|URHOBO HISTORICAL SOCIETY|
|WARRI, URHOBO AND THE NIGERIAN NATION|
|By D. A. OBIOMAH|
REACH FOR THE DREAM
Of the nineteen Local Governments in Delta State, Urhobos occupy six exclusively without any admixture with other ethnic indigenes. Warri has two local governments, Warri South and Warri North. Apart from ltsekiris Warri South includes, indigenous Urhobos who are not indigenes of the other six Urhobo Local Government Areas. Warri North includes Itsekiris, and Ijaws who are not indigenes of the two Ijaw Local Government Areas of Bomadi and Burutu. The two Local Governments, Warri North and Warri South are, by Government policy de facto Itsekiri Local Governments. This means that the Urhobos of Warri South Local Governments have no, or are denied participation in the Local Government Area to which they are indigenous. Because they do not belong to the other six Local Government Areas designated as Urhobo Local Government Areas they have no representation there at whether at local government, State or National levels. That is, within their natural doors they are in a foreign land. They are a people without practical citizenship in the matter of rights and privileges. The State Government in appointing Commissioners to the State Executive Council would appoint from the geographical area of the six Urhobo Local Government Areas for Urhobo. Also an Itsekiri is appointed from tile Warri South (or Warri North) Local Government Area to represent Itsekiri interest as a tribe. All questions about Warri South Local Government Area go by right of government policy to the Itsekiri Commissioner, not to any Urhobo Commissioner. The Itsekiri Commissioner maintains only Itsekiri interest in Warri South Local Government Area to the exclusion of two Urhobo Clans, Agbarha and Okere (The Ijaws of Warri North suffer similar misfortune). Also, since the Olu of Warri (by title only, not Olu of all the peoples) is the only recognised Traditional Ruler in Warri South the Council can by law consent or report to him for information and he on his own initiative can advise the Council in any matter — employment, staff movements, development etc. – a situation which leads to apartheid, Council functionaries being themselves protégés of the Olu or his Itsekiri opponents for power, consequently, Urhobos who actually form the majority population of tile largely urban Warri South Local Government Area remain a long-suffering, neglected, minority as it were.
The popular refrain goes like this. No. As Urhobos we cannot do this because we would be accused of using our population hence oppressing a smaller population; as Urhobos we cannot do that or else we would be accused of flourishing our wealth hence, swamping the lesser population; as Urhobos we cannot do this or else we would be accused of monopolising opportunities, even when Urhobos have assumed less than 50% of their entitlement. No, if we help the Agbarha Clan openly we would be accused of using our might against the Itsekiri tribe, or, we would lose the electoral support of pro-Itsekiri non-Urhobos, implying, pity our own people have to roast. Such is the burden of diffidence and sometimes insincerity that constantly injects Urhobo with stupor making their good intentions passive, flat-footed, wishful thinking. Indeed, the policy of secret help may be a dangerous subterfuge for nothing done or some evil done.
Nobody is urging any evil against Itsekiris. Why should just action have to be conducted clandestinely as if dissociating from it?
Thus while Urhobo cry out that they are dominated minority in national matters and require redress, they either do little or nothing, or actually increase the burden of their fellow Urhobos in Warri. There is neglect or lack of scruples when political horse-trading takes the place of principles. During the bargaining, Warri Urhobos and their territory could be treated as trade items by some Urhobos for their convenience. In this setting without commitment, how may an amorphous National Conference provide the answer to the troubles of the minority Urhobos in Warri when within the Urhobo ethnic group the rich and powerful do not understand the problem, or else they could strike one blow and go to sleep or could themselves ride roughshod over weaker units?
In order for Urhobos to have a programme of action some of the questions calling for vigorous and persistent action may be listed as:
- Who in Nigeria is an indigene of a place?
- Who is an indigene of Warri Town?
- Who owns the land?
- In relation to overlordship and traditional rulership, whose custom and tradition are called into question?
- Does a judicial wrong subsist in Warri? In consequence, are not Urhobos due for restitution? Has this been pursued, putting Urhobos on the offensive rather than being ever on the defensive?
- Is the issue of a solution now judicial or political? What do Urhobos do with their political clout?
- What showing have Urhobos again made since 1952? Was the focus of that crisis the determination to rescue Warri Urhobos? Has Itsekiri hostility abated with Urhobos at peace since the name Warri Province was changed to Delta Province? Or were Urhobos lulled into a fool’s paradise?
- Does Apartheid reign in Warri?
