Urhobo Historical Society
URHOBO YOUTH AND THE URHOBO FUTURE
Professor of Sociology and Anthropology
Being the keynote address at the Fifth
Annual Conference of Urhobo Historical Society, delivered at Petroleum
Training Institute, Effurun, on Saturday, October 30, 2004, under
the distingguished chairmanship of Olorogun M. O. Taiga.
I want to express my thanks to Urhobo Historical Society for the invitation to deliver a keynote address to this conference. I consider it to be an honour. It is also with great pleasure and deep sense of solidarity that I accepted the invitation.
I must also immediately congratulate the Historical Society for its many achievements during the short period of its existence thus far. The potentials and prospects you have opened up for future Urhobo scholarship by exploiting the facilities of the latest global technologies and other resources of your ukale locations are truly inspiring. Some of us, over the years, regardless of our disciplinary and professional backgrounds, have dreamt dreams of how we could expand the spectrum of Urhobo leadership to include, not just actors in political and business domains, but also intellectual labourers. Put in another way, the question was; must an intellectual step out of her or his professional role and seek admission, like a desperate Jambite, into the political and business classes, in order to make a contribution and receive due recognition?
For sometime, the predicament of the Urhobo intellectual in this regard was difficult for two reasons. First the late entrance of Urhobo men and women as effective players in the national movement of primitive accumulation led to the extreme valorisation of money, which Marx had described since 1848 as the “ chemical power” of capitalist society. Thus all professions that could not reliably pass the litmus test of financial solvency lost prestige easily. This shift was not lost on the Urhobo masses. I recall that G.G Darah’s field studies of Udje poetry in the late 1970’s already revealed such awareness among Urhobo poets. Many explained their shift from Udje satire to praise songs of the juju music genre by saying that this is the era of “akpo r’igho” and “ighoshemusua”. In the absence of substantiating research on this point, I nonetheless hypothesise that the mass defection of Urhobo officers from top positions in the civil service during the 70s was provoked largely by the embarrassing tauntings at public gatherings such as: “Doctor. Oshekure: onota r’igho ata na!”. It is my distinct impression that the defection was accompanied by a surge in the registration of private companies dealing with pest control and garbage disposal. It is also my impression that this also produced a boom in the development of private housing estates in Warri and Effurun areas.
A second factor responsible for status erosion was the great decline that the teaching profession as a whole suffered for several decades, through deliberate materially impoverishing state policies and neglect. The education sector is yet to fully recover from the protracted crisis of officially sponsored demoralisation.
It is therefore to the
credit of the young Urhobo
Historical Society to have produced the much needed leadership synergy
academics and leading lights in business and public affairs. In
About a month ago, at
another strategic academic
brainstorming session, Dr. Mrs. Aziza and I also recalled another
effort in 1992 by Emudiaga Club, Jos, and its young branch in Sapele,
organising a “First International Conference on Urhobo Studies,” here
same venue. I remember the infectious enthusiasm of Prof. Okpako of the
More recently we witnessed the successful sponsorship of an Urhobo Dictionary by the Atamu Social Club of Lagos. In this respect we must also acknowledge the persistent efforts of individual authors over the years who have self-financed their researches on critical challenges faced by their communities or some cultural matter of interest. Chief Daniel Obiomah readily comes to mind. The recollection – though not exhaustive- is important. It staves off despair. To my mind, however, in the unfolding history of efforts by groups and individuals to establish Urhobo Studies as an ongoing academic concern, the Urhobo Historical Society is today, its most significant development. As it is said: ‘okiemute.’
Ladies and Gentlemen, I want now to begin my presentation by
significance of the topic you have requested me to address. ¹ The
‘youth restiveness’- as it is now labelled- and its implications for
collective future as a people are truly urgent. In the closing years of
last millenium, we, the Uvwie Urhobo became the target of embarrassing
from neighbours, government circles, traders, companies, transporters,
associations, landlords, etc. because of the manifestation of this
Uvwie Local Government Council was derided in such expressions as “I go
local government”; “I no go gree”, “garage council”, “motor park
Uvwie Youth, often without any discrimination, were alleged to be
violent, riotous “gbeghe” and “deve” extortionists; who refused to go
school, learn a trade, or work for a living. Uvwie people also felt
by the external perception that we were fixated on garage politics and
traditional authorities and elders had abandoned their supervisory
responsibilities over the youth. This latter charge of abandonment of
responsibilities was also a favourite thesis in
The charge of irresponsibility drew angry rebuttals from concerned Uvwie in the form of letters to the editor published in the Urhobo Voice. The rebuttals contained the counter charge that the major political parties, and an indifferent police establishment, were in fact escalating the crisis and frustrating the efforts of the traditional authorities to restore normalcy.
