Urhobo Historical Society

 

 

 

URHOBO ACHIEVEMENTS

 

By Dia Scott-Emuakpor, Ph.D.

 


Being an address on the occasion of Urhobo Awreness Day (UAD) of Urhobo Bridge, United Kingdom, held in London on Monday, August 31, 2009


 

Chairman,

Special Guest of Honour and all Dignitaries here gathered,

Ladies and Gentlemen.

 

 

 

I want to thank the organizers of this forum for their invitation to me to feature as a speaker in this maiden international gathering of the Urhobo Bridge

When I was approached to give a talk on “Urhobo Achievements,” my first reaction was to ask whether, as a composite people, there has really been an achievement at all in Urhobo that is worth serenading from the rooftop. Soon after, though, I recognized this to be my innate cynicism taking the better side of me again, even if accentuated this time around by my constant frustration at our  fast becoming proverbial show of disunity as a people. But I soon took comfort from the thought that even a modest attempt at creating a tiny measure of Urhobo awareness, as we are here doing today, could well count for an achievement in itself. Come to think of it, from the perspective of my discipline, I should know that achievements, scientific or otherwise, do not always have to attract positive outcome of universal approbation. Achievements can be both positive and negative. This is not a contradiction in terms. As my cynicism finally receded to the background, I began to see through the frosty glass of reason a little more clearly and so can now acknowledge that the concept of Urhobo achievement thus far, has not been all doom and gloom. In fact, Urhobo achievement is far more than just an abstract concept. The achievements are concrete and real.

 

What are these achievements and who are the achievers? I would like to discuss these themes under the following headings:

Socio-political

Entrepreneurship

Education: Arts and Literature, Science and Medicine, The Professions

Religion and Culture

 

THE ACHIEVEMENTS

 

I.  Socio-Political

 

In the field of politics and social awareness, Urhobo had a head start as far  back as the 1930s being one of the first, if not outright first, ethnic nationality in Nigeria to organize its people into an awareness-thirsty group, seeking recognition from the colonial masters of the day. That culminated in the eventual founding of Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) in 1931.This is the first recorded well-coordinated Urhobo achievement ever made. Who was behind this achievement? I am sure that many of you know too well who the anchorman behind this is. I’ll come back to this topic presently.

 

II. Entrepreneurship

 

This is again another area of Urhobo achievement often glossed over inadvertently by many a commentator. The reason for this is not totally incomprehensible. On the one hand, it is not an easily quantifiable and recognizable achievement as judged by its immediate impact on a whole community as against its effect on the individual. On the other hand, that desirable culture of honesty and hard work among our people is rare to come by, especially in these days of mentality of rampant quick-fix approach to wealth. That not withstanding, the Urhobo nation has drawn some inspiration from a few rare breed of men of integrity and honour of bygone era. To this category again belongs, among others, a singular indefatigable Urhobo leader. I shall be talking about him and the others soon.

                                                                                                                    

III. Education: Science & Medicine, Arts and Literature, the Professions

 

Political and social awareness has its groundings in education. It is in recognition of the role which education plays in development that an institution of learning was planned for and brought to fruition by our early leaders of thought. This was under the aegis of Urhobo Progress Union with the founding of Urhobo College Effurun in 1948. Urhobo College was the third of the three secondary schools then operating in Warri. The others were Government College Warri (1945), later called Warri College and Hussey College (1947). Warri College moved to Ughelli in 1951 to become Government College Ughelli. The founding of Urhobo College was a milestone, reached and passed. This was a concrete Urhobo achievement. A little more will be said about this as we go on.

 

IV. Religion and Culture

 

Here too the Urhobo achievement stands out as a beacon, a candle held high on a candle stick to point the way to Urhobo moral rectitude, spiritual awakening and awareness. These combined spiritual values owe their boost to a few individual Urhobo sons whose high ethical outlook, rare and phenomenal in some cases, transcended the norm of their time. For some of these early Urhobo religious dignitaries, going into the priesthood was a way to establish a foothold in the Christian religion as a sequel to securing a sure foundation in western education. Education was a much sought after safeguard and a prerequisite to climbing the ladder of progress and recognition, especially seen in the context of the social political setting of those days of colonial rule.

