Political Development of the Urhobo Nation

Urhobo Historical Society

Political Development of the Urhobo Nation

(A Speech Given on the Occasion of the 30th Year Anniversary of UKOKO R’EMOTO, DELTA STATE UNIVERSITY, ABRAKA, NIGERIA,
on Saturday, 27th March 2010)

By Senator (Dr) Fred A, Brume

Chairman, Urhoho Elders & Leaders Council

All Protocols Observed!

Urhobo Waado!

When I was first contacted by Dr Ben Omojimite to be the guest speaker at today’s 30th anniversary of the Ukoko R’Emoto and then followed up by a letter stating the rather unwieldy subject of the anniversary lecture, I was quite intimidated.  Hear this, I was being requested to give a lecture on the following title: “the political, social, cultural, local governance, language, etc, development of the Urhobo nation”.  I am aware that the Ukoko R’Emoto is largely an intellectual group which draws its membership from erudite scholars, researchers, lecturers and professors largely from the academic environment of the Delta State University, Abraka.  I asked myself, will one book alone be able to do justice to the subject as outlined above?  And I wonder why these scholars in DELSU came to a practical mere Chemical Engineer like me, who later became an “Odjogu”, a blacksmith, when I turned to iron and steel making at the Delta Steel Complex, how can these scholars come to me to speak on such a compex and unwieldy subject such as this?  Where is my friend, Prof. Peter Ekeh of the Urhobo Historical Society, or the retired Prof. Onigu Otite or their academic likes, in whose domain this kind of subject lies?  So I turned again to the Chairman of the planning committee, Dr Ben Omojimite and he looked at me in sympathy, and advised that I could narrow down the subject of our lecture to whatever I choose.  So, I gladly accepted.  That is how I came down to the subject of our today’s lecture that I have titled “POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE URHOBO NATION”.  So, let us go into the world of politics as it concerns the Urhobo nation.

What Is Politics? And How Does It Apply to the Urhobo Nation?

Philosophers and great writers and political thinkers have written volumes and defined politics from several dimensions.  But to me, to this simple-minded Chemical Engineer, turned steel-maker and industrialist, politics is simply struggle for power.  Some have added that it is a struggle for power to allocate resources.  That is merely a restrictive refinement.  What I know, have seen and experienced is that those who have achieved governmental power can use and do use the power for many more things other than merely allocating resources.

You and I know the great range of uses for which people holding political and government power in Nigeria have deployed it.  So, politics remains the struggle for power by the democratic process.

How does this relate to the Urhobo nation that we should now assemble here to promote or meditate on political development of the Urhobo nation?  Is it our desire, revealed or concealed, to have the Urhobo nation become a powerful nation or group amongst the comity of the many ethnic nationalities that make up Nigeria?  We could seek to pursue or examine the processes by which some individuals emerge to have greater powers within the Urhobo nation itself or in Nigeria as a whole.  We could go to the dimension of even assessing the qualitative use of power by its holders, either within the nation – state or as individuals in an ethnic grouping.  Do Urhobos need power or not?  Why would we need or crave for power?  Is it to oppress our neighbours?  Or is it to enable us resist oppression by others?  Or is it to enable us provide more rapid development in the environment, promote justice and fairness, peace and love and other goodies for the greater public at large?

When, for example, the Urhobos struggled for the creation of a new state out of the former Mid-West or Bendel State partly in order to bring government closer to the people, and the state finally gets created such as we achieved in Delta State and someone up there uses his power to locate the capital of the state outside of the main population centres or homeland of the Urhobos, does that not result in a yearning for political power?

Indeed, this is why a lecture such as this and to an audience such as you are, has become necessary to examine how the Urhobo nation and people have fared over the years within the entity called Nigeria and within the Niger Delta as a zone or region of Nigeria.  We can briefly examine this subject matter over the various periods of different governments in Nigeria, such as:

(1)           the Colonial period;

(2)           the end games of the colonial period;

(3)           during the first republic (1963-1966);

(4)           the second republic (1978-1983);

(5)           the third republic (1991-1993);

(6)           the forth republic (1999 till date); and

(7)           the periods of military interregnum.

