Chapter Four of Mukoro Mowoe’s Biography

Urhobo Historical Society

1890 – 1948
Second Edition  
Obaro Ikime

Some men are born great,
some achieve greatness and
some have greatness thrust upon them.
Twelveth Night, II, IV, 158.

In the above words, whatever else Shakespeare meant, he underlined for us the inter-play of personal ability and talents and prevailing circumstances in the fortunes of man. That inter-play was very much in evidence in the life of Chief Mukoro Mowoe. In the 1930s and the 1940s the Urhobo as a people, as a group distinct from their neighbours and yet interacting with them in the Nigeria that was formally born in 1914, were very much in need of identity. The history of the immediately preceding three decades had a major role to play in this challenging need for identity. Identity required a focus, a rallying point, leadership. Mukoro Mowoe provided that rallying point, that leadership. Having through hard work established himself as a businessman of substance by the mid-thirties and forties, he found himself called upon to assume the leadership of his people as a challenging time in their history. The events showed that Mowoe was well fitted by personal ability and attributes to accept this challenge and to turn it to good effect. 

Setting the Scene: The British began to penetrate into the Urhobo county as from 1896. By the end of the first decade of this century British penetration of Urhoboland was virtually complete. Unlike what happened in some other parts of Nigeria, the British did not have to fit out any major military expeditions against the Urhobo. This, however, is not to day that penetration was necessarily easy. Without a centralized political organization embracing all of the Urhobo, the British had perforce to go from clan to clan, and in some cases village to village. This took time. 

In the years before British penetration began, no European had reached the Urhobo hinterland. Not even Urhobo clans as close to what is now Warri as the Udu clan had been visited by any European. When the British moved into the Urhobo hinterland therefore, they were moving into terra incognita. This fact determined them to seek the assistance of persons who knew about the Urhobo country to act as guides, interpreters and agents. They found some of these among the Itsekiri who live at the coast and who had been interacting with the Urhobo for centuries. It was in this way that a few Itsekiri British-appointed political agents found their way into Urhoboland during the establishment of British colonial rule.79

It was said above that the Itsekiri and Urhobo had been interacting with one another for centuries. This was especially the case in the economic sphere. This interaction became even more pronounced in the period after 1830 when the trade in palm produce replaced the trade in slaves. As I have discussed the major developments attendant on this switch in trade elsewhere,80 it is not intended to go into any details here. The point which must be made is that in the interest of their trade in palm produce (and virtually all Itsekiri palm produce trade was with the Urhobo) the leading Itsekiri traders established semi-permanent trading posts in the Urhobo clans (especially in clans like Agharho, Agbon, ephron, Ughienvwe, Uwherun, Ewu which have ‘watersides’) where their ‘trading boys’ collected the produce ready for shipment in canoes to the coast for sale to the European traders. This practice explains the fact that at the time of the British penetration of Urhoboland, there were Itsekiri traders settled semi-permanently in parts of Urhoboland. As was to be expected, the practice led to closer social intercourse between such Itsekiri strangers and their Urhobo hosts. For the same reason of promoting and ensuring peaceful trade, leading Itsekiri traders married wives from those areas with which they traded, leading again to greater social intercourse than had taken place in earlier years.

As the British began their push into the Urhobo hinterland, their views of the Urhobo into whose territory they were advancing were very much influenced by the Itsekiri at the coast who had been dealing with the Europeans since the fifteenth century. Thus the Urhobo were ‘bush and uncivilized’ — civilization been measured in terms of the degree of contact with Europeans. As is well known the British style of penetration was to establish native courts in those parts of Nigeria which they subdued — native courts (or in some areas native authorities) which were expected to administer the areas concerned as agents of the new colonial authority. Thus native courts were established for Warri, the Benin River and Abraka-Okpara, in 1896 and for Agbarho, Okpara (both 1900) Sapel (1902), Ughelle and Ughienvwe (1904). More such courts were opened in the Urhobo areas later. Proof of the fact of interaction between the Urhobo and Itsekiri is seen in the fact that of the 17 members of the Abraka-Okpara native court 6 were Itsekiri. In Sapele 5 out of 11, in Agbarho 3 out of 19 court members were Itsekiri.81 It may at first, appear strange that the British decided to appoint Itsekiri stranger to native courts in Urhoboland, especially as in Warri no Urhobo sat in the native court even though that court had jurisdiction over such Urhobo towns as Ephron, Ephronto, Mogba, Asagba, Adeji, Aladja and the Urhobo settlement of Agbassah (now part of the city of Warri). It is possible to argue that it was only fair that stranger elements should be represented in the local government body which had authority over them. However, that was not the reasoning of the British. As became clear later, the British appointed the Itsekiri because they being ‘civilized’ were expected to show their Urhobo hosts how to run the new native courts of which they themselves (the Itsekiri, that is) had no previous experience.82 This concept came out in the open in the 1920s when the Urhobo began to agitate for the removal of the Itsekiri from their native courts and the British refused to grant the Urhobo request.

British refusal to grant the Urhobo request in this regard was undoubtedly influenced by the strong position which was held by Chief Omadoghogbone Numa (Dogho in short, and dore in British records), an Itsekiri, held in high esteem at provincial headquarters in Warri. The story of Chief Dogho is well know in the present Delta State (former Warri Province). Dogho’s father, Numa, was one of the leading Itsekiri traders in the age of Olomu, father of the famous Nana. As is well known, the trade in palm oil was an extremely competitive affair. Olomu, who was succeeded by his son Nana in 1883, established himself as easily the most successful Itsekiri trader of his time. His son Nana even improved on the father’s performance, becoming thereby the envy of many another Itsekiri trader. One such Itsekiri trader who envied and, so, hated Nana was Numa who died in 1891 and was succeeded as head of the family by his son Dogho.

It was fortunate for Dogho that he took over from his father at the point in time when the British were seeking to establish their rule effectively in Itsekiriland. We do not intend to go over the old story of how Nana opposed British encroachment on his power and trading markets and how in order to get rid of him the British mounted a combined naval and military expedition against him in August 1894. Nothing could have been more fortuitous for Dogho. Dogho threw in his lot with the British and helped them to encompass the fall of Nana. In gratitude for his help against Nana in 1894 and also for his role in the Benin expedition of 1897, Dogho was appointed British political agent about 1897. He was also appointed the President of the Benin River Native Court set up in 1896. When in 1914 Lugard introduced the idea of Native Courts of Appeal into Southern Nigeria, Dogho was appointed permanent president of the Warri native Courts of Appeal, a court which served all of the province. In 1918, Dogho was appointed Native Authority for the Warri Division, A division which included most of the Urhobo and also the Ijaw.. What is more, all the native courts of Urhoboland, in their capacity as native authorities, were made subordinate to Chief Dogho who was recognized as a Paramount Chief and super Native Authority in the province. As a consequence of these various appointments, Dogho’s influence over the peoples of the province — the Itsekiri, his own people, the Urhobo, Isoko, Ijaw Ukwuani and Aboh — increased tremendously, beyond any limits conceivable in the pre-colonial period. Urhobo elders anxious to be appointed to the native courts in their own areas sought the goodwill of Dogho by sending him presents or relations to work for him. The same thing happened with parties to cases pending in the Warri Native Court of Appeal.

