Official Logo of Urhobo Historical Society

London, England
November 1-3, 2002

A Composite Report Of 
LondonUnited KingdomNovember 1-3, 2002

By Peter P. Ekeh, Ph.D.
Chair, Urhobo Historical Society

The Third Annual Conference of Urhobo Historical Society was held in LondonUnited KingdomNovember 1-3, 2002, at two venues in close proximity of each other in New Cross area of Southeast LondonLondon is home to the largest fragment of the Urhobo Diaspora, outside of Nigeria. Most Urhobos in London live in the Southeast. The first venue of the Conference was at Goddis Restaurant at 126 New Cross Road. Its proprietor, Mr. Godwin Oghenede, was the Hospitality Officer of the UK and Belgium Organizing Committee that worked closely with the Conference and Communiqué Committee in North America in preparing for the Conference. The second venue of the Conference was nearby at Goldsmiths College of London University.

Opening Cocktail Reception at Goddis Restaurant
Friday November 1, 20028:00-10:30

The Opening Cocktail Reception was a memorable event that brought together strong Urhobo leadership from inside Nigeria, from the host London community as well as an enthusiastic delegation from Belgium, and from North America. It also featured age and youth, with men and women in their 60s and 70s mixing with members of a younger generation of Urhobos. The chair of the occasion was Olorogun Felix Ibru, first civilian Governor of Delta State. He was introduced by Chief Johnson Barovbe, a Lagos-based businessman, proprietor of WestminsterCollegeLagos, and a former distinguished President of Urhobo Social Club, Lagos. Chief Barovbe praised the mission and work of Urhobo Historical Society, predicting that it would become a major force in Urhobo affairs. The esteemed Special Guest of Honour of the Conference, who was featured at the Opening Reception, was Mr. D. A. Obiomah of Warri, author of several books that have chronicled the struggle of his people of Agbarha-Warri for their natural rights and for justice for Agbarha community as indigenous owners of the City of Warri. Mr. Obiomah enjoys a large reputation in Urhobo history as our first D.O. (District Officer) during colonial times. He was introduced by Professor Frank Ukoli, reputed to be Urhobo’s first Ph.D. holder and Urhobo’s first university professor, who was also the founding Vice Chancellor of Delta State University, Abraka. Several men and women from the London community – including Chief Moses Uwejeya, Chief Francis Ogbomo, Chief C. O. Onomijega, and Chief Wilfred Dedevwo -- were introduced. Chief Johnson Barovbe specially introduced Chief Emmanuel Evue, a Lagos-based fish business man who had traveled to London for the Conference.

There was an insightful introduction of Members of the Editorial and Management Committee, which has managed the affairs of Urhobo Historical Society in North America, by Professor Ajovi Scott-Emuakpor, and of members of the UK & Belgium Organizing Committee by Mr. S. S. Obruche. This exercise was intriguing because many in the audience sought out the origins and hometowns of these people who were presented as servants of Urhobo history and culture. Many elders were particularly fascinated by the prominent presence of the Conference Chair, Professor Isaac James Mowoe, first grandson of the legendary Mukoro Mowoe, who is hailed in Urhobo history as our premier nationalist. Also specially introduced was Professor Perkins Foss, an American scholar who was fully attired in Urhobo chiefly regalia and whose daring odova (praise name) is oyibo r’edjo. Professor Foss is an historian of Urhobo art and culture.

Following generous Urhobo traditional welcoming presentation of kola, drinks, and money by Mr. S. S. Obruche and his colleagues of the UK & Belgium Organizing Committee, eloquently narrated in fluent Urhobo by Mr. Ejiro Ughwujabo, a Deputy Head Teacher in a LondonCatholicSecondary School, three addresses were read. In his measured and dignified speech, Olorogun Felix Ibru proclaimed his pride as an Urhobo man, declaring that his patriotism for Nigeria is only enhanced, never diminished, by his robust love for Urhobo culture and his service to Urhobo people. In his dramatized and poetic address, Mr. D. A. Obiomah showed why he is loved by the Urhobo. He exalted Urhobo culture of nurturing and veneration of the bride in elaborate ceremonies in traditional Urhobo culture.A fighter for the rights of his native and indigenous Agbarha-Warri community, Obiomah called on the British to tell the truth on the “Protection Treaty” that British colonial agents signed with the Chiefs and Elders of Agbarha on March 14, 1893 in which it was made clear that they owned Warri lands. Both Olorogun Felix Ibru and Mr. Daniel Obiomah praised the work and commitments of Urhobo Historical Society and urged the Society to continue in its important work.

