves in Warri and elsewhere for resorting to questionable means of livelihood and engaging in litigation mongering, all of which earned derogatory epithets, the most provocative of which was “Usobo Wayo”! According to Chief J.S. Mariere, Mowoe’s protege and later Governor of Midwest State in the 1960s, “few people (could) put their chest forward to answer the Urhobo name.”17 They were ashamed of their “Urhoboness.” One of Mowoe’s greatest achievements as President of U.P.U. was helping restore the pride of the Urhoboman in himself so that he could walk about with his head held high.

(3) He played a leading role in the establishment of Urhobo College, and in getting the British Government to move Government College from Warri to Ughelli in 1951.

(4) Mowoe was a genuine believer in inter-ethnic peace and harmony. He fought for the rights of his people without forgetting the goodwill of their neighbours, particularly the Itsekiri.

(5) As the member representing Warri Province in the Western Regional House of Assembly, he brought pride to the Urhobo through his brilliant and effective performance, thereby promoting and enhancing the Urhobo image. 

(6) Finally, Mowoe was a legend in his lifetime. He set a standard far too high for those after him to reach. To quote Obaro Ikime, “He served his people at great cost to himself. Urhoboland gave him next to nothing in return … Those Urhobos who call themselves leaders today and who aspire to leadership in the future must ask themselves first what their aim is — exploitation of their people for personal gain, or service in the interest of those they claim to lead? … Urhoboland of today can do with a few more Mowoes. Indeed, so can Nigeria.”18

Snippets gleaned largely from Ikime’s book, The Member for Warri Province: The Life And Times of Chief Mukoro Mowoe of Warri 1890 – 1948, encapsulate my concept of the elite in Urhobo leadership. Mowoe was the archetypcal Urhobo elite, only he pitched his sights far too high for the rest of us mortals. In a sense, we are lucky that we have such a symbol of excellence whose performance we can seek to match in the conduct of public affairs. In this, Mowoe cut a larger than life figure. Hence, we may not be doing justice to those leaders who came after him if their performance is assessed using his standard as a yardstick. 

But this has been an exposition of the subject, “The Elite in Urhobo Leadership” before the advent of the educated elite. Professor E.A. Ayandele of the University of Ibadan defined the Educated Elitein his University lecture of 1973 as: 

the Western-style literate group in the Nigerian society, with emphasis on their articulate, self-styled leaders.  . . . . They symbolize the moral, and social unity of a collectivity by emphasizing a common purpose and interest different from those of the unlettered.19 This class of people could not have flourished in Urhoboland until the 1930s (education had not been properly organized in Urhoboland until 1920). Even then this handful of men, spread thinlyover the whole area, had no more than primary school or teacher training qualifications. A few were self-educated. Though highly respected for their knowledge (the Urhobo have always valued education), the prohibitive minimum entry requirements for admission into the Ohonvworen Institution made unrealistic any aspirations towards membership of the social and political elite class; they were effectively excluded from assuming leadership roles in their various clans, and so their contributions towards the social and political development of the group was limited. This makes Mowoe’s case all the more remarkable. Mowoe did not acquire formal education by going to school. He became part of the political and merchantile elite by dint of hardwork and success as a businessman. But to aspireto greater heights, he overcame the disability imposed by lack of a formal education; he embarked on self-education. His success in this was simply stupendous. According to Ikime, “His letters, his speeches, his notes on issues he raised in the House of Assembly reveal a high level of erudition and even higher level of understanding of the issues of his day.”20 Until 1948, therefore, with the exception of the self-educated Mowoe, the contribution from the educated class could not have amounted to much.

By the 1950s and early 1960s, there had been what can be described as a phenomenal increase in the number of graduates of teacher’s colleges and grammar schools, with a sprinkling of university graduates (mostly lawyers). Most of these took up civil service or teaching jobs while the lawyers set up practice in the urban areas, thereby effectively precluding them from active overt participation in social and political activities at the clan or local levels. For most of them, induction into Ohonvworen Institution and such like traditiona1 societies was not only a dream (for obvious reasons), but was not a priority particularly for those in the rarefied and sophisticated environment of the civil service in Lagos, Ibadan, Benin-City and Warri. Recall that because of the identity crisis and image problems mentioned earlier, many of them did not welcome too open an association with their kinsmen in the cities or even give an indication of their place of origin.

