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THIRD ANNUAL CONFERENCE AND MEETING
London, England
November 1-3, 2002



COMMUNIQUE

Urhobo Historical Society held its Third Annual Conference and General Membership Meeting on November 1-3, 2002, at Goldsmiths College of London University, and at Goddis Place, both located in the New Cross area of Southeast London.  As in earlier Annual Conferences and Meetings of the Society, the 2002 Annual Conference and General Meeting, in four plenary sessions, including a keynote address, and a roundtable discussion, addressed issues and problems with which the Urhobo nation must successfully contend, if it is to survive and prosper. 

The Opening Session of the Conference in the evening of Friday, November 1, 2002, was chaired by Olorogun Felix Ibru, first civilian Governor of Delta State. Mr. Daniel Obiomah of Warri served as the Special Guest of Honour of the Conference. Their addresses on the condition of the Urhobo Nation set the tone for the plenary sessions and General Meeting of the Conference over the next two days.

The first plenary session featured a well known American scholar of Urhobo culture, Dr. Perkins Foss, who is also a Guest Curator, Museum for African Art, New York City, USA.  His illustrated lecture titled, Images of Fear, Protection, Beauty: Urhobo Art and Culture, was very well received by the audience, particularly those from the Urhobo Community in London, and others who travelled from Nigeria to attend the conference.  Conference participants expressed enthusiasm and support for the exhibition of Urhobo art currently being planned for 2004-2006 by Dr. Foss and the Museum for African Art.

In the second plenary session, Olorogun Frank Ukoli, the founding Vice Chancellor of Delta State University, a recently retired Professor of Parasitology, University of Ibadan, addressed the dangers that are posed to Urhobo culture and traditions by new trends and patterns of behavior..  In a paper titled Beyond Social and Political Issues in Urhoboland, he called the attention of the audience to the all too often ostentatious display of wealth at social ceremonies such as weddings and funerals -- actions which, he believes, tend to trivialize the cultural essence of these events. Professor Ukoli prayed for a return to the genuine ways of Urhobo culture and traditions as part of a new renaissance.

The third plenary session offered two addresses, one by Dr. Emmanuel Urhobo, a Warri-based lawyer, and the other by Mr. Wilson Ometan of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), London.  In his submission, Title to Land in Warri:  The Itsekiri and Agbassa Claims, Dr. Urhobo contended that Urhobos built Warri and own much of the city.  He urged all Urhobos, therefore, to be vigilant, and watch for attempts by those with fraudulent designs that could ultimately deny indigenous Urhobos of Warri their legal and political rights. 

Dr. Urhobo also called on Urhobo lawyers to play their part, by virtue of their training and profession, in the struggle to vindicate the legitimate rights of the Urhobo people. To this end, he further urged them to make certain, at all times, that they are fully aware and at ease with the relevant legal principles and judicial pronouncements involved with land issues in Warri. In an animated presentation titled Urhobo and Nigerian Politics:  The Travails of Marginalization and Racism, Mr. Ometan also admonished Urhobo people in general, to apply the same traits of tenacity and fortitude, for which Urhobo people are known, in the struggle to ensure that indigenous Urhobo are not denied their ownership of Warri.

A brief intervention led by Dr. Amy Emerhi highlighted possible environmental impacts of dredging the Lower Niger River as planned by the Nigerian Government to satisfy the navigational needs of the oil companies and northern states of Nigeria. Dr. Amy Emerhi, the Director of the Port Harcourt-based International Association for Impact Assessment, outlined the dangers that the plan holds for the people of Urhoboland and the larger Niger Delta. She painfully noted that the plan was about to be executed without the benefit of an environmental impact assessment (EIA) as required by the laws of the country. 

Professors Peter Ekeh and Frank Ukoli also warned of the grave dangers of dredging which will force excess water from the Atlantic Ocean into Urhoboland. The likelihood of uncontrolled flood that could devastate agriculture and fishing in the area beyond repair, they stressed, should be of concern to all communities in the Niger Delta. Dr. Emerhi therefore, urged Urhobos and their neighbors in the larger Niger Delta to take immediate steps to abort the plan until appropriate studies are conducted and all the pertinent questions are answered.