In his address, Professor Peter Ekeh, Chair of Urhobo Historical Society, thanked various people who have worked with the Society in its service to Urhobo history and culture. Citing several areas of the work of Urhobo Historical Society, including its flagship web site called URHOBO WAADO, Professor Ekeh said he and his colleagues in Urhobo Historical Society had come to London to challenge the Urhobo Community in the United Kingdom and our people at home inside Nigeria to join in a brigade of  service to Urhobo people by promoting and protecting Urhobo history and culture. He contended that it is a responsibility that required the employment of many Urhobo volunteers because much remained to be done in the demanding need to protect and enhance Urhobo history and culture.

Presentation of Academic Papers at GoldsmithsCollege
Saturday, November 2, 2002

The entire span of the day on Saturday, November 2, 2002 was devoted to academic perspectives that highlighted Urhobo history and culture and that also challenged the Urhobo present and future. It all began with a fascinating presentation of the art history of the Urhobo by an American scholar of Urhobo culture, Professor Perkins Foss, bearing a delicate title of “Images of Fear, Protection, Beauty: Urhobo Art and Culture." His command of the Urhobo language was fully appreciated by the audience. Among the many portraits of Urhobo chieftains that Foss presented was that of Chief Erhiaghanoma Oyovwikefe of Orhokpokpo, Agbarho, whose two grandsons [Edirin and Henry Erhiaghanoma] served as members of the Editorial and Management Committee, North America, and the UK & Belgium Organizing Committee, and were present at the Conference. The last portrait from the large collage of Urhobo art forms displayed by Perkins Foss was that of Chief Ughwanogho of Orogun, whose son, Chief P. A. Wanogho, happens to be a major leader in the Urhobo community in London. Subsequent presenters of papers consistently referred to this first presentation as a point of departure in the evaluation of living Urhobo culture.

The second session featured a masterful display of academic prowess mixed with concern for ordinary people by a retired University of Ibadan Professor of parasitology who has become a traditional Urhobo chief. But Professor Olorogun Frank Ukoli is not a passive recipient of a shallow honour of chieftaincy. On the contrary, his paper [“Beyond Social and Political Issues in Urhoboland”] and his presentation show his displeasure in the way Urhobo communities are being run down. He is unhappy at the banal display of wealth at wedding and funeral ceremonies that are threatening to maim genuine Urhobo culture. He canvasses for revisions in the ways of the elite that will enhance the lives of the people. From the point of view of Urhobo Historical Society, Olorogun Frank Ukoli’s passions and commitments show that he is a genuine servant of Urhobo history and culture in our best understanding of that mantra.

The third paper [Title to Land in Warri –The Itsekiri and Agbassa Claims”] came from Dr. Emmanuel Urhobo, heir of the legendary G. M. Urhobo who founded God's Kingdom Society in 1934. Dr. Urhobo practices law in Warri and is a leader of the Agbarha-Warri community in fighting against attempts to deprive his people of their heritage. He argued that Urhobos not only built Warri but indeed own much of the city and should be sensitive about any attempts to cheat fellow Urhobos of their political and legal rights. He traced the doctrine of overlordship in colonial times to internal Itsekiri disputes between Ugborodo Itsekiri and the British colonial Political Agent, Chief Dore Numa, which was subsequently wrongly applied to Urhobo disputes with Dore Numa. He called for the proper education of Urhobo lawyers on Warri land matters because many of these lawyers appear not to understand the origins and wrongs of the doctrine of overlordship in colonial times; nor do they seem to appreciate the fact that the doctrine of overlordship has long been overthrown in subsequent judicial pronouncements.

Dr. Emmanuel Urhobo was followed by Wilson Ometan, of the BBC London, who proudly introduced himself as an Uvwie man with roots stretching to Okpe. His presentation of his paper ["Urhobos and Nigerian Politics: The Travails of Marginalization and Racism"] was a spirited description of the attributes of the Urhobo people and an advocacy of the employment of their toughness and resilience to resist various attempts to marginalize them and their culture.

The Dredging of the Lower Niger and the Environment of the Niger Delta

Dr. Amy Emerhi, an Ughelli native and Nigerian Director of Port Harcourt-based International Association for Impact Assessment, made a short but powerful presentation on the dangers facing Urhobo and the Niger Delta from the planned dredging of the lower Niger for the sake of meeting the navigation needs of northern ports on the Niger. Dr. Emerhi complained that this dredging was being planned without any contribution from those in the Niger Delta whose lives and means of livelihood will be severely impacted and most probably ruined. She further complained of the indifference of public officials from the Niger Delta, including Urhobos, who have done nothing to avert these dangers. In the discussion that ensued, many conference participants, including Professor Peter Ekeh and Professor Frank Ukoli, warned of the grave dangers that will occur if Atlantic waters are forced into our lands because of the navigation needs of oil companies and northern states. Our agriculture and fishing industry will be ruined. There may be uncontrolled floods.

