Taiga: We need to restructure based on true federalism
No Urhobo Man Should Be Happy With State Of Affairs In Our Land
Olorogun Moses Taiga is an accomplished professional and businessman. He retired as Managing Director of ConocoPhillips Oil into private business. At 70 plus, he feels it is time to give back to his community. Consequently mounted the rostrum sometime last year as the President General of Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) Worldwide, one of the oldest socio-cultural organisations in Nigeria. He spoke to reporters on his agenda to develop the Urhobo Nation for the people to take their appropriate position among other ethnic nationalities in Nigeria. The Guardian, Seye Olumide was there.
What is your position on the leadership tussle in UPU?
Thank you for that question, which shouldn’t have been a question in the first place because Chief Joe Omene’s tenure expired in the middle of December 2016. An election was held and supervised by members of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of UPU. The constitution provides that whenever there is a crisis, the BoT steps in.The BoT, headed by Professor Onigu Otite, conducted an election where more than 13 of the 24 traditional rulers of Urhobo and all the presidents-general of all the kingdoms of Urhobo were present.
It was conducted at the Ovwiamuge Cultural Centre of Urhobo so it was a genuine, properly conducted election and all offices in accordance with the constitution were contested for and we won hands down. There is no issue of crisis or factions or sections in Urhobo.
Omene served his tenure and he has left and the entire Urhobo nation has told him so. The report that there are sections or factions is amazing to us. There is only one indefatigable properly constituted authority, which is the UPU led by my humble self, Olorogun Moses Taiga.
What is the situation now with regards to the position of Omene?
The issue is that we are open to all Urhobo- to come to the fold and we are even open to our neighbours. We are open to Omene to come to us so that we can reconcile him with the kings. We are willing to reconcile him with those who have ostracized him. Whatever somebody is thinking is irrelevant. If I am thinking I am the president of Nigeria when nobody elected me, what purpose does it serve? You can confer upon yourself all titles that you do not deserve. The truth is, we want all Urhobo to be united and the door is open for Omene to return and take his rightful place as ex-president general of UPU.
Do you see the hands of politicians in all these?
I wouldn’t know but we campaigned seriously. I went round the 24 kingdoms and visited the kings, the presidents-general and the youths in each of the kingdom, like others did but we won legitimately. We were not in anyway influenced by any political party.There are two leading political parties in Delta State, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic party (PDP) but none of them influenced us. Moses Taiga is beyond such pettiness.
I am not a politician. I told my executive at the inaugural meeting that they should hang their political garment outside whenever they are coming for UPU meeting. This is Urhobo government, let us discuss Urhobo affairs and when we finish, you can go out and put on your political garment. I don’t stop people from playing their politics but when we come in to discuss our affairs, there should be no political leaning. No politician is denied because the union is open to all.
So I do not see the hand of any politician, neither is there any political leaning in what we are doing. I welcome all none politicians and politicians. That is the reason we are very careful where there is a political association or meeting and we are invited, we do not go.
What are your priorities as UPU President General?
Majority of us came from the private sector and we went round all the kingdoms and enunciated our manifesto of justice and issues that we want to achieve in our reign. They are five things.First we want to honuor the second President General of UPU, Chief Mukoro Mowoe, who led the association from 1941 to 1948 by setting up a university, which we intend to name after him. This is something that will be very exciting to the local people and it is amazing that the 24 kingdoms of Urhobo are lobbying that the institution should be sited in their location.
Originally we thought of calling it Mukoro Mowoe Memorial University and we talked to Professor Okojie, the immediate past secretary general of National University Commission (NUC) but he said we should simply call it Mukoro Mowoe University. That’s what we want to do.
We already approached Uvwiamuge people in Agbarho and they have given us an additional 36 hectares of land to add to what was there in 2005. There are many other communities in the land that have shown interest. We have appointed a Senior Special Adviser on Education, Prof Sam Iboje and we are going to get him to start the process of the formation of the university.
We want to get specific Urhobo personalities to adopt each faculty in the university. For example, if we will set up a college of journalism, we will name it after whoever adopts it and let’s say Toke Alex Ibru College of Journalism. The same thing goes to other faculties. That is what we have in plan.
