Background History of the Post the President-General

Urhobo Historical Society

Background History of the Post of President-General of Urhobo Progress Union
and His Responsibility to Tour the Union’s Branches

By Chief T. E. A. Salubi

I.   Institution of the Honorable Office of President-General
At a meeting for the election of officers of the Home Union [at Warri] held on the 19th February, 1937, it was proposed that the office of President-General be created for the Urhobo Progress Union as a whole. Some members suggested that after creation, Chief Mukoro Mowoe should be appointed to that office. Other members suggested that the Chief be appointed a Patron of the Union. Those who were opposed to the later suggestion argued that in its true application to clubs or organizations, the patron was an honorary person who, more often than not, took little or no active part in the day-to-day affairs of such organization.

In order, therefore, to retain the valuable services, internal and external, which the Union had hitherto enjoyed from Chief Mowoe, it was unanimously agreed, subject of course to favourable opinion of branches, that he should be appointed President-General. Accordingly, a circular-letter was sent out to ascertain whether or not branches were in favour of the proposal.
In a letter dated 25th May, 1937, Lagos branch, of which I was then the Honorary Secretary, replied that, in principle, it was in entire agreement and “declared with all sincerity that none worthier than Mukoro Mowoe Esq., our esteemed Leader and patriot, will wear the General’s crown.” The branch, however, suggested that since the Home Union’s circular-letter was out to sound the branch’s minds with a view to knowing in advance their feelings, the matter be referred to the General Council which was the proper place for its discussion and settlement. That being its opinion, the branch respectfully submitted that the matter be deferred till the next General Council when the Rules of the Union would be appropriately amended and Chief Mowoe inducted thereafter. The Lagos Branch added, also by way of suggestion, that to mark the occasion of such a high elevation, some sort of a formal ceremony by all branches should be held.

In its reply, Enugu, in my view, made a few sensible, salient, but perhaps untimely suggestions as follows:

(i)      “That the office be open only to any worthy or deserving member resident in Warri Township or environs.

(ii)    “That if need be the holder is expected to make annual tour of all the branches of U.P.U.

(iii)   “That, if the suggestion in (ii) above proves practicable, the home Union or the Branches so visited will be responsible for the expenses for such tours or a special fund be opened for the purpose”.

There was a general acceptance of the proposal by all branches, and although the Home Union agreed with Lagos that the matter be brought up for finalizing at the next General Council, it made the following proclamation at its meeting of the 25th June, 1937:

“Whereas in the meeting of the HOME UNION held on the 19th of February, 1937, at which a suggestion was made to elect MR. MUKORO MOWOE  as PRESIDENT-GENERAL for the Urhobo Progress Union as a whole and:

“Whereas this suggestion on being circularized to the different branches of the Union, it received the general approval of all the Branches, the following resolution has been passed in the Meeting of the HOME UNION held on 25th June, 1937, on motion by Mr. J. A. Obahor seconded by Mr. G.K. Ezewu:

Be It Resolved:

“That this General Meeting of the Home Union hereby proclaim Mukoro Mowoe Esq., as PRESIDENT-GENERAL of the Urhobo Progress Union as a whole and to be duly installed as such at the forth-coming Meeting of the General Council at which all the Branches will be represented.

          The Home Union ended its letter conveying the above resolution to Branches with these words:

“My Union desires me to inform you that as the fore-going suggestions will come up for discussion at the next session of the General Council, it is quite necessary that every Branch should discuss them before-hand and leave its opinion with its delegates for the General council. Any other suggestion regarding the nature of the duties of the President-General will be welcome; such suggestions, of course, will have to await the next sitting of the Council.”

This was, of course, a contradiction of the spirit and letter of the above resolution.

It will be noted that all along, the desirability of creating the office of President-General for the whole Union was being considered almost exclusively on the basis of the personal merits of Chief Mukoro Mowoe. But there was another equally important reason for the creation of such a high and responsible office which was completely over-sighted. It could only mean so to any one studying and analyzing the situation at this distant date since all relevant records on the subject showed nothing to suggest that this important aspect of the need for the creation of the office was, in its own right, ever considered.