The fourth plenary session was an open forum for discussion led by Professor Peter Ekeh, Chair, Urhobo Historical Society, and Mr. D.A. Obiomah, the Special Guest of Honor. One area of the discussion centered on matters dealing with the ownership of Warri and its lands. The discussions revealed that many Urhobos outside the Agbarha-Warri community do not know enough about the issues, to understand the complexities of the conflicting claims, made by the various ethnic groups in the dispute over Warri lands. Professor Ekeh, himself, expressed his surprise at how little he knew of this matter, before Urhobo Historical Society took up the issue of Warri as one of special concern. 

Mr. Daniel Obiomah urged all Urhobos to regard the issue an important one to all Urhobos, and called for a pan-Urhobo approach that he believes, was more likely to lead to a timely and satisfactory resolution of the matter.  He also thanked Urhobo Historical Society for taking up the matter, and for featuring three Agbarha-Warri sons, Professor Ukoli, Dr. Emmanuel Urhobo and himself, so prominently in the Conference.

Another segment of the discussion was directed to the issue of the relocation of the Delta State Capital for optimum functionality to all communities in the state. Professor Ekeh referred the audience to the publication of an article on the matter by Urhobo Historical Society in the October 28, 2002 issue of Urhobo Voice.  In that article, the Society offered specific recommendations on how to address the issue and to correct a very egregious wrong done to Urhobo and other people of the old Delta Province.

The fifth and final plenary session of the Conference was a roundtable discussion on The Role of Women in Urhobo History and Culture.  The discussants came from many places, including Mrs. L. O. Obiomah of Warri, Nigeria, as Chair; Dr. Helen Ekeh from  Buffalo, New York, USA; and Mrs. Agnes Ukueku, Mrs. G. Emonigho Aghoghovbia, and Mrs. Comfort Ogbomo, all of London, England. They engaged in a spirited debate on the merits of female circumcision, and also deliberated on the importance of teaching Urhobo children and youth in the Diaspora, the traditions and culture of their heritage, including the Urhobo language. The discussants saluted the many contributions of Urhobo women to the progress of the Urhobo nation, and noted with pride the recent achievements of Urhobo women  in the professions.

While the panelists expressed different opinions about the practice of female circumcision, they were unanimous in calling for urgent steps to educate Urhobo children and youth, before they become too detached from their culture and traditions. On this point, Mr. Simpson Obruche called the attention of the audience to the work of the Urhobo Language Vetting Committee chaired by Reverend Joseph Oghenekaro.  The Committee is working to streamline the various Urhobo dialects into a form that will make it easy for the children and youth to learn, speak and write the language.  Mr. Obruche promised to provide more information on the efforts of the Language Committee for publication in the web sites of Urhobo Historical Society.

The Conference Keynote Address, titled The Place of Urhobo College in Urhobo History, was delivered by Dr. David Okpako, Professor of Pharmacology, University of Ibadan. Professor Okpako, an alumnus of Urhobo College, pointed to the uniqueness of the institution as a community school -- one that went beyond the primary mission of educating Urhobo children, and catered also to the educational needs of other Nigerians. Many of the graduates, he observed, include young men of Itsekiri, Benin, Ishan, Igbo, and Yoruba origin, many of whom have since moved on to distinguish themselves in a variety of professional fields across Nigeria, and indeed the world.

Professor Okpako paid tribute to Urhobo Progress Union (UPU), particularly the founding President-General of the Union, Chief Mukoro Mowoe who provided the leadership that conceived, planned, and built Urhobo College.  Dr. Okpako has good things to say about the early teachers and administrators of the College, especially Chief M. G. Ejaife and Mr. E. N. Igho, whose dedication to duty, brought to life the UPU’s vision. 

Professor Okpako however lamented the seeming lack of interest by the current UPU leadership in the affairs of Urhobo College. Yet, he expressed the hope that UPU will once again, when government policies become more favorable, claim its rightful ownership of the school and provide it with the care and sustenance it needs and deserves.

Furthermore, Professor David Okpako urged Urhobo people buoyed with the historic achievements of Urhobo College, to use the school as a model for building an Urhobo university. The institution, which he says should be named Mukoro Mowoe University, should be charged with, among other important roles, the responsibility for the study and development of Urhobo history and culture.

