Urhobo Historical Society


A Brief History of

Urhobo National Association of North America (UNANA)

 

A Keynote Address

On the occasion of the Inauguration of the sixth President of Urhobo National Association of North America,

In Chicago, Illinois, USA, January 14, 2006

 By Dr. Aruegodore Oyiborhoro
(Ex-Chairman, Board of Trustees &
Founding Secretary-General of UNANA)

 
 

As the immediate past chairman of the Board of Trustees and one of those privileged to bring the concept of forming our national organization into fruition, I consider it an honor to be called upon on this joyous occasion to give a brief history of the early beginnings of Urhobo National Association of North America (UNANA). The journey of bringing all Urhobo people residing in North America together started nearly thirteen years ago. It began when Mr. Michael Akpobome Egi (U.P.U., Minneapolis, Minnesota) placed a phone call to me, Dr Oyiborhoro, to discuss the idea of forming a national Urhobo association in the United States in the fall of 1992.  Mr. Egi called on me not because I was the lucky number. His inquiry with the Consulate General of Nigeria office in New York informed him of the existence of Urhobo-Isoko organization formed in 1972. I was then its President. That was how Mr. Egi found me.

 

I found Mr. Egi’s idea of forming an Urhobo national association in North America to be very timely. It came at a time when ethnic cleansing in some European countries was beginning to take root. Minority populations across the globe were already gripped with fear, praying hard that such wicked and devilish ideas would not be imported into their areas. So, bringing Urhobo people under one national association to protect the interest of our people and land became the logical first step in getting our people prepared. It was more so the case that we fortunately reside in the world’s only superpower where help is readily available.

 

In late 1992, Urhobo Club of Nigeria (USA), Inc. was formed with members drawn from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to properly position Urhobo people in these areas for the long journey ahead. Harry Ofurhie was elected as the chairman and Dr. Aruegodore Oyiborhoro was elected as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees.  In early spring of 1993, Mr. Ofurhie and Dr. Oyiborhoro were authorized by Urhobo Club to make contacts with all existing Urhobo organizations and known Urhobo people throughout the United States. This was achieved through extensive direct mailing as well as paid advertisements in newspapers, magazines and numerous phone calls. The first paid advertisement by Urhobo Club of Nigeria (USA), signed by its Chairman, Mr. Ofurhie, appeared on page 13 of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) publication, The Nigeria News Update, volume 2, Issue 8, of April 29 – May 12, 1993. It called on all Urhobo Associations, Clubs, Unions, individuals, etc, to a meeting to form a national association. Six Urhobo associations responded and became the founding chapters of the national body. They are: 

 
Urhobo Club of Nigeria, New York, New York
Urhobo Progress Union, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Urhobo Association of Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area
Urhobo Progress Union of Southern California, Los Angeles
Urhobo Progressive Association, Houston, Texas
Urhobo Social Club, Boston, Massachusetts. 

 

After extensive groundwork by Urhobo Club, New York, by UPU, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and by Urhobo Association of Washington, D.C. Metro, the Urhobo National Association was inaugurated in Washington, DC on May 29, 1993. Elections to form the founding executive were conducted and the following individuals were elected as the founding officials:


     Mr. Thomas Ogagan, President (Urhobo Social Club, Boston)
Mr. Lucky Ajueyitsi (Urhobo Association of Washington, DC), Vice President
Dr. Aruegodore Oyiborhoro, Secretary-General (Urhobo Club, New York)
Mr. Peter Obebeduo, Assistant-Secretary (Urhobo Club, New York)
Mr. Matthew Obar, Vice President Finance (Urhobo Progressive Union, Los Angeles)
Mr. Ike Akpojotor, Speaker (Urhobo Progress Association, Minneapolis, Minnesota)
Mr. Monday Anigboro, Vice President Social/Cultural Affairs (U.P.A., Houston)
Mr. Simeon Asaboro, Vice President Publicity (Urhobo Association of Washington, DC).