 The important reason to which I am alluding is this. The expansion of the Union which began a few years after Chief Mukoro Mowoe  assumed office as President, Warri, in succession to Mr. Omorohwovo Okoro, the first President, created a number of administrative problems especially in regard to coordination and over-all supervision of the activities of the many branches that had sprung up in different parts of the county. Following that development, and in the absence of a central machinery to cope with the new situation, Warri branch naturally assumed the role of headquarters, or as was often referred to, of a “Home Union or Mother Union”. While the Honourary Secretary at Warri maintained correspondent with the various outside branches, there was no central office the holder of which was to take the responsibility of over-seeing the whole field of the activities of all the branches and of co-coordinating them. The vacuum existed until 1944 when provision was made for a Central executive e committee.

 The office was however created and Lagos branch had the honour of drafting the rules regarding the duties attaching to it. The draft was adopted at the 1937 General council. The text of the adopted draft is reproduced, as follows.

1.      The President-General shall by virtue of his superior office take precedence of Presidents of all branches of the Urhobo Progress Union.

2.      Any persons elected to this office shall hold it for a period not exceeding 5 years from the date of this election. Subject to satisfactory behaviour and good work, such a holder may, however, be re-elected for a number of terms.

3.      If the Union in Council has any reason to believe that the conduct, behaviour, movement and or the general discipline of the holder of this office is such as will militate in any form or shape against the general interest, welfare and progress of any branch or of the Union as a whole, the General council shall have power to impeach such a holder, and if he is found guilty by majority vote, he shall be dealt with according to the gravity of the offence. The general council shall be the competent body to exercise the above power.  

4(a)   It shall be the duty of the President-General to make, at least, one tour of inspection to each of the branches of the Urhobo Progress Union in 5 years.

(b)  He shall preside at any meeting of any branch at which he is present; for every visit made, either officially or privately, he shall sign either the Minutes Book, the Log Book or the Visitor’s Book which ever is being kept by the branch so visited.

(c)   He shall forward a copy of his itinerary to reach each branch of the Union one month before the date of commencement.

(d)  The President-General shall be one of the persons to operate the Scholarship and the Urhobo National Funds.

The above definition of the President-General’s duties was, as has already been said, adopted at the 1937 General Council and inserted into the Union’s Rules as an amendment. The duties remained unchanged for some 19 years, that is to say up to 1956, when in that ear, the Rules (now constitution) were enlarged. In my view, some of the new duties were unnecessarily irrelevant and other appeared to be impracticable. The aspect of the revised edition which is more relevant to my subject is the provision which says:

“.. where in the best interest of the Union an |occasion” (sic)” demands, he can tour,

“accompanied by the Principal Secretary to any “branch or branches of the Union….”

Contrary to the original provision which makes it a duty on the President-General to make, at least, one tour of inspection to each of the branches of the Union once in 5 years, the revised edition does not require the President-General to tour at all, except under certain specific conditions. Even under those conditions, he may not tour!

I consider this revised provision a serious departure from the spirit which animated the original provision, and, in fact a defeat of its purpose. The position should, I suggest, be corrected in the third edition of the Constitution the preparation of which is now well under way.

So much for this historical exercise.

II   Chief Mukoro Mowoe’s Tour, 1946

Following the Union’s decision to found a national college and the re-election of Chief Mowoe as President-General for a second term of office at the 1942 Annual General Council, the Council decided that the President-General, accompanied by the General Secretary and the General Financial Secretary, should tour to all branches in April, 1943, with the primary object of preaching the gospel of the Education Fund so as to facilitate the collection of funds. It was further decided that the traveling expenses of the Chief and his entourage be borne by branches visited or alternately, the expenses should be debited to the National Fund. The proposed tour did not however take place and nothing was heard again about touring unit 1944.

At the 1944 Annual General Council, a Committee was appointed to consider the question of transport expenses with respect to the President-General’s tour. The committee recommended and the Council approved that £200 should be earmarked for the tour. When, however, the tour was discussed at the first meeting of the executive council held on the 18th July, 1945, the General Treasurer informed the meeting that the council’s approval of £200 was subject to the Union’s financial ability. He feared that the Union would be unable to find any money for the purpose and suggested therefore that each branch should be responsible for the cost of transport. Should a branch fail to meet the cost, the alternative was to spend money from the £200 voted. Winding up, the President-General asked the Council to leave the aside the question of expenditure that would be incurred.

In respect of the first lap of the Chief’s tour, i.e., South-Western Provinces, it would appear that an allocation of £80 towards expenses was made. Out of that sum, £54:6:7d was expended on such items as transport, type-writer, stationery, telegrams, food and drinks, etc. One may reasonably assume that the balance of £25:13:5d was held against the second lap of the tour, i.e., Northern and eastern Provinces. Unfortunately, there is no record in file showing a statement of expenditure in respect of this part of the tour. In any case, it seems that the total expenditure for the whole tour did not amount to anything near the £200 previously earmarked by the Council for the purpose.

