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ADVANCING URHOBO CAUSE IN THE BUHARI ERA

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A PAPER PRESENTED AT THE LECTURE ORGANISED BY THE URHOBO MEDIA GROUP ON 23RD AUGUST, 2015 AT CIVIC CENTRE, OKAPRE-OLOMU.

  1. INTRODUCTION

The Urhobo people dwell in Urhobo land located in Delta State in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.  The oil wealth of Nigeria is located in the Niger Delta region. It has been documented that Nigeria has about 35 billion barrels of proven oil reserve and another 5 billion in development. At the moment, the oil sector accounts for about 95 percent of expert revenues, 76 percent of government revenues and about a third of the nation's Gross Domestic Product. Unfortunately, despite the enormous resources of Nigeria, it is a poor country. Nigeria is a country of paradox with widespread poverty in the midst of plenty. Long years of military rule and poor policies combined with rent-seeking culture have left the country with high levels of poverty and low access to social services. Nigeria is the largest oil producer in Africa and the seventh largest in the world, yet it has the third largest number of poor people in the world after China and India.

Nigeria has very poor social indicators; about 10 million children of school going age are out of school. Nigeria was one of the richest 50 countries in the early 1970s but retrogressed to become one of the 25 poorest countries at the threshold of the twenty first century.  Statistics show that the incidence of poverty using the rate of US $1 per day increased from 28.1 percent in 1980 to 46.3 percent in 1985 and declined to 42.7 percent in 1992 but increased again to 65.6 percent in 1996. The incidence increased to 69.2 percent in 1997. The 2004 report by the National Planning Commission indicates that poverty has decreased to 54.4 percent.  But by 2010, the poverty rate has increased again to 69.1 percent.   Nigeria has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.

In this paper, we discuss how to advance Urhobo cause in the Buhari Era. But first, we describe Urhobo land and the Urhobo cause.

  1. URHOBOLAND

Urhobo land is found in Delta State in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. It is spread over nine local government areas namely Ethiope East, Ethiope West, Okpe, Ughelli South, Ughelli North, Sapele, Udu, Uvwie and part of Warri South. There are twenty five local government areas of Delta State.

In addition to the Urhobos who dwell in Urhobo land, there are Urhobo population in Patani LGA of Delta State, Sagbama LGA of Bayelsa State and Okitipukpa in Ondo State

There are some seminal written work on Urhobo people including The Urhobo People edited by Onigu Otite (2003) and History of the Urhobo People of the Niger Delta edited by Peter P. Ekeh(2006). It has been pointed out that the earliest mention of the Urhobo in any written work was in 1905 by Pereira, a Portuguese explorer. [ii]

The Urhobo people are made up of twenty two separate entities/polities that share a common ancestor. All the identities describe themselves as Urhobo people.

The table one below shows the twenty two Urhobo polities and their locations in local government areas:

Table One: Urhobo Polities and their location in local government  areas

Nos Polity Headquarters LGA
Agbarha-Ame Otovwodo-Agbarha Warri South
Agbarha-Otor Agbarha-Otor Ughelli North
Agbarho Orho-Agbarho Ughelli North
Agbon Isiokoro Ethiope East
Arhavwarien Arhavwarien Ughelli South
Avwraka Otorho-Avwraka Ethiope East
Effuruntor Effuruntor Ughelli South
Evwreni Evwreni Ughelli North
Eghwu Otorho-Eghwu Ughelli  South
Idjerhe Idjerhe Ethiope West
Oghara Ogharefe Ethiope West
Ogor Otogor Ughelli North
Okere-Urhobo Okere Warri South
Okparabe Okparabe Ughelli south
Okpe Orerokpe Okpe and Sapele
Olomu Otorere-Olomu Ughelli South
Orogun Orogun Ughelli North
Udu Otor-Udu Udu
Ughele Otovwodo Ughelli North
Ughievwien Otughievwien Ughelli South
Ughwerun Otughweru Ughelli North
Uvwie Effurun Uvwie

It must be pointed out that recently, Mosogar was created from Idjere and Avwraka was split into Umiaghwa and Oruarivie.

The Urhobo people value education a lot. The first Urhobo university graduate who studied Economics and Social Studies is Olorogun MacNeil Gabriel Ejaife (1912-1972). He attended Fourah Bay College (1944-1946), University of Durham (1946-1948) and the University of Sydney. He later became the founding principal of Urhobo College, Effurun, Delta State.

The Urhobo people engage in a wide range of economic activities including farming, fishing, hunting, tapping of rubber, trading and manufacturing.

The Urhobos constitute the sixth largest ethnic group in Nigeria. According to the 1963 census, the Urhobos were classified among the ten major ethnic groups in Nigeria. [iii] According to Professor Onigu Otite, there are four traditions of the origin of the Urhobo people. The first is that the Urhobos are the original dwellers and owners of their territory who have been living in their territories from time immemorial.  The second tradition is that the Urhobos left Edo at the end of the Ogiso dynasty in search of more peaceful locations as a result of  “cruelty, animosity and tyranny” which pushed them out of the Benin kingdom. [iv]   The third tradition is that the Urhobos migrated from Ile-Ife in Yorubaland. The fourth is that the Urhobos migrated from Sudan and Egypt.