Dogho for his part, took full advantage of his new position. There are on record instances in which he compelled some Urhobo oil producers to sell oil to him at his own price, making tremendous profit as a consequence. There are instance in which he extended the privilege conferred on him by law to be consulted by the Resident of the province in the appointment of members of the various native authorities into a power to remove already appointed members from office on his own authority — a power which was clearly not conferred on him by law. These instances of abuse of power and position were brought to the notice of the British resident but produced no adverse reaction from that quarter, for Dogho was a great friend of the British who, grateful for his loyal and efficient services, refused to do anything that would amount to a public reprimand or derogate from his prestige as their great ally. In many ways, therefore, the British colonial period in Warri Province up to 1932, the year in which Dogho died, was the age of Dogho.83

The age of Chief Dogho was one in which Itsekiri-Urhobo relations deteriorated considerably. The point about Itsekiri membership of some of the native courts in Urhoboland has already been made. Considerable Urhobo discontent arose from that situation. The establishment of the Warri Native Court of Appeal with a majority of Itsekiri members and with Dogho as permanent president created another grievance. Apart from the comparatively long distances which Urhobo litigants had to travel to attend the appeal court, there was the fact that only very few Urhobo chiefs sat on the court — and those few were usually Dogho’ minions. Consequently many Urhobo had no confidence in the appeal court and would not therefore appeal to it as they would otherwise have done. Urhobo protests against this situation, protest upheld by their District Officer, failed to produce complete satisfaction until the reorganization of the 1930s. In the 1926 the Urhobo of Abgon clan who belonged to the Kwale Division were removed from the jurisdiction of the Warri Native Court of Appeal when a separate court of appeal was established for the Kwale Division. Three years before that, Sapele h ad been removed from the jurisdiction of Dogho’s appeal court. But the bulk of the Urhobo remained subject to that court’s jurisdiction until the reorganization of the 1930s made that situation untenable. Urhobo agitation against these various disabilities imposed on them by the colonial authorities led to a hardening of Itsekiri-Urhobo relations, a hardening of relations which produced a new awareness of ethnic identity. The British were treating the Urhobo in some ways as second rate subjects, compared with the Itsekiri. The British may not have thought of the situation which arose in these terms, but it was easy in the eyes of the peoples concerned for the age of Dogho’s predominance to be translated into that of Itsekiri predominance. The Urhobo were determined that imposed predominance must be terminated. In this situation the rise of Chief Mukoro Mowoe, an Urhobo, as a wealth and influential personage in the province strengthened the Urhobo position. Official British policy in the thirties further made the termination of Itsekiri predominance inevitable. This latter fact, however, produced a reaction from the Itsekiri which made Itsekiri-Urhobo tension a major feature of the politics of Warri Province right up to fifties and even later.

The Reorganization of the 1930s and the Emergence of the Urhobo Progress Union (U.P.U.): In the last chapter reference was made to the reorganization of the 1930s. For the Urhobo, reorganization meant the setting up of village and clan councils as the local authorities; for the province as a whole reorganization involved the setting up of new Native Administrations and the recasting of the province into new Divisions in line with the new Native Administrations. The guiding principle was that people of the same ethnic group were to be placed within the same unit of Native Administration. This is not the place to take up the debate as to whether the emphasis on ethnicity was wholesome or not. The fact is that local government always invariably recognizes local susceptibilities.

Although in general terms the principle of ethnicity was recognized, there was one exception. The Resident, Warri Province, proposed and got the British Government to establish a ‘Jebri-Sobo’ (Itsekiri-Urhobo Division) Division in 1932. This Division was made up of the Itsekiri and the Urhobo clans closest to them — Ephron, Udu, Agbon, Okep and Oghara. The Resident argued that the Itsekiri were a dying race and that as a consequence of the great intermarriage between the Itsekiri and these and other Urhobo clans, the Itsekiri would eventually die out and ‘there would emerge a ‘Jekri-Sobo’ sub-tribe in the ‘Jekri-Sobo’ Division.84 It is difficult to agree with the Resident. True, there was great intermarriage between the Itsekiri and their Urhobo neighbours, but this had not led to loss of identity on either side. There was really now evidence that the Itsekiri were a dying race. What was more, relations between the Itsekiri and the Urhobo in the years just before reorganization had become extremely hostile as a result of Urhobo agitation against British-imposed Itsekiri predominance. The British themselves had taken some steps to remove sources of Urhobo grievance as was pointed out earlier. Reorganization offered a good opportunity to complete this process. Were the British perhaps unwilling to confide Dogho’s influence to just his own people after years of influence over the entire province? The Resident himself wrote in 1932, ‘The Jekris desire such a Native Administration (i.e. the Jekri-Sobo Native Administration) but upon the old basis of Jekri predominance. Th Sobos at present do not’.85 The Urhobo did not desire the new arrangement; yet the British went ahead. It was difficult for the Urhobo to avoid the conclusion that the British were pandering to Itsekiri desires. In the years after 1932 when the ‘Jekri-Sobo’ Division was born, therefore, the existence of that division remained a major Urhobo grievance.

All the other Urhobo clans except Abraka were now brought together under what became know as the ‘Sobo’ (Urhobo) Division in 1934 with headquarters at Ughelle. In this regard reorganization was a major development for the Urhobo, for this was the first time that a British administrative centre was established in the heartland of the Urhobo country. It was hoped that form now on the British would begin to know the Urhobo as they really were, rather than seeing them through the glasses of the Itsekiri, from provincial headquarters in Warri. The emergency of the Urhobo Division naturally led to greater ethnic consciousness. Although each village now had a village council made up of the traditional elders, etc., as the local authority, the British also encouraged the development of ‘superior sub-tribal native authorities’ developing on a voluntary basis from the local authorities. In 1934, for example, there emerged the Finance Committee of the Urhobo Division, made up of delegates from the component clans. The Committee members were educated elements chosen by the District Officer and approved by the local authorities. The responsibility of the Committee was the drawing up of the annual estimates of the Urhobo Native administration. It was precisely because of the nature of the functions of the committee that the members had to be literate. In fact one of the problems which arose in the post-reorganization years was that of the membership of the local authority councils and the central Native Administration Council. The emphasis in these years was on ‘traditional members’, by which was understood such persons as would have sat on village councils in pre-British days. Yet these councils were supposed to be functioning in an increasingly different situation created by the British presence. The preparation of annual estimates, for example, was a novel function. It was for this reason that as the 1930s wore on, it became imperative for some educated elements who would not normally qualify to sit on the councils to be injected into them to look after the more ‘modern’ sector of their affairs. Mukoro Mowoe was one of the members of the Finance Committee set up in 1934. In 1936 there came into being the ‘Sobo-Isoko Executive Council’ (the Isoko were part of the new Urhobo Division86), the superior native authority desired by the British. Mukoro Mowoe also became a member of this council, representing the Evwreni clan. Mowoe thus became intimately involved with the Urhobo Native Administration from its inception and served the Urhobo people in that capacity for fourteen years.

If the emergency of the Urhobo Division had the effect of fostering Urhobo ethnic consciousness, another event connected with re-organization outside the Urhobo Division also had the same effect. This was the installation of an Olu for the Itsekiri in 1936. The last ruler of the Itsekiri before this date in 1848. The turbulent internal politics of Itsekiriland at the time prevented the choice and installation of an Olu. Then came the British and the age of Chief Dogho. Dogho, from the view point of the British, more than adequately filled the vacuum created by the absence of an Olu. However, once the principle of basing local government on indigenous political systems became the guiding principle, an Olu had to be installed to head the Itsekiri native Administration. Additional pressure for the appointment and installation of an Olu came from the Itsekiri royal family who had been challenging Dogho’s position since the 1920s. Consequently, as soon as the tax riots had been quelled, the British set in motion the machinery for the selection and installation of an Olu. Only one major obstacle stood in the way: Chief Dogho. Dogho could not continue to hold his position once an Olu was installed. The British were not prepared to see a diminution of the power and influence of Chief Dogho and so decided that no Olu was to be installed till after the death of Dogho — a decision which further shows just how well established Dogho was with the British. Dogho died on 24 September, 1932 and the way was thus cleared for the installation of an Olu. 