 

However, the result of the presidential election did not go down well with some of the founding associations, especially those whose presidential candidates failed to win the election. So, they left the newly formed national body. However, they returned later to the fold. The founding associations that left after the first Presidential elections but later returned included:


Urhobo Association of Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area
Urhobo Progress Association, Houston, Texas
Urhobo Progress Union of Southern California
Urhobo Social Club of Boston, Massachusetts.

 

This left two associations, Urhobo Club, New York and UPU, Minneapolis, Minnesota, to work with the newly elected president, Mr. Thomas Ogagan, (UPU, New Bedford, Massachusetts) to prevent the newly formed national association from collapsing. In this regard, Mr. Thomas Ogagan (First President-General), Dr. Aruegodore Oyiborhoro (First Secretary General- Urhobo Club, New York), Harry Ofurhie (Chairman, Urhobo Club, New York) and Michael Egi (UPU, Minneapolis, Minnesota), decided to conduct a national tour of the major cities in the United States, at their personal expense, to persuade the four founding associations that left to return to the fold, and secondly to help organize new associations wherever Urhobo people resided in North America. The tour was successful because new associations started to spring up and most of the founding associations that left began to return to the national body. Thereafter, Dr. Oyiborhoro registered the Urhobo National Association in the State of New York in July of 1993 as “Urhobo National Association, USA, Inc.”

 

It was only Urhobo Social Club of Boston, Massachusetts, that remained outside of the national body for more than a decade before they rejoined the national body in February 2005. The national body is not unmindful of the fact that the long absence of Urhobo Social Club of Boston may not be unconnected with the election of Mr. Thomas Ogagan as the president of the new national body without due clearance from Urhobo Social Club of Boston. Today, we want Urhobo Social Club of Boston under Professor Vincent Owhoso’s leadership to know that the national body acknowledges this error of commission.  For this reason, the national body has asked me to specially recognize the presence of Urhobo Social Club of Boston in our mix today and to extend our warm appreciation to them.

 

     So going back to our history, after the ratification of the very first constitution of Urhobo National Association of North America, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, at the close of 1993, the founding executive committee was reorganized. This reorganization resulted in the replacement of four founding officials with new officers as follows:


Damian O. Idjagboro became the new first Vice President (Urhobo Association of Washington, DC)
Juliet Harris, Vice President Publicity (Urhobo Association of Washington, DC)
Dr. Tanure Ojaide, Vice President Social/Cultural Affairs (U.P.U., Charlotte, North Carolina)
Michael Egi, Otota [Speaker](U.P.U. Minneapolis, Minnesota) and
Dr. Duke U. Ophori, Deputy Speaker [Otota] (U.P.U., Winnipeg, Canada).

 

It is not possible to list everyone for his or her pioneering contributions in the formation of our national organization. But I will name a few of the very active individuals and their associations at the early stages. We are grateful to Harry Ofurhie, former chairman and all former members of Urhobo Club, New York, for making the initial contacts and more importantly for organizing the first annual convention of the Urhobo National Association (North America) in New York City, September 1994. It was the first and largest gathering of Urhobo professionals and intellectuals in North America. The great event was hosted and funded by Urhobo Club, New York.  We sincerely thank Michael Egi, and all members of U.P.U., Minneapolis, for their efforts and sacrifices. Dr. Festus E. Sohwo, Ms. Angela Kwokori-Lindsay, Mr. Damian Idjagboro -- and those members of Urhobo Association of Washington, DC who supported their efforts in helping to play more pivotal roles in Urhobo affairs in North America – deserve our praise. The sacrifices of Mr. Matthew Obar and his wife as well as those of Mr. Sunny Enyoghwerho of U.P.U. of Southern California, Los Angeles, and their members deserve our thanks for their contributions. We thank Dr. Duke Ophori who had to travel through a snowstorm with his family from Winnipeg, Canada, in late November of 1993 in order to participate in the review and final ratification of our original constitution in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Finally, we are grateful to Thomas Ogagan, the first President General for his contributions, sacrifices and pioneering role. 