The Annual General Meeting which concluded the 2002 Conference and Meeting of the Urhobo Historical Society, was held against the backdrop of the discussions and presentations of the Conference which preceded it.

COGNIZANT, therefore, of the proceedings in their entirety, the General Meeting of Urhobo Historical Society, in recognition of the need to protect and preserve the place of Urhobos in Nigerian society and to ensure the survival of its environment, culture and tradition, including its art and language, resolved and affirmed the following:

  1. Sustaining Urhobo Culture, Art and Language.

Urhobo Historical Society is deeply concerned about the survival of Urhobo identity  as shown by the prevailing decline in the use of the language and art, and the  lack of interest in observing traditions and culture.  It urges, therefore, that all necessary steps should be taken to ensure that the youth and children of Urhoboland, at home and in Diaspora, are taught those things that define them as Urhobo people.  To this end, the Society calls on all Urhobos to support, in every way possible, the work of the Urhobo Language Vetting Committee. 

  1. Reviving Urhobo College.

Urhobo Historical Society regrets Urhobo Progress Union’s lack of interest in the affairs of Urhobo College in its plans for Urhobo’s future.  The Society believes that the role of the College in contributing to the welfare of all Urhobos is likely to be greater in the future, in view of the continuing and increasing importance of education in all human affairs.  It, therefore, calls on all Urhobos, particularly the leadership of Urhobo Progress Union, to rededicate themselves to the renaissance of Urhobo College as a premier center of learning.

  1. Effect of the Proposed Dredging of the River Niger.

As it stated at the conclusion of its Second Annual Conference and Meeting in November 2001, Urhobo Historical Society is very concerned about the environmental impact of dredging the lower Niger River. Once again, it calls on the Nigerian Government to halt the project until an objective, professional and credible environmental impact study is able to prove that no adverse environmental consequences will result for all the people of the Lower Niger Delta from the dredging of the river.  In the absence of such a study, Urhobos and their neighbours must resist, by every lawful means, efforts by any government to give effect to this plan. 

  1. The Agbarha-Warri Claims to Warri.

Urhobo Historical Society is convinced that the Agbarha-Warri claims of ownership to Warri are historically and legally sound, and that the defence of those claims is the responsibility of each and every Urhobo national. The Society believes that a pan-Urhobo approach, which respects the constitutional rights and the legitimate claims of all groups that had a pre-colonial presence in Warri, offers the promise of a just and relatively speedy resolution of this contentious matter. It therefore urges each and every Urhobo person to join hands with the people of Agbarha-Warri in their legitimate struggle to reclaim their rights as the indigenous owners of their lands in Warri.

  1. Relocating the Delta State Capital.

Urhobo Historical Society views with dismay the cruel imposition of Asaba, through the corrupt machinery of Babangida’s military dictatorship of the 1980s and 1990s, as the capital of Delta State of Nigeria.  It is an invalid choice that must be reconsidered. The Society therefore calls on the Government of Delta State to take, as soon as possible, actions that are consistent with the applicable laws and the provisions of the Constitution, to relocate the state capital and/or some of its operating offices from Asaba to other communities in the Old Delta Province.

DECLARATION

Satisfied, as we are, that the foregoing represent recommendations which, added to those made in our previous conferences and meetings, will, if implemented, serve the greater interest of the Urhobo people, their neighbours, and their compatriots in the larger Nigerian federation, WE, members of Urhobo Historical Society, meeting in London, England, on this third day of November, 2002, hereby resolve to bring these recommendations to the attention of our Urhobo compatriots, the governments of Nigeria -- federal, state and local, and the people, in the hope that working together, we will be able to address the many problems that demand timely and serious solutions.



Signed: 

Members of the Editorial and Management Committee, URHOBO HISTORICAL SOCIETY

 Onoawarie Edevbie, M.A., M.Sc.

 Peter P. Ekeh, Ph.D.

 Edirin Erhiaganoma, MSc.

Joseph E. Inikori, Ph.D.
 

Isaac James Mowoe, P.h.D, J.D.

O. Igho Natufe, Ph. D.

Aruegodore Oyiborhoro, Ed.D.

 Ajovi Scott-Emuakpor, MD., Ph.D.


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