How Have the Urhobo Nation Fared over the Years

During the colonial period

Imperial Britain who were our colonial masters had a reasonably civilized policy towards its colonies at the time they colonized Nigeria and generally maintained a policy of justice and fairness, and respect for fundamental human rights.  The Urhobo nation enjoyed relative peace during this period and gradually developed in accordance with its level of usefulness to the colonial administration.  We can say that the Urhobo nation enjoyed fair treatment from colonial administrators when they came to know us more and more, which in fact improved towards the end of the colonial period during which time the role of middlemen or agents reduced and more direct contact prevailed.  The colonial masters in Western Niger Delta began to have more direct contact with various people in Urhobo land and our fears as minority people within the Western Region or within Nigeria as a whole began to be noted towards the end of colonial rule.

The First Republic (1963-1966)

During this period, the Urhobos were largely in alliance with some leading and powerful political elements in the North, who belonged to the Northern Peoples Congress through Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh (Sam Festus Edah) who had become a Federal Minister, as well as with Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe’s NCNC in Eastern Nigeria.  This tripod alliance led to the successful carving out of the Midwest Region from the original Western Nigeria as the Urhobos teamed up with the Edo people in the struggle for the minorities to free themselves from the grip and the oppression of their bigger ethnic neighbours in the Western Nigeria.

The Second Republic (1978-1983)

During this period, the Urhobos also fared reasonably well, and also largely aligned themselves politically with the NPN which produced Alhaji Shehu Shagari as the President of the Federal Republic.  It was also during this period that some important federal government-owned industrial enterprises were established or implemented within the homeland areas of the Urhobos, e.g. the Delta Steel Complex, the Warri Refinery and Petrochemical Company, the Ogorode Power Station at Sapele, the Delta Electric Power generation Station at Ughelli, and the expansion of the Warri Port, etc.

The Third Republic (1991-1993)

During the third republic, majority Urhobos joined the SDP (Social Democratic Party), a nationwide party.  An Urhobo son, in the person of Chief Felix Ibru, became the first Executive Governor of Delta State.  At the national scene the SDP which presented Chief M.K.O. Abiola as Presidential Candidate and Ambassador Babagana Kingibe as his running mate were heading for electoral victories when the elections were stopped by the military and subsequently, a military head of state took over power.  During the third republic’s political activities, the Urhobos flowed more with the nation’s progressive school of thought as represented by the SDP rather than with the more conservative NRC (National Republican Convention).

The Fourth Republic (1999 till date)

The Urhobos were largely aligned with the PDP from its formative stage and under it an Urhobo son, in the person of Chief James Onanefe Ibori, was again elected Governor of Delta State, where he served for two terms.

No major significant breakthrough were realized in Urhobo land or even nationally under the PDP rule to date, other than the fact that we have had the longest period of democratically elected governance in power for over 10 years.  This has been the longest time of democratic governance since the nation became independent.  However, the quality of the democratic election has been greatly faulted and criticized worldwide.  The word on the lips of commentators and citizens generally is ELECTORAL REFORMS and internal democracy within the parties, to the intent that the true choice of the electorate gets to be realized through a reformed electoral process.  The current moves by the National Assembly to amend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are considered to be signs of progress in this general direction.

The Urhobo nation has been as much a victim of sham elections as is the case with several other parts of Nigeria.  But perhaps more poignantly, our Delta State has often come to be referred to as a notable breeding ground for sham elections.

Periods of Military Interregnum

In view of the fact that since independence, more than half the period has been occupied by military rule, it is worth examining how the Urhobo nation have fared during this period even though often known and referred to as an aberration from the norm of democratic rule.  It can be said that generally the Urhobo nation has fared quite well during the periods of military rule.  Many of our sons who have served in the military have often received juicy appointments either as military governors, federal ministers or occupied some strategic/important positions within the military high command.  Furthermore, we have received a reasonable share of capital project allocation during such periods. For instance, Delta Steel Complex, Warri Refining & Petrochemicals, Petroleum Training Institute at Effurun, Ogorode Power Station, Sapele, etc. were all started during the periods of Military rule.

On the whole, the Urhobo nation has fared reasonably well during the periods of military rule.

What does the future hold for the Urhobo Nation in the Political Power Game?

