URHOBO PROGRESS UNION, NORTH
8th Annual Convention of Urhobo Descendants in North America
Urhobo people from around the world met in the city of Detroit, Michigan, USA at the Eighth Annual Urhobo Convention in North America during the US Labor Day weekend. It was organized by the Urhobo Progress Union, North America (UPUNA) and hosted by the Urhobo Association of Michigan (UAM).
Chief Benjamin O. Okumagba (JP), President-General of Urhobo Progress Union worldwide, sent a goodwill message to the delegates. He said, among other things, that he had planned to head a powerful delegation from Nigeria to the convention "not only as a show of solidarity with everyone, but to help use the occasion to cement the unity of Urhobo people in North America."
The current social, political and economic situation in Nigeria and the prevailing conditions of Urhobo people and Urboboland were discussed at various forums of the convention. The following communiqué resulted from the deliberations:
We Urhobo people, gathered in the city of Detroit, Michigan USA, at the Eighth Urhobo Convention in North America deeply regret that in spite of the fact that over 95% of Nigeria's revenue derives from the Niger Delta, the people of the area remain some of the most impoverished on earth.
We have noted the continued exploitation of our people, the excruciating poverty and the continuing environmental devastation in the area through oil exploitation. We note that despite promises made to the Urhobo and other nationalities of the Greater Niger Delta and the high hopes raised by the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NNDC), there is no sign of any attempt to clean up the pollution caused by decades of oil exploration or to improve the lot of our people.
We have heard and studied the reports of two delegations commissioned to Urhoboland by UPUNA during the past 15 months to investigate the prevalent oil spills and fire disasters which have claimed thousands of Urhobo lives and maimed many for life. Each delegation also looked into the allegations of successive Nigerian governments of local vandalization of oil pipelines in the oil-producing areas of Nigeria.
We have noted the continued ethnic strife between the peoples of the Niger Delta area who had hitherto co-coexisted harmoniously. We feel greatly concerned about this deplorable and unwarranted situation.
We have noted the unguarded, vitriolic remarks and often-demeaning characterization of the peoples of the Greater Niger Delta by a particular section of the Nigerian community which insists on a "divine right" to govern Nigeria. We also note the invocation of religion as a political weapon in certain parts of Nigeria.
We note that the Nigerian federal government has paid deaf ears to our call and that of other well-meaning Nigerians for a freely held National Conference to address the issues of federalism and the restructuring of Nigeria.
We note the inability of the Nigerian federal government to guarantee security of life and property or free movement of the people it claims to govern. In particular, we note the upsurge of armed robbery in Nigeria, particularly in Delta State. We are gravely concerned that robbers have become so daring as to actually send notices to Nigerian neighborhoods of the date and time of their arrival to rob.
1. The above-noted observations are clear signs of a nation in a deep crisis with itself. Violence, lack of security, intolerance, lack of mutual respect, unfounded claim of ownership of the country by any section or individuals, and a feeling of frustration and disappointment on the part of the general populace are all ingredients of impending national disaster. We of UPUNA hereby:
a) Condemn, without reservation, the wanton death and destruction of property that have characterized ethnic and religious strife in Nigeria, and the uncontrolled importation of arms into Nigeria which the Nigerian federal government seems unable to contain
b) Strongly admonish the federal government of Nigeria
i) to listen to the voice of reason, yearnings and popular demand of the people for a National Conference to enable the nationalities occupying the present Nigerian geographic space to renegotiate their terms of association
ii) that representation at such a National Conference must be based on equality of the federating ethnic nationalities in Nigeria, and not on so-called population. Furthermore, each nationality, not the government, should exercise the right to select its own delegation to such a National Conference.
c) Call on all Urhobo at home and abroad to forge a united front to articulate the concerns of Urhobo people and nation and to stem the arrogance of those who claim to own Nigeria. We urge all Urhobo to stand up for their birthright and their right to self-determination and human dignity
d) Urge Urhobo leadership at home and abroad to explore ways of collaborating in meaningful ways with our kith and kin as well as every possible alternative in this regard
e) Demand full control of our resources if Nigeria is indeed a federation today. By the same token, we do not deny other Nigerian peoples control of their resources for this is a universal right of the people and the federating units in any true federation.
2. We members of UPUNA are monitoring, with keen interest, the political maneuvering and gerrymandering going on in Nigeria toward the 2003 elections. For the records, we are indifferent to any of the existing political parties in Nigeria. However, as we have said in the past, the Urhobo people are fed up with playing second fiddle. We, therefore:
a) Call on Urhobo leadership at home and abroad, and all Urhobo people everywhere to ensure that no Urhobo individual shall mortgage Urhobo interests for personal political ambition as in the past. We, therefore, urge the Urhobo electorate at home
i) to scrutinize current political officeholders critically and to jettison all those who have put their personal interests above Urhobo interests in the past and in the current administration
ii) to carefully examine the motives of future political aspirants and to boldly reject those who are seeking office for their personal rather than Urhobo interests.
