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Published On: Tue, Jun 24th, 2014

Urhobo’s Greed Scares Away Investors

By .Peter Akpokere Ikolo
I was at MTN Asaba for training on Monday 16th June, 2014. Seeing the level of employment and development MTN has brought to the Asaba people, I was struck with jealousy. MTN Nigeria (Asaba) has no less than 400 low cadre workers (gate keepers, office assistant, gardeners etc) and at least 300 ordinary level staff. 99% of the low cadre staff are Ibos from the Asaba area. A good number of the ordinary level staff are also from the area.
When MTN Nigeria arrived Delta state they placed their head office in Warri (Bendel estate), data available to MTN showed that Warri is the commercial hub of the state. They naturally settled in Warri. They were still trying to settle down when the “deve boys” started harassing them. The Ugborikoko community(Uvwie) kept coming up with one levy or the other every week; from refuse levy to community development levy to homage money to be paid to chiefs, request for ghost workers were made among other phantom requests.
Reports have it that the community usually locked the MTN office anytime they felt that MTN had not made payment of the numerous fees they imposed on them. The vehicles of MTN were targeted by the many touts who paraded themselves as LGA-sticker-boys. These boys must find an excuse to extort money from a vehicle anytime they stopped one (they do not stop private salon vehicles as they somehow know all cars belonging to companies in Warri). A salon car is expected to have various stickers ranging from motor-boy/conductors badge or permit to radio antenna permit amongst karambolous permits and stickers. Don’t even bother to ask what a salon car will be doing with a motor-boy permit, all those who dared ask were either beaten up or had their cars impounded at the LGA office or taskforce office.
All these negative report including threats to burn the facilities or equipments continued to get to the head office in Lagos who tried to employ the services of reputable community liason officers, these efforts were frustrated by the insatiable greed of the Ugborikoko community cum Warri people. In 2010 MTN decided that they could not continue to do business in a hostile environment; they acquired a land in Asaba, and have since had peace to do its business. The result: Ugborikoko community has lost at least 500 jobs, taxes and the image of having a reputable company of MTN standard in its community. The benefits of having a company this big in your community cannot be measured.
We the Urhobos have over time shown that our myopic nature is second to none in Nigeria. In the 1960s, the Urhobo people of Ughelli (by omission or commission) drove away Royal Dutch Shell (SPDC) who had come to site its head office in Ughelli. In the 1970s, the same Urhobo people of Ughelli drove away NNPC IDSL whom had also come to site its regional office in the town. The Urhobos although being the majority in Delta State are the poorest because of their antecedents, which precedes them in all outings. They have good lands and rivers attractive to investors but its leaders and people are not friendly to investors. A case in point is the “law” in Otokutu community of Ughelli South LGA, which says implies that a non indigene who acquires a land in the community must use local contractors to carry out his/her building project (both supply and labour) or pay a cut-off fee of N500,000.00. One may think this law is not bad until one discovers that the local contractors are thieves who are untouchable because they are ‘Omo-otor’ (son of the soil). They supply 8 trips of sand and expect to be paid for 10 trips, and also expect to be paid at least 2 days before the supply is done. The local labour contractors must have at least 20 ghost workers to enable him line the pockets of the various youth leaders and chiefs in the community. Point of note is that even Urhobo investors are not spared and naturally migrate to more friendly climes to invest. That is why you have so many Urhobo investors in the west. The average non-Urhobo who has lived in Warri or other Urhobo communities does not have much to say about us when it comes to encouraging investors.
A driver who had a flat tire was receiving assistance until he made a phone call to his wife and spoke the Urhobo language. The Yoruba boys helping him immediately stopped helping him telling him that they cannot help an Urhobo man because some Urhobo boys(sticker boys) at Effurun round-about extorted them as a result of their stickers not complete (every driver knows that the stickers are never complete when those sticker-boys stop you). They said they pleaded with the sticker boys that they were coming from Ekiti and heading towards Evwreni and that they had no money. The sticker boys impounded their vehicle with its goods and they had to wait until the next day when owner of the goods they were conveying came to bail the vehicle with N20,000.00. They were conveying eggs to Evwreni and more than a quarter of the eggs were damaged from sitting over night in the vehicle. We the Urhobos must come together to promulgate laws which will make us investor-friendly once more. We must expunge this “Omo-otor” syndrome. We must relegate greed and instant gratification to the background. The community and its people stands to gain more when a suitable environment is created for investors. Investors through their cooperate-social-responsibility (CSR) can develop a community over time. A good example is Escravos. As the Delta state LGA elections approaches, we the Urhobos must be wise in the selection of our leaders. We must vote for only men who can create the much needed laws for development.
I also want to condemn the actions of the PDP for selling its nomination form at N300,000.00 and N1,150,000.00 for councillor and Chairmanship aspirants. This will only encourage the anti-investor mentality. A young man who is able to raise that amount to purchase the form and other monies for campaign will definitely want to make his money back as soon as he gets elected.
These acts of greed must be discouraged. The PDP being the ruling party must lead by example; I strongly advise that they should reconsider this decision and refund the monies to those who have purchased the forms already. The elections will become a do-or-die affair when people are made to pay such exorbitant fees just to be nominated. On a final note I want to remind all incoming chairmen that the investors are afraid whenever a new chairman is sworn in because the chairmen usually begin by constituting various committees and taskforce who will go about harassing investors. After such elections the tire-lock boys, sticker boys, deve-boys and others become more active as they seem to be given a target or an amount to achieve. All these unholy activities must stop and a new urhobo must emerge, an Urhobo Nation that encourages investors, a friendly people, a nation that thrives in hospitality and acceptance of “outsiders”. Only then can we say Urhobo Ovuovo.

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