Urhobo Religious Leaders and the Urhobo Nation

London, England
October 31 – November 2, 2003



By The Very Revd Prof. S. U. Erivwo

Provost, St. Andrew Cathedral, Warri, Nigeria


            Religious leaders were ab initio meant to be the leaders of their people in all aspects of life, sacred and secular.  Moses was a religious leader and by virtue of being a religious leader, he was also leader of his people in all aspects of their life.  He was called and appointed/commissioned by Yaweh to lead the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the promised land.  In other words, originally there was no dichotomy between a religious leader and a secular/political leader.  In the history of the Israelites, the Judges, the Prophets and the Priests were the leaders of the people.  Kingship was a later development.  In fact, when the Israelites asked for a king, because they wanted to be like other nations, their request though granted, was construed as a rejection/rebellion against God’s original intention of divine leadership. (I Sam. 8:8).


(a)        Religious Leaders:    By the term “Religious Leaders,” we would mean in this paper, primarily, Christian religious leaders, those leaders of  Christian Communities in Urhobo land, which includes some of those who brought Christianity to the area.  The term would also include members of the Clergy, or those who hold important ministerial positions in their Christian communities.

But lest it be thought that we disregard the traditional religion and culture which is woven into the warp and woof of African life generally and of the Urhobo people in particular, we shall also use the term religious leaders secondarily to refer to leaders of the Urhobo Traditional Religion. And here the leadership is not easy to define, because the traditional religion can scarcely be separated from social, and even political life of the people. Consequently, when the term “Religious Leaders” is used in reference to leaders of the Urhobo Traditional Religion, the focus will be more on the traditional rulers (Ivie and Orodje) and their Chiefs, who are usually the custodians of the traditional religion and culture. In fact, as Prof. F.M.A. Ukoli reported, each of the 22 kingdoms in Urhoboland ‘is headed by an Ovie who is vested with religious and secular powers…exercising administrative, judicial, legislative, and religious authority over his domain” (Ukoli 1999).

(b)        Urhobo Nation:  By “Urhobo nation,” is meant the entire Urhobo people, who belong to the Edo – speaking people, of the present Delta State, and who are, located in the Western Delta within longitude 50.30 and 60.25 east, and between latitude 60 and 50.15 north. They have as their neighbours the Itsekiri, the Bini, the Ijo, the Isoko, and the Ukwuani. They constitute a major “minority” group in Nigeria, being the 7th largest ethnic group in the country, which has about 400 language groups. The Urhobo have a population of about 3 million, and are the majority ethnic group in Delta State.  They are concentrated in the following local Govt. Areas: Ethiope East; Ethiope West; Okpe; Sapele; Udu; Ughelli North; Ughelli South; Uvwie; and Warri South. Some Urhobo Communities are in Bayelsa, while many Urhobo Communities are in Ikale District of Okitipupa, and in several other states in Nigeria and abroad. These are the Urhobo in Diaspora.

Purpose of Keynote Address

The question may well be asked, what is the main purpose or focus of this address. Its main purpose is to create awareness, a consciousness of the Urhobo personality and assess the place of Urhobo nationality within the context of the Nigerian nation.  It would also appreciate the role religious leaders of the people had played in the past, and make recommendations on the role they can still play to move, first the Urhobo people foreword, and secondly to also move the Nigeria nation as a whole foreword. For as Socrates put it, “Man know thyself”. This self knowledge is a sine qua non for making significant progress in human history.


A people’s self – consciousness is usually reflected in their attitude towards their language, culture, their cohesiveness as a people, and their relationship to their neighbours.   We shall take a deeper look at two aspects of the Urhobo personality.

(i)         Urhobo Culture

Culture is defined as “the artificial and secondary environment which man superimposes on the natural, the sum of all that has spontaneously arisen for the advancement of material life, and as an expression of spiritual and moral life…” (Erivwo 1997b).  As I stated elsewhere, “it is the totality of habits, ideas, beliefs, customs, social organizations, inherited artifacts, technical processes, moral values, and religion”(Erivwo 1997b).. Any ethnic nationality, in Nigeria, for example, is easily identifiable by its people’s culture.