 

For one individual, in particular, the new awakening of the descent of Christian missionaries and their literature was perceived as a clear call and signal for him to proclaim the dawning of a new era of understanding, love and peace from above, designed to supplant the present confused world order of hate, avarice and outright man’s exploitation of his fellow man. This Christian individual was more interested in elevating the spiritual alertness of men than in using it as a springboard to the glories of this world. He started in earnest from his own Urhobo home front. This has been an Urhobo achievement. I’ll expatiate on this soon.

 

THE ACHIEVERS…

 

I have managed to list four areas of achievements of the Urhobo people though in the process, I have unwittingly given brief sketches of some of the achievers. Let me now mention a few core pioneer individuals behind these achievements.

                                                                                                                               

Mukoro Mowoe

In Urhobo Political Awareness

 

Everyone agrees that Urhobo political struggle really started with the advent of one man on the scene. This man was Chief Mukoro Mowoe (Oyinvwin) of Warri and Evwreni. I am sure no one would be surprised at the constant mention of this name. The reason is simple: “Urhobo as a self-conscious nation began its common existence with Mowoe.” These were the words not mine, of Senator David Dafinone in his keynote address at the First Annual Conference of Urhobo Historical Society held in Canada in 2000. They succinctly sum up much of what Chief Mukoro Mowoe stood for. As a product of the initial consequence of British colonial history of Nigeria, Chief Mowoe battled hard for the Urhobo voice to be heard and recognized. The need for a united voice to meet the challenges of the time culminated in the founding of the Urhobo Progress Union, a socio-politico-cultural body, embracing, as events dictated, a far-reaching political agenda than meets the eye at the time. This address is not a profile, as such of Mukoro Mowoe. I am therefore resisting the temptation of pretending that it is one, which, in any case would make a poor rejoinder to the brilliant submissions available on the subject by many erudite narrators.

 

It is also pertinent to know that the UPU of Mukoro Mowoe was the successor of the Urhobo Brotherly Society, an earlier organization set up in 1931 by a group of Urhobo businessmen and workforce, designed also to give the Urhobo a united voice to work for progress. A notable Ovu merchant, Omorohwo Okoro led the formation of this movement and was accordingly the first President of the Society. He soon willingly relinquished his leadership role to Chief Mowoe as the Society gathered momentum. Reorganization under Chief Mowoe saw the change of name from Urhobo Brotherly Society to Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) and Mukoro Mowoe became the first President-General of the new Union and thereafter the Life President-General, the only one on whom that title had been bestowed and probably ever would. From then on, the UPU became the rallying point for the Urhobo nation. With the Union’s President-General fast emerging as the virtual most acclaimed individual in Warri Township and in the entire Warri Province, the stature of the UPU which he headed gained ascendancy and with it, the future and fortune of Urhobo.

 

T.E.A.  Salubi


Chief Thompson E. Adogbeji Salubi was in more ways than one, a remarkable Urhobo son and patriot. He was a self-made man: self-trained historian and writer, self-disciplined and very much self-cultured. Chief Salubi was a prolific writer. His amazing chronicles of the Urhobo nation throughout the colonial era and thereafter are living testimonies of his literary versatility and incomparable flair for literature and the arts. Salubi’s solid publications are many.

 

My earliest memory of him was during some of his visits to my father many years ago. He was a labour man, a civil servant, working in the “Labour Office” as we knew it then. In these present times, the Labour Office would be called the Ministry of Labour where he was much involved with employment issues. Chief Salubi’s interaction with people and his ability to offer solutions to problems in the Labour Office made him a consummate leader of men and matters which prepared him for his subsequent successful tenure as the President-General of the UPU. Chief Salubi cherished the UPU, tended and sustained it over many years. To my mind Chief Adogbeji Salubi stands high with the greatest patriotic minds in Urhobo history.

 

It is not my wish to forget the contributions of other Urhobo eminent leaders, like Chief Jabin A. Obahor and Chief Okpodu both of whom also attained the exalted position of President-General of the UPU.

 

Agbontanren Udih

 

Besides those who held high national positions in the UPU, there were others who quietly laboured behind the scene, everyone playing his own little but significant role in the early development and growth of the UPU. One such worker was Chief Agbotanren Udih, one of the earliest national Trustees of the UPU at its incorporation. Chief Udih’s patriotism extended outside the confines of Urhobo country. He lived and worked in Benin and was a source of help and succor to many fellow Urhobo compatriots who also lived in these environs, far from home. His generous disposition was a rallying call to all Urhobos abroad to stand together to champion the UPU cause and spread its ideology outside Urhoboland. Befittingly, Chief Agbotanren Udih was President of the Benin branch of the UPU for a long time. I call this an achievement and a service to Urhobo.