First, the Urhobo nation must accept that the future is inclined more and more to democratic governance rather than to military rule.  Consequently, we should prepare to polish our shoes, tie our long wrappers tightly and don our hats, to be hopping from one  meeting to the other and one campaign to the other, in order to do the basic work required for democratic elections and governance.  We must be prepared to raise younger followers and to identify younger talents so as to expose them early to the realities of democratic rule and elections.

We Must Be Prepared to Continue to Examine Ourselves 

We must be prepared to do more of what the Ukoko R’Emoto of DELSU is doing today.  We must be prepared to re-examine the past, question the present and chart new ways forward.  In this wise, I will pose the following ten questions toward our self-examination and the charting of a way into the future.

(1) What is the true population of the Urhobo nation?

(2) What is the true population also of our immediate neighbours?

(3) Are Urhobos still the 5th or 6th largest ethnic group in Nigeria and the second in Niger Delta?

(4) Does the Urhobo nation account for between 45% and 55% of the population of Delta State?

(5) Do the electoral constituencies allotted to the Urhobo nation reflect our population strength?

          That is to ask,  do the number of LGAs, State House of Assembly constituencies, or our Federal House of Representatives constituencies,

          or even Senatorial allocation boundaries fairly reflect our population strength in the State?

(6) If we have been allotted less than what we deserve, i.e. if we have been marginalized, how did things come to be so?

(7) What shall we now do to correct this situation in the years ahead?

(8) Are we convinced that democratic rule, through democratic elections, remains the best form of governance?

(9) What have we been doing to consciously and actively promote democratic rules/elections as the majority ethnic group in the state?

(10) Do we consider that promoting a new state (that embraces all Urhobos), is a possible answer to our current challenges that is worth pursuing?

A Revisit to Democratic Politics and Elections as the Best Form of the Struggle for Power

Before rounding up this our excursion into the political development of the Urhobo Nation, I will want us to briefly recall again that politics is the struggle for power.  We know from our readings of the history of powerful nations or Kings or Empires and Dynasties that have reigned in the past, that struggles for power by non-democratic political routes have involved the most brutal and the most cruel acts in the history of man.  Brothers have killed brothers and sisters; sons have waged war against their fathers and publicly disgraced them; friends have become bitter enemies.  The struggle to achieve power and to rule over the rest of the family or of the town or of the tribe or of the state or of the nation, simply because of the desire to rule has produced gory tales.  When we carefully examine from the experiences of the ages, the alternative forms of the struggle for power, one conclusion stands out.  And that conclusion remains that democratic politics and elections within properly established rules and guidelines remain the best form of the struggle, for the people to arrive at someone that should rule over them even for a given period of time.

Apart from an outright decree by the Almighty God of someone that He has himself selected to take on the mantle of leadership and rulership over a people, the best way, the safest way, the most peaceful way is through democratic politics and transparent election of someone that is to be accorded the power to rule.

So my brothers and sisters, the Urhobo nation has not been one of the most highly acclaimed in coming out with its best through democratic politics and elections.  Consequently, we have not been able to produce many stars from our Urhobo nation that have been able to fly very high indeed in the national arena.  How many of our sons can we readily point out as having been star Federal Ministers, star Senators or even star Governors?  When such potentials arise amongst us, do we promote them or obstruct them or kill them.  Shall we not try to rally round and promote worthy promising ones amongst us, rather than to PHD (Pull Him/Her Down)?  Should we not try to suppress that attitude of IBO (I Before Others) and instead try to serve and promote others that we may ourselves receive some day?  Apart from the questions I had earlier posed for our consideration, we need also to meditate over the fact that we find it so difficult to rally round and promote persons amongst us to become stars that shine brightly across the nation.  Smaller ethnic groups have succeeded more than ourselves in the past in this respect. 

Let us pray that the Almighty God, to whom all power belongs and from whom all blessings flow, would endow the Urhobo nation with the correct and right spirit that stars might rise up from amongst us, which will enable us to gain our rightful position as your sons and daughters while here on earth and in your kingdom forever.  Amen

Senator (Dr) Fred A. Brume

Chairman, Urhobo Elders & Leaders Council

DELSU, Abraka – Saturday, 27th March 2010


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