However, thanks to the enterprising spirit for which the Urhobos have now become famous, from the late 1960s to date, Urhoboland and indeed Delta State, Lagos, and Abuja are now awash with Urhobo graduates in every conceivable field of study. Intellectuals andprofessionals of Urhobo origin, both male and female, in virtually every field of specialization can be found holding their own and jostling for positions in the public and private sectors – government, industry, commerce, the financial sector, the oil sector, the professions, politics, the military, the universities and other educational institutions all over Nigeria. If the truth be told, the Urhobo, man for man, have oversubscribed their quota in the various fields of human endeavour when compared to other Nigerian ethnic groups. And younger ones are coming; it is not for nothing that the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) statistics show clearly that of all the states inNigeria, Delta State records the highest number of applicants for university admission. And here, the Urhobo hold sway. We now have a build up in the last 20 – 25 years from which an educated elite can emerge to join hands with the social, political and merchantile elite at home to work towards the growth and development of Urhoboland. But what do we find? 

(1) First the bulk of our educated clansmen are stillconcentrated in the cities far away from home and show little or no inclination for coming home to their various clans to settle. Even with the emergence of clearly defined Local Government Areas with their various headquarters which are supposed to be centres of development, most graduates seem to prefer toughing it out in the cities because there is where the good life is and fortunes are made. So although there is a multitude of qualified Urhobos, Urhobolond does not seem to be deriving the fullest benefits from this blessing.   By the same token, most of them are neither available for nor prepared to offerthemselves for leadership roles at home.

(2) The prospect of taking chieftaincy titles and, therefore, being assimilated into the social and political elite class leaves most of them cold. For one thing, the financial considerations are sufficiently formidable to dampen their enthusiasm. A graduate in the public service does not earn enough (unless he is in a position to amass illgotten gains from the spoils of office) to make aspiration in that direction anything but a pipe-dream. Even now, special concessions are made to waive the payment of prescribed fees for any person who, in the opinion of the Ovie, deserves to be honoured by virtue of his contribution to society. But then, the cost of acquiring the paraphernalia of chieftaincy and the lavish entertainment of friends and relations who come from far and near to grace the conferment ceremony (for it is indeed a great occasion) can still break the financial back of a willing recipient of the title. Besides, the initiation ceremonies are still perceived by some as having a semblance of fetishism which is incompatible with their Christian beliefs and practices. And this is in spite ofthe fact that, according to Adjara III and Omokri, the ceremonyhas been “modernized (in many clans) to remove any inhibiting conditions which had made them unattractive for Christians to aspire to.”21 Can this situation be likened to a case of ‘water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink’; a case of starving in the midst of plenty? A multitude of graduates specializing in a multiplicity of disciplines, but their combined knowledge and experience cannot be fully harnessed, neither for the development of the physical infrastructure nor for the political, economic, agricultural, industrial and technological transformation of Urhoboland. This inability to draw from this pool of abundant talent and expertise at our disposal could be due to a failure to mount an aggressive campaign to raise awareness about the benefits to the greater society of belonging to the traditional chieftaincy institutions from within which these graduates can gain insight into the problems of their clansmen at the grassroots level. By being precluded from serving on the Ovie-in-Council as members of the political and social elite, they are prevented from putting the skills for which they have been trained at our disposal.

(3) So, we are left with just a small proportion of our graduates who are able and willing to go through the motions and bear the cost of induction into the chieftaincy institution. These include the few successful lawyers and doctors in the cities and the politicians – they want the title anyway; Chief ABC has a more dignified ring to it than plain Mr. ABC and Chief (Dr.)(Mrs.) XYZ carries more weight than plain Dr. (Mrs.) XYZ. In any case, a title ”provides the opportunity of attaining vertical social and political mobility”22 and they know it. But, in effect, they are just like their forerunners, a generation or two ago, who served largely in absentia.

(4) What about the academic elite or the university elite, you might ask? They are also mostly financially handicapped, and they are located far away from their home clans. Since they are unable to make their contributions through their clan councils, they tend to favour a pan-Urhobo approach to development. They tend to opt for organizations like U.P.U. and similar bodies or committees where they can generate ideas, debate issues, prepare position papers on burning issues of interest to the Urhobo, and advise and make recommendations to Urhobo leaders on such matters. How successful they have been in this approach remains to be seen.

But as invariably happens, there is a lot of intrigue and jostling for position within these bodies. Many people use them as stepping stones for greater things — appointments to ministerial and commissioners posts, chairmanship and membership of boards etc., and once those goals have been attained, it is ‘goodbye committee’. I have observed too many of these bodies take root and flourish, only to wither and die once offices have been fought for and won or lost. This trend reached its peak during the administration of General Ibrahim Babangida – a period in which the elite generally, but the academic elite from the ivory tower in particular, believed in the concept of “everything goes”; an elite which lacked principles and according to my friend and colleague, Professor M. Nwagwu, “an elite with a high inclination for political intrigue; an elite obsessed with power and the pursuit of power (for personal monetary gain); an elite without a sense of proportion, nor a sense of good order, nor a sense of fair play; an elite without a national focus.”23 We look in vain for idealism and altruism. The Urhobo academic elite seem to have developed this trait into an art form; personal interest tends to be paramount in any crusade; the struggle for power, privilege or gain is fought with no holds barred; the art of hustling for position and favours had to be mastered for success to be assured, and for this no amount of kow-towing; or boot-licking is considered infra dig; personal dignity and self-respect are subjugated in the interest of personal aggrandizement.

