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An Open Letter to the Urhobo People on

The Danger in the Multiplication of “Kingdoms” for Urhobos and Their Culture

 

October 19, 2011

Our Dear Urhobo People:

 

On May 24, 2008, Urhobo Historical Society issued an open memorandum titled: “Why Urhobo Historical Society Is Opposed to Delta State Government’s Attempt To Control Urhobo Culture and Create ‘Kingdoms’ in Urhoboland.” We issued that document in reaction to the announcement by the Government of Governor James Ibori of Delta State that it had created a second “kingdom” out of Idjerhe. In the UHS document, we warned as follows:

 

Balkanization is a process of fragmenting a political or cultural whole into smaller units that turn out to be unstable and to be hostile towards one another. Coined from experiences of disintegration in the Balkans in Central Europe, Balkanization has led to the dismemberment of Yugoslavia in our life time.  That is precisely where Urhobo and Urhobo culture will be headed if the Delta State Government is allowed to break up some or all of Urhobo’s twenty-two sub-cultures into little artificial “kingdoms.” Urhobo leaders will spend the next several years fighting against one another on who will be “kings” in these artificial “kingdoms” and over new territorial boundaries separating them from one another. Urhobos have twenty-two kings and they have not asked for more. Any struggles for these artificial kingdoms will have been inflicted on the Urhobo people from outside their culture for the sake of weakening them and then controlling them. Instead of engaging in constructive acts of development, Urhobos will fritter away their scarce and valuable resources in destructive acts of de-development by waging battles that have been created for them from a Government that appears fully bent on controlling their culture and its institutions.

 

In an earlier reaction to the proposal to “create” a “kingdom” from Idjerhe sub-culture of Urhoboland, Professor Peter Ekeh, Chairman of Urhobo Historical Society, had addressed the inherent dangers of this virus of “creation of kingdoms” in a lecture titled “On the Matter of Clans and Kingdoms in Urhobo History and Culture,” which was delivered before an Urhobo Assembly meeting at Abuja on April 26, 2008. In that lecture, Professor Ekeh warned as follows:

First, the Idjerhe episode of “kingdom creation” is most likely to be imitated and repeated elsewhere – if it is allowed to survive. If every new installment of Delta State Government that comes to power has the right and authority to create “kingdoms” in Urhoboland, then we should expect a multiplicity of new “kingdoms” . . . to be created for Urhobos within several decades. There are everywhere short-sighted and ambitious politicians who will ask to be made kings of even small villages if the opportunity arises. Internal divisions within each of Urhobo’s sub-cultures may precipitate such clamour for kingship of new “kingdoms.” While there may be ready-made cases of divisions that will readily prompt any new Delta State Governments for new “kingdoms, the greater danger is that even the more stable and established instances of kingship in Urhoboland will not be safe from the spread of the cancer of Government’s “kingdom creation.”


Second, any increase in the number of Ivie in Urhoboland is a threat to the strength of our royal institutions. Many Urhobo leaders of thought already consider the twenty-two Ivie, who derive their authority from Urhobo culture, to be on the high side. It should be recalled that in the 1930s and 1940s, opinion leaders in Urhoboland and its Diaspora seriously weighed the option of initiating a single Urhobo kingship. If we cannot achieve such a goal, we must nevertheless not further weaken our circumstances by foolishly allowing the creation of artificial “kingdoms” in Urhoboland at the whim of Governments who may not always be well disposed towards the vibrancy of Urhobo cultural formations. The addition of a single Ovie to the system of twenty-two kings that we now have is a threat to our culture and to the dignity of those who currently occupy the thrones of Ivie in Urhoboland.

 

It is, therefore, with a great deal of sadness that we observe that these warnings are now being borne out in less than four years, following the episode of the creation of Mosogar “kingdom” by Chief James Ibori. Now, it is the turn of Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, James Ibori’s successor as Governor of Delta State. He has now “created” his own “kingdom” from another ancient Urhobo sub-culture of Avwraka.  There are similarities between these two instances of “kingdom creation.” First, the Governors had political interests in the creation of a second “kingdom” in each case. The Governors had political allies to reward or new ones they craved in Idjerhe and Avwraka. In other words, these were not acts of good governance. Second, in each case the Governor disregarded an imminent court ruling that might bar the creation of a second “kingdom.” Technically, these were power-driven political exercises outside the boundaries of lawful actions.

