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Why Urhobo Historical Society Is Opposed to Delta State Government’s Attempt

To Control Urhobo Culture and Create “Kingdoms” in Urhoboland





There is a looming cultural crisis in Urhoboland that has been orchestrated by the Delta State Government’s attempt to control Urhobo culture and its institutions. This crisis has arisen directly from the action of the Delta State Government in proclaiming that it has created a new “kingdom” from Idjerhe, a subculture of Urhoboland. “Kingdom” is a new term that has been used since the late 1990s as a replacement for the British Colonial term “clan” which was a translation of the Urhobo expressions ubrotọ, ẹkuotọ, and ẹkpotọ. Each of these Urhobo words means a fraction of Urhoboland and refers to the twenty-two sub-cultures which constitute Urhoboland and its multiplex culture.


A major attack on the edifice of Urhobo culture was introduced in the Delta State House of Assembly in October 2006 in the form of a letter from the Office of the Governor of the State asking the Delta State House of Assembly to convert the Governor’s previous unilateral announcement of creation of “Mosogar Kingdom” into a bill. This bill was duly assigned to the Chieftaincy Committee of the House where it faced withering opposition from Idjerhe and Urhobo interests. When it appeared that it was headed towards certain defeat, the bill was withdrawn from the Committee and was introduced for a vote, without the work of the Chieftaincy Committee, in the House of Assembly. Idjerhe and Urhobo interests, alleging malice, sought an injunction from the Oghara High Court to bar any improper and hurried passing of a law that would authorize the creation of a clan or “kingdom” from Idjerhe sub-culture of Urhoboland. The Oghara High Court granted this injunction on November 20, 2006. Disregarding the order of the High Court, the House of Assembly hurriedly passed the bill on November 28, 2006, and, in uncommon haste, the Governor rapidly signed this hurried bill into law on December 6, 2006.


It is significant that there was no consultation by the Delta State Government with the Idjerhe people before this high-handed bill was introduced into the Delta State House and before it was withdrawn from the Chieftaincy Committee and forced unto the whole House of Assembly for an unstudied vote. Nor did the Governor or Delta State Government consult with Urhobo Progress Union whose cardinal mission is to protect Urhobo culture. It is further significant that those Idjerhe and Urhobo interests who were aware of the machination to use the power of Delta State Government to illegitimately ram through this ruse to partition Idjerhe sub-culture of Urhoboland vigorously opposed it. Sadly, they were overpowered by the raw forces of politics in the Delta State Government.


An Urhobo cultural creed, which has been practiced from ancient times, is that each of the constituent twenty-two subcultures of Urhoboland is entitled to no more than one king. But the Delta State Government has gone ahead to install a second king in Idjerhe and is now threatening to share Idjerhe’s lands between this new “kingdom,” its creation, and the rest of ancient Idjerhe.


We fear that the Idjerhe cultural fiasco is the beginning shot in a clear attempt to maim Urhobo’s culture and all its potentials. We fear that this destructive action by the Delta State Government will be forced on other sub-cultures of Urhoboland, as more “kingdoms” are orchestrated by the Government and imposed on Urhobos. We fear that this action of Delta State Government will lead to widespread cultural chaos and the disintegration of Urhoboland. That is why we are opposed to these hostile actions of the Delta State Government against Urhobo culture. We wish to explain our grounds for fearing the worst, to the Urhobo people; to Urhobo Progress Union, their umbrella organization; and to our fellow Nigerians.


Our Grounds for Opposing Delta State Government’s “Kingdom” Creation Exercise in Urhoboland


There are numerous reasons why the hostile action of the Delta State Government in its “kingdom” creation exercise in Urhoboland should be challenged and rejected by the Urhobo people and all fair-minded lovers of indigenous cultures. Some of these reasons should be obvious. Others are more subtle but very important nonetheless. In what follows, we state serious factors and grave consequences that we believe will flow from the obvious attempt by the Delta State Government to single out Urhobo culture for its control and management.


(1) Disruption of Historic Orderly Interactions between Urhobo Cultural Units and Foreign and Nigerian Governments


All the twenty-two sub-cultures of Urhoboland are prehistoric. They were already in their various locations before the rise of the Benin Empire in the 1440s and before the arrival of Portuguese explorers in the Western Niger Delta in the 1480s. Interactions between the Urhobo people and foreign governments were largely based on recognition of these twenty-two sub-cultures of Urhoboland. The rulers and administrators of the Benin Empire, under the kings of Eweka dynasty, interacted with Urhobo communities on the clear recognition of many of these sub-cultures. Similarly, various agencies of the British Empire – Niger Coast Protectorate (1891-1899), Royal Niger Company (c1892-1899 in Urhoboland), Protectorate of Southern Nigeria (1900-1914), and Protectorate of Nigeria (1914-1960) -- recognized and interacted with the Urhobo people on the basis of these sub-cultures. The British named these sub-cultures of Urhoboland “clans.”


It is significant that neither the authorities of the Benin Empire nor those of British colonial administrations ever attempted to alter the units of Urhobo sub-cultures. All these respected the integrity of Urhobo culture, with its sub-cultures, and interacted with the Urhobo people within the framework and logic of their own culture and its units.


