“I urge every Urhobo son and daughter, particularly the youth, to play their part in the quest for the socio-economic and political advancement of our ethnic nationality and work towards the growth of the Urhobo nation always. We should all join UPU to take steps to remedy the lack of unity and underdevelopment of Urhobo land relative to other ethnic nationalities in the country. I appeal to everyone to shun rancour, bitterness and acrimony and assist UPU President-General and members of his administration to take Urhobo to the next level. Once again, I congratulate all Urhobo sons and daughters, on this momentous occasion of the celebration of the 90th Anniversary of Urhobo Progress Union, Worldwide-Omo-Agege
By Mark C. Orgu, News/Comments, November 29, 2021
DELTA-The Deputy Senate President, Senate Ovie Omo-Agege has charged Urhobo people to strive for progress and unity, stressing however that, only on such atmosphere, that economic and social development could be achieved. The Delta born politician who represents Delta Central Senatorial district (Urhobos) made the call earlier today when delivering a lecture titled: Urhobo Nation Unity, Progress and Pride Of Place: The Way Forward, at the commemoration of the 90th existence of the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU)-a socio-cultural organization of the entire Urhobo people; which is the 5th largest ethnic nationality in Nigeria, founded on the basis of oneness and promotion of the group’s cultural and socio-economic development. The occasion which took place at Urhobo Cultural Centre, Uvwiamuge, Effurun, Patani Highway, Agbarho, Delta State witnessed high profile personalities across board, as Omo-agege wants forgiveness, synergy and oneness towards achieving the original goal of UPU. Parts of his lecture read:
We gather today to celebrate in great grandeur, the 90th Anniversary of the founding of our umbrella body, the Urhobo Progress Union, Worldwide. Having been established in 1931, UPU is indeed, the oldest surviving socio-cultural organisation in Nigeria and the second, only to the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa in the African continent. This, my dear brothers and sisters, is a history that we are legitimately proud of. It is a proud heritage that we must protect and bequeath to upcoming generations. I congratulate all Urhobo sons and daughters wherever they may be globally for this great achievement. Today’s event is significant in many other ways. First, Urhobo Progress Union is the very symbol of Urhobo unity and it is designed to work for the welfare of the Urhobo people. I am proud that Urhobo Progress Union has remained resilient to promote the socio-cultural, economic, environmental and educational development among the Urhobo people. I urge you not to relent in your efforts.
Second, the founding fathers of UPU have long gone. Yet every year, we gather to celebrate the birth of this great organization. I therefore commend the leadership of Urhobo Progress Union, Worldwide, for sustaining this annual family get-together. I sincerely applaud all of you for the sense of belonging and focus in sustaining this spirit of love and unity among us all. Third, this unbroken continuity also stands as testimony to the resilience, doggedness and visionary qualities of the average Urhobo person. I salute and congratulate your dogged approach to Urhobo nationalism over the years. Ladies and gentlemen, it is quite ennobling that we are celebrating the ninetieth anniversary with a Lecture. I find the theme of this year’s Lecture – The Challenges and prospects of Urhobo Progress Union in Contemporary Times to be quite appropriate because any organization at the landmark age of 90 requires continual renewal of purpose by planning afresh to face emerging challenges. In retrospect, the first three decades of colonial rule were difficult times in Urhoboland, because of the absence of a centralized political authority. Unlike our immediate neighbours, the Itsekiri and the Bini that had centralized political systems, ours was a clan-based chiefdoms which the British colonial officers had difficulties with.
While Urhobo Organizations, such as the Association of Okpara Young Men and Okpe Union, did some good for their clans, there were certain things they could not do on their own. The visionary founders of the UPU realised that: Only an umbrella body could foster unity, spirit of love, mutual understanding and brotherhood among Urhobo, and good neighbourliness with non-Urhobo people. Only an umbrella body could encourage the growth of educational development of Urhobo people. Only an umbrella body could encourage economic development of Urhobo people.
Only an umbrella body could work for mutual understanding and cooperation among Urhobo people on the one hand and the government at all levels on the other hand. Only an umbrella body could protect and promote the Urhobo personality at all times and everywhere. Only an umbrella body could preserve and promote Urhobo culture, language and traditional institutions. And so, by 1914 when the amalgamation of the diverse ethnic groups inhabiting the area called Nigeria took place, Urhobo nation had begun to feel the need for a centralized body that will do the things individual clans could not do on their own. In response to this, from about 1925, several meetings had begun to be held by the elite of Urhobo mainly in Okpara Waterside in present Ethiope East Local Government Area, Sapele in the then Okpe Local Council and Warri. Forced by the sheer will of the our founding fathers, the British colonial rulers acknowledged the independence of the Urhobo nation in 1931, paving the way for the formation of an umbrella body for all Urhobo people to move the Urhobo nation to greater heights, particularly in terms of socio-economic development. It was from among the ranks of merchants that the first batch of Urhobo leadership emerged. The new Urhobo leadership had to satisfy the yearnings of Urhobo people who craved for a single voice that would match, for instance, the singularity which Dore Numa’s leadership in 1894-1932 had provided for the Itsekiris. But it would also be a leadership that would organize Urhobo affairs in ways that would overcome their extensive socio-political problems.