The political institutions of the Urhobo People describing the relationship which are strategic to the structure and functioning of the Urhobo society especially how politics, marriage, religion, economy and the judicial system is organized can be described at different levels of gerontocracies, plutocracies and political kingdoms. The Urhobos practice gerontocracy, the government of elders based on age-grade organization. The oldest person in the community is the head of government known as Okarorho. The age grades for men and women are organized separately. Plutocracy refers to the government of the rich and wealthy. In some Urhobo kingdoms, the units are headed by Plutocrats e.g. the Osuivie of Agbarho and the Ohworode (literally the “big man”) of Olomu. In some of the kingdoms, there are Kings (known as Ovie)   such as in Okpe, Ughelli and Agbon.  In most contemporary Urhobo Kingdom today, there is a combination of genrontocracy (Okarorho) and plutocracy (with different Chieftancy titles) and kingship (Ovie). But some kingdoms such as Orogun have no King.

The Urhobo people have consistently complained of marginalization in Nigerian politics especially in the appointment of persons to federal positions. Despite being the sixth largest ethnic group in Nigeria, there are many periods in Nigerian history where there are no Ministers of Urhobo extraction in a cabinet of over 40 Ministers.

The Urhobos are a religious people. They believe in Almighty God (Oghene). Before the advent of Christianity, they practiced African Traditional Religion. Indeed, the Igbe religious movement, an African Traditional Religion originated in the eighteenth century in Urhoboland. But today the Urhobos are predominantly Christians. Although the entrance of Christianity dates back to the seventeenth century, penetration into the hinterland occurred in the nineteenth century.

The Urhobo people have some common identity. They have their own core territory, language, lifestyle and ways of organizing their political institutions, marriage and family. The Urhobos claim descent from one ancestor with similar origin. The culture of the Urhobo people is unique. They are republicans, hardworking and independent with self pride. They place a high value in marital and family life where there is a high emphasis on purity, fidelity and marital trust. [v] The Urhobo people have a common language, the Urhobo language with different dialects. The Urhobo attire is unique. The men wear wrapper, big shirt, hat and walking stick while the women tie two wrappers, blouse and scalf.

  1. URHOBO CAUSE

Despite the number, resourcefulness and ingenuity of the Urhobo people, they face a lot of challenges including poor political leadership leading to marginalization, poor strategy for engagement amongst ourselves and with other people, lack of economic empowerment and declining social and moral values. The Urhobo cause is therefore to address these challenges and overcome them.

Let us use lack of political leadership in Urhoboland to illustrate the challenges facing the Urhobo people. There is a lack of political leadership in Urhoboland. The republican nature of the Urhobo people has not helped matters. In modern society, election is the best approach for the emergence of political leaders. Some commentators have alluded to the fact that the Niger Delta is one of few regions in the country where the leadership of the region is decided by people outside the region. A study of the electoral geography of the 2007 elections indicated that the Niger Delta produced the worst outcome in election in the country in terms of election malpractices. Since 2003, elections in Delta State have been disputed. The statistics do not add up. In the January, 2011 re-run elections for instance, the population distributions of the three senatorial districts are: Delta North- 30.33percent; Delta Central 38.87 percent and Delta South 31.90 percent. [vi] In 2007, INEC registered a total of 1, 386, 595 eligible voters distributed as follows: Delta North 421,099 (30.4 percent); Delta Central 492, 743 (35.5 percent) and Delta South (472,753 (34.1 percent). But by the results announced by INEC, Delta North produced 18.79 percent; Delta Central 26.41 percent and Delta South 54.79 percent.

A comparison of the votes cast in the recent Senatorial election held in September, 2013 followed the same pattern as can be seen from the table below:

Three Top Parties 2013 2011
PDP 263,024 85,365
DPP 29,055 102,313
APC/CAN 29,075 10,190
Total 321, 154 197,686

From the table above, increase in number of votes between 2011 and 2013 is 62 percent. Similarly, the number of registered voters in 2011 was 827, 338 and in 2013 was 819, 118. The turnout of the three top parties in 2011 was 24 percent but in 2013, it was 40 percent. The statistics do not add up.

However, in the run up to the 2015 elections, the Urhobo people under the platform of the Urhobo Progressive Union (UPU) made the Uvwiamuge declaration insisting the Urhobo people must produce the Governor during the elections. There are states in Nigeria where the majority ethnic group has produced the Governor since 1999 till date such as the Ikwerres in Rivers, the Tivs in Benue and Igalas in Kogi State. But they did not make any public declaration. It will amount to political idiocy for any ethnic group that constitutes less than 40 percent of the voting population to publicly declare that they will produce the Governor without an alliance with other ethnic groups. What happened to the Urhobo people as a result of this is well known to all. This issue is compounded by the fact that some of the leaders in UPU (including the Youth Wing) are political entrepreneurs. Many of them have no visible means of livelihood. They trade with Urhobo name as means of livelihood.