Nigerian Governments that followed British colonial rule similarly had high regard for Urhobo culture and its units. Thus, despite its historic difficulties with the Urhobo people, the Action Group Government of Western Nigeria (1952-1964), did not undermine the integrity of Urhobo’s sub-cultures. The Mid-West Government and Bendel State civilian governments again respected Urhobo culture. Finally, all military regimes in the Midwest, Bendel, and Delta States were fully respectful of the sub-cultures of Urhoboland.


In sharp contrast to all the above instances of orderly interactions, across many centuries, between Urhobo and various Governments, domestic and foreign, Delta State Government now seeks to seize the management of Urhobo culture. It has begun to restructure Urhobo’s sub-cultures through the artifact of the creation of “kingdoms” in Urhoboland. What makes this action of Delta State Government so odd is that it breaks away from a pattern and tradition of governments that for centuries respected the integrity of Urhoboland and its sub-cultures.


(2) Clans versus Kingdoms: Delta State Government’s Reversal of Historic Development in Urhoboland


In historical scholarship, clans and kingdoms are regarded as opposite phenomena. A clan is an organization that traces its origin to a single ancestor and occupies a common land. As such, a clan is limited in scope. Clans are usually related to other clans, all of which share common traditions and a language of a more inclusive cultural whole. On the other hand, kingdoms are larger organizations that do not necessarily respect the ethics of clans. Many kingdoms in history (e.g., Ghana in about 6th century A.D., Benin in mid-fifteenth century) arose from the actions of kings who subdued the autonomy of clans and collapsed them into single kingdoms. That is what some historians would regard as development: aggregation of several clans into one kingdom.


One would have expected a modern government to understand the lessons of history with regard to the fact that kingdoms are larger organizations than clans. Instead, Delta State Government seems to regard as progress the breaking up of a clan into two parts and then naming each of them a kingdom! The Idjerhe people are satisfied to regard themselves as an Urhobo sub-culture, or clan, with an illustrious and cohesive history. Without their consent, Delta State Government has now said that it has created a “kingdom” from Idjerhe lands. There is very little doubt in the minds of opinion leaders of the Urhobo people that the Idjerhe experiment is a beginning act and that the Delta State Government has a clear design to fragment Urhobo culture by breaking up existing historic sub-cultural entities of Urhoboland into artificial “kingdoms.”


(3) Balkanization of Urhobo Culture and Impending De-development of Urhoboland


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.


(4) Targeting of Urhobo Leadership as an Act of Cultural Genocide against the Urhobo People


Since the inception of a new civilian regime in Delta State in 1999, Urhobo leadership has been in turmoil. Some of this chaos may be attributed to the general violence that has erupted in the Niger Delta in the new civilian era of politics. The truth of the matter, however, is that Urhobo leadership has especially been targeted for extraordinary acts of violence and intimidation.


Such circumstances have adversely affected the total quality of Urhobo leadership. As long as these incidents affect individuals, the foundation of Urhobo leadership remains intact. However, this recent attempt by the Delta State Government to restructure Urhobo cultural units will affect Urhobo leadership at its foundation, with traumatic consequences. Urhobos recruit their leadership from the sub-cultural level. This attempt to break up Urhobo’s sub-cultural units into smaller “kingdoms,” which will have no cultural foundations, will weaken the quality and legitimacy of Urhobo leadership in a severe manner.


These various hostile acts against the Urhobo people and their ancient culture constitute what is clearly recognized as cultural genocide in Article 7 of the United Nations Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (26 August 1994). It is best that the Urhobo people understand these looming dangers and immediately take decisive actions that will forestall their full impact.


(5) Why Is Delta State Government’s “Kingdom” Creation Exercise Targeting Only the Urhobo People?


The most remarkable aspect of the “kingdom” creation exercise embarked upon by the Delta State Government is that it is exclusive to Urhobo. If “kingdoms,” as defined by the Delta State Government, are so valuable, then why restrict the exercise of their creation to Urhoboland? If “kingdoms” are public goods that the Delta State Government wants to hand out to ethnic nationalities of the State, why would not such other areas of the State as Asaba and Itsekiri receive their own shares of these new “kingdoms” created on the pages of Government gazettes? The old Delta Province of Colonial Nigeria had five ethnic nationalities -- Ijaw, Isoko, Itsekiri, Ukwuani, and Urhobo. All of these have been incorporated into the new Delta State, along with Ika and Western Igbo from the old Benin Province of Colonial Nigeria. As far as we know, there are no plans to install these new-found “kingdoms” in any of these ethnic nationalities except in Urhobo. Why target Urhobo for the installation of a Trojan horse that bears the false name of “kingdom”?


We are confident in our judgment that Asaba, Itsekiri, and all other ethnic nationalities of Delta State will reject the notion that new “kingdoms” be created in their areas. That is because they would regard such an exercise to be destructive. We suppose that the reason why the Delta State Government has refrained from extending the “kingdom” creation exercise to other ethnic nationalities of the State has nothing to do with the suggestion that their politicians have not asked for new kingdoms. There are, of course, politicians everywhere who are ready to be paid to agitate for new “kingdoms.” Rather, we believe that the Delta State Government is especially interested in weakening Urhobo culture because it wants to control the Urhobo people. There is no other rational reason why the Delta State Government would restrict its “kingdom” creation exercise to Urhoboland.