The second project that is most important to the Urhobo and for which we are known for, is the Urhobo College. We were unique in the whole country in setting up an institution named after our nation. No other tribe in Nigeria has done that and I have sent delegates to go and examine the current state of the college; what they saw was an eyesore. That old school that produced eminent Urhobo people, including myself, has gone down. People like the Orodge of Okpe, Gen. Felix Muajekpero (rtd) was a product of Urhobo College, the Uvwie Monarch is also a product of the college, but today the college is the opposite what it used to be in the past.
This is a school that produced eminent engineers but it has lost its glory. We want to renovate it and we are happy to hear that the government is also planning to make it a model school. We are going to get in touch with the government to know the stage it intends to develop it so that we can take it beyond that.We will get the best of teachers and others to work in the college. We are already understudying the model of St Peters Claver College (SPCC) Aghalokpe to determine our plan. This is the second item on our list of manifesto.
The third item; a friend of mine visited Warri Shoprite. As he stood there looking into the supermarket he could see all sorts of technicians and electricians who came from Ghana, Togo and others West African countries working. But our boys were carrying loads. This is painful. Some of our youths are driving Keke Nape outside the complex.
We would like our children to learn technical trade, and there are two technical schools in Urhobo land at present. We have the Ogor Technical College in Otor Ogor and Sapele Technical College where people could learn carpentry, welding and such other trainings in those days. We are getting in touch with the government to renovate these schools so that our children can go there to learn any trade. Everybody cannot go to the university. These colleges would enable our children to go for trainings either for six months, two years and so on, get their certificate and come out to work for themselves.
The fourth agenda; we discovered that our women are very hardworking and it is necessary to train them. I am glad that Mr. Abraham Ogbodo, is a former President of Atamu Social Club and you will agree with me that Atamu is a good philosophy, which is do according to what you want to do and do it well. We want to set up a micro finance bank for Urhobo women where they can borrow money and also pay back because that is the atamu concept.
Our aim is to make our women a good example for the men. We have already appointed a famous banker, Dr. Abudu, who is the managing director of Delta Investment Corporation to understudy the micro finance bank.
We are also interested in Urhobo language and the women wing of UPU have taken it up and they have got somebody like Professor Rosa Zissa, the Deputy Vice Chancellor of Delta State University, first to see how the government can include Urhobo language as a study item in our schools and to teach our little children when they are on holidays how to speak Urhobo.
We have this Urhobo Cultural Center in Warri at 18 Okere Road. In the past, our neighbours used to envy us because of the beauty of the centre but today, it is not being effectively used.The aim is to ensure that during summer holidays, our little children will go to the centre to learn Urhobo language in its simplicity.
Finally, we are also planning to teach our younger ones how to respect our elders. Take for instance, a Yoruba boy living in Lagos will go to his village on weekends and take a bottle of drink. As he arrives in his town, he goes to the king’s palace and say my royal highness I am here if you need me for anything I will be available for your services till Sunday when I plan to return to Lagos. And when he is going back, he will also go back to the king to say I am traveling please pray for me. Our children don’t know how to respect our kings and by extension, respect our elders.
So we want to imbibe it in our younger generation that it is not just wealth that matters but we should learn the culture of respecting our elders.This is our agenda. During the election, we called on every contestant to state what they intended to do for the Urhobo nation. These are my five objectives and each of them was enunciated.
I also promised the kings and erstwhile president generals that every quarter, I will come to them to give account of where we are.When the Urhobo Social Club did its inauguration, we presented a paper stating where we are and we also sent a copy of our stewardship accountability to members of UPU in the Dispora, stating where we are and we even made it available to the press.
Do you intend to mobilize the people to ask for stewardship from representatives of the Urhobo in the political space?
I think what you are going to ask is whether I am putting them (politicians) in what I am doing. I must admit I am from Ughelli South and Honorable Izeze, who is representing the area in the State House of Assembly, has a big presentation in Otujeremi. He made me the chairman of the occasion but I was unable to go because it coincided with the day I was going to Agbara Ameh in Ogbe-Ijo in Warri but I apologized to him for my absence.
We want to be able to go to Asaba and talk to the Urhobo representatives in the State House of Assembly. We want to go to Abuja to talk to the Senators and members of the House of Representatives and other recognised Urhobo dignitaries in Abuja. We are going to present our agenda to them and also demand to have their agenda because if we both know the programme of one another, it is then we can work together for the progress and development of the Urhobo nation.