                                                                                                                      

Samuel Jereton Marhiere

 

Chief Samuel Jereton Marhiere, like many a young Urhobo, was a protégé of Chief Mukoro Mowoe to whom he was particularly close. Jereton Marhiere looked up to Chief Mowoe like a son would and was accordingly so regarded. Marhiere got much of his expertise of entrepreneurship and politics from Chief Mukoro Mowoe and became, not surprisingly the sole administrator of his business set-up in Agbor for many years. The shrewd political ideology and other leadership attributes which young Marhiere imbibed from his mentor equipped him for his later governorship role of the Midwest Region of Nigeria in 1964 with headquarters in Benin, the very first person, and Urhobo to that office. Chief Marhiere piloted the fledgling Midwest State up to and through the turbulent years of the Biafran war with great courage and credence until his untimely death. Chief Samuel J. Marhiere brought esteem and honour to Urhobo nation.

 

Omoghwaren

 

Chief Moghwaren (Mowarin, to the British colonial administrators) was a businessman, politician, and statesman from Agbara-Otor. In an era when it was almost an anathema for Urhobo elite to belong to a political party other than the NCNC, Chief Moghwaren had the courage of his conviction to go against the popular grain to declare himself an Action Group member and represented his Urhobo constituency in the Western Region legislature. Chief Moghwaren’s only motivation was to put a break to the seemingly self-inflicted disservice (so he saw it) by the Urhobo nation whereby Urhobo continued to play the role of the underdog, marginalized, sidetracked and starved of amenities by the party in government. Rightly or wrongly, he saw little sense in Urhobo backing the wrong political horse all the time. In throwing his weight behind the Action Group, the party in power in the Region, he succeeded in paving the way for development near to Urhobo homeland of the Midwest Region. Marketing Boards for rubber/palm produce were established in the Midwest Region which paralleled the Cocoa Marketing Board set up in the Yoruba West. Government-run rubber and palm oil farms were established for a start in Uronigbe which employed many Urhobo youths. Chief Moghwaren was progressive in his thinking. He was almost completely self-educated and self-made like many of his generation. He understood the cravings of the Urhobo for advancement and recognition and his patriotic actions were designed to actualize this desire.

 

It is not going out of step to mention that Chief Moghwaren’s wise counsel was always in demand by young entrepreneurs like the late Barrister  Chief Ogbemi N.Rewane, the co-founder of Hussey College. Incidentally, Ogbemi Rewane was the maternal nephew of Chief Moghwaren. The uniqueness of Hussey College, the first indigenous secondary school in Warri and second only in inception to Government College Warri/Ughelli, owed its success and fame in part,  to directives as provided by Chief Moghwaren and his kind. Such was the man’s progressive judgment as an Urhobo patriot.

 

David A. Ejoor

 

General David Ejoor belongs to the onset of an unsettled era in the politics of Nigeria. As Lt. Colonel, David E. Ejoor was one of the four military governors appointed by General Aguyi-Ironsi to take charge of the four region components of Nigeria. David Ejoor was assigned to the Midwest Region, following the first military take-over in the country. Lt. Colonel Ejoor who later became General Ejoor was of a quiet, unassuming disposition, perhaps a little too trusting and gentle for an army man. All the same, he was a forthright and an astute administrator. This won him a general approval of the many different ethnic groups of the Midwest Region, regarded as a microcosm of Nigeria. His was an administration that required a careful balancing act to keep the various groups together and united at a time of great civil stress and mutual suspicion in the Region and the entire country. General David Ejoor did boost the profile of Urhobo in his own gentle way. He stooped to conquer. 

.                          

In Entrepreneurship

 

As I earlier mentioned, Chief Mukoro Mowoe was a pioneer businessman and entrepreneur, a notable government contractor, motor transporter and a trader in rubber. Such traders in raw produce materials were called “factors” in those days. Chief Mowoe influenced many of his generation to do the same. His breakthrough into the politics of the day owed much to his success in this area as this gave him the leverage and eventual political clout to interact with the colonial powers that be.

 

Chief Mowoe was not alone in this field and indeed, in the political struggles that were to follow. He had quite a few contemporaries, like Chief Omorohwovo Okoro a notable successful businessman from Ovu and others who constituted the core members of an emerging political union, called the Urhobo Brotherly Society. This society was the forerunner of the now familiar Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) as I stated earlier.

 

Michael Ibru

 

Happily, there are today’s parallel runners-up in this area of entrepreneurship. Chief Michael Ibru, the doyen and present patriarch of the Ibru family is one. Michael started small alone on leaving Igbobi College in Lagos. He was a brilliant student and could have easily gone to university like many of his contemporaries, but opted instead into the business world. By sheer pluck, driven by grand lofty vision, he has been able to build and sustain a chain of business which today employs many hundreds, if not thousands of people from our own Nigerian ethnic divide and from abroad. Many an Urhobo youth is known to be beneficiaries of the hard work of this astute Urhobo business tycoon.

 

It runs in the family. Chief Michael Ibru roped in virtually all his siblings into business pursuit, thereby making it a bigger family business conglomerate. One of these siblings is Olorogun Felix O. Ibru, a prolific writer, consummate politician and of course, a businessman. We all know that the Nigerian Guardian newspaper is the brain child of Felix Ibru who, as its Managing Director, with ardent organizational prowess made the Guardian newspaper the outstanding quality newsprint that it is, in Nigeria.

 

Chief Felix Ibru is an intrepid politician and a wise administrator, qualities which have endeared him to the upright and best and also earned him envy and bigotry from the sick and disgruntled. All in all, his excellent record of diligence and love for selfless public service earned him the exalted position of the first elected governor of Delta State and now the position of the President-General of the Urhobo Progress Union. Olorogun Felix Ibru, like his elder brother, Chief Michael Ibru deserves a place of honour in the list of Urhobo achievers.

 

Gamaliel Onosode

 

I want to add another gentleman of note here, not because he happened to be a childhood friend, but because of his well-deserved widely acclaimed business and boardroom expertise. A brilliant student of classic, Deacon Gamaliel Onosode is an Urhobo business sage who has greatly influenced the ideas and aroused the intrinsic business management skill of many a Nigerian youth, nation-wide. Deacon Gamaliel Onosode’s accolades are many.

 

In Educational Awareness:

 

i. The Sciences

 

Urhobo College Effurun was founded to provide the opportunity for Urhobo youths to acquire the necessary education that had become the yardstick to measure progress and supply the springboard towards recognition and acceptance in Society. Again, the seed for this was sown by Chief Mowoe and the UPU. This is Urhobo achievement. Here is how it happened.

 

M.G. Ejaife and E.N. Igho

 

The challenging role of administering and running the new college was undertaken by the very first and second Urhobo graduates, Messrs M.G. Ejaife and E.N. Igho, in that order. They became the principal and science teacher of the college, respectively. Between them, together with other teaching personnel like Chief Daniel Okumagba, Urhobo College attained the position of academic and sport excellence.

 

Chief Ejaife contributed to Urhobo achievement in another area. Not many know that he was also a shrewd politician. He was and became the first Urhobo senator in the Nigerian Upper Chamber during the First Republic.

 

F.M.A. Ukoli and contemporaries

 

Let me now bridge the generation gap by stepping into the present and this is taking me straight on to other stalwart educationalists like Professor Frank M.A. Ukoli, the first Urhobo PhD holder and the first to have attained a professorial rank. A gifted scientist, Frank Ukoli (FSA) was Head of the department of Zoology in the University of Ibadan for many years. Frank later became the first Vice Chancellor of the Delta State University in Abraka. On his watch, the university was organized and placed on a sound academic footing, enabling it to take its place of eminence alongside older institutions of higher learning in the country.

 

Professor Matthew B. Scott-Emuakpor, another Urhobo son could be said to share a parallel scientific inventiveness with Professor Frank Ukoli. Matthew became the second Urhobo PhD holder in the pure sciences. He held the Chair of Botany in the University of Ibadan and was the first Nigerian plant geneticist with a flair for, and subsequent specialization in microbiology. Through example, Matthew B. Scott-Emuakpor helped to trigger interest in genetics and its widespread introduction as a serious discipline in the university curriculum. We are talking of Urhobo achievement and this is one.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

 

To this list of academics, I am adding Professor Onigu Otite, the eminent anthropologist and sociologist in his own right. Then, there is Professor Peter P. Ekeh, the dynamic organizer and prolific chronicler of many a historical profile of men and founder and coordinator of the study group, Urhobo Historical Society. There is need to mention Professor Andrew Onokeroraye, Professor of Geography and Town Planning in the University of Benin and later becoming the University’s Vice Chancellor. Andrew is the third ever Urhobo son to rise to the enviable academic pinnacle of vice-chancellorship of a university, coming behind Professor Phillip Kuale, the first, and Professor Frank Ukoli, the second. Professor Phillip Kuale was the Dean of the Faculty of Engineering in the University of Benin prior to his appointment as Vice Chancellor of the Bendel State University Ekpoma, now Edo State University.

