AN ADDRESS DELIVERED BY OLOROGUN (DR.) MOSES OGHENERUME TAIGA, JP, PRESIDENT-GENERAL, URHOBO PROGRESS UNION (UPU), WORLDWIDE, AT THE WORLD PRESS CONFERENCE ON THE COMMEMORATION OF THE 90TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE UNION, ON WEDNESDAY, 3RD OF NOVEMBER 2021, AT URHOBO CULTURAL CENTRE, UVWIAMUGE-AGBARHO.
Gentlemen of the Press
It is with great delight that I address this press conference this day 3rd November 2021. This day ninety years ago, our forebears took the critical step towards Urhobo nationalism to properly locate us in the Nigeria that will emerge after colonialism. Our foresighted forebears took a hard look at their past and also gazed into our future. What confronted their look and gaze was a maze of disunity, confusion, a vanishing past, and looming uncertainty. To overcome the multiple challenges inhering in their past and future, they took that critical step of founding the Urhobo Brotherly Society this day 3rd November 1931. Our great fathers namely: Chief Omorohwovo Okoro, Chief Mukoro Mowoe and Chief Thomas Erukeme, lit and bore the torch that pointed at the way the Urhobo people should go. Their avowed aim in founding the Society was to unite the Urhobo people for a common cause, consolidate an identity, and galvanize them on the path of progress. In the course of its evolution, the Urhobo Brotherly Society became the Urhobo Progressive Union in 1934 and later Urhobo Progress Union (UPU).
As I speak, UPU is Nigeria’s oldest socio-cultural organization. It has had a chequered history. However, it survived all odds. When the Federal Military Government in January 1966 proscribed all political and cultural organizations in Nigeria, it left the UPU intact in recognition of its unsoiled non-partisan character. In later years, the UPU was to survive other schisms. It is to the credit of our founding fathers and all Urhobo people, dead and living, that the UPU has survived to be ninety. What is more? There are indications that the UPU will survive for as long as the human race endures.
The Achievements of the UPU
The Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) has achieved much more than what can be captured in one go. I think the most significant achievement of the Union is its longevity.
That it has survived nine decades to be ninety years as Nigeria’s oldest socio-cultural organization is itself a great achievement. The UPU provided a rallying point that succeeded in uniting the Urhobo people, giving them a sense of identity, pride, direction, and more. This is not to say that we have not experienced low moments. We have had our hiccups, but we always picked up and moved on.
In the decade after it was founded, the UPU sponsored two deserving Urhobo sons to study overseas so that they can return to run a proposed college that will cater to the academic aspirations of Urhobo youths. That UPU overseas scholarship awarded to Macneil Gabriel Ejaife and Ezekiel Norucho Igho ensured that they became the first and second Urhobo graduates. The UPU went on to found Urhobo College, Effurun in 1948 with Ejaife as principal and Igho as vice principal. Beside Chief Ejaife and Mr. Igho, the
Urhobo Progress Union also gave scholarships to many others, including non-Urhobos. Some of the prominent non-Urhobo beneficiaries included Prof. Tekena Tamuno, who became the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, (UI), and Mr. S. J. Okudu, a former Registrar of the same University of Ibadan, among others.
These were landmark achievements by the UPU. The Urhobo College was to become the Launchpad for generations of the Urhobo elite. The UPU was also instrumental to the movement of the then Warri Middle School, which later became Government College from Warri to Ughelli in 1945. Both colleges set Urhobo on the fast lane of self-actualization.
The UPU mobilized the Urhobo people to ensure that Chief Mukoro Mowoe won the first election for Warri Province (made up of Urhobo, Ijaw, Isoko, Ukwuani, Itsekiri) into the Western Region House of Assembly at Ibadan in 1947. Even after Mowoe died in 1948, the UPU ensured that Chief Jessa Ogboru succeeded Mowoe.
The UPU did so much to reclaim Urhobo clans like Orogun, Abraka, Oghara, Jesse, which were grouped with Aboh and Benin Divisions during the colonial era. The UPU also gave fillip to the struggles to reclaim the Urhobo territories of Sapele, Ajagbodudu, Okere, and Agbassa. It has also, in very recent times, confronted the security challenges in parts of Urhoboland.
The UPU can cast a proud look at the past and point at the monuments, Urhobo Cultural Centre at Okere Road in Warri, and the Urhobo House at Uvwiamuge-Agbarho, which we are renovating and completing, respectively.
We must also add the Okugbe Microfinance Bank that is awaiting Central Bank approval. It is hoped that the bank will change the economic fortune of our women and youths.
