gives me great pleasure to be invited to address the opening ceremony
Fourth Conference and Meeting of the Urhobo Historical Society holding
historic city of
conference is historic in several respects. Like previous ones, the
is taking place in the week of the anniversary of the founding of the
Progress Union (U.P.U.) 71 years ago. The inaugural meeting that gave
the association started on October 31 and the formal launch of what
U.P.U. was on
theme for this conference is also apt and pertinent. The subject of
and the Future of the Urhobo” will enable participants to reflect on
challenges that face the Urhobo in their contemporary endeavours to
their position in the context of the evolving political reality in
conference is historic in another sense. It offers us an opportunity to
tribute to the Urhobo Historical Society for the titanic task it has
itself since the founding in 1999. True to its name, the Society has
the unconquerable power of the intellect to bring the affairs of the
Delta to global attention. Through diligent research and scientific
Society has been able to unravel volumes of material and testimonies
buried in colonial archives. With an erudite style characteristic of
Urhobo, the Society has deployed its very busy URHOBO WAADO WEBSITE
enlighten the world about issues strategic to the survival of the
other oppressed people of the Niger Delta. The scholarly rigour and eloquence of materials published in the
Nigerian press have earned your Society the status of one of the most
intellectual institutions in
work of the Historical Society is a continuation of the great tradition
Urhobo Diaspora over the ages. For over 100 years, Urhobo migrants to
and trading communities in other regions of
THE LEGACY OF POLITICAL LEADERSHIP
always provided selfless and courageous leadership for the people of
western Niger Delta. This proud heritage dates back to the era of
colonial rule. The Urhobo were so intransigent in their opposition to
rule that the British found them almost impossible to manipulate and
For example, the Urhobo leadership of the anti-colonial resistance in
The quality of Urhobo leadership was made manifest in the 1940s when national political parties were being formed. Given their democratic and liberal temper, the Urhobo allied with the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC). The U.P.U. was already firmly established at the time. It offered a viable platform for the late Chief Mukoro Mowoe and his associates to advocate for freedom and development for the masses of the people. Chief Mowoe was the Warri Province Representative in the Western House of Assembly from 1946 to 1948. Although he died at 58, Mowoe set high standards in how to give selfless service to all who lived in the province.
This example of selfless devotion was followed by the generation of Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, Chief Jereton Samuel Mariere, P.K. Tabiowo, Chief Oweh, Chief Yamu Numa, Chief J. A. Obahor and Chief T. E.A. Salubi. Although the politics of the independence years gave room for ethnic bitterness, the Urhobo always supported democratic and federal principles. This patriotic outlook was evident in the political career of most of the Urhobo leaders who have been active at the local and national levels, even during military rule.
The legacy set by past Urhobo political leaders has continued to serve as a benchmark for new generation. Those of us now holding political office are constantly reminded of the debt we owe our predecessors. On each day, we strive to measure up to the ideals set that motivated them. It is a difficult task but we are determined not to slide behind.
THE PERILS OF LEADERSHIP
Whilst we celebrate the accomplishments of Urhobo people in politics in the past 100 years, it is pertinent to remind ourselves of some of the basic shortcomings we have to overcome in order to consolidate our gains and steady ourselves for the titanic struggles ahead. One of the areas of difficulty concerns the lack of unity and solidarity. Although, the advantage of demography has put the Urhobo in a pivotal political leverage, the failure to always act with a single resolve tends to undermine our efforts.
At critical moments when we are expected to show solidarity, we dissipate energy in selfish and opportunistic pursuits. In this way, our ranks get depleted and we are exposed to assault from rivals and adversaries. One concomitant of this is the tendency to display treachery and sabotage. Even those who have no chance of making it in a political contest thrust themselves forward in the hope to obtain rewards from forces inimical to Urhobo interest.
that this weakness has been with Urhobo for a considerable period. In
address to the U.P.U. Conference of 1963, Salubi chastised those he
mortgaging Urhobo national interest for temporary material gains.
the Urhobo at the time to show that they have “the moral fabric to
endure, to fight back and to conquer.” He harped on the issue of honour
integrity when he said:<>
I commend Chief Salubi’s counsel to all Urhobo politicians.