In June 1934 there appeared in the Nigerian Daily Times an article about the possibility of the installation of an Olu of the Itsekiri. The article contained a number of statements which the Urhobo regarded as objectionable and defamatory. For example, the article referred to Chief Dogho as ‘the recognized Ruler of the Itsekiris and Sobos’. It further stated that within the borders of Itsekiriland ‘lived the Sobos, a hardy people, who served for several years in the capacity of slaves to their Itsekiri and Benin Masters’.87 ‘Within a comparatively few years of their emancipation,’ the article went on, the Urhobo had made outstanding progress in the affairs of Native Administration, so much so that the Itsekiri had been forced by that fact to seek the installation of an Olu so that they too could have a properly organized Native Administration.

Whatever the intentions of the author of the article, the Urhobo flew up in arms. A rejoinder appeared in the same paper on 19 June challenging the claims that Dogho was the ‘recognized Ruler’ of the Urhobo were Itsekiri slaves. The rejoinder accepted the fact that Dogho had had great influence in Urhoboland, but hastened to explain that this was only because the British colonial authorities set him up. The Urhobo did in times past sell slaves to the Itseikiri but there was no justification for the claim that the Urhobo were slaves of the Itsekiri or Bini in the same way as the ‘children of Israel’ had been slaves in Egypt.88 On 17 July the Urhobo clans compelled against their will to stay in the ‘Jekri-Sobo’ Division met at Orerokpe to protest against the article and decided to take the author and the newspaper to court. It took the Resident quite some effort before he succeeded in persuading the Urhobo not to go to court. From the date of that Orerokpe meeting, however, the five Urhobo clans constituted themselves into the Urhobo General Council which met regularly at Orerokpe, pledged to uphold the rights and pride of the Urhobo people.

It is natural that the Urhobo agitation for complete separation from the Itsekiri should have become more insistent after the events depicted above. In 1935 the Resident reported that ‘the Sobos (were) growing more insistent in their requests for control of their own funds, and for the establishment of a native treasury on their own land’.89 In the same year during a tour of the province, the Lieutenant Governor, Western Provinces, discussed the matter with both the Itsekiri and the Urhobo. His report once again made it quite clear that the Urhobo had no desire at all to remain within the ‘Jekri-Sobo’ Division. Then the next year came the actual installation of Emiko, great grandson of the Olu who had died in 1848, as the Olu Ginuwa II. This led to increased tensions. The Olu was reported to have claimed that the recognized no boundaries except that with Benin, disregarding thereby the Urhobo who occupied the intervening territory between him and Benin. As if that was not enough, the Itsekiri began to demand that their ruler be styled Olu of Warri instead of Olu of the Itsekiri as he was previously styled. The Urhobo objected strenuously to the proposed change, arguing that Warri was the name and headquarters of the entire province which was made up of the Urhobo, Ukwuani, Isoko, Ijaw and Aboh in addition to the Itsekiri, and that to style the Itsekiri ruler ‘Ole of Warri’ would create the impression that the Olu ruled over the non-Itsekiri peoples as well. The British government decided to reject the Itsekiri demand. Largely as a consequence of the Urhobo protest.

The installation of the Olu, and the furore which the demand for a change in his title brought about, gave the Urhobo a new-found unity. Commenting on this, the Chief Commissioner wrote: “Imbued with a national spirit as strong as that of the Jekris, te Sobos regard separation (from the Itsekiri) as the outward and visible sign of complete freedom from Jekri influence’.90

It was as a further ‘outward and visible sign’ of their new found unity that the Urhobo inaugurated what later became known as the Urhobo Progress Union (U.P.U.) in 1936. The very next year Chief Mukoro Mowoe was elected the first President in General of U.P.U., a post he retained till his death in 1948.

While, given what had been said so far, it is tempting to reach the conclusion that the U.P.U. was founded as result of the various agitations of the 1930s, such a conclusion would certainly not represent the whole truth. Throughout Nigeria, the 1930s and 1940s were the years which saw the rise of ‘Progress Union.’ The reorganization of the 1930s was limited to Warri Province. It was common to all of Southern Nigeria. Native Administration were required and encouraged to engage in developmental projects — the building of inter-village and inter-clan roads, dispensaries and maternity centres, schools and other works of public utility. The taking in of the tax which provided the largest share of the revenue for these developmental projects became a major task for the N.As. Indeed, very often the success or failure of the N.As was measured in terms of how efficiently they carried out this aspect of their functions. The establishment of “native treasuries” was a logical corrolary of taxation. Traditional rulers and elders in council constituted the bulk of N.A. membership. As has already been indicated, the very nature of the jobs which the N.As had to do necessitated the injection into their membership of educated elements. ‘Progress Unions’ developed alongside village and clan councils of N.As to serve as forums for the coming together of a cross section of the populace, irrespective of traditional status and educational qualifications, to think about development projects and how to finance them; to serve when necessary as pressure groups of the N.As; to forge ethnic unity, to provide a supra — N.A. leadership. The fact that often branches of such unions sprang up in different parts of the country meant that even those not at ‘home’ could still contribute their views and means to the development of the ‘homeland.’ True these unions could and did later become agents of ethnic politics and as such made national unity more difficult to forge; but in their original concept and motive, they were meant to contribute to local development as indeed they all did. It is against this fuller background that the rise of the U.P.U. must be seen.

According to the late Chief J.S. Mariere, the first exploratory meeting which was to lead to the formal inauguration of what grew into the U.P.U. was held on 30 October, 1931 at the residence of Chief Mukoro Mowoe. The formal inauguration took place on 3 November, 1931 and the name adopted was Urhobo Brotherly Society. The moving spirits behind the inauguration of the Society were Mr. Omorohwovo Okoro, an Ovu trader in Warri, and Mr. Thomas Erukeme, a clerk in the colonial civil service, who were duly elected President and Secretary respectively.91 That the meetings were held in Mowoe’s residence would indicate that he was already notable figure in the Warri of 1931. According to one source, Mukoro Mowoe was, at the meeting of November, 1931 elected Vice-President of the Urhobo Brotherly Society.92 Some insight into the Urhobo and Warri society at the time of the inauguration of the Urhobo Brotherly Society can be got by quoting from the written account of Chief Mariere, a foundation member of the Society. Wrote Mariere:

The period preceding the birth of te union was one in which the disunity among the Urhobo people came to an unbearable point. It was a period of everyone for himself and God for us all. This was probably so because of the clannish leanings of the Urhobo people in their different home-steads.93

According to Mariere, not even those Urhobo who had settled in Warri and who were engaged in trade or other walks of life outgrew this “clannishness.” Rather, life in an urban setting posed new problems:

The behavior of many people at that time was a stigma on the Urhobo tribe. A large number resorted to questionable means of livelihood. The large number resorted to questionable means of livelihood. The strong oppressed the weak and unnecessary litigation was the order of the day with its concomitant evil of corruption… Few people (could) put their chest forward to answer the Urhobo name owning to the fact that at that time all sorts of derogatory terms went applied to the Urhobo tribe. In the midst of this disgusting and sad state of affairs, a growing consciousness of the shortcoming of the Urhobo Community in Warri reared its head.94

In an endeavor to overcome these shortcomings, the Urhobo community began organizing social get-togethers and traditional Urhobo dances, thus bringing Urhobo of different clans together on the purely social plane. Gradually there emerged a certain recognizable leadership which did the groundwork for the inauguration of a society which, given what has already been said, was aptly called Urhobo Brotherly Society, ‘an organization which aimed at unifying the people in brotherly love.95

