London, England
October 31 - November 2, 2003




By Emmanuel Urhobo, Ph.D.

Agbarha-Ame, Warri,  Nigeria


Chairman, distinguished guests, participants, ladies and gentlemen: 

Once again I have the privilege to attend this annual conference.  The theme of this years Conference, is most appropriate.  We need to make a critical evaluation of the causes of Urhobo disunity and lack of good leadership as a people and a nation, if we are to build a viable future for the Urhobo nation.  I will attempt here only a modest contribution from my knowledge information, and experience in the last 26 years of my permanent residence in Warri while interacting with Urhobo people inside and outside the 8 Urhobo Local Government Council areas and beyond them.



In my view, the Urhobo people have not created a particularly good image of themselves despite their numbers, their relationships with other ethnic groups and the important position they occupy in Delta State.  With the exception of the short period of time when they were under the leadership of late Chief Mukoro Mowoe, until he died in 1948, the Urhobo people have historically never had or pursued openly any political goals of their own.  In fact, the leadership of Urhobo people seems to have been notorious in the past for its reluctance to be associated with or take a lead in party politics or contest or control any government although they are about the 5th largest national group in Nigeria.



The Urhobo Nation is a disaggregated body of twenty-two sub-national groups independently established and motivated.  Leadership was extremely conservative, privately arranged, and tied to the past.  A leader retained his position until death whatever his level of competence, state of his health or age.



The Urhobo people founded the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) early, in about 1925, in the last century. That was earlier than the advent of the Ibos’ late Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe’s into Nigerian affairs from USA and Ghana in 1937 and the subsequent formation of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons which had its first national outings in 1946.



In the post-Mukoro era, with few exceptions, the leadership of the Urhobo nation under the UPU hardly ever called an annual conference, although its constitution provides for it.  The UPU takes its decisions secretly and any one who has any contrary view is met with a declaration of “Urhobo tanure” [meaning: Urhobo has spoken] and he is thereafter cajoled into silence or subjected to blackmail by the leadership.  Its leadership never exposed themselves to re-election, hence in recent years there was an attempt to appoint in succession three leaders (Chief Edewor, General Ejoor and  finally Chief Benjamin Okumagba) as Presidents while the incumbent Dr. Esiri, who is now over 90 years of age, is still very much alive and has neither  resigned nor had been removed constitutionally.


The UPU under the leadership of Late Chief Mukoro Mowoe (a self educated person and an influential businessman) was effective in uniting the Urhobo Nation and representing the people successfully during the colonial period.  After his death in 1948, the Urhobo people and the UPU seems to have waned in influence due to the absence of effective leadership.  I submit therefore that the UPU is not the modern medium through which either unity or leadership can be achieved.  It should be left to die a natural death.


Although the UPU claims to be apolitical, in recent times it always mobilizes its support for any favoured Urhobo leader seeking political office at the last minute.  That was how the Urhobo support for Chief James Onanefe Ibori, was advertised in the National Papers, two days before the general election of April, 2003.


On the other hand, the Urhobo people revel in the proliferation of social clubs inside and outside the area inhabited by them.  They are in all parts of Nigeria, Europe and the Americas.  They are organized deliberately for social purposes exclusively.  The reasons for these exclusively social and non-political associations are also not clear to me even now and should be a major concern of this conference.


A particularly puzzling characteristic of the Urhobo people is that they seem to lack courage and boldness in matters of wider dimensions and are relatively indifferent to the selection or appointment of their leaders.  Leadership outside the UPU had been left to anyone who aspired to it with his wealth.  The reasons for this behaviour also have to be identified in the course of uniting the Urhobo Nation and selecting its leadership.  For instance, in the Shagari-era (1979 – 1983), there were 13 Urhobo members in the Bendel State House of Assembly out of a total of 60 members. Because Urhobos were in the Opposition, they had little impact. The only member from Warri had a first hand experience of the attitude of the Urhobo legislators who were too eager not to offend the government of the day, or cause any waves in the Assembly and were preoccupied with receiving gifts from the UPN Governor rather than standing firm for the NPN and Urhobo cause.


In my view, the Urhobo people always seem to act as pacifists even when their rights are being eroded away and they are being subjected to open insults and campaigns of calumny against them in documents, and speeches circulated inside and outside Nigeria, particularly by their main antagonists, the Itsekiri Leadership.  They would not counter them openly.  It is always left to individuals, (on behalf of their group) who have close encounters with the Itsekiri Leadership like late Chief Daniel Okumagba and Chief Daniel Obiomah to take on the Itsekiri Leader’s vile propaganda against the Urhobo people generally.


