|UHS/UPU SYMPOSIUM ON THE LIFE OF PROFESSOR PETER P. EKEH|
PROGRAMME OF EVENTS
DATE: WEDNESDAY 24TH MARCH, 2021
VENUE: URHOBO HOUSE UVWIAMUGE-AGBARHO
9: 45 am -10: 00 am ARRIVAL OF GUESTS
10: 00 am— 10: 10 am INVITATION TO HIGH TABLE AND RECOGNITIONS
10: 10 am 10: 15 am OPENING PRAYER – REV. FR. OGHENEJODE ABAKA
10: 15 am -10: 20 am URHOBO ANTHEM
10:20 am- 10: 25 am WELCOME ADDRESS BY DR. ARUEGODORE OYIBORHORO, PRESIDENT UHS
10:25 am – 10: 30 am REMARKS BY CO-CHIEF HOST CHIEF MOSES TAIGA, PRESIDENT, UPU
10: 30 am–10: 35 am CHAIRMAN’S OPENING REMARKS: PROFESSOR SAM OYOVBAIRE, FORMER MINISTER OF INFORMATION
10: 35 am–10: 40 am REMARKS BY SPECIAL GUEST OF HONOUR CHIEF BAROVBE
10: 40 am—-10.55 am DOCUMENTARY VIDEO ON THE LIFE AND TIMES OF PROFESSOR PETER PALMER EKEH
10: 55 am— 11: 15am UHS SALUTE TO PROFESSOR EKEH -A PATRIOT BY ENGR. ANDREW EDEVBIE, SECRETARY OF UHS
11: 15am— 12: 55pm LECTURE: SOCIAL REALITY, STATEHOOD AND CITIZENSHIP IN AFRICA THROUGH THE LENS OF PETER EKEH BY PROFESSOR EGHOSA OSAGHAE, FORMER VC OF IGBENEDION UNIVERSITY, OKADA, EDO STATE
12: 55pm — 1 :10pm COFFEE BREAK
1: 10pm—1: 45pm PANEL DISCUSSION (7 MINUTES PER DISCUSSANT)
MODERATOR — Mr. Abraham Ogbodo (Former Editor of The Guardian)
PROF. G. G. DARAH (FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF, DTSG)
PROF. A. E. EKOKO, FORMER DVC, DELSU
PROF. A. S. AKPOTOR , DELSU
DR EMMA MORDI
1: 45pm—2.00 pm QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
2.00pm—2.25 pm TRIBUTES (3 MINUTES PER PERSON)
CHIEF SIMPSON OBRUCHE (UHS UK/BELGIUM COORDINATOR)
CHIEF SIMEON OHWOFA (SECRETARY UHS BOARD OF TRUSTEES)
DR. BENSON UWHERU
2. 25 pm—2.30 pm VOTE OF THANKS BY DR AKPOFURE EKEH
2. 30 pm-2.35 pm CLOSING REMARKS BY THE CHAIRMAN PROF. SAM OYOVBAIRE
2. 35 pm- 2.40 pm CLOSING PRAYER – REV. CANON OGHOMENA EDJERE
2:40 pm- 2:50 pm LIGHT REFRESHMENT AND DEPARTURE
MEMORIAL SYMPOSIUM AND DAY OF TRIBUTES
Dr. Aruegodore Oyiborhoro, President, Urhobo Historical Society
Good morning, Ladies and gentlemen.
It is my special privilege to welcome the President-General of the Urhobo Progress Union (UPIJ), Olorogun Moses Taiga, our Royal Fathers, Iloroguns, Ekakuros, respected Chiefs and our distinguished guests; in celebration of the life of Professor Peter Ekeh.
I want to thank Professor Sam Oyovbaire, former Federal Minister of Information for accepting to chair this occasion; Chief Johnson Barovbe who for many years coordinated the affairs of the Urhobo Historical Society (UHS) in our Homeland. Also, I want to thank Professor Eghosa Osaghae, a former and favorite student of Professor Ekeh and former Vice-Chancellor of Igbinedion University, Okada, Edo State for accepting to give the keynote address.
And of course, I want to give additional thanks to Olorogun Moses Taiga not only as the UPU President General but as a very special person for his unending kindness, generosity and support of UHS activities over the years. To the Ekeh’s family, we all share in the joy of celebrating Professor Ekeh’s fulfilled life with you. Again many thanks to those who were able to make it here from distant places, and also everyone joining us through Zoom, online, and video recording around the world.
I have been blessed to know some great men in my life, Professor Peter Ekeh was a true original. Professor Ekeh understood our many challenges as Urhobo people, he applied his wealth of knowledge to bear on Urhobo causes. His special efforts have helped to create a better and more enviable image for our people, across the world.
Professor Ekeh helped to galvanize the Urhobo people in the diaspora, and in the process led to his founding of the formidable Urhobo Historical Society.
Throughout the time that I knew him, Professor Ekeh was always ready and willing to sacrifice his time, love, and efforts, to see our people succeed. He never showed an ego and always came across as humble and ready to serve those who needed his support. This was true throughout his life. Professor Ekeh was an example to all, both young and old.
I want to briefly share some of the many ways he made an impact on our people.
In 1993, those of us that had settled in America, came together for a common purpose, to unite as Urhobo people.
We traveled from across the United States – New York, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Washington, DC, Texas, and California to form the Urhobo National Association of North America (TUNA/UNANA).