As the years wore on, so different formulations were given to the aims of the society, later Urhobo Progress Union. ‘The object of this Union’, one source indicated, ‘apart from the general good of the Urhobo nations and the encouragement of loyalty to the Government, is also advisory to our native authorities’.96 Another source claimed: 

The aim of the Union is to maintain good reputation and so earn for the Urhobo a better place in the public… The Union seeks to promote education Urhoboland because it strongly believes the immense advantage of education in social and economic structure of a society. It realizes that unless the Urhobo tribe extending from Oghara and Jesse on the extreme North-East is unified under one central treasury and one Native Authority, the economic, social and educational aim of the Union will be greatly hindered; and for this reason it has in mind the unification of all Urhobo clans under one Supreme Council by the people.97

The evidence available thus confirms the pont earlier made that the rise of the U.P.U. should be seen against the background of a general ferment of ideas arising from British local government and other policies in the nineteen twenties and thirties. The Urhobo Brotherly Society in its first few years was confined to Warri. Then a branch was opened at Sapele. By 1934 only three years after the inauguration of the Society, branches had been opened in some three or four other towns. According to Chief Salubi, one Joseph Arebe Uyo who replaced Thomas Erukeme as Secretary of the Warri Union, played a leading role in establishing some of these branches. Chief Salubi recalled that Uyo was ‘transferred’ from Warri to Enugu and then to Kaduna and by 1934 to Lagos, and that in each of these places he encouraged the formation of branches of the Society. In 1934, Uyo became the founder of the Lagos Branch of the Urhobo Brotherly Society.98 According to one source, F.A.O. was at the inaugural meeting of 4 November, 1934 elected President of the Lagos Branch, J.A. Ikutegba was elected vice-President, and T.E.A. Salubi was elected Secretary,99 a position he held for ten consecutive years. The present Dr. F. Esiri was Assistant Secretary. Once branches began to be established the Warri branch became know as the “Mother Union.” Omorohwovo Okoro held the presidency for some time after which he decided to hand over to Mukoro Mowoe. Salubi recalls that Omorohwovo is alleged to have said to Mowoe in Urhobo: 

Eyere akpo re-e. Ubrubro onye ene ison. Asa erutena orhe te re. Aghara kpo imitini-i. Orohwohwo oyi ghwre phio.100

In English:

No one can ever accomplish everything (by himself) in life. Man’s faeces never comes out in one continuous piece but in bits and pieces. What we (meaning Omorohwovo) have sought to do thus far is enough. In an organization (like the U.P.U.) one does not expect to take home dividends. Rather one continually invest in the organization.

With Omorohwovo thus eager to hand over presidency, the mantel fell on Mukoro Mowoe. Chief Salubi, who recalled what Omorohwovo is alleged to have told Mowoe, could not say in what year the change in leadership took place. He did say, however, that by the time the Lagos Branch was established in 1934, Mowoe was already President. If Salubi’s recollection of what Omorohwovo said is correct, it would man that the first president was beginning to feel the economic pinch involved in leading such a movement in its early stages. The choice of Mowoe as his successor may therefore have been influenced, among factors, by the awareness that he had the means, in a financial sense, to help support the movement in these early years when its finances could hardly have been buoyant. The name of the movement was changed from Urhobo Brotherly Society to Urhobo Progressive Union at the suggestion of the Lagos Branch. Shortly after this change, however, the Urhobo Literary committee suggested a slight amendment and so the union became known as the Urhobo Progress Union, which formulation, it was agreed, best summed up the aims of the union.101 With the establishment of branches, Annual conferences began to be held at Warri to which the branches sent delegates. It was at the 1937 conference that Mowoe’s designation was changed to President General. So although he was the first President General, he was not the first president of what grew into the U.P.U.; that honour went to Omorohwovo Okoro. At some point later Mowoe was elected Life President of the U.P.U. Talking about this development, Chief Salubi said he was not quite sure why the decisions so to elect him was taken. By the 1940s the Lagos branch had become extremely outstanding in its contribution to the ideas and programmes of the U.P.U. Was there, perhaps, some fear that although Mowoe was doing a good job, some more radical members of the U.P.U. might seek a change in the leadership of the union? Be that as it may have been, Mowoe became Life President of the U.P.U. and died as such.

Since as from 1936 the Urhobo agitation for complete separation from the Itsekiri ceased to be the principal concern of the five clans in the “Jekri-Sobo” Division and became the concern of the entire Urhobo people, it was logical that the U.P.U., as the central organ of the Urhobo, should get involved in it. The agitation achieved its first success in April 1938. As from that date two separate Native Administrations were established within the “Jekri-Sobo” Division — the Western Urhobo Native Administration with its own ‘native treasury’ at Orerokpe, and the Itsekiri Native Administration with its headquarters and ‘native treasury’ at Warri. The Urhobo success was as yet incomplete in so far as a separate Division had not been granted them. Hence the agitation continued until 1949 when the Western Urhobo Native Administration was transferred tot he Urhobo and the Itsekiri constituted into what became known as from that year as Warri Division. By 1949, however, Mowoe was dead. The details of the role the U.P.U. and Mowoe as its leader played in achieving Urhobo aims in this matter are not clear. All that is known is that that body kept the agitation alive and Mowoe as President-General must have played a central role. His acclaimed influence with the British political officers in the province probably helped to ensure Urhobo success.

The U.P.U. and Education: The point was made earlier that although the U.P.U. was bound to be involved in the agitation discussed above, the primary motive for its inauguration was to help contribute towards the development of the Urhobo. In no other sphere was this better demonstrated than in the sphere of education. In the thirties and forties the Urhobo were, by comparison with many of the other groups in southern Nigeria, educationally backward. This was mainly because the missionaries who took the lead in providing education for the peoples of Southern Nigeria did not begin effective operation in Urhoboland till about 1914. The European was of 1914-1918 limited any real expansion. In terms of education only a few ‘hedge schools’ were established in Urhoboland up to the 1920s. The C.M.S., the missionary body that led in the field of education in Urhoboland, did not work out a comprehensive primary education plan for Urhoboland till 1929 and this plan was not formally implemented til 1931, the same year that the U.P.U. was born. If primary education was this late in taking off, it is easy to see that secondary school education was later still. Yet education had by the 1930s already become the key too progress and meaningful participation in the political life of the nation as well as in the professions and certain sectors of the Nigerian economy. The Urhobo were aware of their inadequacies in this respect and the U.P.U. necessarily devoted a great deal of its energies and attention to this aspect of Urhoboland’s development.

The full story of U.P.U. involvement in education and the ultimate emergence of Urhobo College, Ephron (Effurun) has been told by Chief T.E.A. Salubi, on whose account the summary that follows is exclusively based.102 According to Salubi, the U.P.U. became involved in education as a result of the initiative taken by the Lagos branch of the Union at a meeting in July 1935. At that meeting one Mr. Joseph Akpolo Ikutegbe proposed the setting up of a secondary school scholarship fund for Urhobo children under the auspices of the U.P.U. This proposal was adopted by the Lagos Branch and forwarded to the headquarters of the U.P.U. in Warri to be tabled for discussion at the First Annual General Council of the Union scheduled for the 17th and 18th of November, 1935.