Chief Mowoe was to have begun the tour from the 15th to the 27th August, and the 10th to the 19th September, 1945. Owing, however, to strained relationship between Lagos branch and the Home Union at that time, the tour was cancelled and never undertaken until April, 1946.

Thus, the first country-wide tour of the branches of the Union was undertaken some 18 years ago by the President-General, Chief Mukoro Mowoe, of blessed memory. The tour was undertaken on the 9th year of his tenure, dying in harness two years later.

For the purpose of his tour, Chief Mowoe divided the country into two parts, namely, the South-Western Provinces and the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The first part of the tour (Southern-Western Provinces) was undertaken from the 4th to the 18th April, 1946, and the second from the 25th November to the 22nd December, 1946. Chief Mowoe’s tour, as I have already said, was for a definite purpose, i.e., to raise funds for what was then known as the Urhobo National Education Scheme. In his letter of appeal for funds issued to braches and Urhobo communities before starting the tour, Chief Mowoe said:

“… The Urhobo Progress Union has for a long time been contributing money to an Urhobo education fund. Many suggestions have been made as to the best use we could put the fund. At first we wanted to build only schools. As time went on and we say how the high posts in the Government and Mercantile Houses were being filled by members of other Nigerian tribes with University and professional education, the Urhobo Progress Union decided that the Fund with the purpose of (a) establishing an Urhobo National College for the education of our children; and (b) giving University education to deserving youth to become teachers in our National College and professional education to other youths to qualify them for high posts in the county. Two young men Messrs M. G. Ejaife and E. N. Igho have been sent to Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone and Cambridge University, England, respectively, under the scheme. When they come back they will be the first teachers in our National College. Mr. M. G. Ejaife who left Nigeria in 1944 has passed two examinations already and will proceed to England this year for further studies. E. N. Igho has not completed a year in England and we hope to hear good news of his progress in Cambridge University”.

At the time of Chief Mowoe’s tour, there were according to record, 34 branches in existence. But if Sobe and Ipetu-Ijesha, which were shown in the Chief’s tour report as branches, were included, there would, therefore, appear to be altogether about 36 braches of the Union at that time. Chief Mowoe’s tour did not include the 13 branches of the Union then existing in Urhobo land (now Urhobo Division) nor did it cover the branches at Forcados, Burutu, Koko and Abigi in Ijebu Province. Of a total of 23 places actually covered in the South-Western and the Northern-Eastern Provinces, during the Chief’s tour, 18 were branches of the Union and 5 were centres where Urhobo communities resided.

Chief Mukoro Mowoe’s tour was a huge success financially and otherwise. Altogether, the Urhobo Education Fund benefited to the tune of £1,149:17:11d. — £736:1:0d from the South-Western Provinces (including Warri) and £413:16:11 from Northern-Eastern Provinces. Clearly, that task which involved a great deal of personal discomfort and self-sacrifice was one of the finest jobs which the Chief, our late lamented first President-General of beloved memory, did for the Urhobo nation during his tenure of office. And the following well-known lines occur to mind as I write:

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime
And departing, leave behind us,
Foot prints on the sands of time1

It is on record that Chief J. A. Okpodu, who succeeded Chief Mowoe, at first in an acting capacity, proposed in November, 1953, a six-day tour of branches of the Union in Urhobo Division. The object of this proposed tour appeared to be entirely unconnected with Chief Mowoe’s. According to Chief Okpodu’s circular-letter to the Braches, he was to discuss with them “all salient matters affecting the welfare of the Union, including the creation of a National Hall and Rest House at the Headquarters.”

Apart from two notices canceling appointment for his visits on the 21st and the 22nd November, 1953, no other record as to what else happened, generally, about the proposed tour was seen. But the Chief himself informed me that he did tour to one or two branches in Udu and Ughievwen clan area.

It has always been the wish or the Union in Council that the President-General of the Union should tour to all branches of the Union. Apart form Chief Okpodu’s efforts referred to above, no President-General visited the branches of the Union since 1946! In April, 1964, however, I, Chief T. E. A. Salubi, as the present President-General, decided to undertake a tour of the branches of the Union. I began the tour on the 31st May, 1964, visiting Kwale as the first Branch.

1 This verse is from the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882). – Peter Ekeh, Editor.


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