Religious leaders, both Christian and traditional, in Urhoboland, play a major role in identifying and promoting Urhobo culture. They do so by encouraging the celebration of traditional festivals, such as Ohworhu festival at Evwreni, Uwherun wrestling festival, the Iheri annual festival at Ughelli and Agbarha, Ughievwe annual festival, Okpara festival and so on.

Each nationality as a result of the advancement of Science and Technology, is striving to make its voice heard and known all over the world, which has now become a global village. If you do not say ‘I am here’, nobody may know, or even admit that you are there. In this modern culture of Information Technology, the leaders of the people are expected to also lead the way, so that generations coming behind them may follow. Urhobo songs, literature and history should be documented, presented and transmitted to the wider world through the Internet. Here we owe immeasurable gratitude to the Urhobo Historical Society under the dynamic leadership of Prof. Peter Ekeh, which launched the Urhobo Historical Society websites (www.waado.org. etc).  It is a significant way of promoting the Urhobo culture in our time.

For Urhobo identity to be known, recognized, and accepted in the world, the leaders of the people, religious and secular, must play a major role in Urhobo affairs.  In the early days of the UPU, that organization functioned inter alia, as a means of promoting Urhobo culture, and way of life, through dances and cultural displays organized annually under the auspices of the UPU. This trend should continue and be improved upon. Here religious leaders can also play a major role, that is, by taking active interest in the activities of the UPU.

(ii)        Urhobo Language

Language is the vehicle of conveying a people’s culture. As an illustration of the position of language in a people’s heritage, a story was told of an Urhobo elite living in the United States of America with his family, (wife and children).  The children were born in the US. Each time this family visited another Nigerian family also in the US, which happened to be from Yoruba land, the daughter of the Urhobo elite noticed that members of that other Nigerian family spoke a language, which she did not understand. So one day she posed a difficult question to her father. “Daddy”, she asked, “why is it that we do not have our own language that we can speak which others will not understand if they visit us, as I observe members of that other family friends do?” The father was overwhelmed with the question and realized the tragedy of failing to take the mother tongue seriously.

For a second illustrative story, while pastoring St. Luke’s Anglican Church Sapele, I had a watch night, an Hausa man, who took delight in speaking sentences in Hausa to me.“Sanu De Zua…Segu-be” and so on; until a certain evening when he came to work, and in a conversation with him, he told me that he came to Sapele in January 1946.  And up to the time we were speaking which was in 1996, he could not speak one sentence in Urhobo.  Thereafter when he wanted to continue to teach me Hausa, I resolutely refused.

A third story may be told to complete the trinity of problems facing the Urhobo language:  I have a brother-in-law working in DSC, Aladja.  In the early 1980s while we were at Ekpoma, he came on a visit, and in the course of his brief stay with us told this story.  His son whom he instructed to speak the Urhobo language, because he and his wife believed that they needed to bring up their children in a way to appreciate and be able to speak their mother tongue fluently, told the father one day as the father raised his hand to flog him for an offence he committed.  “I no go speak Urhobo aganioo!”

From these three stories, we see first a child living far away in the USA, who realized that they ought to have a special language (the mother tongue) as others have, but whose parents were either not fluent in speaking, or not willing, to speak the language and teach the children.  Second, we also see an elderly man, from another ethnic group, who had lived in Urhobo land for 50 years, eager to teach an Urhobo elite his Hausa language while he himself had not learnt to speak a sentence in Urhobo for the 50 years he had been amongst the people.  And thirdly, we see an Urhobo child whose parents were insisting that he should learn and speak the language, now feeling that to speak the Urhobo language was to do his father a favour.  It goes a long way to show that there is a problem that needs addressing.  If there is an area where Urhobo identity is disappearing fast, it is in the inability of our children to speak and take delight in speaking the language.

