Urhobo Historical Society

Commissioning of the Statue of

Chief Jereton Mariere

First Chancellor of University of Lagos, Nigeria

By Kenneth Young-Emretiyoma


(Culled from The Urhobo Voice, April 12, 2004, pages 10 & 23)

Statue of Chief Jereton Mariere, First Chancellor of University of Lagos, Donated by Atamu Social Club

Donated by Atamu Social Club (Lagos, Nigeria)


THE first sight that hits guests arriving the Mariere Hall, venue of the annual Atamu Day celebration on Saturday, March 20, 2004 is the glittering state of the students residential hall. A boldly-placed sign post on the wall of the hall informs you that renovation and painting of Mariere Hall, University of Lagos was done courtesy of Atamu Social Club Nigeria. Visitors to Mariere Hall, weeks before Atamu’s gesture, were astonished at the level of renovation work carried out by Atamu. “This is excellent, Atamu has made Urhobo proud, they really tried because painting a hall as big as Mariere is no mean feat,” Efe Ahwinahwi, a student of Unilag exclaimed. Ahwinahwi informed that the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) once took up renovation of the hall, but “they abandoned it because it was not easy; but look  at  Urhobo people, young Urhobo have done what PTF couldn’t do, they really tried.”


The day witnessed the commissioning of the statue of the first chancellor of University of Lagos, Akoka, Lagos, Chief Jereton Mariere. It was a day the Urhobo culture was proudly displayed by young trail-blazing businessmen and professionals who  (borrowing the words of number one orator in Lagos, Mr. Godspower Efiahware, one of the event masters  of ceremonies) are not “selfish” and are immensely proud of their Urhoboness.


The event brought together eminent Urhobo and non Urhobo personalities including General David Ejoor (rtd) (who in the military tradition of punctuality arrived the venue early), Engr. Moses Kragha,  Senator (Chief) Fred Brume, Mr. Matthew Eshalomi (former gubernatorial aspirant), Brig-Gen Oviemo Ovadje, Olorogun & Chief (Mrs.) O’tega Emerhor, Mr. & Mrs. Joe Idudu, Olorogun Gregory Arueya (chairman, NULEC Industries), Air Commodore S.O. Okiti and Mr. Roland Bosomo. Other eminent guests were Chief Johnson Barovbe (past president, Urhobo Social Club and Tosogbe of Badagry), Prof. S.O. Sofola (deputy vice-chancellor, University of Lagos), Chief (Arch.) Charles Majoroh, Mrs. C.F. Olumide (Registrar, Unilag), Prof Jide Olowokudejo (Dean, Student Affairs, Unilag), Mr. Walter Funsho (representaive of Brig. Gen Buba Marwa (rtd.), Mr. & Mrs. Austin Enajemo-Isire (MD, Standard Life), Chief Kenneth Gbagi, Chief Vincent Ahwi, Mr. Emmanuel Evue (1st vice president, Urhobo Social Club), Barrister Chris Akiri and Mrs. Sakpoba (perm-sec, Delta State liaison office, Lagos).


Chairman of the event, world-acclaimed medical scientist and inventor, Brig-Gen. (Dr.) Oviemo Ovadje described the day as one “set aside to commemorate and honour a man of great achievement. I believe that the good Lord has a purpose for the symbolism attached to this day because, not many of the organizers know that His Excellency, late Chief Jereton “Orodjereton” Mariere, the first governor of the defunct Midwest State, first president of the Christian Council of Nigeria was my maternal uncle.” Brig. Gen Ovadje, said Mariere was “indeed a father. He gave me good counsel. It was from him I learnt that the race is not for the swift, nor the battle for the strong. It was from him I learnt as in Mark 9:35 that the leader is a servant of all. It was from him I learnt that you need two things to achieve your mission in life; the  grace of God and the goodwill of men. We must network with God through prayers and supplications to keep His  grace going, we network with our fellow human beings by cultivating genuine friendship and by expressing ourselves in a pleasant and acceptable manner. We must network to share goodwill and to reap from the common bowl of divine favour.”