Goodwill Message from Urhobo National Assembly

A goodwill message from Urhobo National Assembly was delivered by its Secretary, Mr. Godwin Etakibuebu, who is Chairman of Focus Computer Systems Limited, Lagos. Mr. Etakibuebu urged Urhobo Historical Society to continue in its work of service for Urhobo history and culture. He then read a letter addressed to the Third Annual Conference of Urhobo Historical Society from Urhobo National Assembly. Signed by Senator D. O. Dafinone and Justice V. E. Ovie-Whiskey, the letter commends the efforts of Urhobo Historical Society in its work in the service of Urhobo history and culture. The letter says, inter alia:

Yours is an elite society and as such you must always see yourselves individually as members of the think thank that will work out situation for many problems that are threatening the corporate survival of the Urhobo nation. That is what a good historical society can do. That is what your society is doing. In prosecuting this onerous assignment you can always count on our full support. For it is our avowed and dedicated mandate to work for the elimination of those obstacles that deny the Urhobo people both political and economic enablement.

Keynote Address ["The Place of Urhobo College in Urhobo History"] 
By Professor David Okpako, University of Ibadan

The hallmark presentation of the Third Annual Conference, chaired by its Special Guest of Honour, Mr. D. A. Obiomah, was a keynote address titled "The Place of Urhobo College in Urhobo History" by one of the most distinguished alumni of Urhobo College. David Okpako has been a Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Ibadan for several decades. He was a pioneering student of Urhobo College from which he graduated in 1954. He has been the unofficial historian of Urhobo College. It was he who compiled a moving memorial for Chief Daniel Okumagba when the former Urhobo College Tutor died on Thursday, July 27, 2000. A native of Ohwahwa in Ughievwen, David Okpako has another distinction. He is a custodian of Udje songs. Indeed, he sang one of those songs during his keynote address.

The central theme of Professor David Okpako’s keynote address was the role of Urhobo Progress Union in conceiving, founding, and then managing a community secondary school that was like no other one in Africa during colonial times and thereafter. Its two founding graduate teachers, M. G. Ejaife and E. N. Igho, were trained by Urhobo Progress Union during the difficult war-ravaged years of the 1940s. They were Urhobo’s first graduates. Despite its ownership by Urhobo Progress Union, the policies that controlled Urhobo College were liberal in terms of its recruitment of teachers and students. Professor Okpako noted that two beneficiaries of such policies, Mr. S. J. Okudu and Professor Tekena Tamuno, both Ijaws, were trained for Urhobo College. They later played major roles in the history of the University of Ibadan as Registrar and Vice Chancellor. Professor Okpako cited a number of students of Urhobo College from other ethnic groups (ItsekiriBenin, Ishan, Igbo, and Yoruba) who developed themselves into important personalities in various professions in Nigeria. Okpako’s lecture featured the brilliance and achievements of his classmate and fellow Urhoboman, Professor Matthew Scott-Emuakpor of the University of Ibadan, who was Nigeria’s first geneticist. In Professor David Okpako’s estimation, the strength of the education that Mr. M. G. Ejaife and other teachers of Urhobo College imparted to their students was the trust that they could overcome great odds.

Professor David Okpako did not see the role of Urhobo Progress Union as a matter for the past alone. On the contrary, he urged the expansion of the role of the UPU in the sphere of education of the Urhobo people and promotion of Urhobo scholarship for the benefit of Urhobo history and culture. First, he queried the current policy of Urhobo Progress Union that excluded Urhobo College from UPU’s development goals. He urged that if other private agencies get back their schools from the Delta State Government, then UPU should seriously consider reclaiming Urhobo College. More boldly, Professor Okpako urges that Urhobos should honour Chief Mukoro Mowoe, whose foresight gave birth to Urhobo College, by building a Mukoro Mowoe University. Such an Urhobo university should strive to develop Urhobo culture and language as a major reason for its existence.