 

Rex Akpofure

 

Chief Rex Akpofure, the articulate debonair school master and accomplished sportsman, was an Urhobo through and through who lost nothing of his native Urhobo airs and culture despite his exterior “oyibo” trait. Dr Akpofure could be said to be a bridge between what was virtuous in British colonial administration in Nigeria and the post colonial era. All his life, he strove by example to inculcate what was frankly the best into the psyche of the students in his care. He stood out as a proud role model to his mentors, a number of whom radiated years later, the refined confidence and total commitment to duty of their school teacher and master in colonial Nigeria’s most prestigious secondary school, King’s College Lagos. Rex was himself a student of the school and returned to it after his graduate and postgraduate studies in the United Kingdom, later to be its principal, the first ever indigenous Nigerian and for that matter, Urhobo principal of KCL. Chief Rex Akpofure’s characteristic achievements did Urhobo proud. The list of Urhobo achiever academics is a long one and I am going to avoid making this brief an exercise in roll-call.

 

In Educational Awareness: 

ii. The Arts and Literature                                                                                                                              

 

M.O. Ighrakpata

 

Let me return to the 40s again to find another veteran Urhobo educationalist, elite among a few of his time. He is Chief M.O. Ighrakpata of the era of Chief Mukoro Mowoe, Chief Scott J.M. Emuakpor, Chief Jabin A. Obahor, Chief Okpodu and others. Chief Ighrakpata was a traveling teacher in the government service, a position that equates today with that of inspector of schools. Such was the standing of the man and his passion for learning and excellence that made him the vanguard for the establishment of the first standard Urhobo orthography.

 

Ben Okri

 

The Urhobo nation has not lagged behind in the Arts and Literature either. The name Ben Okri comes to mind easily. Ben Okri occupies a foremost position among past and present generation of novelists and poets in Nigeria. I can describe Ben Okri, the young Urhobo writer as a prodigy whose many works have attracted a lot of literary awards. His book, the Famished Road earned him the BBC Booker Prize in 1991. Other prizes soon followed, including the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Africa (1987), the Paris Review Aga Khan Prize (1986) for his collection of short stories titled, ‘Incidence at the Shrine’, the International Literary Prize in 1993 and others. Ben Okri has been a broadcaster in the Network Africa BBC World Service programme. At one time, Ben was the poetry editor for the magazine West Africa and a reviewer for the New Statesman, the London Guardian and the Observer newspapers. He was a visiting fellow commoner in creative arts at Trinity College Cambridge from 1991 to 1993. Ben’s literary achievements are staggering. You only need to mention his name in literary circles to hear all the rave reviews of the work of this Urhobo achiever son who has been suggested by many to be the next Nigerian Nobel Prize winner. Ben Okri is a shining light to the Urhobo nation.

 

L.E. Scott-Emuakpor

 

Nigeria had a man who was instrumental for the introduction of the maxim “War against Indiscipline” (WAI) which constituted the famous code of conduct in Nigeria during one of the phases of military administration. The same man was a major drive in Nigeria’s change from a “Left-Hand-Drive” to the more compliant “Right-Hand-Drive” tradition. Previous to this, in his position as Deputy Federal Director of the Nigerian Information Service, he was in the forefront of publicity for the Nigerian Federation unity-call and war effort during the Biafran war years. He had a knack for organization and a love for taking initiative. These were two assets which were in urgent demand at the time when he had to be summoned urgently to the Nigerian High Commission in London as Minister Counselor of Information and Culture in the immediate aftermath of the civil war in order to revamp the information machine of the High Commission.  Chief Lawrence E. Scott-Emuakpor enlivened and gave value to the Mission in London. On his watch as Federal Director of Information, the creation of the National Theatre was conceived and built and he became a member of the Executive Committee which planned and administered the day to day running of the establishment. He led several delegations to a number of African countries to participate in Festivals of African and Negro Arts.

 

In the earlier years as Information Officer, Chief Scott-Emuakpor was posted to the Nigerian Police Force as the Forces’ first Public Relations Officer and covered the Nigerian Police action in the Congo Republic’s post-independence  civil unrest of the Patrice Lumumba era in the early 60s.  All these certainly count for achievements by Chief Lawrence E. Scott-Emuakpor (JP), an Urhobo whose contributions have helped to raise the profile of Nigeria and stabilize her transition to full nationhood with all its  diverse peoples, of which Urhobo nation is part.

 

Bruce Onobrakpeya

 

Speaking about arts and culture, mention should be made of Bruce Onobrakpeya,  a reputed Urhobo visual artist. It is fair to say that Bruce ranks with the best artists on the African continent and his works are attracting a clientele that stretches beyond Africa. His purpose-built Cultural Centre in Agbara-Otor is a further mark of his craftsmanship and professionalism. He is an achiever.

 

Sam E. Oyovbaire 

 

At this point, I would like to mention the later contribution to the publicity efforts of the Federal government to project its international image. The man, appointed to do this was Professor Sam E. Oyovbaire who was a professor of  political science in the University of Benin. Before his appointment, Sam acted as special political adviser to the then military Vice President and Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Aikhomo. He then became the Federal Minister of Information, the only Urhobo person, on record to occupy a federal ministerial post.

                                                                                                                             13                                                                                                             

In Educational Awareness:  

iii. The Professionals

 

Who are these professionals? They are men and women whose individual achievements have enriched other lives. Urhobo has her share of these people. Many were role models and are still role models today.

 

David Dafinone

 

Senator David Dafinone is a renowned accountant, an outspoken politician and a respected Urhobo elder statesman whose successful accountancy firm can be said to be one of the first large corporate accounting partnership in Nigeria. Many Urhobo youths’ professional aspirations have taken off from the auspicious soft pad of this accounting firm success story, presided over by the ever supportive, highly motivated gentle elder statesman. A man of very clear view and undisputable patriotism, Senator Dafinone has deliberated upon and written accounts on a number of issues affecting the Urhobo nation. His achievements are Urhobo achievement.

                                                                                                                       

Our Law Men and Women

Ayo Irikefe

 

Justice Ayo Irikefe was an Urhobo who exemplified the courage and stark determination to achieve and so he did. He rose from the ranks and proceeded to the United Kingdom in those earlier years when just “going overseas” was a feat and an achievement in itself. Justice Irikefe achieved far more than that. He returned with a law degree, the first Urhobo to do so. He opted for the bench after a flamboyant stint at the bar and soon became the Chief Justice of the Nigerian Federation, needless to say the first Urhobo and the only one so far to occupy the highest legal position in the land. Justice Ayo Irikefe was thus an eminent achiever.

                                                                                                          

There are other legal luminaries both on the bench and at the bar. We had  Justice Aghoghovbia who was the first Urhobo judge in Warri and for a long time, the only one. Then came Justice V.E. Ovie-Whiskey followed by Justice (Mrs.) Marceline Okungbowa (nee Menta), both of whom rose to the enviable height of Chief Judge of the old Midwest (Bendel) State and Delta State, respectively. Justice Ovie-Whiskey was also appointed chairman of the Federal Electoral Commission, the famous FEDECO of 1983.

 

That the current Chief Judge of Delta State is another Urhobo, Justice (Mrs.) Rose Bozimo (nee Ofoluwa) is another positive proof of the unstoppable rising trend of Urhobo achievement. There are many more, but suffice it to say that the various achievements of these men and women have helped to raise the Urhobo profile and have been a source of pride and inspiration to many.

 

 Our Medical Men

 

Here again the list is growing fast with quite a number, along the way, reaching heights of prominence that are doing Urhobo proud.

 

F.E. Esiri  

 

Dr Chief F.E. Esiri is the first Urhobo medical practitioner that I know of. The successful completion alone, of his medical course was enough stimuli in those days to any Urhobo youth with an appetite for the medical profession to want to become a doctor. I was a school boy in Hussey College in the late 40s when Dr Esiri returned from the United Kingdom to set up a lush practice next door to my school Boarding House along Cemetery Road Warri.

 

Added to this achievement, Chief Dr Esiri has been a dedicated member of Urhobo Progress Union and functioned as secretary in various branches of the organization. He rose from the ranks to the national stage to become, first, the Deputy President-General and later, the President-General of the UPU. His dedication as a leader and Urhobo patriot was highlighted by the way he steered the UPU ship from the rocks which threatened its existence in more recent years. His calm leadership earned him the Urhobo leadership award recently. His is a legacy of selfless service which the younger generation in Urhobo should take on board in order to restore the much needed calm and trust to the Urhobo Progress Union of today.

 

Moses Mowoe and others

 

Dr Moses Mowoe, the second son of the evergreen Urhobo leader Oyinvwin, Chief Mukoro Mowoe and the second Urhobo Medical doctor completes the list of first generation doctors in Urhobo country. Dr Mowoe was the first Director of Medical Services in the Midwest State.                                                                                                                         

Since that time many Urhobo youngsters have walked the path these early masters have trodden. I’ll mention just a couple, not because they are necessarily the most illustrious of them all, but because of their passionate demonstrable zeal in other Urhobo affairs. Jackson Omene, a professor of paediatrics and Ajovi Scott-Emuakpor, a human geneticist and also a paediatrics professor, are two names that readily come to mind. The duo-partnership epitomized selfless  to duty. Together, with the cooperation of the team they fashioned and led, the teaching hospital of the University of Benin was numbered as one of the very few prime centres of medical excellence in Nigeria for a long while. Professors Ajovi Scott-Emuakpor and Jackson Omene are keen members of and contributors to the study group, the Urhobo Historical Society.

 

As I speak, I am keenly aware of the wide remit I had to contend with, which is, Urhobo Achievements by Urhobo indigenes of note. I would like to crave your indulgence if I end up not quite meeting all expectations.

 

Urhobo Religion and Culture

 

I am now moving quickly from the mundane to the sublime. I promised to return to this theme. I want to begin by confessing my ignorance of the subject of Urhobo Traditional Religion which is often tied up with our culture. I am no authority on this. Speaking for myself though, I am not so sure how Urhobo development and demands of the 21st Century in Science and Technology have been enhanced by our traditional religion. This could well be a topic for a different paper. I have therefore chosen to vacate this area of expertise to more knowledgeable advocates of our primeval past and focus, instead, on the so-often dubbed “new western” or “white man” religion, that is, the Christian Faith on which is predicated present day civilization and progress as we know it. Understandably, the Christian religion constitutes the hub on which rotates the wheel of progress which the Urhobo nation had from time clamored for, if we are not to face complete elimination from this race  for advancement of the human race! 

 

Agori-Iwe 

 

Among the first Urhobo religious dignitaries to identify the Christian religion as leverage to prosperity and recognition was Bishop Agori-Iwe of Okuama – Ewu in Urhobo. Bishop Agori-Iwe passed through the ranks of the Anglican religious hierarchy with a diligence which could only have been the product of  Urhobo patriotism and a visionary, propelled by an inner conviction to do God’s bidding. He rose to the top as the Anglican Bishop of the Benin Diocese in Benin City and moved later to Ughelli on the same post in charge of the Warri Diocese. First as a school teacher, then a catechist, pastor and finally bishop, Agori-Iwe was consecrated into the Anglican priesthood in 1938. All through his life, he instilled faith and love in the Urhobo he cherished, enabling Urhobo to gain the recognition as a nation of strength and value in a modern world, in addition to exposing Urhobo to the abiding ethics and values of Christianity.

 

Agambi

 

Another Urhobo patriot who altered the course of local Urhobo history, certainly for the greater good, was Pastor Agambi of Agbon. Agambi started initially as an Anglican but had cause to break ranks with the authorities. He then came into the American Baptist Community where he quickly became one the leaders and was instrumental in bringing the Baptist Mission to Eku and with it, the Baptist Hospital. Only an act of dedicated service to and love for his Urhobo people could have achieved this.

 

Gideon M. Urhobo

 