This meant the new leadership must organize the affairs of Urhobo nation with the singular aim of catching up with other ethnic groups who were privileged under the new colonial era, because of their centralized political systems. Leadership among Urhobo people in the 1930s, therefore, entailed a lot of sacrifice and uncertainty, because it was experimental and without precedent.
At this point, Urhobo merchants in Warri and the emerging cadre of junior civil servants bravely tackled these problems. In 1931, they formed the Urhobo Brotherly Society in Warri. According to the renowned professor of Sociology and leading authority on Urhobo history, Onigu Otite, the Union’s name was changed to Urhobo Progressive Union, and later, in 1935, to the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU). Ladies and Gentlemen, the history of UPU will not be complete without special reference to Chief Mukoro Mowoe, an astute businessman, a politician and indomitable nationalist whose image bestrode the Niger Delta region’s firmament like a colossus. Professor Obaro Ikime, Chief Mukoro Mowoe’s biographer, conveys to us that Mowoe’s house was the venue of meetings for both the Urhobo Brotherly Society and its successor organization, the Urhobo Progress Union.
Initially, Omorohwovo Okoro, a prominent Ovu trader was the first President of the Urhobo Brotherly Society. But it was soon clear that the leadership of the new organization required a man of some financial and educational means. At this time Mukoro Mowoe was already a highly successful merchant, so he easily emerged as the second President of the Urhobo Brotherly Society and, subsequently, the President General of the Urhobo Progress Union. Ladies and Gentlemen the UPU under Mukoro Mowoe provided the needed focus, the rallying point and required leadership; and achieved great things for Urhobo.
As I stated in an address titled URHOBO NATION UNITY, PROGRESS AND PRIDE OF PLACE: THE WAY FORWARD at the Youth Summit organized by the UPU Youth Wing on Saturday October 29, 2016 at the Urhobo House in Okere, Warri, Delta State, “When Urhobo nation was faced with adverse British colonial policies that balkanised its territory, the Urhobo people spoke with one voice and successfully persuaded the British Colonial Government to transfer Abraka and Orogun clans which were initially assigned to Aboh Division, Idjerhe which was part of Benin Division in Benin Province, Udu, Uvwie, Okpe, Agbon, and Oghara which were part of the Jekri-Sobo Division, with headquarters in Warri back to the Urhobo fold.
This eventually led to the creation of Urhobo Division that made it possible for the reunion of the people of the Eastern Urhobo with their compatriots in Udu, Uvwie, Okpe, Agbon, Idjerhe, Oghara, Orogun and Abraka. We should also remember the threats to Urhobo lands in Western Urhobo during colonial times and indeed in the post-colonial era. These threats were huge but because Urhobo stood stronger together, Okpe and Oghara lands in Idjerhe, Sapele, Ogharefe and Oghareki were not lost. So too were Okere lands in Warri. “But that wasn’t all. The Urhobo people also took their destiny into their hands by developing Urhobo land and its people. They didn’t just sit down and wait for the colonial government and missionaries to develop the human capital needed to develop Urhobo land. They established a scholarship scheme and Urhobo College, a secondary school that later produced the likes of late Professors David Okpako and Omafume Onoge. Under the scholarship scheme, UPU sponsored the education of Urhobo’s first two graduates, Messrs M. G. Ejaife and E. N. Igho who later returned home to manage Urhobo College Effurun.”
Our founding founders recognized that those nations that had come together to work for a common goal had succeeded in developing their communities and empowering their people. So they worked together. The leadership of UPU worked together with various clan chiefs and met regularly in what they called Urhobo General Meetings to formulate an agenda for the Urhobo people.
These meetings were presided over by Chief Ayomanor of Okpe-Sapele. Jereton Mariere (later Governor on Midwest Region) served as the Honorary Secretary of these perennial sessions of Urhobo leaders of thought. And because they worked together, there was no challenge they could not overcome. That is the spirit we are called to show once more, especially now when we face similar challenges: lack of unity, falling educational standards, loss of economic power and political marginalization. We are also faced with new challenges such as violent crimes, herders – farmers clashes and rising youth unemployment that is fuelling insecurity in Urhoboland, and threatening our way of life.