The early Christian leaders in Urhoboland however did a lot to first commit the language into writing and then, encourage their members to learn it. Agori Iwe wrote an Urhobo Primer containing the words:

“Mo re kpo, wo nyori? Wo kpo re? Yarhe.”


Come let us go home, have you heard? Won’t you go yet? Come.

As children in primary school, we enjoyed reading it. Agori –Iwe championed the cause of the Urhobo language.  He not only wrote a primer, first the Gospels of Mark and John, and then the whole New Testament books were translated under his leadership.  Working with him were men like Ikimi Waghoregho of Ephronto, William Okonorho Etadeferua, Isaac Efedjama, Ven. Johnson Emoefe, Ven. Okirhienyefa of the African Church, Ven. Enajero Arawore, and so on.  An assessment of some of the early church leaders and their impact on Urhoboland is appropriate at this point. Three such leaders will be considered.


(i)         Aganbi

The first such religious leader of the early period of Christianity in Urhoboland is Aganbi of Eku.1 Aganbi introduced the Baptist Church to Eku.  After his training at Ogbomosho, even though he was encouraged by the Baptist Mission to be sent to either Lagos or another big Church in Yoruba land where his salary could easily have been paid, Aganbi insisted on returning to Eku to serve his people, salary or no salary.  He rendered selfless service to the Baptist Church in Eku and to the whole of Eku community.  He was not only a church leader but also a community leader and a peacemaker.  His interest for human beings, we are told, is unequalled in the annals of Urhobo history.   If any crisis erupted in the community, no matter how intractable, Aganbi would step in and say:

“Eku we rovwo; a guono ozighire”

Eku be calm, we do not want trouble.

Once he stepped in, there would be calm.  We are told that Aganbi was so peace – loving, and so forgiving that, if any one slapped him, he would pray that the man be forgiven. His magnanimity became so noticeable that it became a common saying among his people “ophu mue Aganbii:”  “Aganbi never takes offence.”  As a leader, he was so kind hearted that he adopted motherless babies and helped to train many children from Eku who would otherwise not have had the opportunity of a formal education.  Through his influence, Baptist Missionaries built an hospital in Eku in 1950.  All the Baptist schools in the then Midwest Region, we are told, were established by him.    According to Mrs. Aganbi and Chief J.E. Ukueku, it was Aganbi who sponsored Chief Mukoro Mowoe, Urhobo’s foremost political leader to the Old Legislative Council, because Aganbi was not prepared to combine his clerical work with politics.  It goes without saying therefore, that, as I stated elsewhere, “Aganbi was an outstanding Urhobo Church leader, who used his influence to introduce schools, medical care services, and other agents of Christo –centric Western civilization to Urhoboland.  He was one of the pioneer leaders who committed the Urhobo language to writing in his translation of the Gospel of John and of Psalms and Baptist Hymnal to Urhobo.  After meritorious and selfless services to God and his people, Ejovi Aganbi, the Unuevboro  (Advocate) of Eku, slept in the Lord on 25th Sept. 1957.   He was certainly a veritable religious leader that the Urhobo nation has produced.

(ii)        Agori Iwe

Agori Iwe, who was, at a stage, taught by Ejovi Aganbi, went to St. Andrew’s College Oyo, where he trained as a teacher/Catechist, from 1924 – 1928.  On his return from Oyo, he was posted to Otovwodo – Ughelli, and in collaboration with the missionaries of the time, Rev. J.C.C. Thomas and others, Agori Iwe helped to put the Churches in Urhoboland which were disorganized by Ishoshi Erhi crisis in 1929, in order.  He went to train for his ordination at St. Paul’s College Awka, and was ordained in 1938.  After his ordination, he served in various stations.  He served his people in church and state until 1948 when he was sent to the U.K for further studies.   In 1954 he was appointed Archdeacon of Warri Archdeaconry and in 1961, he was consecrated, the first Bishop of the Benin Diocese of the Anglican Church, on St. Andrew’s Day and in St. Andrew’s Church, Warri.

