|Urhobo Historical Society|
Urhobo Must Organise To Face Challenges
By Deacon Gamaliel Onosode
Thursday, July 30, 2009
His name across the land approximates integrity, honesty, diligence, probity and almost everything that is virtuous. Often, it is difficult limiting him to a geo-ethnic space in national affairs because he manages all the time, to project a character that is far larger than his ethnic base. But this has not stopped Deacon Gamaliel Onosode from being “an authentic Urhoboman” who has however, handled and anchored creditably many national and international tasks.
This time, however, the one people call Board Room Guru, on account of his vast participation in corporate Nigeria, is home among his people – the Urhobo. He is the Chairman of the Organising Committee of a two-day Urhobo Unity Summit which begins today. Why a Unity Summit and what is it designed to achieve? Deacon Onosode provides illuminating answers in this interview with DEPUTY POLITICAL EDITOR, ABRAHAM OGBODO. Excerpts:
The idea of Urhobo Unity Summit presupposes some disunity or what do you think?
There is no people, that is a nation or a group of people, that can say unity is not an issue. At every stage in the existence of a people, they will have issues that tend to pull them apart as individuals. It is when the pulling apart becomes injurious or disruptive to the objective that most of the people would like achieved, that they will recognise that, that measure of disunity is unacceptable and therefore, has to be addressed. In other words, 100 years from now, unity will still be an issue with any people. The British, that is, Wale, Scotland, England, Ireland have been one country for a long time. But, in recent times, it was recognised that power had to be divulged to Scotland, Ireland and so on in an attempt to improve unity among people who occupy the British Island, that is the United Kingdom, as we know it. So, there is nothing extraordinary about a people recognising at some stage in their life, the need to rally themselves to improve unity. Remember, “united we stand and divided we fall”. Nobody plans to fall or nobody sensing that he is going to fall, says “let’s coast along; it does not really matter”. It is a perception on the part of we, the Urhobo people, that we are facing certain challenges and that we cannot afford to dissipate our energy in a manner that tends to compromise the achievement of our collective objectives.
There could be diversity of opinions as to what programmes we need to put forward to rally this support. For instance, views that this objective must be achieved as soon as possible may not be perceived by some, who are as patriotic as other Urhobo, as worthwhile. That is why it is necessary at some point in the evolution of a people for them to come together, re-appraise their objectives vis-a-vis their methods and say let us pinpoint what we want to achieve at least in the short term.
The question to ask therefore is this. Are these differences in opinions the force that is pulling us apart? Or does the problem have to do with the way we have managed the expression of our honest views or even dishonest views, that is, views that are procured fraudulently? But, even if you express honest views, you may use language that is so intemperate that people will not be willing to listen to what you have to say. And if you have worthwhile message to deliver, that is double tragedy, because the way you have spoken and conducted yourself have shut out your audience.
Let me give you an example and I think the British are very good at this. If you want to disagree with a view, you can say: “that is a lie!” That is one way of showing your disagreement. But, you can still say: “Oh! that is not exactly my recollection of what happened”. Both have said the same thing but one has said it more acceptably than the other. In our recent history, it is possible that we have alienated some people because of the way we have expressed views; whether those views are honest or dishonest, is not the issue right now. So, there is need to bring our people together and discuss the issue of disunity and see to what extent we agree that there are problems that need to be addressed and see if these problems are structural or contemporary in terms of recent developments. That way, we can define or redefine the objectives or programmes around which we can rally our people either to face competition or simply to secure our survival in a most honourable and realistic manner.
Can we specifically point at one or two things that this Summit will achieve in the end?
First, we hope we will have succeeded in bringing together, under one platform, that is, the Urhobo Platform, persons we know that have, in recent times, tended to pull in different directions or have not been in exactly what I will call friendly terms. That is important. There are people who used to be very friendly with one another but, who are not as friendly in recent times. First, is that true? Certainly, some people feel it is true, in which case, it will be unproductive to leave things as they are. The second thing is that, there are certain things that we, the Urhobo, need. Let’s identify them so that we can pool our resources together to improve the chances of success. We have lost out in this kind of pursuit on some issues in the past because we were not as united as we should be. So, one sure thing we will get out of this, is trying to identify our objectives as well as definition or redefinition of roles.
From what we can get, there are divisive tendencies in Urhobo land. Is everybody in agreement or on the same page regarding this Summit?
If everybody agrees that, “yes, this summit is good”, it therefore means, that the “disunity” is not as real as some people may have thought. But, if there is a measure of, shall I say, reluctance on the part of one or two persons, that is a prima facie evidence that indeed, there has been a problem of disunity. Regardless of whether everybody says, “yes it is a good idea or not a good idea”, there is a case for having it. You cannot say that we should wait till a greater measure of unity is achieved before we address the problem of disunity. It is in that forum that we will know to what extent there is disunity and what changes in policies and approaches that required to be made to make disunity less of an issue. In other words, it is not necessary to achieve 100 per cent unity before you come to talk about unity. But, I can say empirically as the Chairman of the Organising Committee that, I have not run into or heard any identifiable group of people who are saying, “Oh! sorry, I have nothing to do with this” because that will not be a very constructive position to take.
The average Urhobo man is exhibiting a tendency to remain independent. How do we create an Urhobo leadership that will take the people along?
I mentioned redefinition of roles earlier. What worked well when Chief Jereton Mariere was governor of Midwest Region may not be exactly what we need today. We require some re-adjustments. What I am saying is that, a people, like institutions, grow and something that served them well yesterday may not serve them optimally today not to talk of tomorrow or day after tomorrow. So, there must be continuing review of the effectiveness of existing institutions or creation of additional institutions to reinforce the capacity to achieve objectives which the larger group considers desirable. I think we are going to be hearing about this kind of concerns at the Summit and I hope that regardless of however revolutionary an idea may be, we must express ourselves or communicate in a manner that does not alienate the feelings of others.
The Summit is not an end in itself. What are the post-summit calculations to implement whatever positions that will be aggregated at the Summit?
In a democratic environment, leadership is important. I will expect that the Summit will not only look at the past, it will also look at the present in the light of where the Urhobo want to be in the immediate future. Part of the resolutions that will come out at the Summit will address these issues; either to reaffirm our support for existing institutions or effect changes in order to accommodate or earn the support of a larger mass of Urhobo people. Or better still, the Summit may see the need to create ancillary institutions to facilitate our movement towards where we want to be. Apart from those we have invited to make formal presentations, there will be an opportunity for all those who will attend to speak up. My own advice is that people should avoid making long speeches. People should be crisp and focused in their presentations; either in the appraisal of what is gone so that people can better understand what they are proposing for the future or in the review of what is subsisting. In other words, no artificial barriers have been placed on what will happen at the Summit. If there are action plans included in the presentations, the Secretariat will ensure that same get to existing institutions that are supposed to act on them.
There is this contention that the spirit of individualism among the Urhobo has not helped in building a strong succession plan in all spheres of leadership. That those ahead never give a thought to those that will come after them.
Succession is an issue everywhere and it is not peculiar to the Urhobo people. But, you cannot regiment the emergence of the successor. Twenty years ago, if you asked the Americans who was going to be their President, it was unlikely they would say this current man. A system has a way of identifying potential leaders. Some of these leaders will present themselves while others will have to be dug out or encouraged to present themselves as leaders. Take this modest role that I have had to play. I was surprised myself that I was given the role as the Chairman of the Organising Committee of the Urhobo Unity Summit. Yes, I am an authentic Urhobo man but, I have lived and I am still living outside Urhobo land. I have been in Lagos for 52 years; all my working years, I have been in Lagos.
Fortunately, my primary and secondary education was in the heartland of Urhobo land. My primary school was in Ughievwen and my secondary school was in Government College, Ughelli. That has helped me to have my feet firmly at the grassroots. I thank God that my long sojourn in other parts of the country has not made me feel like a stranger among my own people. But, in spite of this, I must have been doing something right and persistent with the perceived interest of the Urhobo as a people for those who dreamt up the assignment to give it to me.
Of course, when there is perception of disunity, the natural thing is to bring somebody who is in the middle of the road; I do not want to use the word neutral.
By upbringing, my natural tendency is to be objective and somewhat centrist; trying to pull people together rather than pull them apart. That is, on some issues; I may be right of the centre and on other issues I may be left of the centre but you are not likely to catch me on the extreme right or extreme left, no matter what the issue is.
Back to the point on succession. In succession, both the new and older generations have roles to play. The old man may say, “oh!, we have seen this kind of thing before. Do not go that way!” Except the young man has a very keen sense of history, he may not know. But we all need to listen to one another so that we do not say that everything that is of yesterday is bad and everything that is of tomorrow or coming from the younger people is good. I know of young people in this country who are far more corrupt than all the past generations of old people put together.
The young people cannot sanctimoniously speak about this thing and we the old people should sit back and say there is absolutely nothing to add. Some of the people who look like absolute devil yesterday, today by contrast, look like absolute angels. That is why this platform (the Summit) must not discriminate against young or old generation. Let everybody come together and freely discuss the interest of the Urhobo people with an open mind. Competition is real and intense and disunity among Urhobo people will make us even more irrelevant in a global setting.
Do we then say that a key objective of the Summit is to prime the Urhobo people for effective competition in a changing environment?
Exactly. We do not want to lose out and that is why we need to put our acts together. We want to have a definite say in the ordering or re-ordering of national issues. A nation cannot be stronger than the strength of its constituents. We consider ourselves as an important constituent not just in the Niger Delta, but in the entire nation. There are some very serious challenges ahead of us and we must organise to cultivate a capacity to surmount these challenges and forge ahead as one people and improve our relevance in the large scheme.