However, it is also true that not everyone sought to deride Uvwie by redefining Uvwie identity in terms of youth restiveness. Several Urhobo in different parts of the country were genuinely worried about its consequences for Uvwie economic development and the larger image of the Urhobo people. Such concerned persons urged that Uvwie leaders and the UPU should do something about it. As I reviewed for this address I sometimes wondered if the invitation to address the conference was based on the initial notoriety which Uvwie people endured as a prominent ‘inaugural’ site of the youth irruption in Urhobo land.
I also admit that it was not without some tu quoque satisfaction that some of us received the news reports of the later manifestations of youth violence in other Urhobo towns. Since then this restiveness, often sliding into criminality with tragic consequences, has spread to various Urhobo and Isoko communities.
I consider it a sad moral irony that its uglier manifestations in communities like Evwreni, Isoko land and riverine communities that have degenerated to battlegrounds, helped in some way to reduce the special targeting of Uvwie reputations. What the general public did not fully appreciate was that Uvwie people were even more disturbed and pained by the destructive character of the restiveness. We were the people on the spot- with no where else to call home. It was our properties that were being destroyed. It was our people who were the casualties of factional revenge violence among the youth. And it was the livelihoods of our masses that were being worst hit as economic activities in the area continued to shrink. We the victims were the ones being blamed. I shall return to this point later.
At this juncture it
suffices to note that the wide
diffusion of restiveness shows that it is not a problem that is the
property of any single community or ethnic nationality, for that
multiple occurrence across Urhobo land, across the state, and across
Delta compels a more searching investigation. It is in fact not just a
Delta problem as the central organs of state power in
Supplying a Context:
It can be safely assumed that all socio-cultural formations recognise the imperative linkage between a people’s collective future and the character of their youth. Evidence of this recognition is abundantly provided in ethnographic reports of the institutions and customary practices devoted to socialisation and enculturation of the young. The reports state, and the people confirm, that the goal of enculturation, is to enable the young acquire the appropriate behaviours, interiorise the beliefs, value orientations and identities of the group. Thus equipped, the young generation is in a position to reproduce the institutional format of the society and its cultural contents, long after the parental generation has moved on.
As is well known, psychological anthropologists and social psychologists have done considerable work in establishing how socialisation practices ensure not just the reproduction of formal institutional structures of economy, kinship and polity, but also the emergence of “basic/modal personality structures” (a shared inner reality) which reproduce the deep psychic dispositions and anxieties, that sustain the society’s collective projective defence systems in the domains of religion, rituals and art. In fact, as we may also recall, some investigators hold that it is alterations in the socialisation of the young that constitute the best predictors of societal change when the young become adults.
In any case the point I seek to make here is that parental generations in ongoing socio- cultural systems see their youth as the custodians or ‘leaders of tomorrow’. As such, every coherent culture places emphasis on the care and proper upbringing of the young.
It is to be further noted that the leader- of – tomorrow conception does not imply complete agreement between the elderly and youth generations all of the time. There may be differences, but they are framed and resolved within the model assumption that, in general, youth must serve their apprenticeship under the superior wisdom and experience of elders.
In small scale, pre-industrial societies where there was strong predisposition towards culture conservation, the idea of change was also part of lived experience. Elders were aware that youth experimentation and venturesomeness were often sources of some cultural changes. Innovations of better techniques of production, cultural borrowing in contact situations occurred. Environmental changes or some other exogenous developments may pose fresh challenges to the new generation who were now in control. Yet the practice of socialisation and enculturation was undertaken by the retiring generation in the confident hope that their successors would make the necessary socio-cultural adaptations without ‘subverting’ the core values and identities of the collectivity.
