|Urhobo Historical Society|
A Narrative Report of the President-General’s Tour of Branches of Urhobo Progress Union
in Mid-West, West, and Lagos in Nigeria
|By T. E. A. Salubi|
Sunday, 31st May, 1964: KWALE
The delegation which was made up of the President-General, Chief T. E. A. Salubi, Mrs. A. A. Salubi, Chief J. B. Ojuederie, Mr. Gordon Mukoro, Mr. D. E. Okumagba, Mr. D. O. Akpore and Mr. G. E. E. Umukoro arrived at Kwale at 4 p.m. At their invitation, the delegation paid courtesy calls on Chief J. O. Akpovi, Magistrate, and Dr. P. T. Odegho, Medical Officer, Aboh Division, The delegation later drove to the Council School building, the place of reception. Sixteen gunshots were fired to herald the arrival of the delegation. Odjoboro dance led the procession from the entrance of the School premises to the School building.
After prayers, members of the delegation and the officers of the Kwale Branch were introduced. This was followed with the breaking of kola-nuts, drinking, and Urhobo songs.
A Welcome Address was read and presented. Chief J. B. Ojuederie was the first to speak. He advised Urhobo tribe in Aboh Division on the welfare of the Urhobo people. The President-General replied to the Welcome Address. His reply centred round the contents of the speech prefacing this Report.
The delegation left Obetim (Kwale) at 6. 45p.m.
Monday, 1st June, 1964: OBIARUKU
The delegation made up of the President-General Mrs. A. A. Salubi and the Under-Secretary arrived Obiaruku at 9. 50 a.m. under a heavy down-pour of rain. There was no trace of Union members and no preparations for reception were made. Mr. Mukoro, the Under-Secretary, visited the houses of five Urhobo people. Three were absent while two were found. The two men maintained that they were not previously informed of the tour by the officers of the local branch. There being no reception, the delegation left Obiaruku at 10.25 a.m. for Ogwashi-Uku.
Monday, 1st June, 1964: OGWASHI-UKU
The delegation made up of the President-General accompanied by his wife and the Under-Secretary arrived Ogwashi-Uku at 1.45 p.m. The Court Hall previously arranged for the reception was cancelled and an immediate arrangement for a hall in the Government School was made. The heavy rain in the fore-noon prevented a large number of people from turning up from the surrounding villages.
The delegates were at first accommodated in the house of a Mr. M. O. Nwabudike, Headmaster of the Government School. As the delegates drove to the place of reception, 16 gunshots were fired.
The entertainment which followed was made up of drinkables and kola-nut. The delegates and the officers for the local branch were introduced to the audience. Two dignitaries of Ogwashi-Uku Town, Prince Okolo Obi and Mr. Benjamin Elue, and a handful of other natives of Ogwashi-Uku attended the reception. A Welcome Address was read and presented.
The President-General in replying to the Welcome Address first spoke in English for the benefit of the Ogwashi-Uku people before speaking in Urhobo. The content of the speech was the same as the general summary prefacing this Report. He promised the Urhobo people that the National Headquarters would try to assist if they referred to it their difficulty which was beyond their solution. He advised the members not to forget their father-land.
Mr. Benjamin Elue, one of the two Ogwashi dignitaries spoke. He praised Urhobo people and also made mention of the reputation of the President-General. He assured that if the people who mattered in Ogwashi-Uku were informed of the visit, the natives would have organized their own dance in honour of the President-General.
A cloth – Real Indian Madras – was donned on the President-General as a gift by the Ogwashi-Uku Branch. At the end of the function at 4.30p.m., five gunshots were fired to announce their departure to Asaba. But they could not go immediately as Mr. Nwabudike had invited the delegates back to his house. There they were further entertained with light refreshments.
Monday, 1st June, 1964: R.T.C. ANWAI (ASABA)
On arriving Asaba, the delegation was informed that it would be met at the Rural Training College’s Rest House at Anwai – that being the lodging place arranged by the local branch. The Urhobo people dancing waited at a point about two miles to the Rest House. Here 8 cannon shots were fired in honour of the delegate’s arrival. A dancing procession led the delegation to the Rest House where the reception was held.
After the introduction of the delegates and leaders of the local branch, there was entertainment with drinkables. A goat was presented to the guest. It was however slaughtered on the spot for general feasting. A Welcome Address was read and presented. A sword was presented to the President-General as a souvenir.
The President-General then responded to the Address. The first part of the response centred round the contents of the speech summary prefacing this Report. The second part was a reply to some requests made by the Asaba branch, as follows:
(a) The question of making dissident Urbobo to co-operate with their fellow Urhobo was a rather delicate matter.
(b) That research would be made into old files to ascertain whether or not Asaba had been an old branch which ought to be exempted from paying the full fees for recognition.
(c) That the question of Asaba branch’s photograph appearing in the 1965 Almanac, if one was to be produced, would be considered along with others.
The problems facing the Urhobo people were said to be:-
(i) Arbitrary taxation by the Asaba District Council Authority.
(ii) Arbitrary increase of land rent.
(iii) Palm tress being leased to Eastern Ibos for wine tapping, thus making the palm tress unproductive in fruit bearing.
(iv) Lack of local market for their palm produce.
The President-General felt great sympathy for the people. He promised to look into these first three problems if further details could be furnished. As for the fourth, he would contact Urhobo people and others who dealt in produce to try to visit the area for trade purposes.
Dancing and singing – both Udje and Odjoboro – continued till 8 a.m. of the following day, (2nd June). After a group photograph, and courtesy call on Mr. G. W. Deeks, the Acting Principal of the Centre, the delegation was again led in a dancing procession to the same place where it was awaited in the previous day. Five cannon shots were fired and the parties departed finally.
Tuesday, 2nd June, 1964: AGBOR
The Union branch tin Agbor had been very weak for some time =now, especially as its back-bone, His Excellency Chief S. J. Mariere had been out of the town following his appointment as Governor of the Midwestern Region. In consideration of this, the President-General and his entourage went via Agbor to Ogwashi-Uku on the 1st of June. The purpose was to ascertain whether the branch had made preparations for the visit. The party called at Chief J. M. G. Bazunu’s place but he was not in the house. A note was left behind with his wife requesting Chief Bazunu to let us know if there was any arrangement to receive us on the following day at 10.a.m. The President-General suggested in the note that if necessary Chief Bazunu could contact him at the R.T.C., Asaba. Nothing was however heard from him. On the following day, 2nd June, when the party arrived in Agbor, neither Chief Bazunu, nor other Urhobo people were found. As a matter of fact, Chief Bazunu’s house was completely locked up and no one was seen. The party therefore left for the next station, Ogan.
Tuesday, 2nd June, 1964: OGAN
The party arrived Ogan about one hour before the scheduled time and it had to wait for the branch to be ready. Three gun shots were fired to welcome the delegates. The attendance was thirty-two. The branch officers explained that many Urhobo could not turn up from far-off villages where they lived. After the usual introduction of the party members and the officers of the local branch, drinkable, kola-nuts and a drake were presented to the party. A Welcome Address was read and presented. The Address showed that the branch was losing membership because some of the members believed in spending union money for feasting and drinking.
The President-General’s response to the Welcome Address was on the lines already indicated. He promised to look into the complaint of the branch’s difficulty in paying levies to the National Headquarters.
After the local President’s closing remarks, the reception was brought to a close. Three gun shots were fired to mark the departure of the party.
Tuesday, 2nd June, 1964: OWA
The reception was held at the village founded by Chief Sobotie Mufa near Owa town. Three cannon shots were fired on arrival of the party. The attendance was large and there was dancing and jubilation. After the opening prayer, the local leaders of the branch were introduced. Drinkables and a sheep were presented.
The President-General then delivered a speech, the general context of which has been indicated. The Otota of the branch, Mr. Ogodo Atigogo, commented on the President-General’s speech and described it as an eye-opener. He promised that the Owa branch would live up to expectations. Three more cannon shots were fired when the party was departing.
Tuesday, 2nd June, 1964: BENIN CITY
The visiting party to Benin was made up of the President-General, Chief T. E. A. Salubi, the Principal Secretary, Mr. A. T. Rerri, the Under-Secretary, Mr. Gordon Mukoro, Chief J. B. Ojuederie, Messrs. D. E. Okumagba, D. O. Akpore, W. T. Odibo, W. W. Obiriko, H. H. Allawuru, Chief S. D. Obar and Hon. P. A. Gbineje. The strike of the staff of the Inland Waterways did not permit others to join the group. The party was met at Ikpoba by two delegates from the branch. On arrival in the City, the party drove straight to the State House to pay courtesy visit to His Excellency the Governor, Chief S. J. Mariere. The Governor welcomed and entertained the party. As the premier was out of town, the party next went to the palace of the Oba of Benin, His Highness Akenzua II. They were also entertained after an exchange of cordial greetings. The President-General presented a set of his publications to the Oba as a memento of the visit.
Following the visit to the Oba’s Palace, the party drove to the Salvation Army School, East circular Road, where reception was held. The opening prayer was said by Major J. W. Somitoje followed by the introduction of the members of the touring party and the officers of the local branch. A Welcome Address was read and drinkables with £2.2/- were presented to the party.
The first person to speak was Mr. A. T. Rerri. He thanked the Urhobo people in Benin for the reception accorded the party and advised that party politics should not be mixed with the affairs of the Union. He cited the reforms made in the admission of students to the Urhobo College. The second speaker was Mr. D. E. Okumagba who reiterated Mr. Rerri’s advice that the affairs of the Union should be insulated form party politics. Mr. Okumagba urged that the duties incumbent on Urhobo politicians and high Government officials of Urhobo origin should be the interest of Urhobo-land first before self interest.
The President-General then responded to the Address of Welcome. His speech was centred round the topics contained tin the general summary prefacing this Report. But as the address contained references to the present disagreement among Urhobo political leaders, the President-General was obliged to touch upon that matter.
He narrated how he, in company of Chief Udi Jeje, approached in April, 1963, the Right Rev. Agori-Iwe, the Anglican Bishop of Benin Diocese, and appealed to him to arbitrate in the disagreement between Chief Obahor and his group on the one hand; and the President-General and his group on the other hand. The Bishop made all efforts but chief Obahor proved uncooperative.
Chief Udi Jeje, President of Benin branch and also Zonal President of Benin Province spoke on some of the points touched by the President-General. Another man who spoke warned that henceforth Urhobo people must not cling to one political party but must belong to all existing political parties. A third speaker, a worker who hails from Agbarha – Warri, appealed to the President-General to fight for the repeal of the clause in the Midwest Constitution barring Urhobo of Agbarha and Okere from contesting elections in Warri Division. The reception was brought to a close at 7. p.m.
Wednesday 3rd June, 1964: SILUKO
The delegation comprising the President-General, Chief T. E. a. Salubi, the Benin Zonal President, Chief Udi Jeje, and the Under-Secretary, Mr. Gordon Mukoro, arrived Siluko at 12.10p.m. A dancing group waited at the entrance of the town. Eight cannon shots were fired and the dancing group led the party to the U.P.U. Hall where a large crowed had been waiting. Here a cannonade of shots was fired.
