Urhobo Historical Society
URHOBO HISTORICAL SOCIETY

SECOND ANNUAL CONFERENCE AND GENERAL MEETING
November 2 – 4, 2001
ROCKAWAY RIVER COUNTRY CLUB
DENVILLE, NEW JERSEY,  USA

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Urhobo Historical Society held its second Annual Conference and General Meeting on November 2-4, 2001. As in 2000,  the 2001 Annual Conference and general Meeting  highlighted issues and problems confronting the Urhobo nation and its neighbourhood in Nigeria's Niger Delta.

In four plenary sessions, participants at the Annual Conference dealt with some of the issues and problems facing the Urhobo people. The four sessions were as follows: (i)  “The Place of Urhobo in a New Nigeria;”  (ii) “Urhobo and Her Neighbours;”  (iii) “Environment and Sustainable Development in the Niger Delta;” and (iv)  “Continuity and Change in Urhobo Culture and Traditional Leadership.”  The round table discussion on “The Place of Urhobo in a New Nigeria” painted Urhobo as a nation suffering from neglect in the Nigerian polity, despite its huge contributions to the financial incomes and sustenance of the Nigerian federation. The ensuing discussions emphasized that the place of Urhobo and other ethnic nationalities of Nigeria can only be secure and protected in a federal structure in which the federating units are allowed sufficient freedom to manage their own affairs in their own states, including the control of their natural resources for their own benefit, while recognizing the requisite needs of of the larger Nigerian federation.

Discussions on “Urhobo and Her Neighbours” focused on the need to engage our neighbours in conversations and negotiations that will help to restore peace and tranquility to our region. The current wave of unrest and instability has not only robbed us of opportunities to work together for the progress of the Niger Delta region, but have indeed allowed our detractors from outside the region to exploit our common resources and to further victimize our people.

The plenary session on “Environment and Sustainable Development in the Niger Delta” offered a grim picture of the health problems caused by the environmental deterioration and degradation of the Niger Delta region. Participants expressed fears for the catastrophic consequences in the health of the people of the Niger Delta that are liable to result from the cumulative effects of poisoning the environment. Lead poisoning in children and poisoning by other heavy metals -- including mercury and cadmium from hydrocarbons spilled into our environment -- have resulted in widespread incidents of high blood pressure; various neurological abnormalities and psychiatric maladies (such as extreme irritability, severe affective disorders, psychopathic intolerance, etc.); sexual dysfunction; visual abnormalities; the preponderance of end-stage renal diseases; and various other malignancies arising from the toxic effect of a polluted environment. This session examined the fate of our waterways which are drying up and have become polluted and rendered unfit for human use. The session explored the causes of these environmental problems, most of which were traced to bad policies of the Federal Government of Nigeria and the role of multinational oil companies engaged in petroleum oil exploration in the Niger Delta.

Discussions of these issues point to a World Bank Report, Defining an Environmental Development Strategy for the Niger Delta (Volume I and Volume II), which established that the health indicators for Urhoboland and other parts of the Niger Delta are significantly worse off than the averages for southern Nigeria. Water-related diseases, many of which are due to poor sanitation and inadequate water supply, pose serious health problems, and account for over 80 percent of all reported illnesses. Many of the rivers, the main sources of water supply in the area, have been polluted by frequent oil spills and acid rain caused by open and uninterrupted flaring of gas released from oil-producing activities.

 
The plenary session on “Continuity and Change in Urhobo Culture and Traditional Leadership" examined the changes in traditional leadership from what it was in the days of Mukoro Mowoe in the 1930s and 1940s to what it is now. Participants regretted that the usual emphasis on service and sacrifice to Urhobo nation in the age of Mukoro Mowoe has largely been supplanted by the pursuit of self interests and personal aggrandizement in modern times. This session included a lively presentation on the role and leadership of women in Urhobo religions, including their pre-eminent presence in the monotheistic religion called Igbe that was founded by Ubiesha in Uhwokori in the late nineteenth century. The roles of women in peacemaking in traditional Urhobo society were also highlighted.