  1. THE BUHARI ERA: AN ERA OF CHANGE

The Buhari era was ushered in with the election and inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari on 29th May, 2015 under the platform of the All Progressives Congress. The party campaigned under the banner of change and has started the process of change in Nigeria.

We have always argued that change will happen in any society when the conditions are ripe.   In our view, for change to occur in any society requires the presence of objective and subjective conditions. Objective conditions exist when situations are evidently abnormal with huge contradictions which can only be resolved by change. The subjective conditions are the organizational preparations required to bring about change. There is no doubt that the objective conditions for change has been existing in Nigeria for a very long time. There is high level of poverty in the midst of plenty. Corruption is widespread, endemic and stifling progress. The wealth of the country is concentrated in the hands of a few. There is social disintegration with high levels of promiscuity and divorce. Rape is on the increase. There are several cases of incest. There is high level of greed, selfishness and nepotism. The state of affairs is not sustainable. The challenge has been the absence of the subjective conditions with the requisite organization and platform to mobilize for social change. It was therefore easy for Nigerians to buy into the change agenda of the All Progressives Congress leading to the inauguration of the government on 29th May, 2015.  The challenge before the government and the Nigerian people is the nature of change and how to actualize the change.

We have argued elsewhere that the kind of change required in Nigeria must be comprehensive affecting all facets of life.  The change must affect the four key areas of economy, politics, social and technological.  In the economic arena, there should be change in the structures and institutions of economic management; diversification of the economy; promotion of transparency and accountability and promotion of pro-poor policies. In politics, there should be change of the 1999 Constitution; institutions of horizontal accountability; the electoral system;  democratic culture;  party financing, campaign finance and Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). In the socio-cultural arena, there should be re-orientation on social values; re-orientation on work ethics and corporate Social responsibility and investment. Finally, there should be focus on acquisition and utilization of new technology. In addition, there should be change in the way public administration is organized.

 

  1. ADVANCING URHOBO CAUSE IN THE BUHARI ERA

The Urhobo people need to key into the change agenda of the Buhari administration in order to advance the Urhobo cause in the Buhari era. To do requires more than declaration and grandstanding. The Urhobo people must discuss a strategy of engagement amongst the Urhobo people, other ethnic nationalities in Delta State and with the larger Nigerian people. The present state of the Urhobo nation is not just undesirable but unsustainable. The way that the Urhobo nation is being organized and governed is unacceptable. There is the need for change in the leadership selection process to avoid the factionalisation that we have today.

Secondly, there is the need to increase the level of awareness and consciousness of the Urhobo people. Many of our people are very gullible and can be deceived easily especially with monetary inducement. In the past four years, I have been involved in political mobilization for change. I have met several Urhobo leaders and the conduct of some of them is disappointing. In one case, an Urhobo leader told me point blank that I should package money in three sets: one for him, a second set to bribe members of his inner core and the third which must not be less than one million naira will be presented in public. These are the kind of political entrepreneurs destroying Urhobo land.  I did not encounter this kind of leaders in Anioma, Ijaw, Itsekiri or Isoko land.

Thirdly, we need to build the next generation of leaders for Urhoboland. There are challenges of leadership in politics, public service, business and academic.  The challenge is likely to more serious in the coming years as there is no systematic way of building a successor generation of Urhobo leaders. Meanwhile, it has been proven that leaders can be trained and mentored.  The Urhobo people should therefore engage in building the next generation of Urhobo leaders through training and mentorship. Potential Urhobo leaders from the ages of 18-45 years should be selected and trained on leadership, entrepreneurship, computer appreciation, project management and conflict management. After the training, they should be attached to senior and successful Urhobo sons and daughters in the areas of politics, public service, business and academics for mentoring for a period of five years.  The time to start is now otherwise political idiocy and marginalization will continue.

CONCLUSION
Societal development is governed by the laws of dialectics. The seed for the destruction of the present order in Urhobo land is being sown by the recklessness and impunity of the ruling class. Nobody can hold back history. There is a limit to the time that people will continue to deceive Urhobo people and engage in political entrepreneurship. They may delay the change process with their ill-gotten wealth helped with the pervasive poverty in the land. But they are working against history. Change will definitely come to Urhoboland.  The Urhobo people are adviced to key into the Change agenda of the Buhari administration and advance Urhobo cause. This can only be done by jettisoning political idiocy and political entrepreneurship and promote character, competence and professionalism.

“Every generation out of relative obscurity must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it.”- Frantz Fanon

“The future will have no pity for those men and women who possess the exceptional privilege of being able to speak the truth to their oppressors but have taken refuge in attitude of passivity, of mute indifference and in some cases of cold complicity.”- Frantz Fanon

“For evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”-Edmund Burke

***Otive Igbuzor, PhD Executive Director, African Centre for Leadership, Strategy & Development (Centre LSD).

E-mail: [email protected]
ENDNOTES
Dennis, V. (2007), Oil and Politics in Nigeria. http://www.pbs.org/news/indepth_coverage/africa/nigeria/oil

[ii] Otite, O (2003), The Urhobo People. Ibadan, Shaneson C.I. Limited.

[iii] Awolowo, O (1968), The Peoples Republic. Oxford University Press

[iv] Otite Op cit
[v] Ibid

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