This eventually metamorphosed to become Urhobo Progress Union, America (UPUA). At our very first National convention, held in New York City, in September of 1994, Professor Ekeh mesmerized the audience with his keynote. In that speech, he deeply analyzed and offered solutions to the challenges facing the Urhobo nation, Niger Delta, and Nigeria in general.
For those of us who knew him decades earlier at the University of Ibadan, this was not a surprise because he was already an established intellectual giant. In later years, Professor Ekeh was to play other major roles as an organizer and a motivator.
For instance, during the Warri crisis of the late 1990s, Professor Ekeh helped to plan and organize a Peace Summit in Washington DC, between Urhobo and Itsekiri people to help address and resolve all vexing issues and arrest the deteriorating crisis here in the homeland.
As secretary of the Urhobo delegation to the summit, I can tell the enormous efforts expended by Professor Ekeh in consulting with stakeholders here at home and around the globe.
Professor Ekeh never migrated to America to enjoy the comforts there and to hide and insulate himself from the dire problems facing our people in our Homeland.
Professor Ekeh had a clear vision of what he wished to accomplish. In 1 998, a group in New York and Minnesota led by John Harry Ofurhie and Michael Egi, and myself, among others formed the Urhobo National Forum (UNF).
Our goal then was to give scholarships to deserving students at Delta State University, Abraka, and to arrange a series of lectures to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the death of our hero and icon, Chief Mukoro Mowoe who joined our ancestors on August 10, 1948.
Once again, we invited Professor Ekeh to give the keynote address. He willingly accepted. In all of this, we never paid him anything and he did not ask for anything either. He was simply delighted and very enthused to sacrificially make his contributions freely to his people.
In August of 1999, the Urhobo National Forum organized a second Mukoro Mowoe lecture at LaGuardia Airport Hotel in Queens, New York. The purpose of the lecture was to explore and understand the plight of pollution in Urhoboland. This time, Dr. Aiovi Scott-Emuakpor, MD, Ph.D., a professor of medicine, was the keynote speaker, the late Professor Jackson Omene chaired the occasion, and Professor Peter Ekeh was our Special guest of honor.
Prior to the event, Professor Ekeh, in his usual humility, asked if he could inaugurate the Urhobo Historical Society at the end of the second Mukoro Mowoe lecture by Professor Aiovi Scott-Emuakpor.
This was an important moment. It was quite an honor for us at the Urhobo National Forum to answer in the affirmative.
Professor Ekeh had a clear vision. The purpose of the Society, according to Professor Ekeh, was to document the history and culture of our ethnic nationality, the Urhobo people, as told by ordinary citizens from small villages and towns in Urhoboland.
According to Prof. Ekeh, if you did not write your history, someone else would and you might not like it.
With his magical organizational ability and painstaking planning, Professor Ekeh brought together known academics and scholars in North America to form the core of the Urhobo Historical Society which he led successfully for 20 years without any controversy.
Since the Urhobo Historical Society’s inception, Professor Ekeh’s leadership as the founding President has been exceptional.
Under his leadership, UHS was able to organize eleven conferences – held both in North America, Europe, and the United Kingdom. This was a great global success.
Since the year 2004, all the other conferences have been shifted to Urhoboland. Organizing these conferences was a maior undertaking in planning, resources, time, and efforts, much of which was led by Peter Ekeh himself.
Yet, not once, did Professor Ekeh project himself as the main source of the successful execution of those conferences. He would always deflect the praises to others.
One memorable moment from the conferences occurred during the 2003 conference. We had arranged a special group photograph for five very distinguished Urhobo personalities, which best captured the success of the conference. They included Deacon Gamaliel ONOSODE, Chief Daniel OBIOMA, The Very Rev. Samuel ERIVWO, Senator David DAFINONE, and Professor Bruce ONOBRAKPEYAN. Professor EKEH excluded himself from that iconic group photograph. To him, it is always about others. According to Professor Ekeh, it would be very difficult to find these most distinguished Urhobo personalities at the same venue, and the same time, ever again. That was so true!
Professor Ekeh helped create, develop and edit a prodigious website, waado.org, dedicated to serving Urhobo History and Culture; but has also expanded to include issues relating to Niger Delta.
Waado.org has won several academic awards in the United States of America for its superior quality of work, originality, and high level of scholarship. The documentations by Professor Ekeh on the website are endless. They include Urhobo Cultural Units, British Colonial Treaties, Women Affairs, Urhobo Names, Urhobo Art Exhibition: “Where Gods and Mortals Meet” by Perkins Foss, Biographies and Memorials, and Niger Delta Matters such as the Idjere Fire Disaster, and the destruction of Odi by Federal army personnel at the instance under the leadership of General Obasanjo.
Professor Ekeh was prolific in his publishing abilities. Additionally, Professor Ekeh edited five seminal books on Urhobo History and Culture which will serve the present and future generations unborn. The books include
(1) Warri City and British Colonial Rule in the Western Niger Delta (2004),
(2) Studies in Urhobo Culture (2005),
(3) History of The Urhobo People of Niger Delta (2006),
(4) T.E.A. Salubi: Witness to British Colonial Rule lnUrhoboland, and
(5) Olomu and Development of Urhoboland and Western Niger Delta, Ancient and Modern versions. (2012).
Each book captured and advanced the cause of our people. We must not just share these books with each other, but with the young people who will lead tomorrow.
In 2014, Urhobo Historical Society decided to relocate to Urhoboland from its operations center in the United States. Professor Ekeh donated his personal property at Okpara Inland to serve as the headquarters of the Urhobo Historical Society.