The matter was discussed at the General Council meeting an the U.P.U. adopted the Lagos proposal. It was decided that subscriptions towards the fund should begin to be raised as from June 1936. A certain amount of confusion crept into the education scheme of the U.P.U. in the ensuing years. By the time the General Council met towards the end of 1937, the Lagos Branch was pressing that the first scholarships under the scheme be awarded. The Council ruled that there were not enough money yet for that to be done. Four years later (1941) nothing had been done. Rather than award scholarships for secondary education, the Annual General Council meeting of 1941 decided that the thing to do was to establish a primary school which would ultimately develop into a secondary school The Lagos and Port Harcourt branches took strong objections to the idea of U.P.U. establishing a primary school. Both branches wrote strong letters of protest to U.P.U. headquarters decrying the decision and urging instead the building of a secondary school. Accordingly, the 1941 decision was reconsidered in 1942 when the General Council rescinded the earlier decision in favour of founding ‘an Urhobo college,’ to be sited near Ephron. Mowoe’s first term of office as President-General ran out in 1942. He was re-elected at the General Council meeting at which the above decision was taken. 

The 1942 decision was followed by two years of inaction caused by disagreements between U.P.U. headquarters and the Union’s branches in Lagos and Northern Nigeria. In October 1943, the branches of the U.P.U. in Northern Nigeria held a regional conference which decided that it was not enough to build a secondary school which ‘could only add to the number of our clerks’, and that U.P.U. should immediately sponsor two deserving Urhobo youths to Europe to engage in professional studies. The Lagos branch bought the idea of the northern branches and in January 1944, wrote to U.P.U. headquarters proposing that tow Urhobo youths be sent tot he United Kingdom to study law. U.P.U. headquarters circularized all branches in April 1944 asking them to make their views known on the latest proposals. Of the 33 branches only 20 replied; of these twenty, twelve favoured proceeding immediately with the National College project while seven favoured the overseas scholarship idea. One offered no opinion one way or the other. In the light of the expressed views of the branches, U.P.U. headquarters decided that the proper thing to do was to go ahead with the secondary school project.

The events which followed the above developments are a little confused. The story as it emerges from Salubi’s narrative is that the General Council of 1944 eventually ratified the decision to translate the resolution about a secondary school into practical reality. Towards that end Mr. M.G. Ejaife was awarded a scholarship to study at Fourah Bay College and then in England to qualify as Principal of the proposed college. In September 1945, another Urhobo young man, E.N. Igho, was sent to Cambridge on a U.P.U. scholarship to study the Natural Sciences and return to teach in the proposed college. Meanwhile efforts to actually set up the college were redoubled.

One obstacle which stood in the way of effective planning was the continued estrangement of the Lagos branch which felt that the Home Union was reactionary and unprogressive. Salubi, a leading member of the Lagos branch, used words like ‘fumbled,’ ‘bungled’ and ‘muddled’ to describe the way the Home Union had handled the scholarship idea. Now that scholarships were being awarded (though not for law studies!) and now that the U.P.U. was committed to building a secondary school, it was necessary that all ranks be closed. Consequently, Chief Mukoro Mowoe as President-General traveled to Lagos and held discussions with that branch. He followed up his visit with a letter which is worth reproducing in full.

From what I could gather from my interview with you when I visited Lagos, I deduced that unless one of the two parties to the quarrel gives way to the other, the result will be a permanent disunity and by that we may destroy what we have created. I need not state categorically the needs for an effective union in Urhoboland. You all know that. At this crucial moment when Nigerian History is being made we must not allow petty differences to disorganize us so that we may be able to create a new Urhobo in a New Nigeria and when the political History shall be written, when the Economic History shall be written and when the Social and Religious history shall be written, our names, nay that of the tribe shall not disappear.

2. I held meeting with Headquarters Union and came to agreement that an unqualified apology be sent you. I made them to realise whatever shortcoming they have. From constitutional point of view your action in contacting other branches in matter of general policy is wrong. Originally that power was vested with the General meeting of the Home Union but the New Bye Laws has, (sic) by creation of an Executive Council brought the General meeting of the Home Union to this because it is the only offence for which you are held by the Home Union.

3. As your President-General, I am in duty bound to settle dispute between any two branches but the effectiveness of my settlement depends on your loyalty and it is this loyalty I crave for in my asking that Warri Home Union should submit an apology to you. There is nothing short of loyalty when Home Union agrees to do so. And now it is your turn to display this some spirit of loyalty by accepting this apology in a true spirit I know, it is expressed. I need not therefore hesitate in anticipating that the Scheme now in had will meet with your approval in that. Scholarships for U.K. and U.S.A. will be available in a year’s time as the target is reached. The method of selection, as stated in Section 10 and 11 of the Scheme will no doubt interest you.

4. You will no doubt fall in sympathy with me when I state here for your information that this quarrel has already done some harm to the Scheme. My tour was planned before I met you Union. Having discovered you still have stood in the way you did, I hastened to Headquarters to cancel my tour until internal affairs are adjusted…

I therefore appeal to you to cease fire and lay down arms as Home Union has honorably, unconditionally surrendered. In the name of progress I have made this appeal.103

The Lagos branch heeded Mowoe’s appeal and the U.P.U. settled down to its task of establishing a secondary school for the Urhobo people.

In October 1946, the nucleus of the future Urhobo College was established. Two years earlier, one Mr. E.O. Wey, a retired Civil Servant, had opened a school which he called Collegiate School of Commerce. In 1949 Mr. Wey decided to sell out. The late J.G. Ako, who was then teaching in Wey’s School, suggested to the U.P.U. that it should buy over the school which was permitted to read up to the old Middle IV. The ranks of U.P.U. were divided on the wisdom of buying Wey’s School. However, Mowoe threw in his weight in favour of buying Wey’s School and this was eventually done, the U.P.U. taking over effective ownership and management on 1 October, 1946. By 1947 accommodation problems were beginning to arise; so U.P.U. decided to move the school to the present site where it began in temporary quarters in January, 1949. In 1948 the U.P.U. obtained permission from the government to convert Wey’s Collegiate School into a full fledged grammar school. Mr. Ejaife had returned from the United Kingdom in August 1948 and taken over as Principal of what became known as Urhobo college. It has taken eleven years for the U.P.U. to achieve what is unquestionably its greatest contribution to the development and progress of the Urhobo people.

In thus taking the story up to the actual foundation of Urhobo College, we have skipped a discussion of the issue of finance. A levy was imposed on every branch to begin with. Later, an education rate was added to the tax of all tax payers in Urhobo Division. (This meant that the Isoko who are not Urhobo but who were then in the Urhobo Division also had to contribute towards funding Urhobo college). Mowoe as President-General of U.P.U. undertook a tour of the entire country in 1946, to explain to the Urhobo people away from home the aims of the education scheme and urging them to contribute generously in its support. The evidence indicates that Mowoe took his responsibility in this regard seriously. He became (if at all he had not been from the very beginning) really devoted to the provision of secondary education for the Urhobo. In a private letter to one Mr. Igo dated 25 May 1946, he expressed the hope that Igo was keeping abreast of development relating to the education scheme. He continued, “I am trying to build my tribe. I hope it is God’s call on my side to do such business as Urhobo tribe is concerned.’104 In October 1946, Mowoe wrote to one Chief Qtite:

Your sone Godfrey wrote to tell me that he wishes to enter into the Urhobo National College, but you refused to pay his school fees. If this is correct, I am very much surprised to see a Chief of yourself (sic) depriving your sone who has the desire to learn from learning, because of a few shillings. By this you are helping to debar the progress of the Urhobo Tribe.105

He went on in the letter to argue that Chief Otite could not plead lack of means for his action, as he was more than capable of paying the fees. He hoped Otite would change his mind. The relationship between Mowoe and the Otite family is not clear. Evidence from other spheres of Mowoe’s life indicates that it was not unusual for perfect strangers to appeal to him for help. Was Godfrey one of these perfect strangers looking up to Mowoe, leader of the Urhobo, to help persuade his father to send him to school? If he was, Mowoe’s letter to Godfrey’s father clearly shows that the boy know where to go for help.