Although apolitical, the UPU did rally the Urhobo people at decisive moments when Urhobo interest was at stake. The UPU took a stand and spoke on national issues during the 2005 National Political Reforms Conference and the 2014 National Conference. The UPU has pitched its tent with the restructuring of Nigeria in tune with the principles of federalism.
The continuing relevance of the UPU in the affairs of the Urhobo people manifests in the spread of its branches across the world. Besides the over thirty branches in Nigeria, the UPU has registered its presence in many African countries, America, Europe, and Asia. There is thus a strong and flourishing UPU presence in the Diaspora.
The UPU has in ninety years achieved so much and I pay due homage to all those who made these possible. There is still much to be done as every human organization is a work in progress.
The Contribution of the Urhobo to Nigeria
The Urhobo people of over five million and Nigeria’s fifth largest ethnic nationality, with the treasure trove of oil and gas, rivers, and arable land, have contributed immensely to the making of Nigeria. There is hardly any sphere of national development that the Urhobo have not contributed to in Nigeria’s quest for nationhood. In politics, economy, military, media, medicine, education, corporate sector, sports, science and technology, the arts, and more, the Urhobo have and are still paying, their dues in the making of Nigeria. Crude oil and gas from Urhoboland continue to sustain the nation’s economy.
The role the Urhobo people played in ensuring the unity and stability of Nigeria is significant. The Urhobo fought gallantly in the Civil War of 1967 to 1970. Thereafter, the Urhobo played stabilizing roles in post-Civil War Nigeria. From the June 12 crisis to the Creek Wars of militancy in the Niger Delta, the National Political Reforms Conference of 2005, the National Conference of 2014, the Urhobo have always been counted in support of one Nigeria, a nation that is strong, united, prosperous, and abiding by the creed of fairness and justice to all.
The Urhobo Experience in Nigeria
Despite our very tangible and laudable contributions to the making of Nigeria, we have not received a fair deal from past and present Nigerian governments. The Urhobo number among the geese that lay Nigeria’s golden eggs and yet getting suffocated. With a dynamic, creative, hardworking, and resourceful population, the Urhobo ethnic nationality could match any race in the world in terms of development aspirations. Our Ukane experience and the attendant economic revolution it initiated in Yorubaland is one of the many examples of the Urhobo genius at work.
What is now known in Urhobo historiography as the Ukane phenomenon was started by the wave of economic migration by the Urhobo at the beginning of the last century. The migrants settled in the Ikale area of the present Ondo State and began an indigenous oil palm industry, a phenomenon that was then unknown in Nigeria. Deploying their enormous indigenous knowledge system, the oil palm industry became an instant economic success compared to the economic boom recorded by cocoa. The oil palm venture was to spread across the globe and make economic giants of nations that took a cue from Nigeria’s earlier, but truncated success in the sector. Known to be peaceful and hardworking, the Urhobo people were one of the first settlers that arrived in Jos, Plateau State to participate in the Tin Mining sector. They also contributed greatly to the economy, growth, and development of Jos Town through their investment in the hospitality business, schools ownership, and large-scale production and trade in the local gin (ogogoro). Many streets in Jos Town are named after the Urhobo people; a testimony to their unquantifiable contributions.
Exploitation, Neglect, Poverty, and Insecurity
Having contributed so much to the making of Nigeria, the Urhobo people have been subjected to years of exploitation, oppression, environmental degradation, poverty, insecurity, marginalization, and other negative manifestations of injustice that are not only reprehensible but provocative.
The Urhobo people have been victims of neglect by successive Nigerian governments and oil multinationals. Our lot for good or bad does not reflect the contribution of our oil and gas resources to the Nigerian purse. Despite the unimaginable quantum of oil drilled from Urhoboland since around 1957, there is hardly anything in terms of material or infrastructural advantage to show. Our rivers, land, and air are polluted. We have lost means of livelihood and our people live in crushing poverty. The recklessness of the oil multinationals has also tossed tragedy at the Urhobo people. The Jesse pipeline fire disaster of 1998 during which over 1000 Urhobo people died is just one example.
Urhoboland has no sustainable Federal Government or multinational oil companies’ presence. The Government and the oil multinationals take but return nothing. The Federal roads which run through Urhoboland have degenerated into craters. Urhobo despite being home to rivers with access to the Atlantic Ocean has no functional seaports. Urhoboland also has no airport matching its population and economic contributions to Nigeria.
In recent years, some of our communities have been subjected to the menace of insecurity orchestrated by Fulani herdsmen. This is not only unacceptable but condemnable in very strong terms. The menace of insecurity is looming over Urhoboland.