The arrangements made against the visit at this place were unusually singular. All the routes, from the entrance of the town to the U.P.U. Hall, were properly sign-posted. Banners were flying here and there with inscriptions welcoming the President-General. In the front of the Hall was an artist impression of the crest of the U.P.U. Almanac or letter-heading that was beautifully mounted. It was all gay in Siluko. The large gathering included Benins, Yorubas, Ijaws – men and women. Among them some were members of the local traditional authority.
A prayer service was conducted by the local leader (himself an Urhobo) of the Cherubim and Seraphim Church before the meeting was declared open. The usual introduction was followed by a Welcome Address which was read and presented.
The President-General responded to the Address answering a number of matters raised in it:
(a) On the award of scholarship, the Union on longer awarded direct scholarships as the branch had in mind.
(b) Branches could have their own legal advisers if there was local need for that.
(c) The question of conjugal rights and divorce in respect of native marriages was a matter of individual concern.
(d) Once truth and justice were regarded as the guiding principles in the settlement of disputes, people would generally accept the decisions by Union leaders. However he would ask Chief Udi Jeje to throw more light from his wide and matured experiences of the settlement of disputes in Benin area.
(e) Siluko would be considered along with others when photographs for inclusion in the new publication of our almanac would be considered.
(f) The branch could organize in Iyekovia district small units subordinate to one main branch at Siluko.
(g) The Siluko branch may apply to the Entrance and Scholarship Board of the Urhobo College so that it might be made an examination centre, if it could muster every year at least ten entrants.
(h) It was not feasible at the moment for the Union to found more secondary grammar schools especially in places outside Urhobo Division.
Chief Udi Jeje in his speech advised on unity and co-operation among Urhobo people. On the assessment of refund of dowry, Chief Udi Jeje said that the Union should always follow the principles of justice and that would be satisfying to those who referred such matters to it. On disputes generally, Chief Udi Jeje said difficult cases should be referred to him at Benin City.
Drinkables were offered for entertainment. Dancing continued. The branch prepared an out-board engine canoe to take the party and it all looked as if it was native festival aboard. On return form Iyasan, the branch offered £3. 3/- to the party and also entertained it with food. Dancing and singing continued not only until when the party returned form Iyasan, but also until its departure from Siluko at 10 p.m.
Wednesday, 3rd June, 1964: IYASAN
The party — Chief T. E. A. Salubi, Udi Jeje and Mr. Gordon Mukoro – was accompanied by the local officers and some other members in a canoe that was beautifully decorated, the seats arranged for the President-General and his party. Tastefully overspread with the waters of Siluko River, singing and merriment aboard rent the air. It all looked like a gala regatta with the crowds on the shore and in other canoes waving us bye-bye, for the time being! The journey down the Siluko River took about one hour. Waiting on the Iyasan waterside was a dancing group of Urhobo people. Gun shots heralded the arrival of the party. After disembarking, the party was led in a dancing procession to the Customary Court hall arranged for the reception. Flags bearing the inscription of the Union and welcoming the President-General were displayed.
After the opening prayer by the President-General, the officers of the local branch were introduced. Present at the reception were Chief Bamiyogun (representing the Oba), Councillor E. O. Olatubara, Madam Dorcas Bamiyogun and Mr. James Tapas (an Ibo). A Welcome Address was read and presented. A unit of the branch at Iyara, a nearby area, also presented a Welcome Address. The Irele branch sent representatives to this reception to ascertain from us whether we would in fact be at their station on the 5th June. The assurance was given. Also a delegate came from Ore with a letter from the Urhobo Community requesting that the President-General and party should honour them by halting there for a reception on their way to Irele on the 5th. The request was granted.
The President-General in responding to the two Welcome Addresses also spoke in Yoruba for the benefit of the Yoruba audience. He congratulated Siluko branch for assisting to found Iyasan branch. Chief Udi Jeje in his speech urged Urhobo in Iyasan to rally round the Union, to be truthful to one another, and steadfast in their membership. He advised them to promote love and unity among themselves.
Councilor E. O. Olatubara, a Yoruba and councilor representing the Iyasan ward spoke next. He said he had been hearing and reading about Chief Salubi in the Nigerian newspapers. He was happy that he had seen the Chief in person. He admired the role Chief Salubi had played in undertaking the tour to see for himself the welfare of Urhobo people living outside Urhobo Division. Many a time distinguished people failed to keep their promise to visit them. But Chief Salubi promised to come and kept his word: he appealed to the President-General to use whatever influence he might have to assist the Iyasan people to get a motorable road to the town which was at present inaccessible by road. The President-General gave an appropriate reply in the course of which he gave 10/- to each of the twin babies of Mrs. Ayi Ogwa, wife of the local Secretary, who appealed to him for help.
Drinks, kola-nuts, £1. 1/- and a sheep were presented. The Iyara unit also presented £1. 1/- The party and members of the branch posed for a photograph before the reception was brought to a close. Again a dancing procession led the party back to the canoe amidst the firing of guns. The party arrived back at Siluko at 8.30 p.m. and after a short presentation ceremony in the U.P.U. Hall, and dinner at the President’s house, the party, amidst dancing groups left Siluko at 10 p.m. eventually arriving in Benin City at 12 midnight.
Thursday, 4th June, 1964: OWAN (AGBANIKAKA)
Before the tour was begun, the Urhobo people living at Owan, (a village otherwise called Agbanikaka 40 miles form Benin City) had written and also sent a delegate requesting the National Headquarters to make it possible for the President-General to include Owan in the President-General’s itinerary. The request was granted and Owan was accordingly included in the itinerary. This group did not want to join the Sobe branch. The party, still accompanied by Chief Udi Jeje, arrived at Owan at 10.15 a.m. At the entrance of the town, 3 cannon shots were fired and dancing procession led the party to the place of reception. The leaders of the Urhobo Community were introduced. A Welcome Address was read and drinks, kola-nuts, a ram and £1. 1/- were offered for entertainment. Mr. Chederack Giwa, who claimed to be partly Urhobo, presented 5/-.
The President-General in replying to the Welcome Address, thanked the community for inviting the touring team to meet them. That was an indication of their warm interest in Urhobo affairs. Mr. Mukoro, the Under-Secretary, then advised the Urhobo Community on the formation of a branch Union. The reception came to a close at 12 noon.
Thursday, 4th June, 1964: SOBE
Leaders of Urhobo Community in Sobe traveled in a car to meet the party at Owan and escorted it to Sobe where a group of dancers had been performing at the entrance of the town. The dancing group led the party to the place of reception fronting Chief Ogbeta’s house. Fourteen gun shots were fired. It being a market-day, the dance and the booming of guns attracted the market women and for some time, it seemed as though the market was empty. The leaders of the Urhobo Community, as also Chief Ogbeta and Chief Odia of the Ministry of Agriculture, and Natural Resources, who were natives of Sobe, were introduced. A Welcome Address was read and presented.
The President-General in his response to the Welcome Address first spoke in the Yoruba language before he spoke in Urhobo. He was grateful to the two Chiefs for associating themselves with his people to honour him and his party. Chief Udi Jeje who was still with the party spoke on the settlement of disputes among the Urhobo Community in order to avoid unnecessary litigation. Mr. Mukoro gave the Urhobo Community hints on the formation of a branch Union. It is to be noted that in his tour report, Chief Mowoe listed Sobe as a branch of the Union. But there is no record whether a branch had in fact been established there.
Chief Odia spoke in praise of the President-General but regretted that in his speech the President-General did not emphasize the good done to the Urhobo settlers with whom the natives had for long lived cordially. He wished the party a successful tour.
The Urhobo Community offered drinks, kola-nuts, and £1.1/- to the party.
As the function closed, Chief Udi Jeje took leave of the party and returned to Benin from this place. The President-General and the Under-Secretary continued the tour.
Thursday, 4th June, 1964: OWO
The delegation arrived at Owo and met no Urhobo waiting for them. After an enquiry, a young man working in the G. B. Ollivant (Nigeria) Ltd., escorted the party to the house of one Mr. Michael Ikpatu who sent a boy out to look for other Urhobo and only five – Messrs. John Oghogho (President), James Ohwavworiemen (Asst. Secretary) James Ijomah (Publicity Secretary) and Edward Ajejevwe (Member) and Mr. Ikpatu could be mustered. They explained that while some of them had gone to wait for Dr. M. I. Okpara, the National President of the N.C.N.C. who was visiting Owo on that day, others who came from the surrounding village had returned. That they further explained was due to our late arrival.
The members presented beer and 2/- for entertainment. No speech was made but the members seized the opportunity to pose questions which tended to portray that they had been misinformed that the affairs of the Union had been mingled with party politics. The President-General was in sympathy with the members because of their lack of correct information. He was not on a political tour and would not like to talk about politics. If, however, the members wanted his own side of the story he would refer them to his Presidential Address to the General Council of 1963, and to the debates on the address contained in the minutes of the Council meeting. The party already about two hours behind schedule then left for Ikare.
Thursday, 4th June, 1964: IKARE
The Ikare branch delegated five of its members headed by Mr. Ejor to meet the party on the way. The members led the party to the town. At its approach; a group of dancers was waiting. Three gun shots were fired to herald the party’s arrival. The dancing procession led the way from the entrance of the town to the Civic Centre – the Town Square in front of the Oba’s place. There the procession proceeded to the Ebenezer African Church School where the reception was held. The branch was strongly supported at the function by other Urhobo elements living in nearby areas known as Omueo, Oba, Irun and Oka.
After the opening prayer conducted by Rev. Omole, Vicar-in charge of the Church, the leaders of the local branch were introduced. The touring party received a letter from the Urhobo Community in Ore, Ebijor, Onishere, Odigbo and Agbabu through a delegate. The Community jointly prayed that the President-General should stop at Ore for a reception. The request was granted and the delegate was assured that the Community would be met.
Ore is about 28 miles from Ondo — Agbabu road and midway on the new Benin – Ijebu-Ode road. It is a very promising centre and there is no doubt that it is bound to develop to importance economically in the future. Here the Urhobo people gathered in a house and restaurant owned by a Miss Rose Akarewaren of Orogun origin. Here the reception was held. The attendance was about 29 persons.
After the opening prayer, a Welcome Address was read and presented. In the address the people regretted that owing to Police ban in the area, they could not organize dance and procession in honour of the visit. They rayed that recognition be accorded their newly established branch. The local grievance and problems of the people were that:
(a) Ijaw people in the creeks were in the habit of preventing Urhobo people from fishing.
(b) Urhobo were being subjected to excessive taxation.
(c) Land rents were excessive; rents were being levied on farm land, and on palm tress from which fruits were collected.
(d) Ibos tap the palm trees to the detriment of Urhobo people.
(e) The Oshemawe of Ondo be approached to permit the lease of land to, and the plantation of rubber trees by, Urhobo people.
The President-General in his response thanked the people for their love towards the Union and congratulated them for founding the branch embracing five towns. He virtually gave the new branch recognition, and assured that the Central Executive Committee would ratify the recognition. On the problems confronting the new branch, the President-General promised to look into them wherever possible. A member, Miss Rose Akarewaren, was mandated to accompany the party to Irele.
