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At 100 years, Onoghemuovwe counsels on eating habit, lifestyle

By Gowon Akpodonor
08 April 2023   |   4:05 am
The atmosphere was noisy, with his grand children playing and running around the sitting room. Yet, it was soul-lifting for Pa Michael Onoghemuovwe, the sole survivor of a 16-member Urhobo Cultural Group, which entertained people of different tribes in the Western Region, Lagos and other major cities across Nigeria from the mid 1940s to late 1950s.


The atmosphere was noisy, with his grand children playing and running around the sitting room. Yet, it was soul-lifting for Pa Michael Onoghemuovwe, the sole survivor of a 16-member Urhobo Cultural Group, which entertained people of different tribes in the Western Region, Lagos and other major cities across Nigeria from the mid 1940s to late 1950s.

Onoghemuovwe, who later joined the Nigeria Railway Corporation in Lagos in 1956, will clock 100 years on April 15.

He is among the Founding Fathers of Urhobo Community Union, which later metamorphosed into the present day Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) in Ikorodu.

Born on April 15, 1923 in Ugboroke community, Uvwie, near Effurun, Warri, Michael is among 21 children of his late father. His mother, who hailed from neighbouring Uwhrughelli, Agbarho in present day Ughelli North LGA, had 14 children (12 boys and two girls).

At the early stage of his life, Pa Michael Onoghemuovwe got married to a woman from Isoko, but she later divorced him because he was poor.

“I married another woman a few years later, in 1965, and we had our first child, a boy. I named him Godgift. Surprisingly, the woman called for divorce soon afterward, claiming that I was not rich enough,” he stated.

Shortly before the outbreak of the Nigerian civil war in 1967, Onoghemuovwe got married to Madam Margaret, whose father hails from Kokori and mother from Uwheru, all in the present day Delta State.

Margaret gave birth to nine children, but lost two. Among the survivors are six women and one man, who is the last-born in the family.

Pa Michael Onoghemuovwe started his elementary education at Oka Memorial Primary School, Uwhrughelli, Agbarho in 1939, but dropped out early following the death of his father.

To make ends meet, the young Michael engaged himself in menial jobs, carrying loads for market women in Warri and its environs.

“I had no particular place to sleep then,” he recalled his early days in Warri, while speaking with The Guardian. “I moved from one location to another, helping people to do all kinds of menial jobs just to feed.”

As part of his struggle for survival, Onoghemuovwe soon became a specialist in rubber tapping, one of the menial jobs some young men did in the early days to feed themselves.

He became so popular in the rubber tapping business that all rubber merchants scramble for his services.

Onoghemuovwe became so popular as a rubber tapper that he was taken to different locations in Warri metropolis, including an Itsekiri dominated area called Kpemushale, where he was introduced to the king by some Ogoni rubber produce traders from Rivers State. From Kpemushale, he moved to Sapele and other locations in the then Western Region rendering his service to rubber merchants.

His life took another turn while he was in Warri, as he joined Ori Moko Boxing Club, where he trained on the art of self-defence. He rose to become a lightweight fighter.

While struggling to strike a balance between rubber tapping and boxing, Onoghemuovwe and his childhood friend, Isaac Abolo, had a close shelve with dearth.

He recalls: “Isaac and I were introduced to a man, who took us to a nearby village to tap rubber. I won’t mention the name of the village. Everything was going on well until one day, when the man sold us to the head of the village, who was looking for some young men to be sacrificed to their gods.

“A day was already fixed for the sacrifices, but the daughter of the village head, Tiro, was not comfortable with the arrangement. She started crying. To save Isaac and I, Tiro decided to leak the secret to us, but with a warning that it might take the Grace of God for us to escape it.

“Soon after, two men came into our room. My friend, Isaac, was a superior boxer. He was a featherweight champion in Warri then. Isaac suggested that we should beat the two men up, but I said no. We had to apply wisdom. We pretended as if we were drunk, poured water on the floor of the sitting room, which forced the two men to move into the bedroom. The trick actually saved us in the middle of the night, when the killers came looking for us. We ran into the bush, and later found our way to Agbassa in Warri.”

Onoghemuovwe continues: “At that time, Agbassa was home to many giants in Warri. The news of our escape from the hands of killers in the nearby village soon spread round Agbassa. By 7.00 a.m. the next day, all the giants of Agbassa had gathered. The son of Esi Igbudu (a great warrior) and the daughter of Ori Moko (a boxer) led the group to the village. Before 8.30 a.m., we were already in the village chatting war songs. We went straight to the house of the man that sold us out, but he denied. The village head also denied ever sending killers after us. They asked us to name the person who leaked the information to us, but we refused. That was how we ended our rubber business venture in that village. Till today, I refused to disclose the name of the village to my children because civilisation has taken over everything,” he recalled.