Outside the church, Agori Iwe served in different capacities.  In 1944, he was appointed a member of Urhobo/Isoko Divisional Council and later he was appointed Appeal Court Judge.  In 1955 he was appointed as a “private member” councilor for central Urhobo District Council, and in 1958, a member of the Midwest Advisory Council to represent the educational interests of the Urhobo and Isoko people.  Through him many Schools and Colleges were built in Urhoboland and Isoko land.

Not only did he cause a Primary School to be opened in his home community at Okuama in 1936, when the previous School collapsed; he caused another one to be started in the same place in 1940.  He successfully counselled and led his home community of Okuama to win a decisive victory in the land dispute with the Ijo community in the then West African Court of Appeal at Warri, in 1946.  He also played a leadership role in another land dispute which Okuama had with a neigbouring community, this time an Urhobo community of Oviri – Olomu.  In consequence of his counsel, all the communities sharing a common border with the land in dispute, were allowed by law to share in the land.

On another occasion, he intervened in the dispute between the Okuama people

and the government of the day that could have resulted in the sack of the community.   He brought peace by making the community make the necessary reparations.  For this act of “salvation” for his people, the community composed a song in his praise.

(Urhobo version)

Agori jevwe, Agori jevwe,  Agori Okpurhe rode

Okpurhe shegberurhie

 Emo re Okuama vwa golo wan – Iye Iye.

(English translation)

I admire Agori, I admire Agori  Agori is a mighty tree

A mighty tree fell across the river

Okuama children proudly match across it.  Iye iye.1

Unlike Aganbi’s, Agori’s leadership style emphasized discipline. Whether he was dealing with his children, and members of his immediate family or with his Clergy, and members of the Church who misbehaved and disobeyed church rule, Agori’s leadership style was based on orderliness and disciplined life.  He often mediated amongst leading members of the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) who had disagreement among themselves.  In his administration of justice, he was patently impartial, and for this reason, while he was a councilor, and an Appeal Court Judge, those who worked with him who would have liked to receive bribes felt very much uneasy in his presence.  His leadership qualities in his family, in his community of Okuama, and in Church and government were outstanding.  The many honorific titles conferred on him bear eloquent testimony to the fact that Agori Iwe was a leader and a man of many parts.  He was made a Justice of Peace (JP) in 1957, member of the British Empire (MBE) in 1957, and Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR) in 1965.  Not only the Church, but the Urhobo nation, is still in dire need of leaders of the caliber of Agori Iwe.  After a long life of dedicated service, in Church and State, disciplined character and rigorous leadership style, Agori passed on to the Church Triumphant on 9th July 1979.

(iii)       Stephen Umurie

Stephen Umurie was second in command to Mr. Okpikimu who introduced the

Roman Catholic Church to Ephron (Effurun) in 1927.  Umurie who was at the Teacher Training College Ibusa pleaded with the Principal to recommend him to the seminary.  He was recommended for training in 1929, at Asaba.  The students were later transferred to Benin.  After 13 years of rigorous training, Umurie was ordained on 20th Dec. 1942 as the first Urhobo Roman Catholic Priest.

Umurie’s life was characterized by qualities of obedience, humility, diligence, and tactfulness.  He ministered in many stations including Ashaka, Warri, Kabba, Lokoja, Ogwashi-Ukwu where he served as a Parish Priest from 1951- 1958.  He also served as a Parish Priest at Ibusa from 1958  to1968.  The moment he became a Parish Priest, he was also Manager of the Roman Catholic Mission schools in each of the stations where he served as a Parish Priest.  In 1967 he was elevated to the office of a Monsignor and posted to Ughelli in 1968 to be in charge of the Parish.  In 1970 Umurie was made a Vicar – General of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Warri. On translation, Stephen Umurie assisted the Rev. Fr. Kelly in 1939 to translate the Stations of the Cross to Urhobo.  He also assisted in the translation of the Catholic Prayer Book, The Key of Heaven, to Urhobo, and vetted it single handedly in 1944/45 before it was approved for publication by the Bishop of Benin Diocese.  His priesthood was shot through by humility and unassuming posture.  He saw himself as a priest called by the Lord to serve His Church whenever there was need for such service and did so faithfully until he was called home in 1988.