- How are elections conducted here?
The Warri problem has the Agbarha people as its pivot. The Agbarha suffer daily deprivation and humiliation. But the Warri problem is not therefore an exclusive Agbarha problem in which Urhobo effort is favor done to the Agbarha people. It is part of a major problem posed by colonialism and from which Urhobos fought to extricate themselves, but failed to recognise its full import, so they dealt with it only partially. As of now it subsists with Warri as the octopus with its tentacles on Urhobo heart and vitals to sting as necessary. That is to say the Warri problem represents the Achilles heel of the Urhobos, for the practiced Goebels of Itsekiri ambition for supremacy, to subvert Urhobo interest. So the problem crops tip if Urhobos desire a state capital, the creation of a new state, a specific national appointment, say, in OMPADCC (Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission) you name it. Yet, rather absurdly, one hears Urhobos say that they actually have no grouse with the ltsekiris. The sooner they learn the contrary, change their attitude and work with the Agbarha people the better for the liberation of the Agbarha and the Urhobo people. There is no respite for the Urhobos so long as the Agbarha problem remains unresolved.
Section 140( 1) of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Constitution 1979, states that “Nigeria shall be a State based on the principle of democracy and social justice.”
Democracy implies, oil the one hand, representation that is not discriminatory or undermined by favouritism and, oil the other free and fair elections. If Urhobos are not sensitive to these basics whose absence is integral .with the local Warri problem involving people with whom they have affinity, how can they share the enormity of the minority problem nationwide with all its complexities and be able to stick out their necks against steam-roller majorities in the search for solutions to the pain, as opposed to social justice, of people of other ethnic origin? The more that is in our own eye is a prosecutor.
Also section 140(2) (c) of the 1979 Constitution says that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government” How can the welfare of the Urhobos of Warri South Local Government Area be said to be the primary purpose of government when participation by these people in their government is denied or heavily circumscribed? The plight of the national minorities, especially minorities of the oil producing areas being ominously thundered now, stems from this lack of welfare of the people in breach of the unjustifiable provisions of the Constitution. The consequence to the nation of such neglect is a fall in productivity, unemployment, a plummeting ill educational standard, souring crime, hence the growth of insecurity among other ills. What do individuals want for themselves as Nigerians? These must be the social contract embedded in the Constitution. Urhobos want no more for themselves as Urhobos. Let them therefore lead the way as champions of the Constitution without waiting until what happened in the house of the fowl comes to happen in the house of the goat because the latter was reticent when he should have spoken out.
What service to Nigeria do the individuals or else individual peoples owe to the Nation? It is to promote and nourish the good health of the nation. Therefore let Urhobo involvement in national matters not be as if they were going to a casino. And if government is not to be a gamblers’ cartel it follows that “to thine own self be true”. How true to themselves Urhobos are in Urhoboland is the glowing or gloomy credential they take with them to the national polity.
So, what do Urhobos need among themselves? How much thoughtfulness, honour and rectitude is there in their adjudication or in their quest or ascendancy? The issues of attitude having been resolved what machinery is there to foster right attitude for it to surge out into the open for national involvement?
By urgently looking inwards Urhobos will be challenging themselves for National service if they endeavour to understand and to act conscientiously on the Warri Question, a peculiar case study. There is however, regarding the Warri Question, a curious obstacle in the form of superficial as well preconceived notions. When Urhobos show occasional will to act there are the vociferous or influential ones who think they know all about the problem, so its victims have no need to be consulted, or they have to be told impatiently where their shoe pinches them. After all the funds are being provided by the Moguls. As when foreign companies defended their indigenisation effort by declaring their staff to be made up of 90% indigenes and only 10% expatriates when in fact this was 90% hands and 10% expatriate heads, so did private interests within the old UPU and now also within the new UPU cajole and flatter ignorant persons among Agbarha to sign documents injurious to their cause but serving the parochial whims of the ambitious pashas, who then claim that they had Agbarha consent and endorsement. The situation is worse at political party levels where knowledge is more vague. The result is wrong solutions which fail, with money lost, while the authors commend themselves on yet another failed effort, concluding that they have worked hard enough on a problem therefore regarded as insurmountable. Thus, they frustrate themselves and their prospective beneficiaries, as well as inhibiting future effort. Hence, it cannot be over-emphasized that systematic study as of changing weather and singularity of purpose in assault are necessary factors for success whether for internal or wider national minority problems.