The Urhobo Agenda
The Urhobo are forward-looking people who are conscious of the imperative of change. It is not lost on us that Nigeria is undergoing a kind of tumult that will ultimately engender a new dawn. What then is Urhobo doing to negotiate a place for its future in the anticipated dawn? This is where I have envisioned and encapsulated an URHOBO AGENDA. A Think Tank has been at work drafting what will be the URHOBO AGENDA with which we will engage our people, Nigeria, and the world.
In crafting an URHOBO AGENDA we took a hard and dispassionate look at the Nigeria of yesterday, today, and what it would be like tomorrow. What we offer as the URHOBO AGENDA will begin by evaluating our present predicament in Nigeria and then come up with a blueprint of a new deal with Nigeria.
The Urhobo Environment, Reparation and Remediation
An URHOBO AGENDA must of necessity focus on our endangered environment which has been laid waste by years of crude oil exploitation and exploration. To begin with, the Urhobo people will be demanding reparation of One Trillion Naira from the Federal Government of Nigeria and the oil multinationals for the many years of resource plunder and environmental degradation. In line with this, we demand an environmental remediation programme for communities that were negatively impacted by oil exploration such as Erhoike, Erhobaro-Orogun, Imodje-Orogun, Afiesere, Evwreni, Erhuemukohwarien, and others.
Urhobo Unity, Language, History, and Culture
Our AGENDA will look inward to consolidate our unity and the true essence of Urhobo ovuovo. We are also taking measures to reclaim our language which is already threatened by extinction. We must salvage our history and culture. To this end, the UPU will continue to work with the Urhobo Historical Society (UHS) and the Urhobo Studies Association (USA).
Agriculture, Industrialization and the Seaport
An URHOBO AGENDA should redirect our interest to agriculture and the attendant empowerment and wealth creation advantages tied to it. This will culminate in the industrialization of Urhoboland. We are calling on both the State and Federal Governments to create an enabling environment by curbing insecurity and providing constant electricity for Urhoboland to be attractive to investors.
Urhoboland can be an investors’ destination and production hub. The Okugbe Micro Finance Bank will drive a revolution in Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs) in Urhoboland. The Sapele Port has to be revived, the moribund Delta Steel Company must come alive, and the African Timber and Plywood in Sapele must be made to work. An URHOBO AGENDA will encourage Nigerian and foreign investors to revive the many other moribund industries across the length and breadth of Urhoboland.
Tackling the monster of insecurity is also cardinal to the URHOBO AGENDA. While calling on the Federal and State Governments to take the necessary steps at combating this ogre, the UPU is also deploying an internal mechanism to secure Urhoboland. We shall ensure that all of Urhoboland from Ugbenu to Uwheru is secured.
The Warri Factor
The Warri factor is also an item on the URHOBO AGENDA. The Urhobo presence and identity in Warri can never be undermined. While we will continue to live peacefully with our neighbours in Warri, we will not allow the erasure of what Warri is to the Urhobo and what the Urhobo are to Warri.
2023 and a Delta Governor of Urhobo Extraction
The UPU strongly supports the emergence of a Delta State Governor of Urhobo extraction in 2023. The Urhobo have been supportive of rotation on the basis of Senatorial Districts as a recipe for peace. Equity and justice in Delta State and we shall continue to do so.
On National Issues
The URHOBO AGENDA seeks to build alliances with our neighbours and other ethnic nationalities in the South-South and beyond to work out a new destiny for Nigeria as she totters towards a new beginning. To this end, while the URHOBO AGENDA does not support secessionist agitation, it aligns with the call for the restructuring of Nigeria, in line with the tenets of federalism.
We support the call for the relocation of the headquarters of all oil companies to the Niger Delta. We align with the position that election results should be electronically transmitted. We support the State’s collection of the Value Added Tax (VAT), the enactment of Anti-Open Grazing Laws, the establishment of State Police, and other such progressive factors that will make Nigeria great.
The UPU has come a long way and we are rolling out the drums in celebration and reflections. From 29th November to December 5th, we call on all Urhobo people wherever they are to join us at Uvwiamuge-Agbarho. We have also sent out invitations to other ethnic nationalities as well as other people of goodwill from far and wide to join us as we commemorate 90 years of UPU’s existence.
We thank the Government of Delta State under the leadership of His Excellency Senator Dr. Arthur Ifeanyi Okowa for all the support to the UPU and the Urhobo Nation. We thank our ethnic neighbours and all Deltans.
I thank all our people for having abiding faith in the UPU and standing up for the unity of Urhobo.
I thank you gentlemen of the press.
Long live Urhobo!
Long live Delta State!!
Long live Nigeria!!!
I Thank you All.
Olorogun (Dr.) Moses Oghenerume Taiga, JP,
Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) Worldwide,
18, Okere Road, Warri,