Open Session [“On Urhobo Self-Education on Issues of Warri Lands and Delta State Capital”] at Goldsmiths CollegeSunday, November 3, 2002

A short early morning session conducted by Professor Peter Ekeh, Chair of Urhobo Historical Society, and featuring Mr. D.A. Obiomah, Special Guest of Honour of UHS Third Annual Conference, focused on the need for self-education by Urhobos on issues that affect Urhobo futures and interests. Two such issues were highlighted. First, on Warri lands and ownership of Warri, Professor Ekeh confessed that he was not aware of the history and intricacies of Warri lands until Urhobo Historical Society engaged this issue. He said that he imagined that many Urhobos have not bothered to study this matter as an issue affecting all Urhobos. Mr. D. A. Obiomah expressed the hope that Urhobos would stay engaged on the problems raised by disputes on the ownership of Warri. He thanked Urhobo Historical Society for its attention to the history of Warri and for giving an opportunity to three prominent Agbarha-Warri men – D.A. Obiomah, Dr. Emmanuel Urhobo, and Professor Frank Ukoli – to play central roles in the UHS Third Annual Conference. In the matter of Delta State Capital, Professor Ekeh called attention to the publication in Urhobo Voice [October 28, 2002] by Urhobo Historical Society in which specific legislative measures were recommended for relocating branches of the State Government to the Old Delta Province until constitutional revisions will allow the transfer of the State Capital from Asaba to the Old Delta Province. Mr. D. A. Obiomah commended such measures, saying that examples from various other nations show that it can be done. Several interventions from the audience expressed the need for self-education by Urhobos on issues that affect their futures and their destiny.

A Women's Roundtable Discussion [“Role of Women in Urhobo History and Culture”] 
at GoldsmithsCollegeSunday, November 3, 2002

Chair: Mrs. L. O. Obiomah, Warri, Delta StateNigeria.Participants: Helen Ekeh, Ph.D., Buffalo, New York, USA; Chief (Mrs.) Agnes Ukueku, London, United Kingdom; Mrs. G. Emonigho Aghoghovbia, London, United Kingdom; and Mrs. Comfort Ogbomo, London, United Kingdom.

This last session of the Conference was also its most electrifying. Issues that were raised ranged far and wide, touching on various aspects of Urhobo culture. The achievements of Urhobo women in professions, especially in recent decades, were noted. In the end, two issues were most controversial. The roundtable discussants were ranged on both sides of the practice of female circumcision. There was greater consensus on the matter of the difficulties facing Diaspora Urhobo children and youth in their attempt to learn and speak Urhobo language. Many conference participants took responsibility for their children's failure to speak Urhobo. They all urged that steps must be taken to stem the dangerous tide of loss of the ability to speak Urhobo by our children and youth. Some of the discussants bemoaned the fact that most children growing up in such Urhobo cities as Warri and Sapele cannot speak Urhobo. They denounced the danger of replacing Urhobo with pidgin English.

A major contribution on an existing machinery for advancing and systematizing written and spoken Urhobo was made in this session. Mr. S. S. Obruche said that it was important, indeed critical, that the Urhobo Language Vetting Committee, whose current chair is Reverend Joseph Oghenekaro, be helped to grow and to be involved in attempts to streamline different dialects of Urhobo language into a mainstream form that will be available for Urhobo Diaspora mothers and others in their efforts to retain Urhobo language. Mr. Obruche promised to make available more information on the organization of Urhobo Language Vetting Committee for publication in the web sites of Urhobo Historical Society.

Virtually every member of the audience wanted to join in these issues. Many did. At the end we all ran out of time.

At 1:00 p.m., Professor Isaac James Mowoe, Conference Chair, declared the Conference as concluded. He then invited participants to move from GoldsmithsCollege to Goddis Restaurant for the 2002 Annual General Meeting.

Annual General Meeting of Urhobo Historical Society at Goddis Restaurant
Sunday, November 3, 2002

The meeting was presided over by the Chair of Urhobo Historical Society, Professor Peter Ekeh, who explained that the Annual General Meeting exercises supreme authority in the affairs of Urhobo Historical Society. The meeting was well attended by the Urhobo community in the United Kingdom and Europe and by three key Urhobos from Nigeria: Mr. & Mrs. D.A. Obiomah and Chief Johnson Barovbe. Attendance from the ranks of the Editorial and Management Committee of UHS included its Secretary, Mr. Andrew Edevbie; the Conference Chair, Professor Isaac James Mowoe; Edirin Erhiaghanoma, UHS Treasurer; and Dr. Aruegodore Oyiborhoro, author of the popular “Urhobo Names and Their Meanings” in our Web site URHOBO WAADO. There was an important presence of Urhobo elders and Urhobo youth from the London Urhobo community. Women were not only present in significant numbers; their participation in the discussions was forceful and influenced major decisions.

