Liberator of Okere Urhobo, Chief Okumagba Eboh, 50 Years After
By Ese Adagbra
Greatness is not something you achieve overnight, but indeed it something you work or struggle for while some people are born into greatness. The Iyete (heavy weight) of Africa, Olorogun Okumagba Eboh, the patriarch of the Great Okumagba Dynasty of Okere-Urhobo Kingdom Warri of blessed memory fall into the category of great men who achieve their prominence through hard work, honesty, doggedness that is laced with tenacity of purpose. One is force to come up with this piece because historians are not fair to him that such a great man, was not given the proper recognition he deserve simply because he was from the wrong corner of the country.
Today, people like late Chief Gani Fawhimi, Professor Wole Soyinka, late Obafemi Awolowo are popular just because the western press is there to amplify every little thing they do but here you have somebody who liberated his Urhobos of Warri from both internal (Itsekiris) and external colonialism (British) little or nothing was written about him. Probably because he hailed from the wrong corner of the country (Urhoboland) or how else do you juxtapose a person who is the progenitor of other great Okumagbas, late Chief Daniel and His Royal Majesty, Benjamin Okumagba 1 of Okere-Urhobo Warri Kingdom whose efforts today are reference point in any land dispute in the Nigerian legal system, young generations of Nigerians, will not forgive Nigerian historians for hoarding or even kill information on this great African leader and his contributions towards the emancipation of Africans’ were it not for his siblings who have vowed not to allow the name Okumagba to die. Nigerian historians have not done anything. I may be making a mistake whether oral or documented about the patriarch of Okumagba Dynasty and the Iyete of Africa, the truth is that some of us just recently got to know who the Real Iyete of Africa, Chief Okumagba Eboh is after fifty years of his demise as a result of various lectures and activities used to mark his Golden Anniversary celebration recently in Warri.
As a student of History, I must confess were it not for the lectures and talkshop on the Life and Times of the Real Okumagba, a lot of us never knew that before the late Mukoro Mowoe, T.E.A. Salubi, Jabin Obahor etc, a great Urhobo and African Nationalist in the person of late Olorogun Okumagba Eboh was that great. I am not wrong to say that the likes of Late Mowoe, T.E.A. Salubi, Jabin Obahor are the “children” and products of the first Urhobo nationalist, Iyete of Africa, before I will continue this piece as a mark of high honour and esteem respect for the patriarch of the Okumagba Dynasty, I have a word of advice for not only his siblings but for the entire Urhobos, Urhobo as a people should learn how to celebrate their illustrious sons, not only the late Olorogun Okumagba Eboh alone, the likes of late Mukoro Mowoe, Jabin Obahor, T.E.A. Salubi, late Essi of Igbudu, Chief Daniel Okumagba etc should be celebrated for their contributions towards the development of modern Urhobo in order for their struggle not to be vain. Today, Yoruba and Hausa children can tell who late Obafemi Awolowo and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa are but how many Urhobo children even some fathers of Urhobo origin can tell you who and what are the contributions of the likes of Urhobo foremost leaders, like Olorogun Okumagba Eboh, Mukoro Mowoe, T.E.A. Salubi, Jabin Obahor even our living military icon and legend Chief (Gen.) David Akpode Ejoor to the Urhobo nation? It is high time we learn how to blow our trumpet.
Olorogun Okumagba Eboh, who himself was history and titan was born 1853 at a time the colonial masters were yet to colonize Nigeria he was alive and witnessed the resistance to the colonialization of Nigeria and partition of Africa. So also was a living witness to the attacks on various African kingdoms by the British, King Jaja of Opobo 1887, Chief Nana 1897 and the 1897 massacre in Benin against Oba Ovoranmen and his eventual deportation to Calabar by the British imperialist.
He was born in 1853 in Otor-orere, Okere-Urhobo Kiingdom in the present day Warri South Local Government Council in Delta State. His father was Chief Eboh Olodi of Okere Urhobo clan and his mother was Aye-Oluwe Eboh, from Otien family of Edjeba-Agbarha Kingdom Warri. The name Okumagba was gotten from Ekwomagbe (let us come together unity).