Aganbi, Agori, and Umurie, were three outstanding Urhobo Church Leaders.  They demonstrated in their lives what Christianity could make of individuals who dedicated themselves to the call of the Lord Jesus.  Each of them became bearer of light in the communities where they operated. And their leadership transformed the lives of their followers.

However, one of the unfortunate dimensions of the leadership role of the trio in Urhoboland was the rivalry amongst the different Christian denominations, which they represented.  One consequence of that rivalry was the use of different orthographies of the Urhobo language in their translation work.  Agori Iwe translated the Gospel of John.  Aganbi translated the same Gospel of John, later, using a different orthography. The Roman Catholics did not at first regard other churches as genuine Christian churches, and so continued to seduce their members.

However, over the years, the walls of barriers among the various denominations began to crumble, as the spirit of ecumenism continued to grow, in such a way that by the time the Urhobo Bible was translated, and published in 1978, it was possible to have a translation committee embracing members of the different denominations in Urhoboland.

On the whole, these early church leaders played a leading role in creating awareness of western civilization amongst our people through the introduction of schools, in committing the Urhobo language to writing, in attracting health care delivery systems to the land, in participating in the government of the day at different levels, and by mediating amongst other Urhobo leaders, especially at the UPU level, where there was disagreement.


The traditional religious leaders, the Ivie and their Councils of Chiefs and elders, play a dominant role in the leadership of their respective domains.  Each of the traditional rulers and their chiefs, exercise administrative, judicial, legislative and religious authority over his kingdom, for they are the custodians of Urhobo traditional religion and culture.  Under their authority each polity expresses the people’s culture during annual festivals, or periodic celebrations, like the Ekene of Agbarha, the Edje-enu of Okpara, the Igboze festival of Olomu.  Some of these periodic festivals are celebrated once in 20 years, or once in 10 years.  They are characterized by dances, exchange of gifts, and veneration of ancestors and so on.

During annual festivals and periodic celebrations, the Urhobo abroad (and that includes Urhobo elite) are expected to return home and share in the festivities.  In this way the people’s culture, and their traditions are kept alive as they are usually rehearsed.  It is often said of an Urhobo who for some odd reason refuses to go home frequently to share in the social and religious life of the people that he would lose his identity, and may not flow with the people’s way of life.  The common saying to describe such a person is;

Ohwo ro kpe Ukane  or Ohwo ro ne uwevwi krire,

Ode rhe ile re awanre  Koye o sua

(English translation)

“The man who traveled abroad and for a long time did not come home, when he comes home, he will be singing outdated songs.”

In other words he would not be current with the life and latest development of his own people because no culture is static; culture is dynamic.

Before the various traditional festivals are celebrated it is at the Ovie’s palace that final decision of the exact date is reached.  Dances by the different towns and villages that constitute a given kingdom, are usually organized from the town to the palace, as a way of paying homage to the reigning monarch.

Any dispute between members of the kingdom which could not be settled in a town meeting by the council of elders in a given town in Ughelli, for instance, will end up at the Ovie’s palace.  Also the Ovie and his chiefs would normally hold regular meetings to discuss the affairs of the kingdom and where there are disagreements to settle or issues to address in the interest of the kingdom, these are discussed, settled, and agreed on at the palace.