The Annual General Meeting discussed many weighty matters and took far-reaching decisions. The most noteworthy of these are as follows:

(i) Venue of the Fourth Annual Conference and Meeting of Urhobo Historical Society, 2003. The Annual General Meeting acceded to the request of the London Urhobo community to host the Fourth Annual Conference in London in the first weekend of November, 2003. The General Meeting directed that the possibility of holding the Fifth Annual Conference, 2004, in Nigeria should be strongly pursued.

(ii) Urhobo Historical Society Endowment Fund. The Annual General Meeting accepted a recommendation from the Editorial and Management Committee for the establishment of Urhobo Historical Society Endowment Fund. Its goal is to fund the activities of Urhobo Historical Society and to promote and sponsor research and documentation of Urhobo history and culture. The Annual General Meeting authorized the establishment of such an endowment and then proceeded to set up an Exploratory Committee that will work to set it up.

(iii)  UHS Service Awards. The Annual General Meeting accepted a recommendation from the Editorial and Management Committee for the establishment of UHS Service Awards that will (a) honour distinguished Urhobos who have passed away and who were known to have served aspects of Urhobo history and culture with dedication and (b) reward living Urhobos and others who have served Urhobo history and culture in ways that reflect the life-long works and commitments of those for whom the UHS Service Awards are named. The Annual General Meeting authorized five UHS Service awards: (a) Chief Mukoro Mowoe Service Award; (b) Omorohwovo Okoro Co-Leadership Service Award; (c) Agbontaren Udih Diaspora Service Award; (d) M. G. Ejaife Education Service Award; and (e) Adogbeji Salubi Urhobo History Service Award. The Annual General Meeting then set up an Awards Committee to structure these awards for future years.

(iv) Editorial and Management Committee and UK & Europe Coordinating Committee. The Annual General Meeting authorized the reconstitution of the Editorial and Management Committee that looks after the affairs of Urhobo Historical Society. It then set up a UK and Europe Coordinating Committee that will work with the Editorial and Management Committee to look after the affairs of UHS in Europe. In addition, the Annual General Meeting authorized Chief Johnson Barovbe to explore the possibility of setting up a Nigerian Coordinating Committee of Urhobo Historical Society.

The Annual General Meeting concluded its business on an emotional note as Chief Johnson Barovbe led participants in singing Urhobo Anthem, Orere R’ Ijesa.

Some Concluding Observations

For those of us who have conducted the affairs of Urhobo Historical Society from its inauguration on August 28, 1999, to the present time, the London Conference marked a turning point in the progress of the Society. This is so for several reasons. First, there was an extraordinary blending of age in the ceremonies and discussions that marked the three days of the conference. Men and women in their sixties and seventies interacted with youth and middle-aged Urhobos and exchanged ideas across the barriers of age. Second, women’s presence and participation at the Conference were forceful and made important difference in the outcome of the Conference. Third, the academic pretensions of the planned conference were chastened into compromise with the harsh realities of the actual needs of Diaspora Urhobos who were coping with the cultural problems of living outside the Urhobo homeland. Mothers cried for help in the upbringing of their children so that their offspring will retain Urhobo language and culture. Elderly Urhobos cried for the use of Urhobo language as a medium for transacting the business of the Conference, because they feared that Urhobo language was being denied its dignity. What emerged at the end was praxis of Urhobo culture and history in which academic ideals were blended with the practical cultural needs of Urhobo families living in the Diaspora.

When all the academic sessions are considered alongside the Opening Cocktail Reception and the Annual General Meeting, one important theme seems to emerge at the forefront. It is the survival of Urhobo language and culture and the survival of the physical environment of Urhobo lands. Beginning with the impassioned opening address by the Special Guest of Honour of the Conference, Mr. D.A. Obiomah, through the presentation of their papers and topics by Professor Frank Ukoli, Dr. Emmanuel Urhobo, Dr. Amy Emerhi, and Mr. Wilson Ometan, there were expressed and implicit fears that our culture and our lands will be threatened with extinction unless we fight for their survival. The nuanced reflections of the keynote address by Professor David Okpako and the vociferous complaints from the Women’s Roundtable on the obvious dangers facing Urhobo children in the Diaspora craved the survival of Urhobo culture and indeed our physical space. It is a theme that we cannot ignore. It is a theme that future conferences of Urhobo Historical Society will do well to address directly.

Peter P. Ekeh, Ph.D.
StateUniversity of New York at Buffalo

November 10, 2002