 

Dr. Francis Nakpodia (Urhobo Association, Washington, DC) became the second President General of the Urhobo National Association after Mr. Thomas Ogagan. The transfer of power from Mr. Ogagan to Dr. Nakpopdia was smooth and orderly. Under the leadership of Dr. Nakpodia, the national association grew rather rapidly, especially after a most spectacular annual convention hosted by the Urhobo Cultural League of St. Louis, Missouri under the leadership of Dr. Francis Odemerho.

 

As the national association grew in numbers, so also were the challenges of the national organization, as one would expect in any human endeavor. These challenges led to the formation of a parallel national organization called UPUNA, which was headed by Dr. Ona Pela. Fortunately, Dr. Francis Odemerho who became the fourth President General (2001-2003) after Mr. Harry Ofurhie’s presidency (1999-2001) stretched an olive branch to Dr. Ona Pela and his parallel Urhobo association, UPUNA. This led to the unity meeting convened by Urhobo Association of Chicago and Environs under the then president, Engr. Oghenovo Omene. We were all pleased that the challenges posed were met and amicably resolved during that meeting in 2003 and that once again we have one national body, the Urhobo National Association of North America with the acronym UNANA.  Following the unity meeting, Dr. Odemerho and Dr. Pela were appointed as Co-Chairs of UNANA until the 2003 UNANA convention.

 

After a hotly contested presidential election, Dr Augustine Atiyota was elected and inaugurated as the fifth president of Urhobo National Association of North America for a two-year term  (2003 – 2005), which ended on December 31, 2005.  Due to some unresolved electoral issues, a new president could not be elected during the annual convention in Chicago in September of 2005. So, the Chairman of Board of Trustees, Dr. Raymond Ogbemure, sent out a memo inviting UNANA chapters to Newark, New Jersey for a presidential election. Dr. Ogbemure boldly stated in the memo that November 19, 2005 was a firm date for the presidential election. On that firm date, 13 UNANA chapters showed up for the election. Out of the 13 chapters present, seven voted for Engr. Oghenovo Omene and elected him as the sixth President of Urhobo National Association of North America. 

 

Ladies and gentlemen, we are happy to be here today, January 14, 2006, in Chicago for the inauguration of Engr. Oghenovo Omene as UNANA  6th  President.

 

The Urhobo National Association of North America (UNANA) is a non-for-profit cultural umbrella organization for the over 10,000 Urhobo people residing in North America. Among other things, the need for Urhobo people at home but especially in the Diaspora to preserve their culture -- and promote, protect and encourage development of the Urhobo homeland -- in part led to the creation of the national body. I will end this short historical account of the formation of our national association with a common but instructive saying, namely, “Young people think that old people do not know anything; but old people know that young people do not know anything”. Put in another way, we can also say that, “newcomers think that old timers in our national association do not know anything; but the old timers in our national association know that a few of the newcomers do not know much about how far we have come.” 

 

We did not go to the Urhobo homeland to seek endorsement or legitimacy before the national association was formed.  Our strength, our legitimacy, and our relevance ultimately derive from the support of the general membership of UNANA. Your active participation and your personal and cultural needs, as well as the needs and interests of every branch of UNANA, are paramount in the aspirations of the Association. Ultimately, it is our activities and sacrifices for our common good and advancement of our people that should form the bedrock agenda of UNANA. Therefore, your presence here today and the massive turnout from all parts of North America at this inauguration is enough testimony for us to assure ourselves that the best days of UNANA are in our future.

 

Thank you.

 

(Signed by)
Dr. Aruegodore Oyiborhoro
(Ex- Chairman, Board of Trustees and
Founding Secretary-General of UNANA)



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