At a point about 4 miles on the Irele road off the Agbabu road, a large tree the trunk of which was about 7 feet high from the ground fell across the road. This was our second experience in one morning! The party was obliged to turn back to the Benin – Ijebu-Ode road. Here a distance of some 17 miles was negotiated before detouring at Omotesho on the Okitipupa arriving at 1.50 p.m.
Thursday, 4th June, 1964: OKITIPUPA
The Urhobo at Okitipupa were greatly surprised to see us. They had sent a telegram that the visit there be cancelled on the ground that the Police ban would not permit them to receive us as well as they would wish. The party was not however disappointed as several communications to the branch had not been responded to for a very long time before the tour. In other words, the branch had become defunct.
The President-General requested Chief J. E. Abaide and others present to organize an out-board engine canoe to convey him and some members of his party to Irele and Ajagba; they were due at Irele over an hour ago. He promised to retune to Okitipupa in the night after meeting the two branches. Leaving his Personal Clerk and his Driver behind, the President-General with the rest of the party boarded the canoe for Irele. But at a very short distance from McIver beach (still in Okitipupa) the engine failed mid-stream. After repeated efforts to get it going, the party abandoned the canoe for another one that was proceeding to Ajagba. The sailors were all Urhobo and they agreed to drop us at Irele Waterside. In the process of transferring amid-stream from the abandoned canoe to the proceeding one, the President-General’s cap dropped into the river. It was rescued but heavily wet!
Friday, 5th June, 1964: IRELE
Irele Waterside to Irele town itself is about 3 miles distant. Arriving at the Waterside at 4.15p.m, no one was found waiting for the party. As we were about to re-board the canoe for Ajagba, there came a number of men shouting to the canoe boys from a long distance in a characteristic Urhobo way whether they saw a man called SALUBI over there. Here then was relief. We bade the canoe boys good-bye but gave them a message to the Ajagba branch that we would be coming to them however late.
On leaving the jetty, we saw two Urhobo women singing and dancing along. They were dancing freely to a song that Salubi succeeded where Unurhoro failed.1 Onapproaching them, the President-General thanked them for their goodwill but warned that his tour was not political. He presented a few shillings to them and advised that the song be stopped.
From here, the party was conveyed in a waiting motor van arranged by the branch. We arrived at the outskirts of the town at 5 p.m. A dancing precession with a number of gunmen firing along the route led the party to the residence of Chief M. A. Akinduro, a native of Irele, where the reception in honour of the party was held.
After the opening prayer by the President-General, the officers of the local branch were introduced. Prominent among the Yorubas present at the reception were Chief M. A. Akinduro, Hon. and Mrs. C.O. Olamigoke, Member of Western House of Assembly, Messrs. Elijeh Odunsanyan, Joshua Waba and John Adesankan. Also present were two delegates sent from Ajagba to ascertain whether the party had arrived.
A Welcome Address was read and presented. The President-General in his response, first spoke in Yoruba for the benefit of the Yoruba audience before speaking in Urhobo. In the course of the speech, the President-General delved into the history of the formation of the first and only Union branch in the Ikale area, namely, the Okitipupa branch which was founded about 28 years ago by the late chief W. E. Mowarin. He appealed for the formation of more branches in the Ikale country which had, for a long time now, become the second “native land” of many Urhobo people, and also advised the local Union leaders here to assist to revive and redeem the past glory of Okitipupa which was a most active branch.
The local branch entertained the party with drinks and £2. 2/-. In addition, Chief Akinduro presented 6 bottles beer of his own. As a token of his long revered association with his family, and particularly his past guardianship of his brother, Chief A. G. Irikefe B.L., Smart Irikefe, a brother of the lawyer, presented the President-General with three pence. It was “a widow’s mite” full of goodwill.
Hon. Olamigoke spoke and paid tributes to Urhobo people. He praised the President-General for undertaking the tour to meet his people.
After the reception which ended at 6.30p.m., the party, accompanied by the delegates from Ajagba, with a few men from Irele, commenced the journey to Ajagba through a different route via Obite Obo and Shabome. A seven mile drive through a very badly eroded road landed the party at Obite Obo on the bank of a stream. The bridge across the stream was out of order and had to be negotiated by climbing over bush sticks improvised for that purpose. The Under-Secretary and the others had climbed across to, the other side, but the people would not allow the President-General, in spite of his insistence, to do so. It was too much of a risk for them. They argued, and quite rightly, that the safety of the President-General was their own responsibility for as long as he was in their territory.
After waiting and shouting for some 15 minutes, a canoe arrived to ferry the President-General across. The time was then about 7. 30 p.m. and it was already getting dark. On the other side of the river was a car waiting to take the party to Shabome. The car belonged to His Highness Oba W. A. Oladiran, the Akalasuwe of Ijaw Apoi, and a member of the House of Chiefs, Western Nigeria. Shabome is on the bank of another stream and the only outlet for this car to the outside world is via Obite Obo to Irele. The car had been out off the road since the Obite Obo Bridge got damaged. It was possible for it to do only a shuttle service on the short road (probably about 3 miles or even much less) between Shabome and Obite Obo. The Oba kindly placed the car at the disposal of the local Union officers to convey the party to Shabome.
The President-General and his party paid a courtesy call on the Oba who made a present of drinks to them. In a short witty speech, the President-General, speaking again in Yoruba, expressed gratitude and appreciation to the Oba for his kindness.
At Shabome, the party met the Lady President of Ajagba branch with two other women waiting. They had been so waiting since 3 0’clock and no wonder that she flared up. “Where have you been all the time Mr. President-General?” “We have been waiting here for long to receive you. Now we are “terribly hungry and upset”. That was to be expected as the time was about 8.p.m. then. The President-General was equal to the situation. “You will in the end sympathise with us after you shall have heard our story of today’s journey,” he said to the angry Lady – President.
The next stage of the journey was again by an out-board engine canoe. But the canoe boy (an Evhron youth) was not to be beaten in demonstration of anger for the lateness of the party. “I was told they would arrive at 3 0’clock and have been waiting here since then – over four hours! I can not sail, I will not sail, unless my charges were increased”. So he harangued rather offensively until assurance was given that he would be compensated for the extra house of waiting.
The canoe was soon on the move and after a short while, the party arrived Igbotu. But the shore here was such that the canoe could not reach properly. The President-General had to be carried (rode on some one’s back so to say) ashore. The motor van arranged to take the party from here to Ajagba had returned after a long fruitless waiting. However, the van was recalled and the journey over another piece of a badly eroded road began. At exactly 9. p.m., the party arrived Ajagba where, although it was several hours behind scheduled time, a large crowed was still dancing and singing. Various dancing groups that came from the villages had dispersed but the leaders with some dancing groups swore to keep a vigil even if the President-General failed to honour his programme.
On alighting from the van, a volley of gunshots boomed. That attracted more and more people down to the local school compound which was the place of meeting. It has been appropriately decorated for the purpose. The thickness of the crowd made passage to the reserved seating accommodation absolutely difficult. It was after some time before the Under-Secretary could be taken through the crowd to his seat.
After the opening prayer, the local leaders of the branch were introduced. The composition of branch membership here was unique. There were 18 sub-branches under the Ajagba branch and the individual membership was comprised of Urhobo and Isoko people alike. In fact, the President of the branch is Isoko.
A beautifully engrossed Welcome Address was presented to the President-General with £1. 1/- and a book souvenir entitled “Constitutional Law”. In his response, the President-General narrated the course of the journey to Ajagba and the causes of the long delay. He was grateful to the people for their singular demonstration of faith, patience and love for Urhobo, and, indeed, for the person of the President-General. Without such faith, patience and affection, they could not have waited for so long in the open air expecting and expecting the arrival of the President-General and his party. In the address, requests were made respecting admission to Urhobo College, a grant of scholarships, facilities for Regional loans for the marketing of co-operative palm produce and Registration Certificate for the branch.
The President-General replied appropriately explaining the procedures in regard to admission to Urhobo College and to award of scholarships. As regards loans, there was little that could be done until the financial position of the Mid-Western Government was sound.
The delay in issuing Registration Certificate was also explained. The position would be remedied as soon as the Union’s seal arrived from the United Kingdom.
While drinks were being served, three Urhobo songsters, under the leadership of one David from Agbarha, entertained the gathering with songs most efficiently rendered.
It is to be noted that the President-General and his party had had no meals for the day. They had been subsisting on the breakfast at Ondo and the causal snacks in the afternoon at Chief Abaide’s place at Okitipupa. The position was such that the President-General had to request the President to arrange to provide something for the “stomach’s sake”. But merriment at the school compound did not come to a close till 1.a.m. thereafter, the scene shifted to the house of one “Edemadudu”, the local President. Here the party had their first meal for the day – but the time was then 2. a.m.!! The women section, under their Lady President, together with their many local Presidents, danced throughout the night. It will be remembered that this was the same Lady-President to whom reference was made at Shabome. It was a most wonderful display of loyalty and affection.
It will be recalled that the President-General promised to return form Ajagba in the night to Okitipupa. How impossible this!! There were about three important reasons why the party must not dream of returning. In the first place, there was transport difficulty. Transport depended entirely on out-board engine canoes plying the creeks in a return trip once daily. The canoe that dropped the party at Irele Waterside was on its return trip and that was the last for the day unless of course a special charter was organized. It is not easy to go to places like Ajagba and talk about returning the same day! In the second place, the party was too late before arriving at Ajagba (9 p.m. instead of 3 p.m.!) In the third place, there was the devotion, patience and loyalty of the people which made them not only to wait for so long, but which also decided them to keep a vigil, even if the party failed to make the visit. All these three mutually irreconcilable factors ruled out completely the question of ever thinking to return to Okitipupa in that same night. In point of fact, to suggest it would have been discourteous to our host, even if it were possible to return.
Saturday, 6th June, 1964: AJAGBA
At 7 a.m., the President-General paid a courtesy call on the Ahaba of Ajagba who was unfortunately absent. On the President-General’s return, a procession had formed to take the party to the beach, Ugolo beach. There the out-board engine canoe would be boarded. The local President’s house to the Ugolo beach was about one and a half miles of a very rough and rugged road. But he dancing procession winded its way all through with gunmen firing all along.
On the way, an old Isoko man and his family received and entertained the party. The scene then shifted to the next camp where an influential woman leader and local midwife – again an Isoko – entertained the party. This woman knew the President-General at Lagos. She claimed to be a member of the Union at Lagos attending with Madam Okpara Onokpuvie.
Since the canoe was not chartered, the party had to wait until enough passengers had been gathered. And so it was not possible to embark till 9.oo a.m. when the party waved good-bye, in the midst of booming of guns, to the leaders and their followers who had formed the precession. That parting farewell was, undoubtedly, one of the most touching events of the tour.
The canoe sailed majestically down stream and every hope was on making Okitipupa by noon. At about 10.15 a.m. however, the canoe stopped at a beach called Iditola to discharge a passenger and to pick up two who had been waiting. After the process had been completed, the sailors began to start the engine; but to our utter dismay, the engine did not start. It all seemed as if it was not the same engine that brought us from Ajagba! As if by play, the engine did not respond to all the mechanical efforts that were made. The operator had sensed a fault just before Iditola, and to help the passengers, he requested the operator of another canoe, proceeding in the same direction, not to leave him far behind. His idea was that, if this canoe broke down, he could transfer the passengers to the other canoe. Both operators were Urhobo, and it was amazing that the second operator did not co-operate. He sailed away even before we anchored at Iditola. And so we were left stranded!