But there are also important dissimilarities between Idjerhe and Avwraka in this matter of “creation of kingdoms.” First, while Idjerhe has retained its ancient name of Idjerhe, the decree on which the Delta State Government relies for creating a “kingdom” for “Oruarivie-Abraka” omits the sub-culture’s Urhobo appellation of Avwraka. That decree therefore compels a change of name from Avwraka to Abraka, thus permanently enthroning the British error that came into being in 1891 when Captain H. L. Gallwey mistakenly wrote “Abrakar” for Avwraka. Second, while UPU could be said to have played the role of an outsider in the case of the “creation” of Mosogar “kingdom,” the UPU appears to be an inside player in the creation of a new “Abraka kingdom.” This is so because the First Vice-President of Urhobo Progress Union is the main sponsor of the doctrine of the break-up of Avwraka and of the creation of the new “Abraka kingdom.”

This last point is important because the obsession with creation of “kingdoms” has only been possible because Urhobo leadership has not bothered to weigh the issues involved. In the view of many Urhobo watchers, Urhobo leadership seems to be unable or unwilling to persuade the Governors of Delta State to change their destructive policies towards the Urhobo people and their culture, even when it is clear that the actions of Government are inimical to Urhobo interests and Urhobo culture. Neither the Council of Urhobo Ivie nor the leadership of Urhobo Progress Union has confronted the great dangers that stalk the Urhobo people from these reckless acts of politicians and Governments that are injuring Urhobo culture in vital parts. It has not always been so. Indeed, in 1995 an Urhobo ruler put up a stellar performance in his opposition to the creation of artificial kingdoms in Urhoboland. It was an important event in our history which the Urhobo people ought to recall at this sad time.

 

Orhọrọ I, Orodje r’ Okpẹ (1921-2004), and His Exemplary Leadership

on the Matter of “Kingdoms” and Development in Urhoboland

 

In 1995, the Military Government of Delta State was prompted by political agitators in Avwraka to split this ancient sub-culture of Urhoboland into two. The L. S. Nwafili Commission of Inquiry, set up by Delta State’s Military Government to investigate this request, recklessly recommended a split-up of Avwraka, as demanded by the political agitators. Unhappy about such a prospect of splitting up an ancient Urhobo sub-culture for the apparent sake of satisfying the desires of ambitious individuals, Orhọrọ I, Orodje r’ Okpẹ, mobilized the Southern Delta Traditional Rulers Forum and a number of fellow Urhobo Ivie in opposition to the position of the Delta State Military Government. They proceeded to Asaba where they had a full discussion with the Military Governor Ibrahim Kefas. Orhọrọ I and his colleagues successfully persuaded the Military Governor that the planned break-up of Avwraka was not in the interest of Urhobo people and their culture and that the Military Government’s proposed action would adversely affect the development of Avwraka and Urhoboland. The result of Orhọrọ I’s brilliant campaign was the White Paper No. 1 of 1996 which rejected the splitting-up of Avwraka.

We highlight Orhọrọ I’s achievement in this instance because it was not only patriotic; it was also courageous. Above all else, the Orodje’s move was strategic. He knew that the creation of multiple kingships in Urhoboland would weaken the Urhobo institution of Ovie and lead to de-development of Urhoboland. For development, Orhọrọ I tried a different strategy. He successfully fought to have two Local Government Areas – Okpẹ LGA and Sapele LGA -- within his realm. In Nigeria, LGAs are the constitutional vehicles for development of communities. “Kingdoms” are not vehicles for development. In fact, the new “kingdoms” that the Delta State Government has instigated in Idjerhe and Avwraka can only lead to chaos and de-development.

 

Beyond these two tangible achievements – of stopping the creation of artificial “kingdoms” in Urhoboland during his life-time and of the positive creation of two LGAs in his realm – we wish to highlight a third rare virtue of the late king. He had the philosophical sense that Governments can be a source of good as well as a source of evil in the lives of people under their sway. When Governments do the right things, Traditional Rulers should encourage and work with those Governments. When Traditional Rulers sense that Governments are embarking on causes that will be harmful to their people, they have a responsibility to dissuade such Governments and, if necessary, to refuse to give their consent to Governments’ bad deeds. Ultimately, good rulers are wise men – in a philosophical sense.

 

Good Ivie of Urhoboland deserve good remembrance. We in Urhobo Historical Society believe that Orhọrọ I, Orodje r’ Okpẹ, was a good king for the reasons we have outlined above. We dearly hope that other Urhobo kings will act as the late Orodje did, so that the Urhobo people will also have good remembrances of their reigns.