In President Obasanjo’s Governments 1999 – 2003 and now 2003 – 2007 no Urhobo man or woman was appointed a Federal Minister while some nationalities had up to three or more in the Federal Cabinet.  The Urhobo Nation did not benefit from the “Federal  Character” principle in Federal patronage.  Why Urhobo is not influential in the Obasanjo’s Government of the PDP in spite of having an Urhobo controlled government and Governor in Delta Sate?  This is a question to which we need some answers.


Only in 1999 with the emergence of Chief Onanefe Ibori has the Urhobo Nation controlled any government since 1960 where Urhobo interests have been represented, though not fully.  But for the personal influence and wealth of Chief Onanefe Ibori, the Urhobo Nation would have been in a very sorry state today.  Unfortunately also today, the Urhobo Nation is caught in the same self-destructive policy of its past narrow-minded leadership which nearly lost Chief Onanefe Ibori his re-election for the 2nd term.  It is the Urhobo people acting as principals or agents who are leading the campaign that Chief Ibori is not Urhobo but Itsekiri.  This brings back to memory Chief Okotie-Eboh who was rejected by the Urhobo leadership even though he was in the same party NCNC with them.   He had to join forces with the Itsekiris against the Urhobos with very grave consequences to the Urhobo national interest.  In a country that is so strikingly corrupt, the Urhobo people must come together to protect their interest irrespective of who is in power now, and improve its system from within as it goes along.


The Urhobo people are today divided about whether Warri belongs to the Urhobo Nation or to the Itsekiris, in spite of the fact that history shows that it is the Urhobos who founded and built Warri before the Itsekiris came anywhere near Warri.  No other ethnic group could have been so indifferent about the ownership of Warri, if they had even one-tenth of the Urhobo claims to Warri.  We need to know why there is no aggressive Urhobo leadership willing to claim and defend its heritage, even when the UPU leadership is based in Warri.  Warri is an integrated part of the Urhobo Nation and economy.  For the Urhobo Nation to move forward it has to claim its rights and be proud of its heritage.


To understand why the Urhobo as a people and a nation behaves so independently without a common leadership and purpose, one has to go back to the origin and composition of the twenty-two sub-nationalities which are linked ethically to the Edo speaking peoples (including Ishans), Ibos, and Ijaws and lately to the Itsekiris and the colonial experience of the Urhobo people and the UPU.


The Urhobo link with the Itsekiri is entirely destructive of Urhobo personality and interests.  Itsekiri middle-men traders along the Urhobo riverine hinterland established trading posts along the rivers and creeks and married out of necessity and condescension Urhobo women because they were loyal, hardworking and less promiscuous than Itsekiri women.  The Itsekiris used these relationships as middle men traders and Urhobos in-law to their maximum benefit and treacherously undermined Urhobo national interests by maligning and black-mailing the Urhobos, and obtaining special favours from the colonial authorities and successive Nigerian governments up till date.  There are no rational explanations for this timidity or reluctance on the part of the Urhobo people to engage in an exercise to clear their name and assert their authority.


But for the advent of the Urhobo Historical Society, Urhobo defence and the correct picture of the Urhobo Nation as a peaceful and legitimate dominant group in Delta State, would have been obliterated by the well financed superior propaganda of the Itsekiri leadership which is  beamed continuously all over the world to heads of governments and political organisation, falsely depicting the Urhobo  people as villains bent on exterminating the Itsekiri people.


I have deliberately devoted the major part of this paper to highlighting what I perceive as Urhobo weaknesses and the reasons for its disunity and lack of leadership so that experts would have the benefit of as full information as possible in tackling the problems, resolving the issues and making recommendations that will unite Urhobo nation and produce good leadership.


What then Are the Solutions to the Lack of Urhobo Unity and Leadership?

It would be an oversimplification to attempt in a few pages here to offer solutions to these age-old problems.  A good deal of work has to be undertaken by a few volunteer  dedicated Urhobo professionals and specialists in various fields of studies, together with other eminent Urhobo personalities who, working together, should carefully analyse the past, understand and assess the present  and make practical recommendations on how the Urhobo Nation can be efficiently organised to unite the  people together, produce a leadership and a National leader with his executives, who  would run the Urhobo Nation’s machinery of government, to project its image and implement its programmes for its survival as an independent unit  within the Nigerian Federation.


The task, in my view, is for this group of people to identify, and focus their attention on, three major areas and make recommendations on how to implement them and achieve the desired objectives of unity and leadership and a secure future for the Urhobo people.