These challenges did not come about overnight. But because we failed abysmally to build on the foundation of unity and brotherhood which our forebears – Chief Mukoro Mowoe, T. E A Salubi just to mention a few – laboured to establish for us, we watched helplessly as the pendulum swung too far towards individualism. And now a nation that was once the envy of other nationalities can no longer speak with one voice.
This strong sense of individualism that is rooted in the republican nature of Urhobo communal affairs and politics was and would always be detrimental to any effort to mobilize the Urhobo people for group defence and protection, especially in the political arena. That is why the UPU, right from its early days was positioned to provide leadership and work to promote the consciousness of a common political identity of Urhobo nationhood.
In that same address of October 29th, 2016 to the Ighele r’Urhobo, I also did say that “Individualism and the crab-like tendencies of connecting enemies from without to pull down fellow Urhobo people in business, politics, faith-based organizations, sports, academia, professional careers and other aspects of human relations, are beclouding and diminishing the glory of Urhobo in such a despicable manner.”
The UPU of today is seemingly united but we all know that we have an insurgent group that is laying claim to the leadership of UPU. This group remains so belligerent and continues to carry on despite the fact that the rest of us have moved on with the Olorogun Moses Taiga led Executive of UPU. This situation has resulted in conflicting press statements on national issues to the embarrassment of the Urhobo nation.
We also have multi-subgroup organizations, which are competing with UPU for relevance and visibility in defending Urhobo or speaking for Urhobo. Many Urhobo leaders now move in opposite directions and speak with different voices; a situation which is inimical to the advancement of Urhobo national interest. This is rather unfortunate and it must stop.
We have seen several successful and unsuccessful attempts at the structural balkanisation of Urhobo into autonomous clans or kingdoms. The rising agitation for Okpe as a distinct ethnic nationality in Nigeria should be of great concern to all Urhobo people. Okpe, Ughelli, Uvwie, Udu, Orogun, Agbarho, Agbarah, Abraka, Oghara, Ovu and other Urhobos are one. We have a symbiotic and inseparable relationship as one people of same ethnic nationality, working together and winning together for the greater good of the Urhobo nation.
I do recollect that it was the UPU that took up the political campaign to persuade the colonial government to recognise the coronation of Esezi II as Orodje of Okpe, after a long interregnum. To avoid the painful experience of the ‘Agbassah land case’ of 1925, the UPU also made the Sapele land case of 1941-3 an all Urhobo affair.
Ladies and Gentlemen, let me be clear and emphatic. We are better and stronger together. The consequences of lack of unity have been dreadful. Urhobo was created for greatness. But the reality today is that despite being the 5th largest ethnic group in Nigeria and the largest in Delta State, Urhobo has not been exercising a level of influence that is commensurate with its numerical strength at the National level, and preponderance at the State level.
We had a thriving economy and Urhobo led in politics and business but all that is now history. We lost our way and lost our pride of place in the comity of ethnic nationalities in Nigeria. We have fallen behind in all spheres of life. Be it politics, economy, science, technology, the arts or sports, there is a huge gap between what we have offered and our potential. At decisive moments, when we are expected to exhibit unity and cohesion, we dissipate energy in selfish and unscrupulous quests. The disposition is to display treachery and sabotage towards meaningful Urhobo political aspirations.
The four ethnic groups in Nigeria that are larger than the Urhobo nation have produced either a President, or a Head of State or both. The highest position Urhobo has attained is that of the Deputy President of the Senate, the fifth political office in Nigeria which I currently occupy. And it took us 59 years to achieve this. I truly believe that, had we been sufficiently united as the founding fathers of UPU desired, we would have attained greater heights by now in the politics of our country. It may also interest you to know that since independence only one Urhobo daughter, Chief Grace Ekpiwhre, former Minister of Science and Technology under late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua ever served as a senior minister. Thanks to our former governor, Chief James Ibori who made this possible. He is here with us. So please let us appreciate him for this legacy. Let us give him a big round of applause.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the loss of political power as a consequence of lack of unity among Urhobos, has clearly made the empowerment of our people and development of Urhoboland difficult. Hence the increasing poverty in our communities. As I speak, majority of Urhobo graduates are unemployed and are roaming the streets.
Unemployment has become a major problem bedevilling the lives of our youth, causing militancy, kidnappings, restiveness and socially delinquent behaviours. Indeed, youth unemployment is devastating our people, families and the society as a whole both psychologically and economically.
The critical question is how did we get here? What can we do as a people to get out of this mess? These are not easy questions to answer, and I don’t know if I’m right. But I believe strongly that when our youth graduate from university and for years they roam the streets without jobs or ride commercial motorcycles and keke to eke a living or forced to resort to crime, what it says about our economy is that it is not strong enough to provide the basic means of livelihood for our people. This growing opportunity gap must be closed by widening the economic base of Urhobo land.