As if that was not enough, he personally paid the headquarters staff salaries as well. Professor Ekeh in his journey through earth lived a life worth living, a very fulfilled life. He was a great man.
God bless Professor Ekeh, his family, and all Urhobo people.
Dr. Aruegodore Oyiborhoro
President, Urhobo Historical Society
WELCOME REMARKS BY OLOROGUN (DR.) MOSES OGHENERUME TAIGA, JP, PRESIDENT-GENERAL, URHOBO PROGRESS UNION (UPU) WORLDWIDE AT THE MEMORIAL SYMPOSIUM AND DAY OF TRIBUTES IN HONOUR OF PROFESSOR PETER PALMER EKEH, FOUNDER, URHOBO HISTORICAL SOCIETY (UHS), ORGANISED BY UPU & UHS AT URHOBO CULTURAL CENTRE, UVWIAMUGE-AGBARHO, UGHELLI NORTH LGA, ON WEDNESDAY, MARCH 24, 2021
All protocols observed.
I am pleased to welcome you all to this memorable event. It is a great privilege for me to be able to thank you all for joining the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) and Urhobo Historical Society (UHS) for this Memorial Symposium and Day of Tributes in honour of our dearly beloved Prof. Peter Palmer Ekeh. I thank our Distinguished Guests and Discussants, who have travelled from home and abroad to grace this solemn event, particularly our Guest Speaker, Professor Eghosa Osaghae, former Vice Chancellor, Igbinedion University, Edo State and Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Ibadan, who, I am told, was an eminent student of Prof. Ekeh. We welcome you. Once again, on behalf of UPU and Urhobo Historical Society, I welcome you all.
No doubt many speakers here today will testify to Ekeh’s extraordinary nature. I call him a dependable friend and leader, because he was truly that to me. However, it would take a long period of time for me to relate to you all the happy and memorable experiences that I shared with him. But permit me to say a few words about the man we are all gathered here to honour; a remarkable man and visionary.
Anyone who knew Professor Peter Palmer Ekeh quickly learnt that he was not only a humble and great thinker, but also a passionate and proud Urhobo man. His brilliance, courage and selflessness were really inspiring. He was a valuable fountain of knowledge and experience.
Ekeh was devoted to the Urhobo Nation, and was deeply dedicated to UHS. His work and that of his colleagues in the Urhobo Historical Society (UHS) has not only enriched Urhobo scholarship but has given the Urhobo Nation a respectable place in the global academic space, and for this we are immensely grateful to that noble society. I met Prof Ekeh in 2002, after I had requested Chief Godwin Ogbetuo to represent me at the Third Annual Conference and Meeting of Urhobo Historical Society held in London from to 1st to 3rd of November, 2002. We immediately struck a bond and friendship that I will ever cherish and sorely miss. What struck me most during that first meeting was his unbelievable modesty and humility. Again, I was highly impressed and bought over by his advocacy that we, as a people, must strive to propagate, defend, preserve and protect the ideals, culture, tradition and image of the Urhobo Nation and its people.
At the time I suggested to UHS to consider bringing their conferences to Nigeria, to which they graciously accepted and ever since, except for the past two years, all UHS Conferences have been held in the country. I am glad to say that the UHS and its Conferences have also afforded me the opportunity of contributing my quota, both intellectually and financially. In one of the Conferences, here in Nigeria, I presented a paper on Political Reorganization as a Pre-Condition for Economics Success in Urhoboland. It is also a privilege to have been honoured as Chairman, Board of Trustees, UHS Endowment Fund and an honorary Grand Patron of UHS.
I deeply admire Prof. Ekeh for always going the extra mile in building all kinds of relationships that would push the agenda of making Urhobo an ethnic nation of our dreams. The relationships forged by Ekeh with others have led to a congregation and coalition of very brilliant, selfless, intellectually-gifted and patriotic Urhobo scholars, thereby promoting unity, harmony and coherence in Urhoboland. This is evidenced in the success of UHS that has grown into a colossus, and a reference point for the Urhobo, Niger-Delta nay South-South and Nigerian academia, historical and cultural researchers. The UHS is the number one forum for research in Urhobo. Until his transition, Ekeh was editor of UHSwebsite, http://www.waado.org. Waado.org has become a treasure trove about Urhobo’s heritage, in terms of the high quality of its contents, user-friendliness, functionality and relevance of information, among others. I daresay it is one of the best websites about an ethnic nationality in the world. This is no doubt due to the creativity and superb editing skills of Prof. Peter Ekeh. A section that has interested many Urhobo and non-Urhobo parents and young ones in Diaspora is a section on Urhobo names contributed by the current President of UHS, Dr. Aruegodore Oyiborhoro. Many people, especially parents in search of Urhobo names for their children get ready help by visiting that section. The numerous publications published by UHS, and edited by Ekeh are also testimonies to his dexterity at forging positive relationships that will put Urhobo in the front burner. Indeed, through UHS’ publications you will easily recognise that Ekeh created an amazing extended family of very passionate Urhobo personalities.
The UHS that Ekeh was founding Chairman has grown and has tentacles. Many initiatives and foundations have evolved through association with its noble mission of documenting, projecting and propagating Urhobo history and culture. One of such is that established by UHS’ Vice President and my nephew, Dr. Isaac James Mowoe, who has pioneered the setting up of “The Chief Mukoro Mowoe Research Scholars Fund” and “The Olorogun James Amudiaga Mowoe and Mrs. Rhoda Mowoe Scholarship Fund”. Both funds are administered by UHS. May the UHS grow with such more Research Foundations.