Hence the question, are Urhobo Clans equal as stated in the Constitution? As servants of one another do they and can they trust one another? Is there equal opportunity for the Clans or do any serve others as baits for their fishing hooks? If there is hesitation about the answers to these questions what binds. Urhobos in a common bond outside the cultural dances and a common name? If Urhobos cannot be sensitive and fair about themselves what are their credentials to do so to other ethnic groups and individuals? Warri exemplifies in microcosm the national problems of minorities, neglect and not belonging.
The National Question
Nigeria today is face to face with times that throw up opportunities that seldom come again, times that test discernment, the will to choose and the courage to act.
Urhobos must now identify their opportunity and “take the current when it serves” The foremost armour is that commodity which is the rarest in the Nigerian nation today, probity, without which altruism cannot grow and without which there can be no true sacrifice, no saints, no martyrs, no heroes, only bland history.
At present all desire probity as the hall-mark of governance. But fraud and dishonesty have taken so strong a hold on the country that skepticism is widespread to the affect that the malaise has come to stay and is ineradicable. Therefore anyone, not a contractor, who is prepared and able to brave the odds to success is tomorrow’s hero whose name is destined for the hall of fame. Where is the brave man? Do Urhobos own such a sacrifice, can they support such a one even if he were poor as Jean Baptist Aristides? Also, can they provide worthy minds and actors generally? That is the call of this country now to all its peoples. Do Urhobos want to answer this call or will they rather scamper as disparate groups and individuals undercutting one another ending up with a mess of potage? If URHOBO, the name of the whole, must be used as a platform the standard bearers must be persons who can treat for the interest of the whole of URHOBO. Similarly, if we cry NIGERIA, our standard bearers must be seen to answer first and foremost for the general good from which all else derive their individual good. URHOBO cannot then be forsaken or left out. If Urhobos have nothing special to offer as minorities in vain shall they cry of the oppression of the majorities. Thus, well has it been said that minorities thrive by excellence.
Are Urhobos ready to go into self-examination and refurbish themselves for the moral leadership of the fatherland?
Reach For the Dream
However, to wait in order to become immaculately clean before acting is to stagnate. That is not advocated. It is enough to establish the parameters of moral expectations and labour to have those with the closest qualification and who have been sent forward to bear the torch to act within that framework. The upshot would be building Urhobos up as great men and building the nation great at the same time.
Hence let Urhobos not join those who erroneously claim that Nigeria is a mistake colonialism, a geographical expression and all that is uncomplimentary. Such is a confession of failure. As a fact, the colonialists did not come for our good but as some tritely generalised, for our goods. Yet in the process of carting off our goods we as Nigerians received incidental good. Of these the Lugardian Amalgamation of 1914 is monumental. Opprobrium for Lugard must therefore be seen as a mere subterfuge for our failure, through our own crooked indolence to polish and burnish the monument that is a pyramid in gold.
As far as a national character can be identified for Nigerians, North or South, East or West they love size, they love pomp and grandeur. These are the same characteristics of the geographical expression that is Nigeria. In this geography are size in land, men and matters, riches above the ground as under it. No amount of greed can swallow up so much without bloating and bursting in gluttony. This perhaps more than anything else give Nigeria its resilience defying known economic laws by which it should long ago have been brought to her knees. But she goes on, even in style. So, what strong reasons are there for breaking up what we ought to cultivate?
The Fateful Aberration
On January 15th 1966, the first Military coup in Nigeria took place up to 1967 when the Eastern Region seceded as Biafra and the civil war began there was much talk and effort to make a new constitution for the country. By June, 1966, Chief Obafemi Awolowo had written and published Thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution.
Before proceeding to argue vigorously for federalism as the system best suited for Nigeria rather than unitarism he canvases thirty-two evils which he says were attributed to the First Republic and were the causes of its failure. Awolowo concludes:
“For the time being, we are in honesty bound to admit that what really incensed, outraged and exhausted the patience of our people and led inevitably to the January revolution is not those defects in the constitution which we have fully enumerated. The former are objective evils which are comparatively easy to eradicate; but the latter are subjective in that they arise from human propensities to evil-doing and do not lend themselves to easy treatment. It is certainly going to be very difficult to exercise these propensities by constitutional or legislative enactments.”
Professor F. Drucker agrees with Chief Awolowo when he says that “the ultimate criterion of managerial competence is more moral than technical”.