What is even more disturbing is the charge by Ayandele that in spite of the higher degrees, research and publications, not a single political thinker has emerged from the ranks of the academic elite… they exhibit total ideological barrenness… and what is worse, “they seem unable to understand and adapt to the Nigerian situation, world conquering ideologies which are being turned to advantage in other parts of Africa.”24 Contrary to the tradition in the developed parts of the world, our universities are not arsenals of ideas. And he concludes, “On the whole, it is clear that no revolutionary group with ideologies has emerged among the educated elite in Nigeria; that the students and staff of universities have been essentially bread and butter agitators, rather than fathers of ideologies to which they would be exemplarily and passionately committed.”25 The Urhobo educated and academic elite are not different from the other Nigerians of their ilk. No wonder then that Urhoboland has been waiting in vain for the past quarter of acentury, since the emergence and growth in numbers of this class of people, to make a difference to its lot.

I close by calling on you to give a dispassionate assessment of our achievements since the age of Mukoro Mowoe and the emergence of the educated elite.

(1) At the pan-Urhobo level (for example U.P.U.), has there been any progress since Mowoe’s sudden exit in 1948? Has any generally accepted leader emerged? Mowoe held office for 14 years. Has there been any success at resolving disputes and conflicts? What success can we chalk up to the U.P.U.?

(2) Is unity among the Urhobo being enhanced, or are theclans (kingdoms) growing stronger?

(3) What gains have we made politically, with our neighbours, and at the state level? How will our performance in the struggle for the creation of Delta State be assessed? What about our role in the struggle for the siting of the capital in Asaba instead of Warri in l991? And what about the campaign for the creation of the New Delta State in l996? How did we fare there? 

(4) What about the struggle for the creation of Warri East Local Government Area for indigenous Urhobos in Warri Metropolis? Did the Urhobos acquit themselves credibly in this? Did they give adequate support to their kith and kin in this contest? Or were the poor oppressed Urhobos of Warri left to their own devices?

These are valid questions worthy of being posed, and not simply because I am an Agbassa (Urhobo) man from Warri. Dr. Muoboghare is not from Warri; he is from Uwherun, and this is what he said in his review of Ikime ‘s book:

The Agbassa people would [be] in a better state if there were a Mukoro Mowoe in their time. What happened to Agbassa could have happened to the Okpe in connection with their land in Sapele but for the intervention of Mowoe and the U.P.U…26

(5) Arewe nowat peace with our neighbours as Mowoe so assiduously fought for 40-50 years ago? In any case, how well are we handling Itsekiri-Urhobo relations? What are the advances towards achieving lasting rapport, peace and harmony? 

(6) How do the Urhobo counter thc accusation that the activities of the U.P.U. and I.N.C., umbrella organizations for Urhobo and Ijaw interests respectively, have encouraged chauvinism amongst these two ethnic groups in their relationships with their neighbours everywhere? “The existence of these umbrella organizations encourages the Urhobos and Ijaws who are minorities in Warri to team up with their kith and kin from outside the kingdom (sic) with a view to annexing Itsekiri lands and oppressing us in our homeland.”27 Have we prepared a well-reasoned argument to counter this? One thing I know for certain: none of our Urhobo kith and kin from outside the “kingdom” have teamed up with the people of Agbassa to annex any Itsekiri lands and oppress them in their homeland.

(7) Urhoboland is among the largest oil-producing areas in Delta State, nay, in Nigeria as a whole. What benefits have accrued to the Urhobo people in view of this fact? Has any Urhobo man been appointed Petroleum Minister, Chairman or Commissioner of OMPADEC, or member of the Petroleum Trust Fund?

How many Urhobo have served in the various and several boards and committees of The Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC), or for that matter, have the Urhobo had a say in any policy making bodies or programme implementation agencies likely to exert a positive effect on their development? Is there any evidence that we are enjoying the good fortune that should have been our lot, endowed as we are with the black gold? What have we to show in the development of infrastructure — like roads, water supply, school and hospital buildings, transportation facilities etc., which other oil-producing areas seem to be taking for granted? Have we done enough to seek redress or adequate compensation? What have Urhobos in crucial positions in the federal government done to ensure that we get our fair share of the national cake, in spite of our penchant for sending delegation after delegation of leaders to them in Lagos and Abuja?