During one of his tours of the different parts of the country, canvassing financial support for the Urhobo Education Scheme, Mowoe made a speech which has fortunately survived. This speech, a response to his toast, shows Mowoe’s commitment to the job in had. After the usual thanks for the generous toast, Mowoe went on, ‘My belief is that every being born into the world has duty to perform to his people: either to the village he belongs or to the town or country as a whole… Frankly speaking any one of you who should fail to play his or her part for the upliftment of our dear tribe, it were better that she or he had not been born at all.’106 He reminded his listeners that not to long before that meeting the British governor had asked Nnamdi Azikiwe with whom he (Zik) would replace the whit officials were the latter to leave there and then. Zik had proceeded to rattle off a number of qualified Nigerians who could take over from the British. ‘Out of these names is there any Urhoboman among the names? If no, why? I say we have no privilege (sic) of learning; otherwise I think if now more, we have the same equal brains. Are we to leave our Nation to be under, always subject to all other nations in Nigeria? If no, be up and doing. Now we have the opportunity — our clans, our councils are ready and waiting for us; every one of Urhobo man should do his bit for the upliftment of our Race. We want money to send our deserving children to England for further studies and for the building of the Urhobo National Secondary School. I am sure we shall win the race before us. I pray that God may give you strength, long life to work hard and to complete the estimate before us and our name shall be remembered for ever by our children.’107 Both what was said and the way it was said leave little room for doubt as to Mowoe’s commitment. Little wonder that he is even today fondly remembered as having played a leading role in the establishment of Urhobo College an also in getting the British government to move the college built by it in Warri in 1945 to Ughelli in the heart of the Urhobo country. One of the dormitories in Urhobo college is named after him. He deserves a worthier memorial than that.

Mowoe, the U.P.U. and the Sapele Land Case: In 1908, the British colonial government acquired 510 acres of Sapele land. The lease which gave the land to the British was signed by Chief Dogho ‘acting for and on behalf of the Chiefs and people of Sapele.’ He signed a similar lease for land acquired by the British in Warri. We do not know exactly why the British asked Dogho to sign these leases, especially that of Sapele, Sapele being decidedly Okpe land. The most obvious guess is that because Dogho was the British political agent, he was made to sign for the people. The British Government paid an annual rent of £100 for the Sapele land. The Sapele land owners took £60 and gave Dogho £40 — evidence of the way in which Dogho and indeed all those who held office for the colonial regime in those early days flagrantly abused their offices and enriched themselves. Even if Dogho was the Orodje of Okpe and had signed the lease as such, he could not expect 40% of the annual rent for himself.

Nothing happened before the 1930s to raise the technical and legal questions as to who owned Sapele land. However, in his last few years, Dogho began to instruct Itsekiri residents in Sapele not to pay rent to their Urhobo landlords, arguing that Sapele land belonged to the Olu of Itsekiri and that he, Dogho, represented the Olu. Perhaps Dogho thought he could get away with the Sapele land issue as he had with regard to Warri. In 1925 the Urhobo of Agbassah in Warri had taken Dogho to court and challenged his right to collect rent in their area, arguing that the Agbassah had settled in their present area of the new town of Warri without paying rent to any one and before the Itsekiri ever came to the area. They lost the case. By the 1930s the Agbassah were still chafing under this loss and many Urhobo sympathized with them. Indeed the “Agbassah land case’ as it came to be known to everyone in Warri became one of the most permanent sources of Urhobo-Itsekiri tension. Was Dogho, then, attempting to repeat performance in Sapele?

Dogho died in 1932 before the Sapele land case had gone to court. British political officers did all they could to prevent litigation over Sapele land. But the matter had to be legally resolved. In 1941 the Urhobo of Sapele went to court to establish legal ownership. Given what has been said about Urhobo relations with the Itsekiri in the 1930 and ’40s, it is easy to imagine how other Urhobo would have reacted to the Sapele land issue. The U.P.U. and, with it Mowoe, became heavily involved in the court case. The Urhobo won the case. The Itsekiri appealed to the West African Court of Appeal. Appeals of this nature cost a great deal of money both in lawyer’s fees and in travel. Mowoe led the U.P.U. and the Okpe people in organizing and raising funds for the Sapele land case. The Itsekiri lost the Appeal and Okpe ownership of Sapele land was confirmed in law once and for all.108

The judge who tried the case in the first instance had been convinced about the Okpe case, largely because the Okpe were able to show that it was they who gave land out to various European firms when the latter began to arrive in the areas as from 1891 and before the colonial government sought the lease of 1908. The Okpe elders argued that they let Dogho have £40 only out of gratitude, not in recognition of legal ownership of the land by the Itsekiri as represented by him. (They may well have admitted that they were frightened of the position he then occupied with the British). As for the Itsekiri claim, the judge noted that although there was ‘bombastic claim (by the Olu) to royal privilege and overlordship,’ there was ‘no tittle of evidence’ to back up this claim. In may ways then the Okep had a good case. But good cases can be lost. It required leadership and organization to win the case. Mowoe headed those who provided this leadership and organization. The Sapele land case was handled differently by the Urhobo from the Agbassah land case. The former was fought at a time when the Urhobo had acquired not only greater consciousness as a people, but had an organization that could translate that consciousness into action. Chief Salubi who was Secretary of the U.P.U. in Lagos when the appeal of the Itsekiri was heard, showed me the accounts he kept at the time in connection with the feeding of the Okpe elders who had to go to Lagos because of the appeal. The feeding of the Okpe delegates became the responsibility of the U.P.U. It was so arranged that each Urhobo clan in Lagos was charged with responsibility for feeding the delegates on agreed days. Salubi claims that each clan was only too pleased to shoulder this responsibility.109 The Sapele land case was thus transformed into an Urhobo affair in which the U.P.U. and its leadership played a leading role.

Five years after the 1943 decision by the West African Court of Appeal when the writer first went to live in Warri, the story was still being told of Mukoro Mowoe’s great role in the sapele land case. Many Urhobo were convinced that it was Mowoe’s position and influence in the province that ensured that justice was done. In fact a popular song was composed in commemoration of this victory which was seen as Mowoe’s victory. Indeed one informant told the writer that a day before the verdict was delivered. Mowoe had already been informed that it would be favourable. Consequently, the informant continued, Mowoe organized an all night party. Pressed to comment on what was being celebrated, Mowoe was alleged by this informant to have said that he was celebrating his escape from death in a motor accident which had occurred the previous day. The party went on all night and into the previous day and soon news of the favourable verdict came through. Suddenly men and women realised that Mowoe had received prior information and had been celebrating the Urhobo victory!110 Stories like this are most unlikely to contain much truth. No judge was likely to have behaved in the manner implied in the story. And Mowoe was most unlikely, even had he advance information about the verdict, to mount a party before judgment was delivered. Yet such stories are extant, evidence of the kind of connections and influence people believed that Mowoe had.

Uneasy Lies the Head: It was not only within the context of the U.P.U. that Mowoe acted out his leadership role. Having become acknowledged as leader, he was called upon to take an interest in a wide variety of issues and problems. One such issue was that which had to do with the recognition of the Orodje of Okpe, the traditional head of the Okpe people. The story of Mowoe’s involvement with the Orodje of Okpe has two sides to it. On 1 January 1945, the Okpe had installed Esezi II as Orodje of Okpe. It was one thing to install him; quite another to secure for him government recognition. By 1945, there was already talk of a conference of chiefs in the then Western Regional of Nigeria. The idea was to b ring together once a year the rulers and chiefs of the various peoples of the region so they could discuss various issues and common problems, and familiarize themselves with official government policies at headquarters in Ibadan.