But in stating his solution under the chapter PRO BONO PATRIAE (for the good of the country) Chief Awolowo concludes with this astonishing statement at page 102 by which he places reliance on the technical rather than the moral:
“Our objectives are now clear and unmistakable, federalism; democracy; good leadership; socialism; these four, but the most urgent of them is – Federalism”.
Here lies the core of the National Question going back to the beginnings of time. Could it be that Chief Awolowo saw that the mantle of leadership would fall next on him so that the question of leadership was to him settled? Since the publication of “Thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution” by Chief Awolowo the former four regions of Nigeria have been further broken up first into twelve states then into nineteen, then into thirty States. But our problems have not left us mainly because the essential malaise is not touched. Indeed it had been alleged that, among others a moral issue was the immediate cause which broke Chief Awolowo and Chief Akintola and then their Action Group Party.
Our pre-Independence leaders did earn independence for Nigeria. Their era ends there. Or else, thereafter they took divergent routes to entrench themselves perversely in the control of the juicy apple that is British Nigeria. Zik leading the N.C.N.C. (National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, later restyled…. of Nigerian Citizens) was the closest, at least, initially, to the ideal of forging national unity. The Action Group led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief Bode Thomas were arch regionalists regarding the non-Yoruba minorities in their regions as retainers. The N.P.C. (Northern People’s Congress) led by Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sarduana of Sokoto showed in no unmistaken terms in the stated aims and objectives of NPC (that it had the North as its means to continue Othman Dan Fodio’s conquering march southward to the sea, a dream that has done much harm to the fatherland. Even of the consolation that was Dr. Azikiwe’s leadership, Mokwugo Okoye in raging anger had blustered in his book, A letter to Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (1969) at pages 80, 82.
- “The experiences of self-seeking, hesitant and treacherous leadership sacrificing the grand fruits of the struggle at the dreary altar of fear and egoism, the chilling effects of regionalism and political jobbery, corruption and unfulfilled pledges have tended to disillusion the great masses of the people. Much of the inter-tribal hatred and distrust that exists in Nigeria today is the artificial creation of visionless political tin-gods who see in the stirring up of primordial ethnic sentiments their only chance to power and influence”
- “It is wrong therefore for Nigerian leaders to seek to transform the old colonial formula of decentralisation of administration into water-tight regionalism so that each ambitious pasha may have his own sphere of influence”
These views expressed twenty-five year ago remain fresh and applicable to the present day. Such was the beginning of the new era of Post Independence Nigeria. It was not a good beginning if a good beginning is indeed half way to victory. It is not surprising, therefore, that the situation is even worse today, what with the military endlessly in office, initially to correct current ills which they multiply, offering them further reasons to succeed themselves until the Northern pasha only remains, the others having been bowled out of the power ninepins and the country brought under a more or less unitary government with a facade of federalism under which the story of rapine and parochialism is daily invigorated.
Therefore, we need a new and sincere voice strenuous against injustice, strenuous for a Great Nigeria! That should be the platform and high water-mark of protest against bankrupt governance, not a retreat into ruling in hell rather than serving in heaven.
Albeit we have not been without dreamers of great charisma. Among these were Herbert Macaulay, Wizard of Kirsten Hall (his house in Lagos) the Rt. Honourable Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe the erudite master of Latinate bombast, charming and mesmerising to young and old, the singing, dancing, fiery man of the masses, eloquent in English and Yoruba, Alhaji Adegoke Adelabu, Dr. K.O. Mbadiwe, manufacturer of phrases – “man of timber and caliber”, for Nigeria, “forward ever backward never” when he led the first Nigerian dance troupe to the U.S. it was “Operation Fantastic” there was American educated Mbonu Ojike whose slogan “Boycott boycottables” earned him the name Boycott king. Perhaps if we had listened we would today be industralised like Korea instead of being traders in everything including moral bankruptcy; there was the larger than life Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, Sarduana of Sokoto for whom Northernisation of Nigeria was the ideology.
These men had a faith and a dream – independence for Nigeria as a great nation and leader of the continent of Africa. Independence, in the word of Zik, they won for us “on a platter of gold”, without bloodshed.
They were not all orators. We recall the prose writers, H.O. Davis, Magnus Williams, again Adegoke Adelabu, and perhaps above them all, Chief Obafemi Awolowo whose prose was an ornament in clarity and coherence.
Today, the great thunders have ceased to clap and the echoes have died out. But the DREAM of a great Nigeria? Has it been overtaken by self-interest?
