Urhobo Historical Society
By Dia Scott-Emuakpor, Ph.D.
What are these achievements and who are the achievers? I would like to discuss these themes under the following headings:
Education: Arts and Literature, Science and Medicine, The Professions
Religion and Culture
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.
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
awareness has its groundings in education. It is in recognition of the
which education plays in development that an institution of learning
planned for and brought to fruition by our early leaders of thought.
under the aegis of Urhobo Progress Union with the founding of Urhobo
Effurun in 1948.
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.
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.
In Urhobo Political Awareness
agrees that Urhobo political struggle really started with the advent of
on the scene. This man was Chief Mukoro Mowoe (Oyinvwin) of Warri and
I am sure no one would be surprised at the constant mention of this
reason is simple: “Urhobo as a self-conscious nation began its common
with Mowoe.” These were the words not mine, of Senator David Dafinone
keynote address at the First Annual Conference of Urhobo Historical
held in Canada in 2000. They succinctly sum up much of what Chief
stood for. As a product of the initial consequence of British colonial
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.
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.
Besides those who
national positions in the UPU, there were others who quietly laboured
the scene, everyone playing his own little but significant role in the
development and growth of the UPU. One such worker was Chief Agbotanren
one of the earliest national Trustees of the UPU at its incorporation.
Udih’s patriotism extended outside the confines of Urhobo country. He
Samuel Jereton Marhiere
Chief Samuel Jereton Marhiere,
like many a
young Urhobo, was a protégé of Chief Mukoro Mowoe to whom he was
close. Jereton Marhiere looked up to Chief Mowoe like a son would and
accordingly so regarded. Marhiere got much of his expertise of
and politics from Chief Mukoro Mowoe and became, not surprisingly the
administrator of his business set-up in Agbor for many years. The
political ideology and other leadership attributes which young Marhiere
from his mentor equipped him for his later governorship role of the
of Nigeria in 1964 with headquarters in
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
entrepreneurs like the late Barrister Chief
Ogbemi N.Rewane, the co-founder of
David A. Ejoor
to the onset of an unsettled era in the politics of
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.
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
intrepid politician and a wise administrator, qualities which have
to the upright and best and also earned him envy and bigotry from the
disgruntled. All in all, his excellent record of diligence and love for
selfless public service earned him the exalted position of the first
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
administering and running the new college was undertaken by the very
second Urhobo graduates, Messrs M.G. Ejaife and E.N. Igho, in that
became the principal and science teacher of the college, respectively.
them, together with other teaching personnel like Chief Daniel
Urhobo achievement in another area. Not many know that he was also a
politician. He was and became the first Urhobo senator in the Nigerian
Chamber during the
F.M.A. Ukoli and contemporaries
Let me now bridge
generation gap by stepping into the present and this is taking me
to other stalwart educationalists like Professor Frank M.A. Ukoli, the
Urhobo PhD holder and the first to have attained a professorial rank. A
scientist, Frank Ukoli (FSA) was Head of the department of Zoology in
son could be said to share a parallel scientific inventiveness with
Frank Ukoli. Matthew became the second Urhobo PhD holder in the pure
He held the Chair of Botany in the
To this list of
I am adding Professor Onigu Otite, the eminent
sociologist in his own right. Then, there is Professor Peter P. Ekeh,
dynamic organizer and prolific chronicler of many a historical profile
and founder and coordinator of the study group, Urhobo Historical
is need to mention Professor Andrew Onokeroraye,
Geography and Town Planning in the University of Benin and later
University’s Vice Chancellor. Andrew is the third ever Urhobo son to
the enviable academic pinnacle of vice-chancellorship of a university,
behind Professor Phillip Kuale, the first, and Professor
Ukoli, the second. Professor Phillip Kuale was the Dean of the Faculty
Engineering in the
Rex Akpofure, the articulate debonair
and accomplished sportsman, was an Urhobo through and through who lost
of his native Urhobo airs and culture despite his exterior “oyibo”
Akpofure could be said to be a bridge between what was virtuous in
colonial administration in
In Educational Awareness:
ii. The Arts and Literature
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.
The Urhobo nation
lagged behind in the Arts and Literature either. The name Ben Okri
mind easily. Ben Okri occupies a foremost position among past and
generation of novelists and poets in
In the earlier
Information Officer, Chief Scott-Emuakpor was posted to the Nigerian
Force as the Forces’ first Public Relations Officer and covered the
Police action in the
culture, mention should be made of Bruce Onobrakpeya,
reputed Urhobo visual artist. It is fair to say that Bruce ranks with
artists on the African continent and his works are attracting a
Sam E. Oyovbaire
At this point, I
to mention the later contribution to the publicity efforts of the
government to project its international image. The man, appointed to do
was Professor Sam E. Oyovbaire who was a professor of
political science in the
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.
Dafinone is a
renowned accountant, an outspoken politician and a respected Urhobo
statesman whose successful accountancy firm can be said to be one of
large corporate accounting partnership in
Our Law Men and Women
Irikefe was an
Urhobo who exemplified the courage and stark determination to achieve
and so he
did. He rose from the ranks and proceeded
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.
the current Chief Judge of
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.
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
in those days to any Urhobo youth with an appetite for the medical
to want to become a doctor. I was a school boy in
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,
son of the evergreen Urhobo leader Oyinvwin, Chief Mukoro Mowoe and the
Urhobo Medical doctor completes the list of first generation doctors in
country. Dr Mowoe was the first Director of Medical Services in the
Since that time
youngsters have walked the path these early masters have trodden. I’ll
just a couple, not because they are necessarily the most illustrious of
all, but because of their passionate demonstrable zeal in other Urhobo
Jackson Omene, a professor of paediatrics and Ajovi
Scott-Emuakpor, a human geneticist and also a paediatrics
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
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!
Among the first
religious dignitaries to identify the Christian religion as leverage to
prosperity and recognition was Bishop Agori-Iwe of Okuama – Ewu in
Bishop Agori-Iwe passed through the ranks of the Anglican religious
with a diligence which could only have been the product of
Urhobo patriotism and a visionary, propelled by an inner
do God’s bidding. He rose to the top as the Anglican Bishop of the
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
this, the introduction of Christian literature and the bible to Nigeria
various missionaries from abroad was fast fanning the enquiring mind of
Urhobo man whose family had earlier embraced the Roman Catholic faith
Agbarra (Agbassa) in Warri. This man was Gregory Mogboruko Ukoli who had already risen to the position of a
in the Warri Roman Catholic Church in preparation to the pursuit of a
the church. Gideon Meriodere Urhobo (G.M. Urhobo) as he came to be
known later, saw spiritual light in a completely different setting, a
non-conformist setting that flew in the face of the general direction
foreign-based Christian teachings, dogmas and practices. The continuing
agitated mind of Gideon Urhobo soon led him into meditation and before
felt convinced of God’s call to change direction. He preached straight
pages of the bible the message of God, in sharp contrast to the bare
instructions that was the central feature of the Orthodox Church
groups. In his
own words, “When after three and half years diligent and prayerful
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
as the only remedy for all human sufferings……” This was in 1934 and the
of Christians which he organized, starting in
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!
*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
*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
(Anglican Communion). www.waado.org/Biographies
*Esangbedo, John. (2003) Rex Akpofure(1930-2003). www.waado.org/Memorial/RexAkpofure
*Ikime, Obaro (1977) The
Mowoe of Warri 1890-1948.
*Urhobo, G.M. (1951) My Eighteen Years of Kingdom Service (Reprinted July 1991). GKS
*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