Thus the generational differences are not antagonistic contradictions that breed disloyalties and threaten the persistence of the social fabric. If a youth lives long enough, he too will become an elder someday. Hence the confidence of the Urhobo saying: ‘There is one elder, but several children’. In the mean time, the pervasiveness of the seniority principle in social relationships ensures that the individual youth is also already enjoying the priviledges of respect and deference from his or her own age juniors.
The import of such democratic political culture based on age-group constituencies was not lost on colonial dictatorships. In deed, as I once stated the colonizer’s response: “ ‘coming out’ ceremonies of age-groups- important occasions for dramatic performances of democratic transfer of political power from one generation to another- were banned in societies such as Banyakyusa and the Agikuyu, because of the fear that they could escalate into realistic dramas of anti- colonial politics”. ²
A Further Context: Imaging Dialectics
By all accounts the imaging of Nigerian youth by state officials and the general public today is largely negative. Youth is now perceived as a social problem. No week passes without some media report of disparaging comments about youth and their alleged defilement of traditional ‘core values of yore’, such as respect for elders and authority, family honour, good manners, work ethic, self discipline and the like. At the community level, The Urhobo Voice is also an unfailing source of news headlines reporting problem youth activities in Urhoboland and other ethnic groups.
the past youth were perceived as heroes of the nationalist movement. As
students and as a nascent proletariat they were the militant wing of
colonial struggle. As founder- members of the Nigerian Youth Movement,
Zikist Movement, the West African Students’
Nigerians came to independence with the image of youth as a precious, strategic, patriotic resource to be carefully groomed for leadership and developmental roles. Investments in youth education were considered paramount in the public consciousness, if the nation was to make rapid progress from colonial stagnation.
On the ‘morning’ of independence, Nigerian students from the University of Ibadan and the Yaba Polytechnic had demonstrated fidelity to the legacy of militant anticolonialism, by physically disrupting parliamentary sessions in Lagos to block ratification of an Anglo- Nigerian Defence Pact, secretly imposed by the British government as a conditionality for conceding independence. The public read the behaviour as patriotic: and the Judge who tried their leaders reflected this public mood and dismissed the demonstration as an instance of harmless “ youthful exuberance”.
Three decades after independence, after so many twists and turns, the famous Political Bureau Report of 1986 was still able to affirm linkages of youth and national destinies without recourse to philistine, pejorative slander. The Report devoted Chapter IX to ‘Special Groups in Nigerian Politics and Society’ such as traditional rulers, the military, women, labour, youth and students. I quote in extenso from the subsection on youth and students:
In the context of
While sticking to the official classification of youth as persons between 6- 30 years, the Report noted that this age constituted about 59% of the nation’s population: with those between 15-30 years representing a hefty 47% of the productive population of the nation. The Report further noted that the students segment of the youth has sustained its “militant wing” heritage of the anti- colonial movement by its current political activism:
They are the most
committed group in
the organisation of voluntary social work or community development
their various localities. As students, they are always in the forefront
struggle against injustice, oppression and exploitation. They therefore
constitute a militant force in any political system. Many of these
have been recognised and acknowledged in
detailed sociology of the changing relationships between the
A well-nuanced analysis will require that the changing images of student youth during these phases take account of the dynamics of the larger political economy, and the cultural sociology of Nigerian society as well. Student youth are not insulated from the existential impacts of changes in these larger societal contexts. The Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) has been significant in the mis/fortunes of the country. Its continuation in the job retrenchments, curtailment of welfare, and obsessional fuel price increases in our ‘born- again’ democracy, unhinge real lives. A study of the changing images and behaviours of student youth will also take account of the quality of state-society relations, fresh currents of corrupt primitive accumulation; and the surge in new forms of piety as well as criminality. The study will also consider the sociological forces shaping the composition of tertiary institutions increasingly in the direction of indigeneity. I move now to observations on the current youth crisis.