There was no alternative but to punt the canoe along the tortuous, grass, verge of the river. Added to the misfortune was the fact that we were gong against the current!
Every out-board engine canoe that met us was sailing to the opposite direction. And so without breakfast or any meal, our canoe kept on drifting and drifting as if it was a waif. The hope for timely landing had of course since been resigned. Every one aboard became browned-off. The time was already 3 0’clock and a windy storm was gathering momentum. All of a sudden, a canoe came along speeding to Okitipupa. All passengers cried aloud in an appeal to the operator to please tow us. The kind soul hearkened to the appeal and tied our canoe to his own. Now it was a journey. With the dramatic change of the weather, we landed at Okitipupa at 4 p.m. under a very heavy downpour.
Chief Abaide and others at Okitipupa were worried. They did not know what could have happened. Their anxiety stemmed from our failure to return last night to this very late return of the day! The President-General’s personal clerk and his driver were probably the most worried. “In the midst of our confused thinking, we suggested that we might hire transport to meet you so that we might at least know what had happened.” Poor boys!
A number of local union leaders had gathered at Chief Abaide’s house. They had waited all the night expecting us to return. But all was in vain, they said. The time of our eventful arrival at Okitipupa was the time that the party was expected to be at Ado-Ekiti –159 miles away! The President-General apologized to Okitipupa and promised them a repeat visit on his way back from Lagos. The branch presented a bottle of Schnapps with £1. 1/- to the party. Here we had our first and only meal for the day! At 4.50 p.m, the party bade good-bye to Okitipupa, and, after a most tiresome journey, arrived at Ado-Ekiti at 8:45 p.m.
Saturday 6thJune, 1964: ADO-EKITI
According to itinerary, the party should pass the night of 5th at Okitipupa, leave Okitipupa at 9.00 a.m. on the 6th for Ado-Ekiti where it was scheduled to arrive at 4 p.m. But the devil took the hang of the whole journey from the hour we set off in the canoe for Irele on the 5th. Indeed from the time of falling trees across the road!
At 4 hours and 45 minutes behind schedule, it would be too much to expect to find any one waiting to receive us. In the course of our search for an Urhobo man’s house, the driver ran the car into a ditch near the motor park. A crowd of the usual motor park boys soon surrounded us and kindly assisted to lift the car from the ditch. Then one of them, looking rather hefty and brusque, ejaculated – “And what do you want Chief? You look like a stranger, can I help in any way”? Then we began our story. “We are looking for the house of any Urhobo man.” “We came from home in the name of our Union to see Urhobo people in Ekiti”. “Ah! I knew,” he said. “Urhobo people had gathered in the afternoon waiting to welcome some one. Oh! Are you the one”? He concluded. This kind Samaritan took the Under-Secretary to the house of an Urhobo man nearby. The man was absent but the wife explained that he had left home since the afternoon to welcome a “big man” coming from home. He had not returned. The reception, she said, was to be held at the Community Centre. That was the message the Under-Secretary brought back.
This same kind Samaritan took us to The Community Centre, and there, under rather poor weather, we found a crowed of Urhobo people about to disperse in utter disappointment. The President-General sent the good Samaritan back with gratitude and a small “dash”.
It is needles to observe her that the appearance by that hour of the President-General and his party made what seemed to be only a negative impression on the gathering. There were many soured looks around. That was of course to be expected after such a long, tiresome waiting.
As soon as the President-General and his party took their seats, the branch spokesman took the floor. Quite naturally, he wanted to know why the President-General was so late. The President-General’s suggestion that formal routine of conducting functions be followed was not quite welcome. So the President-General was obliged to go into full explanation of he eventful circumstances which inevitably led to the delayed arrival. And even with that, the atmosphere was still not quite clear as the soured faces had not altogether disappeared. Here, the President-General quickly drew upon his deep knowledge and wide experience of the Urhobo man’s psychology. He called for a song in which he himself led at intervals. A second song enthusiastically rendered by all at once cleared that air, and everybody became alive, active and cheerful, and the offensive lateness was soon forgotten.
Then the functions began in earnest. After prayers, the local leaders were as usual introduced. A Welcome Address, with an Aladdin lamp as a souvenir, was presented to the President-General. Also presented were drinks, a he-goat and the sum of £1. 1/-. “Father Shine”, the President and leader of Urhobo at Ikerre, – 10 miles from Ado-Ekiti – also presented £1. The gifts quartet was completed by the Ovu people in the area who, in acknowledgement of their pride and honour of their special relationship with the President-General, presented £1. 1/- with some drinks. Singing and dancing followed while refreshments were being served.
In his reply to the Welcome Address, the President-General touched upon the main local problem of Urhobo in the area, namely, oppression of Urhobo peasantry by Yoruba land-lords. He advised patience, good neighbourliness and friendly approach in order to ensure amelioration of the present condition. In reply to a question, the Under-Secretary explained that organization of branch on basis of small sub-units did not offend against the Constitution of the Union.
The President-General directed that the he-goat be slaughtered there and then and used in preparing “UKODO” for all to enjoy. It is to be noted that the President-General and his party had had no meals since leaving Okitipupa! After the meal at 2 a.m., the guests were lodged at the Travellers Inn for the night.
But there was no end to the function. Singing, dancing and general merriment continued till dawn.
Sunday, 7th June, 1964: ADO-EKITI
The officers and members of the branch posed to a group photograph with their guests. After breakfast, the party, accompanied by Mr. Harken Edoh, the local President, proceeded to Ijoro-Ekiti.
Sunday, 7th June, 1964: IJERO-EKITI
The party arrived at 10.30 a.m. No body was met, let alone preparation to welcome the party. In fairness to the people, Ijoro-Ekiti was not, in point of fact, a branch as yet. The people here used to be members of Ado-Ekiti and only shortly before the tour that they applied to become a separate branch of their own. There would appear to have been some misunderstanding between the Ado-Ekiti branch and the people at Ijero-Ekiti hence the move to break away.
The person who was supposed to be the ‘Secretary’ and who had been in correspondence with the National Secretariat was not to be found anywhere, nor did he inform any one of the visit – at least so the party was told!
The President-General and his party were taken to the house of a Mr. James Okpigoni Unikpo of No. 12, Idofinmoji Street, Ijero-Ekiti. Here, this man, who incidentally was from Ovu, played host to the party. A small crowd – 7 people – soon built itself up in the house. Further entertainment with beer was given and monetary gifts amounting to a total of 16/- were made. After thanking the gathering, the party set off for Ilesha dropping the Ado-Ekiti President at Ara.
Sunday, 7th June, 1964: ILESHA
The party made Ilesha punctually at the expected time. At the approach to the town and by the Catering Hotel, a number of people was waiting to conduct the party to Obokungbusi Hall – the Town Hall by the Owa’s palace. A large dancing group organised in front of the Hall led the President-General and his entourage into the Hall which was gaily decorated with flags and bunting. It was already packed full. That Sunday was Sunday for the celebration of the Roman Catholic feast for Corpus Christi. The beautiful altar set in the open square in front of the Hall added in no small measure to the ecstasy of the coinciding events.
Introduction of local leaders followed prayers said by Mr. Moses Ayesan. At the end of the reading of the Welcome Address, a smart lady, beautifully embroidered ‘Chief cap’ specially made for the President-General. With grace, she removed his cap and placed the souvenir one on his head. The cap was a perfect fit in size and this Ilesha also presented drinks, kola-nuts and the sum of £1. 1/-.
Before responding to the Welcome Address, the President-General requested the audience to rise for two minutes’ silence in revered memory and honour of the late Owa of Ijesha land, Oba Biladu III, President of the House of Chiefs, Western Nigeria, who was for many years his friend. The President-General said he knew him Ogunmekun at Lagos long before he became the Owa.
When as Commissioner for Education he visited Ilesha towards the end of 1962, he paid a courtesy call on the Oba who received him most warmly in his inner chambers. Although not quite well them, he was able to discuss with him the possible way of reconciling an Urhobo man, called “Pillow”, with the local Union and the rest of Urhobo people in Ilesha. Little did he know then that his friend’s end would come so soon. He could not therefore come so near the palace occupied by his late Oba friend without remembering him.
A vote of thanks by the accredited spokesman of the branch followed by a song by the women brought the function to a very happy close. The local President, a very quiet and unassuming young man, apologized to the President-General that owing to the Corpus Christi neither he nor any of his people would be able to accompany him to Oshogbo, the next branch to be visited.
The Ilesha reception created a most favourable impression, there being no doubt that the grandeur of the historic Town Hall in which the function was held dignified the occasion.
Sunday, 7th June, 1964: OSHOGBO
At about half a mile away from the town, representatives of Oshogbo branch were waiting to welcome the party and to conduct it to Ebenezer Hotel where the reception was held. Here the members of the Union had gathered. Mr. H. Useh opened the function with prayers followed by a Welcome Address.
In the address, the President-General was congratulated for his achievements since his assumption of office and reference was made to his sound administration of the Union both at Headquarters’ and branches’ levels, the opening of new secondary grammar schools in indigenous towns in Urhobo land, and the scholarships awarded to Urhobo youths in universities. The Address pointed out that, as the father of all, the President-General should emulate the late Chief Mukoro Mowoe by sacrificing nothing in an attempt to project Urhobo personality. The President-General was also advised to avoid party politics as much as possible so that he could be free to perform the onerous duties of his office unhampered.
In the course of his reply to the Welcome Address, the President-General referred to the record of the meeting which Chief Mukoro Mowoe held with the Urhobo of Oshogbo in 1946 during his historic tour for the benefit of Urhobo Education Scheme. Also the President-General gave a picture of his personal knowledge of the type of Urhobo people who used to live at Oshogbo. He described Oshogbo, as he knew it then, as a den of Urhobo hooligans, “payans” and swindlers.
Judging from the composition of Urhobo audience before him on that occasion, he had no difficulty at all in coming to the conclusion that the bad generation of Urhobo to whom he alluded above has passed away — glory be to God. He was impressed with the dignity of the audience now before him. Any experienced person with some knowledge of Urhobo, could easily surmise that the group that he was seeing was composed of clerks, workers and traders living by the sweat of their honest labour. That was a definite happy change.
On point of information, the Under-Secretary spoke on the so-called “U.P.U. reformation Movement” which a few disgruntled leaders and some politicians launched at Ughelli in December, 1963. The “Reformation Movement” “reformed” itself to death within twenty four hours of its inauguration. The Under-Secretary admonished the branch to have nothing to do with that Movement should there be possibility of it coming to life at any time.
In the middle of this function, Mrs. Salubi, who had left the entourage on the 2nd June, rejoined it. She broke the tour to go to Lagos to meet her daughter, Ekorume (Mrs. Nwariaku) who returned with her husband, Dr. M. C. Nwariaku Ph. D., from the United Kingdom on the 4th June.
