Urhobo Historical Society

Culled from:
December 7, 2009

Urhobos Reward Heroes, Abhor Criminality

By Igho Otomewo

The Urhobos gathered in Effurun, Delta State last week to honour some of their leaders, reward hard work and patriotism and at the same time, chart a path for the youths away from criminal tendencies.

WHENEVER the Urhobos gather at any grand event, the splendour is effectual. They come decked in expensive wrappers - George, Hollandis, lace material and, in ancient times, damask. The tying of the male wrappers is a wonder in dexterity, only equaled by the symmetry and aesthetics that go into the Urhobo females' tying of their own wrappers.

The men and women wear coral beads to match their exotic clothing. Sometimes, it is difficult to distinguish a monarch from his chiefs and other Urhobo aristocrats. The male dressing is not complete without a beautiful cap, a walking stick and foot wears to match. It is culture at its zenith.

All these were on display last week when the Urhobo Historical Society (UHS) called out the young and aged, the monarchs and the aristocrats, the academia and the politicians, the professionals and the fine minds of the Urhobos in Diaspora and on the native soil in Delta State to reward hard work, patriotism and encourage the youths to aspire to noble deeds only. The back slapping, camaraderie, the banter were interwoven with serious business of the three-day event that kicked off at the grounds of the Petroleum Training Institute (PTI), Effurun, and ended at Ovu in Ethiope Local Council, all in Delta State.

The UHS initiative of eradicating poverty and curbing violence within Urhobo communities through expository lectures and roundtable interactions could not have come at a better time. The increasing level of armed robbery, kidnapping and other related crimes perpetrated by young people within the Niger Delta communities and its environs, gives course for great concern and if not properly checked, may lead to a state of anarchy.

This underscores the fact that there is the need for the Federal Government, besides aiming to bring an end to militancy and its related vices in the Niger Delta region through amnesty grants, dialogue and well-planned programmes aimed at rehabilitating militants, is also to empower local communities to carry the fight against crime to the grassroots. There is also the need for members of these local communities to be enlightened on ways of improving their lives by putting endowments into good use. This indeed was the course the UHS sought to achieve within the Urhobo land space.

The society, which came into existence in August 1999 and has Prof. Peter Ekeh as its chairman, was set up as a collaborative arm of the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) and saddled with the onus of making research into, documenting and publishing works in Urhobo history and culture. In addition, its website, www.wadoo.org serves as a voice for the Niger Delta people on issues of oil pollution and environmental degradation.

UHS also propagates its mission of preserving the Urhobo historical and cultural heritage through its yearly conferences. The eighth edition of the Conference tagged: "Peace and personal security in Urhoboland" took place between November 27 and 29. The conference kicked off with lectures on sundry issues ranging from personal security, violence, farming, to job creation and climaxed with a thanksgiving service, book launch and award ceremony at the Ovu Grammar School.

The main idea behind the theme of this year's conference, "Peace and personal security in Urhoboland" was an attempt to engage the seasoned erudite sons of Urhobo towards proffering lasting solutions to the high rate of unemployment which has given vent to the increasing rate of violence and criminality among idle youths in the Niger Delta.

One of such lectures delivered at the conference was by Prof. Peter Eruotor of the Delta State University (DELSU), Abraka on the topic: "Challenges of cassava farming in Urhoboland: Problem and prospects".

The don underscored cassava farming as an income-generating venture which has the potential of creating jobs for a large number of people while highlighting on the uses of cassava and cassava products, constraints of cassava farming and strategies for overcoming such constraints.

He urged "government fiscal programmes should address the condition of the poor by making budgetary provision to cater for their peculiar needs. Urhobo people in this millennium should be able to exploit their natural and human resources to increase stock of wealth and ensure equity in its distribution. Since cassava farming will continue to be the main engine of growth of our economy, attention should be focused on it in an integrative way such that a smooth and orderly development will generate broad and backward linkages thereby propelling activity in all other sectors of the economy, especially in the manufacturing and service sectors. Indeed cassava is the crop that can fight poverty in Urhoboland".

The enormity of violent crimes perpetrated by unscrupulous youths within the Urhobo communities as well as how it effects the peace, social and economic security of members of those entities were fully captured during two separate plenary sessions held on November 28, inside the PTI Conference Hall.

The first was on "Peace and personal security in Urhoboland", anchored by UPU's first Deputy President, Chief (Gen.) Patrick Aziza, while the second was on the "Current methods for combating violence in Urhoboland". The President General of Agbon Kingdom, Dr. Peter Obakponovwe led the deliberations.