1.         A Political Adminsitration for the Urhobo Nation:



It is imperative that an administration of the 22 Urhobo clans and its traditional institutions be established, without which, it would be impossible to unite the Urhobo people into one effective indivisible nation.  The Urhobo people have the advantage of being ethnically linked with nearly every other sub-national group in Delta State but it had no leadership with the vision and capacity to take advantage of this strength.  The Warri problem and the Itsekiri problem are too critical parts of an Urhobo policy and strategy to be addressed quickly in order to move forward.



2.         Political, Economic and Social Planning:



My understanding of world political and socio-economic order, particularly in the developing world and especially Africa and Nigeria, convinces me that the Urhobo nation and the other minority groups in the Niger Delta area are being threatened with marginalisation and total extinction by the other larger ethnic-nationalities, the Yorubas, Hausa/Fulani and the Ibos.  This marginalisation is deliberate.    More than 50% of Nigeria’s mono-economic wealth and taxes come form Delta State where the Urhobo people are by far in the majority, constituting about 40 per cent of the State’s population.  Calculated from the 1970 Census at over 208,000 inside Urhobo land alone, the Urhobo people are today about 400,000 out of an estimated 1 million population of Delta State today.  They are marginalized economically while their resources are being exploited away from the area legally and illegally.  The environment -- land, water and air -- is polluted by oil exploration which is seriously affecting the health and productivity of the people.  Health services are minimal or absent in many areas.  Infrastructures, water, road, electricity other wealth inducing institutions are non-existent while, unemployment and underemployment run as high as 80% with youth restiveness on the increase.


It is a matter of survival therefore for the Urhobo nation to embark now on its own political and economic, programmes and projects, if it ever hopes to survive in this inequitable system called Nigeria.  The Urhobo national system must have its own built-in security system, if it is to succeed.  It means that the Urhobo Nation must galvanize and concentrate its resources inside and outside Nigeria to implement its policies, programmes and projects and then, it can work assiduously to raise further capital and expert personnel, locally and internationally, to achieve its goals, as early, as possible.


The objective of the Urhobo Nation must be   political/economic self-determination, and self-sufficiency. Its programs must include educational institutions including universities, technical/management and financial institutions, economic projects like agro-industries, petrochemical industries to capture the Nigerian market and particularly exports.  A major aspect of its objectives must be to coordinate technical assistance for infrastructure and health and other service projects from internal and external sources, making use of all available, public, private financial assistance including NGO’S.



3.         Political Leadership and a Leader



Political leadership would emerge from the above two exercises if the Urhobo Nation can establish one administration for the Urhobo Nation’s twenty-two sub-national groups and its traditional institutions and can establish a political and  economic organization with clearly defined and operational objectives.  A leadership will then emerge from which a national leader would be selected by the Urhobo Nation to work with its executives down the line to the local community and family units.  It should be a deliberate policy of leadership by selection, over a definite period of time.


The selection of the leaders and a National leader and his cabinet should be based on very strict principles which must include a thorough investigation into:

(1)        A candidate’s paternal and material origin.

(2)        The environment of his upbringing.

(3)        His educational and academic qualifications.

(4)        His work experience.

(5)        His relationship with various groups and associations.

(6)        His past involvements, contributions and expressed views on Urhobo


(7)        His stature an exposure in life.

(8)        An assessment of the degree of his boldness and courage in the face of difficulties.

(9)        His commitment to Urhobo National causes and above all else.

(10)      His vision of the Urhobo as a nation.

(11)      Wealth should not be a criterion for selection but a candidate must be a person of substance i.e. (modest means) as a professional, a top civil servant or any person who had excelled himself in nay reputable and gainful employment over a period of at least 20 years.


The selection of Urhobo leaders in the past had not been based on any of these criteria but has been an imposition on the people by a few.


It is imperative that a bold step should be taken by the Urhobo nation now to initiate a political and social revolution in Nigeria which will stimulate smaller nationalities to action and reverse the present Nigerian Equation of the three largest groups dominating the minority nationalities, which (majority form the real majority), and the monopolising of political and economic power in the Nigerian Federation leading it into Bankruptcy.


The Urhobo Nation has only one year to work and two years to implement its decisions.  After that, is the year of uncertainty for NIGERIA, the year 2007?  What is the Urhobo future and destiny comes 2007?  I urge you to deliberate seriously on these issues and make urgent and far-reaching proposals to save the Urhobo Nation, Delta State and the Niger Delta from extinction and lead the way for all the various smaller nationalities in Nigeria to rescue themselves from the death pangs of the so called Nigerian Federation in the firm grips of a Tri-headed Monster.


I honestly believe the search for Urhobo unity and leadership must take the form of some urgent, bold and decisive steps such as the ones I have proposed here, otherwise we will end up only brainstorming, write a report, hold further conferences and get no where while the time is running out.