Among the Urhobo who do not have a ‘natural ruler’ recognized by all the clans, there was a feeling that Chief Mukoro Mowoe should be the person to represent the Urhobo at such a conference. As President-General of the U.P.U. there was probably quite some sense in sending him to Ibadan for such a meeting. However, there were those who did not see why Mowoe and not’ rulers’ like the Orodje of Okpe should represent the Urhobo. As Orerokpe had become the headquarters of the Western Urhobo Native Administration, the Okpe apparently felt that their Orodje held a special position. The Okpe did not just press the case for the Orodje. Their young men began to deride Mukoro Mowoe. They argued that Mowoe was no more than a successful businessman. Success in business did not confer on him the right to represent the Urhobo at a conference of chiefs. In the typical Urhobo way they spoke in parables: the hat is made to be worn on the head; you do not fear the head so much as to wear the hat on the knee!111

We do not know whether Mowoe was particularly anxious to go to the conference of chiefs. He may well have felt that as leader of the Urhobo he had good reason to be the Urhobo representative, for while the U.P.U. was pan-Urhobo and so its leader cold claim to speak for the Urhobo as a whole, non of the titled ‘heads’ of any of the Urhobo clans could make a similar claim. Besides, Mowoe had led the U.P.U. infighting the Sapele land case for the Okep. Then he was not just ‘a mere trader.’ It was, in the circumstances, perhaps natural that Mowoe should have been angry with the Okpe people. He refused to exert himself to secure government recognition for the Orodje. The Orodje could hardly play any meaningful role without government recognition. For two years the new Orodje was without recognition. In the circumstances he could hardly reign, let alone rule. Mowoe who by this time, 1947, was not only influential in the then Warri Province but had also become influential at the regional level where he represented the province in the Western house of Assembly, was obviously the best placed person to move the regional government to recognize the Orodje. Suddenly, even the Okpe young men realized that Mowoe was more than ‘a mere trader.’ Letters poured in to Mowoe from Okpe people both at home and away from home, pleading with him to use his god offices to secure official recognition for the Orodje. Mowoe relented of his anger and used his influence to secure government recognition for the Orodje of Okpe, Esezi II. Just as letters had poured in appealing to Mowoe to act in the interest of the Orodje, so now letters and telegrams flowed in, in gratitude for Mowoe’s services to the Okpe people.112

Problems which arose in Urhobo clans were also referred to Mowoe for arbitration and advice. In 1946, there was trouble between the Ovie of Ewu and the people of Orere. Mowoe was called upon to settle the matter. He called in a few others and reached some settlement. But apparently the Orere people later began to flout the settlement reached. The Ovie, Omoko Ziregbe, wrote to Mowoe to report this development and to say that the Orere people were shouting abusive slogans at his people and attacking them. He did not want to report the matter to the District Officer or take legal action until Mowoe had had another chance of looking into the matter.113 Whether or not Mowoe did look again into the matter, the records do not indicate. But the matter did reach the Senior district Officer, Urhobo Division. It is proof of the central role that Mowoe played in the affairs of Urhoboland that he Senior District Officer wrote to Mowoe requesting him to visit Ewu and settle the quarrel.114

In 1948, only two months before he died, Mowoe received a letter from one C.O. Itete of Uwherun in which he (Itete) informed Mowoe that the Uwherun Clan Council had met to decide who should be President. Of the fifty councillors present, thirty-four had voted for one Chief Obrute as president. The other twenty-one who were opposed to Obrute had refused to sing the voters list and the matter had been referred to the D.O. Itete urged Mowoe to intervene in the matter, ensure justice and save Uwherun from possible litigation.115 It is unlikely that Mowoe had time to look into this problem before he died, as he had to go to Ibadan to attend a meeting of the House shortly after receiving the letter, and took ill shortly after he returned from Ibadan.

One reason why these various problems were referred to Mowoe was that in the 1930s and ’40s ethnic unity was a major concern of the Urhobo people. The birth of U.P.U. itself was partly the result of this concern. Hence, if quarrels arose between groups, Urhobo men of influence were called upon to attempt settlements and so reduce intra-Urhobo litigation. In 1946, for example, one Sam E. Arawore, a teacher at Uwherun, wrote to inform Mowoe that Mr. Akpomiemie of Evwreni had taken the Uwherun clan to court at Warri. Arawore thought this very unfortunate and asked Mowoe to get the matter withdrawn from the Warri Magistrate’s court and settle by the U.P.U.116 Later in the same year Mowoe stepped into a similar situation in Ekwese where two families had gone to court over land. In this case, his intervention secured only temporary success, for although the case was withdrawn from court, one of the parties did later take court action once more.117

If Mowoe thus had to take the lead in preventing intra-Urhobo feud, he himself had to show a good example in the event of quarrels between himself and other Urhobo leaders. It would appear that at some point, Mowoe and the late P.K. Tabiowo, one of the Urhobo leaders of the time, fell out. Salubi who played the major role in settling the quarrel recalls that Tabiowo’s offence lay in the fact that he always had the courage to voice his dissent whenever he disagreed with Mowoe at U.P.U. meetings. As tends to happen with leaders, Mowoe resented the courage and frankness of Tabiowo. Rather than become a ‘Yes Man’, Tabiowo began to stay away from U.P.U. meetings, and relations between him and Mowoe became noticeably strained. Other prominent members of the U.P.U. felt that the situation had got out of hand. So while in Warri on leave in 1948, Salubi and a few other settled the disagreement simply by getting the two people together. Salubi and his friends asked Mowoe to join them in visiting common friends in Alder’s town in Warri. After calling on a number of friends, Salubi drove the party to Tabiowo’s residence. As is the practice, Tabiowo offered drinks, etc., to the visitors. The mere drinking together by Mowoe and Tabiowo constituted the settlement of the disagreement.118 Both men realized that the meeting was not a chance one, but a deliberate intervention by common friends. Neither of them allowed past bitterness to stand in the way of reconciliation. In accordance with Urhobo practice, thanks for settlement had to go to the elder. In a letter to Mowoe soon after, Salubi wrote:

I should like to thank you for the great part you played in the matter between you and Tabiowo. You deserve great respect for the way you accompany (sic) us to his house. It was a demonstration of a great mind which all good leaders should have. Tabiowo was very pleased and I am sure your future relationship will be stronger and closer. Many thanks indeed.119

That “great mind” ceased to function within four weeks from the date of the above tribute, as Mowoe died on 10th August 1948. Salubi recalls how grateful Tabiowo was that he had been reconciled to Mowoe before the latter died.

Mowoe’s leadership role sometimes forced him to use his influence with the British political officers in order to put an end to what he considered oppression. In a letter to his friend Mr. Gbagi in Sapele in October, 1946, Mowoe complained about one Mene who kept arresting Urhobo people in Sapele and taking them tote mixed (Itsekiri-Urhobo) court there. He had done this in 1945 and the Urhobo concerned had to spend some money before the court struck off the case. Mene was at his game again and Mowoe feared that Mene had some working agreement with members of the Mixed Court. “I want you’, he wrote to Gbagi, ‘to approach the court clerk and get a copy of the previous case, attach it to the summons and send it to me to enable me to send it to the High Officials (sic) and see that they put stop to this man’ (sic).120

Leadership sometimes has its funny side. Early in October 1946 Mowoe had delivered to him a letter from Ayemor Oyawiri of Jesse. The letter informed him that the bearer, Samuel Amagiya, had passed the entrance examination to Government College, Ibadan, but had failed the shortlist examination. “Sir”, the letter went on “all of us at Jesse and the boy’s parents beg you sincerely by the name of Almighty God to write or phon the Principal to admin the boy. If the Principal wants any money for his cigarettes, please give him any amount that he wants then tell the boy to come home and receive the money from us to you.