(8) If the performance record of the academic elite in thepolitical and diplomatic spheres has been nothing to write home about, or to express it in the prevailing official jargon, if their experiment with seeking solutions to the intractable or even formidable problems of their people through dialogue have failed to yield tangible results, then what? Or do the Urhobo believe they are yet to be pushed to the wall?

(9) Could the academic elite change tack and apply their considerable intellectual capabilities and professional skills to tackle our numerous scientific, technological, environmental, educational, agricultural, employment, and health problems? What aboutsetting up foundations, scholarship funds, etc., to promote academic activities within the Urhobo polity?

(10) What about the damage to intellectualism and scholarship inflicted on Delta State University in the recent past? What ideas are forthcoming from the Urhobo academic elite in answer to what I tagged the “Abraka debacle” in my recent book A State University is Born.28
Planning and conducting research to proffer solutions to all these problems surely does not depend on membership in traditional chieftaincy institutions. In other words, nothing stops those academics and intellectuals who are inclined to reject or are unable for one reason or another to accept chieftaincy titles from conducting studies and making recommendations which will promote growth and development in all spheres of life in Urhoboland.

In conclusion, what options are available to us on the issue of the “Elite in Urhobo Leadership?” Is the traditional system of Ovie-in-Council, made up of a social and political elite through induction into the Ohonvworen Institution, the answer? Just because a man “is adjudged to be of high integrity and moral standing … and is able to perform the prescribed initiation ceremonies, and pay the prescribed fees,” it does not necessarily follow that he would be endowed with the intellectual capabilities and professional skills and expertise which are pre-requisites for grappling with modern societal problems. If the Ovie-in-Council must persist, can its structure be strengthened by attracting more educated/academic elements into its fold? The Ovie-in-Council concept is clannish or, at best, local in outlook. In view of this, should we give the educated/academic elite a pan-Urhobo focus through a centralized system like the U.P.U.? If none of the above is the answer, then we must strive to devise a novel system. It is crucial for us to do so because our survival as a people in the context of Vision 2010 and beyond, in Delta State in particular and in Nigeria in general, depends on it.


1. Adjara III H.R.H., O.I. and Omokri, A. Urhobo Kingdoms, Political and Social Systems,
Textflow Ltd., Ibadan, 1997, p. 21.

2. Ibid. p. blurb.

3. Ibid. pp. 10,12.

4. Ibid. p. 10.

5. Otite, Onigu. Autonomy and Dependence: The Urhobo Kingdom of Okpe in Modern Nigeria, North-Western University Press; Evanston, Illinois; 1973 p. 38.

6. Ibid. p. 43.

7. Otite, Onigu. The Urhobo in Ukane, in The Urhobo People Second Edition edited by O. 

Otite; Shaneson C. I, Ltd., Ibadan, 1998.

8. Ikime, Obaro. The Member for Warri Province: The Life and Times of Chief Mukoro 

Mowoe of Warri, 1890 – 1948 (2nd Edition) Original Edition Published by Institute of  African Studies, University of Ibadan, 1995 p. 103

9. Ibid. p. 19.

10. Ibid. pp 21 – 25.

11. Ibid. p 110.

12. Ibid. p. 40.

13. Muoboghare, P. Review of The Member for Warri Provinceby O. Ikime. Unpublished manuscript, 1997, p. 5.

14. Ikime, Op cit. p. 180.

15. Ukoli, F.M.A. A State University is Born: Throes of Birth; Ordeals of Growth; Textflow Ltd. Ibadan; 1996, p 28.

See also Ukoli, F.M.A., “Leadership through Academic Excellence” First Professor C.G.M. Bakare Memorial Lecture Organized by the Department of Guidance and Counseling, University of Ibadan on 26 March, 1996, pp 3-4.

16. Ikime, Op cit. p. 110.

17. Ibid. p. 52 – 53.

18. Ibid., p. 111.

19. Ayandele, E.A. The Educated Elite in Nigerian Society (University Lecture), Ibadan University Press; Ibadan, 1974, p. 4.

20. Ikime, op cit. p. 107.

21. Adjara III H.R.H., O.I. and Omokri, A., op cit. p.10.

22. Otite, Onigu, op. cit. p. 45.

23. Nwagwu, M. Beyond the Double Helix: Biology and the Social Order (University Lecture) University of Ibadan, Ibadan, 1994, p. 67.

24. Ayandele, E.A. op. cit. pp.142-143.

25. Ibid., p. 145.

26. Muoboghare, Op. Cit. p. 5.

27. Anon . Okere & Her People: 500 Years of Existence (1497 – 1997), Arimabo, Warri, 1997, p. 38.

28. Ukoli, F.M.A., A State University … Op. Cit. p. 285.

%d bloggers like this: