URHOBO HISTORICAL SOCIETY

P. O. Box 1454

Buffalo, New York 14226, U.S.A.

Web sites: http://waado.org; http://urhobo.kinsfolk.com

E-mail: UrhoboHistory@waado.org

 

 Official Logo of Urhobo Historical Society


FOURTH ANNUAL CONFERENCE

London, United Kingdom

October 31 – November 2, 2003

 

A Composite Report

 

By Peter P. Ekeh, Ph.D.

Chair, Urhobo Historical Society

 


The Fourth Annual Conference and General Meeting of Urhobo Historical Society (UHS) had many outstanding features. Details of the papers and addresses that were presented at sessions and gatherings of the conference surpass, by far, those of the three preceding Annual Conferences and Meetings.  Many of the products of the conference will be published in our web sites. This composite report is intended to give the reader an overall profile of the conference. It is presented in two parts: (a) the unique features of the fourth conference and (b) some details of various sessions and gatherings of the conference.

 

UNIQUE FEATURES OF THE CONFERENCE

 

Preparation

 

Preparation for the conference was international in scope. It involved an active regime of consultation between the UHS Conference and Communiqué Committee (based in the US and headed by Professor Isaac James Mowoe) and the local UK & Belgium Organizing Committee, headed by Chief S. S. Obruche in London. It also involved frequent consultation with Chief J. M. Barovbe, Nigerian coordinator of the Conference. Unlike the preparation for last year’s conference, the UK & Belgium Organizing Committee made several important decisions on its own regarding the conduct of the Conference. This was particularly the case with respect to the three venues of the conference. In addition, an enthusiastic participation by the Urhobo womenfolk in London added a certain flair and Urhobo cuisine to the hospitality that was very much on display at many functions of the conference. The coordination of these diverse efforts by the UHS Conference and Communiqué Committee -- that included Professor Isaac James Mowoe, as its Chair, Onoawarie Edevbie, as its Secretary, and Aruegodore Oyiborhoro and Edirin Erhiaganoma, as its members – is a model of achievement that the Urhobo people should be proud of and should desire more of from our leaders.

 

Venues

 

As in 2002, we retained the Ian Gulland Lecture Theatre of Goldsmiths College of London University as the principal venue of the conference. It served mainly as the platform for its academic sessions. Two other venues were employed for the evening occasions on all three days of the conference. A spacious but unpretentious and relatively inexpensive hall on the premises of All Saints Church, New Cross Road, in southeast London, was the venue of the opening ceremonies on Friday, October 31, 2003. It was also the venue of an exciting evening of display of Urhobo traditional forms on Saturday, November 1, 2003. The important Annual General Meeting of the Society was held at Hackney Town Hall Assembly Room, London E8 1EA. This ornate and expansive London landmark was also the venue for a memorable closing ceremony on the evening of Sunday, November 2, 2003.

 

Languages of the Conference

 

Last year, there was a persistent demand and challenge that Urhobo language be used as a medium of communication in the sessions of our conferences. Such request was absent this year. However, a clear pattern emerged. The academic sessions of the conference at Goldsmiths College of London University were conducted almost entirely in English. On the other hand, the evening sessions in the other venues were dominated by presentations in Urhobo language. In the process, we witnessed some of the most outstanding oratory in the Urhobo language, filled with metaphoric expressions that recalled a golden age of eloquence in our language.

 

A Galaxy of Illustrious Participants and a Strong Presence of Women and Youth

 

This fourth of our Annual Conferences brought together an usually strong presence of eminent Urhobos, many of whom are deeply interested in Urhobo social and cultural affairs, though not necessarily in the more mundane aspects of its daily politics. It also brought together an admixture of women and men as well as youths who are inquisitive about their future in Urhobo culture.

 

A strong delegation from among the Urhobo leadership in North America was an important feature of the conference. From the ranks of the leadership of Urhobo Historical Society were its Chair, Professor Peter Ekeh, its Secretary, Mr. Andrew Edevbie, and the Conference Chair, Professor Isaac James Mowoe. Dr. O. Igho Natufe, a top policy analyst and conflict resolution expert in the Federal Government of Canada, and the Deputy Chair of Urhobo Historical Society as he then was, came from Ottawa. Professor Ajovi Scott-Emuakpor, a major leader and a founding member of Urhobo Historical Society, Dr. Aruegodore Oyiborhoro, another founding member and a steady voice in the affairs of UHS, and Mr. Ovie Felix-Ayigbe, a younger member of UHS, were present at all sessions, and helped to ensure that the sessions ran smoothly. Another very important member of UHS who attended the conference from North America was the Urhoboid scholar Professor Perkins Foss, the American culture artist who speaks fluent Urhobo and who holds the Urhobo chieftaincy title of Oyibo r’ Edjo.  In addition, Dr. Ona Pela and Professor Francis Odemerho of the newly formed Urhobo National Association of North America (UNANA) had a strong presence at the conference.

 

A major distinction of this Fourth Annual Conference was the presence of Chief James Ibori, Governor of Delta State, and a large delegation of his officials and party chieftains at the opening ceremony of the conference. Chief Patrick Bolokor, Otota of Agbon; Chief Ighoyota Amori, former Delta State Commissioner of Education; Chief James Eruero, former Secretary to Delta State Government; and a number of other Commissioners in the current Government of Delta State were with the Governor at the opening ceremony. Chief Francis Agboro, Chief of Staff for the Governor, and Professor G. G. Darah, his Advisor for Communications, were also in the Governor’s entourage. Of these, Mr. Love Ojakovo, Commissioner for Housing, remained behind and attended all sessions of the conference.

 

An imposing presence of illustrious names in Nigerian business, professions, and academia made this conference special. Deacon Gamaliel Onosode, currently Chairman of Dunlop (Nigeria), was the Conference’s Special Guest of Honour. He brightened both academic and evening sessions of the conference with a rare form of wisdom and eloquence. Chief David Dafinone, who gave the keynote address at the first UHS Annual Conference in 2000, was powerfully present with his usual dose of charisma. Professor Bruce Onobrakpeya, Africa’s premier print maker, agile as ever, was a blessing to the conference, especially its academic sessions, as he pressed home his themes in Urhobo culture on an appreciative audience. Professor Michael Nabofa, Head of the Department of Religious Studies, University of Ibadan, was there, his second participation in our conferences, his first being in November 2001 in North America. Dr. Akpo Avwovwo of the Niger Delta Development Commission was there from Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

 

There was an especially prominent Warri presence at the 4th Annual Conference. Chief Daniel Obiomah, scholar and leader of the Agbassa struggle for justice and fair play in Warri City and Special Guest of Honour at our Conference last year, was there with his store of wisdom. The Very Rev. Prof. Samuel Erivwo, Provost of St. Andrews Anglican Cathedral, Warri, was our keynote speaker at the 4th Annual Conference. From Warri also was Olorogun Dr. Frank Ukoli, a retired Professor of Zoology from the University of Ibadan and founding Vice-Chancellor of Delta State University, Abraka, and a recent recipient of an honorary degree of D.Sc. from that university. His elder cousin, Dr. Emmanuel Urhobo, heir of the legendary G. M. Urhobo, founder of God’s Kingdom Society, was also there, as indeed he was last year, pushing for an Urhobo resolve to fight oppression in Warri City. Chief Godwin Ogbetuo, a Warri businessman, came too, with much care for the welfare of UHS.

 

Such strong participation by distinguished Urhobos from within Nigeria at the conference was largely made possible by the hard work and brilliant connections of our Nigerian coordinator of the conference, Chief J. M. Barovbe, proprietor of Westminster College, Lagos, and a former President of Urhobo Social Club, Lagos. He came with Mr. Vincent Awhi, current Secretary of the Club.

 

From London itself was a cream of Urhobo leaders and nationalists who acted as our chief hosts. Their leader was Chief S. S. Obruche, ever passionate and fully employed in Urhobo affairs. Dr. Francis Omohwo, Mr. Godwin Oghenede, Mr. Wilson Ometan, Mr. Ejiro Ughwujabo, and many other Urhobo sons and daughters made the conference a successful venture.

 

London in the United Kingdom is home to one of the largest and oldest fragments of the Urhobo Diaspora. Remarkably, every one of Urhobo’s twenty-two cultural units has a cultural organization in London. Our enterprising UK & Belgium Organizing Committee invited all of them to the conference. Not all sent delegates, even though Urhobos from within their realms came as individuals. However, a good number of these cultural units sent representatives to the conference. These included Okpe Union; Udu Union; and representatives from Oghara, Ughwerun, Eghwu, Arhavwarien, and Ughelli associations. We salute these bearers of the essence of Urhobo culture in the Diaspora for their work in upholding the Urhobo spirit and for their goodwill towards Urhobo Historical Society.

 

An outstanding feature of this conference was an elegant presence of Urhobo women, including the cream of their women’s leadership in London, and other women who love Urhobo culture-- from the United Kingdom, Europe, and North America. They definitely added colour, intellectual strength, and grace to the sessions and ceremonies of the conference. From North America came Dr. Helen Ekeh, spouse of the Chair of UHS, Mrs. Patience Pela, and Catherine B. Foss. From Belgium was Mrs. F. Emessiri-Akusu. They played major roles in the organization and events of the conference. And from London was a bevy of feminine strength, breathing Urhobo culture with pride.

 

The London group of women ranged far, from the well-established to younger members of an admirable group. Alice Ukoko, a lawyer and a formidable women and human rights advocate, demonstrated at many points in the conference the fearlessness in the face of the needs of the family and group that is the attribute of Urhobo womanhood. Ms. Janet Oromafuru Eruvbetere LLB (Hons.), founder and ex-President of Urhukpe Re Urhobo Ladies Association, UK, and First Lady Vice President UPU, London Branch, showed the intellect and determination that Urhobo women have been celebrated for in Nigeria and in the Urhobo Diaspora in Europe and America. Mrs. Kesiena Akerele, B. A. (Hons), displayed the patriotism and faithfulness that the Urhobo woman can show towards her native homeland and her people when the need arises. They and all the other London womenfolk made our 4th Annual Conference an event worth remembering.

 

Finally, we salute the Urhobo youth who dared to bare their frustration at the lack of promotion of a culture they love but now find difficult to practice. They have raised our consciousness and commitment for ensuring that Urhobo culture should be made available to all Urhobo youngsters, including those in the Diaspora who through no fault of theirs are unable to speak the Urhobo language. Patrick Okene and Sylvester Efole, both residents of London, supplied the youth leadership that enabled youngsters to attend a session of the conference. The two of them spoke eloquently about the handicaps facing Urhobo youths who seek to practice their culture in the Diaspora, with suggestions for a solution. Ms Mejero Uwejeya gave an effective representation to the feminine side of our youth at the conference. We appreciate their efforts.

 

Ijaw Presence at the 4th Annual Conference

 

The UK & Belgium Organizing Committee invited several London-based ethnic associations from the western Niger Delta to attend our events. Most were unable to come. However, the Ijaw community in London was strongly represented at two of our evening sessions. On both Saturday and Sunday evening sessions, representatives of Ijaw Peoples Association were warmly received. Led by the President of the Association, Mr. Roland Ekperi, the Ijaw delegation included Dr. Edwin Sawacha (a former President himself), Mr. Simpson Okiti, Mr. Edward Dorgu, and Mr. Victor Tobi. They were generous in joining with the rest of the audience in making donations to meet the expenses of the conference. We thank the Ijaw Peoples Association and the Ijaw community in London for their friendship and their time.

 

Enchanting Entertainment at the Evening Sessions

 

An interesting feature of this conference was its entertainment component. This was employed for the evening sessions and comprised two elements. There was, first, a London-based Urhobo music band that supplied interlude music and a public address system. It was a very effective group arranged by the UK & Belgium Organizing Committee. Second, there was a New York City-based comedian with a professional stage name of Away-Away. Mr. Jude Onokpama, an Urhobo man whose fame in Nigeria was made from his role in the TV drama Hotel d’Jordan, not only paid his fare from the US to London, and back, for the conference, but also waived his professional fees. On all three evenings, Jude supplied entertainment that enthralled the delegates to the Conference. His performance in the last closing ceremony was particularly robust and enriching, so much so that he was able to bring Senator David Dafinone and Deacon Gamaliel Onosode to the floor to dance with many others to his music and singing! We thank Jude and the London-based band that supplied such supple entertainment laced with Urhobo themes.

 

Sponsorship

 

Another unique feature of this year’s conference was the amount of sponsorship that Urhobo Historical Society received. In spite of its rapid growth and recent fame, UHS is a small organization of modest means. It lacks the resources to cover the expenses of those it invites to its conferences. We are therefore especially pleased to acknowledge the financial assistance of benefactors who arranged for the transportation of four individuals based in Nigeria whom we had invited to the 4th Annual Conference in London.

 

First, Governor James Ibori personally paid for the airfares from Lagos to London, and back, for three participants as his contributions towards the organization of the 4th Annual Conference. Second, Chief Bernard Edewor, a Warri-based businessman, and his friend Professor Isaac James Mowoe, Chair of UHS Conference Committee, each paid one-half of the cost of airfare travel from Warri to London, and back, for one of our key invitees. In addition, Chief J. E. Ukueku, who has shown great interest in the affairs of Urhobo Historical Society in recent months, made a huge cash donation to one of those we invited from Warri to enable his participation in the conference. UHS expresses its profound gratitude to Governor James Ibori, Chief Johnson Ukueku, Chief Bernard Edewor, and Professor Isaac James Mowoe for their generosity.

 

At the suggestion of the UK & Belgium Organizing Committee, our usual registration fees were not levied at this conference. Instead, we relied on donations to meet some of the expenses of organizing the conference. We thank all those who donated at the venues of the conference. We are particularly grateful to Chief J. M. Barovbe for a handsome donation of £1,000.00. An impressive number of individuals from among Urhobo leaders in the London Urhobo community also made significant donations of varying sums of money and gifts of drinks for the evening sessions. They included Mr. James Okorode, Chairman, Urhobo Social & Cultural Club, London, UK; Chief George Okoh; Mr. Peter Oghenekaro; Mr. Donald Offo; Chief A. B. E. Metitiri, and Mr. Claver Edefa. Urhobo Historical Society thanks them all.

 

We are also pleased to acknowledge a promise of help from another benefactor, who has asked that his name be withheld, towards meeting the significant shortfall on the income side of the financial ledger of the Fourth Annual Conference. We express our profound gratitude to him for his generosity and selflessness.

 

 

SOME DETAILS OF THE SESSIONS AND EVENING CEREMONIES

 

A. Opening Ceremonies – Friday, October 31, 2003, 7:00 – 10:30 p.m.

 

The opening ceremonies started slowly, but then proceeded smoothly, and indeed ended quite well. The opening prayers were narrated by the Very Rev. Prof. Samuel Erivwo, Provost of St. Andrews Cathedral, Warri. Olorogun Moses Taiga, who was scheduled to chair the occasion, was unable to travel from Lagos, owing to a last minute unexpected engagement in Abuja. His good friend, Chief Godwin Ogbetuo, acted as Chair in his place. Chief Ogbetuo assured the audience of Olorogun Taiga’s commitments to the welfare of UHS.

 

Two ritual formalities were performed at the start of the opening ceremonies. First, kola nuts, money, and drinks were presented by UHS and its organizing committees to welcome Governor James Ibori, Deacon Gamaliel Onosode, Chief Daniel Obiomah, and the many other dignitaries present at the opening ceremony. In step with Urhobo traditional practices, many other people in the audience supported this effort by adding more money. Second, the London group at the Conference made “funeral greetings and offerings,” including money and drinks, to Professor Perkins Foss for the loss of his mother, a sad event that occurred only recently and since his last memorable appearance at our conference in London last year. Professor Foss expressed his gratitude and that of his wife and family for this tender affection of the Urhobo community for him.

 

Beyond these rituals, there were three addresses at the opening ceremonies. First, the Special Guest of Honour, Deacon Gamaliel Onosode, thanked Urhobo Historical Society for its invitation to him to serve as the Special Guest of Honour. He said he was at the conference to listen and learn. He promised to be present at all the sessions at which the issues of the conference would be discussed. He spoke of the need for all to contribute towards Urhobo affairs. Deacon Onosode’s eloquence in Urhobo language was greatly admired by the audience who applauded our Special Guest of Honour lavishly.

 

Governor James Ibori’s address was in two parts. First, he spoke in eloquent Urhobo on issues of leadership in traditional Urhobo settings. Making a distinction between Okarho (oldest man) and Ovie (king) of a town or cultural unit in traditional Urhoboland, he pleaded that each had his place in our cultural practices. He opined that the Ovie as the political head of his domain deserves respect. So also other political office holders deserve to receive respect.

 

Second, Governor Ibori read a prepared paper in English in which he made several salient points:

 

(i) He observed that the opening event of the UHS conference was taking place on October 31, 2003, exactly 72 years to the date, October 31, 1931, when the deliberations began that led to the inauguration of UPU on November 3, 1931. November 3 of every year has thus been set aside for the celebration of Urhobo National Day in commemoration of that event of 1931.

 

(ii) The Governor praised the efforts of Urhobo Historical Society in building a credible web site, URHOBO WAADO, for the purpose of articulating Urhobo interests. He also thanked the Society for publishing important articles on Urhobo matters in Nigerian newspapers.

 

(iii) Governor Ibori noted the importance of the main theme of the conference, namely, Leadership and the Future of the Urhobo, as most appropriate at this time. Chief Ibori recalled the excellence of Urhobo leadership in the Western Niger Delta in the last 100 years, invoking such Urhobo leaders as Salubi, Oweh, Mariere, Okotie-Eboh, Tabiowo, and Yamu Numa.

 

(iv) The Governor cautioned that lack of unity and acts of insubordination to constituted authority now threaten such past achievements.

 

(v) Looking forward, Chief Ibori said, “The future of Urhobo is bright.” He asked his audience to emulate the ways of a past President-General of UPU, Chief T. E. A. Salubi, who in 1963 enjoined Urhobos: “If therefore you share our faith, and I am sure you do, then let us kindle anew our torch of loyalty, unity, mutual confidence, understanding and the zeal to do more, to work harder so that at the end of the journey we may all arrive without failing in faith and industry. May we be worthy of the great tasks before us!”

 

The Chair of Urhobo Historical, Professor Peter P. Ekeh, also addressed the opening ceremony. First, he explained the modest site of the opening ceremonies in humble Church premises, rather than in posh luxury hotel, as owing to the fact that UHS is a small organization with limited funds. Moreover, its emphasis is on serving Urhobo interests, not in circumstances of luxury for its members and guests. He assured participants that UHS fully appreciated the friendship and goodwill which they had displayed by coming to the conference.

 

Second, Professor Ekeh urged participants to mix up with one another across age lines and across all levels of distinction. He noted that there were present at the conference numerous professors and Ph.D. holders, both of which categories are now noticeably present in Urhobo communities. But there were also those other luminaries, such as our Special Guest of Honour, Deacon Gamaliel Onosode and Olorogun Frank Ukoli with their D.Sc. laurels and Bruce Onobrakpeya with his D. Lit. and other illustrious achievements. Young people should talk to them and look to them for inspiration.

 

Third, on behalf of Urhobo Historical Society, the UHS Chair thanked all those who had sacrificed so much to attend this conference. He said the closing ceremonies on the evening of Sunday, November 2, 2003, would be used as a platform for a fuller thanksgiving by UHS to those who had helped it to grow.

 

Lastly, Professor Ekeh outlined the reason why UHS had chosen “Leadership” as the main theme of this year’s conference. He told the audience that UHS was troubled by rampant complaints by Urhobos of all grades, at home and in the Diaspora, that Urhobo leadership had broken down. While there was always concern shown by Urhobos about inadequacies in Urhobo leadership in past decades, the current spate of dissatisfaction with the performances and lack of cohesiveness in Urhobo leadership is unprecedented. UHS therefore offered the opportunity of this conference in order to provide a platform for a full discussion of the principles and practices of Urhobo leadership as well as the current problems that have caused disaffection from Urhobo leadership.

 

The UHS Chair added that the Society has been guided by three principles of leadership in weighing the prospects and problems of leadership among the Urhobo:

 

First, Urhobo leadership is about meeting challenges that confront segments or all of the Urhobo people. It is the responsibility of Urhobo leadership to define such challenges and to plot short and long term solutions to them. The enduring excellence of the Mukoro Mowoe era of the 1930s and 1940s was that Urhobo leaders of that period discerned that Urhobos were inadequately prepared for participating in the new colonial era. Our leaders of that age proceeded to design a solution, including assuming responsibility for the cost of training Urhobo’s first two graduates, M. G. Ejaife and E. N. Igho. That era’s brilliance in leadership matters also extended to the founding of Urhobo College for training young Urhobos in order to meet the challenges of the competition imposed by British colonialism.

 

Second, Urhobo leadership is based on a collegiate system of collective leadership in which the top Urhobo leader is primus inter pares. Training for leadership is not a centralized affair in our culture. Urhobo leaders emerge independently in all twenty-two cultural subunits of Urhoboland and in the substantial Urhobo Diaspora. It is the duty of the Urhobo leader to coordinate and harness such diverse leadership resources for the purpose of serving the common good of the Urhobo people. Thus, Chief Mukoro Mowoe’s greatness did not inhere in posing as a sole leader. Rather, his achievement was that he was able to carry his colleagues along with him, forming, as it were, a college of Urhobo leaders over which he presided.

 

Third, Urhobo leadership is based on the principle that Urhobo leaders must serve the Urhobo people in order to lead them. Indeed, UHS dares to pronounce Chief Mukoro Mowoe as the greatest servant of the Urhobo people. The prototypical Urhobo leader does not seek wealth from his leadership opportunities. Rather, the prototypical Urhobo leader uses his wealth to serve and enhance the collective goals of the Urhobo people. Similarly, those who are endowed with intellectual resources will be leaders only if they make their intellectual wealth available for serving the Urhobo people.

 

UHS’s Present to Governor James Ibori

 

On behalf of Urhobo Historical Society, Dr. Helen Ekeh presented a package of three books to Governor James Ibori to commemorate his presence at the opening ceremony. The books were as follows:

 

Isaac Owhofasa James Mowoe, Editor. 1999. 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. With a Foreword by Dr. Moses E. Mowoe.

 

Chief D. A. Obiomah. 2003. Who Owns Warri?

 

Tanure Ojaide. 2003. Poetry, Performance, and Art: Udje Dance Songs of the Urhobo People.

 

B. Themes and Topics of Academic Sessions, Saturday November 1, 2003.

 

The morning and afternoon sessions of the conference on Saturday, November 1, 2003, covering 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., were largely devoted to presentation of written papers by their authors. Most of these will be published in our web sites in due course. We will only provide highlights of these papers and their discussions in this composite report.

 

Leadership

 

Many perspectives were offered on the matter of leadership of the Urhobo people.

 
(i) In the first session, Dr. O. Igho Natufe pleaded a model of Egyptian-Israeli negotiations for solving the Urhobo-Itsekiri disputes over Warri. He claimed that it was the absence of the type of bold leadership displayed by Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Menachem Begin of Israel that makes the solution of the Warri crisis such a difficult proposition. He urged bold leadership in plotting solutions to the Warri crisis.


(ii) In a stimulating paper on Urhobo women and leadership, Dr. Rose Aziza urged that Urhobo women have a major role to play in the area of using language potentials in young ones to shape the future of our people for leadership. She stated, “Women must help the young ones to learn to respect, tolerate and take pride in identifying with the Urhobo language, literature and culture.” Dr. Aziza further declared, “The use of the Urhobo language in education must be encouraged because it is the key to all other endeavours.


(iii) Dr. Emmanuel Urhobo castigated the Urhobo people for being indifferent to how their leaders are chosen. The result is that rich people without leadership qualities offer themselves for leadership of the Urhobo people. He called for a more deliberative method of selection of Urhobo leaders, based on criteria that respect settled leadership qualities.


(iv) Professor Ajovi Scott-Emuakpor disputed any notion that there was an absence of Urhobo leadership. Many people have shown that they are worthy Urhobo leaders. The matter of a singular leader at the top is another matter that deserves to be examined. But it is untrue to say that Urhobos lack good leaders.

 

Urhobo Progress Union and Urhobo Leadership

 

In their papers and verbal presentation, many contributors linked the issues of Urhobo leadership to the problems and prospects of the UPU.

 
(i) Participating in the roundtable on leadership, Chief Daniel Obiomah called for a major reform of the UPU. Leadership of the organization should be pulled from within the numerous clubs and associations that now dominate Urhobo cultural and social affairs. Those who seek leadership of Urhobo Progress Union should first be tested for their leadership qualities in these organizations.


(ii) Presenting a paper on behalf of Urhobo National Association of North America (UNANA), Dr. Ona Pela and Dr. Francis Odemerho advocated the establishment of a new think thank to be called Urhobo Institute that would serve the larger goals of research and planning under the auspices of Urhobo Progress Union. Chief S. S. Obruche, from London, a man much experienced in the history and ways of the UPU, cautioned that such an Institute may pose a structural impediment in the way of realizing the original goals and objectives as stated in the Constitution of the UPU. What was needed, Obruche contended, was fresh attention and commitment from a newer generation whose members have so far failed to assist the loyalty and efforts of an ageing generation that has been the mainstay of UPU.


(iii) Contributing to the debate on the reform of Urhobo Progress Union, Chief D. O. Dafinone said it was a mistake to base representation in the UPU on the basis of parity among the twenty-two sub-cultural units of Urhobo. For example, he pointed out, it has been unfair to require two delegates each to represent Okpe and Arhavwarie, despite the huge disparities in their population.

 

Mineral Resources in Urhoboland

 

In an informative and inspirational presentation, Dr. Akpo Avwovwo of  the Niger Delta Development Commission presented an outline with detailed maps of mineral resources in Urhoboland, including information about gas flares in our communities.

 

Keynote Address: Our Religious Leaders and the Urhobo Nation by Professor Sam Erivwo

 

In a precious high point of the academic sessions of the 4th UHS Annual Conference, the keynote address of this year was noteworthy both for its introduction and its remarkable delivery.

 

Our Special Guest of Honour, Deacon Gamaliel Onosode, presided over this important event. He virtually turned the introduction of the subject of the keynote address and its author into a remarkable speech of inspiration that resonated the essence of Urhobo history and culture in their sublime fullness. Speaking in English, in a metaphors-laced delivery that provoked puffs of laughter throughout, Onosode referred to the common roots that he shared with Reverend Erivwo in educational, cultural, and religious matters. They shared common grounds of descent from Ekiugbo, in Ughelli. At different times, their educational goals took them to the prestigious Government College, Ughelli, and the University of Ibadan where both had similar religious suasions. And their religious commitments have led them to embrace service of religious ideals, right into their adult years.

 

The keynote address was a genuine piece of the history of Urhobo leadership. It traced the routes that three eminent Urhobo religious leaders took to make differences in the history of early Christian development in Nigeria and in Urhoboland. Remarkably, these three pioneers were impelled by different grains of virtue in their religious lives.

 

Reverend Ejovi Aganbi was a pioneer who deliberately gave up vast early opportunities for presiding over well established Baptist parishes in Yorubaland in order to undertake the tedious work of building the Church in his hometown of Eku. He was a patient man, so much so that the name Aganbi became synonymous with patience and peace-making. His efforts were greatly rewarded. He left behind not only a thriving Baptist Church in Eku and several other Urhobo towns. He also brought the Baptist Hospital to Eku.

 

Agori Iwe was a man of severe discipline, in his private family life and in his public religious vocation. He began his pastoral work in Yorubaland. But the itch to go to his people became irresistible. He served his people and other Niger Delta communities with total commitment. He rose to become the first Anglican Bishop of Benin, thus also becoming the first Urhobo Bishop. He was reputed for expanding the Church in his domain many folds.

 

Father Stephen Umurie was one of the earliest Catholic priests in Nigeria. He left for the severe training of Catholic priesthood for thirteen years, becoming the first Urhobo Catholic priest in 1942. He then entered into challenging parish service where he ministered to ordinary people with great patience. As a parish priest in many Urhobo communities and elsewhere, Umurie was also the manager of Catholic schools in his parishes, a subject in which he took special interest. Erivwo says of him: “Umurie’s life was characterized by qualities of obedience, humility, diligence, and tactfulness.” 

 

Remarkably, although of different Christian denominations, all these three pioneers took an active interest in Urhobo public affairs.

 

C. Special Session on Urhobo Culture and Traditions: Traditional Marriage and Igbe Religion. Saturday, November 1, 2003, 7:30 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.

 

This special evening session was a new addition to this annual conference. We were interested in making it an experiment in praxis, mixing academic studies of Urhobo culture with its practical renditions. It turned out to be a major point of success in the 4th Annual Conference.

 

Presided over by Chief J. M. Barovbe, this special session was in two parts. The first part was a lecture on the important subject of the institution of marriage in Urhobo culture in the face of changes instigated by Western influences. The second was a lecture on a notable Urhobo religious movement of the 19th century and its brush with British colonialism, followed by a dance demonstration by its devotees.

 

Lecture on the Changing Institution of Marriage among the Urhobo by Ms Janet Oromafuru Eruvbetere, LLB (Hons.)

 

Defining the distinction and uniqueness of the marriage institution among the Urhobo, in comparison to Western-style marriages, as an enduring arrangement of relationships between the extended families of the two spouses of the marriage, Ms Janet Oromafuru Eruvbetere walked us through the processes of traditional Urhobo marriage. She contends that the tenets of Urhobo marriage have endured remarkably well, with the important exception of the rejection and assault on the polygamous rights of the husband.

 

Ms Eruvbetere outlines the implications of Western-type marriage vis-à-vis Urhobo traditional polygamous entitlements to the husband in a dramatic fashion:

 
(i) Western-style marriage is terminated on the death of either of the partners. This system of marriage confers property rights upon the woman in the event of the husband’s death, as his next of kin. This is contrary to the polygamous traditional Urhobo marriage system.


(ii) She becomes the chief mourner and the next of kin to her late husband.


(iii) The couple’s estate automatically reverts to the wife, thus offering her maximum protection whether or not the marriage is childless.


(iv) In this system, the woman’s contribution to the creation of her husband’s estate is acknowledged, and she is entitled to his pension rights. It therefore means that the woman enjoys the fruits of her labour during and after her husband’s life.

    
(v) In contrast, the institution of Urhobo polygamous marriage offers no such protection or rights after the husband’s death. Consequently, Urhobo women now prefer and welcome this Western influence upon the Urhobo traditional marriage system.

 

The consequence, she says, is that our daughters do not have faith in polygamous marriages, which is at the core of Urhobo traditional practices of marriage. And it appears that their parents are joining them in their rejection of this key aspect of Urhobo marriage. She asks, provocatively, “If modern Urhobo fathers who ought to be the custodians of our   customs and traditions, now encourage the practice of giving away their daughters in marriage at the church or registry; knowing that this excludes Urhobo polygamous practice, does this not mean that they now give credence more to the Western form of marriage than to Urhobo traditional marriage?

 

Igbe Religion: Urhobo’s Monotheistic Religious Movement of the 19th Century

 

A large segment of this session on Urhobo culture and traditions was devoted to a lecture on Igbe religion among the Urhobo and a demonstration of its dance practices.

 

Titled “IGBE Religious Movement: Ubiesha, Ogbevire's Oghenuku, and Igbe Ame,” the lecture by Dr. Michael Nabofa was informative. Professor Nabofa’s Ph.D. thesis at the University of Ibadan was on the subject of Igbe religious movement of the 19th century and its expansion and consolidation. Professor Michael Nabofa gave an outline history of Ubiesha’s religious calling at Uhwokori in the 1870s and the beginnings of his religion. He then discussed the monotheistic doctrine of the Igbe religion. Its adherents were driven by puritan motives. The religion required its devotees to live clean lives, eschewing pagan practices and even ancestor worship. In order words, it was revolutionary.

 

Dr. Nabofa then traced the expansion of Igbe religion to Benin and beyond in pre-colonial times. At the beginning of British colonialism in the 1890s, Ubiesha’s Igbe was already well established in Urhoboland, Isoko, Ukwuani, and in Benin. Nabofa contended that but for the restrictions and prohibitions imposed on the religion by British colonialism, Ubiesha’s Igbe would have spread and become dominant as a monotheistic religion in the region of the western Niger Delta and in the territories of the Benin Empire.

 

Professor Michael Nabofa’s lecture was illuminating to his audience. This is how one distinguished member of that audience, Chief Daniel Obiomah, reacted to its lessons:

“Professor Nabofa’s [lecture] on Igbe was to me a pleasant surprise. The outward appearance of white gear, a fan and dance was all I knew about them and this produced some prejudice. Compared to some of the older conventional religions, Igbe is a religion of its own – with founder, breakaways like Martin Luther, John Calvin constituting denominations, with healing powers and cosmology. The history of Western (European) Thought is an interesting subject. By contrast Africans were thought to have no history or formal Thought. Then I began to be conscious of Urhobo metaphysics. In the collection of poems I gave to UHS last year [which are yet to be published – Editor], one is a poem on OGHWOGHWO which in Greek and Roman philosophy is the Phoenix depicted by Milton in “Samson Agonistes” as “rara avis saecula saeculorum,” the unusual and ancient bird of endless ages. What I am saying is that UHS can glean from traditional religion, traditional usages in burial and marriage customs, festivals, Urhobo names, the Urhobo philosophy of life as the fundamental of Urhobo culture.”

 

Igbe Dance by a London-based Congregation

 

The cultural highlight of that evening was a vigorous Igbe dance by a London-based congregation of Igbe devotees. Its men and women, numbering about twenty, danced to vintage Igbe songs and drumming, which have become part of Urhobo cultural lore.

 

The congregation that performed the dance rituals of that evening is a genuine piece of Igbe’s expansive history. Called Omonedo Circle (with the redoubtable Urhobo translation of Igbe r’ Ufuoma Oragha r’Ame Okigho, Mami Omote Uku, London), this congregation is led by Mami Omote Uku (i.e., High Priestess) Mrs. Ogerefe. Wrapped around these terms is a fragment of the history of Igbe. Omonedo was one of the original apostles of Ubiesha. His ministry was inherited by his son Agege whose son was Ogerefe. High Priestess Mrs. Ogerefe, leader of the London Igbe congregation, is thus the great granddaughter-in-law of Omonedo, an apostle of Ubiesha. It is a piece of Urhobo history that Urhobo Historical Society was pleased to enact.

 

D. Roundtable -- Women and Leadership in Urhoboland, Sunday, November 2, 2003, 9:00. - 10:30 a.m.

 

As it was last year, the women forum of this conference turned controversial. Again, as it was with last year’s Women’s Forum, the issues covered were many. Two of these were the most canvassed. They were (a) the difficulties of teaching Urhobo language and culture to children in the Urhobo Diaspora and (b) the oppression women feel in Urhobo institution of marriage.

 

Difficulties of Teaching Urhobo Language and Culture to Children in the Urhobo Diaspora

 

Many of the participants in the roundtable voiced frustration with the difficulties facing Urhobo families in the Diaspora and even in such Urhobo cities as Warri and Sapele where pidgin English is rapidly overtaking Urhobo as the language of childhood socialization. Some of the participants urged a variety of solutions, including teaching tools that will help those in the Diaspora to instruct their children in elementary Urhobo.

 

The view was expressed by many male participants that women had a special responsibility for teaching Urhobo culture and tradition to their children. It was a view that was resisted by the participants in the roundtable, many of whom blamed the men folk for the failure of their children to speak Urhobo.

 

Oppression That Women Feel in Urhobo Institution of Marriage

 

A more contentious issue was the view expressed by some participants that Urhobo culture is oppressive of women’s freedom in some respects of Urhobo traditions. The area isolated for discussion was the matter of the circumstances of women at the death of their husbands. The benefits of the practice of wife inheritance, which was disparaged by some participants, were highlighted from the floor.

 

All in all, this was a contentious session, with very little resolution of any issues. The general conclusion was that these issues must be pursued further in forums organized by UHS at its future annual conferences.

 

E. Youth Forum -- Sunday, November 2, 2003, 10:30 a.m.12:00 noon

 

This is our first experiment in an outreach youth forum in the conduct of our annual conferences; and for a first effort, the experience was encouraging. Presided over by Mr. Love Ojakovo, Commissioner for Housing in the Delta State Government, the highlight of this session was participation by two famous artists, which was intended to stimulate the interests of the youth. The contributions of Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya and Dr. Perkins Foss probably did as much for the adults as it did for the youths.

 

Perkins Foss’s display of his famous Urhobo photographs focused on the institutional practice of esakpogidi, the rituals on attainment of a fourth generation status in Urhobo culture. The rituals include an avoidance relationship between the great grand  parent and the young fourth generation child: they were not expected to see each other. A special ritual of wearing the feather of an eagle (egodi in Urhobo), signifying the slaying of another, marked the coming of age of the 4th generation child when the great grand parent dies. A brisk discussion of this famous institution was stimulating for many older people in the audience.

 

This was followed by a painfully brief discussion by the youth participants of their frustration with difficulties they faced in practicing Urhobo language and culture. They made important suggestions on how to entice young Urhobos in the Diaspora into practicing Urhobo culture and language. It is a subject that UHS is obligated to pursue in its future annual conferences.

 

F. Annual General Meeting: Sunday, November 2, 20032:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

 

The Annual General Meeting was very well attended. Discussions of the issues were thorough and brisk. The minutes of the meeting will be published in the next several weeks. Two significant conclusions may be highlighted here.

 

Bylaws of Urhobo Historical Society

 

Following an informed discussion, in which lawyers and accountants shed considerable light on various aspects of the document, the Bylaws of Urhobo Historical Society were ratified by the Annual General Meeting.

 

Venue of 2004 Annual Conference and Meeting

 

The Annual General Meeting elected to hold the next Annual Conference and Meeting of 2004 in Urhoboland. The dates of the conference will be decided by the Editorial and Management Committee in consultation with the Nigerian Organizing Committee of the 2004 Annual Conference. Annual General Meeting appointed Chief J. M. Barovbe as the Convener of the Nigerian Organizing Committee of the 2004 Annual Conference.

 

G. Special Closing Event -- Sunday, November 2, 2003, 5:00 - 11:00 p.m.

 

The special closing event -- presided over by Mr. James Okorode, Chairman, Urhobo Social & Cultural Club, London, UK. – turned out to be the sterling social occasion of the Conference. Held in an ornate Hackney Town Hall Assembly Room, in East London, this special event was a befitting and festive ending to a conference that succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of the officials of Urhobo Historical Society – even though it was also a lot more expensive than what we are used to in the matter of organization of conferences.

 

Called to order in good time, following a stirring opening prayer by the Very Reverend Prof. Samuel Erivwo, this closing session of the conference had many memorable aspects.

 

First, the UK & Belgium Organizing Committee made a presentation of friendship to Professor Perkins Foss and his wife Catherine. Presented by Mrs. Kesiena Akerele on behalf of the Committee, this gift of an Urhobo traditional wear was intended to reciprocate Perkins Foss’s long term commitment and friendship to Urhobos and his steadfast mission of studying and promoting Urhobo culture. Perkins Foss replied in his trademark greetings in Urhobo. He was warm in his praise of Urhobos and their culture.

 

Second, there was an insightful and inspirational homily by our Special Guest of Honour, Gamaliel Onosode. Delivered in perfect Urhobo, untouched by any English phrases, Deacon Onosode’s speech in Urhobo was as stirring in the emotions it brought forth in the audience as his wonderful speech in English introducing the keynote speaker the previous day. The Special Guest of Honour was most gracious in his praise of the work of Urhobo Historical Society. His call for unity in service to Urhobo interests was most convincing. As a man who is very highly regarded for his morality in business practices, his invocation of the virtue of hard work in Urhobos clearly resonated with the audience.

 

Third, the traditional Urhobo prayer in giving out segments of broken kola nuts by the elder of the group took on its own trait of ritual seriousness. Chief David Dafinone’s repeated invocation of the Urhobo desiderata of Ufuoma (peace), Otovwe (longevity), Efe (wealth), and Emo (children) attracted much attention from younger Urhobos in the audience who were unused to the art of dispensing prayers from elders.

 

The main ceremony of that evening was a series of thanksgiving to those who had helped Urhobo Historical Society to grow. To begin with, the Chair of Urhobo Historical Society reminded his audience of the motto of the Society: Serving Urhobo History and Culture. Urhobo Historical Society has been founded as a service organization for studying and promoting Urhobo history and culture as well as protecting Urhobo interests by telling the truth about our history and culture.

 

Professor Peter Ekeh then thanked a number of people and groups who had helped UHS since the Society was inaugurated four years ago on August 29, 1999 in New York City.  For a start, he thanked the wives of those who have been involved in the affairs of UHS for enduring the inconveniences and burden that come with service in Urhobo Historical Society. He also especially thanked Urhobo women of London community for their involvement and service in the work of Urhobo Historical Society, particularly in supplying such good food at the 2003 conference. Second, he thanked members of the Editorial and Management Committee for their sacrifice and their hard work in ensuring that the mission of UHS is advanced. He also thanked the UK & Belgium Organizing Committee for its excellence in organizing the 2002 and 2003 conferences. There were many individuals who were also thanked by the Chair of UHS, including especially the Nigerian coordinator of the 2003 Conference, Chief J. M. Barovbe.

 

The UHS Chair then handed over the thanksgiving ceremony to the Conference Chair to recognize three outstanding individuals who helped Urhobo Historical Society when it was only an idea. Professor Isaac James Mowoe paid tribute to each of these three patriotic Urhobos. Following the citation of his work for UHS, each of them received a plaque from Urhobo Historical Society. Professor Isaac Mowoe was assisted by four women – Dr. Helen Ekeh, Dr. Rose Aziza, Mrs. Felicia Emesiru-Akusu, and Ms Mejero Uwejeya -- in reading the citation, and the handing over of the plaques to the three distinguished recipients.

 
(i) Chief S. S. Obruche, a London-based Urhobo leader, made early contact with Urhobo Historical Society. It was he who introduced Urhobo Historical Society to the Urhobo community in the United Kingdom and Europe. Furthermore, he introduced UHS to the works of Chief Daniel Obiomah and then took it upon himself to inform Chief Obiomah of our work. He has since worked tirelessly for UHS causes, including heading the teams that organized the 2002 and 2003 Annual Conferences of Urhobo Historical Society in the United Kingdom. We salute Chief S. S. Obruche for his outstanding contribution to the work of UHS in its early stages.


(ii) Chief D. A. Obiomah, leader and scholar of Agbassa-Warri, was generous in handing over his publications to UHS for reproduction in our web site at the early stages of our organization. Since then, he has stayed close to the affairs of the Society, defending it against attacks from hostile forces. He served as our Special Guest of Honour during our Third Annual Conference in 2002. We salute Chief D. A. Obiomah for his outstanding contribution to the work of UHS, exhibiting the fortitude of his forebears, Chief Ogegede and Chief Ometan in fighting for justice and fair play for his people.


(iii) Chief D. O. Dafinone was the earliest Urhobo leader to make contact with UHS when the Society was barely off the ground. He attended our very first Annual Conference in very elementary circumstances, giving an inspirational keynote address. He helped the society in formulating some of its early principles of operation. Moreover, he has been a generous benefactor of the Society. For Chief D. O. Dafinone’s patronage and important contributions, UHS is grateful.

 

Each of the recipients made statements that moved the audience. The ceremony formally ended with their valuable speeches. But there was still plenty to eat and drink, there were informal conversations to be had, and there was dancing late into the night. It was a glorious night.

 

DECLARATION

 

Urhobo Historical Society was founded in 1999. Its supreme mission is to promote Urhobo history and culture. Ultimately, if we realize our supreme goal, we intend to bring our mission directly to every district of Urhoboland. It is the eventual mission of Urhobo Historical Society to empower Urhobos to value their history, to understand that precious history can be nearby, not necessary in faraway lands. We believe that Urhobos will be the best students, and even critics, of their own history and culture. Urhobo Historical Society will seek to engage our youth in the exploration of our culture and history.

 

In order to achieve these important, if difficult, goals, Urhobo Historical Society has established two institutions. First, it has the modern equipment of web sites that should help to record our history and culture. Urhobo Historical Society seeks to employ the medium of the internet and its web sites for recording our history and culture and their various elements, including such themes as British colonial records on Urhoboland, short stories in Urhobo, Urhobo names, etc, etc.

 

Our second institution for realizing our goals is our Annual Conference. Where others may rightfully use this venue for annual merry-making, we seek to use our Annual Conferences as venues for taking stock of Urhobo history and culture. We seek to include in our Annual Conferences all grades of Urhobos and other students of Urhobo culture and history. We particularly want to include women and the youth in our Annual Conferences. No area of Urhobo history and culture will be off-bounds as we use these annual conventions for expanding our knowledge of Urhobo history and culture.

 

In order to realize the goals of our Annual Conferences, we plead with those whom we invite to our Annual Conferences not to seek to involve Urhobo Historical Society in partisan politics, whether in their Urhobo dimensions or of national trappings. We implore those whom we invite to leave partisan politics at the doorsteps of our convention halls.

 

We seek assistance for realizing the goals of Urhobo Historical Society. We believe that our goals belong to all Urhobos and that our specialty is service to Urhobo destiny. In these efforts, everyone can help. Those who record the histories of their hometowns or families are contributing in important ways. Those who supply intellectual resources are in service of our history and culture. Those teachers who can recruit young ones for the study of our people and places are engaged in the business of Urhobo Historical Society. Those who have the financial resources to sponsor our web sites and Annual Conferences are helping in major ways. We encourage all to foster Urhobo history and culture. That is the business of Urhobo Historical Society.

 

December 10, 2003




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