On Urhobo Council of Chiefs, Lagos, and Joseph Omene
By Professor Peter Ekeh
LAGOS DECEMBER 23RD (URHOBOTODAY)-The edition of Urhobo Voice dated December 26, 2016, carried two features disclaiming accounts that Joseph Omene, former President-General of Urhobo Progress Union, installed an Urhobo Monarch of Lagos and issued to him a certificate of recognition at Ajegunle. The Urhobo Traditional Council of Chiefs, Lagos, clearly side-stepped the core issues of Joseph Omene’s visit to them during his season of snobbery of Urhobo’s Traditional Rulers at home in Urhoboland. To these matters I will turn shortly. Before then, permit me to applaud two aspects of the Chiefs’ statement.
First, the Urhobo Traditional Council of Chiefs, Lagos, hinted that they are loyalto the Royal Fathers in the Urhobo homeland. This is to be applauded for providing a relief from worries that Urhobo Chiefs in Lagos had provided ample cheer to Joseph Omene at a time when he was misusing his office of President-General of UPU to denigrate Urhobo’s Traditional Rulers and the Presidents-General of Urhobo’s 24 kingdoms. Furthermore, we all must applaud the Lagos-based Chiefs for offering to go before Urhobo’s Royal Fathers to clarify issues raised by Omene’s visit to them. Hopefully, the esteemed Lagos Chieftains will go home to discuss serious issues and not embark on a self-serving witch-hunt for phantom “mischief-makers.”
Second, it is pleasing to read that the Council of Chiefs has a pedigree that dates back to the early 1930s. One is reminded of the important role that the oldest Urhobo man in Lagos played in a disruptive dispute that pitched the UPU against payans and prostitutes in Urhobo communities in Lagos in the early 1940s. The Lagos UPU was intent on running these miscreants out of town for spoiling Urhobo’s good name. But they fought back, picking on Adogbeji Salubi who was about to sail to England for further studies during World War II. The payans and prostitutes gathered in public to curse Salubi, praying for his demise from Hitler’s bombs. Urhobo elders and chiefs intervened and made peace between UPU and the dissidents. (For an account of this story see T.E.A. Salubi: Witness to British Colonial Rule in Urhobo Land and Nigeria, edited by Peter P. Ekeh). The point of this story is that an earlier generation of Urhobo elders and chiefs made peace among Urhobo people in Lagos. What is so troubling about Joseph Omene’s Ajegunle visit was that he was provided a platform for spewing words that divided Urhobo people one from another, to the apparent cheers of experienced Urhobo Chiefs in Lagos.
Whatever strengthliesin the Chiefs’ statement is in the above two paragraphs. Its weaknessescome from two facts: First, the Lagos Chieftains now belatedly hide from Omene’s obvious association. Second, on the great issues separating Omene from Urhobo Leaders, the Urhobo Chiefs in Lagos seem to prefer the comfort of sitting on the fence. In any case, Omene’s recent dealings with Urhobo Chiefs in Lagos raise issues which should be of concern to all Urhobo people, particularly Urhobo men and women who live in the Lagos Metropolitan Area. These may be phrased as questions and queries, as follows:
1. In the weeks preceding his Ajegunle visit to Urhobo Chiefs in Lagos in November 2016, Joseph Omene had snubbed Urhobo Kings, Presidents-General and other Stake-holders in Urhobo affairs who had invited him to come to them and make peace in Urhoboland. Omene refused to meet with them.Even more painfully, Omene took to Court the grand 99-year old venerable Chairman of the Council of Urhobo Traditional Rulers, HRM R. L. Ogbon-Oghoro I, the Ohworode of Olomu. And yet Urhobo Chiefs in Lagos received Omene with pomp and pageantry. Question: Were the Lagos Chiefs unaware of Omene’s snobbery of Urhobo’s Traditional Rulers before they received him?
2. UPU Congresses of the past, including the one that brought Joseph Omene into office in 2013, were enabled by voting delegates who were selected by the Kings and Presidents-General of the Urhobo kingdoms (20 delegates per Kingdom).In 2016 Joseph Omene arbitrarily insisted that the Kings and Presidents-General had no role to play in UPU affairs and that the voting delegates must come from rickety UPU Committees which Omene lastingly set up less than two months before the 2016 Congress. While thus disenfranchising Traditional Rulers in Urhoboland, Joseph Omene was inviting Urhobo Chiefs in Lagos to expand their participation in the 2016 Congress. Query: Was this not a reward to the Urhobo Chiefs in Lagos for their personal loyalty to Joseph Omene?
3. Each of the states of the Nigerian Federation is constitutionally allocated 4 voting delegates to UPU Congresses. This is what URHOBOTODAY.COM reported on Omene’s Ajegunle visit: “The President [Joseph Omene] while inaugurating the new Osu Ru Urhobo of Lagos announced the issuance of four voting delegates for the Urhobo traditional council in Lagos . . . . The pronouncements of four delegates for Lagos traditional council make Lagos to have twelve voting delegates.” Query: By whose authority were these extraordinary voting delegates allocated? Were they a reward for loyalty?
4. The Chiefs’ statement disputes the title of Monarch that I applied in charactering Osu Ru Urhobo IV as being exaggerated – that he is just a High Chief. My apologies. However, it is worth noting that the manOsu Ru Urhobo IV has succeeded bore the Royal title of HRH (His Royal Highness). Query: Whether High Chief or Royalty, who gave Joseph Omene as President-General of UPU authority to recognize a High Chief or a Royal Chieftain?
5. The statement from Urhobo Chiefs in Lagos claims that I said that Joseph Omene issued a Certificate of Returns to Osu Ru Urhobo IV. They are wrong. What I said was that Joseph Omene issued Osu Ru Urhobo IV a Certificate of Recognition. This is how URHOBO.COM reported the matter: “Omene issued certificate of recognition to the new Osu of Urhobo in Lagos.” Above is a picture that proves the transaction:
Query: Would the Urhobo Chiefs in Lagos publish the contents of the entire certificate? Who gave authority to the President-General of UPU to issue a certificate to a Monarch, Royalty or High Chief?
I wish the Urhobo Traditional Council of Chiefs well. May they serve the Urhobo people in Lagos with wisdom. And may they heed the wisdom of Urhobo Chiefs and Elders in the Urhobo homeland.
Urhobo Historical Society
No. 3 Ekeh Street
Okpara Inland, Delta State
December 22, 2016