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Ogbodo: Delta 2015: UPU And The Urhobo Quest

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MY two previous write-ups on this subject matter were unambiguous. I had advised my people to do things differently in order toearn a different result in 2015. It seems nobody has listened. I had warned that the persistent insistence of the Urhobos on the governorship slot of Delta State each election year was becoming counter-productive and that a new strategy – building ethnic consensus – was needed to get around the so-called marginalization of the Urhobos in the allocation of political privileges in the state.

  And my reason for saying this is very simple. For now, the Urhobos are asking to offer what they do not have – unity of purpose – and since nobody gives what he/she does not have, it has been an exercise in futility. Coming out all the time to propose without capacity to impose when it matters most, sounds and looks more like a piece of comedy than a serious proposal. While it is good to remain consistent on a path, it is unwise to continue on the same path when it does not lead to destination.

  Crack in the UPU’s resolve to pursue the Urhobo governorship agenda was reported last week. I saw it coming and I had said so. Chief Tuesday Onoge, the first deputy to the UPU president-general, Chief Joe Omene reportedly staged a walkout at an executive committee meeting called to choose who between O’tegaEmerhor, the APC governorship flag bearer and his Labour Party counterpart, Chief Great Ogboru should enjoy the wholesale support of the Urhobos in the governorship polls. He and four others took a walk when it became clear that the sentiments resided with the Ogboru’s camp, whereas he had wanted Emerhor to take centre stage.

  It meant the UPU moved a bit too fast and clearly ahead of the unfolding events, instead of remaining behind them to get its perspective right. The union took a position at its headquarters in Uvwiamuge (the Uvwiamuge Declaration) to use its numerical superiority to enforce the Urhobo view point in the February general elections, from the Presidential through the National Assembly to the governorship and the State House of Assembly. This was clearly premature. If the UPU had tarried a little before talking or had tapped into recent history beginning from 1999, it would have realised that like crabs, the Urhobos can hardly stay under one wrap without spilling afield.

  The UPU was founded in 1931 under peculiar circumstances. The Urhobos were lagging in almost all indices of development and an extra momentum was needed to drive a process that would bring them at par in education, political access and economic prosperity with others. With leaders that didn’t have the benefit of formal education, the union was able to mobilise resources to establish the popular Urhobo College Effurun in 1948 and also influenced the siting of Government College in Ughelli in 1945. 

  At the time the Urhobo College project was being conceived, there was no man or woman in Urhobo land learned enough to function as a school principal. Consequently, the UPU further mobilised resources to send two men namely Macneil Gabriel Ejaife and Ezekiel Noruecho Igho outside the country to acquire the needed knowledge to manage the new school. Ejaife was at Fourah Bay College Sierra Leone for a degree in the arts and later at Edinburg University for a diploma in education. He returned on August 10, 1948 to become the first principal of Urhobo College.

   It was the same day that Chief Mukoro Mowoe a foremost Urhobo nationalist who was then the president-general of the UPU and the grand architect of the entire Urhobo renewal programme died of jaundice. Igho joined Ejaife later with a master’s degree in the sciences from Cambridge University and both men had worked so hard to put Urhobo College on a sound footing and thus kick-started the voracious quest for education by the Urhobos.

  The UPU did a lot more. It had the acumen to effectively engage the colonial authorities to achieve policy reversal in areas where the Urhobo felt short-changed. For instance, it got parts of Urhobo that were wrongly grouped into other administrative divisions back into a mainstream to achieve a geo-ethnic and political unity. Abraka and Orogun clans were removed from Aboh Division, Oghara and Mosogar got detached from Benin Division while the so-called Sobo-Jekiri Division was decoupled to have an exclusive Urhobo Division into which all Urhobo speaking areas including Uvwie and Okpe were aggregated.

  This was more than 70 years ago. But like most other things in Nigeria, the UPU has not fared well with age. It was about the only ethnic organisation that survived proscription after the civil war. Perhaps the Urhobos had attained pre-eminence pretty too early. They literally came from nowhere to show the light in critical indices of development such as academics, industry and the professions within a very short time. As a result, the driving force, the UPU, simply stopped seeing the need for more conquest to increase existing gains and went complacent. It explains why nothing concrete can be counted as added achievements since the founding fathers left the scene decades ago. 

  Late Chief Benjamin Okumagba as President-general had attempted to re-connect the UPU with the golden era but the Chief who died as the Orosuen (king) of Okere-Urhobo Kingdom adopted a hard line approach that failed to appreciate the nature of current challenges which required a different kind of approach to achieve better result. He got the union ideologically focused, quite well, but left it structurally weakened.

   And so far, nothing much has changed to create a strong structure to drive the modern ideology. The result is a UPU that is caught between old and new ways and devoid of what to do to recreate the old spirit, it seeks relevance by merely dancing to the gallery. The current leadership seems incapable of processing the new realities in all their ramifications and push a position that will be beneficial in the final analysis. 

Since Chief Okumagba started it with James Ibori in 2003 and Great Ogboru in 2007, coming out each election year to shout ‘On Urhobo Governor We Stand’ has somehow become a fundamental objective of the UPU leadership. It is the shortest route to instant popularity of an incumbent executive because it is the catch phrase the people want to sing in an election year.

  Olorogun Felix Ibru, the immediate successor to Chief Okumagba had attempted a refocusing to build a more sustainable strength through inter-ethnic consensus but he more or less stood alone in that crusade. He was painfully ahead in strategic reasoning at a time decisions ran on sentiments and short term considerations. This tide has endured, converting the UPU leadership into one huge trading outpost where big bargains are struck. Or, that, at least, seems the impression out here; that people seek to lead the UPU especially in this season of political horse trading because there is big money to be made. 

  In the choice between Emerhor and Ogboru, the solution does not lie in a campaign to forcefully bring the rebelling faction of the UPU leadership to any mainstream position because that is too late. Ab-initio, there was no common purpose because everybody had been working to achieve a narrow interest. It is also not a solution to go to the roof top and proclaim the better of the two candidates because neither will accept to play a subordinate role. Chief Great Ogboru did not step down for James Ibori in 2003 when the UPU under even Chief Okumagba asked him to do so. In the circumstance, true salvation only lies in a reawakening that will reconnect the current generation to the original purpose of the UPU in the light of new realities. 

  The UPU was not created to contract the operating space of the Urhobo nation but to expand it using all legitimate means including change or review of strategies if the times dictate. About the only strategy that works in modern engagement is consensus building, not arms twisting, intimidation or gunboat approach. Instead of seeking to be kings all the time and failing to reach the throne, the Urhobos of today can choose a new strategy that will make them king makers and kings at different times and without hassles. What should be constant in the new mix is their interest.


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