 

 

Urhobo Progress Union’s Reactions to Government Actions on Idjerhe and Avwraka:

Past and Present Editions

 

Similar considerations can be extended to the history of Urhobo Progress Union. No better examples of the changing roles of the UPU exist than the contrast between what the UPU achieved for the Avwraka and Idjerhe  people in the 1930s and 1940s, on the one hand, and the ongoing enabling role of the UPU in the attempted dismemberment of Idjerhe and Avwraka, on the other hand.

 

At the beginning of British colonial rule in Urhoboland, two bad things happened to Avwraka and Idjerhe as a result of the actions of the Colonial Government. First, their names were altered. Because of the difficulties the British had with the spelling of Urhobo words, they changed Idjerhe to “Jesse” and Avwraka to “Abraka” – just as they changed Urhobo to “Sobo” and Ughiẹvwen to “Jeremi.” Urhobo Progress Union fought to restore the “Urhobo” appellation and succeeded in doing so in 1938. It apparently left the naming problems of the cultural units for them to resolve on their own. We note that Idjerhe has restored its name, while the Avwraka naming problem persists.

 

A bigger problem concerned British colonial policy regarding the administration of Avwraka and Idjerhe. The British Colonial Government grouped Avwraka with Kuale (that is, Ukwuani) in Aboh Division. Avwraka was thus administered from Obetim in Ukwuani. Meanwhile, the British Colonial Government grouped Idjerhe with Benin and placed it in Benin Division in Benin Province. Idjerhe was thus administered from Benin City. Urhobo Progress Union protested against both of these policies and fought strenuously to return both Avwraka and Idjerhe back to the Urhobo fold. And they succeeded. In 1936 Idjerhe was returned from Benin Province to the Urhobo fold in Warri Province after a plebiscite was held to determine the wishes of the Idjerhe people. Avwraka was returned to Urhobo Division in 1950. It is noteworthy that the individual role played by Chief Mukoro Mowoe, particularly in his negotiation with Oba Akenzua II of Benin, was among his most brilliant performances as the leader of Urhobo Progress Union.

 

Such history of positive achievement by Urhobo Progress Union for the people of Idjerhe and Avwraka stands in sharp contrast to the recent and ongoing role of the UPU with regard to Delta State Government’s policies aimed at destabilising the integrity of these ancient Urhobo sub-cultures. UPU’s current position seems to be that whatever Government has done is fait accompli and cannot be reversed. The UPU appeared to have endorsed the dismemberment of Idjerhe, which was allegedly split into two “kingdoms.” UPU’s apparent role in the ongoing attempt to dismember Avwraka is even more alarming. This instance of Balkanization of Avwraka seems to be sponsored and recommended by chieftains of Urhobo Progress Union!

 

Urhobo Historical Society’s Appeal to the Urhobo People

 

In certain periods of a people’s existence, they should pause to ask whether the institutions that they have established for managing their affairs are functioning properly. We suggest that this is one such moment in Urhobo history. Our affairs have become very badly twisted. The late singer Lady Rose Okriguo of Udu phrased it and sang it well: “Nigeria ghwẹẹ; ẹkwuotọ ji ghwẹẹ”: “Nigeria is dying; our sub-division is also dying.”

 

Please permit us once more to refer to the achievements of the generation of Urhobo leaders of the 1930s and 1940s and the sagacity of Orhọrọ I, Orodje r’ Okpẹ, in the 1990s. Their successes were possible because they discerned the problems facing the Urhobo people correctly. Our worry in Urhobo Historical Society is that such discernment of problems facing the Urhobo people has been deadened by the race to gain from Government as individuals rather than as a people. The multiplication of “kingdoms” is injurious to Urhobo culture and will create divisions where we need unity. The proper vehicle for development is the creation of more Local Government Areas for our people. Idjerhe and Avwraka deserve an LGA each for the sake of their development. Additional “Kingdoms” are not designed to bring development to the Avwraka and Idjerhe people.

 

We appeal to the Urhobo people – at home and in the Diaspora – not to abandon the campaign for the welfare of our people. We understand that the times are tough. But we believe that we should rethink our future prospects carefully and redress our errors. We should re-invent our institutions to serve the Urhobo people well.

 

 

Position and Declaration of Urhobo Historical Society on

Creation of “Kingdoms” in Urhoboland

 

For the avoidance of any doubt and for the sake of clarity, Urhobo Historical Society states its position and makes its declaration as follows:

 

Position:


1
.    U
hobo has twenty-two sub-cultures. In Urhobo language these sub-cultures are called ẹkwuotọ. Alphabetically, these 22 ẹkwuotọ are as follows: Agbarha, Agbarha-Ame, Agbarho, Agbọn, Arhavwarien, Avwraka, Ẹphrọn, Evwreni, Eghwu, Idjerhe, Oghara, Ogor, Okere, Okparẹbẹ, Okpẹ, Olomu, Orogun, Udu, Ughelli, Ughiẹvwen, Uvwiẹ, and Uwherun.