Of the old tritons with regard to their power to move the populace we could say with Shakespeare that:
“Young boys and girls
Are level now with men: the odds is gone,
And there is nothing left remarkable
Beneath the visiting moon”
If not, to think that even revered Chief Enahoro, precocious stormy petrel of those roaring days, who later moved the motion for Nigeria’s independence in 1956 is sponsoring confederation, hoping for Urhobo followership. This is an inexplicable card to play by a practiced hand. Et tu Brute? Can it be that Urhobos can do nothing better for their nation? Is confederation in the best interest of Urhobos and Nigeria?
For this age it is an abysmal confession of failure to seek to be pashas of federations in a confederation. Through insincerity we have failed to unite and be great and we are unabashedly saying that unity is not strength. How, children of Urhobo, do you answer this challenge? Does the Dream abide with you? Can you give it essence and voice?
The grouse about a confederation of federations and the strenuous Ogoni cry for an independent state cannot be just bluff, a negotiating card for maximum kill. It is pain from the heart. But this agony of frustration from ” water, water everywhere nor a drop to drink can also be a two -edged sword with the majorities using their edge to devastate the strident minorities into deeper frustration. Remember Biafra. In such circumstances it is not assured that the majorities would not thereafter fall upon one another over the bleeding or milking of the spoils of war.
Still, Nigeria may be saved by this paradox. Self-interest has brought Nigeria to the precipice and self-interest may pull her back by way of hand to mouth compromises. But then we would be saved only to continue to stagnate. Hence it is no solution. Urhobo errand for the nation therefore is urgent.
Today, there are still great guns like Gani Fawehimi whose resistance over the years to the evils that plague us has helped to keep the soul of this country alive.
Henceforth let the protesters make a Great Nigeria their theme and let the sinning leaders dare to refute them. The first creed of the Great Nigeria is the destruction of corruption; the second is unity through ensuring for every citizen a sense of protection and belonging. The North and South distinctions must go, for although the former four regions have been broken up into thirty states and Abuja Capital Territory the exercise has always been based on the 1914 boundaries of North and South. So many states from the larger North and corresponding proportion from the smaller South, hence Northern States and Southern States. Therefore, we need new voices strenuous for a Great Nigeria. Let the trumpet sound in Urhoboland and the theme reverberate throughout the length and breadth of our land. Urhobo needs the great voice of one prepared to undertake the burden to rule, not an eagle eyeing prey. One whom we shall not rue. This country is carrying a lamp around in search of a leader? Are Urhobos searching and taking the search to heart? Can Urhobos provide this leader for Nigeria? Search.
Since 1951 when responsible government devolved on us and 1960 when we gained independence from Britain the rule has been that of the majority groups. The score card at the taking over was instability alongside wealth until the wealth disappeared, since when it has been growing instability, poverty and growing poverty. The majorities have thus been tested. They have failed. Yet they tell Nigerians that they love the nation, that they are patriots. Failures keep the rear of the line. As patriots the majorities need no persuasion to admit that they are not leaders. So let them for the good of the nation fall back. Let Urhobo tell them in the name of patriotism that their honest task at this point in time is to anxiously identify with their candidate for a job that has been consistently badly done, rather than for the same failures to once again call for Urhobo followership of the blind.
Sons and daughters of Urhobo, put your chest forward. Your offspring will remember that you dared to change the course of a tottering nation. REACH FOR THE DREAM OF A GREAT NIGERIA! No people have forever to do things. There are ills to be reversed, now. There is a country to be saved now. There is a name, and honour to be earned now. Not when another has stolen our thunder. The time to act is now. Reach for the Dream.
Apart from moral probity have Urhobos character which shows they are capable? Otite writes, “They socialise their children to be hardworking to become independent adults…. The Urhobos are socialised to be ‘sharp’, smart, shrewd, quick-witted and to talk straight, wishing to be noticed in a gathering. O. Otite, The Urhobo People.
But Urhobos have never fought any war as a unit and been glorified in the experience of a common victory or shamed by common defeat, excepting in the political equivalents in 1952 or at elections for governorships. They could have fought a civil war against the Oba. Instead, they migrated from Benin in groups piecemeal. So each polity has a separate war god under which it has fought individual wars and won or lost, the whole of the tribe never being involved.
Be that as it may these are no longer days of inter-tribal wars. Wars now are political struggles for leadership and ascendancy. The leadership of the nation is in line with this. But how can there be acceptable leadership without unity?
Therefore, sons and daughters of Urhobo build internal cohesion. Address the notorious humbug and march forward. Stand tall and be counted. Reach for the dream!