A Report from:                                                                   
The Urhobo Voice

A Newspaper Covering Events in Urhoboland and Offering Diverse Perspectives on Urhobo History and Culture


February 20, 2006

Remembering Chief Thomas Erukeme: Unsung Urhobo Patriot and Philanthropist

Chief Thomas Erukeme, First Secretary of Urhobo Progress Union
Chief Thomas Erukeme

By Dafe Omoko


Monday, February 13, 2006, will mark the 33rd death anniversary of an illustrious Urhobo son who contributed immensely to the unity of the great Urhobo nation.


No doubt, reading the above preamble, one would easily think that the person referred to is Mukoro Mowoe, the great; but no! This is another great Urhobo patriot, Chief Thomas Erukeme (of blessed memory), who hailed from Okpara Inland in Agbon axis, Ethiope East local government area, Delta State.


Unlike the late Mukoro Mowoe, the Agbon high chief died unsung. He was a quintessence of Chief Mukoro Mowoe. He, along with Mukoro Mowoe and others made Urhobo nation what it is today.  He was indeed a key figure in the Urhobo struggle. This is a fact which late Chief Mowoe himself would have attested to.


Before the coming of the white man, Urhobo nation, according to history, was in such disarray which made Urhobo to suffer humiliation accessioned by economic and political maginalisation in the hands of minority (neighbouring) ethnic groups. But the late Chief Thomas Erukeme was among those who said no! Urhobo must be free. And in achieving this, there was only one way out — unity.


This was why, he, long with one Mr. Omorohwovo Okoro, an Ovu trader, came up with the idea of Urhobo Brotherly Society (UBS) which later metamorphosed into Urhobo Progress Union (UPU).


Perhaps an extract from the book, “The life and times of Chief Mukoro Mowoe of Warri,”  written by Obaro Ikime (page 86), will explain the point better. According to late Chief J.S. Mariere, the first exploratory meeting which was to lead to the formal inauguration of what grew into UPU was held on October 30,1931, at the residence of Chief Mukoro Mowoe. The formal inauguration took place on November 3,1931 and the name adopted was Urhobo Brotherly Society (UBS).


The moving spirits were the said to be Mr. Okoro and Mr. Erukeme, a clerk in the colonial civil service. These two who were duly elected president and secretary respectively.


Obaro Ikime further quoted late Mukoro Mowoe town’s man and first civilian governor of the defunct Mid-Western State on (page 87) of the same book as saying, “the period preceding the birth of the union was one in which the disunity among the Urhobo people came to an unbearable point. It was a period of every man for himself and God for us all. This was probably so because of the clannish leanings of the Urhobo people in their different home steads.”


The above quotation shows the extent of contribution the unsung Urhobo patriot, Chief Erukeme made to the growth and unity of the Urhobo nation.


The Okpara born Agbon chief was somebody who believed in ‘charity begins at home’ as he was known for his honest opinion on any matter that was brought before him. Those who knew him in Agbon Clan and indeed Okpara would attest to this fact.


Again, Chief Erukeme’s philanthropic nature is also being remembered today in his home town of Okpara, where he touched the lives of many less privileged people who are today well-heeled. He did not confine his philanthropic gesture to his relations alone; he was said to have also assisted non-relations and friends with his wealth.


Erukeme’s peerless qualities could be likened to a red attractive flower called Ododo in Urhobo language. His rare qualities attracted him to all that came across him in the course of his life. That is why he was popularly known and called Ododo in his days.


Ododo’s passion for education was something incredible. He ensured that his siblings, alongside others attained a remarkable standard in education by being a milk of human kindness to them. Today, his investment in this regard is paying off as most of his children and those who benefited from his gesture are doing well in their various fields of endeavour.


After his retirement from the colonial civil service, he went into trading and due to his hard work and honesty, he became successful to the extent of empowering others who are today successful.


Chief (Pa) Erukeme in his days, contributed immensely to the Baptist movement in Urhoboland, particularly in Agbon, as he was said to be one of the funding members of First Baptist Church, Okpara Waterside, where he left a legacy worthy of emulation.


The contemporary of late Mukoro Mowoe could also be remembered as a neat and good dresser. This was one factor, according to sources, that made him popular in his days.


Further, Pa Erukeme’s flair for writing, particularly in the area of keeping records, was unimaginable. This also endeared him to his peers. No wonder he was elected the pioneer secretary of UBS (now UPU).


Besides, papa was said to be somebody who believed so much in justice and equity. He hated oppression, hence, he was one of those who fought for the unity of the Urhobo people.  The purpose, according to one of his children, was to fight against injustice that was being meted out on the Urhobo people.


The Agbon people known for rewarding good for good have decided to bestow a chieftaincy title on his eldest child, Mr. Tony Oghenegare Erukeme. The decision of the Ovie (king) to give a chieftaincy title to the son of the late sage is being hailed by many. Reacting to the gesture of the Ovie of Agbon Kingdom, Mr. Tony Oghenegare Erukeme stated: “It will motivate others to contribute their best to the development of Agbon Kingdom, so that one day, they or their children would be rewarded for it.”


Mr. Tony Oghenegare Erukeme proudly disclosed that he had never suffered any sad moment since the death of his father 33 years ago, because of the legacy he left behind.


In spite of his closeness to the white man as a colonial clerk and his membership of the Baptist mission, papa was also said to be an authority in Urhobo tradition.


His opinion was always sought for in all aspects of Urhobo tradition. No wonder he was said to be a confidant of the Agbon monarch.


It could be recalled that the late Chief Thomas Erukeme left this sinful world at the age of 80 years. He is survived by children and wives.


A remembrance church service will be held for him at First Baptist Church, Okpara Waterside, Delta State.