Mrs. Salubi brought a message from the President, Ile-Ife branch. He was sorry to have to tell the President-General not to visit his branch. He was unable to get Urhobo people together to organise a reception. He was about to send a messenger to the President-General at Oghogbo, and it was by sheer co-incidence that he met Mrs. Salubi going to rejoin the entourage at Oshogbo. He made a present of 10/- to her. The message reduced the day’s work by one station.
After service of drinks, etc., the Oshogbo function was brought to a close.
The President-General and his party went to the house of Mr. Gordon Ekure of the Posts and Telegraphs, Oshogbo. Mr. Ekure, who was a relative of the President-General, had prepared meals ready for him and his party. After the food, the party left Oshogbo at 6.30 p.m. for Ile-Ife via Edo. That was the scheduled place to spend the night.
It took some time to find the Rest House at Ile-Ife where we arrived at 7.44 p.m. Unlike the Ilesha Rest House, the Ife Rest House is not located on the main road but hidden in a branch road off Modakeke road. When looking for the Rest House, the big car (L.G. 4 0 9 5) ran over a stump of a tree in an attempt to give way to an approaching car. The exhaust pipe of the car was badly damaged. It fell off completely and had to be tied with a rope when eventually the car was lifted from the stump which seemed to have pinned it.
We slept in Rest House No. 2. Here again, another good Samaritan came to our aid. He was Mr. A. Osagie, D.S.P., Ile-Ife. He lived next door to the Rest House; he and his family were kind enough to allow us to use their kitchen for our meals. Mr. Osagie said he know the President-General at Benin City as Labour Officer, and that his father was friendly with him through one Adebayo, a clerk in the Labour Office, who was his father’s tenant.
The party had a reasonably comfortable night.
Monday, 8th June, 1964: ILE-IFE
At about 9 a.m., Palmer the President, Ife branch, (if any branch exists), with Ayorerhe Okoro came to the Rest House. This was the President who sent a message through Mrs. Salubi to the party at Oshogbo. Ayorerhe Okoro is by the way a brother of Omorohwovo Okoro, the founder of ht Urhobo Progress Union. He lives about a mile or two away on the Ife – Ilesha road and is a relative of the President-General. They made efforts in the night, but without success, to locate the party’s whereabouts.
The President confirmed his message through Mrs. Salubi and related his difficulties in trying to go t Urhobo people of the area to come together. He had therefore come to apologise personally to the President-General. His failure to organise the people to meet and welcome him was, by no means, a discourtesy, he explained. The apology was accepted as the position was too well-known to the President-General himself.
Ife was never really fertile ground for the Urhobo Progress Union. He knew that from his personal knowledge and from the record of Chief Mowoe’s visit. Ife might be regarded s another “den” of mischievous Urhobo elements in those days when two Urhobo men, Sapele and Ideh, were resident there. At Ife, Urhobo people used to exploit one another, plaguing themselves with police arrests, court cases and dispute as to who was to be the local Urhobo leader to be recognized by the Oni!
Mr. Osagie volunteered to get the President-General’s damaged car repaired free of charge. This was another unexpected friendly gesture on the part of this kind police officer. As the repair would naturally take some time, and in order not to upset the itinerary, it was arranged to leave Mrs. Salubi, the driver and the servants behind. The President-General and the Under-Secretary left Ile-Ife with the small car (Volkswagen, LH 2250) to Ikire. Mrs. Salubi and the rest were to meet up with them at Ikire after the repairs.
Monday, 8th June, 1964: GBOGAN
Between Ile-Ife and Ikire is Gbogan branch. The party did not stop here as the branch had written to say that it was not fit for a visit.
Monday, 8th June, 1964: IKIRE
The party arrived at Ikire at 12 noon. A few Urhobo people were found after a short enquiry. Here it was suggested that the party should first visit Adeyinka before meeting the Ikire people.
Ikire to Adeyinka is only 13 miles, but it is 13 miles of a very bad road, — rough, rugged, muddy and badly eroded. The Ikire people advised against going there because of the condition of the road at that time of the year. The question the President-General required them to answer was whether the Adeyinka people were expecting him. The answer being in the affirmative, the President-General decided to undertake the journey, damning the consequences. In any case, the journey would permit the Ikire people, who were not quite ready, to get ready.
Monday, 8th June, ADEYINKA
Accordingly, the party, accompanied by Mr. Samuel Oghenede, the Honorary Secretary, Ikire branch, proceeded on the journey arriving at 1.16p.m.
As the party was approaching the town, Mr. Oghenede interrogated three men who were on their way to their farms. “Gentlemen, were are you going? The President-General is here to see all of you, you had better return”. The men, not expecting any one quite naturally looked astonished. But only one of them returned. The people at Adeyinka made no preparations whatsoever. They said they did not expect the President-General to travel through that bad road to see them.
At first, we were taken to the house of one James Ode Onojetan, then to the verandah of another house, and, eventually, the house of one young man. By that time, about 12 people had gathered, among them, a woman said to be the wife of one Jackson Ekwodiame of Olomu. Jackson was believed to be an important and influential Urhobo in the area. He went home a few days before our visit.
The group presented six bottles of beer, two bottles Guinness and £1.1. Mr. Ekwodiame’s wife, as any good wife would do, added 5/- in her husband’s name. She regretted her husband’s absence, saying she knew what he could have done if he was present.
The Welcome Address intended for the visit was not quite ready. Mr. Samuel Idike, the local leader, had therefore to make an oral speech. Mr. Idike was pleased that the President-General was able to come in spite of the bad road. The visit was a high honour ever accorded villagers like themselves. They were glad to be remembered and would be pleased to be enlightened as to how to form and organise a new branch. The components of the tribes in the area who all lived together as a composite unit were Aboh, Kwale, Isoko and Urhobo. The Urhobo elements were Orogun, Olomu, Ughievwen, Agbon and Agbarha. In short, this community was actually a hotchpotch of a non-Yoruba elements from the Delta Province.
Their common economic undertaking was oil-palm industry and coca industry. In this area, cocoa is the main Yoruba peasants’ Industry.
The forces of party politics were however ravaging the area and had indeed disunited them. That was one of the reasons why very few people were present. This was confirmed by the information already received at Ikire. Some N.C.N.C. politicians were said to have gone to leading Urhobo people in the district telling them not to receive the President-General who was a member of the Midwest Democratic Front. It was believed that was why Gbogan branch did not accept the visit!
But a more sympathetic story was yet to be told! The original pursuit that attracted the Urhobo people to this Yoruba district was the palm produce industry. Later on, however, they and the other non-Yoruba elements indicated above, began to loan out money to the Yoruba peasants who were predominantly cocoa plantation owners. The system was to pawn for a specific period the cocoa farm as security for the loan. Not only that.
As long as the loan remained unpaid, the pawnee was entitled to harvest the pawned cocoa farm. Unless and until full repayment, the pawnee harvested the farm undisturbed by the pawner or by any one else. No one knows when this type of loan system began. Suffice it to say that it has been on for years now. The system is clearly enough subject for a socio-economic study in the field of economic relations between the Yoruba of this district and the stranger elements who came to live among them.
Any money realised from harvesting by the pawnee was never offset against the loan, and no matter the number of cocoa seasons harvested, and the proceeds realized therefrom, the original loan had always remained undiminished. In certain cases, the harvests yielded proceeds which were heavily overweighed in favour of the pawnee. Thus the poor Yoruba cocoa farmer, due to inability to discharge in time his loan obligations, threw himself into economic slavery to the pawnee.
Because of the profitability of the loan system, the Urhobo immigrant of the area gradually shifted from the palm produce industry to the cocoa industry as pawn-brokers. The system had so well developed that it might well be said that the economic life of the area, insofar as cocoa peasantry was concerned, was virtually controlled by the Urhobo immigrant pawnees. The stage where the Yoruba peasant had to sweat and groan almost perpetually under Urhobo economic serfdom had already been reached. One needs to observe that the system has since spread to almost all the cocoa producing areas of the Yoruba country.
Suffering often leads to revolt. A few years ago, these economic relations became tense and explosive. The Yorubas were feeling to an unbearable point, the weight of this economic overburdening! Here then were troubled waters for the politicians to fish in. In order to secure their votes, the politicians promised to use political weapons to redeem to the Yoruba peasantry the farms that they had pawned. Thus the Yoruba peasants became excited and incited. They now felt that they had a redeeming remedy other than honest repayment of their loans. It was only too easy to cause political strife here. The Urhobo pawnees were predominantly N.T.N.C. while the Yoruba pawners were mainly Action Group or U.P.F!
Then trouble was about to start, the Oba of Ikire on the 4th November, 1959, invited 12 representatives of the Urhobo people to his palace for a peace talk. Present at the talk was Mr. James Otobo in his capacity as Minister of Midwest affairs in the Action Group government of the Region. No settlement or conclusion could be reached. The state was therefore set for a straight fight between the Urhobo and the Yoruba.
Certain Yoruba farmers took certain Urhobo pawnees to the Ife Magistrate Court to test the validity of the loan agreements.
The Urhobo retained Mr. R. a. Fani-Kayode who won for them the first aspects of the cases. Here, the Urhobo people gratefully acknowledged the assistance which Mr. J. O. Odjevwedje, then Registrar, Magistrate Court, Ife, rendered to them.
In order to redeem their promises, the politicians got the Government to launch a scheme whereby it was to advance money to the farmers to pay off their debts. The money was advanced and a Co-operative Society known as Aiyedade Union was formed with this object in view. Shortly afterwards, the funds of the Co-Operative Union were misappropriated and Government’s purpose was thus defeated. Before this mishap, however, Government agents, who were to operate the outright repayment scheme on behalf of the Yoruba farmers, had collected relevant documents respecting the various loans from the Urhobo people. Nothing came out of it all and the documents were not returned.
In order to secure his assistance, the Urhobo immigrants subscribed and paid out £700 to a certain influential politician at Ibadan. Added to that lump sum were a ram and £3 for drinks. At this stage, it is interesting to know that the total Urhobo money said to have been given out as loans to the Yoruba farmers of the area was in the order of £50,000. The influential politician was said to have done nothing in favour of the Urhobo people. On the contrary, he was reported to have taken £1,200 from the Yoruba farmers in order to help them against the Urhobo.
Unconfirmed report has it that this selfsame influential politician advised the Yoruba farmers to abandon seeking court remedy. He was said to have told them that Urhobo people were born litigants and that no one could wear them out by going to court. It was alleged that resort to violence was advised instead. It is difficult to believe these stories!
As from November, 1959, the Yorubas were said to have resorted to violence – attacking Urhobo hamlets, etc. The social set-up of the Urhobo people in the area was that a man or two men with their wives lived together in a hamlet. That size was the average social habitat. The smallness of the occupants of each hamlet made the Yoruba attack to be very successful indeed. When the violence broke out, many Urhobo people were obliged to flee to the big towns like Ikire, Apomu, etc. Some even went home [to Urhoboland].
The violence came to a climax when on the 1st January, 1961, Urhobo of Orogun origin, called Akpotabor, was killed by his Yoruba assailants. A report was made to the Police who, deliberately, did not send any officer for investigation till the 8th January, 1961. In the meantime, the copse has been removed and disposed of in an unknown manner at an unknown place by the Yoruba people. The chief exhibit for the proof of the murder had therefore been lost. Each Urhobo man and each Urhobo woman subscribed 10/- and 5/-, respectively, to fight the case. A great deal of money was spent but the case never went to court!