3. We realize the role that money and corruption play in Nigerian politics. Under the current crushing economic conditions in Nigeria, it would be foolhardy and unrealistic of us to admonish Nigerians against accepting political largesse. However, we wish to remind all Urhobo and fellow Nigerians of the Urhobo proverb that says, "The trapper who uses a goat as a bait knows what he intends to catch."
We remind the youths of Urhoboland, and indeed of Nigeria, that they should have vested interest in the 2003 elections for it is YOUR future. We of UPUNA, therefore:
a) Urge all Urhobo, and indeed all Nigerians, to vote on the merits of the individual rather than on his/her political affiliation
b) Urge all Nigerians to massively vote against anybody who offers them money; experience has taught us that such a politician expects huge returns on his or her 'investment'
c) Urge Urhobo and Nigerian youths to be actively involved in the elections by registering to vote, holding rallies, educating older family members on the elections, and exposing any attempts at rigging.
4. Security of life and property, a sense of belonging and involvement, and the ability to meet basic necessities of life are the fundamental reasons for human social organization. Any government that cannot guarantee these has no right to expect the patriotism of the citizenry.
We contend that the spate of daredevil armed robberies in Nigeria and the confirmed involvement of members of the Nigeria Police amount to abdication by the Nigeria federal government of its foremost responsibility to the people. The rise of vigilante groups all around the country is a reaction to the failure of government to protect the people. We of UPUNA, therefore, demand that the federal government of Nigeria:
a) Step up to its responsibilities of protecting the people by enforcing the constitution and the laws of the country on all
b) Drastically reorganize and retrain the Nigeria Police as to its responsibilities in a democracy
c) Put in place drastic laws against malfeasance, involvement in criminal activity, and demanding 'mobilization fees' from victims of crime
d) Devolve part of the responsibilities of policing to the states in a manner that will not be abused.
5. As we have pointed out in the past, the endemic inter-ethnic violence in the oil-producing areas is partly due to pent-up frustration resulting from years of political marginalization and economic exploitation. It is also partly due to hordes of our jobless youth roaming the streets even after obtaining university degrees.
It is remarkable that in the face of the unbelievable economic condition in Urhoboland, the ports of Sapele and Warri that were once the source of a booming economy in the former Midwest State and the eastern states have been literally shut down. We of UPUNA demand:
a) The immediate rehabilitation of the Sapele and Warri ports for commercial purposes either directly by the Nigerian federal government or the Niger Delta Development Commission (NNDC)
b) The immediate withdrawal of the Nigerian Navy from the Sapele port and the full utilization of the Warri port for purely commercial purposes.
6. We of UPUNA are in the process of putting in place economic and psycho-social projects to alleviate the deplorable condition of our people and our youths. We hereby call on:
a) The federal and Delta State governments, the Niger Delta Development Commission and the oil companies operating in Urhoboland for full and genuine cooperation in working with us in developing realistic programs to improve the lot of our people and youths
b) Indigenous business people from the area to invest in mutually beneficial economic projects in Urhoboland.
7. From the reports of the two UPUNA investigative committees to Urhoboland, we are convinced of two major sources of oil pipeline explosions and fires in the oil-producing areas of Nigeria: The first is antiquated pipelines that are rupturing as a result of natural deterioration. The second is the business of "bunkering" involving top military and political figures and their cronies especially during the last two military regimes in Nigeria. The sophisticated methods of drilling into even underground pipelines and fixtures for siphoning petroleum products are technologies beyond local villagers.
After siphoning petroleum products to their satisfaction, the unscrupulous "bunkerers" abandon the fixtures, which impoverished and hapless villagers try to capitalize on but which, due to their ignorance, they often set ablaze.
We are incensed that instead of apprehending the real culprits, successive Nigerian governments have mobilized the undisciplined, untrained and brutal Nigerian armed forces to raze entire villages and communities, and to rape women and under aged girls. We of UPUNA:
a) View these acts as egregious crimes against humanity and abuse of our people's fundamental human rights. Consequently, we are in the process of bringing these injustices to the attention of the United Nations and international human rights organizations.
b) Demand immediate and meaningful dialog between the federal and state governments and the oil companies on the one hand, and the various affected communities on the other, on compensation for lost lives and damaged property as well as reparations for emotional and psychological abuse
c) Demand that the federal government of Nigeria which grants operating licenses to oil companies, as a matter of urgency, engage the services of reputable petroleum engineering, environmental and ecological consultants from developed countries to
i) carry out a comprehensive survey of oil pipelines and methods of operation of oil companies in Nigeria, and to provide guidelines for the regulation of oil exploitation in accordance with international standards
ii) evaluate the ecological devastation of the oil-producing
areas, and to provide concrete suggestions for ecological revitalization.
So resolved by the Eighth Annual Urhobo Convention in North America, this 3rd day of September, 2001.
Contact: Dr. Paul Egbo, Director of Publicity
The Directorate of Publicity
Urhobo Progress Union, North America
P. O. Box 431663
Pontiac, MI 48343, USA
Phone: 248-332-4184; Fax: 248-332-3329; E-mail: email@example.com