Political Reorganization As A Pre-Condition For Economic Success In Urhoboland



By Olorogun Moses Taiga

Chairman, Execon Organization

Lagos, Nigeria


Being a paper presented at the 6th Annual Conference of, Urhobo Historical Society, held at Petroleum Training Institute, Warri, October 20 - 23, 2005




Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, all protocols observed. It gives me great pleasure to share my thoughts on some of the key issues facing our beloved nation-state, the Urhobo nation. I sincerely believe that our discussion today will stimulate some thinking that could lead to the political and economic development of our land, something, which will become a point of reference for other nation states that exist within the geographical boundaries of Nigeria. Before we proceed, it will be necessary to outline the key objectives of this paper, which can be listed as follows:


·        Laying the foundation for Social & Political Equilibrium

o       Within the Urhobo Nation and

o       Between the Urhobos and her neighbours

·        Designing an alternative Urhobo national political process

o       Articulation of common front & purpose

o       To foster political integration & progress


With these objectives/goals in mind, we can proceed on the journey of our political reorganization. Let us begin with an overview of the Urhobo economy in the Niger Delta and its contribution to the national economy. We shall also carry out an analysis of the existing political structure cum arrangements in Urhoboland and its effect on our economic and political progress, to date.


The Urhobo Economy in the Niger Delta


Urhobos are the sixth largest tribe in Nigeria and the second largest in the Niger Delta area. Its population is estimated at 2.3 million, which is about the size of Ogun state and almost twice that of Taraba. The immediate neighbours include the Ijaws, Itsekiri, Isokos, Edos and the Kwales. Urhoboland is blessed with abundant mineral and agricultural resources including crude petroleum, gas, oil palm, rubber, glass-making soil, clay suitable for pottery, rivers, tributaries and streams suitable for electricity generation, fishing and other marine activities. Urhoboland reportedly accounts for over 28% of total electricity generation in Nigeria through the power stations in Sapele and Ughelli. In terms of oil production, Urhoboland accounts for an estimated 64 million barrels of oil annually. In today’s prices, this is equivalent to $4.4bn or 19% of total annual oil revenue in Nigeria. In the days of cash crop boom and subsequent exports, Urhoboland was a veritable source of cash crops like rubber, timber, oil palm for exports.


Urhoboland is also blessed with a large and growing crop of distinguished professionals in various fields of human endeavour. Urhoboland has produced the World record of a single family in the  accounting  profession first class academics and historians (some of which are responsible for today’s gathering), sports stars, musical icons, top military brass in Nigeria, inventors, artistes and poets, prize winning literary artistes, sculptors, business moguls, medical scientists, engineers and financial consultants, etc.


Urhobo nation has all the qualities of a Socratic nation state. Its culture is rich and pristine. It has a viable and sustainable economy though largely undeveloped. It has a fluid and catching language, which has been blended with the English language so smoothly to form a special brand of Pidgin English for which most of its cities are popular e.g. Sapele and Warri. However, the widespread use of Pidgin English by Urhobo families has become a threat to the survival of the Urhobo language. This is an issue, which I expect will be addressed in the course of this conference as reflected in its theme. The Urhobos live in contiguous and defined boundaries. Fortunately, they have not been dispersed amongst different states in the federation over the years, through state creation or historical events, a fate that has befallen some tribes including the Ibos (Delta, Rivers), Ijaws (Delta, Rivers, Bayelsa, Ondo, Edo), Hausas (Benue, Plateau, Kwara, Niger, etc.), Yorubas (Kwara, Oyo, etc). 


Political Structure of Urhoboland


For an extensive review and detailed analysis of the historical origins of the Urhobo people of the Niger Delta, I would readily recommend that you read the scholarly writings obtainable at the website of the Urhobo Historical Society. However, for the purpose of this exercise, it will be necessary to take a somewhat simplistic overview of our political structure and history.


Urhobo nation consists of some 22 independent kingdoms or provinces, each with its own ruler or king. Urhobos are the children or descendants of one man – Urhobo, referred to as “Uhobo” by the Binis and “Soubo” by the Portuguese and “Sobo” by ethnographers. Unlike most of its neighboring tribes, there has never been a single monarchy ruling over the entire Urhobo tribe in over 2000 years of historical existence. The 22 kingdoms though independent are bound by blood, marriage, culture, language, occupation geography and politics. Its unique republican structure has worked at times to its advantage as a resilient tribal group that has never been defeated or overtaken in war. And at other times to its disadvantage as a group that has been relatively incapable of having an organized front and common purpose. Some of the demerits of republican structure are listed below:



Implications of Present Political Structure


–       Lack of cooperation and rivalry amongst provincial societies

–       Lack of coordination and poor representation at national levels

–       Poor organization and in-fighting

–       General confusion and subjugation under other organized tribes

–       Political and Economic stagnation

–       In-fighting means lack of common front to strive for common good

–       Language & culture under threat of extinction




Reorganizing the Urhobo Nation: Some Basic Questions


1)     Why Reorganize?