The Urhobo residents of the area were completely helpless in their saddest hour! They appealed in a letter to the Headquarters of the Urhobo Progress Union for help. No reply at all was received! Mr. Isaac Ahatty, a leading member of Ibadan branch, was the founder of Adeyinka branch. An appeal was therefore directed to Ibadan U.P.U. the reply was that each person in the area should subscribe £2 in order to fight the case! A further appeal to Urhobo policemen at Ibadan fell on deaf ears!
The organisng Secretary, Mr. James Ode Onojetan, who was sent to Lagos with £100 varnished!
Added to the helplessness of the situation was the role said to have been played by certain Urhobo in the area. Such people were said to have included Mr. Isaac Ahatty, the founder of the branch union, Chukuma Esejuvwovwo, Akamaigbo, William Salubi Okusi (not related to the President-General) and Akpotor, all of whom jointly worked against them by their support for the Yorubas because of financial gains,
The £700 given to the influential politician who rendered no help could not be recovered! £750 was given to a police officer who did his best but could not quell the whole trouble.
The Ikire area was by no means quiet as yet. The Yorubas are still oppressing and persecuting Urhobo. There was at present a case where a Yoruba pawned his farm to an Urhobo in order to be able to educate his son. He refused to allow the Urhobo pawnee to step into the farm or to repay the loan. The agreement on the loan was not stamped with the Commissioner for Stamp Duties, and it was therefore difficult to seek remedy in a Court of law!
By and large, the Urhobo people in the area were not united. Orogun elements in the Urhobo community who were in the preponderance were in the habit of keeping to themselves, holding their own separate meetings. Whenever there was a joint meeting between them and other Urhobo elements, they would suddenly change conversation from Urhobo to the Ukuani language. This naturally annoyed all others, who did not understand Ukuani. They regarded themselves first as Orogun and second as Urhobo!
The Orogun instance was by no means the only disintegrating factor militating against Urhobo unity and interests. A group of undesirable Urhobo mischief-makers and crime perpetrators existed in Ikire. The group employed all sorts of measure to oppress the Urhobo peasantry. The members usually brought Forest Guards to their farms to threaten them. After the season’s harvesting and sale of the produce, this group of Urhobo people would either set buglers against them in their hamlets, or bring policemen to search and arrest them under various pretences! Even highway robbery was being introduced to the area!!
An instance of Urhobo working against Urhobo was evidenced in a case where one Wilson Olomu and Omorigho Udjegbuem were involved. There was a working rule among Urhobo pawnees that where a Yoruba had pawned his farm to an Urhobo no other Urhobo should loan money again on the same farm. The penalty was laid down as £5 fine against the offender. It transpired that after one Yoruba man pawned his farm to Mr. Wilson Olomu, he went to Mr. Omorigho Udjegbuem who was thus found guilty; but he refused to pay the £5 fine. The matter was taken to the U.P.U. Ibadan, as a superior body for an enforcement decision. Ibadan took a belated action with perfunctory interest. For three weeks, the interested parties kept on traveling up and down to Ibadan at no small expense. Eventually, Ibadan declared inability to help and advised that Mr. Omorigho Udjegbuem be sued. The case died a natural death since no one went to court. The offended party having already become frustrated!
Another case cited was that in which one Jacob Ogboru, an Urhobo, sued a Yoruba to court for debt. The case was not lost but an appeal had been lodged with the High Court.
The story of the Yoruba rising in 1959 was a sorrowful one; but the most painful part was the disgraceful role which certain Urhobo middlemen, purporting to be helpers were alleged to have played in the whole matter. These people claimed to be the leaders of the poor Urhobo peasants whereas in fact they were interlopers working to enrich their pockets!!
After listening patiently to this long story of suffering, oppressions and persecutions, the President-General felt deep sympathy for the poor Urhobo immigrant farmers. He promised to take up the matter of protection for person and property with the Commissioner of Police, Western Nigeria, Ibadan. He observed that he had no ready answers for the poor people’s many and complex problems. Nor was there time for him during the visit to examine them closely. He apologized profusely to the people for the failure of the National Headquarters to respond to their appeal for help in their hour of need.
The President-General thought that the best approach to the situation was to send an energetic worker, like the Under-Secretary to the district at some future date to re-organise the Urhobo there. There was great need for such action. A considerable amount of Urhobo money and interests were in jeopardy and some sort of field organization in the area was very necessary. In the meantime, however, he advised the people to try and keep calm, and to be of help to one another.
The President-General and party left Adeyinka for Ikire at 3.41 p.m.
Monday, 8th June, IKIRE
The party returned to Ikire at 4. 45 p.m. to meet the Urhobo people gathered in a Cocoa Co-operative Store where the reception was held. Mrs. Salubi with the rest of the entourage had also arrived from Ile-Ife with the big car. The people presented the party with kola-nuts, drinks and £1. 1/-.
The attendance of about 20 at the meeting was not encouraging. According to the people, three things were chiefly responsible for the paucity of attendance. Firstly, the Union’s National Headquarters did not respond to their appeal when tragedy hit them form 1959 to 1961. Secondly, the Ibadan branch contributed in different ways to make things worse for them in Ikire. Thirdly, Mr. I. E. Ahatty, a leading Union member of the union at Ibadan, had caused dissension in the rank and file of the Ikire branch, and succeeded in carving away a splinter group, now under the leadership of Mr. Daniel Akporekpo.
Mr. Francis Ugolo, the spokesman, then proceeded to recount the problems facing Urhobo people as follows: When the Union branch was first organised in the district, it was embraced by a majority of the people living in Ikire, Adeyinka and Ago-Owu. Mr. Peter Ebenu was the President. Later, the presidentship passed to Mr. Okpokuru Urhuano and them to Mr. Akpolile. Mr. Isaac Ahatty was the organising Secretary. In order to safe-guard Urhobo interests, the branch demanded from the local Authority the appointment of tax collectors from amongst Urhobo nationals to assess and collect tax from Urhobo people. The request was granted and ten tax collectors were agreed upon. £30 was spent to secure the Authority’s consent. The £30 was raised and the condition agreed upon was that those appointed should refund the £30 from their remuneration of £18 per tax collector. Mr. Ahatty, Mr. Akpolile and 8 others, who desired appointment, were duly recommended and appointed. At the end of the tax period, the ten men did not fulfill the condition and they were replaced in the following year. Mr. Ahatty grew annoyed and re-acted. He was alleged to have resolved to ruin the economy of the Urhobo people. He therefore tutored the Yoruba cocoa farm owners to revise and tighten the system of hire of cocoa farms. Trouble then began.
Mr. Ahatty approached “Forest Guards” to worry Urhobo people for trees used for “dug-out troughs” for processing palm-fruits. One Wilson Ebuakeke was falsely sued for a forestry offence. The Urhobo re-acted and sued the “Fake Forest Guards” at Oshogbo. Mr. Ahatty hit back by brining false information against the Urhobo before the Police at Ibadan. In the end, the U.F.U., Ibadan branch settled the matter.
When the cocoa trouble was mounting, Hon. J. E. Otobo, then a cabinet Minister in the Western Nigeria Government, Ibadan, was approached. They confirmed the story of the £700, told by the Adeyinka people. Hon. Otobo promised to end the trouble through the Western Nigeria Executive Council. Otobo did nothing. The Yoruba approached the influential politician referred to by the Adeyinka people and gave him £1,200. This person suggested to the Yorubas to intimidate, and use violence against the Urhobo people so that they might run away from the hired cocoa farms. The Yorubas did as directed and violence reigned in all the camps inhabited by Urhobo people. In the midst of it all an Urhobo man, called Akpotabor was murdered. In order to pursue the case, Urhobo men and women levied money on themselves. Mr. Ahatty did not only refuse to pay the levy but also demanded the refund of the money paid by his wife. Mr. Ahatty was said to have caused other troubles. He urged Orogun people not to fraternize with other Urhobo people, and to belong only to the Orogun Progress Union. He caused the Urhobo people at Adeyinka, formerly members of the Ikire branch, to breakaway.
Through Mr. Ahatty’s machinations, a malicious case was brought against one Wilson Ebuakeke in the magistrate Court, Ife. The case was won through the help of Mr. J. O. Odjevwedje. The same Wilson Ebuakeke was maliciously arrested by the Police, on a complaint of burglary, in Oshogbo, Benin and Auchi. Through collective effects, he emerged victorious.
The Ikire people concluded by appealing to the President-General to find a remedy for all the social and economic ills of Urhobo people in the district. That it was only such a remedy that would help to re-organise the Urhobo, strengthen the Union, and to infuse into them once more the breath of unity, mutual understating love and co-operation. He advised them to keep cool. Finally, he warned them not to indulge in active party politics, knowing fully well their economic plight in the district.
By this time, it was already clear to the President-General that he could not possibly visit the two branches (Ago-Owu and Ibadan) remaining to complete the day’s programme. The President-General then requested Mrs. Salubi to proceed in the smaller care to Ibadan (some 26 moles away) to inform Mr. Brown Edohworhu, the President of Ibadan branch, that it would not be possible for him to meet Ibadan that evening, and that the meeting was postponed to a date to be mutually agreed when he arrived.
Just as Mrs. Salubi was proceeding, Mr. Isaac Ahatty was seen riding by. In the cause of conversation, Mr. Ahatty stated that the President-General was not being expected at Ibadan on the 8th but on the 9th. Apparently, Ibadan branch had misread the itinerary. The visit was scheduled for the 8th, not the 9th June, 1964. As it happened however, no one was disappointed.
As for Ago-Owu, Mr. Ahatty advised the President-General not to go. He saw the leading Urhobo man of the place some time in the day. He told him that he did not want to be visited. Since no letter or direct message to that effect came from the Ago-Owu people, the President-General decided to take a chance.
Accompanied again by Mr. Samuel J. Oghenede, the Hon. Secretary, Ikire branch, the President-General and his party left Ikire at 6.50 p.m. for Ago-Owu which is 14 miles off Aponmu. The road, though not good, was not as bad as the Ikire-Adeyinka road.
Monday, 8th June, 1964: AGO-OWU
The party arrived at 8 p.m. There was no Urhobo man seen anywhere. Upon enquiry, the road to residence of the supposed leader was rocky and undulated. It ran through a deep valley of a stream on the top of a hill where there was a village called Oke-Odo. The distance was probably about a mile. The Under-Secretary and Mr. Oghenede walked through the ups and downs of the rocky road until at last they found the so-called Urhobo leader in his house.
In the meantime, the President-General, who went slowly carefully with the car as far as he could on the bad road, borrowed a chair and sat in some one’s verandah, watching eagerly for the “heralds” return.
The “leader” admitted receiving a copy of the itinerary of the tour and added that when the convened a meeting for the purpose of organising a reception against the visit, the people jeered at him. They alleged that he was making a personal effort so as to impose his leadership upon them. In view, therefore, of this their reaction, he abandoned summoning further meetings. This “leader” refused to see the President-General when suggestion to that effect was made by the Under-General. Thus ended the off-chance journey to Ago-Owu.