The military doctor declared that networking is a social cobweb, which must be arranged or formed to serve the interest of all and sundry. “To achieve the gains of networking therefore, we should employ methods and tools devoid of sentimentalities particularly in the use of words such as  marginalisation to draw attention to ourselves…” The inventor urged Urhobo nation to strive to cultivate good friendship. “Mariere networked during the creation of the old Midwest State …Scott Emuakpor and Mowoe networked that is why they have streets in Agbor…Indeed the Ibrus are good at networking…”


In his own address, Mr. Francis Daniel-Okumagba said the honour to Mariere is evidence that Chief Jereton Mariere was accomplished in the critical areas of life. “Indeed, his impact transcended his immediate and catchment environments hence this ceremony is holding in the University of Lagos, which is about 400 kilometres from Evwreni, Delta State, the birth place of Chief Mariere.” The Atamu president  said that in honour and in commemoration of Mariere’s glorious tenure as first chancellor of Unilag, a student complex was named after him, this is the popular Mariere Hall in Unilag.” He further described Mariere’s appointment as chancellor at his time as not a fluke but an honour that was rightly earned and deserved.


The general manager, Oceanic Bank said the unveiling of Chief Mariere’s statue by Atamu Social Club is a further testimony of the socio-cultural club’s commitment to the promotion of Urhobo ideals anywhere at anytime, and urged the support of all in order to continue. “Often, as individuals, we exceed breaking points to record these feats but we are consoled by the fact that our modest contributions are being appreciated at home and beyond,” Daniel-Okumagba said.


The president thanked students, staff and management of Unilag for “providing us the opportunity to render this little service to the Urhobo nation and humanity as a whole.” He also thanked Urhobo students in Unilag “who two years ago approached us with this lofty idea of erecting Mariere statue in front of Mariere Hall. They are patriots and their unique contribution in this venture can never go unmentioned.” He also showed gratitude to Atamu patrons “whose material and psychological support has remained inestimable and part of the essential tonic that has propelled us this far.”


Daniel-Okumagba used the medium to propose unity and Urhobo brotherhood, and urged both established and rising stars in Urhobo to appreciate the strategic strength in networking, “that way we will be able to create our own galaxy in this federation of galaxies and subsequently stand up for recognition even at the centre.” The Urhobo brotherhood, he proposed, should be one that will recognize the place of youths in the continuum called life and consequently equip them with capacities to take over leadership tomorrow.”


An important feature of the celebration was a lecture by Dr.Igho Ogbera, associate director and head of research, Nigeria Economic Summit Group, titled: Networking as a strategic success factor in the social-economic and political development of the Urhobo nation.”


In the lecture, Dr. Ogbera said Urhobo nation is the “breadfruit of Nigeria, producing more than 64 million barrels of crude oil annually, which add greatly to the revenue and foreign exchange earnings of our country, Nigeria.” Ogbera, however, lamented that in spite of Urhobo’s vast human, intellectual and natural resources and contribution to the common wealth of Nigeria, “we have over the years been strategically schemed out of the national policy arena to the extent that today we have no representative in the present executive cabinet of President Obasanjo’s administration. Yet, some ethnic nationalities with a few thousand people have representatives within the federal executive council.”


Ogbera decried the neglect of Urhobo by successive regimes in terms of development, turning it to a “war theatre with rapid decay of infrastructure, high unemployment, poverty, insecurity, and low level of industrialization. He proffered that networking is one possible way for Urhobo people to actualize their dreams and visions in the face of massive neglect by the Federal Government. “Networking will help us as a group to accomplish those things we cannot accomplish alone—complex development problems and issues that seem overwhelming.. Provide the critical mass needed for local and national advocacy and lobbying; open opportunities, strength and sustain capacities.”


The guest lecturer advised Urhobo people especially privileged ones, not to undermine the collective interests of the Urhobo nation to advance their selfish interest. “Unity, cooperation and solidarity constitute the key building blocks of network, their absence remains a threat to the group’s vision and aspirations,” Ogbera stated. He called on all Urhobo sons and daughters to play key role in ensuring the socio-economic and political transformation of the Urhobo nation, “not only through bonding among ourselves but through strategic alliances and building bridges across our cultural boundaries with other ethnic nationalities. This requires the elimination of conflicts and crisis in our land, fostering team work, unity and cooperation and articulating a marshal plan for the rapid development of the Urhobo nation.”


The occasion also saw rich display of Urhobo music and culture. Emma Ovis and his musical group thrilled the audience, and a cultural dance group led by Abilogu Godwin presented the Ema Royal Dance as well as Urhobo and Ijaw traditional dance steps. Igbeni masquerade (originated from Okpe/Uvwie) also displayed to the joy and pleasure of all. The masters of ceremonies, Godspower Efiahware (number one Urhobo orator in Lagos), Ted Okumakube and Godspower Edafiogho took turns in dishing rib-cracking jokes and powerful Urhobo oratories.


