Urhobo Historical Society



Observations and Conclusions on Tour of Branches of Urhobo Progress Union in Nigeria, 1964

 

By Chief T. E. A. Salubi

President-General

 

 

The branches of the Union which I visited in two tours in 1964 are in areas that can easily be classified into two types, that is to say, rural and urban. The two terms are not only applicable in their civic sense but are also true in their economic connotations. The majority of the branches in the Mid-west and in Western Nigeria are in rural areas while these in the North are mainly in large towns or urban areas.

 

Most members of branches of the Union in the areas described as rural are composed of farmers, e.g., palm produce workers and rubber tappers. On the other hand, those n the urban areas are predominantly salary and wage-earners. Petty trading and allied undertakings are economic features common in each of the two types of areas.

 

The social status of Urhobo people in the different areas is not in any way inferior to that of the different ethnic groups among whom they live. In practically every area, Urhobo people live in peace and harmony with the aborigines of the communities in which they live, and the standard of their neighbourliness is appreciably high. This is not a mere expression of opinion but a fact admitted to me in statements by people among whom Urhobo elements are immigrants or settlers. Not a single instance of anti-Urhobo feeling as such was noticed or brought to my attention anywhere. In Benin, Asaba, and, indeed, in the Ikale country where Urhobo immigrants have been living for some 70 years, the tone of mutual relationship has been, generally, if not always, harmonious.

 

In the field of economic pursuit, the position is slightly not the same. There is a slight conflict especially with respect to land utilization for permanent crops such as planting of rubber trees and other cash crops. Quite naturally the aborigines no longer encourage “strangers” to make permanent use of their land. This is to be expected, for I can not see how Urhobo would react differently to a similar situation in their own God-given areas.

 

But this, in my view, is no excuse for the undue rent increases on the oil-palm groves being exacted in recent years by landlords in Asaba areas. Nor is there, in my humble opinion, any plausible argument for allowing Ibo palm-wine tappers exist here at home in Urhoboland.

 

By and large the Urhobo abroad co-operate with one another and invariably support any cause that is Urhobo. There is genuine effort to promote Urhobo personality and image as reputably as possible. The Urhobo Hall at Kano, the humble thatch-roofed hall at Siluko, the plan to build an Urhobo Hall at Kaduna, the proposal by the Apapa branch to found a school for their children and the popular use of Urhobo dress by men and women everywhere, are practical gestures of projecting Urhobo personality abroad.

 

No research is needed to re-assure oneself of the deep-rooted affection and regard which Urhobo people everywhere have for Urhobo Progress Union. The Union is still, fundamentally, loved by the Urhobo people. That is why most of them felt greatly concerned at he false rumours unleashed by propagandists that party politics had bedeviled the rank and file of the Union, and that it would soon “kill” it. I was most delighted to have the first-hand opportunity created by the tours to assure well-meaning Urhobo that their Urhobo Progress Union is a sacred article of faith ever to be protected and jealously guarded.

 

There was no directed antipathy or hostility, as such, against the Union. Only at Asaba was a single case reported of a particular individual (unfortunately of Ovu origin), alleged to be hostile to Union members on political grounds. At Apapa, the people of Okpe and Uvwie clans were said to be disinterested in the Union. This situation contrasts squarely well with the position in the North where many of the influential people supporting Urhobo cause are from Okpe and Uvwie clans.

 

A few people, chiefly in the rural areas, have not up till now understood the purposes of the Urhobo Progress Union. These people think that the aims of a good Union should be collecting monthly dues for drinking and feasting at intervals during the year. The Ogan branch which started with some 25 members had, at the time of my visit, fallen to about 15 members only because the branch did not spend its money on feasting. Instead, they argued, the money was being sent to the Headquarters at Warri and the Zonal Headquarters at Benin for Union maintenance purposes. What little balance that remained, they further argued, was used in paying the transport fares of delegates attending meetings at Warri and Benin. Such simple and ignorant notions of the mission of the Union are deeply regretted.

 

A few branches like Gbogan, Ilorin, Minna, etc., declined a visit on the ground that they were weak or because there was misunderstanding between members. It is an improper code of conduct for a guest to impose himself on an unwilling host. Otherwise, I would have forced a visit to such branches. It would appear that some members think that a visit by the President-General begins and ends in dancing and elaborate receptions. Admittedly, a distinguished visitor deserves to be appropriately honoured. But there must be exceptional cases where a visit by the President-General must be utilized as an advantageous opportunity for re-awaking weak branches or of settling disagreements among members. To settle quarrels, misunderstanding and disagreements is one of the essential purposes of Urhobo Progress Union; and in this, it has established, over the years, a veritable tradition and reputation for itself. It is hoped that this important role will be fully appreciated in the future, not only by weak branches but also by strong branches that have members who have fallen apart in their fold.

 

It is with some pains that I have to record an act of discourtesy displayed (perhaps unconsciously) by branches like Obiaruku, Agbor, Akure, Ago-Owu and Abeokuta. A timely notice of the tour was given to these branches but no message of any kind came back to stop the President-General from visiting them. Our visits to these branches became fruitless. The President-General and his entourage arrived only to find no one to receive them. Since the visit, Akure has explained with apology the circumstances which caused its failure to meet the President-General. I accept the apology. In the case of Ago-Owu, the so-called President of the branch blatantly refused to enter an appearance when informed that the President-General arrived. The same attitude was also displayed at first by the President and the Secretary at Gashua in the far North. 

It is noteworthy that Siluko, Iyasan, Irele and Ajagba branches specialised in the display of U.P.U. emblems. Many of their members turned up in the old U.P.U. blazers with badges. I have not seen so many people wearing U.P.U. blazers and badges in recent years!     

 

If any one is in doubt whether Urhobo and Isoko people can still work together under the banner of the U.P.U. as in the good old days, let him go to Ajagba. Here are eighteen sub-branches of the Union in Ajagba branch whose President is an Isoko. The entire membership is mixed without any discrimination at all. This is a commendable example of unity which is seldom seen anywhere else these days.

 

Nguru branch distinguishes itself by the singular fact that every Urhobo (though not many – only 35) in Nguru is a member of the Union. The Union tie, or Urhobo brotherhood, is very strong here. This rare credit must go to Mr. J.B. Esienakife who has been the local President for many years now and his local lieutenants.

 

As a group problem, Lagos recorded evil and immoral practices among our women in the Federal Territory. Here again there is a sharp contrast to be found among Urhobo women in the North where they are fully gainfully employed in petty trading at the markets. It is rare to find an Urhobo woman in the North without her own shop or market stall which she attends regularly daily to earn her living.

 

A group problem which exists in the North is the problem of admission into Urhobo College of Urhobo children born in the North. I can not put the case too strongly. This is a genuine complaint requiring rectification. It must be in view of a studied discrimination against the children in the field of admission to secondary grammar schools of the North. I will raise the issue with a definite recommendation at the next Annual General Council.

 

There is a very vital aspect of the life of the Union which I am, in duty, bound to touch upon in this report. It is the aspect concerning branches’ financial support for the care and maintenance of the Union at the Headquarters level. In spite of their avowed love and regard for the Union, there exists an unpardonable degree of failure on the part of branches to recognize fully their financial obligation and responsibility towards the headquarters.

 

Membership cards, Almanacs and books sold on credit to branches were not paid for; and in a number of cases, maintenance funds for the year had not been paid. The fact does not seem to be realized that, so far, these are the only revenue-earning sources of the Union. Currently, there are outstanding arrears of £764: 9: 10 due from branches to Headquarters.

It is difficult to reconcile this glaring display of unwillingness to accept financial responsibility with the people’s deep expression of affection for the Union!

 

Knowing the unsound financial position of the Union before leaving home, an attempt was made to demand payment of arrears outstanding. But we were soon forced to relax by a retort from a spokesman of a certain branch in reply to a speech in which the Under-Secretary politely demanded settlement of the branch’s arrears. Said the spokesman in a characteristic Urhobo way of expression, “We are happy that you came to see us as our guests, and we, as your hosts, are looking for something with which to play hospitality to you. We did not know that you came to demand debts”. That was a rocket which rudely horrified poor Mukoro, the Under-Secretary Secretary.

 

How do these branches expect the Headquarters to be run and run efficiently? And yet members make expensive suggestions and talk glibly about publishing news-letters and a periodical magazine, etc. How can the Headquarters do these things when it is not even enabled to keep itself going on normal care-and-maintenance basis?

 

I have deliberately published Appendix XIV so that each branch may see itself clearly with a firm purpose to pay up its dues at once. I will be greatly disturbed if such immediate reaction is not forthcoming. I therefore hereby appeal to all the defaulting branches to make good their debts to the Headquarters. The prevailing poverty is no excuse. It is the will to do that matters.

 

And now in conclusion, I must say that the tours had been eminently successful and I am grateful to God that I was able to undertake them without any incidents. Our journeys had not been easy-going all the way.

 

There were times when we went without food for many hours together. Throughout the journeys we were fed by our host but there were places we had no food at all. Not because there was no foodstuffs but because our hosts feared they might not know how to cook food in the way that we could eat it. But we were very well looked after all along.    

 

It seems to me evidently true that one of the exciting moments in the life of a President-General can be seen in the course of tours such as those that the late Chief Mowoe and I were privileged to undertake. There was full expression and spontaneous display of affection and loyalty wherever I was received. It was indeed a great honour of which any leader of his people might well be proud. I was most impressed by the unalloyed confidence which was reposed in me everywhere. And accordingly, I have drawn deeper inspirations from all I was privileged to see during the journeys. On my part, I pray to God to make me more and more worthy of the people’s hope and expectations of me. I hereby re-assure to my great Urhobo people my unflinching service, in whatever capacity I may be, for the rest of my life.

 

And having seen my Urhobo people everywhere abroad, I am perfectly satisfied that a great future lies ahead for them. I am satisfied with the all-round, steady progress being made. The pace may be slow but it is certainly steady and sure. Urhobo is indeed shaping out well. I am satisfied.  

 

AFORE YE, URHOBO

AFORE YE GO

AFORE YE, URHOBO

AFORE YE GO

And so

FOR AYE.1


T, E. A. SALUBI

President-General

29. 9.1964

 

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1 Although this verse has the appearance of Urhobo wording, it is actually coined from the ancient tribal language of the Scotts. “Afore ye go” [roughly in modern English, “Forward you move”] is an ancient expression of exhortation which Salubi uses frequently. Here, he invokes his “Urhobo” people in an exhortation that may be freely translated as follows:

 

FORWARD YOU, URHOBO PEOPLE

FORWARD YOU MOVE

FORWARD YOU, URHOBO PEOPLE

FORWARD YOU MOVE

And so

FOR EVER

 

-- Peter Ekeh, Editor.

 

 

 

 

 


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