Adogbeji Salubi: A man worth remembering

Urhobo Historical Society
Subject: Adogbeji Salubi: A Man Worth Remembering
Date: 31 May 2007 09:47:09-0700 (PDT)
From: ochuko justice<>
Adogbeji Salubi: A Man Worth Remembering
By Ochuko Tonukari

“It is not the style of clothes one wears, neither the kind of automobile one drives, nor the amount of money one has in the bank, that counts. These mean nothing. It is simply service that measures success.” — George Washington Carver (c. 1864 – January 5, 1943).

The lives and works of certain celebrities have been fodder for all shades of creative persons for ages. For some reggae musicians, especially, names of personalities like Marcus Garvey, Haille Selassie, Nelson Mandela and Kwame Nkrumah have become well-loved mantras that must be sprinkled, even if in very tiny doses, in their works.

In Urhoboland, there is no such sparse sprinkling. It is a very generous pour of adoration for Late Chief Adogbeji Salubi, one of the finest men ever to live in the Urhobo country. The late Chief Adogbeji Salubi was among those who were specially gifted from birth. Some people, as it is often said, in life attain greatness through hard work; some have it bestowed on them, while some others are simply born great. Chief Salubi was undeniably an uncommon blend of nobility and intellectual prowess.

Chief Salubi was born on November 8, 1906 at Oko r’ Agbamu, a satellite village of Ovu, in the present day Ethiope East Local Government Area. Between 1917-1919, Salubi attended the St. James’ (then C.M.S.) School in Ovu. In October, 1919, while still in St James, he was sent by his father to Lagos. He went to Lagos by a slow-moving canoe and it took him 14 days before he got there through the creek. Salubi schooled in Lagos for some years, attaining standard six in December 2, 1924, at the St Paul’s Breadfruit School, Lagos. It is on record that the positive manner with which Salubi greeted learning endears him to some Colonial Officials who established public libraries in Lagos in the 1920s. Chief Salubi and some others were allowed to enjoy library services as much as they wanted.

As someone who studied librarianship, I understand that the 1920s witnessed the establishment of public libraries in Lagos; but their services were quite limited to Nigerians on the premise held by librarians who were sent from London as at that time that Nigerians did not read books. Even when a case was made for sending books and other information resources from the British Headquarters in London, the gesture was turned down on that note. In the letter of the British Library Officials in Lagos that was sent to their Headquarters in London, the name T.E.A. Salubi and some 62 others were mentioned as the few persons who patronized their libraries regularly.

Chief Salubi returned home from Lagos in February 15th 1925. While at his hometown, Salubi became a teacher in Okpara Waterside and at the same time a catechist and interpreter for a Yoruba pastor who preached in Yoruba at the time. Yet again, Salubi returned to Lagos in April 9th 1926 and enrolled as a founding student in Baptist academy in May 15th of that same year. He completed in record time the two years course and then worked as a secretary inspector. In the course of time, Chief Salubi worked in the Labour Department and was given the chance to further his studies in Labour relations matters in the United Kingdom. 

As a direct consequence of his great effort, Chief Salubi became the President of Urhobo Progress Union. This is a union that came into existence on November 3rd 1931 with Chief Omorohwovo Okoro as president. When its name was changed from Urhobo Brotherly Society (U.B.S) to Urhobo Progress Union (U.P.U) in 1936, Chief Mukoro Mowoe was elected the life President General until his death in 1948. Chief J. A. Okpodu became President-General from May 13, 1950 to January 23, 1957), Chief J.A. Obaho President-General from January 26, 1957 to December 29, 1961 and then Chief T.E.A. Salubi President-General (from December 30, 1961 to 1983). These past leaders made us to understand that the aim of this union was to maintain good reputation and to aid better positions or place in the public or society. When he saw that the union couldn’t control the pressure facing her alone, Chief Salubi during his time as President General admitted without pride. I quote: “let us admit that for the moment our ship has shattered and we have to retrace our steps. We have to begin again.” He personally moved to put the machineries in place and brought back unity and understanding among its members. Chief Adogbeji Salubi in his 1963 Presidential address proclaimed: “Urhobo is great and that greatness must at all times be jealously guarded.”

Chief T. E. A. Salubi was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters of the University of Ibadan in recognition of his brilliant efforts in recording the history of the Urhobos and their neighbours. No doubt, he lived his life as a visionary and exemplary leader, an innovator and a change agent. In fact the world is filled with few people who build and the many who destroy: he was a builder.

As  Professor Peter Ekeh rightly noted, “Adogbeji Salubi was from a generation that witnessed at first hand the early stages of British colonialism in Urhoboland. But he alone in his generation of Urhobos, who grew up in the 1910s and 1920s, committed into writing what he saw and witnessed. Furthermore, he carried out his own research into documents concerning the beginnings of British imperialism in the Western Niger Delta.” The distinguished Professor went further to add that, “the calibre of Salubi’s manuscript flows from the fact that it tells the truth and seeks no harm to his own people or to their neighbours, the Itsekiri.”