Current Youth Crisis: Some Observations
Perhaps I have erred in my persistent usage of the term ‘youth crisis’. You will have observed that the thrust of my address is the ways in which various phases of our national crisis are manifested in youth attitudes, fears, hopes, and behavioural responses. Of course, there is a dialectical feedback relationship between society and its youth; but who in the relationship triggers the feedback dynamics in the ‘last instance’?
this touching comment by Obi Nwakanma, which I have excerpted from his
published in the Sunday Vanguard of
“A contemporary generation of Nigerians have
psychologically rejected, and spiritually abandoned
And here is the first segment of his concluding paragraph:
We entered life to a meaningless existence- a nullity. And we might even be called lucky, because those coming after us will live as slaves.
our columnist it is this government and previous military regimes “who
authored this tragedy-who have ruled
We can of course hold that some of his statements do not fully capture the many-sidedness and ambivalences in the public mood in the social responses to certain events and policies over the decades. To take just the example of military rule: it used to be the case that some military coups received initial considerable support both from the public and ranks of the intelligentsia. Such support was founded on the theoretical and speculative expectation that military regimes would be free from corruption, ethnic partisanship, inefficiencies, and indiscipline; and would more readily attend to the technological and economic development of the country, as well as, promote a deep sense of common nationhood. It is our lived experience under a series of military regimes that has established the mythological character of the initial heraldic expectations.
The foregoing notwithstanding, the despair of the ‘post-colony’ generation is evident in Obi Nwakanma’s intervention just quoted. It is not an isolated observation. Harsh appraisals of the current state of our nation are now frequent in our print media and broadcast media under private proprietorship. Such appraisals increasingly characterise newspaper and magazine editorials. The old supportive restraint displayed by commentators, NGOs, (including labour) and others during the first term of the new democracy is evaporating. There have been shifts too in the consideration of youth question. Here is an itemisation of some of the switches.<>
foregoing national characteristics of the youth condition today enable
better appraise the youth question in Urhoboland. It should however be
that just as it is the case with the rest of
Urhobo Youth Restiveness:
Two years ago, I initiated a pilot field study of youth restiveness in selected communities in the Niger Delta, as a basis for a more comprehensive investigation of the phenomena across the zone. The goal was to generate data that could guide the formulation of informed development policies and programmes for youth. Some Urhobo communities were included in the pilot study.
Here are some of the tentative findings:
From my personal observations, the singular
the current state of capitalist penetration of Urhobo villages,
oil rush, is the process of rapid land alienation. Uvwie villages,
immediately adjacent to the city, have faced the pressure more
without any advance warning. Within the short time that the city of
This material haemorrhage, this massive dispossession of Uvwie peasants of the means of production, land, has been effected through the mechanisms of forcible expropriation, deceit, corruption, state acquisition and commercial transaction whose morality is unproblematic only in the fetid ethical system of bourgeois legal culture.
The leaders of this coerced proletarianization movement are big landlords who have converted the farmlands into giant housing estates, ‘layouts’ and hotels for high-class corporate tenants. Today, Uvwie villages are imprisoned in a forbidden ring of estates and layouts boldly flaunting the obscene egoism of the new lords of the land on gilded sign boards: ‘Chief Oguobi’s Estate’, ‘Mr. Ozighe’s layout; Ogbare’s Mansion’. A variegated assortment of hotels, motels, ‘guest houses’ and ‘inns’ dot the area like smallpox. My natal village Ugborikoko, is today without farmland, imprisoned, in this capitalist transformation of the ecology.
In this land racket Uvwie villagers were truly ambushed. The land pirates had the money. The villagers had no money. The land pirates could afford the best lawyers and the services of professional surveyors. The villagers could not. All that villagers had were oral chronicles of geneologies of their forebears who tamed the land. The land pirate with his money could summon emergency fake griots (who had also begun to emerge) to fabricate geneological claims on behalf of the pirate for a fee.
the litigation battle is an unequal one. Desperate and pressed to the
peasant villagers fall back on their only ultimate cultural resource:
sacrifice to the ancestors and summon them to come and defend their
They perform magic before they go to court only to discover that money,
of the capitalist age is thicker than the blood knot between peasant
ancestor. Thus defeated, some villagers capitulate and accept the
offer of “compensation” by the pirate. But the financial “compensation”
this year’s crops, and not for the infinite generations of crops that
generations of the village will require for their sustenance.
The flight of business organisations because of frequent youth “gbeghe” and the Exco succession crisis, which is the occasion for much factional violence, and has sometimes led to loss of lives, property destruction and instability in the community has provoked community initiatives. Some communities have now set up committees to ensure peaceful succession and prohibited the associations from involvement in extra legal activities.
