By Sunny Awhefeada
Come Tuesday 1 st October 2019, the Urhobo Renaissance Movement (URM) will rally the Urhobo people to its inaugural public outing in what promises to be a redirection for one of Nigeria’s most resourceful and dynamic ethnic nationalities. The highlight of the event is a lecture titled “A Renaissance in the Urhobo Nation and the Quest for Leadership” to be delivered by frontline Law scholar, Professor Joseph Abugu of the University of Lagos. The URM has existed as a virtual gathering of Urhobo sons and daughters from diverse backgrounds. The body founded by Professor Hope Eghagha of the University of Lagos primarily sets out to rethink the place and fortune of the Urhobo ethnic nationality of over 5 million people.
The overwhelming feeling around the time the URM was formed was that the Urhobo nation hadn’t received a fair deal from Nigeria, in spite of its ample contribution to sustaining the national economy and
keeping the country united during and after the Civil War of 1967 to 1970. The October 1 event seeks to weave the vision and mission of the URM, foregrounded by revival, into the national discourse of the way forward for Nigeria as enunciated in the buzz around restructuring.
The condition of the Urhobo cannot be divorced from the general state of decrepitude into which Nigeria has fallen. The truth be told, there is none for whom all is well in Nigeria. The trouble with Nigeria knows neither tribe nor tongue. The agitation by different ethnic groups is a fallout of the tendency of being at the receiving end of the state in Nigeria. The agitations seek to protect the interest of the different ethnic nationalities that made up the union that Lugard solemnized in 1914.
The Urhobo march to visibility began in 1931 when the Urhobo Brotherly Society led by Omorohwovo Okoro was founded. The Society was rechristened Urhobo Progress Union in 1934. The leaders, besides Okoro, were Mukoro Mowoe, Thomas Erukeme, Ikutegbe Akpolo and Arebe Uyo. As at the time of the founding of the UPU, the Urhobo people were confined to obscurity and held down under the exploitative grips of an overlord, Dogho, who was the leading figure in the Delta area.
The UPU which is today Nigeria’s oldest surviving socio-cultural organization galvanized the Urhobo people onto the path of progress. The transformation of the Urhobo from obscurity to visibility was the product of the vision and verve of the founders of the UPU who mobilized the people far and near and harnessed their resourcefulness and intelligence.
The UPU saw education as the tool that will emancipate the Urhobo people and position them advantageously in the Nigeria that will emerge after independence. It thus founded Urhobo College at Effurun to remedy the educational disadvantage of the people. It awarded scholarships to two deserving Urhobos in Macneil Gabriel Ejaife and Ezekiel Norucho Igho to study in foreign universities so they could return to run Urhobo College. Ejaife became the first Urhobo university graduate and first Principal of Urhobo College when it opened in 1948.
Mukoro Mowoe, who envisioned a new dawn for the Urhobo and assiduously laboured for it, died in 1948. Tragic as his death was, the seed he planted grew and his lieutenants like S. J. Mariere, T.E.A Salubi and others carried the dream of Urhobo greatness in their hearts and stubbornly worked for its materialization. Three decades after Mowoe’s death the Urhobo reached commanding heights in every sphere of human endeavor in Nigeria and beyond.
The likes of Michael Ibru, David Dafinone, Gamaliel Onosode became giants in Nigeria’s economic and corporate sectors. General David Ejoor, the first Urhobo Sandhurst trained officer, not only reached the apogee as the Chief of Army Staff, but paved the way for others who became military generals and played significant roles in the years of military rule. In politics, Ejaife became a Senator in the First Republic while Mariere and P. K. Tabiohwo were Governor and Speaker of the House of Assembly of the Midwest Region respectively. Daniel Okumagba, David Dafinone, Patrick Bolokor, Demas Akpore, Ray Inije held sway in the Second Republic.
General Obada, Professor Oyovbaire, Mr. Ibru, Mrs. Ekpiwhre, Chief Gbagi and Dr. Oru had been federal ministers. Felix Ibru was Governor of Delta State in 1992. The Fourth Republic witnessed the emergence of James Ibori. The same period produced Pius Ewherido, Ovie Omo-Agege and now Festus Keyamo, among others.
The Urhobo have also displayed uncommon cerebral prowess. In journalism, apart from Alex Ibru’s founding of The Guardian, Majomi’s The Mail and Ibori’s Daily Independent, Urhobo such as Clarkson Majomi, Andy Akporugo, G. G. Darah, Mideno Bayagbon, Ima Niboro, Abraham Ogbodo, are among Nigeria’s remarkable journalists. In the legal profession, Mudiaga Odje and Macaulay Akpofure led the way for many other Urhobo wizards of law who took the silk as Senior Advocates of Nigeria and shone in Nigeria’s legal firmament. Justice Ayo Irikefe was Chief Justice of Nigeria. In the academia, Frank Ukoli, Vremudia Diejomaoh and Peter Ekeh, pointed at the way other Urhobo scholars followed. Tied to this is the creativity and arts domain where J. P. Clarks’s Urhobo maternal heritage has powered Nigerian literature.
Bruce Onobrakpeya, Tanure Ojaide, Ben Okri, remain avatars of creativity. The remarkable achievements of Justus Esiri, Richard Mofe-Damijo, Ali Baba, Mudiaga Enajemo are worthy examples of Urhobo genius. The same can be said of Scott-Emuakpor, Wilson Oruma, Blessing Okagbare and others in the arena of sports.
Unfortunately, the Urhobo now talk about the foregoing like folktales prefaced with “once upon a time” as Darah once pointed out. The Urhobo have fallen into bad times. Insecurity, unemployment, urban squalor, broken infrastructure, poor education and health facilities, abrasion of moral cum cultural values, threatened language, youth restiveness, poverty, exploitation, marginalization and deprivation by the federal government and the oil multinationals have confined the Urhobo to a subaltern status. Urhoboland with its abundant crude oil suffers abject impoverishment. The land with its many waterways and arable land has no industries. There is pervasive gloom and the Urhobo have taken to lamentation for so long.
As the URM summons the nation to the inaugural event it is doing so without leaving the Urhobo Progress Union behind; and the President-General, Olorogun Moses Taiga will lead the Urhobo nation to the event. It is hoped that issues that will engender a renaissance (erhomavwie) for the Urhobo nation will spring forth so that the ideals of old that fired the Urhobo imagination will be reborn and Urhobo shall evolve a Strategic Agenda and march on to assume its rightful place, politically and economically, in the Nigeria of our dream. The Urhobo House at Uvwiamughe-Agbarho should be completed and the Mukoro Mowoe University should also be born.
These and many more can be done. Urhobo mini wadooooo