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Published On: Fri, Jun 15th, 2018

The Mischievous Attack to Undermine Urhobo Leadership Is Unacceptable

President-General of Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) Worldwide, Olorogun Moses Taiga


By Onoawarie Edevbie
LAGOS JUNE 15TH (URHOBOTODAY)-A friend called over the last weekend to tell me of a newspaper account in the Vanguard of May 30, 2018 that commented on my contributions to a book: Olomu and Development of Urhoboland & Western Niger Delta published by Urhobo Historical Society (UHS) in 2012. I thought very little of it until I was able to read the newspaper account for myself and the swift rejoinder from Professor Peter Ekeh, the UHS President.Fully conscious of the political intrigues going on in the Delta State of Nigeria, it quickly dawned on me that the newspaper account is yet another in the series of attempts to destroy genuine Urhobo leadership that has been under stress for some time now.
The author somehow chose to impugn my integrity and that of UHS as unfortunate messengers who must be defamed for being purveyors of bad news that his sponsors hate to hear. I feel nauseated because I had no idea when I contributed to the Olomu book six years ago that somebody will someday wake up to use my materials to cause mischief among Urhobo people. Kindly enough, Professor Peter Ekeh has been able to refute many of the misinterpretations of the letter and intent of what I wrote. All that is left for me is to expose other areas of falsehood that Professor Ekeh did not cover.I had gone back to read the newspaper account and found certain areas of the author’s narrative that require further scrutiny.
First, the author of the newspaper account described Urhobo as a nation that has descended into darkness. One could not agree more with him except that he was noticeably dishonest in his efforts to locate where the problem really lies. Hear him: “You look backwards and you are confronted with pitch of darkness, tragically you look forward and everything appears hazy for supposedly great people with uncertain future due to intractable UPU leadership crisis orchestrated from within and supported by outside interests to keep the Urhobo nation down and her sons and daughters in disarray. I ask again how did we arrive at this cliff hanger? Is the author saying that the supposed darkness in Urhobo was created or made worse by the emergence of Olorogun Moses Taiga as the President-General of UPU? In either way the author would be wrong.”
Second, the author used his piece to castigate those he described as individuals who “seemed determined to blunt their conscience, make Urhobo people a laughing stock and defraud their own history”. He quickly moved on to identify the culprits in the persons of Peter Ekeh, Onoawarie Edevbie, and Peter Ishaka,editors of the Olomu book that he despises. It is pretty difficult to understand why he decided to paint these individuals as shameless and more scourged others to denigrate them for ‘daring to malign Urhobo history and culture’.For him to think of himself and those who sponsor him as more patriotic than the rest of us, he probably needs some education on how Urhobo Historical Society was formed and how the Society has continued to defend Urhobo causes besides promoting Urhobo history and culture.
UHS was founded in August of 1999 in the United States in the heat of the Warri Crisis. This was a time when the Itsekiri Establishment using the agency of its propaganda outfit, Ugbaje Itsekiri in North America launched series of attack on Urhobo people branding them as terrorists. The Itsekiri alleged without proof that Urhobo in Warri took sides with the Ijaw people in the conflict. The stakes were very high for Urhobo as the Itsekiri sent petitions to the USGovernmenturging her to designate Urhobo people as international terrorists. Thanks to Professor Ekeh for his leadership of the newly formed Urhobo Historical Society, Urhobo in Diaspora were able to foil the Itsekiri attacks, sending its own petitions to counter Itsekiri claims.
Besides holding annual conferences and publishing books to show case Urhobo history and culture, UHS also host a website:www.waado.org that has emerged as a valuable source of information for scholars all over the world interested in learning not only about Urhobo people but also about Nigeria and Africa. UHS has also risen to the defence ofUrhobo people and others in western Niger Delta whenever it was necessary to do so. A case in point was UHS’ writing of petitions to support the ascendency of Vice President Goodluck Jonathan when the Northern Establishment was determined not to let him succeed into the office of the President of Nigeria after the passing of President Umaru Yar-Adua as required by the Constitution of Nigeria. UHS was also able to expose voting fraud, suppression of Urhobo votes and other incidents of election malpractices during elections to choose members of the legislature in Delta State. UHS’ analyses of the results of a number of these fraudulent elections are on permanent display in www.waado.org for those who want to see evidence of how Urhobo politicians themselves, for selfish reasons, colluded with outsidersto shortchange their own people at the polls.
In more recent times, UHS made another patriotic move when it teamed up with Urhobo Social Club, Lagos (USCL),to persuade Olorogun Moses Taiga to run for the Presidency of UPU when it was obvious that UPU was unable to resolve its leadership crisis. The patriotic decision to draft the Olorogun is of course not without precedence in Urhobo history. Mukoro Mowoe, a successful businessman in Warri, was persuaded to take over the leadership of UPU by others who felt at the time that the organization needed a new leadership to be able to deal with multiplex problems facing Urhobo people.
At this point, one would pause and leave matters to Urhobo public and other interested parties to review the profile of UHS to see if it is a group that would defraud thehistory and culture of its people.One would also want to examine the personal character of UHS members in general. Asforthright persons of impeccable integrity, no UHS member has ever been found to ignore good conscienceor belittle oneself for the sake of money. No UHS member, for example, has been found parading the corridors of government offices in Asaba looking for contracts.
Here comes in the third, the false accusation that Olorogun Moses Taiga is a foreigner to Urhobo and therefore not qualified to serve them as a leader. Hear the author of the Vanguard story again: “Urhobo nation is a patrilineal society and it is unheard of, if not an abomination for a foreigner to lead Urhobo people………….. How could an Ijaw man be the President-General of Urhobo Progress Union? Does it mean that Urhobo land has no capable son to lead its union? The author is probably unaware of the migratory history of people in Africa and how the British Colonial Rule erected artificial boundaries to divide people even when they are of the same stock into different groups or factions.
I,for example,grew up on the northern shores of River Ethiope in a territory that was home to Urhobo people for centuries before the Whiteman came. The stretch of land from Idjerhe bordering the Jame ison River through Evwib?w?n, my native village, to Avwraka territory not far from the source of River Ethiope in the Ukwuani areas of Umutu was in fact referred to in colonial records as Sobo [Urhobo] plains. Somehow, colonial authorities, in their practice of using geographical features to demarcate territories conveniently used River Ethiope as an artificial boundary to separate my people and other Urhobo people along the northern corridor from their kin and kithacross the river in the then Warri Province. Today my people are referred to not as Urhobo people but offensively as Benin citizens under the imposed administration of a Benin-dominated polity in ?do State. The case of Olomu and Kiagb?d? is essentially the same.Everybody in Evwib?w?n and other territories along the northern borders of Ethiope like the people in Kiagb?d? understand and speak Urhobo. Many of the migrations of coursedid occur centuries ago in ancient times and it has become difficult to ascertain with any degree of certainty where people originated. Many members of my family have relocated in recent times to Urhobo just as Taiga’s family did much, much earlier. Will the author of the Vanguard piece and his sponsors now referto me and my family as Benin people and therefore disqualify us from participating in Urhobo affairs?
Perhaps the author needs to be reminded that people live where they feel comfortable and in the process contribute to the progress of their preferred area of abode. This is the thinking of forward-looking people all over the world. This progressive view of life would howeverappear strange to the author and his sponsors who enjoy pedaling insults andracist remarks about others. As backward looking-people, they would probably regard any future female contender for the Presidency of UPU as an abominationnot because ofdoubts about ability to lead but simply because Urhobo is a patrilineal society that relegates women to the background. Meanwhile they would prefer to deport President Barack Obama to Kenya, his father’s native land rather than allow him tobecome a great President that he was. Neither will they believe that Presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan originally from Omaha, Nebraska and Tampico, Illinois where they were respectively born were allowed to use their new homes in Michigan and California as base to launch their political careers that ultimately led them to the Presidency of the United States.They would certainly regard the idea of safe seats in the British parliamentary system as an aberration. The idea allows a political party to identify seats that could be easily won by someone considered to be a rising star or important to the party. The party’s choice for candidacy may never have lived in the area of the safe seat. But once elected, the member serves the people of his or her new community on behalf of the party. It is the same type of arrangement that made possible,the election of Robert Kennedy and Hilary Clinton to the United States Senate from New York which was not their home state.
Coming closer home, we know of individuals like Major Patrick Idahosa and his father, Catechist Idahosa who once lived in Ovu and considered themselves Urhobo in spite of their Benin roots. So was Andrew Wilson, a former Chairman of Nigerian Ports Authority, whose father migrated from Ishan in Benin Province to Ukwuokori where he grew up to become an adult. Hewas well known for his distinct Ukwuokori speaking accent andwould never have mind passing for an Urhobo man. He was said to have used his high position in government to find jobs for many Urhobo persons in Lagos. Another Ukwuokoriman, Sunday Odje with deep Benin roots was but for his death in line to become the Ovie of Agbon. Nobody questioned his eligibility for the exalted position because of the migratory history of his family.Even Edwin Clark whom many refer to as aKiagb?d? man was the Secretary of UPU,London, UK Branch during his student daysin that country and nobody played theKiagb?d? card against him.What about D. O. Ogh?n?, agreat patriot and well-known business manwho once served as the Chairman of the Sapele Urban District Council and single-handedly provided all the funds used to build Okp? Grammar School, Sapele? Is the author of the Vanguard piece aware that Ogh?n?was born to a father from Auchi in Afenmai areas of ?do State?Ogh?n?’s mother, an Urhobo woman from Okp?in Urhobo chose to raise her sonin Urhobo. Nobody questioned Ogh?n?’s identity nor denied him the opportunity to serve his people in Urhobo where he lived for most of his life.
The Ogh?n? example is of course only one of hundreds of migratory cases in Urhobo. How would anyone therefore dare to question the identity ofOlorogun Taiga, an Urhobo man who was born and raised in Okpare?No matter what the author of the newspaper account says, Urhobo people of Okpare love the Olorogun as one of their own.When UHS and USCL jointly approached and persuaded him to come to the rescue of UPU, his identity was never an issue. They considered his enormous potential for leadershipas valuable assets. A few examples of his qualifications as an Urhobo patriot will suffice to confirm the thinkingof both organizations. Olorogun Taiga is a business mogul, owner of many companies including the Niger-Benue Transport Company (NBTC) with headquarters in Urhobo town of Owian in Udu. The Uducompany is regarded as the largest employer in Urhobo land. NBTC is also known for awarding scholarships annually to a number of deserving Urhobo youth to study in the university.ThOlorogun contributed significantly to the funds used for the building of Urhobo Cultural Center.He also built a Cathedral-like Catholic Church and Rectory in his hometown of Okpare inmemory of his father who was also born in Okpare and buried there. UHSalso had cause to be grateful to him for being its Chief Patron whose substantive support has enabled the Society to continue its work of hosting conferences and publishing books. Above all, he is not a politician and would not rely on government largesse to live, let alone succumb to the temptation to garner bribes from government officials or do anything illegal that would undermine Urhobo interests. People do trust him.
May be I should now call on the author of the Vanguard piece to point to anybody in Urhobo who has done as much as the Olorogun for Urhobo in recent times. The Olorogun to me has come more fully prepared for the office of the President-General of UPU than many of his predecessors in office.If in doubt, all one has to do isto look at his clear-cut agendato move UPU and Urhoboforward. Top of his agenda is the restoration of Urhobo pride by retrieving Urhobo College from the Delta State Government and completing work on the Urhobo Cultural Center, two major projects that were neglected by previous UPU administrations.His plan to revive the Trade and Technical Centers at Sapele and Og? will provide for the training of Urhobo youth in technical skills that are in great demand in Urhobo. As a way of further stimulating the economy, the man also has plans for a micro-finance banking system. The system will be designed to grant soft loans to Urhobo women to encourage entrepreneurshipin small scale trading and farming. The Olorogun thus represents a genuine leadership that is badly needed to save Urhobo people from this dark period of Urhobo history that has unfortunatelybeen foisted on them by corrupt politicians.
What crimes could Olorogun Taiga have committed for accepting to serve his people as he has clearly articulated in his agenda? The short answer isthat there are people who are determinedto preserve the political space for themselvesby pushing away well-meaning patriotic citizens of Urhobo whom they see as obstacles to their goal. Many good citizens have in fact been scared away or prevented from participation. The next target as an obstacle to be removed appears to be Olorogun Taiga, the current UPU President-Generaleven though he was popularly elected in 2016. The absurdity of challenging the man’s character and identity has become so profound and especially revolting for a man who is not a politician and whose only desire is serve his people. All peace-loving people of Urhobo, I believe, are upset and do object to the mischievous attack on genuine leadership as totally unacceptable. We can do better as a people.
Onoawarie Edevbie is the Secretary of Urhobo Historical Society

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