UPU & the Urhobo Collective Agenda
The giant of Africa and the most populous black nation on the earth is Nigeria, with a population of over 160 million people. Of that population, the fifth largest ethnic group is the Urhobo people of Delta State in the Western Niger-Delta Region, who number over 2.5 million spread across 22 kingdoms and covering over 5,000 kilometers. In Delta State, the Urhobo is the largest ethnic group, spanning over 10 of the 25 Local Government Areas (LGAs) and the entire Delta Central Senatorial District. In fact, Urhobos account for more than 2/5th of the 4.3 million Deltans, with Ughelli North being the largest LGA. Furthermore, the Urhobo nation is a major producer of petroleum and gas, two veritable resources that the world needs. Clearly, the Urhobos are a formidable ethnic group to be reckoned with both locally and internationally.
I should mention that I am an Urhobo and the son of the late Otota of Ughelli, Chief Ekuogbe Akpodiete, who was a British trained Barrister and a Magistrate during the First Republic. Nonetheless, this is not meant to be a jingoistic piece, but rather an analysis of the political state of the Urhobos and its collective agenda, if any.
Over 81 years ago (around November 3, 1931), Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) was formed. Originally called Urhobo Brotherly Society in Warri, the aim of UPU was to crystalize resolutions from meetings that went as far back as 1925, which included fostering a positive image, promoting education of Urhobos and making sure the Urhobos were treated fairly. UPU is essentially an umbrella cultural group of all Urhobos.
I recall when I was practicing law in the United States of America and my chambers represented most of the Urhobos in that part of the diaspora, especially members of The Urhobo National Association (TUNA). However, a split happened in the ranks in 1999 that later presented an ethical conflict for me as I had clients on both sides of the divide. Another group emerged called The Urhobo Progressive Union North America (UPUNA). Even our Urhobo Business Enterprise (UBE) did not survive. The initial umbrella organization TUNA (formed in 1993) and the splinter group UPUNA finally merged into Urhobo National Association of North America (UNANA), but unity was still missing at home. The clamoring among the Urhobos in Delta State and internationally, did not bode well for our collective agenda. Although the two splinter groups in the diaspora (UPUNA-Dr. Odemerho & TUNA-Dr. Pela) eventually came together under UNANA in 2003, it was not until after the 2011 elections, that some Urhobos locally (Delta State) realized that the division did not serve us politically and formed Urhobo Political Congress (UPC) Worldwide, after the demise of Urhobo Political Forum (UPF) and Urhobo Consultative Forum (UCF).
I read with interest a recent commentary intimating that the alleged feud between two Urhobo politicians in an opposition party was “capable of truncating the quest of the Urhobo nation for a collective effort in 2015.“ There is concern in some quarters that while we are bickering, the Urhobo language and culture were facing possible extinction or disuse and our political might was dwindling. Thank God for programmes such as Delta State University's (DELSU) degree course on Urhobo language, which is aimed at promoting the Urhobo culture.
A recent advertorial by Urhobo Youth Council (UYC), complained about the absence of appointment of an Urhobo indigene by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan GCFR into his cabinet. I believe what they meant is that there are not enough appointments based on the population of Urhobos and our contribution to the resources of the federation. My own investigations showed that the Director General (DG) of Budget, Dr. Bright Okogu, is an Urhobo indigene. Dr. Okogu was recently the subject of an emergency motion of public importance by the House of Representatives over an alleged letter by him, last week, to MDAs instructing them to implement only the amended version of the 2013 budget. It is important to note that the Urhobos are not complaining about marginalization at the State level because the Governor of Delta State, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, CON has appointed many Urhobo indigenes into his cabinet. The Deputy Governor, Prof. Amos Utuama, SAN is an Urhobo and there are many Urhobos that are Commissioners, Special Assistants, or board members under the Uduaghan administration.
On January 29, 2013, some Urhobo leaders visited the northern Arewa Consultative Forum. Apparently, the visit was to build mutual trust and support the North in producing the President in 2015. It begs the question how this will serve the Urhobo collective agenda. Are we cognizant of the power of incumbency? If the issue is political appointment at the national level, can it be achieved by opposing a sitting President? Optimistically, there were those who opposed an ex-President's third term agenda and succeeded, although some pundits may argue that his 2nd in command has not recovered from that fight.
The current UPU President-General (national President), Gen. Patrick Aziza (rtd.) was quoted as saying: “We came to see our brothers, we had good deliberations over what is happening in Nigeria … Just like the UPU, the ACF is a major platform of convergence for the Arewa people and the veritable positive force for engagement of her people. It is this similarity of purpose and mission statement in our mind that has convoked this august gathering.” It appears that UPU may visit other cultural groups such as Ohaneze Ndigbo, Afenifere and Ijaw National Congress (INC). Coincidentally, ACF itself has begun a tour of the country to visit other ethnic groups with a view to encouraging peaceful co-existence, especially in light of recent ethno-religious killings.
Previously, the Urhobos called for a separate state to be carved out of Delta and christened the “New Delta State” based on feeling disenfranchised. This was during the belated celebration of UPU @ 80 as part of the Urhobo National Day Celebration in Agbarho in December 2011. Do we Urhobos need a new State to be treated fairly at the national level? Of course, a national Ministerial appointment (or equivalent) will be guaranteed based on our “federal character” requirement enshrined in Sections 14(3), 171(5) & 219(b) of the 1999 Constitution.
Every year, the Urhobos in North America gather for an annual convention. The 20th Annual convention will be held this year in Boston in Northeastern USA, during the American Labor Day weekend (Friday, August 30, 2013 to Monday, September 2, 2013). The convention theme is “Fostering the Spirit of Unity and Service among Urhobos.” Will it be possible to put aside political party affiliations (or sub-ethnic allegiances) and have a non-partisan discussion of issues affecting all Urhobos? The issues are complicated and should be trashed out at a caucus where egos are left at the doorsteps. Whether Urhobo collective agenda is achievable in the ruling party or in viable opposition can only be addressed after crystalizing what that collective agenda entails. Any Urhobo collective agenda must be realistic and cognizant of other exigencies.
Prof Alex O. Atawa-Akpodiete is an author, Computer Scientist, Educator, Consultant, lawyer, Political Analyst, Public affair analyst & Social commentator. He has a Doctorate degree in Jurisprudence from the US. He has lectured Law, Ethics and Security & Intelligence Studies at the University level here in Nigeria and US. He also writes for a state daily newspaper & national monthly journal. He currently divides his time between Nigeria and USA where he runs a PR and an international capacity-building firm ATAWA GROUP. Contact him on 08138391661 or [email protected] He is also on Facebook and Twitter.