In whatever political platforms they find themselves, the Urhobo will be looked upon to be exemplary in dedication, honesty and transparency. No Urhobo political leader will be forgiven for being a bad example because such an image will be applied to assess the entire group.
population and good leadership have combined to give the Urhobo a
position in the politics of
restoration of democracy, there is even a more urgent need to
alliance with progressive sections of the country in order to defend
the democratic opportunities now available. Let me remind you of some
major democratic battles that lie ahead. One concerns the unfinished
of creating a fair and just federal system in the country. The Urhobo
comprising 22 autonomous units epitomizes the ideal federal arrangement
we aspire to have in the country. Urhobo nationalists contributed to
of the federal system that was evolved in
search for a
genuine federal system is tied to that for resource ownership and
Mass poverty, youth unemployment and violent crimes and conflicts are other disasters that plague Urhoboland which ought to be an earthly paradise by virtue of its abundant natural endowments. A new Urhobo leadership is needed to inspire the people to employ democratic channels to free the area from oil-induced tragedies.
A GLIMPSE OF THE FUTURE
I should not conclude this address without drawing attention to the grave social perils which now face the future of the Urhobo nation. As we recall with nostalgia the golden age of Urhobo nationalism, we should not forget that the circumstances in which our leaders operated have changed over the past half a century. There is no doubt that the integrity and charisma of those leaders contributed to their achievements. But the cultural and economic environment also helped. The hold of tradition on individuals was stronger. There was greater respect for law and order. The traditional institutions of social control were effective. Deviant bahaviour was checked by invoking a common moral ethos and the use of public shaming through songs of abuse. In that era, a resolution by a body like the U.P.U. or even a community association carried the weight of sanction.
Now, all that has changed. The negative forces of modernization appear to have overwhelmed our land. The inordinate quest for material wealth drives people to extremes. The oil economy does not only divert resources from our area; it has also sharpened the divide between the rich and the poor. Urbanisation and modern communication have alienated people from their traditional roots. Most of the urban-based Urhobo do not even understand Urhobo language through which the ethical values of the culture are to be transmitted.
As the Urhobo say, a troubled childhood endangers a future adult life. Owing to prolonged military rule and the ravages of the economy, most children and youth are now out of control. Community governance at all levels seems to have been seized by youthful zealots who have no respect for order and tradition. In all the urban and semi-urban areas of Urhobo, it is now nearly impossible to undertake any physical development without facing the terror of youth brigands. The Government of Delta State is determined to deal with this form of destructive youth restiveness. Government effort will yield little result without the involvement of all stakeholders.
In order to stabilize Urhoboland for development and peace, we have to embark on a programme of moral reformation of the society. To secure the future for ourselves and our children, we must restore law and order. I call on the Urhobo Diaspora to come forward with proposals on how our common heritage can be safeguarded from the destructive forces that now threaten the land.
this respect, I
would like to acknowledge the initiative taken by the conference of the
The Government will resolutely prosecute the peace project for Warri and other conflict areas. Since my address to the State House of Assembly on August 28, considerable progress has been achieved. Fruitful consultation with stakeholders is going on at all levels. The matter is complicated by long delay and neglect by past administrations. But we are determined to make the breakthrough. Let me assure you that the conflict will be resolved in a manner that will enthrone justice, fairness and harmony for all parties.
The twin cities of Warri and Effurun and their environs constitute the heartbeat of commercial and social life in the State. Yet they are the most wretched oil cities in the world. The restoration of enduring peace there will revitalize the economy of the State and send auspicious signals to local and international investors. With peace secured, it will be possible to embark on a programme of reconstruction and renewal of the decayed landscape. There is so much to be gained that we cannot afford to fail.
urgent tasks to accomplish to fortify Urhobo for the future. Education
being the domain in which Urhobo have excelled. In just 50 years, the
overlook other areas of
The intervention of the Urhobo Diaspora is also called for in the fields of agriculture, manufacture, housing and tourism. These are the economic ventures that need to be expanded in order to create employment for millions of youths and adults who are being destroyed by poverty and frustration. The Diaspora should seize the initiative by reinventing the frontier spirit that made many Urhobo people to sojourn abroad to earn income to drive development at home. The Government has designed policies, which will make such investments safe and lucrative.
Urhobo is bright. The future of
million people, the Urhobo nation is more populous than 60 members
the United Nations. Our arts, music, fashions and genial spirit are
most exquisite in the world. Our potentials for building a great
are enormous. To attain the goals that
Let me conclude with Chief Salubi’s clarion call addressed to Urhobo patriots about 60 years ago:
With these inspiring words from one of our culture heroes, we can rise and sing the Urhobo anthem:
Ko ko ko ọ
Urhobo e, orere ivie esan…