Implications for Urhobo Future:
Notwithstanding the tentative nature of the findings from the study-in-progress, they indicate that all is not lost even in sites of galloping urbanisation such as Uvwie land and Warri. This is because the members, as well as, opponents of the youth associations state emphatically, that the main goal of the groups is lobbying for paid employment from the business corporations operating in the area. When pressed for remedial suggestions, both members and their opponents urge the creation of more jobs in the area by government and other relevant development agencies.
Members state personal future goals and ambitions of ‘settling down’ and raising families as soon as “ I have a good job”. They claim they would cease to be members as soon as they have employment, to enable them focus on their careers. In deed, the study confirms several cases of such former members who quit after they secured jobs. This means that members see the association as a temporary instrument for unlocking closed employment doors. They are of course aware that the extortion of ‘development levies’ and ‘compensation’ fees from companies and individuals is illegal. These are illegal desperate acts for survival in an economic environment where legitimate alternatives are presently bare. However, the fact that they dream of personal futures of settled life outside this kind of youth association, indicates that they have not deteriorated to a mindset which celebrates idleness and survival predicated on illegal use of force. In some parts of the Niger Delta, community leaders are already expressing great anxiety about the future behavioural consequences of the huge “stand by” wages paid to some unemployed youth by oil corporations, just to buy peace.
Unemployment is a nation-wide problem, which is now further exacerbated by ongoing SAP-type ‘reforms’. It is a veritable social time-bomb: and it is already manifesting as the flash point for riots across the country, expressed in a variety of ideological colourations. Although a full resolution of the crisis requires a growing of the national economy, the local situation can still be relieved somewhat.
For example, the state government can insist that the giant companies comply strictly with the regulation restricting job positions of certain grade levels to host communities. The local governments and the Community Based Organisations (CBOs) can, through patient dialogue, persuade smaller business outfits to reserve some of their job positions to their host communities as well. This will enhance the climate of peace necessary for the orderly conduct of business and the growth of the economy. The leaders of the CBOs and the Local Government Councils ought to ensure that they bring to the attention of NDDC the concrete needs of the grassroots of their communities. That way, the NDDC can match development projects to real community needs. The current NDDC practice of explaining their master –plan to contractors and politicians at local government headquarters, does not reach down to populations in greatest need of development.
Meanwhile, the flight of companies and other commercial outfits from Urhobo land because of the violence and insecurity contributed by “gbeghe” - “deve” violence of the youth associations- has become clear to the communities and the youth alike. The very employment, which they seek, is vanishing because of their mode of approach. A number of communities are already taking initiatives to rein in the youth associations and gradually return them to the traditional role of serving the community under the directives of ekpako. The recent move of the UPU to inaugurate a central youth body to monitor and coordinate youth associational activities, through representatives from the clans, is an appropriate initiative.
Youth in rural Urhoboland still have the advantage of early insertion into the productive family economy through availability of farmland, unlike their urban counterparts. The project of road construction and rehabilitation, which the current state government has undertaken, has already produced an impressive network of motorable roads. This has opened up market access for rural farm economies. This has also created the possibilities for youth to have their primary and secondary education within their villages and towns, with eventual access to University education less than two hours from home. The upshot of this is that rural youth can complete primary and secondary education, without being alienated from a work ethic. This is an opportunity now largely lost in the enculturation curricula of youth growing up in the urban Urhobo.
despite this rural advantage, educated youth will be attracted to
pursuits as a long-term option only if the agrarian economy is
then is a vast opportunity for Urhobo entrepreneurs’ industrial
of agriculture. Fortunately the state government is currently promoting
programmes for a refocusing on agriculture: and has in fact set up a
training facility –
state, the UPU, Urhobo Associations, CBOs and communities have a role
in rescuing the youth groups from the violent lumpen
regressions which now contaminate their original employment
seeking goal. The aforementioned bodies need to seek ways of
sources of small arms supply to the region. Where do the guns come
commercial networks, which drive substance abuse among youth, must also
dismantled. No nation progresses with a population addicted to
Where the habit had taken roots, its eradication has been one of the
priority objectives of third world revolutions, as was the case of
As I had indicated earlier, provided that some rehabilitative action is taken, youth that presently constitute the associational type that has been discussed, do not seem to me to constitute a major hurdle to Urhobo future. Fortunately, female youth are thus far, largely insulated from this associational type. Urhobo have also escaped the teenage female delinquency which first hit Urhobo youth- in the form of hotel and night club prostitution with expatriate oil workers, in the late sixties to mid seventies, when the oil rush commenced. Many teenage girls abandoned their school for the ‘easy life’ at the time. It appears also that Urhobo female youth are happily under-represented in the current international network of migrant prostitution. We must salute our mothers for so protecting our female youth in these truly trying times.