The various plenary sessions thus provided the forum for those who attended the Conference and General Meeting, to air their views and opinions on the issues that were of economic and political interest to the Urhobo. Conference participants had the opportunity to discuss and offer suggestions on what ought to be done in order to arrest, or at least to minimize, the effects of environmental degradation on our communities and on the lives of our people in Urhoboland and the Niger Delta.

Discussants noted the grave problem of our waterways, which are being reduced to rivulets as a result of drought caused by excessive erosion, flooding and silting. Conference participants were particularly worried about the severe falls in the standards of water supply from what they were in yesteryears when these waterways were navigable and when they fully supported not only a thriving fishing industry but also fostered trade between Urhobo communities and their neighbours in the Niger Delta.

Participants were aggrieved by the determination of President Olusegun Obasanjo's government to forge ahead with the dredging of the River Niger without the benefit of an environmental impact analysis (EIA). The discussions recalled how the impact of Kainji Dams, which were built without an EIA, had cut off water flow to the waterways in Niger Delta. If the River Niger is dredged, there is the possibility that during periods of heavy flooding, the flow of water will not find enough channels, many of which have been blocked by excessive build-up of silt, to dissipate their excess water. The spread of water is likely to result in great destruction to life and property in the area. The excess water could, the discussions stressed, expose low-lying communities in the Niger Delta to the danger of being submerged and wiped out as evidenced by similar cases in other parts of the world, especially in the Indian subcontinent.

Discussions revealed a growing frustration with the problem of leadership in the Niger Delta region. Participants were troubled by the spectre of a leadership that seems to have abandoned the interests of the people for the pursuit of government contracts and other selfish interests for personal wealth at the expense of our common good. For fear of losing contract awards, the discussions noted, many leaders no longer voice any opposition, let alone work against government actions or policies that are harmful to our people. The lack of opposition from the leaders, many argue, seems to have emboldened oil companies in their reckless conduct in Urhoboland. Participants noted with dismay the recent attempt by Shell Oil Company to intimidate the people of Olomoro in Isoko, Urhobo's neighbours,  and in Evwreni in Ughelli North Local Government Area of Urhoboland, with frivolous law suits.

THEREFORE, the  General Meeting of Urhobo Historical Society, in recognition of the difficulties and problems facing the Urhobo and the Niger Delta, as expressed in discussions during the plenary sessions, and in support of the needs and the aspirations of Urhobo people for good governance and a better quality of life, hereby resolves and affirms the following:
 

1. The Effects of Oil Exploration

Urhobo Historical Society deplores the dangerously high level and extent of pollution that is being visited upon Urhoboland and the Niger Delta as a result of activities connected with oil production. The Society therefore urges all oil-producing communities and their neighbours and friends to come together in joint ventures to take appropriate actions, including the filing of law suits in and outside Nigeria, against corporate and governmental bodies that are responsible for the environmental problems of the region. The need for collective action is all the more necessary when one recognizes that all efforts to persuade the oil companies to improve their methods of oil exploration have failed.
 

2. Public Health

Urhobo Historical Society is gravely disturbed by the seeming lack of concern by the various levels of government for issues of public health. We therefore call on the Delta State Government to request from the central government in Abuja enforcement of its own environmental laws. The Federal Government and the Governments of the Niger Delta should act to prevent the oil companies from polluting our environment. The Delta State Government should, on its own, also work to provide safe and potable water supply for the people, and begin the long over-due campaign to educate the people on the merit of good sanitation. The local government councils are also urged to organize clean-up efforts to keep our communities free of debris and other forms of dirt which pose a threat to public health in the new world of oil exploitation.
 

3. Abuse and Neglect of Waterways

Urhobo Historical Society expresses grave concern about the condition of rivers, creeks, and other waterways in Urhoboland and the Niger Delta. Our waterways, which supply water for our domestic and industrial uses, should not be abandoned and allowed to be misused and to wither away. We therefore urge the Delta State Government to set up, as a matter of great urgency, a cabinet-level Department of Environmental Quality to deal with environmental issues including the management and restoration of our dying waterways.
 

4. Effect of the Proposed Dredging of River Niger

Urhobo Historical Society has strong concerns about the dredging the River Niger and calls for a rescheduling of the project to allow time for a proper and credible environmental impact analysis (EIA) of the areas involved. We are particularly worried about the potential for excessive flooding that could wipe out many of our communities in the low-lying areas of Urhoboland and other parts of the Niger Delta. The central government in Abuja is therefore urged to include input from the affected communities during any planned Environmental Impact Assessment to ascertain the need for such a risky project and to determine the wishes of the people whose lives will be affected by the project. Unless this is done, the people should be prepared to resist by every lawful means, this cruel attempt by the Federal Government of Nigeria at Abuja to bargain away their very existence in order to benefit primarily multinational oil companies' needs for navigation through new canals that will bring salt water from the Atlantic Ocean to the environment of the Niger Delta and that will reward corrupt contracting commitments that were made during military dictatorship.
 

5. Rigging of Elections
 

Urhobo Historical Society is deeply concerned about the dangers that a repetition of recent experiences of election rigging in the Niger Delta region, as documented by many accredited election monitors and observers, will pose to the political welfare of Urhoboland and the Niger Delta. We therefore urge the state governments in the Niger Delta and concerned civil society organizations to launch campaigns to educate our people that election rigging is robbery, a heinous crime that takes away the rights of the people to self-determination. Our people should also be advised not to sell their votes but to vote only for parties and candidates who promise to work for resource control, the reduction of environment problems, and other issues that affect their lives.
 

6. Restructuring of the Federal Government

Urhobo Historical Society views with dismay, the current political arrangement that has the effect of marginalizing the Urhobo people as characterized by the prevailing system of unfair and uneven distribution of resources at the centre in Abuja. We are therefore prepared to assist the Union of Niger Delta, Urhobo National Assembly and other similar groups to draft constitutional proposals for a system of government that will guarantee equality and fairness for all our peoples within the Nigerian federation.
 

7. The Role of Leadership

Urhobo Historical Society expresses frustration at the preponderance of political and community leaders who will not, or cannot, put their personal interests aside for the greater good of the people. Because these times are so critical, our people can no longer afford to accept leaders who indulge in pettiness and selfishness in the performance of their duties. Urhobo Historical Society therefore calls on all leaders in the Niger Delta, particularly those from Urhoboland, to emulate the life and works of Mukoro Mowoe whose watch words of service and sacrifice should be the standards that Urhobo people apply in judging the stewardship of our current leaders.
 

DECLARATION

Satisfied as we are that the foregoing represent recommendations which, added to those made in our previous meeting and conference, 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 Denville, New Jersey, the United States of America, on this fourth day of November 2001, hereby resolve to bring these recommendations to the attention of our compatriots, and of governments -- federal, state and local -- and the people of Nigeria, in the hope that working together, we all may well be able to successfully address the manifold problems with which they must deal if the Nigerian Federation is to be saved.
 
 

Signed:
 

Members of the Editorial and Management Committee of URHOBO HISTORICAL SOCIETY:
 

Onoawarie Edevbie, M.A., M.Sc.

Peter P. Ekeh, Ph.D

Edirin Erhiaganoma, MSc.

Joseph Inikori, Ph.D

Isaac James Mowoe, Ph.D, J.D.

Igho Natufe, Ph.D.

Ukonurhoro Diesode Omenih

Grace Ophori, M.A.

Aruegodore Oyiborhoro, Ed.D

Ajovi Scott-Emuakpor, MD., Ph.D

 

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