The peak of the occasion was the commissioning of the statue of Mariere in front of Mariere Hall. The commissioning was performed by the special guest of honour, Chief James Ibori, governor of Delta State, who was represented by his Special Adviser on Public Communication, Prof. G.G. Darah. Earlier in his address, Governor Ibori had extolled late Mariere virtues describing him as a great nationalist and one who pioneered struggle for the creation of then Midwest State, which later metamorphosed  to Delta and Edo States. The governor said Mariere’s exploits in politics was comparable to those of African nationalists of that period, among these were “Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana,Sekou Toure of Guinea, Ben Bella of Algeria, Momodi Keita of Mali, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya and Nelson Mandela of South Africa.” He said, “As we pay tribute to Mariere’s memory, we now lament how military intervention in 1966 truncated the process of democracy that was inaugurated by Mariere. But as Nelson Mandela wrote in his autobiography ‘ours is a long walk to freedom,’ we are confident that we will reach the goal that Mariere and his likes set for us and his name will continue to lighten our road to that freedom.” Governor Ibori commended Atamu for bringing back the memory of late Mariere.


Brume, while commending Atamu for the initiative, called on the various Urhobo clubs to get together and find  a way of working together “even within a wider context of unity, beyond UPU as  it stands today…”


For Engr. Moses Kragha, it is a very great initiative. “Atamu Social Club should be highly commended, they are shinning examples of how to bring Urhobo together and promote Urhobo positively. It is very rare to see Urhobo these days recognising not to talk of promoting one of their own, so the initiative and effort is very highly commendable.” Asked what challenges this has brought on elderly Urhobo, Engr. Kragha stated: “I don’t know if the older ones are sensitive anymore, so to talk of challenge to them based on experience, will appear like pouring water on stone. The younger ones are taking the bulls by the horn, and the few older ones who are still young at heart should support and patronize the younger ones who are treading the right path.” The chief host, Prof. Oye Ibidapo-Obe, vice chancellor, Unilag, who was visibly impressed submitted that “this is the first time in my own knowledge in this country that somebody is being remembered in such a unique way by very young people, and I am really very impressed.” The vice chancellor said Atamu’s  gesture is a lesson to Nigeria and Africa in general on how the best people can be remembered.” There are two key issues here; they are very responsible and then know how to actually honour elders, that is a lesson and it is a lesson that they are teaching all of us in this country and Africa in general on how the best people can be remembered,” Prof. Ibidapo-Obe said.


Also, Engr. Solomon Oke (Solo Scott), the senior manger distribution of NEPA, Oshodi District, said the effort by Atamu is very applauding. “They have done what a lot of Urhobo clubs have not been able to do for a long time, and with the type of vibrant young men in Atamu, the club will surely go to high places, and they should continue their good work in projecting Urhobo nation in a better light. Jesse-born Engr. Oke also extolled the leadership qualities of Francis Daniel-Okumagba, Atamu president,  saying he has done very well, “under his leadership the club could execute such a feat as not only unveiling Mariere statue in front of Mariere Hall, Unilag but actually painted and renovated the hall building, the common room and the reading room. It is a show of unique leadership by Okumagba to galvanize people and resources to achieve this no mean feat. May God give Atamu more wisdom, and all Urhobo in Nigeria and Diaspora should endeavour to push Urhobo forward,” Oke said.


An Evwreni indigene and group head of administration, Standard Alliance Group, Deacon Uba Mrohwobor eulogized the occasion as very beautiful. “It enabled Urhobo people to come together again as one to champion the cause of Urhobo as a nation, it is nice and encouraging.” Deacon Uba said Urhobo should rally round Atamu to ensure that the club is encouraged to continue the cause of championing Urhobo, which they have chosen. To Evwreni people, Uba said Atamu’s gesture is a challenge to the community to go back to the archives, review the past deeds and activities of fallen heroes and make it known to the world.


To cultural activist and artistic director of Abilogu Arts Production, Abilogu Godwin “Atamu remains the greatest when you talk of groups and people that are propagating Urhobo culture. Atamu as far as I am concerned remains number one, UPU has not done much in propagating Urhobo culture.” Abilogu, whose cultural group performed at the event, said he is proud to be Urhobo, adding that “God so blessed Urhobo, and apart from the natural resources in our land, talent-wise we are very blessed.” He urged Urhobo people to go back to the basics, back to our culture, really from our culture we will be able to recover ourselves again. Imagine, what Atamu  has done, now imagine what it will be like if other Urhobo clubs start to do the same thing,” Abilogu said.