Are the Urhobo properly integrated in Nigeria and are you happy with the quality of the Urhobo representation in politics both at the state and the federal level?
You asked a double question but to answer the last part of it, nobody who is an Urhobo man should be happy with the state of affairs; where we are in this country. We are not recognised in Abuja and we are not well recognised at the state level. It is not that the little things we are given are sufficient for us; the truth is that mistakes have been made in the past and my position is that we should wait when it will come to our turn again. It is very difficult for us today to mobilize the people over night and say here we are.
For instance, there was a story late General Patrick Aziza told me that when he led the eminent Urhobo personalities to meet with the Arewa forum in Kaduna, the trip that I didn’t support anyway, but he went. According to Aziza, when they started introducing one another, the Arewa people introduced themselves stating the federal positions which all of them had attained and are still holding at the centre in the country. But when it came to our turn, in the whole of the delegation of eminent Urhobo personalities, none of them, except Aziza had held any federal position.
The late army general told me he buried his head in shame. I recollect very vividly in my former place of work when I was appointed as a managing director, my boss came from America to tell me that my immediate boss was jealous of me and he didn’t want me to move up. But he (the American) said this is where you are supposed to be but you are here. I cannot move you from here to there today but we are going to do it in two stages. I am going to move you here and I am going to shorten the process to enable you move to where you belong and we agreed.
I think that is the whole concept of the Urhobo problem. We have moved from the centre to the left. So if we want to move to the centre, we have to climb from the right. That’s what I think we need to do and if we have awareness of who we are, let us be united so that we can move from the left to our rightful position. What I mean by left is we are bent in a particular direction but we can then gradually move to the centre.
The issue is why would my nephew or my niece be special adviser, obtained a car, which he is driving about but the day whoever gives him that position leaves office, he won’t be able to feed himself, not to talk of buying petrol to run the car. He is not even supposed to take the car in the first place. The person that gave the position and the car should have shown him the means of livelihood.
We understand that majority of the people who were offered political appointments but without a solid means of livelihood, are the ones that resort to all manner of crimes like kidnapping after leaving office. They have no means to sustain the artificial living that the politicians had exposed them to. To answer the question more directly, no Urhobo man is happy with the decline of the nation. We have declined.
There was a time of the Odibos, and the Edewors in Warri but what is happening there today? Shell moved out of Warri and the economy is now bad. You go to Ughelli and what do you see, just petty trading. There are no more employers of labours, who pay regularly at the end of the month. So whether it is in government or politics, the Urhobo nation has declined and it needs to wake up. We are not satisfied with the level we are.
Can you therefore say past Urhobo leaders like Chief Mukoro Mowoe and others did better than the present crop of leaders?
It is not only Mukoro Mowoe, there was Salubi, Esiri and others. We need people that would fight for the cause of the Urhobo nation and of course, what I said, even before my campaigns and people said I shouldn’t say it, was that we have 24 kingdoms and very soon it would become 30 or 60 but what do we need these kingdoms for? Some people wanted to have their kingdoms but it is not the number of kingdoms that we create that matters but the efficacy of the existing ones to survive on their own and generate businesses for our people to work.
For example, the place that I come from, Okpare, that used to be the business center of Urhobo where we had UAC, John Holt, CFAO in those days. These foreign companies would bring kerosene, food and others items in exchange for our palm kernel, rubber and cocoa but where are those things today? How many cocoa farm or palm kernel plantations do we have in the whole of Urhobo land at present? I remember when I was in the secondary school, I would go and tap my father’s rubber and we would share the money but indirectly I didn’t know I was working for my school fees. I was producing rubber for my father but how many of us can do that today? We want to drive cars, we want to associate with politicians who are in Asaba or in Abuja and they will give us car but that is not employment. Go to Warri where we used to have a factory that produced palm kernel oil, it is now closed down. In those days, those were the types of businesses that were generating employment and they brought orderliness because people woke up in the morning and went to work. But as we speak, there is no orderliness in Urhobo land right now.
Having mentioned the challenges of the Urhobo nation what is your position on restructuring?