The Urhobo Historical Society is here to stay, and we hope that the Editorship, writing of books and donation of funds, which each members are doing, can be expanded to the whole of Urhobo and wherewithal. It is also our hope that the quarterly reviews of Urhobo matters and cultural themes usually held at UHS Headquarters at No 3, Ekeh Street, Okpara-lnland, would continue.
I consider it a great privilege for me to have met and worked with Prof Peter Palmer Ekeh.
May his memories live on and his legacies endure.
My sincere condolences to his family and friends.
I thank you all.
Olorogun (Dr.) Moses O. Taiga, JP,
President-General, Urhobo Progress Union Worldwide
Board of Trustees, UHS Endowment Fund
No. 3 Ekeh Street (Opposite Catholic Church)
Okpara Inland, Ethiope East LGA, Delta State, Nigeria
P. O. Box 652 Effurun, Delta State, Nigeria
Telephone Enquiries: 07060647530, 07036784700
Websites: www.waado.org, urhobodigitallibrarymuseum.comarymuseum.com
Professor Peter Palmer Ekeh,
An Urhobo Patriot And His Defence of Urhobo People
Onoawarie Andrew Edevbie
Secretary, Urhobo Historical Society
Professor Peter Ekeh passed away in the early hours of November 17, 2020. His transition into the world beyond, has robbed us, the Urhobo people and the Nigerian society, of one of the most compassionate and patriotic heroes of our time. Although he was a renowned scholar, a cherished mentor and valued colleague, Professor Ekeh will best be remembered as one of the greatest social and cultural leaders of the Urbobo people.
His colleagues in academia would revere him for his uncanny ability to apply his knowledge of political sociology to identify intellectual themes that provide for a better understanding of the history and various cultures of the African people. Because of his characteristic independence and dominance, one would want to hear him tell his own story.
A story that could well begin, with apologies to Julius Caesar with a paraphrase of his declaration: Veni, vidi, vici (l came, I saw, I conquered) with the words: I came, I saw, and I think, that I have made a contribution. The sentence, a popular Latin phrase, was used by Julius Caesar, the Roman general in a victory speech to the Roman Senate in 47 BC after a quick and decisive defeat of an enemy at the Battle of Zela. The phrase continues to be used as an inscription in military and various other historical contexts as well as in works of arts and music. However, the good Professor is not here to lead us. In an attempt to speak for him, one may not be too far wrong to say that Professor Ekeh, as a good student of Latin and teacher himself, would not mind anyone modifying the famous phrase to read: Ekeh venne, e vide, e vince (Ekeh came, saw and conquered). The modification would thus allow one, to say a few words about Peter Ekeh’s life: how he came to be an Ekeh, what he lived through and that which he left us. One could then begin the story with an account of his humble beginnings in the Okpara areas of Urhoboland, and the move through a world of academia, to arrive at a stage where he was able, to apply his intellectual energy to improve the image of his people in the eyes of the world. Oblivious of the fact that he was highly recognized for his work as sociological theorist, Professor Ekeh himself, considered his ability to serve his people, the Urhobo people as his greatest achievement. He was particularly pleased and proud of the efforts he had made to pull together a group of Urhobo intellectuals in North America to form the Urhobo Historical Society in August of 1999.
Professor Ekeh, the oldest of the five children of his mother, in a polygamous family, was born in 1937 in Adarode as recorded by his maternal uncle, lghoyivwi who was a time, the Secretary of Uhwokori Progress Union. Adarode was a village on the outskirt of Okpara Inland, a major town in the Urhobo subunit of Agbon in northern Urhobo. Ekeh’s family came to settle in Adarode, in the 1920s probably earlier, fleeing from a communal conflict and commotion in their native hometown of Imodie in Orogun.
Matters became more complicated when Peter Ekeh’s grandfather Okoro-afo, died, and his grandmother, Adeke, had to move with her four children, first to ovu and later Okpara, away from the disturbances at Imodie. The four children included Peter Ekeh’s father who was the youngest and the only boy. The family must have felt uncomfortable with continuing to live in Imodie, notwithstanding the fact, that Professor’s great grandfather, Eghwujovwo was at a time the top traditional leader in the community, the Qkpara-Uku of Imodje. Adeke, an Agbon woman whose mother hailed from Ovu and her father, Okpara, felt more comfortable living among her people after the death of her husband. Professor’s own father, Ekeh Okoro-afo, was probably a young man, when the family fled Imodje.
He was later to join a group of individuals that founded Adarode (literally meaning the big way) where he grew up to become a man and raise a family. While living earlier with his mother at ovu, the older Ekeh, had the opportunity to make friends with Eduviere who was incidentally the brother of Akarue, the grandfather of Professor Ekeh’s future wife, Dr. Helena Ekeh.
Professor Ekeh’s mother, Erieromale nee Erhiemala, herself was also raised in a rural environment, Okoruekpe, certainly nothing more than a hamlet in Uhwokori. She was the eldest in a family of three children consisting of her two brothers, lghoyivwi Erhiemala and Samuel Osiuhwu Awhinawhi. Besides Professor Ekeh, his mother had four other children: two daughters, Amone and Era-akpoweri and two sons, Oghwere and Zechariah, both preceded him in death. Theirs was a close family where members cared for one another. Professor Ekeh’s mother, conscious of her responsibility as the eldest, helped to take care of a young girl who became her brother’s wife. The wife, then a teenager, a little older than Professor was brought from Abbe in Ukwuani to live with the family at Adarode. Peter Ekeh did not know until much later that the girl, a play mate, was in fact betrothed to his uncle who was living far away from them in Uhwokori at the time.