Nigeria is an amalgamation of some 250 or more ethnic tribes. Ethnic nationalism has increasingly become a vital issue in the political development of the nation. Some of the major tribes have developed a viable political process and structure that has ensured the protection of their interests at all levels in the nation. This has enabled them access to political power and a more than fair share of the political largesse in the past. This is without prejudice to the fact that some of these tribes have contributed precious little to the economic wealth of the nation in recent times.  However, the Urhobos have repeatedly found themselves shortchanged in the political arrangements in Nigeria over the years. This is in spite of contributing significantly to the economic wealth of the nation. In essence, the reason for reorganizing Urhoboland politically can be summarized as follows:


·        There is consistency between the issues facing Urhobos and the Nigerian state. Nigeria is currently in the middle of an economic and political reform programme.

·        There is an urgent need to have a common front for articulating Urhobo position on national issues

·        Reorganizing our political process is our baby steps towards “Urhobo Reform.”

·        We need to align with national, regional and global imperatives.

·        Other ethnic nations within Nigeria are far ahead in terms of political and economic organization (Arewa, Afenifere, Ijaws, Ohaneze, Edos, etc)

·        Urhobos need to play to play “Catch Up”

·        Disorganization is a threat to corporate existence of the Urhobo nation



2)     What are the Consequences of Disorganization?


Lack of political organization and cohesion has led to economic stagnation typified by poor infrastructure and widespread unemployment in Urhoboland. The Urhobos have not been able to exert their influence on the central government as other ethnic tribes have done to their advantage. As a key oil producing area, the Urhobos have hardly benefited from decades of oil exploration in their area, in spite of its environmental impact. In the last five years, Nigeria has enjoyed an oil boom with hardly any impact on Urhoboland. For example, oil revenue increased 167% to $23bn between 1999 & 2004, whilst quality of life in Urhoboland is declining.

One of the factors that have militated against development in Urhoboland is the proneness to crisis. Fractious relationship with neighbours has led to investor anxiety, flight and reluctance to locate business venture in areas where Urhobo and her neighbours have consistently clashed.


3) What are the Benefits of Reorganization?


The following are some of the benefits of reorganization in Urhoboland

·        Social and political reorganization will enhance competition for and access to national cake. One of the bitter consequences of the disorganization and absence of a common goal is the shortchanging of the Urhobo nation in national issues and appointments.

·        Economic development cannot be possible without an organized political structure and strategy. Even if the entire oil wealth were handed over to Urhoboland, we must be organized in order to effectively utilize and distribute the wealth amongst ourselves. Disorganization will breed discontent, waste and self-destruction.

·        An organized Urhobo nation will be able to address properly social problems like Illiteracy, unemployment, youth disaffection and delinquency as well as ethnic conflict/communal crisis, crime, armed robbery and kidnapping. These factors are threats to the economic progress of the Urhobo nation.


4) How do we get it done?


The time has come for all the various associations and groups in Urhoboland to close ranks. Political reorganization cannot be possible unless all the groups collaborate and work closely together. To do this, there must be broad consultations amongst representative groups and kingdoms. The need for a clear-cut articulation of a common objective for economic survival and political emancipation cannot be over emphasized especially in the current political dispensation and the impending national elections in 2007. Urhobos must develop a credible and viable conflict resolution process, which will ensure peaceful collaboration and coexistence between Urhobos and between Urhobos and her neighbours.


Key Issues to consider in Political Reorganization


Political reorganization implies addressing the following issues critically:


·        Historical, Cultural & Educational issues

o       Investing in schools of excellence at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels

o       Promoting the study of Urhobo language in schools and making fluency in Urhobo language criteria for employment in Urhoboland.

·        Economic, Financial & Investment Issues

o       An Economic Plan for the Urhobo nation

o       An Investment Strategy for Urhobo nation

o       Research and identification of natural resources and how to exploit them

·        Political Strategy & Resource Control Issues

·        Women, Health & Child development Issues

o       The HIV Scourge, Malaria, Malnutrition, etc

o       Adult morbidity & infant mortality

·        Youth, Sports & Social Development Issues

·        Conflict Resolution, Peace & Security Issues





In conclusion, whilst acknowledging that the challenges of Urhobo Nation are many, we believe that they are surmountable. The key to political and economic emancipation is in the hands of Urhobo citizens. If we can come together and decide to operate as one people with one voice, if we can eschew violence and bitterness amongst ourselves and concentrate on our common problems, if we strive for peaceful coexistence with our neighbours, and within OURSELVES we will be able to build international respect and investor confidence. This will boost the level of investments in Urhoboland and ensure that we take our rightful place in the Nigeria as well as the emerging world of regionalization and globalization.


Thank you.