my mind therefore there are more serious challenges facing the Urhobo
the poly-ethnic/poly-national constituencies of the
Urhobo Future: Other Challenges:
We are faced with four crucial challenges. They are the questions of cultural identity, leadership, politics and nation-class tensions. I discuss them in capsule form.
Language is the key aspect of Urhobo cultural
identity. And it is proper that its significance has recurred in
sessions of this conference. In deed, it has always been an agitational
in all-important gatherings of Urhobo. I suspect that Urhobo
‘Meetings’ in ukale locations in
The case of the Australian Aborigines is a tragic empirical lesson. One of the indices of inequities in the Nigerian polity is its neglect of the promotion of the languages of the minority ethnic groups. The system works on the assumption that national integration requirement is achieved when the languages and cultural symbols of the big three ethnic groups have been provided for. Other minority groups in the Niger Delta and the Middle Belt are also now much concerned with this problem. But it must be said also that the big three are not relying solely on federal support. They have been doing a lot for themselves in the promotion of their languages, literatures, dress modes etc. In seeking to reverse this trend with respect to Urhobo language, we can learn much from the initiatives of the Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo.
In promoting the language and culture of Urhobo the Local Governments, Urhobo CBOs, and other Associations can do a lot for us without waiting for initiatives from higher organs of state power in the Federation. Among a host of things they can jointly do is the establishment of community Radio and Television stations devoted to cultural promotion. For example national and world news, discussion, enlightenment, religious and entertainment programmes can be broadcast in Urhobo in such media.
Research and publications can be funded on a regular basis if the local councils expand the notion of development beyond motor park and market stalls construction, to include culture development.
There is yet another issue: masquerade
to be a fecund source for cultural renewal and community solidarity.
Occupational changes among the population, the dispersal of youth from
education and career pursuits are some of the factors that have led to
decline. But there is a new force in the land- Christian Pentecostal
that now paganises cultural
practices, including these masquerade festivals which, in essence, were
classical indigenous Urhobo theatre. FESTAC is now denounced by these
evangelists as having spiritually polluted
Are we not faced here with a major cultural cost? Is there not a middle ground? Is the ongoing uncritical demonisation of the indigenous environment not itself a source of Urhobo identity disorientation for the coming generation? The Urhobo Historical Society may wish to organise a thoughtful panel on the question.
After the golden age of the UPU under Mukoro Mowoe and his associates who succeeded him, this apex organisation of the Urhobo has been plagued by successive leadership crisis. The problem is now almost endemic. This problem has also been remarked upon at Urhobo assemblies. Whereas, the discussion of the language problem unites, that of the leadership question fractures the community. Whereas successful initiatives are already being contributed to the resolution of the culture problem; resolution efforts on the leadership concern continue to totter.
It is an issue still requiring deep thought. For my part I think that a serious aspect of the problem which is often neglected is followership. I hold the view that leadership is not all just charisma. The followership also matters. A leader is as strong as his followership. A weak followership can wreck leadership. In my judgement, the modern generation of Urhobo are poor followers. Ethnography of modern Urhobo public occasions will reveal a constant alteration of seating arrangements at the high table and on the front row. Everyone wants to be at the high table or front row whether or not such ‘notable’ is directly relevant to the occasion. Each is a ‘leader’ at all times.
I have usually argued that the poverty of followership stems from the deep tradition of republicanism and egalitarianism, which informed Urhobo social structures and cultures for very many generations. We do not, in my view, have long-standing traditions of living under rigid neo-feudal hierarchical structures. Such hierarchies institutionalised deep traditions of deference performance and subservience. In fact, there are several instances where mass migrations of whole communities were driven by the desire to be free of tyrannical polities. In such instances, the present kingdomite revivalisms represent a return to a past, which had been superceded. These returns are adaptations to a colonially crafted polity with structured privileges according to the degree of feudality of the constituent societies. Our colonial master-nation, we should remember, did not complete its own democratic revolution from feudal monarchism.