The party arrived at Ikire at 9. 50 p.m. and proceeded with the journey to Ibadan after drooping Mr. Oghenede. About half way from Ibadan, Mrs. Salubi was seen speeding down. Her presences on the road back to Ikire alarmed everybody. She was wondering why the party had stayed behind for so long! She feared a possible breakdown of transport or a possibility of an accident!! However, we all felt at ease since in one of the two suggested possibilities was the cause of the delay. At 11 p.m we made Ibadan where we slept.
At 8.30am.m., the Under-Secretary went out to arrange the date for Ibadan meeting with Mr. Brown Edohworhu, the President. The meeting was fixed for 3.30p.m.. on Thursday, the 11th June. The party then left Ibadan for Abeokuta at 11 a.m.
Tuesday, 9th June, 1964: IBADAN
The party arrived Abeokuta at 12.15p.m. and met no one. The Secretary, Mr. S. A. Obaro, could not be found. On inquiry at the Police Station, two Urhobo police men came out – one an Inspector and the other a Constable. They knew Mr. Obaro’s place of work (G.E. Ollivant, Lafenwa). The Constable escorted the party to the place where it was discovered that Mr. Obaro was on leave. We were informed that he told no body of the visit.
After bidding the Constable goodbye, the party set off for Apapa (Lagos).
Tuesday, 9th June, 1964: APAPA
The party arrived Yaba (Lagos) at 1.30p.m. and called on Mr. and Mrs. Bryden at 364 Herbert Macaulay Road, Yaba. Information had it that we were billed to lodge with the Brydens but nothing seemed to be certain about this at the time we called. Mrs. Bryden, more familiarly known to Urhobo, as Alice Soroghoye, is, by the way the lady President of Lagos branch. The family lives in their own house – a nice, commodious 3-storey building.
From there, the party drove straight to No. 29A, Salami Street, Olodi, Apapa, — the house of the President-General’s mother-in-law. The time was then 2.10p.m. The Apapa meeting which was fixed for 5.p.m was held in Okoloba Court – the premises of Chief J. O. Okoloba of Olodi, Apapa.
After the opening prayers by Mr. O.C. Akanike, the Spokesman, the leading members of the branch were introduced. The usual drinks and £2. 2/- were presented. This was followed by a well worded Welcome Address. In the Address, reference was made to stiff opposition which the branch experienced before its formal inauguration on 3rd October, 1959. The Address also touched the magnificent role which Urhobo played to bring about the creation of the Midwest Region, the alleged division within the Union at home which was said to have given rise to the formation of the U.P.U. Reformation Movement. The branch demanded provision of two hospitals, each at Ughelli and Orerokpe. Other demands included a Post Office, a pipe-born water system and electricity supply for Urhobo land.
While the drinks were being served, a group of Uvwie women staged “Love” dance in honour of the occasion and to the enjoyment of about 150 people present.
In his response, the President-General congratulated the branch for its achievements. He paid special tributes to the President, a very energetic young man. In strong terms, the President-General condemned the spirit which animated the Reformation Movement.
Fortunately, he said, the Movement had since died out. As regards to other demands, the President-General said that wherever possible, the machinery of the Union, no less than his position as a legislator, would always be used to ensure that Urhobo land was provided with such essential services as names in the Address.
The Under-Secretary then addressed the branch particularly in regard to the rejection of the 1964 Almanac because the branch’s photograph was not selected for inclusion in it. He condemned this kind of attitude and eventually appealed to the branch to be broad-minded by accepting the Almanac.
Owing to a heavy downpour, the function (mainly singing and dancing by now) was shifted from the open courtyard to the sitting room of Chief Okoloba. And so merriment continued till 10.30 p.m. when the gathering happily dispersed.
Wednesday, 10th June, 1964: IKEJA
At the request of Lagos branch, the President-General and his entourage removed from No. 29A Salami Street, Olodi, Apapa, to No. 364, Herbert Macaulay Road, Yaba – the house of Mr. and Mrs. Bryden referred to earlier on.
The meeting for the day was at the Caroline Hotel, Okeja. The branch at Ikeja was very new. The Under-Secretary had advised Lagos to endeavour to organise Urhobo people around the municipality of Lagos including adjoining towns in the Colony Province.
As for Ikeja, Lagos found a ready leader in Chief Johnson Tanure Kodesoh, a business man with established home in Ikeja. Kodesoh was reputed to be a patriot, and a strong supporter of the Lagos branch. After necessary preliminary arrangements, the Ikeja branch was established on the 31st May, 1964 – precisely 10 days before the President-General’s visit! The branch which covered Ikeja, Agege, Oshodi, Ajegunle and Moboju was therefore in its inchoate stage.
Introduction of the protem officers was followed by presentation of drinks, kola-nuts, cigarettes and the sum of £5.5/-. The next item was a speech by Mr. Duku, the Spokesman. Mr. Duku, on behalf of the new branch, welcomed the President-General and his entourage, paid glowing tributes to the sterling qualities of the august visitor and recounted some of his many achievements for the Urhobo people. That the tour of the President-General came up so soon after the formation of their branch, concluded Mr. Duku, was a sure and happy augury for the future of the branch.
In his response to the speech, the President-General congratulated Lagos branch for its remarkable organising ability which has now culminated in the formation of this new branch. Urhobo people in Ikeja and suburbs, under the leadership of Chief Kodesho, deserved to be congratulated also. Without their agreeable response, Lagos branch’s efforts could have been fruitless.
Subject to ratification by the Central Executive Committee, the President-General seized the opportunity to accord formal recognition to the new branch which he described as one of “the two bouncing babies” delivered into the family since the commencement of his tour. He was happy to welcome the branch to the family and wish it a most prosperous life.
Thursday, 11th June, 1964: IBADAN
The repair at Ile-Ife to the exhaust pipe of the big car was not altogether satisfactory and so the car has to be taken out for further repairs to ensure uninterrupted journey to Ibadan where the party was due for reception at 3.30p.m. By 1 p.m. the car was ready and the journey to Ibadan began.
Just before Shagamu however the exhaust pipe began to give trouble. As we pulled by the roadside, to attend to it, a lorry from the opposite direction stopped immediately before us. In it was an Urhobo, Mr. Moses Akatakpo, from Okitipupa. He wanted to know what our trouble was. At the end of the conversation, the President-General gave him a message to Okitipupa that he would be there on Sunday, 14th June. As nothing could be done, immediately by the roadside, the car had to be managed to a mechanic’s place at Shagamu where the exhaust pipe was tightened and tied up with a wire rope. As soon as the party arrived at Ibadan, Mr. Israel O. Salubi, the President-General’s brother, took the car to his mechanic where it was properly put right.
The stoppage before and at Shagamu had caused a delay of about 2 hours to the scheduled time of arrival at Ibadan. A procession of dancers which had waited at Molete to take the President-General to Independence Restaurant, Oke Bola, had had to return to wait at the Restaurant as it was threatening to rain.
However, the receptions began at 5.30p.m. with about 250 people in attendance. After prayer by Mr. I. E. Ahatty (same Ahatty of Ikire fame), Mr. Brown Edohworhu, the President of the branch, made an opening speech. This was followed by a Welcome Address read by Mr. Oduaran and presented together with drinks and the sum of £5. 5/-.
In the Address, reference was made to education, efficiency of the present secretariat, Urhobo citizenship in Warri Township, pipe-lining Ughelli oil to the East, the U.P.U. Hall, and, lastly, to the present disunity among Urhobo leaders.
In his reply, the President-General thanked the members of the branch, indeed the Urhobo Community of Ibadan, for the elaborate function organised in his honour. He was not a stranger in Ibadan where he had lived and worked among the people. He was however struck by the number of new faces that he was seeing that evening. He had always enjoyed Ibadan branch’s hospitality, and the women elements were never behind the men in honoring him. He was aware that the funds of the Women section of the branch had been misappropriated, and that for a long time now, the section had ceased to function. He was glad to see that it and had become active again. In order to assist the women to resettle themselves financially, the President-General promised them a donation of £10. (The amount had since been sent and acknowledged). Before leaving this matter, he advised the women to open a bank account for the safe keeping of their money instead of entrusting it to the keep of an individual member. The President deserved to be congratulated for his ability to keep Urhobo in Ibadan together for so many years now.
In a more serious vein, the President-General referred to the unhappy plight of Urhobo people in Ikire district. He recalled the disturbing allegations made against Ibadan branch, and particularly against Mr. Ahatty. That gathering was certainly not the place for him to delve into such serious allegations. His idea was to send the Under-Secretary to the area at some future date.
The President-General now turned to specific points in the Address making explanations, where necessary, as to what had already been done. As there had been misleading rumours about split in the Union, the President-General seized the opportunity to clear the air. In doing so, he referred to a meeting he held with the branch at Ahatty’s house a few months ago and added that what he had to say now was complementary to his speech on that occasion.
The President-General denied most emphatically that there was disintegration of any kind in the Union. He admitted that there were political differences, based on party alignments, among individuals who happened to be leaders and important members of the Urhobo Progress Union. His view and policy were that the Union and party politics could, and should, be kept apart. And it was quite possible to do so. He assured his audience that, as long as he was on the saddle, politics would not be permitted to ravage the Union.
Since the arising of party political differences, a few members who were disgruntled, and who would not like to associate with the President-General, for reasons personal and best known to them, kept away from the Union. That was not all. They kept on spreading a propaganda stunt that the Union had become an M.D.E. Union – the party to which the President-General belonged. And it was in order to make the President-General fail in his office that the idea of a Reformation Movement was born. The U.P.U. Reformation Movement was a political myth the existence of which was ephemeral. It could not have been otherwise because it was ill-conceived.
The rest of the reception was devoted to general merriment and dancing until it was brought to a close at 8.30 p.m.
Immediately after the function, the President-General and his entourage set off for Lagos arriving at 11 p.m.
As Mr. Bryden was still at work, the car that was brought from Ibadan could not be parked in the yard. Mr. Bryden was to park his car inside first before the President-General’s. That being the position, the President-General’s car (LG4095) had to be parked on the roadside in front of the house. Within half an hour, an owner-driver of a car (No. L C 4 0 4 0) ran on to, and rammed, the stationary car from behind. The inpact was such that it dragged the car for 20 feet, and over a drain. It was the fence wall of the house that acted as a brake. The owner-driver was removed for medical attention by a friend of his passing by.
The Under-Secretary at once made for the nearest Police Station where contact was made with the Motor Traffic Unit at Ijora. A constable (N. ALABA No. 2784) later came along and investigated. That was how that day ended itself!
Friday, 12th June, 1964: YABA (Lagos)
This day was intended to be a free day; but the accident on the car had raised a new and unexpected problem. In the morning, the owner-driver involved in the accident arrived. Alas! He was Mr. I. M. A. Fadina, formerly one of the Sanitary Inspectors under the President-General at the Health Office, Lagos. Mr. Fadina had since become a Lagos Printer. He apologized profusely and volunteered to pay whatever it would cost to repair the car. He did not want to be taken to Court. The incident was reported to the Insurance Company who gave authority for it to be taken to the Niger Motors Ltd., Apapa, for necessary attention. The car which was delivered to the Niger Motors shortly afterwards had not come back repaired up till today (9th September, 1964) when this part of the report was being written!