The husband of the girl, Uncle lghoyivwi was just as helpful as Peter’s mother who took care of his young wife for him. Uncle lghoyivwi felt concerned enough to drop out of school in order to work to raise funds to help his younger brother, Osiuhwu complete school. Osiuhwu attended Edo College, Benin City, during the difficult years of the 1930s with the help of his brother and was later employed in the Ministry of Agriculture in colonial Nigeria. He rose to become an Agricultural Superintendent serving at Benin in the Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR), and at other Agricultural establishments, including those at Obubra in the Cross River area, Umuahia, in modern-day Abia State of Nigeria, and Orhonigbe, a Benin enclave slightly off the Sapele-Agbor Road, where he served as the Manager of the Rubber Plantation Estate. Osiuhwu was in turn able to take his niece, Oti, lghoyivwi’s daughter into his care. Oti lived with her uncle for many years. Both brothers, lghoyivwi and Osiuhwu also contributed graciously their share of Peter Ekeh’s school fees during his time in secondary school especially after the death of their sister, Peter’s mother. Oti and Era-akpoweri also lived with Peter Ekeh; Oti at Ibadan and Irrua, and Era-akpoweri while going to school in the US.
As a young man, Professor Ekeh was simply known as Palmer by his family and friends. The other name, Peter, came about later through his enrollment at the Okpara Central Catholic School and his attachment to the Catholic faith. He was in fact named at birth after a colonial administrator, l.T. Palmer who settled in Sapele after retirement from the British Colonial Administration. Why will the Professor’s father choose to name his son after IT Palmer? IT Palmer, a Yoruba man, was a Political Agent of the Royal Niger Company in charge of the Afenmai and Asaba Divisions before he retired in 1898 to settle in Sapele permanently as a businessman. He was the first person ever appointed as an unofficial member for Warri-Benin Province in the Legislative Council of Nigeria (1928-1934). Sapele at that time was a new town going through an uncontrollable growth, and turning into an unplanned urban area. IT Palmer was among those who approached Mr. Laborde, the District Officer about the problem. The District Officer can today be credited for laying out a plan, thanks to him for the good streets in Sapele. IT Palmer was also said to have assisted Bishop Johnson, another Yoruba man of the Church Missionary Society (CMS), to establish Saint Luke’s School and Church, Sapele in the years between 1902 and 1908. Given the superior pedigree of Mr. Palmer and his services to Urhobo people, one could understand why Professor’s father would want his son to be like IT Palmer. Peter Ekeh’s parents had thus chosen a name not only to reflect their vision for their son but also to help reinforce the dominant social values and special circumstances that were relevant to the birth of the child.
Professor Ekeh came of age during the Second World War which was preceded by the Great Depression, a worldwide economic downturn that began in 1929 and lasted until 1939. Although the impact of the depression was severe for all peoples, it nevertheless triggered the birth of Urhobo renaissance, an era noted for the transformation of Urhobo from Obscurity into light and modernity as a viable nation. One of the social changes wrought during the period of the renaissance was the expansion of educational opportunities for Urhobo youth, starting with the opening of what is now Government College, Ughelli in 1945, followed by
others like Hussey College, Warri in 1947, Urhobo College, Effurun in 1949 and Saint Peter Claver’s College Aghalokpe in 1950. Peter Ekeh like others in that generation seized these opportunities with both hands in the struggle to improve Urhobo fortunes in the political affairs of Nigeria. They were painfully aware of how Urhobo people like some other minority groups were disfavored in the political infrastructure that was created and left behind by the departing British imperial government that had ruled Nigeria for some hundred years. It was these circumstances of political chicanery that served to shape the sensitivities of Peter Ekeh and some others, to the cultural and social affairs of Urhobo people. Peter must have understood very early in his life that the health of a nation or people depends on the desire of each citizen to identify with the needs of the society. The idea of loyalty to the nation devoid of selfish interests, above and beyond individual differences is what is called nationalism or patriotism. This was the mental framework of the 1930s and 1940s in which Professor Ekeh was raised in. With this sense of civic responsibility, the stamp of a strong character or leadership thus seemed to have been thrust upon him early in his life. When he emerged dimly as a personality in his days at the University of Ibadan, many of his essential qualities had become apparent. Driven by a desire to be involved in Urhobo affairs, Peter Ekeh began to attend Urhobo Progress Union (UPU)’s meetings, and at a time served as the Secretary of the local Ibadan branch of the UPU.
In fact, Peter Ekeh began his journey to fame much earlier in 1944 when he was a student at the Catholic Central School, Okpara Inland founded by Revered Father and later Bishop Patrick J. Kelly in 1934. In his final year, 1951 , Peter Ekeh was made the school general/senior monitor, a significant leadership role in the school community and student body, for his age and times. He entered Saint Peter Claver’s College, Aghalokpe in 1952, a year before the premier Catholic secondary school in colonial Warri Province, was moved from Sapele Township to rural Aghalokpe. Although the school was located in Urhoboland to serve the educational needs of Urhobo youth, Urhobo students at the time were in a small minority. Most of them were day students living in clusters and caring for themselves. The school had no Urhobo teachers. The Urhobo students had to bind themselves into an association, the Urhobo Students Union for the sake of solidarity and for self support. Peter Ekeh served the group in a leadership role as the Secretary of the association. Peter Ekeh graduated from Aghalokpe in 1956 and went to Ibadan, the capital city of the Western Region of Colonial Nigeria in 1957 in search of employment.