‘We think you to be our supreme helper and President-General hence we are now asking you for this favour. Sir, the cigarettes you will charge for this work, take it from the boy as your present.’121 We have no evidence of Mowoe’s reaction to this letter which typifies the kind of limitless pressures under which our leaders have to work and live.

It was not only Urhobo clans and groups that recalled on Mowoe as the Urhobo leader to offer one service or the other. Individuals also demanded his good offices. In June 1948, an Urhobo teacher in Koko wrote to Mowoe begging him to get him transferred from Koko to Ughelli as he was Urhobo not Itsekiri.122 In May of the same year it was one E. Awore who wrote to Mowoe to in form him that he was anxious to get into the Nigeria Police force. He had taken the test and was awaiting the results. He prayed Mowoe to do all he could to ensure his success, ‘having known how you fight, for our progress in Urhobo District.’123 In September 1946 one George Obregoro wrote from Lagos. He had read up to Middle II’ in St. Gregory’s College, Lagos, and could not continue for financial reasons. Since he left school he had been jobless. Could Mowoe give him a job in his business establishment — ‘For I have nothing in my mind now than your help for me, as every Urhobo man and woman talks of your kindness and generosity to every person’.124 It is clear from these selected instances (many more examples of which type we shall see when we discuss Mowoe, the man) that Mowoe’s reputation not only as the leader of the Urhobo but as a kind and generous person had spread far ans wide and brought him no end of trouble in terms of demands made on his time, his energy, his charity.

The price of leadership, it is sometimes said, is that the leader ocases to have a life that he can call private. Perhaps the best example in Mowoe’s experience as leader of the Urhobo people is that which has to do with Mowoe’s quarrel with the Southern Nigeria defender, a newspaper established in Warri by Nnamdi Azikiwe in 1943. When Zik had visited Warri earlier in 1942 he had met Mowoe and some friendship had developed between them. When in 1943 Mowoe was thinking of sending his son, Moses, overseas to read medicine, he wrote to Zik to advise him on whether to send Moses to America or Britain. It is, against this background, not surprising that Mowoe rented his house along Warri-Sapele Road to Zik’s press. In 1944 the rent fell in arrears. Payment was delayed and Mowoe took the press to court. Immediately this was known letters and telegrams flowed in from various Urhobo organizations in Lagos, Kano, Okitipupa, Uyo and elsewhere. All the letter and telegrams urged Mowoe to withdraw the court action, lest the press move elsewhere. They pointed out that the fact that the Southern Nigeria Defender carried the inscription “Printed and Published by Zik’s Press Ltd., in Mowoe Building, Warri-Sapele Road, Warri” constituted a great pride which the Urhobo would be very sorry to lose.’ Zik himself also wrote a letter of appeal and the matter was ultimately amicably resolved. Thus even Mowoe’s private financial affairs (in this instance at any rate) became a matter of general Urhobo concern. Such is the price of leadership.


79. For details see Ikime, Rivalry, Chapter 4.

80. Ibid, Chapters 2 and 3.

81. Ikime, Rivalry, p. 181.

82. The full story with all the sources can be found in Ikime, Rivalry. Chapter 5.

83. The reader interested in details of the career of Dogho is referred to any one of the following: Ikime, Rivalry, Chapter 5; Obaro Ikime, “Chief Dogho: The Lugardian System in Warri, 1917-1932” in  Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria, Vol. 3, No. 2, Dec. 1965; Obaro Ikime,  Chief Dogho of Warri, Heinemann, (forthcoming).

84. National Archives, Ibadan (N.A.I.) C.S.O. 26, File 26767: A Broad Scheme for the Reorganization of Warri Province on tribal lines.

85. Same File: Report on New Jekri-Sobo Division — Enclosure in Secretary, Southern Provinces to Chief Secretary to the Nigerian Government, No. 6925/238 of 10 Feb., 1932.

86. See my The Isoko People, pp. 108-115.

87.  Nigerian Daily Times, 13 June, 1934, p. 7.

88. For this rejoinder, see Nigerian Daily Times, 19 June, 1934, p. 9.

89. NAI, C.S.O. 26/2, File 11857, Vol. XIII, Annual Report, Warri Province, 1935. Emphasis mine.

90. NAI, C.S.O. 26, File 51642, III. Progress Report on the Jekri Sub-tribe and the Sobo clans in the Jekri-Sobo Division.

91. Mariere, ‘Notes on the Urhobo Progress Union’

92. Southern Nigeria Defender, 15 April, 1944.

93. Mariere, Notes on the Urhobo Progress Union.

94. Ibid.

95. Ibid.

96. Southern Nigeria Defender, 15 April, 1944.

97.  Southern Nigeria Defender, May 27, 1944.

98. Chief Salubi, 30 March, 1976.

99.  Southern Nigeria Defender, 15 April, 1944.

100. Chief Salubi, 30 March, 1976.

101. Mariere, Notes on the Urhobo Progress Union. Also Chief Salubi.

102. T.E.A. Salubi, The Miracles of an Original Thought (being the origins of Urhobo College), Published by the author, 1965.

103. Quoted by Salubi in The Miracles…pp. 34-35.

104. Mowoe to Mr. Igo, 25 May, 1946.

105. Mowoe to Chief Otite, 29 October, 1946.

106. This statement which can be found in the same file which contains Mowoe’s personal letters is not dated and we do not know where the statement was mad.

107. Same statement

108. For details of the Sapele land case see Ikime,  Rivalry, Chapter 3 and Epilogue.

109. Chief Salubi, March 1976.

110. Interview with Chief (Mrs) Alice Obahor, 21 March, 1974.

111. The details given in the narrative were provided by Chief Salubi who was for ten years U.P.U. Secretary in Lagos. Interview of 30 March, 1976.

112. The letters can be found in a file on the Orodje of Okpe.

113. Ovie Omoko Ziregbe to Mowoe, 7 June, 1946.

114. Senior District Officer, Urhobo Division to Mowoe, 10 July, 1946.

115. C.O. Itete to Mowoe, 11 June, 1948.

116. Sam E. Arawore to Mowoe, 1 May, 1946.

117. M.D.A. Okenarhe to Mowoe, 15 July 1946 and Mowoe to Okenarhe, 20 July, 1946.

118. Chief Salubi, 30 March, 1976.

119. Salubi to Mowoe, 14 July, 1948.

120. Mowoe to Gbagi, 26 October, 1946.

121. Ayemor Oyawin to Mowoe, 3 October, 1946.

122. D.A. Ojigho to Mowoe, 12 June, 1948.

123. E. Awore to Mowoe, 7 May, 1948.

124. George Obregoro to Mowoe, 16 September, 1946.

125. Mowoe Papers, File PH.W/67: Ziks Press Ltd.: Papers and Letters relating to. See, for example, U.P.U., Lagos to Mowoe, 16 July, 1944; General Secretary, Urhobo Clans Executive Board to Mowoe, 16 July, 1944; Telegram from U.P.U., Kano to Mowoe, 15 July, 1944; Telegram, U.P.U., Okitipupa to Mowoe, 17 July, 1944; J.A. Uyo (Ogoja) to Mowoe, 30 June, 1944.


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