Saturday, 13th June, 1964: LAGOS
According to the itinerary, the meeting with Lagos branch was to be held on the 9th June, 1964. But Lagos did not welcome the idea of meeting them and Apapa on same day. Besides they wanted a week-end (Saturday) and requested the party to stay till the week-end. The request was conceded even before the tour was begun. Necessary amendments had, therefore, to be made to the itinerary.
At 4.50 p.m., it was all set at the Cool Cats Inn, Abule Nla Road, Ijero, Ebute Metta, West. Seeing was believing! The first impressive sight which portended unqualified success for this function was the array of cars belonging to Urhobo attending the function. So many cars there were!! Surely, it was quite different from the days when Chief Mowoe was the only car-owner in Urhobo land! That was the first happy note of contentment.
The organization of the reception itself in the gardens of the Inn was superb. The weather was agreeable as even the elements were in favour. It all looked like a summer fete in a sunflower garden. The gay, fashionable Urhobo dresses, the bright yellow uniform dresses of the Okpe “Juri” dancers, blending beautifully with the decorations of the Inn’s garden, made the whole show most colourful.
And what about the people’s mood? The place was packed full and any one who was anybody in Lagos-Urhobo world was there. There was spree, there was sprite!
On the arrival of the President-General with his entourage, and with everybody standing, the Urhobo song -“URHOBO JEVWE” – which had virtually become Urhobo National Anthem, was solemnly rendered. After the President-General and his entourage had been conducted to their seats, prayer was said by Chief J. O. Akpoche, erstwhile President, now Patron, of the branch. Then followed introduction of the Officers of the branch, the representatives of clans, and other local leaders, including leading Urhobo women of Lagos.
The chairmen made an opening speech after which a Welcome Address beautifully set in an album was read by the Honorary Secretary, Mr. M. P. Okumagba. Mrs. T. Fofah, wife of the President of the branch, graciously presented, on behalf of the Union, a purse of £10. 10/-. While drinks were being profusely served, the Okpe “Juri” dancers entertained the gathering.
The President-General then made what had been described in some quarters as a marathon speech in his reply to the Welcome Address. Mr. Okumagba, the Honorary Secretary, said that he had estimated that the President-General’s speech would take two hours. And co-incidentally, the speech took two hours and a few minutes. As at Ibadan, the President-General took the opportunity to clear the air about the so-much-talked of disintegration within the Union.
The President-General on behalf of himself and his touring team congratulated and thanked Lagos, not only for the elaborate function held, but also the comfortable lodging arrangement made for him and his entourage. They found the Bryden family to be ideal hosts in all respects.
The historic function was brought to a close at 7.30p.m. One of the many photographs taken at the function was published in the Morning Post.
Lagos was the end of the journey. The party was to return home calling only at Okitipupa. But the withdrawal of the big car from the road had at once created a transport problem. As Hon. J. E. Ukueku was in town, he kindly assisted to carry two servants and a suit case. Fares were given to two others in the party to travel back home in a passenger lorry.
Sunday, 14th June, 1964: OKITIPUPA
Just before noon, the President-General accompanied by Mrs. Salubi and the Under-Secretary, set off for Okitipupa, arriving at 5.50 p.m. Again, Okitipupa was not quite ready. They got the message through Mr. Moses Akatakpo, but they were not certain of the hour of arrival.
Within a short period however, a strong team of Urhobo women dancers had been mustered. The procession came to Chief Abaide’s house from where the President-General and his entourage were led to the Central Hotel for reception. The attendance was very heavy.
Following opening prayers and introduction of the local leaders, a group photograph was taken. The usual drinks and the sum of £3. 3/- were presented and accepted.
Chief J. E Abaide, former President of the Union, and Chairman of the occasion, made the opening speech. He congratulated the President-General for being able to undertake the tour, and welcome him and his party to Okitipupa. There was a special reason also why the President-General should be thanked. Were he some other person, said Chief Abaide, he would not have bothered to make a repeat visit to Okitipupa since the first visit flopped. The repeat visit was an indication of the President-General’s love and affection for Urhobo people in general and Okitipupa Urhobo in particular.
The next speaker was Mr. Ambrose Adjile, the Otota (Spokesman) of Urhobo people in Okitipupa. Mr. Adjile had a point to clarify. He had heard it being said that their failure to meet the President-General during his first visit was due to some three reasons. The first was said to be due to disrespect to the President-General because of his party political leanings with the M.D.E., the second, the visit of Dr. M. I. Okpara, National President of N.C.N.C., which coincided with the date on which the President-General first arrived Okitipupa, and third, the inactivity of the branch itself.
Mr. Adjile denied emphatically that any of the three reasons was responsible. The reason of their previous failure had to do their sending a telegram to advise police ban on dancing, procession and public gathering in the area. Whatever criticisms any one might have to make against the President-General, one fact about him remained forever true, and that was that he was a tried and proved patriot who had worked for many years in the interest and well-being of Urhobo people everywhere. Even if it were only on that account, they (the people of Okitipupa) could not imagine his visiting Okitipupa without according him a most fitting reception. And no Urhobo befitting welcome was complete without the booming of guns, processing and dancing. And yet those were the very things prohibited by the Police ban! That was why, he concluded, they advised cancellation of the visit.
In his response, the president General assured the audience that he accepted the explanation without any reservation. In a more serious mood, the President-General delved into the history of the formation of the Okitipupa branch. The late Chief W. E. Mowarin, who was a distinct member of Lagos branch, founded the branch with Mr. (now Chief) J. B. Ojuederie as the first Honorary Secretary, and Mowarin himself the first President. Okitipupa was a very active branch whose contributed to the work of the Union as a whole could not be under-rated. The branch had had a glorious past.
Having regard to the large number of Urhobo people in the Ikale country, the length of their domicile in the area, and also to the fact that Okitipupa was the headquarters of the Ikale country, there was no reason at all why there should not be a strong, virile and vigilant branch there to safeguard Urhobo interests.
The President-General told his audience that he left home fully cognizant of the fact that Okitipupa had been defunct for many years now. One of the principal objects of his tour, he declared, was to revive inactive, moribund and even defunct branches. What report could he give on returning home? That when he got to Okitipupa he was very generously entertained but that the branch was defunct, and that he was unable to do anything about it!! Who would award him any credit for such a report?!! He therefore suggested that the remedy for the situation must be found that might and at that gathering. Okitipupa branch must be re-established, declared the President-General.
The President-General remarked that he understood that the Okitipupa Urhobo were a strong active people in party politics. However, he admonished them to ensure that party politics did not rend them in twain, especially in an issue or issues affecting the overall interests of Urhobo as a whole. In conclusion, the President-General thanked the people for their warm reception and generosity.
At this stage, the Chairman invited Mr. Peter Arhere to speak. Mr. Arhere associated himself with previous speakers in thanking the President-General for his visit which was a great honour to all of them. He made the point that it was true that at one stage the U.P.U. in Okitipupa became weak. But that it was not that weakness that “killed” the Union. To the best of his knowledge, it was the development of Clan Unions that “killed” the Union. It came to a point where each clan had its own Union. By reason of paternal and maternal connections, many of them in the U.P.U. became members of two or even three Clan Unions in addition to their U.P.U. membership. Since those with no offices in the U.P.U. found it easier to secure offices in the Clan Unions, they devoted their full energy to the Clan Unions. That was the breaking point. He was in favour of re-establishing the Okitipupa branch.
The next person called upon to speak was Mr. Gregory A. Akpede. Mr. Akpede disclosed that he was the Honorary Secretary when the branch died off. He felt ashamed to say this because no one likes his name to be associated with anything evil. He would like to disclose further that since the “death” of the Union, Chief J. E. Abaide had been constantly requesting him to do something so that he Union might be revived. He was sorry to say that the nature of his present business did not give him time to attend to the matter up till now.
While agreeing with others that the branch be re-established, yet he felt that the matter be brought before a full meeting of the local residents after the President-General had gone. In this connection, he would like to say in advance that, if and when re-established, he would not be in a position to hold office purely because of his present business commitments. He however assured the President-General and all present of his full mora1 and financial support.
At this juncture, the Under-Secretary suggested that since all the speakers agreed on re-establishing the branch, a formal resolution to do so should be taken and then, a small committee to implement the resolution set up. Following this sensible suggestion, the Chairman called for a resolution that he branch be re-established. When put to the gathering, the resolution was unanimously carried amidst applause. The following were appointed to constitute the committee that was to work in order to give effect to the resolution. Chief J. E. Abaide, Mr. Peter Arhere, Mr. Gregory Akpede and Mr. Ambrose Adjile.
A complaint made by Okitipupa people was that their children had no chance of admission to Urhobo College. They therefore requested that Okitipupa be made a centre for the College’s Entrance Examination. In noting the compliant and request, the President-General explained the conditions for establishing an Examination Centre in any area. If they could guarantee that at least ten students would be available to take the examination each year, they should then apply to the Entrance and Scholarships Board to be made a centre.
The rest of the time was devoted to singing and dancing by the women, later joined by the men. The occasion was eventually brought to a close at 8.30 p.m. after the closing prayer.
After a most sumptuous dinner at Chief Abaide’s house, the guests were billeted at different places for the night. The President-General and his wife were allocated to Mr. O. A. Odjurhe where they had a most comfortable night.
Monday, 15th June, 1964
At 10.am., the President-General and party accompanied by Chief Abaide, Gregory Akpede, Mr. Odjurhe and others, paid a courtesy call on Chief J. Safeyini Olayeye, the Petu of Idepe, member of the Senate. The Ahaba of Ajagba who was absent when visited at Ajagba was met here with his brother Chief. Chief Olayeye was pleased to meet, for the first time, the President-General about whom he had heard and read so much. He must confess, he said, that the President-General’s fame was by far “greater” then this person. He had thought that the person called Salubi would be a very, very big man physically speaking. However it was enough that he was so big in fame, reputation and moral caliber!
The Ikale people and the Urhobo immigrants of the Ikale country had lived together for many years. As human beings, there were times when they quarrelled, but it was true to say that, on the whole, they had lived happily together. He was particularly impressed by the visit of the President-General to meet his people. Not many people in the President-General’s position could find the time to devote to the object that brought him there. The President-General was a great man and his goodwill visit to his people was an unmistakable indication of his greatness.
As a souvenir, the Chief presented a white, beaded-handle horse-tail (ujujo) to the President-General with the sum of £1. 1/-. After a short speech in which the Chief’s kind generosity was duly acknowledged, the visitors bade goodbye. Upon getting to main road, the President-General and party said goodbye to Chief Abaide and others. The homeward journey began at once. There being no hitch at all on the way, the President-General and party arrived home (Ovu) safely at 4.50p.m. The Under-Secretary was then taken to Warri. And here then ends the account of this interesting and historic tour of the branches of the Urhobo Progress Union in Mid-Western Nigeria, Western Nigeria and the Federal Territory of Lagos. Praise be to God.
1 In the 1964 General Election into the Midwestern House of Assembly, Chief T. E. A. Salubi’s opponent was Mr. Mitaire Unurhoro, a prominent Okpara lawyer who lost to Chief Salubi. Mr. Unurhoro later became a distinguished judge of Bendel State High Court. – Peter Ekeh, Editor.