With the advent of western civilization, expressed in British rule, which gave birth to the Nigerian nation in 1914, and the introduction of a Local government system, first known as Native Authority (N.A), the influence of the Ivie and their council of chiefs may have diminished, but not obliterated.  Indeed, for the Local Government Council Authority of any area in Urhoboland to succeed, the Local Government Authority needs to cooperate and work in harmony with the traditional ruler of that kingdom and his council of chiefs.

Finally, let us also point out that in Urhoboland, all the Ivie have a Union, they have a meeting of all the Ivie in Urhoboland from time to time, and although it is a meeting of equals, they have an elected chairman or leader who for a period is primus inter pares, first amongst equals.  And there they discuss the welfare of the Urhobo nation.  The Orodje of Okpe is currently the Chairman of the Council of Urhobo Ivies.  There is a lot which the Ivie and their Chiefs at their respective kingdoms, as well as in their council of Ivie of Urhoboland, can do, and should do to move the Urhobo people forward.

For example, where it is observed, as is often the case, that either at the State or Federal Government level, the sharing of offices is being carried out to the detriment of our people, the Ivie can make representations, either to the State Government, or to the Presidency, to make their views and needs known.  In this and other ways, they contribute significantly to the collective leadership of Urhoboland.

Also, the UPU, from time to time, holds consultations, with the Council of the Ivie, on issues, which affect the well being of our people.  The current and recurrent crisis in Warri, is a case in point.  It is one over which the Ivie and the UPU leadership should confer and together proffer a solution to Government, whether Government listens or not.  It is important that the leadership of the people makes their views well known to the Government of the day.

I recall, that during the first term of the present PDP Government in Delta State of Nigeria, when the question of whether or not the PTI Effurun be allowed to be used by Federal overnment, as a temporary Campus of the Federal University of Benin, and the controversy was very fierce, some of us who had access to significant documents, argued that we should accept the offer as a first step to having a Federal University presence in our area.  The UPU leadership had to hold consultation with the Ivie of Urhoboland at the palace of the Ovie of Ephron. Erohwo II (who has now slept in the Lord).  The point we are making here, is that the Ivie and their Chiefs play significant roles in Urhobo leadership.  This being the case, they should be enlightened, well informed about the goings on, in our world, and they should be carried along by other segments of Urhobo leadership, for us as a people to really move forward in our very rapidly changing world.

7)         THE WAY FORWARD

From what has been said earlier on, it is clear that Urhobo religious leaders of the past, were conscious of their identity.  They knew who they were and consequently initiated and championed the cause of promoting the Urhobo language, by committing the language to writing, by translating Books of the Bible, and subsequently, translating the whole Bible to the Urhobo language.

What is not now so clear is the extent to which the contemporary Urhobo religious leaders have sustained, and are sustaining the initial interest and efforts of our predecessors.  Admittedly there is still the Urhobo Translation Committee currently working on the revision of the Urhobo Bible. And the Urhobo Bible and hymnals are a rich source for promoting the Urhobo language.  This effort needs to be expanded to other secular areas such as developing the “Yono Urhobo 1 & 2” written years ago by S.S. Ugheteni.

The Urhobo language is profusely rich in proverbs and pithy sayings which we hear of, when a social gathering, like traditional marriage, is organized by an important personality.  Urhobo music records by Ogute, Ọmọkọmọkọ, Johnson Adjan, Okpa Arido, and 1so on are already becoming extinct.  Our religious leaders (Christian and Traditional) should have a forum for discussing, such documents, preserving them, and passing them on to future generation.  Those records should now be converted to discs as a result of modern technology.

The Urhobo elite should cultivate the habit of speaking the language at home, to their children who will pass this tradition on to posterity.  For those Urhobo elite, who are Christians, let me recommend the practice of holding their morning family prayers in English and the evening family prayers in Urhobo.  In this way your children will take delight in the language.

The leaders should also ensure that the Ministry of Education is prevailed upon to introduce the teaching of Urhobo language in Primary and Secondary Schools, in Colleges of Education and in the Universities.  Done in this way, the language will be kept alive, and will not suffer the fate of a language like Latin known now as a dead language.