While Peter Ekeh was at Ibadan, working at the Regional Ministry of Land and Housing that the results of the Cambridge School Certificate examinations he took at Agholokpe in 1956 were released, and published in Nigerian newspapers. Two Aghalokpe students, including Peter Ekeh made Grade One in the same year that also recorded two Grade One results for Government College, supposedly a much better equipped and staffed secondary school at the time. Peter Ekeh later moved nearer home to Irrua in Benin province to teach Latin, his favorite subject at Annunciation Catholic College. It was also at Irrua that he studied and passed the General Certificate Examinations at Advanced Levels that qualified him to enroll at the University College of the University of London in 1961. He graduated in 1964, the best student in his Department, to join the ranks of early University graduates from Okpara beginning with M.G. Eiaife followed by others like Gordon Umukoro, Onigu Otite, and his humble self. With his excellent academic credentials from the University of Ibadan, Peter Ekeh found no difficulty in securing a Rockefeller Foundation Scholarship for his graduate studies at Sanford University, Palo Alto (1965-1966) and later University of California, Berkeley (1966 – 1970) both in the United States. After graduation, Peter Ekeh taught at the University of California, Riverside (1973-1974) before returning to Nigeria. He spent one academic year (1973-1974) at Ahmadu Bello University as a Research Fellow before he accepted an invitation from his friend, Professor Billy J. Dudley to join the Department of Political Science at the University of Ibadan (1974-1989). He took over as the Chairman of the department following the death of Professor Dudley in 1978. He was also to become the Chairman of the Ibadan University Press (1983-1988), while serving at the same time as the Chairman of the Governing Council, College of Education, Benin City, Nigeria (1984-1988). He was also granted fellowships in various institutions in Europe, Japan including one in the United States at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, Washington, D.C. (1988-1989). He also founded the Association of Nigerian Scholars for Dialogue while in the United States. Out of family concerns, Peter Ekeh had moved to the United States in 1989 to teach at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo. He retired from that University in 2013, and move back to Nigeria to pay full attention to the running of the Urhobo Historical Society, and to continue his participation in the political and social affairs of the Urhobo people
In addition to his academic pursuit, Professor Ekeh was also well known for his stewardship to his nation and Urhobo people. One would like to share the account of the stewardship by leaping back to his childhood and following his remarkable life journey through his more than fifty years of service in a period of transforming change. One could do that by simply putting an eye towards examining the extraordinary amount of history that he had experienced and shaped. The other goal would be to take others along the same learning curve that he had followed so that they too can get a glimpse of his understanding of the underlying dynamics that drive events in the world. First, when he returned to the University of Ibadan as a lecturer in 1974, he was involved in turning out generations of graduates for service both in the public and private sectors. Peter Ekeh was particularly pleased and grateful for the award of honorary doctorate given to him by the Delta State University for his role in public education. He saw the role of promoting education as a significant contribution to the development of a people.
Peter Ekeh’s academic skills and expertise also became useful in the handling of Urhobo affairs. He played a critical role in the Movement for the Creation of Delta in the 1980s, he wrote the paper “The Case for the Creation of Delta State” on behalf of the Movement. He was also involved in the political Campaign to Elect Michael Ibru, Governor of Bendel State in 1983. He was able to prepare a detailed account of all the money that was spent during the campaign, and he felt duty bound to return to Candidate Ibru what was left unspent, against the wishes of some other campaign workers who wanted the left-over money to be shared among them. In another call for service to Urhobo people, Peter Ekeh was appointed the Secretary of Urhobo Trust with Gabriel Sefia as the Chairman. The Trust was set up in 1988 to address the widespread dissatisfaction with UPU leadership for the cautionary approach and inactivity of the organization. Peter Ekeh prepared the memorandum to suggest that the office of the Presidential-General act as a clearing house for individuals or activist groups interested in advancing the Urhobo agenda. Michael Ibru, much to his credit, convened a series of meetings in his Lagos home to discuss the recommendations. These meetings, in turn formed a consultative team led by Michael Ibru himself to work with UPU Home leaders on modalities for reforming the organization. Without waiting for Michael Ibru consultative team to fulfill its mandate, Urhobo traditional rulers, the Ivie took it upon themselves to remove Fred Esiri as President-General of UPU and installed James Edewor in his place.
In more recent times, Peter Ekeh led the campaign on behalf of Urhobo Historical Society in collaboration with leaders of Urhobo Social Club, Lagos to restore UPU to its old virtues and glory. The call for a new leadership to take over the affairs of the organization was to be made at an upcoming UPU Congress scheduled for December 2016. The agitation to reorganize UPU grew from various allegations of fraud, corruption and incompetence leveled against the UPU leadership during the campaign to reelect President Goodluck Jonathan. The Urhobo public had been inundated with several newspaper publications alleging that members of the UPU Executive were given huge sums of money for the election of President Goodluck Jonathan. Many felt that as wild as the allegations were, they had the effect of rubbishing the good names of executive members who were not privy to the alleged money given to the executive by the presidency. After much thought and deliberations, the Urhobo Historical Society, working with Urhobo Social Club, Lagos, called upon Olorogun Moses Taiga to make himself available for the office of President-General of Urhobo Progress Union. Following detailed discussions, he gladly agreed to contest for the top Urhobo office. Peter Ekeh was with Olorogun Taiga travelling from one Urhobo community to another in the campaign to elect the Olorogun, the President-General of UPU.