(6) Lack of Legal Basis for Delta State Government’s “Kingdom” Creation Exercise


“Kingdoms” are the new names for what were called clans in Urhoboland up until the late 1990s. When, therefore, the Delta State Government says that it has created a new “kingdom” in Idjerhe sub-culture of Urhoboland, its claim extends to territory; linguistic dialect; ancestral shrine; history of conquest of a unique area of the rainforest of the Western Niger Delta; and all other attributes of Urhobo’s sub-cultures. It is these attributes that make up Urhobo culture. Delta State Government is virtually telling the Urhobo people that it is redesigning and restructuring their culture.


We have searched in vain for the source of the legal authority by which the Delta State Government seeks to create new kingdoms (or clans) out of existing sub-cultures (or clans) of Urhoboland. We find no such authority -- not in the statutes, not in the laws and not in the Constitution of the Nigerian state.  As one reads these documents embodying the statutes, the laws and the Constitution, one comes to the clear conclusion that no government in the Federal Republic of Nigeria -- not the Federal Government, and most assuredly not the state governments, including the Delta State Government -- has the authority to create kingdoms or clans out of sub-cultures (or clans) of Urhoboland or anywhere else.  In view of this plain and very simple fact, to proceed as the Delta State Government evidently seeks to do, would be to violate the very laws of the land it purports to govern. Given the rough and tumble of the peculiar strain of politics in Delta State, the Government may make and unmake kings. But it cannot create clans (or kingdoms, to use their other recent name).


Our Appeal


It is on the grounds of the objections listed above that Urhobo Historical Society makes the following appeals:

(1)     To Delta State Government: We appeal to the Delta State Government to rescind its “kingdom” creation exercise and restore the integrity of Idjerhe as an Urhobo sub-culture and the integrity of Urhobo culture which would be adversely affected by the Government’s attempt to create what amounts to a “clan” in Urhoboland. The Urhobo people neither want nor need more clans (or “kingdoms”) in Urhoboland. They regard such an action of creating a new clan (or “kingdom) in Urhoboland as utterly destructive. Our sub-cultures have been fine-tuned from pre-historic times and have served the Urhobo people quite well. We want the Delta State Government to follow the good examples of all previous Governments, foreign and domestic, with which the Urhobo people have had to deal: they respected the integrity of Urhobo culture. Governments are created to serve the interests of the people, not to intimidate them and control their culture. Let the Delta State Government raise its standards to those of previous administrations who were once privileged to be called Governments in our region in past centuries and decades.

(2)    To the Urhobo People: Urhobo has twenty-two sub-cultures. Traditionally, in Urhobo language, the Urhobo expressions of ubrotọ, ẹkuotọ, and ẹkpotọ were used to refer to these units of Urhobo culture. During Colonial Rule, the British called them “clans,” a term that survived up until the late 1990s. Since then, some have called them “kingdoms.” We call them sub-cultures in this document. All the twenty-two sub cultures of Urhoboland are closely related. They are fractions of the Urhobo whole. What affects the integrity of one will affect the whole that is Urhobo culture. It is therefore a misguided point of view to regard the so-called creation of a “kingdom” from Idjerhe sub-culture as a local matter. On the contrary, it is a major problem whose consequences will spread to the rest of Urhoboland. No sub-culture of Urhoboland – not even the large ones of Agbon, Okpe, and Ughelli – will be safe from the ravages of this “kingdom” creation craze.


         Urhobo Historical Society therefore appeals to all Urhobos to take any appropriate steps that will ensure that this pernicious exercise is halted. Talk to those of your representatives who will listen to you. Ask them to put pressure on the Delta State Government to listen to the Urhobo people and reverse the Government’s dangerous course in this issue. Above all, make your views on this matter known to Urhobo Progress Union. It was the best hope of the Urhobo People for resolving their collective crises in past decades. It is still in a strong position to serve the interests of the Urhobo people. Let UPU leaders apply all their persuasive powers to convince the Delta State Government that Urhobos will not accept the “kingdom” creation exercise that the Government wants to impose on the Urhobo People.

(3)       To Urhobo Progress Union: We offer the above prospectus to Urhobo Progress Union in the confidence that the President-General of the Union and his Executive will take our arguments in this document into consideration as they weigh what to do with this serious infraction of Urhobo culture. This is a matter that falls squarely into the territory of the Union’s mission of protecting Urhobo culture from unwarranted attacks. To state the obvious, Urhobo Historical Society reposes its trust in the ability and commitment of the UPU to act on behalf of the Urhobo People.





Peter P. Ekeh

Isaac James Mowoe
Deputy Chairman

Onoawarie Edevbie

Chief S. S. Obruche
UK & Belgium



On Behalf of Urhobo Historical Society



Email: UrhoboHistory@waado.org



May 24, 2008