2.     These
ẹkwuotọ were founded and settled in prehistoric times by the progenitors of the Urhobo people. The progenitors of the Urhobo people conquered and settled portions of the uninhabited dense rainforests of the central Western Niger Delta which they claimed for themselves and their progenies.


3.     The ẹkwuotọ were called clans by the British during colonial times. The cultures and the integrity of these ẹkwuotọ were fully respected by the British. Various Nigerian Governments – including the Action Group Government of Western Nigeria, the Midwest Government, and Military Governments – all respected the cultural integrity of the ẹkwuotọ (or clans).


4.      In the late 1990s, following the name of a book by the Ovie of Ogor, titled Urhobo Kingdoms: Political and Social Systems and published in 1997, Urhobo chieftains renamed these ẹkwuotọ as Kingdoms in replacement of clans by which name they were called by the British Colonial Government, Western Nigeria Regional Government, Midwest Government, and various Military Governments. Let it be noted that the widespread use of the term “Kingdoms” for ẹkwuotọ is as recent as the beginning of this century.


5.      These ẹkwuotọ have many attributes, including the institution of Ovie (or King) of the ẹkwuotọ. According to collective Urhobo customs and usages, each ẹkwuotọ is entitled to have a King or Ovie. Fractions of ẹkwuotọ are not qualified to have their own Ovie. This prohibition was well respected by all Governments before the Government of Chief James Ibori.


6.      In 2008, Chief James Ibori, Governor of Delta State, became the first Head of a Government to seek to divide an Urhobo ẹkwuotọ by creating a so-called “kingdom” for Mosogar. In 2011, his successor as Governor of Delta State, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, became the second violator of the integrity of an Urhobo ẹkwuotọ by creating a “kingdom” for a fraction of Avwraka, calling it “Oruarivie-Abraka Kingdom.” We note that the good Governor has not created any new kingdom among his people, the Itsekiri. We assume that he does not see any good in the creation of “kingdoms.” If he did he would have created dozens in his native Itsekiriland.


7.      We want to state clearly that the Delta State Government has no Constitutional rights to alter the boundaries of Urhobo’s ẹkwuotọ. After all, the State Government cannot constitutionally create any local government or alter the boundaries of any existing Local Government Area. We therefore affirm that the 22 ẹkwuotọ retain their integrity irrespective of any artificial “kingdoms” created by the Government in their realm.


8.      "Kingdoms” are not designed to bring development. The creation of “kingdoms” only sows the seeds of disunity. On the other hand, Local Government Areas are designed to bring development. We believe that both Avwraka and Idjerhe should fight to have LGAs of their own.

 


Declaration:
 


1.       We urge the Council of Urhobo Ivie and Urhobo Progress Union to declare on behalf of the Urhobo people that Urhobo has only 22 ẹkwuotọ (which have been called Kingdoms or Clans) and that the Urhobo people do not accept the splitting-up of any of these ẹkwuotọ which have served our people efficiently from prehistoric times.


2.     We urge the Council of Urhobo Ivie and Urhobo Progress Union to declare that the creation of “kingdoms” in Urhoboland is bad for the Urhobo people because: (a) they create disunity among people who have been living together in peace for many centuries and in some instances for more than 1000 years; and (b) they cheapen the institution of Ovie: Urhobos desire no more kings than the 22 Kings who derive their authority from age-old ẹkwuotọ.


3.     We urge the Council of Urhobo Ivie and Urhobo Progress Union to fight for more Local Government Areas to be created for Urhoboland because it is severely underserved by the small number of LGAs in our area.


4.      We urge Idjerhe and Avwraka people – at home and abroad – to continue to live together as brothers and sisters, as they have done for centuries before the era of destructive politics.

 

 

(Signed):

 

 

Peter P. Ekeh, Ph.D.

Chairman

 

Isaac James Mowoe, Ph.D., J.D.

Deputy Chairman

 

 

Onoawarie Edevbie, M. A., M.Sc.

Secretary

 

For:

Editorial & Management Committee, Urhobo Historical Society

 

 

Cc:

Chairman and Members, Council of Urhobo Ivie

President-General and Members, Urhobo Progress Union

President and Members, Urhobo Social Club, Lagos

President and Members, Urhobo Leadership Forum, Abuja

 

 

 


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