Apart from his involvement in efforts to improve internal relationships among Urhobo people, Peter Ekeh was also concerned about the image of Urhobo people before the outside world. He took great pains not only to defend Urhobo interests, but also apply his intellectual energy to provide a better understanding of Urhobo history and culture. A most glaring example of this is when he rose to the defence of Urhobo during the Warri crisis of 1999 involving the ljaws and Itsekiri as protagonists. This was a time when the Itsekiri Establishment used the agency of its propaganda outfit, Ugbaje Itsekiri in North America to launch a series of attack on Urhobo people. The Itsekiri alleged without proof that Urhobo in Warri took sides with the ljaw people in the conflict. The stakes were very high for Urhobo as the Itsekiri sent petitions to the US Government urging its State Department to designate Urhobo people as terrorists. Thanks to Professor Ekeh for his leadership, the Urhobo in Diaspora were able to foil the Itsekiri attacks, sending its own petitions to counter Itsekiri claims. Thereafter, the Urhobo Historical Society (UHS) was launched under the leadership of Peter Ekeh in August of 1999 in New York City to address the broader issues of Urhobo interest including the proper documentation of Urhobo history and culture. The newly formed UHS also felt compelled to defend the interest of Urhobo neighbors in Nigeria’s Niger Delta, most notably, when the Society cried foul as the Northern Establishment in Nigeria made frantic attempts to deny Goodluck Jonathan’s constitutional rights to take over as the President of Nigeria from his predecessor, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who died in office in 2010.
Coming back to problems inherent in documenting Urhobo history and culture, Professor Ekeh can be credited for reshaping Urhobo historical scholarship and raising its standard to new heights. Until the debut of Professor Onigu Otite’s pioneering book: The Urhobo People, in 1982, many publications, no more than pamphlets by individuals, not only lacked coherence but also involved accounts of past events. Many of the events were based on timelines, by way of telescoping, that are impossible to justify. As Peter Ekeh pointed out, Urhobo traditional calendar of dates and periods is significantly different from the Western and Christian calendars which have inadvertently been imposed on Urhobo indigenous history and culture. While the Urhobo calendar is characterized by its division into two broad segments akpo ra awaren (olden times) and akp nana (modern times), the western calendar is expressed in decades, centuries and millennia. It is therefore difficult to reconcile the two systems as they are incompatible. Urhobo for example, has no concept of centuries, and so the introduction of western calendar into the recording of Urhobo historical events is bound to be confusing in dating practices. One wonders how absurd, it is for individuals including some native scholars of Urhobo history, to engage in assigning exact dates for historical events in Urhobo in terms of centuries on the western calendar. Many who cannot even tell their birthdates have gone as far to claim to know the exact years for the migration of their ancestors to their present settlements in bygone centuries and millennia.
Besides the difficulties that one encounters in the setting of dates for events that occurred in ancient times, Peter Ekeh also raised questions about the validity of the routes of Urhobo migration as proposed by some proponents of Urhobo history. He was probably the first person to cast doubts on many of Egharevba’s assertions which seem to suggest that bands of Urhobo migrants came as fully-formed kingdoms under the leadership of some Benin princes to settle in various locations in the Niger Delta, now collectively known as Urhoboland. The assertions further pushed a narrative that Urhobo migrations went through River Ethiope during the Eweka Dynasty that began in the 1440s. What was problematic for Peter Ekeh was that Egharevba’s hypothesis of migration gives credit for the settlement of Urhoboland to Benin princes and ignores the contributions of Urhobo ancestors who must have labored hard to reclaim parts of the dense rainforests for themselves and their progeny. He offered an alternative hypothesis which argues that Urhobo migrations were directed through the River Niger and its deltaic formations in prehistoric times as identified in much of Urhobo folklore as the clan-based era of the Ogiso dynasty. The Ogiso dynasty is known to have thrived in ancient times, long before the rise of the Benin Empire in 1440s and before the arrival of the Portuguese through the Atlantic Coast to the Niger Delta in 1482. Urhobo and Benin do share a common proto-Edoid history that began in pre-royal Edoid society. Elugbe (1973) and a number of other linguistics have pointed to the existence of a proto-type language which was spoken about 3000 years ago. The proto-type language became separated with time into various languages including Urhobo about 2000 years ago, most likely by way of migrations. The development of the Edoid languages is thus similar to the splitting of the proto-Germanic language that was spoken in the mid-first millennium BC in Iron Age northern Europe, into various languages including English. As Ekeh inferred, just as the classification of English language as a Germanic language, does not make English people German, so it is that all those who speak various variants of Edoid language are not necessarily Edo people. Based on the pattern of Urhobo settlements within the western Niger Delta, Urhobo ancestors were said to have arrived through River Niger to settle on the western banks of the Ase and Patani Rivers, both of which are integral parts of the network of tributaries and creeks. As Peter Ekeh further argued, the descendants of Urhobo migrants at some point began to move from these swampy lands into drier lands, resulting in the cascade formation of 22 clans with distinct subcultures. The movements were believed to have been in cohorts of kinsmen who took advantage of the Iron-Age implements to conquer the dense rainforests.
The notion that Urhobo lands were developed under the leadership of Benin princes may well be attributed to the false assumptions that societies and cultures emanate from kingdoms built by immigrant princes. On the contrary, kingdoms do arise from clan and village societies that probably have been in existence for thousands of years before their formation. The false assumptions have been compounded by the unfortunate habit of people in non-centralized states like that of Urhobo as Robin Horton (1985) noted of telling their history based on landmarks established in some centralized states like Benin, Ife and Egypt. In deference to Robin Horton, Peter Ekeh believed that the model of Toynbean Challenge and Response may be better suited for analyzing Urhobo history and for revealing the role of early Urhobo leaders in organizing responses posed by the challenge of conquering the dense rainforests of the Niger Delta. The ability of Urhobo early leaders to respond to Toynbean challenges seems to be a direct consequence of the fact that Urhobo ancestors built their communities not as kingdoms but on a clan system which they inherited from the pre-royal proto-Edoid culture.