During the plenary sessions, speakers highlighted the many instances of armed robbery and crimes, which have prompted many to flee some localities in their droves, while in some instances, indigenes abandoned pet projects that would have brought economic gains to their hometowns, due to harassment from youths. They blamed the prolonged stay of criminal elements in some communities on the inefficiency and corruption among men of the Police Force and other government security outfits.

According to Obakponovwe, while suggesting best methods for combating crimes in Urhobo communities, the only tested and trusted tool for fighting crimes within local communities was the use of vigilante outfits. According to him, membership of these outfits should comprise of only identifiable members of the community who must possess a track record of efficiency and courage, and most importantly, they must maintain a clean slate in the question of integrity.

He said: "The vigilante group is a community-based organisation. Since members of this group are indigenes of the community, they are well informed about the goings on there and can easily identify criminals living within their neighbourhoods. This has helped them in no small measure to carry out their duties with a high level of efficiency, which has in turn endeared them to the hearts of people living within those communities.

"Now, rather than go to the Police to report crime, people prefer going to the vigilante because they feel they can contribute to the safety of lives and property in their surrounding without fear of being betrayed".

Other intellectuals who delivered papers at the event are the Assistant Director, Water and Fisheries Research, NIFFER, New Bussa, Prof. Solomon Ovie. He spoke on "Fish and fisheries of Urhoboland: An investment option". This was followed by Professor of Agronomy, University of Ibadan (IU), Malachy Akoroda who spoke on: "Root and tuber economy under a weakening ecology and culture". All the lectures were apt, stimulating and practicable.

As a way of encouraging laudable virtues among the youths and in commemoration of its 10th Anniversary celebration, UHS deemed it fit to hounor the commitment, loyalty and selfless services of three past founding fathers of the UPU and some notable personalities. The awards went to three UPU former presidents and 15 others for their contributions to the Urhobo nationality.

Those honoured by way of naming awards after were former UPU presidents - Omorohwovo Okoro, Chief Mukoro Mowoe and Adogbeji Salubi. The awards include the Omorohwovo Okoro Co-Leadership Service Award, Chief Mukoro Mowoe Service Award and the Adogbeji Salubi Urhobo History Service Award.

Receiving the Omorohwovo Okoro Co-Leadership Award are

Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark for a lifetime of steadfast commitment to Urhobo welfare and for encouraging the virtues of courage, selflessness and good governance in Urhobo leadership; while for his extraordinary patronage of UHS and for uncommon dedication to the Society's ideals, Olorogun Moses Taiga emerged one of the recipients.

Chief Mukoro Mowoe Service Award went to Chief Johnson Ukueku for a lifetime of selfless leadership, using his own talents and resources for peerless leadership in the affairs of Urhobo subculture of Agbon and his native Eku.

While the Adogbeji Salubi Urhobo History Service Award was won by Prof. Onigu Otite. He was picked for his pioneering works and major achievements in the historiography and anthropology of Urhobo and its subcultures and for a path-setting ethnography of the Okpe Kingdom of Urhoboland.

Also awarded in the same category was Prof. Revd. Samuel Erivwo who pioneered intellectual exposition and analysis of Christian missionary activities in Urhoboland, as well as carrying out a study of Urhobo traditional religion and writing the biography of Bishop Agori Iwe.

Other award recipients at the event include UPU President-General, Olorogun Felix Ibru, Olorogun Oskar Ibru, Dr. Helen E. Ekeh, Chief L. U. Ighomrore, Chief Simpson S. Obruche, Chief Gordon Mukoro, Victoria Oti Akpobome, Clementina Bakpa, Chief Johnson Barovbe, Victoria Obruche, Margaret Barovbe and O. Oyiborhoro.

While Rev. Canon Joseph A. Oghenekaro was awarded the Ighrakpata Urhobo Language Award for the advancement of Urhobo language and for a leading role in the development of Urhobo orthography by Urhobo Language Committee.

The presence of the cr¸me de la cr¸me in Urhoboland at the occasion marked it as one of the biggest and most memorable gathering of Urhobo people. Other dignitaries present include His Royal Majesty, Orhue I, Orodje of Okpe Kingdom; His Royal Majesty, Okpara I, Ovie r'Agbon; His Royal Majesty, Ogoni-Oghoro I, Owhorode r'Olomu; His Royal Majesty Abe I, Ovie r'Uvwe, amongst others.

According to Ekeh, this year's event was unique because it marked precedence in the history of the society, saying that for the first time, the virtue of past UPU founding fathers was being extolled.