Urhobo had a thriving economy in time past. We were self-sufficient in food production. Our people were great farmers, hunters, fishermen and distillers. We were also leaders in cash crops production like rubber, timber, oil palm for exports to Ghana, Benin, Sierra-Leone, Liberia and even Britain, as well as other parts of Europe. Our palm oil lubricated the Industrial Revolution in Europe
Urhoboland was also a big industrial hub with industries in Ovwian-Aladja, Oghara, Ughelli, Effurun, Warri, Agbarha-Otor and Sapele. Steel company, glass factories, breweries, salt factories, power stations, a petrochemical plant, rubber processing plants registered their presence in Urhoboland. The African Timber and Plywood (AT&P) made Sapele the most important city in Nigeria after Lagos, before the advent of the oil boom.
All of these are gone. So too are the jobs. We must turn the situation around very quickly and we can by having a rethink on our approach to community development. We must industrialise Urhobo land. This has to be a top priority for UPU and every Urhobo son and daughter, whether in government or in the private sector.
Undoubtedly, Urhobo has what it takes to confront this challenge. Urhobo land is gifted with abundant mineral and agricultural resources including crude oil, gas, palm oil, rubber and glass-making soil for industrialisation. We also have clay suitable for pottery, rivers, tributaries and streams suitable for electricity generation, fishing and other marine activities, to transform our economy and create jobs for our teeming youth.
In the same vein, with mineral resources such as sharp sand, silica, kaolin, clay, barite and forest resources such as timber, oil palm and raffia palm available in Urhobo nation, there is no reason we should not have a thriving cottage industry. We must harness these natural resources for the growth of our economy and development of Urhobo land to create employment and reduce the level of poverty among our people.
In terms of access, we have made considerable progress in education. Public and private primary and secondary schools are everywhere. We have two distinct technical colleges in Ogor and Sapele, two distinct colleges of education in Warri and Mosogar, a polytechnic at Oghara, a petroleum institute and a federal university in Effururn, a state university in Abraka, two distinct private universities in Oghara and Agbarha-Otor. With the newly established Federal Polytechnic, Orogun, expected to commence academic activities in September, 2022, I think we can count our blessings in the field of education. However, the problem at the moment is the poor quality of education which is not just an Urhobo problem, but a national one. In addition, we must also not forget the fact that Urhobo children are part of the 13.2 million Nigerian children, the highest in the world who are out-of-school.
As a people, we cannot be indifferent to the plight of these children. In this age when education is about giving students the skills they need to succeed in the new economy, establishing skills acquisition centres to teach our young men and women skills for employability in the current global economy is what Urhobo must do to prepare the youth for the challenges of a modern economy.
Urhobo has a very rich culture. We are proud of our foods, traditional religious beliefs, norms and taboos. So too is our culture of industry and spirit of enterprise which was the hallmark of the founding fathers of the Urhobo Progress Union. Our forefathers took delight in our traditional wrappers, shirt and matching cap and walking stick. This tradition was passed to us. It is now our responsibility to sustain this heritage as the unifying force for Urhobo nation.
The Urhobo Progress Union has done a great job in organizing Urhobo events all over the world to promote the culture and identity of Urhobo people. However, we have seen the fast near extinct of Urhobo language among our youth. Even the situation in UPU organized events are not different. This is a major challenge to us all. And it must be arrested urgently through concerted action not mere rhetorics.
Let me make some comments on security issues, especially farmers and herders’ clashes and kidnapping. I am particularly disturbed about the activities of herdsmen who are accused of invading farmlands and committing sundry crimes. We need to find the best way for peaceful coexistence between farmers and herdsmen. I plead with our people that the current heated temperature in the Nigerian polity is commonplace in a developing society. However, I urge our people to be patient as the government continues to grapple with this problem. As we move towards another election season in 2023, it is most appropriate to be conscious and strategic. In recent months, there has been considerable apprehension over attempts to short-change Delta Central Senatorial District in the rotation of the governorship position in 2023. The strong opposition of the UPU to this surreptitious and dangerous move to manipulate the political process in the State against Urhobo political interest is commendable. I sincerely applaud Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) Worldwide, for insisting that it is the turn of Delta Central Senatorial District to produce the next Governor of Delta State. I am also pleased that UPU emphasized the need for the Ijaw nation to support the 2023 gubernatorial quest of Urhobo Nation. Also worthy of note is UPU appeal to political parties in the State to sustain the rotational arrangement of the State’s governorship position based on senatorial districts. They have spoken the mind of all Urhobos irrespective of political platforms.