That is a very good question because I was reading Urhobo Voice yesterday and I was shocked that a member of my executive made a statement, which he ought not to have made. The position of the Urhobo and I am speaking as the spokesman of the Urhobo nation, is in tandem with the 16-point agenda of the South-South leaders, which was re-enunciated two weeks ago at Chief Albert Horsfall residence in Lagos. We are calling for restructuring in accordance with the Independence Constitution, which was based on true federalism.
Remember there were three regions then but the Mid-West was later created to make it four. Every region developed at its pace and it also controlled the resources within its territory and contributed to the centre. But when the military came, it distorted the structure in accordance with the military command structure of centralised order through the Decree promulgated by General Aguiyi Ironsi. Everything was centralised and in return, the regions were given handouts. It was only recently that we in the South-South geo-political zone fought to get the 13 percent derivation.
What the elders projected was that the states as they are, should be independent and control their resources. We just have to review the concurrent and exclusive lists.
In the first instance, why should a state government be involved in building and running of secondary schools and why should the Federal Government be involved in federal secondary schools. Why is the Federal Government competing with the local government? There is the need to have a true federal structure. We need to go back to the status quo ante; where we were before 1960; the Independent Constitution given to us by our founding fathers. That is the Urhobo stand. The issue of whether we would become an independent nation is irrelevant. The Urhobo nation is calling for true federalism.
I have an addition to that, I do not agree with rotation of position of power, vote should be in accordance with the available demographics and other variables. For instance, why is it, and especially in Delta State, that governorship position is rotated? Go to Benue and tell the Tiv people that you want to rotate the governorship position, and see whether you will have peace.
Specifically, what is your position regarding the governorship of Delta State, do you want it to be at the instance of Urhobo people?
I think that is clear in my opinion. It is very clear that we are a force to be reckoned with and whether we are 62 percent of the population as we are at a time, or we are 38 per cent as we are now, that is still the majority leading population in the state. We cannot ignore the leading population in any state. I think the question you are asking is whether we say yes or no, it doesn’t matter. The issue is we should endeavour to put ourselves in a position where the Urhobo nation is recognised and it negotiates with whoever is coming out for the governorship position. Now the governor has been taken from the South, North and it will return to the Central. It must be done with the concurrence and happy support of the Urhobo nation and not in spite of the nation.
But if the Urhobo are not strong in the power calculation then it would continue to happen in spite of them?
The key issue is do we want to be recognised? And it must be done with our concurrence and not with our connivance. One of the issues is that the leadership of Urhobo, including me should avoid desire for wealth. The Urhobo people are very easy to please. If you are seen to be steady and firm on principle and you are not partial in whatever you do, you will earn their respect. You must be beyond reproach in everything you do.
If the politicians know that you are not buyable, you are not purchasable they will go to all the people to engage them to support you. It is that engagement principle that you are saying and which is easy to do, if our leaders listen to each other and they do not bicker.
For me I just do not believe in being there to be bought over. I am not a commodity to be purchased. I am not buyable, if you call me for an open meeting I will be there but if you call me for a private meeting and say you want to see me in the bedroom; I will say I am sorry I cannot climb.
What I am saying is if you are not purchasable and people know you for that and you teach those around you not to let themselves to be purchasable and you are bold enough to rebuke them if they do anything that goes against the principle, that would serve as a good example to the rest of all.We need to show example and teach our people that it is our birthright that we are selling if we are purchasable. I do not intend to operate that way.
Recently someone in the Southeast said Urhobo land and all of Delta is part of Biafra and nothing was heard from you?
I take the position of the Southern Leaders Forum that some of those statements are for negotiations. We the Urhobo nation know we are not, even neighbours to some of those people who said we are part of them. We have the Ijaw to the west, we have the Edo to the north and we have the Anioma to the northeast so there is nothing that binds us. There is no correlation between us and we also have the natural River Niger that separates us. There is therefore no case in that. The issue is, does somebody draw an artificial map and say Edo and Delta are part of his own?
The youngman, Nnamdi Kanu lives in England and makes all sorts of claim. The Southern Leaders Forum said any attack on any party of the South is an attack against the whole South, so we do not intend to select any nation in the whole of the South for special attack.We are not part of any other kingdom; we are the fourth largest nation in the country and we’ve not fought hard enough to secure our rightful place but our job is to try to articulate our position and ensure that we are due for recognition.