Back in Warri, Onoghemuovwe’s hustle for survival continued.

However, in 1952, James Ofou Onome, a native of Agbarho, arranged a ‘business trip’ for Onoghemuovwe and his friend, Isaac, to Lagos.

Their first port of call was Ogodogbo, a place behind Lucky Fibre, along the Ijebu-Ode road in Ikorodu.

“After four years at Ogodogbo, I moved to Onipanu to tap rubber, and later to Anthony Village, in 1956. It was at Anthony Village that I joined Bobby Benson as an apprentice mechanic. But I stopped the work soon after due to hunger,” he stated.

Later that year (1956), Onoghemuovwe joined the Nigeria Railway Corporation as a Fitter and Plumber, where he retired after many years.

Before he left Warri for Lagos, Pa Onoghemuovwe had formed a dance group called Urhobo Cultural Group. It had 16 members. Onoghemuovwe was so good in the entertaining act that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) invited him and his group to perform at a ceremony in Ikoyi.

Onoghemuovwe said: “A few weeks after our performance in Ikoyi, some Americans came from Badagry to see us. They wanted to sponsor us to America to perform, but I declined the offer. Two things made me to turn down their invitation. First, I was a school drop out, and secondly, the young boys and girls in our cultural group might run away in America, and the people will hold me, or possibly send me to jail for their sins. That was how I turned down that offer from the Americans.”

Pa Onoghemuovwe, who has four graduates among his children, is now the Okarorho (oldest man in Ugboroke community in Uvwie Local Govt. Area near Effurum) in Delta State. His people want him to return home.

Pa Onoghemuovwe, a former chairman of UPU, Ikorodu branch, is currently one of the union’s patrons.

Last year, Pa Onoghemuovwe was part of UPU delegation to the palace of the Oba of Ikorodu, His Royal Majesty, Oba Kabiru Adewale Sotobi.

During the visit, the UPU delegation, which included some prominent leaders as Chief Christopher Obriki (Chairman UPU, Ikorodu), Chief Fidelis Odia (Chairman, UPU, Ikeja branch), High Chief Philip Edemete (UPU, Ikorodu branch), Chief Joseph Odia (Chairman, UPU, Abeokuta branch), Peter Akpona (vice chairman, UPU, Ikorodu and Secretary, Ikeja branch), Chief Sam Otiko, Engr. John Erusi (Secretary, UPU, Ikorodu) and Mrs. Cecilia David (Chairlady, UPU, Ikorodu), briefed the Monarch on how the Urhobos, the fourth largest ethnic group in Nigeria, had lived peacefully in Ikorodu for several decades.

“The Oba was so excited, when the Master of Ceremony announced that I will be marking my 100-year birthday soon. He took photographs with me and my wife,” he stated.

Meanwhile, Pa Onoghemuovwe has counseled the young generation on their life style, as well as eating habits to remain healthy for long.

“I have one wife, and she gives me joy and rest of mind. If you marry two wives, in most cases, it creates double punishment for a man. At times, you will be returning home from work to meet your two wives fighting over little issues. In that situation, you won’t have the appetite to eat, even if the best meal is put on the table. But that is not to say that having one wife is the solution to staying healthy and living longer.

“Having one wife is like being a semi-bachelor. I say so because there are some women, who will deliberately starve their husband of food and sex just because they know he does not have another wife to run to. It should not be so because as adult, who are married, both of you need sex to stay healthy.

“Apart from marriage, one other thing I do to keep my body healthy is to stay away from consumption of beer. I do take a little ogogoro (local gin brewed from palm wine). My favourite food is banga soup (a local delicacy prepared from juice of palm fruit) and starch (extract from cassava). I also eat a lot of unripe plantain with iribo-otor. I don’t eat any soup prepared with Maggi. Instead, we use crayfish because it contains many nutrients that are good for the body. I don’t eat rice.”

Pa Onoghemuovwe advised the youth to always be kind to one another, irrespective of tribe and religion. “You never can tell what tomorrow will bring. I told you the story of how the two women I married earlier divorced me just because they felt I was not rich enough. They came back to beg me some years later, but I told them I can’t marry two wives.

“People should be kind to one another. Perhaps, if my friend, Isaac and I were not nice to Tiro, those wicked killers would have sacrificed us to their gods in the village many years ago.

Also, the younger generation should stop stressing themselves over things they don’t have control over. I am sure some men would have complained when my wife, Margaret, gave birth to six female children. But at last, we had a male child, our last-born. That is the work of God. Now, I am planning to relocate back home to meet my people. The money is not there, but I don’t need to put pressure on myself. I believe God will make a way. People should allow tomorrow take care of itself,” Pa Onoghemuovwe suggested.

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