By my hypothesis, the stabilisation of Urhobo modern leadership in its apex organisation will therefore require deep thought about far-reaching democratisation of its constitutions.
This is another area of concern in thinking about the Urhobo future. In particular I have in mind the question of political party affiliation. Despite official and popular public thinking that Nigerian political constituencies, and voting behaviour, are ethnic, it is also the case that politics fractures ethnic communities. People also consider their self-interests and moral principles in the choice of party affiliation and the candidates to support at elections.
As a people the significant political injury suffered by the Urhobo in Warri under the Action Group government in the Western region, created a long-standing anxiety about being in the opposition. The fear and distaste of opposition is indeed a pervasive Nigerian phenomenon. It derives from the deformed values of the current political culture where control of the state apparatus is crucially for accumulation, and the settling of scores. Ethnic minorities are particularly disadvantaged if they find that their votes went to the losing political party. The consideration, come election time, is to hop on to the “winning” party wagon regardless of the relevance of its manifesto, if there ever was one. Even if the voting was a hoax, it does not seem to matter as long as one’s own ethnic minority constituency was rigged to the wining party. If the rigging is 100%, that is better: one can deploy the one hundred percent support in bargaining for appointments and other spoils.
Yet for all that political strategising about being on the winning side, no matter what, there is today general complaints that the Urhobo have not found any special favours. More fundamentally, Urhoboland suffers the disabilities of neglect, environmental damage and underdevelopment of the Niger Delta zone. It is this stagnation that is at the root of the emergence of the youth disturbances we have discussed. Fortunately due to combination of youth social movements with clear political economy and environmental protection agendas in Rivers and Bayelsa states, and the political activism of the current crop of State Governors of the Niger Delta, the problem of marginalisation can no longer be quarantined from national consciousness. Yet the same one-party winners regime, routinely threatens the fruits of this struggle-NDDC, onshore-offshore agreement- through state governments controlled by the winning party where our states are members.
It is my position that the developmental transformation of the Niger Delta zone will hugely facilitate the development of all the states and ethnic nations- including Urhobo- of the zone. On this ground, I suggest that it is time for Urhobo politicians to encourage the establishment of a Niger Delta political personality. They in association with their colleagues in the zone can form their own political party with manifesto articulating the special problems of the area. The party can then invite alliances across the country on the basis of terms that will include the core concerns of the zone. As it is, despite the revived awakening, Niger Delta zonal concerns receive grudging treatment, because our political elite now lost in the world of the big party, are reduced to the status of appendage politicians.
This is the fourth challenge, which faces the Urhobo future. However, I do not think it has usually been posed in this way, although the empirical consequences are much discussed. I consider the caption unsatisfactory; but it is for want of a better expression. In any case, by it I am referring to the sentiment of common solidarity and unity –of- interests’ assumption which informs our public discussions on occasions like this. Are there no risks in taking this common solidarity for granted? Will it hold for all instances requiring collective effort? Has it in fact held on all fronts today? Is this assumption not an exceptionalist view, which places the Urhobo outside of Nigerian history?
Yet it is the case that like other ethnic
By way of conclusion, let me remind the conference that the Urhobo heritage has a time honoured technique for seeing the future, it is evwa, divination. I had no time to consult any diviner before preparing my address. One of the secular techniques for an approximate apprehension of the future of a culture or society is to do a SWOT analysis- that is the strengths and weaknesses of the internal environment, as well as, the opportunities and threats from the external environment. Although I did not follow the SWOT framework in this address, I am convinced that the Urhobo Historical Society has through the quality of participants and resources it has attracted from within Urhobo, is evidence of the peoples’ strength.
we keep up the momentum, much poverty can be banished from this part of
It is therefore my hope that this programme of protecting the environment, safeguarding the livelihoods, heritage and dignity will strengthen the voices of Urhobo sons and daughters in the ongoing struggle to reformat the Nigerian state in a truly democratic direction. In this regard, other progressive constituencies, ethnic and transethnic, eagerly await our participation in the sovereign national conference.
It remains for me to thank you for your audience.