But for Atamu, is this the end of the projection of Urhobo to the world?


The president of the club said, “this is just the beginning, no matter the frustration, no matter the intimidation we will not change from being Urhobo. We will stand firm as a club to project this noble nation (Urhobo nation).” Daniel-Okumagba expressed happiness at the outcome of the celebration. “I feel elated, even with all the obstacles that we had at the beginning, everything came out successfully. We have made a statement to Urhoboland, everybody that  is here today knows that Urhobo  are  in this campus and it gives me great joy seeing what  I planned being actualized,” he told The Urhobo Voice. The youthful banker reiterated that Atamu would not be sidetracked or distracted from projecting Urhobo, “this is just the beginning, we are going to do a lot more things in Urhobo.” He called on youths to endeavour to flaunt their Urhoboness anytime and anywhere, according to him, doing so doesn’t change one from being what one is.


Dr. Ese Okobia, assistant secretary of Atamu also commented on the event, saying it was “tremendously successful beyond our imagination, as you can see the entire university community and officials were here,” Okobia, a university don said, Atamu has succeeded in reminding the University of Lagos community of the place of origin of Mariere. “We have rekindled in the community the awareness and remembrance of Mariere, we have also shown to them the Urhobo nature, that is Urhobo people develop any place they are or find themselves.” Dr. Okobia said the event has challenged him personally in the area of doing public service and that it has emphasised to him that reward of public service is not immediate “but it stays and endures, it has spurred me to want to contribute to the public.” He further used the medium to call on Urhobo people to network for greater heights.


Another member, Sam Egube, who is chief  business officer, Lagos,  New Nigerian Bank (NNB), said “it is hightime Urhobo nation began to network across the nation and built bridges of alliance to stimulate, not only national growth but also to bring focus into the Urhobo nation. I think that is one strong point for the event.” Egube informed that one of the motivations for Atamu’s erection of Mariere statue is “to develop a recognition within ourselves of our illustrious indigenes who have left landmarks in the society and the nation at large. It also stands as rallying point amongst everyone in the Urhobo nation to further our interest locally, nationally and internationally. Mariere was a distinguished personality of the Urhobo nation, and it is deserving that we used him at this point in time as a rallying point to those ideals he stood for,” Sam Egube stated.


Valentine Omamogho, another Atamu member also emphasised that Atamu is determined to put Urhobo people in the map  of the world, adding that several projects are on line towards this end. Omamogho, who said he learnt to speak Urhobo in the streets of Lagos, called on Urhobo parents to cultivate the habit of speaking Urhobo as a first language to their children at home “because this is one way of imparting Urhobo consciousness, into them at the early stage. Language is culture, so parents should try and inculcate the Urhobo language into their children.” On Mariere, he said one cannot undermine the image and personality of the late Urhobo leader as far as the Urhobo nation and Nigeria at large is concerned. “Having had a hall named after him in Unilag, it is only proper that something must be done to properly immortalize his name,” Valentine Omamogho declared.


March 20, 2004 saw a vivid resurrection of Mariere, it featured celebration of life, a celebration of service to the cause of a group, the Urhobo nation, and as Christopher Ichege (immediate past president of National Union of Urhobo Students, Unilag chapter) who claimed to have been the one to have mooted initially the idea of the Mariere statue in Unilag to Atamu summed up the occasion: “We thank God today that it all went through successfully.” And to show its approval of the event, a sort of proclamation that the vision and effort by Atamu has got divine approval, the heavens, minutes after official commissioning of the statue, poured forth its blessings. It rained heavily, rhythmically and soothingly.


Other guests at the event include Mr. Richard Obire (executive director, Platinum Bank); Mr. Godwin Iyalla (Head, Image Mgt. & Protocol, Standard Alliance Group); Mr. Albert Okumagba (MD/CEO BGL); Mr. Ese Onosode (who represented Deacon Gamaliel Onosode); Mr. Okey Nwosu (MD, First Atlantic bank); Mr. Robert Ahwefada (deputy director, FRCN); Prince Oghene Emma Egoh, Mr. Simeon Ohwofa, Mr. Bode Akinboye (MD, Standard Allinace); Mr. Oboden Ibru  (chief operating officer, Oceanic Bank)  amongst others.