From a grapevine, I learnt that the late Chief Salubi was a thorough family man with a great sense of humour. He lived his life bringing succour to all that came around him with heart lifting and positive words. He worked in the British Colonial Civil Service, working in the Labour Department in which he rose to be one of the first Nigerian Labour Officers. Chief Salubi, well known and well respected, always based his principles, diligent work, and devotion to duty on sound religious values. He was a devoted family man who loved his wife dearly. He was never happier than when surrounded by his children and grandchildren who would visit constantly. At Christmas, the whole family would gather together for celebrations.

Throughout his career, the main interest of Chief Salubi was education. Because he believed that education was a necessity for the development of the individual and the nation, Salubi advocated that it should be a prominent feature in government programmes. His published works include: “The Origins of Sapele Township in British Colonial Nigeria,” The Miracle of An Original Thought Being the Origins of Urhobo College, “The Establishment Of British Administration  In The Urhobo Country and “Perspectives on the History of the Itsekiri and the Title of Their King.” A distinguished scholar, historian and leader, Salubi devoted his scholarship to promoting African history as an essential element of African education.

Today the wretched of our country have begun to walk with a firm tread in their step, confident of a better future for themselves and for the African motherland. They walk tall, with straight backs, no longer afraid to look into the eyes of those who had sought to set themselves up as rapacious demi-gods. On the shoulders of these generations rests the duty to answer the drawn-out cries of those who were enslaved and colonized by strangers and abused by their own kith and kin. They rest on firm ground because they stand on the foundation of stone that leaders like Chief Adogbeji Salubi built. In it are infused the passions which constituted his wealth — love for the people and loyalty to their cause; commitment to the cause of peace; attachment to principle; honesty, simplicity, humility and personal integrity; courage and a great intellect; the capacity to sustain hope at the most difficult moments; the determination to ensure that the sun shone over Nigeria, to banish the dark centuries which have been our heritage.

He leaves us a legacy of peace and unity which is admired throughout the world. It is not a legacy we can allow to be squandered. If he was still with us today, he would ask us to take over his crusade against poverty, exploitation and discrimination. He would urge us to move much more quickly to integrate African economies and promote African unity. He would appeal for collective self-reliance.

A few years ago, as a young man fired on from the inside by a powerful force of pan-Africanism, I read the background and works of Chief Adogbeji Salubi.  The Salubi I read about was the liberator, thinker, strategist, organizer and our kinder and gentler teacher on the politics of liberation, African unity, nation-building and internationalist solidarity with the people of the Third World. It was Chief Adogbeji Salubi together with the great Chief Mukoro Mowoe, that strengthened decisively my love for Nigeria in general and Urhobo in particular. One of Chief Salubi’s sentiments that have never ceased to capture my imagination goes thus: “The title “Olu Itsekiri” is historic and deserves to be retained by the Itsekiri. Changing it to “Olu of Warri” is illegitimate, not only because it violates Itsekiri history, but because it takes and steals from their neighbours who share the name of Warri with the Itsekiri.”

Chief Salubi lived a simple life in harmony with his message and the values of truth and justice to which he referred. Incorruptible and fully accountable, his life and work set an example of integrity that challenged his country and people, the rest of Africa and the world. In many ways, Chief Salubi was the conscience of Nigeria.

Chief Salubi was a man of tremendous intellectual and moral resources. He was a pillar of strength to oppressed people all over the world and was admired for his wisdom, his intellect and integrity. The best ways to pay tribute to Chief Adogbeji Salubi was for Nigeria’s people to re-commit themselves every day to the cause of peace, stability and a better life for all, for he served as a source of great inspiration towards Nigeria’s rebirth. The best way to remember Chief Adogbeji Salubi is to continue the struggle to free all Nigerians, from hunger and starvation; from homelessness; from diseases that are killing thousands of our people; from joblessness; illiteracy, conflict and war; from tyranny and from oppression.

Chief Adogbeji Salubi was one of the wise sons of Africa who guided our journey towards placing Africa in her rightful place in the world. At the height of his career, Adogbeji Salubi had dedicated himself to the upliftment of his people and remained committed to justice and equality. In the word of one elder, “Salubi was a model leader, very humble, selfless, a great thinker and revolutionary leader, and it would take a long time before Urhobo will again see a leader of his caliber.”

Indeed Adogbeji Salubi was an outstanding leader, a brilliant philosopher and a people’s hero, a champion for the entire African continent. No wonder then my father who was Chief Salubi’s contemporary stated categorically in his diary that he was devastated at the news of his death and was weeping in memory of “this giant amongst men.” Chief Salubi’s death was a great loss because he had played an important role in the politics of the Niger Delta, particularly in its liberation struggle. Chief T.E.A. Salubi was an important architect and a guiding light in the African revolution and a champion of human rights and democracy within that revolution. No doubt Nigeria has lost an important source of moral lessons in our quest for transformation and democratic consolidation. Chief T.E.A. Salubi will be remembered for his many pioneering initiatives, not just in Urhoboland, but throughout Africa.

With the death of Chief T.E.A. Salubi, a venerable Urhobo leader and one of Nigeria’s most charismatic and respected elder statesmen, Urhobo people have lost the father of the nation, the courageous leader of their independence struggle and the architect of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Urhobo people in particular and the Nigerian people as a whole have lost an ardent pan-Africanist, a man of high principles, a man of self-abnegation and the champion of Nigeria’s self-determination, liberation and independence.

Without Chief Adogbeji Salubi’s firm guidance and steadfast support, the struggle for liberation, particularly in Urhoboland, would have been even more difficult and divisive within the ranks of the Urhobo Progress Union and other freedom-loving forces in the Niger Delta. Indeed, Adogbeji Salubi was one of the giants of the 20th century African liberation movement. For those of us the Urhobos, his death takes from us a great father and a tireless supporter of the Nigeria Nation. Chief Salubi’s death silenced “a voice which, uninterrupted for five decades, never abandoned principle, never abandoned purpose, never abandoned vision. While his accomplishments were formidable and touched everyone on the Niger Delta region, his greatest accomplishment may be that Urhobo became a nation where human life is valued and peace is treasured. When you recognize that so many of the surrounding nations in the Niger Delta are characterized by horrendous ethnic and tribal division, what Adogbeji Salubi accomplished for Urhobo seems almost miraculous. At the death of Chief Salubi, it was said that there were many who fear that Urhobo nation will disintegrate, the union will falter and our relations with our neighbours will deteriorate. His name permeated all the significant moments of the country’s development from its colonial past, and he had played a key supportive role in the Niger Delta’s path to freedom. 

Adogbeji Salubi’s practical and benevolent approach to life was based on a profound religious faith to which he attributed all his accomplishments. He always believed that faith and inquiry were not only compatible paths to knowledge, but that their interaction was essential if truth in all its manifold complexity was to be approximated.  Always modest about his success, he saw himself as a vehicle through which nature, God and the natural bounty of the land could be better understood and appreciated for the good of all people.

Adogbeji Salubi took a holistic approach to knowledge, which embraced faith and inquiry in a unified quest for truth. His belief in service was a direct outgrowth and expression of his wedding of inquiry and commitment. With victory won, Adogbeji Salubi was one of the most revered men in the Nigeria of the fifties and sixties. A lesser person in our society of today might have used this power to carry out a coup d’etat or to become king.

Our nation currently agonizes over questions about ethics and society in the wake of egregious moral abuses in our public and private lives. The life of Adogbeji Salubi reminds us that such abuses will continue until we reunite ethical and technical reasoning in the context of a profound faith that holds all inquiry and action accountable. 

Adogbeji Salubi needed a Nigeria, but above all Nigeria needed him. The significant qualities of this special man cannot be underestimated nor taken for granted. Within a span of 3 years, he was able to expound and extricate his Urhobo people from many wrongs. His tactics of protest involved non-violent passive resistance to tribal injustice. It was the right prescription for our country, and it was right on time. Hope in Nigeria was waning on the part of many Nigerians, but Chief T.E.A Salubi provided a candle along with a light. He also provided this nation with a road map so that all people could locate and share together in the abundance of this great country’s resources.

We the Urhobos honor Chief T.E.A Salubi because he showed us the way to mend those broken fences and to move on in building this land rather than destroying it. Where he is right now, I guess he would be wondering if the country he has served so well couldn’t do anything to immortalize his name. But he would commend Professor Peter Ekeh, the President and Founder of Urhobo historical Society, for building a veritable Website where copious portion was assigned to ensure that Chief T.E.A Salubi’s marvelous deeds would forever remain in the sands of time 

Accomplishing all what Chief Salubi accomplished in the midst of so much diversity is not an easy task. We can, however, approximate it if we act on the belief in a common humanity, which binds us together despite our differences of nationality and culture, and a common destiny that can be secured only if science and technology seek to serve broad and deep societal needs. 

Although worn out by years of service to his country at the Federal Civil Service, Chief Salubi willingly accepted the presidency of the Urhobo Progress Union. Probably no other man could have succeeded in welding the Urhobo nation into a lasting union. Chief Salubi fully understood the significance of his presidency. “I walk on a ground that demands absolute carefulness,” he said. “There is scarcely any part of my conduct which may not hereafter be drawn in precedent.” During his years in office, he laid down the guidelines for future presidents.

Our Urhobo Political Godfathers today should be blamed for URHOBO’s loss of the governorship seat, because in the midst of EVERYTHING they still could not do ANYTHING in the right way and at the right time. On the whole, instead of protecting the interest of all Urhobo people whom they were representing, they were only using the Urhobo umbrella that covers their head to project their selfish and personal interest. Chief Salubi in the (U.P.U) conference of 1963, stated: “I prefer not to soil my name, my character and my integrity. I refuse to lead you my dear people to kneel before any one for a mess of pottage.” Thank you Chief Salubi for having been the drum major who was able and ready to lead our nation to greater heights through love and peace.

May his vision and hope for humankind grow in each of our hearts and nurture within us a hope for the world’s future where all people will be treated as brothers and sisters.


%d bloggers like this: