Urhobo Union, at 80, seeks new state

The Urhobos in Delta State at the weekend in the heartland of the race, Agbarho, espoused again the need to stick together to be able to push through a new state from the present Delta State. As the fifth largest ethnic group in the country, they feel cheated that the project called Nigeria has not been fair to them. That was the theme of their collective call when they aggregated to mark the 80th anniversary of their union, the Urhobo Progress Union. GOWON AKPODONOR who was there, reports.

IT was an occasion meant to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Urhobo National Day 2011, but for the leadership of Urhobo Progress Union (UPU), the event marked the beginning of a new struggle.

“We are seriously engaged in the struggle for the creation of ‘New Delta State’ and all Urhobo influential sons and daughters should lend a helping hand to make our dream come true,” was the message from the UPU President-General, Maj.-Gen. Newton Patrick Aziza, while declaring the occasion open at the modern Urhobo Cultural Centre, Uvwiamuge-Agbarho, Delta State.

The UPU, which is the umbrella body of all clubs and associations of sons and daughters of all the 24 Urhobo Kingdoms in Delta State, had clocked 80 years on November 3, but its National Executive Council decided to start the ceremony last weekend, a date, which coincided with this year’s Urhobo National Day celebration.

According to Olorogun Aziza, the socio-political and economic dynamics of modern Nigeria have changed, so, the Urhobos must move with the tide or go into extinction as a nation and a people.

“Indeed, these are not ordinary times and as a people, we need to be wise and sensitive to the dictates of the time and its inherent challenges; challenges which if properly managed, open the door to tremendous opportunities that can move the Union to new heights,” he stated.

The UPU boss noted that “although the population of the Urhobo has increased and social political awareness has increased; so also is self-enlightened interest. All these external imperatives set the agenda for the Union with attendant challenges.”

By 1914 when the amalgamation of the diverse ethnic groups habiting the space called Nigeria today took place, the Urhobos had begun to feel the need for a form of protection because of the complexity of the emerging state. And so, from about 1925, several meetings had begun to be held by elites of Urhobo stock in Okpara Waterside in present Ethiope East Local Council, Sapele in Okpe Local Council and Warri, their then most cosmopolitan enclave. Forced by the sheer force of articulation of their ideas, the Urhobo independence was acknowledged by the British colonial rulers in 1931, paving the way for the formation of the Urhobo Progress Union started as Urhobo Brotherly Society in Warri.

According to professor of Sociology and leading authority on Urhobo history, Onigu Otite, the Union’s name was changed to Urhobo Progressive Union, and later, in 1935, to the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU), following the amendment by the Urhobo Literary Committee of an earlier suggestion by the Lagos Branch of the UPU.

The aims and objectives of the UPU at its founding were to maintain good reputation and earn for the Urhobo a better place in the public, seek the promotion of education in Urhoboland because of its strong belief in advantage of education in social and economic structure of the society.

According to Gen. Aziza at Agbarho on Friday, the most critical and immediate challenge facing UPU today is the issue of unity amongst the people, but added: “Our National Executives Council has made plans to bring every aggrieved persons back to the fold.

“This administration has embarked on many conflict resolution initiatives and the efforts are beginning to yield positive results. It is imperative for us to recognise that we are first Urhobos before any affiliation, be it political, social, economic and or religious. Unity they say is strength and if we are united, I am convinced that we shall overcome.”

To achieve its set objective, Aziza said every Urhobo sons and daughters must be ready to play their parts: “Our youths should stop kidnapping and work towards the growth of Urhobo nation…It is our struggle and we have to be in the forefront.”

He recalled the role played by the royal fathers and other Urhobos, particularly the late Senator Fred Brume, who he described as “one of the arrow heads for the state creation.”

The celebration of the 80th anniversary of the UPU had started with a novelty football match between notable sons and daughters of Urhobo at the Ughelli Township Stadium, which ended 1-1. It was followed by a special Urhobo cultural carnival, which, according to the UPU, was a way of projecting the culture and tradition of Urhobo people.

As is usual with the Urhobos in embracing their brothers and sisters in the state, they were not alone during some of the events. Giving due respect to the governor of the state, Dr. Emmanuel Ewetan Uduaghan during the official opening, he used the opportunity to identify with the Urhobos some of whom were his most strident opponents in all his election victories so far.

According to Uduaghan, the call for the creation of “New Delta State” by the UPU is not out of place, rather, it is to realise a lofty dream. He also harped on unity by the people.

He said: “The UPU President-General has said that Urhobo should be in the fore front in politics of Delta State and Nigeria. If we are not united, we cannot achieve it. I thank the UPU for inviting me as governor to this occasion, although, by right, I am supposed to be here as a son of Urhobo. I thank the President-General for his speech, which captured most of the concerns we have as Deltans.

“All the things he mentioned in his speech actually captured our concerns and I pray we adopt the speech as the Bible for this 80th anniversary of UPU and see how we can implement it so as to move forward. In the next one-year, if we can implement it, we will be a better nation and a better ethnic group. The challenges of Urhobos unity and the challenges of the Urhobos extending hands of fellowship to the other ethnic groups in the state, is the concern of many people.

“There is no doubt that Urhobo is the majority ethnic group in Delta State and remains the ethnic group, which has the chance and opportunity of deciding where the stake should go. I want to assure the UPU President-General that the government of Delta State will study this speech and see how we can support you in whatever you set out to do. More significant is the issue of conflict resolution, which you emphasized in your speech. Conflict resolution to ensure we are united. I thank you for your special interest on security issues, including kidnapping and armed robbery.”

Gov. Uduaghan added: “For UPU to be 80 years means that the union was formed when many of us were not born. Like Aziza pointed out, conflict resolution is important for unity and growth of the people. We must live together as brothers and sisters.”

The governor pleaded with the people to look at the positive side of his administration rather condemn it even “when I get things right.”

He said: “Whatever I do that is not correct, you should forgive me, but when I get it right, you people should clap for me.”

The Deputy Governor, Prof. Amos Agbe Utuama, opened the Business Section of the congress, where a special anniversary lecture, titled: “The challenge of sustaining the Urhobo vision” was delivered by Prof. Andrew Onokerhoraye.

Some other key points of the ceremony were the honouring of some prominent sons and daughters, who have contributed to the growth of Urhobo nation, the state and Nigeria in general.

Twenty people, including HRM Orhoro I, (the former Orodje of Okpe Kingdom), Chief T. E. A. Salubi, Prof. Omafume Onoge and Chief Mudiaga Odje got posthumous UPU Merit Award for their patriotism and visionary leadership. Thirteen illustrious Urhobo sons, including Olorogun Michael Ibru, Chief Senator David Dafinone, HRM Benjamin Okumagba, Olorogun Maj.Gen. David Ejoor, Chief Johnson Adjan, Olorogun O’tega Emerhor, The Very Rev. Prof. S. U. Erivwo and Chief Charles Ufuoma Obule got Merit Award.

During the business section it was resolved that henceforth, during the Urhobo National Day celebration, there shall be no burial ceremony, marriage, opening of markets – the Urhobos take their four-day market circle very seriously - and all other social activities in all of Urhoboland.

Author of this article: GOWON AKPODONOR

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