FOR WARRI PROVINCE
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF
THE MEMBER FOR WARRI PROVINCE
On 1 January 1947, the often-talked-about Richards' Constitution came into operation in Nigeria. That constitution provided, for the first time since the amalgamation of Southern and Northern Nigeria in 1914, for a central Legislative Council for all of Nigeria. The constitution did more. It also provided for Regional Houses of Assembly. The West Regional House of Assembly was, by the provisions of the new constitution, to consist of:
The Chief Commissioner (as President): 13 other official members; 15-19 Unofficial (Provincial Members) of which 3 Head Chiefs were nominated by the Governor after consultation with the Head chiefs in the Western Provinces; 7-11 selected by the Native Authorities and 5 nominated by the Governor from inadequately represented interests and communities.
While it is not intended hee to go into any detailed discussion of the constitutional history of Nigeria, it is relevant to mention a few points. First, the Richards' Constitution, introduced by the Governor whose name it bears, was the first constitutional revision since Clifford's Constitution 0f 1922 which had conceded the principle of elective representation It was drawn up without consultation with the Nigerian peoples or their representatives and must therefore be seen as representing essentially the governor's own thinking. Secondly, the constitution by providing for regional Houses of Assembly, recognized and emphasized the tripartite division of Nigeria which governor Sir Bernard Bourdillon had brought about in 1939. Thirdly, by providing that 7-11 members of the Western House of Assembly (as indeed varying members for the other two Houses of Assembly) were to be selected by the Native Authorities, the constitution sought to provide the link between local government (otherwise known as indirect rule) and central government. Fourthly, Arthur Richards obviously did not mean to give Nigerians too much training in the legislative process because these Houses of Assembly were not conceived of as legislative bodies, but rather as advisory and deliberative bodies 'with the right to make recommendations regarding draft legislation' --- recommendations which neither the Chief Commissioner nor the Governor at the centre was bound to accept.126 The men who sat on these first regional Houses of assemblies were thus not law makers, but provincial representatives who could, through questions and other means, bring to the notice of the Chief Commissioner issues which bothered their constituents. Having said this, however, one must hasten to add that how effective such members were in raising such issues would depend on their sensitivity and general awareness of the state of thinking in the provinces they represented.
Earlier, the point was made that the constitutions sought to forge a link between the Native Authorities and the central government. One of the major criticisms made against British indirect administration in Nigeria is that by concentrating on the use of 'traditional authorities' -- whether real or imagined -- the system denied the educated elements participating in local government. This criticism, valid for the period up to the early 1930s, began to be met, rather cautiously, thereafter, by the encouragement given tot he native authorities to inject educated elements into the working of 'Native Administration'. In the Warri Province in the years after the tax riots of 1927-28, Native Authorities began to be actively encouraged to bring in educated elements into their councils. For the Urhobo areas one should point out that the type of educated elements available were not at this point in time lawyers, medical practitioners and other such professional (education along western European lines having only been properly organized in this area since the 1920s) but products of teacher training institution, graduates of the various grades of primary schools or self-educated persons among whom Mukoro Mowoe had to be numbered. When in 1934, for example, the Urhobo division (then called 'Sobo Division') with its headquarters at Ughelli was expected to nominate educated men who could assist their District Officer in the preparation of estimates and general planning of development programmes which cut across clans, Mukoro Mowoe was one of those nominated to serve on what became known as the Finance Committee. Thus was Mowoe inducted into the Native Authority o the Urhobo Division. With continued reorganization Mowoe became a full fledged member of the Eastern Urhobo Native Administration by the late 1930s. This digression into the development of Native Administration in Urhoboland has been necessary as a prelude to an explanation of Mowoe's emergency as the member for Warri Province in the Western (Regional) house of Assembly created by the Richard's constitution.
The Warri Province was assigned one of the members to be selected by the Native Authorities into the Regional House of Assembly. Since there were as many as five different Native Authorities in province, each Native Authority was requested by the Resident to send a number of delegates to a provincial electoral committee which was then to elect one of the delegates to the Assembly. As the accredited leader of the Urhobo by this time, it was logical that the Eastern Urhobo native Administration should nominate Mukoro Mowoe as one of its delegates. Thus did Mowoe get to the provincial 'electoral college'. When that Committee met in 1946 for the purpose of electing its provincial representative to the Western House of Assembly, it unanimously elected Chief Mukoro Mowoe.127 His election was an obvious recognition of his standing the province by that time, only two years before his untimely death. Again it was as if the fates wee at work: Two years before his unexpected death, Mukoro Mowoe was given the opportunity of serving the peoples of the province in the highest capacity then open to anyone in the province. What did he make of that opportunity?
Mowoe attended his first meeting of the Western House of Assembly, the first such meeting in our history, in July 1947.128 As has been pointed out, the House was not a legislative body. Members were not expected to initiate legislation. Rather they examined what government lay before them and made their views known or else themselves raised various issues which required government's attention or explanation. It is revealing the kind of questions which Mowoe asked during his brief membership of the House.
"The Member for the Warri Province (Mr. Mukoro Mowoe)", To ask the Deputy Director of Education:
The issue of education was indeed a burning issue in the forties throughout Nigeria and the Member for Warri Province was to hark back to it at every one of the three sittings of the House he was spared to attend. At the meeting of the House in December 1947, Mowoe raised a number of issues to do with education. He disagreed with the policy which made District Officers managers of schools. He advocated the training by government of experienced teachers as managers of Native Administration schools throughout Western Nigeria: 'It is time the District Officers, who are already over-taxed with review of cases and other administrative duties, were released from duties of managers to ensure efficient management.'
On the ever-present problem of shortage of teachers, Mowoe urged that the Government Teacher Training College at Abraka be expanded to accommodate 250 students and that the C.M.S. Teacher Training College at Oleh, the only mission institution at that level, be subsidized by government to enable it to cope more adequately with its functions.
In the same speech he again urged government to grant-aid more schools in the province and prayed government not to place 'impediments on the way of anybody of men attempting to set up secondary schools in the provinces.' Well may the President of the U.P.U. plead that people be left to open schools; his union had just embarked, the year before, on the establishment of what is now known as Urhobo College, Ephron. What is more, other groups and persons in the province were thinking along similar lines. The member for Warri Province was thus expressing the burning desire of his constituents.
At the same meeting of the House Mowoe asked for population figures for the various provinces in the region, the number of schools in each province, the number of pupils enrolled and the total annual government expenditure on education in each province. The figures which were supplied by government are revealing. The population figures based on the 1931 census were obviously inadequate for planning purposes by 1947. However they revealed that Oyo Province had 1,300,300; Ondo 463,000; Benin 460,000; Abeokuta 435,000; Warri 414,500 and Ijebu 306,000 (in round figures). In terms of numbers of schools, Oyo had 500 schools of which 442 were unassisted; Ondo 494 schools, 447 being unassisted; Benin 456, 396 unassisted; Abeokuta 274 schools, 237 being unassisted; Warri 414 schools with 354 unassisted and Ijebu 209 schools of which 172 were unassisted. These figures make Mowoe's plea that government should invest more on education through grants-in-aid fall into even better focus. The large majority of schools in each of the provinces were unassisted. This meant that the large majority of pupils in school were receiving poor education arising from being taught by poorly qualified teachers. Other members of the House joined Mowoe in criticizing primary school education in the region. Said the Deputy Director of Education in reply, 'I have been very interested in the remarks that members have made and am rather surprised. I did not expect them to stress with such great emphasis the Junior Primary Schools. They have put their fingers on the point in a system which has for a long time been very weak --- Primary Schools in general. That pan of the system, I can assure Members will be greatly improved as a result of expansion in Teachers' Training Colleges.' In a situation where the bulk of pupils never went beyond primary education it was not surprising that members wanted that level of education to be improved so that at least all could read up to Standard VI and not just Standard II or IV which was the level which many of the unassisted schools were allowed to reach. Today all schools read to Primary VI but the issue of the quality of primary school education is still very much with us.
As for government expenditure on education, the figures revealed that apart from a £13,358 expenditure on government owned primary schools (there were 11 such schools in the entire region), government spent £58,627 on education a year for the region. The paucity of government spending is staggering. On 11 schools government spent £13,358. There were 2,347 schools in the region according to government's own figures. This meant that on the remaining 2,336 schools, government spent £58,627! This shows how much the people of the region can pride themselves for having been responsible in the main for providing education for their own children, for it was they who supported the missions, the Native Administrations, the various communities. The colonial government did no more than provide a pittance for education. Mowoe and other members of the House were more than justified in asking that this pittance be raised.
At the same December (1947) meeting of the House Mowoe raised two other issues connected with education. He wished to know whether in awarding higher education scholarships government took into consideration the prevailing occupational pursuits of the different areas of the region and whether it was not wise policy for government to encourage youths from these areas to undertake studies connected with such occupations. The Secretary, Western Provinces, answered that question to the effect that regional and area occupations were not taken into consideration in the award of scholarships; what mattered was 'the benefit likely to accrue to the country as a whole.' What in fact Mowoe wanted was scholarships for Warri Province youths to study agriculture, especially in the field of palm oil and rubber production. He was to raise the issue again during his last meeting of the House. He being a leading trader in rubber and palm produce could no doubt see how such training could redound to the economic advantage of a province whose cash crop economy depended largely on those two commodities.
The final point which Mowoe raised in connection with education had to do with the building of what is now Government College, Ughelli (first Warri College, Warri). Mowoe had been the leading figure in securing the land for this school at Ughelli and in getting government to agree to move the college from Warri to Ughelli. Mowoe now urged that since funds had been made available, the notorious Public Works Department (P.W.D., now Ministry of Works) be urged to make the construction of the school buildings a priority. He was assured that this would be done. Mowoe did not live to see the completion of the project. The college did not move to Ughelli until September 1951, three years after Mowoe's death. Even so, however, he is today still remembered, both at the local and regional level, for the part he played in the building of the school.
As the leading indigenous merchant of the Warri Province, it was logical that Mukoro Mowoe should take a lively interest in matters touching trade and economic development. During the meeting of the House in July 1947, Mowoe complained of the low grade of palm oil in the province and urged government to establish an 'Oil Mill' in the province. He was assured that government was already contemplating such a development and that a survey was already under way to ensure the selection of the best site for the first 'Oil Mill'. At the December meeting of the House, Mowoe again raised the issue apparently because nothing appeared to have been done in the months since the July meeting. He was told that an oil mill was already under construction in the Eastern Province and that work on the Warri Province Mill was expected to get under way in August 1948. He was not to live to see the implementation of a measure so obviously dear to his heart and relevant to his business.
Still on the palm produce industry, Mowoe at the same December meeting urged the setting up of 'co-operative group of palm producers to ensure effective use of oil mills to be established in Warri Province'. Government replied that it was its intention to encourage co-operative societies to run the oil mills if the mills prove a success after installation. Mowoe then went on to ask government 'to consider the advisability of granting scholarships to Warri Province youth to study in Sumatra the organized method of producing and marketing palm produce'. Government did not consider it necessary to grant such scholarships, and argued that the proposed oil mills as well as U.A.C.'s Cowan Estate near Sapele would provide enough training 'in the modern methods of extraction of palm oil and kernels.'
The other export crop of the Warri Province was rubber. During the meeting of the House on July 29, 1948, only a few days before his sudden death, the proposal to establish 'a Palm Produce Marketing Board' was placed by government before it. Mowoe thanked government for the idea. He wondered, however, why rubber had not been given similar treatment. He reminded government and the House that during the European War of 1939-1945 when 'the Government brought under control scheme most exportable products of Nigeria... the farmers enjoyed steady, if not higher prices, than when the Pool firms were exercising their economic freedom... No sooner was the victory gained than rubber prices were decontrolled, and government argued that Malayan rubber had come on to the market. It is now the duty of Government to bring Nigerian rubber in line with the Malayan rubber in quality.' To ensure this he prayed government to include rubber in the Produce Marketing Board. Nothing came of Mowoe's plea.
Mowoe was also concerned about the issue of food production. During the July 1948 meeting of the House he drew the attention of government to the growing population of Warri Province and pointed out that because of easy inter-port trade between Warri and Lagos a great quantity of food was being taken from Warri Province through the creeks to Lagos for sale. He feared that as a consequence of these two factors, production of foodstuffs was not keeping pace with demand and wondered whether government would consider posting an Agricultural Officer to the province 'to improve its agricultural productivity'. Government received the Chief's comments and suggestion well and said that the only reason why an Agricultural Officer had not been posted to Warri was that there was a 40% shortage of staff in that sector of government service.
It is a well known fact that for meaningful economic development there must be an adequate communication network. For Warri Province this raised the question of the adequacy of roads for the evacuation of produce. Mowoe took up the issue of roads at the meeting of the House in December 1947. 'I now come to the question of roads as far as the Warri Province is concerned there is not one class 'B' road in the estimates for 1948/49. We are asking that Warri should be assisted with roads.... On the Warri-Sapele road for which provision was made in the 1947-48 estimates, no real work has been done by the P.W.D. up till the moment. The Okan-Kwale road, the Abraka-Kwale road, the EffurunOvu road and the Sapele-Asaba road should be tarred to enable commercial purposes.' More than fifteen years were to elapse after his death before his modest programme of road construction was to be fully achieved.
Mowoe also turned his attention to the inadequacy of medical facilities in the province. During the first meeting of the House --- July 1947 --- Mowoe drew the attention of the government to the fact that the general hospitals in Warri and Sapele were far too small to cope with the demands on themand urged that 'in view of the present unsuitability in respect of both equipments and buildings' government should 'consider the building of modern hospitals --- not extensions --- under the Development Scheme for Warri and Sapele'. He also drew the attention of the Deputy Director of Medical Services to the fact that there was only one Medical Officer in Warri without even an Assistant Medical Officer. This often meant that the hospital was left without a doctor when the medical officer was forced to be away from Warri for good reason. In December 1947, Mowoe was still pressing for the posting of an Assistant Medical Officer to Warri. To his plea for 'modern' hospitals government replied that it was proposed to erect a new hospital for Warri in the years 1951- 1953 and that with regard to Sapele it was planned to provide such extensions as would in effect make it a new hospital. It took more years than government anticipated to carry out the building of extensions to these two hospitals and no new hospital has been built by government in Warri up to the time of writing. If the story told about his last days is true, Mowoe himself was to suffer from the inadequacies of medical facilities in Warri. He was to die in the very hospital the improvement and modernization of which he sought.
At the same meeting, he pressed on government the urgent need for permanent housing for nurses for the Warri and Sapele hospitals and got government's assurance that the Sapele 'nurses quarters' would be built during the 1948-1949 financial year and those for Warri during the 1952-53 financial year. Government did keep its promise ultimately. Few of these who have lived in the houses provided would know that Chief Mukoro Mowoe helped to ensure that they should live in healthy conditions.
At the December 1947 meeting of the House Mowoe raised the question of a hospital for Ukwuani. Apparently the Warri Provincial Development Board had recommended to the regional government that a hospital be built in the Ukwuani Division. Mowoe said he had heard that the government had decided to set aside this recommendation and wanted to know if this information was correct and if it was, what was government's explanation. He was told that there was no truth in what he had heard and that a hospital for Ukwuani division had been included in the Ten Year Development Plan. Government had no intention of going back on their decision. Indeed action was only being delayed by the fact that no site for the hospital had been finally agreed on.
Still on the subject of medical facilities Mowoe asked:
During the late hostilities in Europe various funds were raised in Warri Province which were used for the purchase of an ambulance named "Warri". A promise was given that after the war it would be brought to Warri for the use of the hospital. What efforts has the Nigerian Government made since the end of the war to get it from the Imperial Government?
The three ambulances together with others which were serviceable at the end of hostilities were sent to Denmark in Europe in response to very urgent demands for help of sick, injured and homeless people. To this government's enquiry the British Red Cross Society has replied that after constant use they can have little or no effective life left in them.
This was all very typical of the colonial situation. The issue was clearly not whether Europe needed ambulances. The issue was one of a promise made to the Nigerian people by the colonial government. If for good reason this promise had to be broken, it was certainly up to the government to issue a statement on the matter, not have it dragged out through a question in the House of Assembly. If Mukoro Mowoe had gone back to Warri to report what he was told to a public meeting, I guess the people would have shrugged off the information with a popular Nigerian proverb, 'blood is thicker than water'!
Two other matters connected with the social welfare of the people of Warri and Sapele were raised by Chief Mowoe during his very brief tenure as member of the Western House of Assembly. One was the question of housing for junior civil servants. It was Mowoe's view that the houses built for the junior civil servants were too few and too small and that government should improve the situation. Government's reaction was that it was not its policy to provide housing for junior civil servants as a general rule and that only those the nature of whose work demanded that they stay close to their place of work were being catered for.
The other issue had to do with the desirability of establishing a fire brigade in Warri and Sapele. The writer remembers that the year 1948 was a particularly bad year for fires in Warri. At that time there were still many houses, especially in the Odion, Agbassah and Okere areas of Warri, with thatch roofs. It was as if a band of robbers suddenly decided that the thing to do was to set fire to houses and do as much looting as possible in the chaos and confusion which resulted. Week after week, street after street suffered outbreaks of fire. From Sapele came similar reports. All who lived in thatch-roofed houses did so in constant fear of their lives and property. One can therefore see why the member for Warri Province should have raised this problem and requested the establishment of a fire brigade in Warri and Sapele. Mowoe thought the cost could be borne out of the Development Fund. The Secretary, Western Provinces, informed the House that Fire Brigades could only be established where the water supply is adequate and that it was the responsibility of the Local Authority to establish them. No one can quarrel with the logic of the first part of the answer. With regard to who should take responsibility for Fire Brigades, one would have thought that the establishment and running of a fire brigade was, then and even now, far too technical for local authorities. It is only in the last few years, with the rapid expansion of the town and growing industrialization that a firefighting service has been established in Warri --- not by the Local Authority but buy the State Government, proof of the point earlier made.
There was one issue raised by Mowoe in the House reflected some of the political problems with which parts of the province were faced. It is common knowledge that in devising administrative divisions and so on, the colonial government did not always pay heed to ethnic and cultural homogeneity. Thus when the British created the old "Kwale Division," they lumped together within it Ukwuani and Urhobo speaking peoples. The Urhobo groups of Agbon, Orogun and Abraka were among those included in the 'Kwale' Division. As a part of the reorganization of the 1930s Agbon was removed from that division and included in the 'Jekri-Sobo' Division. Abraka remained under the "Kwale Native Administration". The Abraka people were unhappy about this and were anxious to be transferred to the Western Urhobo Native Administration. Mowoe as President-General of the U.P.U. must have been fully aware of the feelings of the Abraka people on this issue. During the first meeting of the House he asked if government had any objection to Abraka being transferred to the Western Urbobo Native Authority. Government replied that the issue was raised by Abraka in 1945 during a visit there by the Chief Commissioner but that no further representations had been made since that time. Government would be ready to give the matter consideration once it was satisfied that it was the genuine wish of the Eastern and Western Urhobos.' Abraka later transferred to the Western Urhobo Native Administration.
In an article in 1968 I made the point that the peoples of Western jaw division of the Delta Province (formerly Warri Province) face peculiar problems resulting from their extraordinary action to provide social amenities, the Ijaw could not be expected to attain anything like a comfortable standard of living.129 One area of real difficulty until very recent years in the Ijaw Division was that of transport and communications. Mowoe raised this problem during the very first meeting of the House, urging that government provide a launch for the use of the Native Authority and people of the area because of the special difficulties the people faced. Government's answer was that the Ijaw had made no such request and that in any event it was the view of government that the provision of transport facilities was a matter for private enterprise. Perhaps no one would want to argue the point about private enterprise. However, it has to be pointed out that in 1948 only very few people in the province (among whom Mowoe himself had to be numbered) had the capital to provide the kind of service needed. Secondly, even those who had the capital would be skeptical about the viability of the proposition at that time. Besides, there was the important question of the efficiency of the Native Authority itself. It was difficult for the N.A. to carry out its duties effectively depending as it has to do on 'man-pulled' canoe transport. It could not buy itself a motored boat because its funds could just not support it. This is where government action was called for. This no doubt was why Mowoe raised the issue in the House. Then, as much later, government was inclined to pay little attention to the poor people of the Western Ijaw Division. It was even argued that the Ijaw contributed very little to the revenue of the government through tax and that they could therefore not expect any huge outlay by government in terms of the provision of amenities.
Mowoe also raised another matter connected with the Ijaw during the rains of 1947 the division had been hit by excessive floods as a result of which schools, court houses and dispensaries were damaged, not to mention private dwellings. Mowoe described these floods as 'the worst in livingmemory' and asked for a special grant-in-aid from the Colonial Development Fund to assist in the task of rehabilitation. Government was sympathetic but would not commit itself. The extent of damage had not, government indicated, been fully assessed and so it was not possible for government to make any statement as to whether or not it felt called upon to make a special grant. The writer has not been able to find evidence as to what action, if any, government eventually took in this matter.
Earlier in this chapter we asked the question, what did Mowoe make of the opportunity given him to serve the peoples of Warri Province in the highest capacity then open to anyone in the Province? Readers are now in a position to answer that question for themselves. There can be little doubt that Mowoe took his job seriously and did all he could to bring before the regional government the problems and aspirations of the peoples he represented. He was particularly devoted to the development of education. Said he at the meeting of the House on 17 December, 1947:
Your Honour, I rise to say one or two words.. I am here on the errand of my constituencies (sic). We are today like a hungry wolf as far as Education is concerned because we are very much lacking in it and we are ready to grasp it in order to build up our children to match (sic) abreast with other children in the country...
Now to speak of the Warri Province which I am here to represent, I have to emphasize that it seems that it is absolutely forgotten by the government. Why? Because the only secondary school which we asked for, which was approved about three years ago, and the money for which, I understand is allocated in the 1948-49 estimates; and yet still (sic) we do not know when the P. W.D. will start putting up the building... as far as secondary education is concerned I have been hearing many speakers who have secondary schools and still ask for more. We have none and we are left without one. Your Honour we are asking government to assist us as it has assisted other provinces.
An eloquent plea indeed.
His insistence on quick action in establishing oil mills in the province,
his plea that rubber be handed over to the Marketing Board, his dissatisfaction
with available medical facilities, his concern over inadequate roads, his
request for special government action in the Ijaw areas - all of these
show a sensitive mind fully aware of the crying needs of the time. One
of his files still extant has in it the notes he made before each of the
three meetings of the House he was spared to attend. Those notes confirm
that he was a systematic, conscientious crusader anxious to give of his
best. The last meeting of the House he attended rose on 29 July 1948. He
probably did not get back to Warri until 1 August. Within nine days of
his arrival back he was dead. Many who knew him closely continue to assert
that his death was not unconnected with constant over-exertion which eventually
weakened his resistance. Such was the price of service to his people.
126. An easy and readily available source to turn to for a discussion
of the Richards Constitution is Kalu Ezera, Constitutional Developments
in Nigeria, Cambridge University Press, 2nd Edition, 1964, Chapter IV.
127. C.S.O. 26/2, File 11857, Vol XVII, Annual Report, Warri Province, 1946.
128. Mowoe attended only three sittings of the house before his death. Records of these meetings are published as: Western House of Assembly Debates, 14th and 15th July 1947, Govt. Printer, Lagos, 1947; Western House of Assembly Debates 16, 17 and 20th Dec. 1947, Govt. Printers, Lagos, 1948; and Western House of Assembly Debates, 27th, 28th and 29th July, 1948, Govt. Printer, 1948. It is not intended to further indicate sources of quotations or statements in what follows. The reference to the month and year in the text is considered enough guide.
129. Obaro Ikime, “The Western Ijo 1900-1950: A Preliminary Historical Survey” — Journal of the Historical Society, Vol. IV, No. 1, Dec. 1967, pp. 65-86.
Proceed to Chapter Six: THE MAN