(ii)        Urhobo Unity

It was our Lord Jesus Christ who said, “A House or kingdom divided against itself cannot stand”.  Our religious leaders (Christian and Traditional) should be sensitive to those issues that disrupt our unity, as a people.  Where there are misunderstandings, patent or implicit, as between the Urhobo of Okere and the Agbarha of Warri, the religious leaders should create a forum where such misunderstandings are resolved amicably as between brothers.  And where there is a clear dispute over border or ownership of any part of Urhoboland, as the protracted dispute between Udu and Effurun, over Enerhe, the religious leaders should step in and seek for ways and means of resolving such disputes.  For it is in unity that there is strength.  For example, if all the Urhobo indigenes of Warri are truly united, they will be in a better and stronger position to resist external aggression, which tends to frequently disrupt the peace of this so called oil City.

(iii)       The Urhobo People and their Neighbours: The Ijo, Itsekiri, Isoko,

Ukwani, and Bini.

Our religious leaders, many of whom have significant relations in these neighbouring ethnic groups, should also have a forum which attends to inter-ethnic conflicts in the region, and nip them in the bud.  For example, in 1997 when there was a serious crisis, between Egbaregolo people and their Ijo neighbours, religious leaders, especially the leadership of the Warri Diocese (Anglican Communion) in collaboration with the leadership of the UPU, and some other Urhobo leaders like Chief J.E. Ukueku, played a major role in resolving the crisis and bringing peace to the two communities.  A stitch in time saves nine.  Such conflicts are usually as a result of injustice, perpetrated by a group that seeks to dominate their neigbhours politically and economically in the Niger Delta Region.  Here our religious leaders should be at the forefront presenting an Urhobo voice, and ensuring that justice and peace are maintained for the proper development of the region.  They should remember, and reiterate the truth to the State and Federal Governments, that without justice, there can be no peace.  What we have, for example, in Warri metropolis now is not peace, but a truce, an uneasy calm.  The Ijo, the Itsekiri and the Urhobo of Warri and in Warri, can co-exist and together see to the development of the area.  Religious leaders should be at the forefront of the fight for justice and peace in the area.  Creation of separate Local Government Areas for the three ethnic groups is an honest and viable solution to the Warri problem, because it is fair and just to do so, although this recommendation has not been accepted by all concerned.

(iv) Image and Place of the Urhobo People in Nigerian Politics.

Our religious leaders, as leaders ought to be conscious of the image and place of the Urhobo people in Nigerian politics.  Political offices both at the State and Federal levels are not obtained by the idle or lazy man.  They are not bestowed on any one on a platter of gold.  People struggle for them.  Similarly, neglect and exploitation of the Niger Delta region by the Federal government is not a situation that will or can be reversed without a struggle, a struggle such as the Delta State Governor, Chief James Onanefe Ibori championed during his first tenure and designated struggle for Resource Control.  That struggle could be seen as another terminology for a struggle for the realization of a true federalism in Nigeria, as is practiced for example in the USA.  The repeated cry and demand for a national conference by different segments of the Nigerian Society, is a struggle to attain the same goal.

In all these struggles, our religious leaders should play a significant role by sensitizing their congregations in their sermons, and Bible studies about the need for justice and fair play in Nigeria.  In addition to sensitizing the congregations, our religious leaders should have a forum through which they can communicate with Government, both at the State and Federal levels, and represent the feelings and aspirations of our people.  Government generally has respect for religious leaders, and would listen to their presentation of the feelings and demands of the people, such as educational institutions, health care centres and so on.  These are avenues for moving our society forward and combating the menace of youth unemployment with its disastrous consequences.

It was Tennyson who said,” Far more things are wrought by prayer than the world dreams of “.  Any battle fought and won in the physical realm, had first been fought and won in the spiritual realm.  This being the case, who are better qualified and equipped to fight the battle in the spirit realm than our Religious leaders?  They should always bear up the different strata of the Urhobo people in their prayers, standing in the gap, and pleading the case of the Urhobo nation before God.