To conclude this account of Peter Ekeh’s life as an Urhobo man, one needs to return to say a few more words about his early life in Adarode, his family and services to the Urhobo people. He grew up like other kids in the village. He ran errands for his elders including writing letters for individuals who could not read and write. He helped his parents with farm work. He took parts in setting traps to catch rodents, and hooks with baits to catch fish. He waded through pools of water particularly the Ogize, on the way from Adarode to Okpara Inland. He would take his clothes off before crossing the pool, and put them back on after, as he walked to and from school bare foot. He learnt to climb palm and coconut trees. He knew how to tap rubber. He played with his age mates on moonlights sometime in the courtyard of family homestead and at other times in the main street of the village. He was indeed a typical village boy, yet he grew up to become suave, cultured, polyvalent and cosmopolitan.
By Urhobo standards, he was an accomplished man as evidenced by his ability to get married, make a living and raise children for the continuity of his lineage. Peter Ekeh and Helena, his wife of fifty-six years had five children, a girl Onome and four boys, the first three Onome Akpofure and Onoriode were born in California and the last two, Oghenevwogaga in Zaria and Eserovwe at Ibadan in Nigeria. He had established a family web site through which he was able to chronicle the birth of his beloved grandchildren and his time with them for posterity. His official residence at the University of Ibadan, 8, Crowther Lane, was well known for the steady flow of traffic of people coming in and going. He brought many of his cousins, nephews and nieces to Ibadan to live with him in his boys’ quarters. Many of these relative have moved on to become very successful as bankers, civil servants and university teachers etc later in life. The boys’ quarters also offered ample accommodation for many Urhob youths who visited Ibadan to sit for various examinations or who were seeking admission into the university.
Given the long list of Peter Ekeh’s accomplishments and services to society, what more then could one expect of the man? Peter Ekeh was an Urhobo man to the core and he did a lot to help his people. He came, he saw, and he had made a difference in the life of others. Is this not enough reason for one to thank Qghene ra-avware for the time He allowed Peter to be with us? Yes, We in Urhobo Historical Society do appreciate the need for gratitude to God for Peter Ekeh’s life. We humbly ask Urhobo people and all those who knew him to join us in asking the good Lord to grant our brother and leader, a perfect rest in peace. Omoni, Akpokedefa. Wo yero obuwevwi.
Onoawarie Andrew Edevbie
Secretary, Urhobo Historical Society
Goodwill message delivered by Goodie M. Ibru, OON Hon DSc, Member Board of Trustees of Urhobo Progress Union & Member Board of Trustees of Urhobo Historical Society on the occasion of the Memorial Symposium and Day of Tributes in Honour of Professor Peter Ekeh on Wednesday 24th March, 2021 at Urhobo House Uvwiamuge-Agborho
It is indeed a great privilege to participate in this memorial symposium and Day of Tributes in honour of Professor Peter Ekeh.
Professor Ekeh was a great and quintessential historian who through his teachings, writings, seminars and conferences created the awareness of Urhobo history and culture – He was an erudite and cerebral scholar and nationalist and the event(s) of today are apt and befitting.
Professor Ekeh founded Urhobo Historical Society which is a veritable platform for Urhobo sons and daughters to re-discover themselves and their origin through research into Urhobo history and culture which Urhobo Historical Society espoused
The best honour that can be bestowed on Professor Ekeh is to leverage on our acquired knowledge of the history of Urhobo ethnic nationality and culture (through the works of Professor Ekeh) to improve the economy of Urhobo nation and create wealth and also create employment for our young people.
On Thursday 13th April 2020, Urhobo Foundation organized at Sheraton Hotel Ikeja (Lagos) a seminar on the subject – Urhobo and the National Crisis. The lead paper was presented by Professor Dr. Godini G. Darah which he aptly titled “ Urhobo: The Anatomy of a Plundered Nation”
The challenges facing Urhobo nation in April last year still remain the same today; many of the people in our rural areas live in abject poverty and the Urhobo nation today suffers from the fall-out of national crisis such as insecurity and crisis of poverty and unemployment especially among the youths.
Urhobo nation is abundantly endowed with national resources eg. rich arable land which is good for the development of agriculture. Urhobo nation also is blessed with abundant oil and gas; “even without oil and gas Urhobo nation and its people can sustain a thriving economy for centuries”
It is my hope that at the event(s) of today the issues of wealth creation and creation of employment and community “policing” would be discussed. I also suggest that our unemployed youths be encouraged to be self-employed; in this connection they would need start-up funds and it behoves the elders who have been blessed with wealth by the Almighty God to set up an Intervention Fund for on-lending to Urhobo youths (and women) as Revolving Loan.
Professor lived a fulfilled life; may his soul rest in perfect peace.
I wish Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) and Urhobo Historical Society (UHS) success in the event(s) of today.
Life and Times of Professor Peter Palmer Ekeh
Prof. O. S. Okobiah, JP, mnae, phf, fssn, fdsp.
The Urhobo Historical Society (UHS) expresses its gratitude to all those who supported this event one way or the other.
The collaboration and support of the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) is also acknowledged.
God bless you ALL.