He started providing leadership to the community at a tender age even though he has no formal or western education, he was a great wrestler, no wonder today you discover that the Okumagbas are dominating in the area of leadership among the Urhobos; his 2 sons Olorogun Daniel Okumagba, a great Urhobo leader who later become Secretary-General of Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) and a great politician and His Royal Majesty, Benjamin Okumagba 1 who later also become the President-General of Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) confirms the saying that it is only a lion can give birth to lion we shall talk about the roles played by these 2 great sons of Okumagba toward the building of modern Urhobo nation as well later.
It is on record that Olorogun Okumagba Eboh single handedly fought and won a lot of battles on the economic and political exploitation and respect for Urhobo rights, retaining of Urhobo lands and territorial integrity against their internal colonial master (Itsekiris) led by Nana and later Dore Numa in addition to European colonialists. Indeed there is no doubt that Olorogun Okumagba was the first Urhobo nationalist or say father and doyen of Urhobo and Nigerian nationalism because he started the resistance against internal and external colonialists in 1920s long before late Herbert Macaulay,late Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo who later become the first President of Nigeria and Premier of Western Region respectively.
Perhaps, Chief Obafemi Awolowo in a bid to punish the Urhobos for not voting for Action Group rather than National Council for Nigeria and Cameroun would not have change the title of Olu of Itsekiri to Olu of Warri in 1952 probably, if Olorogun Okumagba Eboh were to be active because as at 1952 he was already 102 years old. He would have challenged Awolowo’s action in the court.
As a leader, he never betrayed his people despite the harassment, intimidation and threats from his oppressors; he stood by his people and continue to protect the territorial integrity of the Urhobos in Warri, it is on record that he did not hate the Itsekiris rather what he was really interested in is the equality of all men irrespective of their tribes most especially a better deal for his Okere-Urhobo people.
He married two Itsekiri women and his sister married Itsekiri man while most of his 24 children have Itsekiri names but however he was resolute in his commitment to the liberation of Okere-Urhobo people and their land from the Itsekiris. He instituted a lot of court cases which led to the stoppage of levies imposed by Itsekiri Warrant Chiefs on the Urhobo, he also made his Okere-Urhobo people realized and understand that they are Urhobos not Itsekiris therefore they have no business in Awankere Festival Okerejuju. That was how the Urhobos stopped participating in the Awankere or Okerejuju Festival.
It is on record that when the British made him Warrant Chief to help administered his people, he was dragged to court by the Itsekiris. He won them and all cases he instituted against the Itsekiris. Let us give kudos to the judiciary for it fearlessness, objectivity as epitomized by incorruptible judges, unlike what we have these days when the rich man gets justice. Can we get judges like Justice Ekererche, even though married to an Itsekiri woman, whose daughter bear the Itsekiri name Alero yet he did not allow his Itsekiri wife (mama Alero) to influence his judgment between D.O. Idundun & others vs Okumagba in favour of the Urhobos on the land housing the present Hussey College( 281 acres) and finally in the Supreme Court in 1976? Credit and thanks should be given to late Daniel Okumagba, as well for his organizational prowess and his carefulness and other Okumagbas on the victories of various cases against the Itsekiris over the ownership of Warri. If not Urhobos would have been long driven out of Warri by the Itsekiris, the present marginalization they (Urhobos) are suffering today in Warri would have been a child’s play.
Having won internal independence for his people of Okere-Urhobo clan Warri from the Itsekiris by his appointment as a Warrant Chief by helping the British in the administration of the clan; he later head the Olodi, Oki and Ighogbadu Dynastic until he died on April 13, 1963.
However, he used his position as a wealthy rubber merchant with the largest rubber plantation and palm oil merchant as well as his position as head of the Olodi, Oki and Ighogbadu Dynasty to sponsore a lot of Urhobo sons to school and advanced Urhobo nationalism even at old age, when his Urhobo people embrace NCNC, he did not hesitate in joining his people.
When the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) was formed in 1931, the likes of Late Mukoro Mowoe, S.J. Marierie, T.E.A. Salubi, P.K. Tabiowho, A.J. Kpodu, have been meeting him for advice and the way forward, it is on record that they recognized him as the father of Urhobo nationalism. Are you saying such a person does not deserve to be celebrated or given a place of record in Nigeria history? Here was a man who contributed both cash and kind to resist the British imperialists, he also witnessed the period when the British colonialism started and ended in Nigeria (1861-1960), one hundred years. He died April 13, 1963, four months away to the creation of Midwestern Region which he equally joined in its agitation both in cash and kind.Haba Nigerian historians should apologize to the Okumagba Dynasty and the entire Urhobos for deliberately not given this great son of Africa his rightful place of recognition in the history of Nigeria and indeed Africa
Indeed Olorogun Okumagba Eboh was an astute administrator, rich and wealthy farmer, a disciplinarian, a politician and economic colossus, a dogged fighter, first Urhobo and African nationalist, a selfless leader who left behind an immortal legacy behind, he left behind a big shoe, which among his children, Olorogun Daniel Okumagba and His Royal Majesty Benjamin Okumagba 1 wore. Nigerian historians are not fair to the Urhobos and Nigerians for documenting nothing about this great son of Urhobo and Africa; let’s x-ray 50 years after his demise.
50 years after were if not for the fact that he left behind level headed children who also have the spirit of Okumagbaism in their blood today there would have been nothing like Okere-Urhobo kingdom Warri in Nigeria. The name Okumagba is a master key that open doors in Nigeria so also is one of the oldest name 150 years after the name is still ringing bell as a result of the legacies left behind by late Olorogun Okumagba Eboh down to the 5th generation from Chief Eboh Okumagba children, grand children, great grand children, great great grand children “Sakpegodi”
Late Olorogun Okumagba Eboh had 8 wives and 24 children with only 4 alive, 3 women and one man in the person of Chief Emmanuel Ono Okumagba who is presently the Head of Okumagba Dynasty.
Okumagbas are known to be Urhobo patriots, they don’t shy away from anything that affects the general entire Urhobos, the Okumagbas always contribute their quota without hesitating, this Urhobo patriotism and nationalism is a trait in all Okumagba children to the present generation which they inherited from their great grand father, Olorogun Okumagba Eboh that is what you cannot take away from them, that is one of the reasons other Urhobos are jealous of them. These days, the name Okumagba is gradually synonymous with the name Urhobo after 150 years as a result of open display of Urhobo patriotism by any child with Okumagba blood.
However, we cannot x-ray 50 years after the Iyete of Africa without going into numerous contributions by his children or say other Okumagbas in the sustenance of their patriarch legacies, the Okere-Urhobo of Warri and the general Urhobo struggle.
50 years after his demise apart from the fact that Chief Henry Okumagba who was a teacher and later to customary court worker Bendel State while Late Chief Alice Okumagba, a foremost female footballer and later gave birth to Victor Oduah who captained the Nigeria Green Eagles, also Chief Abu Edward Okumagba who was 3 in command in the Niger Fire Service but died at a young age among the 24 children of Iyete of Okere-Urhobo Kingdom, it was late Daniel Okumagba, His Royal Majesty Benjamin Okumagba, Okumagba 1, Orosuen of Okere-Urhobo Kingdom Warri and the present Head of the Okumagba Dynasty stood tall than any.
While both Daniel Okumagba, ‘the Lion of Bendel’ as he was fondly called and His Royal Majesty, Okumagba 1 stood out and distinguished themselves as Urhobo patriots and nationalists of a high standard who never compromised the interest of Okere-Urhobo and the entire Urhobos, they worked selflessly and tirelessly for the overall interest of Urhobos and Midwestern later Bendel and Delta States.
Chief Emmanuel Ono Okumagba, an astute politician, proved himself as an ambassador off his people while he was in public service.
Chief Daniel Okumagba lived a life that was inspiring and emulating, he worked tirelessly, selflessly for the peace, progress and development of Urhobos and Nigerians. If today Urhobos have the types of the Lion of Bendel, Urhobos would not have been complaining of marginalization either in Delta State or Nigeria in general Urhobo would not have been relegated to the background as it is today.
A great mathematician of those days and a teacher of high standard who does not compromise, students who passed through him in Urhobo College today have distinguished themselves in their various fields.
He was appointed as the Secretary of Oki, Olodi and Ighogbadu families of Okere-Urhobo Kingdom, he used this position meticulously for the interest of Okere-Urhobo Kingdom and the entire Urhobos thereby making Urhobos to have a say in the affairs of Warri and still presently living in Warri if not by now, the Itsekiris would have driven the Urhobos out of Warri and Delta State.
He won the suit instituted against the Okumagba by the Itsekiris in question of the land purchased by the Itsekiris from the Okumagba family for the building of Hussey College (821 acres of land) which was decided by Justice Ekeruche of blessed memory and a radical judgment at the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 1976 in favour of the Okere-Urhobo and the entire Urhobos due to his carefulness and organizational prowess, by keeping the receipt that the Itsekiris signed in purchased of the land housing the Hussey College Warri. This judgment put to the paid ownership tussle of Warri. So also the loss of the Olu of Itsekiris over leadership in Warri; all in a bid to correct the problem created by Chief Obafemi Awolowo in 1952.
As a principled Urhobo man, he joined Chiefs T.E.A. Salubi, Dennis Akpore to stage a workout from the N.C.N.C. when he discovered that Urhobo interest was at stake and later joined them in forming the Midwest Democratic Front (MDF) led by T.E.A. Salubi. How many modern day Urhobo politicians can do such thing? Even though when they know that the general interest of Urhobos is in jeopardy,they will continue to say I am a loyal party man, I am loyal; loyalty my foot!
Even though the MDF was rigged out by the NCNC, the likes of Chief Daniel Okumagba, TEA Salubi, Johnson Ukueku and others have made it clear that they can never compromise the interest of their people. After the banned of politics was lifted, he later joined National Party of Nigeria (NPN), even though he lost to become Governor of Bendel State for his doggedness,straight – forwardness and astuteness in politics, he later became close and the right hand man of President Shehu Shagari who later appointed him as the Chairman of Ajaokuta Steel Company and also consult him on key national issues. So also a lot of Urhobo sons such as late Chiefs Patrick Bolokor, Elizabeth Ogbon-Day, Dr. Mudiaga Odje, Dr. Fred Esiri, but today despite the huge votes given to President Goodluck Jonathan by the Urhobos, what have we gotten from him? No Urhobo man was even consider as a cook in Aso Rock! As Secretary-General of Urhobo Progress Union (UPU), he also brought his wealth of experience to bear on the aims, objectives and ideas of the founding fathers of the UPU. Late Chief Daniel Okumagba is a political icon and the like and class of Chief Richard Akinjide (SAN), Alhaji Maitama Sule, Alhaji Adamu Ciroma, Alhaji Uba Ahmed etc, the Great Lion of Bendel passed on July, 2000.What a great loss to the Urhobos and Nigerians
Another prominent son or successor of Chief Eboh Okumagba was Chief Benjamin Okumagba, Otota of Okere-Urhobo Kingdom Warri and later His Royal Majesty, the Orosuen of Okere-Urhobo Kingdom, who used his wealth and connections to sponsored a lot of Urhobo children to acquired western education, so also as the President-General of Urhobo Progress Union (UPU), he gave life to the body at a time the Union was in state of comatose.
A dogged fighter who did not mind whether his life is at risk or not but believe and fight to secure the territorial integrity and lands of the Urhobos,he agitated for the political and economic advancement of the Urhobos, respected by all even his enemies because he always tell them the truth, eye ball to eye ball, most especially when it comes to the issue of the ownership of Warri. The man popularly known as ‘Edadu Uri, the arrow that never misses its target’ for his fearlessness and frankness, he was highly respected and feared by the political class who are mostly liar according to one of the grand children of late Chief Okumagba Eboh who gave this writer the story of the Okumagba Dynasty said that His Royal Majesty Benjamin Okumagba 1 Oroseun of Okere-Urhobo kingdom warri is a true replica and carbon-copy of his father (Olorogun Okumagba Eboh)also an Urhobo political leader once says that “if you are not a straight forward person, you cannot relate with President-General (P.G.U.P.U)honoured and feared both at home and abroad during his days as President General of UPU, he introduced Urhobo Annual Cultural Day. HRM, Okumagba 1 was a True General of the Urhobos because he fought and won many battles for his people of Okere-Urhobo kingdom Warri and the entire Urhobos.A fearless and a dogged fighter indeed.Ovikparobo,may you reign wherever you are! Akpor ke dee fa.
Chief Emmanuel Okumagba is one of the last direct child of Chief Okumagba Eboh fortunately,he is the (Okpako) Head of the Okumagba Dynasty, the Awhotu of Okere-Urhobo Kingdom a politician of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), he was appointed as Chairman, Delta State Primary Education Board SPEB, he used the position to the positive interest of Urhobos and Deltans. Typical of the Okumagbas, he used the position to assist every Urhobo man and Deltan that came to him for one assistance or the other.
Today, people still believe that he deserves to be appointed most especially at the federal level because he was South-South Co-ordinator of Jonathan -Sambo Campaign Organisation.
Chief Okumagba Eboh grand children are projecting, protecting and promoting Urhobo course as well help in shaping, Delta State and Nigeria as well in their various fields today, you have Albert Okumagba, a financial guru,Benard Okumagba,first class material and a financial expert of international reputation who is presently the commissioner finance who is judiciously and meticulously managing the resources of Delta state for the intrest and benefit of Deltans, Francis Daniel Okumagba, Paul Okumagba, Mamode Okumagba, Edward Okumagba, Mrs. Mercy Irivwieri are all Okumagba’s children doing well in their chosen careers.
One thing that is most spectacular that makes the Okumagba family stand tall above a lot of families in Urhobo land, today is that after the demise of their patriarch, the name of such families collapse; because of lack of unity and not being able to follow the foot path of their late fathers,thereby making them to be living on past glory, but the Okumagbas are hard working, diligence and self reliant who will never go in begging; the Okumagbas are worthy of emulating for their pride of place, dignity and above all Urhobo nationalism. I stand to be corrected apart from the Okumagba family which other family(s) in Urhobo land has ever from generation to generation, fought and still continue to fight the cause of Urhobo selflessly in terms of cash and kind? If today there is need for an ethnic conference in Nigeria who should represent Urhobos? But in the days of Daniel Okumagba, Benjamin, T.E.A. Salubi, Jabin Obahor, Mukoro Mowoe, do we need to find who will represent us? So what is happening now? even though today the gang up against Urhobo is heating up, who is the true Urhobo leader presently? Like Chief Christopher Ominimini would say when we see the true Urhobo leader, we will know him, recognized and work with him because Urhobo need the likes of late Daniel Okumagba, Mukoro Mowe who were selfless and genuine. The level of sycophancy in Urhobo land is too much we must change our attitude as a people and unite to fight for our common goals.”
Conclusively, “it is good to emulate someone that is good, Urhobo as a people have a lot to learn from the Okumagba Dynasty if not for anything but for their patriotism and nationalism,” we must as a people go back to the drawing board to imbibe things that will make us great as a people. In this regard, the UPU has a great role to play. The Urhobo man must identify his root as an Urhobo man. A lot of Urhobos are lost, they cannot speak their language even some Urhobos have “foreign names” you cannot find such anomalies in the Okumagba family. Were it not for the spirit of Urhoboism that is synonymous with the Okumagba family, today Urhobos would not have a say in Warri? But the question is what role or in what way the Agbarha, Edjeba, Ogunu man, even the entire Urhobos is doing to sustain the Warri vis-à-vis Urhobo struggle? We must as a matter of fact know that we are Urhobos and we should be ready to contribute our little quota to make Urhobo great once more. Urhobo ke eni.
By Ese Adagbra, a Warri based journalist