Our religious leaders (Christian and traditional) should be involved in the challenge of reorganizing the UPU, in a way to reflect the UPU of Mukoro Mowoe’s days.  For as Prof. Onokerhoraye made very clear, there is a leadership vacuum created in Urhobo land since after the death of Mukoro Mowoe on 10th August 1948.  His successors in office have not been very helpful.  Some have stuck to the office of President General without giving effective leadership to our people.  The consequence is that the Urhobo nation with a population of over 3 million, a people who Chief Obafemi Awolowo admitted in his book, ought to have their own state, and yet they do not even have the State capital of Delta State, which includes several other ethnic groups located in it, in Urhoboland — and Chief Obafemi Awolowo was not particularly a friend of the Urhobo. 

The leadership vacuum created by the demise of Mukoro Mowoe, is still with us, with all its dangerous consequences – the serious maginalization of the Urhobo.  Our religious leaders should come together, and create a forum which will bring the needed pressure on the present UPU to be reformed in a way that it can effectively play the role which the UPU of Mukoro Mowoe’s day played in Urhobo affairs.

Finally, in this modern world, the religious leaders should identify with, promote and encourage a society like the Urhobo Historical Society which created the present forum, and which exists to pursue the progress, recognition and acceptance of the Urhobo nationality world-wide. If our religious leaders play the roles recommended in this paper effectively, they will demonstrate to the world that as religious leaders they are also leaders of their people – the Urhobo nation – in all aspects of the people’s life.

Mr. Chairman,

Ladies & Gentlemen,

Let me conclude by expressing my profound gratitude for being chosen and given the opportunity to articulate the views expressed in this paper

I end this paper with our national anthem.

Urhobo jevwe, Urhobo jevwe (2x)

Obo r’ Urhobo jevwe na  Asa ofa jevwe otioye yoo

Edefa me cha akpo  Urhobo me je wan rhe

Urhobo hee Urhobo hee,  Orere ri Ivie saan

Mr. Chairman,

Beloved brothers and sisters,

May God bless all of you and Urhoboland richly in Jesus’ name.  Amen


Erivwo, S.U., “Traditional  Culture and Christianity: Rivals or Partners?”  in AFER vol. 21 No. 4, August 1979a.

Erivwo S.U.., A History of Christianity in Nigeria:  The Urhobo, the Isoko, and the Itsekiri (Daystar Press, Ibadan. 1979b)

Erivwo, S.U, Traditional Religion and Christianity in Nigeria:  The Urhobo People (Dept. of Religious Studies and Philosophy, Ekpoma, 1991).

Erivwo S.U., “Aganbi, Agori and Umurie: Three Urhobo Church Leaders” in Epha – Ekpoma Journal of Religious Studies and Philosophy (vol. 1 No. 1 Dec. 1992)

Erivwo S.U..,, The Life and work of Agori Iwe (Uniben Press, 1998).

Mowoe I.O.J. (ed) Leadership unity and the Future of the Urhobos

Niebuhr H.R. , Christ and Culture (Harper, 1956)

Onokerhorayen, Andrew G. “ Leadership and the Development of the Urhobo Nation: A look at the Present, And Future Challenges from the Past” – A Guest Lecture Delivered at the 2003 Annual Party of the Ufuoma Socio-Cultural Club, Benin City May, 17, 2003.

Ukoli, F. M. A.  The Place of the Elite in Urhobo Leadership.  In In Leadership, Unity, and the Future of Urhobos: Lectures and a Poem on the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Death of Chief Mukoro Mowoe. Edited by Isaac Owhofasa James Mowoe. With a Foreword by Dr. Moses E. Mowoe.  (1999)

The Holy Bible (NIV)


Delivered at Goldsmiths College of London University

November 2, 2003

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