A few years before all this, the introduction of Christian literature and the bible to Nigeria by various missionaries from abroad was fast fanning the enquiring mind of another Urhobo man whose family had earlier embraced the Roman Catholic faith in Agbarra (Agbassa) in Warri. This man was Gregory Mogboruko Ukoli who had already risen to the position of a catechist in the Warri Roman Catholic Church in preparation to the pursuit of a career in the church. Gideon Meriodere Urhobo (G.M. Urhobo) as he came to be popularly known later, saw spiritual light in a completely different setting, a non-conformist setting that flew in the face of the general direction of foreign-based Christian teachings, dogmas and practices. The continuing agitated mind of Gideon Urhobo soon led him into meditation and before long he felt convinced of God’s call to change direction. He preached straight from the pages of the bible the message of God, in sharp contrast to the bare moralist instructions that was the central feature of the Orthodox Church groups. In his own words, “When after three and half years diligent and prayerful studies of he Holy Bible, Jesus Christ revealed himself  to me and commanded me to go and preach the everlasting gospel or the gospel of peace to all nations and kings as the only remedy for all human sufferings……” This was in 1934 and the group of Christians which he organized, starting in Lagos, was eventually named God’s Kingdom Society (GKS), a home-grown Nigerian Christian organization with no foreign root or allegiance. Every Urhobo person must have heard of this church group founded by a remarkable Urhobo of rare prophetic vision. He changed his name from G.M. Ukoli to G.M. Urhobo, a symbolic move which he made, clearly out of pride of place and recognition of his Urhobo roots. This is Urhobo patriotism at its height which, together with his hought-provoking singular message of liberty and hope to the world, his country and to his own Urhobo nation deserves the notice of one and sundry. Perhaps it could equally be said of Gideon Urhobo as was proclaimed many years ago by Jesus himself, “A prophet is not without honour save in his own country and in his own house.”

 

Others

 

Quite a number of latter time churchmen abound today who have in their various ways enhanced the spiritual life of the Urhobo and enriched their psyche. Professor Sam Erivwo, the biographer of the Life and Work of Bishop Agori- Iwe is one of these.

                                                                                                                           

Urhobo Culture in Sound and Music

 

Two famous names feature prominently here, Messrs Omokomoko Osokpa of Orogun and Ogute of Udu. They were reputed great maestros, teachers and exponents of Urhobo music, culture and traditions. Omokomoko Osokpa featured mainly in Urhobo folk dance steps and choreography and in music for modern rhythmic movements while Ogute Otan of Udu popularized the Udje dance style as practised today in the entire Urhoboland. They stand tall in Urhobo dance culture.

                                                                                                                                 

In conclusion, I would like to think that I have managed to produce an outline of some Urhobo achievers and their achievements. They are all remarkable Urhobos, past and present. The list is by no means full. I want to beg the indulgence of one and sundry for any serious error, be it of omission or commission that may have been made inadvertently.

 

I am confident that the knowledge of the lives and experience of these intrepid men and women is going to provide inspiration to this and future generation of Urhobo to help to find the Urhobo Utopia which we are all sailing out together to discover.

 

To accomplish this, there is need to create the healthy cooperative climate among ourselves as Urhobos and to pull down the barriers to progress and facilitate growth. Our forebears have laid a firm foundation. Let this generation build on it, not with straw nor with stubble, but with reinforced concrete of diligence and selflessness. One way to do this is to build bridges to span across the old and new ideas and establish a continuum between yesterday, today and tomorrow.

 

Yesterday’s experience lives on to channel today’s energy and aspirations towards tomorrow’s achievements. It is my hope that your bridge, this Urhobo Bridge does not become a bridge too far, but one of adequate span, length and strength designed to help bring together the brightest and best of this and future generation of Urhobo youths, working together with a unity of purpose for the greater glory of the Urhobo nation.

 

I SALUTE YOU ALL.  URHOBO WAADO………O!

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

References     

                                                                 

*Dafinone, David, O. (2000) Urhobo Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: Where Do We Stand  

 Now? – Keynote Address at the First Annual Meeting and Conference of Urhobo

Historical Society, Ontario, Canada. www.urhobo.kinsfolk.com/Conference

 

*Eke, Peter, P. (2005) Mukoro Mowoe and Urhobo Destiny. UHS website: www.waado.org

 

*Erivwo, Sam, U. (1998) The Life and Work of Agori-Iwe, First Bishop of Benin Diocese

                (Anglican Communion). www.waado.org/Biographies

 

*Esangbedo, John. (2003) Rex Akpofure(1930-2003). www.waado.org/Memorial/RexAkpofure

 

*Ikime, Obaro (1977) The Member for Warri Province – The Life and Times of Chief Mukoro

                 Mowoe of Warri 1890-1948. Ibadan: Institute of African Studies. (As reproduced in

                 UHS website)

 

*Urhobo, G.M. (1951) My Eighteen Years of Kingdom Service (Reprinted July 1991). GKS 

               Press Salem City Warri

 

*Dictionary of Literary Biography on Ben Okri. www.bookrags.com/biography/ben-okri-dlb2

 

*Yahoo! Search Results. ben okri nobel. uk.search.yahoo.com/search

 

 


RETURN TO CONTENTS | RETURN TO URHOBO BRIDGE UK HOME PAGE