It is unfortunate that everybody fights to get the capital once a state is created because that is a source of wealth and development. The capital is always meant for creation of industries and other things, which make people to fight for it to be located in their area. For instance, look at what Asaba was yesterday and what it is today.
It is not all those noise you make, we the Urhobo, want to articulate our position and also fight for positions we needed to fight for. God bless the memory of the Publisher of The Guardian Newspaper, Dr. Alex Ibru, who was a Minister of Internal Affairs. When he became minister, he came here and demanded to have the list of all the Urhobo in the Customs and Immigration but we only had one Ogilo, who was in the Customs and nobody else.
We need to encourage our children. I have a friend in Jos whose son graduated over 10 years ago. We have contacts in Customs and DSS but the boy said no, that he would prefer to work in the private sector. One of the things we want to encourage our people is to go to the Civil Service.
I asked one of my deputies to list the names of all our children in the Civil Service both in the federal and state. I learnt that strategy from Chief Oduaran of blessed memory, when he became the Registrar of the University of Benin. He went round the world to meet all Urhobo students that were doing Masters Degree and above in foreign universities, took their names and addresses and also gave them his contact. He told them there was a university at home, therefore if they finished, they should return home to lecture there. I also want to compile a list of how many Urhobo are in the Civil Service and their rankings, why are they (Urhobo) not Permanent Secretaries in federal ministries and what are the criteria of attaining the position of PS. If we get these facts we can now make a case. But that can only be achieved if we have our facts. We want to encourage our children to go to the Civil Service and also ensure they move up the ladder.
How do you reconcile coming down from your Olympian height of an international and successful businessman with being a leader of Urhobo?
It is not right to say that I had not being involved in community service before now. I have been president general of Olumu Community in the last 20 years and I have been doing things in my community. I have a business in Ovwain in Delta State, which is the oldest and biggest marine business in Nigeria. It has been there since 1948.
I asked for the oldest members of the community and decided to be paying them some amount of money monthly in appreciation for their support. I also suggested giving scholarship to the community. Even in my own community I provided jobs. For instance, the day we were elected, a woman came to me and said she listened to my five-point agenda but begged me to please include the widows. I have always considered including the widows in my community services but the issue is, how many widows are we going to cater for because Urhobo is a big nation. The widows can be part of the women. I have experience in running Urhobo affairs.
The Urhobo nation had been asking me for the past 20 years to become president general and I was refusing but this last time, they didn’t come to me but went to the Urhobo Historical Society and begged them to beg me to accept the position. That was why my first point of call was to go to Urhobo Social club because they were the first people that launched me.
Also I thought within myself that I was getting old and time to return home. I woke up one day and decided to build a church for my community; I built the reverend father’s house first and later built the church. There was a time I was to set up a university in Okpare and even arranged with Michigan Central University in Washington. We set up an office in Warri, which was headed by Professor Ologbe. We went to the National University Commission (NUC) and I appointed one Dr. Kragha as administrator. We also appointed a woman to do the survey but my community said to me one day that I wanted to take over their land. Now they are begging me to come back.
The university we proposed was called Enterprise University, everything was set up, in fact the professor from Michigan said they wanted to write a book on how to establish a private university in Africa but the whole set-up was abandoned.
Sustaining the legacies of eminent Urhobo personalities after their demise
What has happened to eminent Uhrobo personalities? We have the types of Mukoro Mowoe, Salubi, Edewor, and Dr Esiri. The likes of Aziza and the Ibrus are just recent. It is a very important thing and that is why we are starting with Chief Mukoro Mowoe to set up a university that would be named after him because he set up principles that we should try to imitate.
He set up Urhobo College. He would come to the village and his grandmother would contribute a penny. His grandfather used to donate his personal money to the central purse whenever he attended Urhobo meeting. That was the old Urhobo we knew but the one we have today, whenever our people return from any meeting their wives would be asking the amount of money they made from the meeting. She would want to know if you were received at the meeting and how much you got from the money that was shared.
I said I don’t intend to do that but what I want is that when you come to meeting you will contribute money to the central purse because that was what encouraged our mothers and grandmother to contribute money for Mukoro Mowoe to educate Ejaife Igho in England on the account of Urhobo purse. It was that old concept we want to bring into focus. If that is practised, a lot of things will begin to change in Urhobo land.
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