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URHOBO UNITY SUMMIT

 

July 30 and 31, 2009

 

Conference Centre, Petroleum Training Institute, Effurun, Nigeria

 

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Opening Session

 

Urhobo Bridge to the Neighbourhood of the Niger Delta and Nigeria

 

A Welcome Address by Olorogun Felix Ibru

President General, Urhobo Progress Union

 

Salutations

 

On behalf of the entire Urhobo people, I am delighted to welcome you all to this unique assembly of the Urhobo People and their especially invited guests. Although the Urhobo People do meet in annual Congresses of Urhobo Progress Union to consider matters affecting their common welfare, this particular gathering is distinct and indeed rare.

 

First, we have invited delegates from a broad spectrum of the Urhobo population, in the Urhobo homeland and from far and wide in the Urhobo Diaspora.

 

Secondly, the issues that we consider in this Summit will touch on fundamental matters of the future of the Urhobo people in the 21st century.

 

Thirdly, we have invited to this opening session of our Summit representatives of our ethnic neighbours in the Niger Delta as well as representatives of key organizations in the Nigerian nation.

 

We will have ample opportunity to speak to the Urhobo People on the first two of these matters in later sessions of this Summit. In this opening session, I would like especially to welcome our visitors and share with them the threads of firm friendship which have bonded the Urhobo people to our dear neghbours in the Niger Delta and in Nigeria.

 

Permit me to begin this exercise by paying tributes to our pioneers who began this tradition of deliberative assemblage of Urhobo leaders of thought. They were often summoned by their Presidents-General and other chieftains of Urhobo Progress Union to gather together in order to solve the challenges facing the Urhobo people. In the first four decades of British colonial rule of Nigeria in the 20th century that is now past, Urhobos and their leaders felt that they were disadvantaged by circumstances created by colonialism. They could not rely on the Government to solve these problems. Instead, they organized themselves and taxed themselves so that they could solve the problems of education and administration facing our people. Their ambition was to ensure that the Urhobo people would rise rapidly and be equal to other Nigerian nationalities. Furthermore; these Urhobo pioneers wanted to ensure that Urhobo sons and daughters would compete on equal terms with other Nigerians in the fields of education, the arts, and business.

 

In convening this first major Summit of the Urhobo People in the 21st century, I am proud to pronounce, as the current President-General of Urhobo Progress Union, that our pioneers of the 1930s and 1940s were successful in their efforts of leveling the playing field for my generation. Urhobos no longer feel that they are behind other ethnic nationalities of Nigeria in any major matrix of progress. In education and in the arts, Urhobos have blazed forth to attain national and international standards. In business, the accomplishments and contributions made by such pioneering giants as Chief David Dafinone, Olorogun Michael Ibru, and Deacon Gamaliel Onosode will serve to testify to the fact that Urhobo foundation leaders of the 1930s and 1940s planned well. From this podium, and on behalf of my generation of Urhobos, I salute Chief Mukoro Mowoe and his cohort of pioneering leadership for working so hard to lay the groundwork for modern Urhobo progress.

 

However, we are here not only to pay tributes to our ancestors for the achievements of the Urhobo past. We are here also because there are new challenges facing the Urhobo people. We are here to design new solutions for the slippery problems of the 21st century. In this regard, we can borrow a shred of wisdom from Chief Mukoro Mowoe and the other pioneers of the Urhobo past. They foresaw clearly that Urhobo progress required the friendship of our ethnic neighbours in the Niger Delta and the Nigerian community of ethnic nationalities. As the representative of Warri Province in the Western House of Assembly, Chief Mukoro Mowoe worked hard for the friendship of all communities in the Western Niger Delta. As President-General of Urhobo Progress Union, the great Chief Mukoro Mowoe made friends from all corners of Nigeria, especially in those areas where Urhobo communities were settled as economic migrants.

 

Indeed, among Nigerian ethnic nationalities, Urhobo is second to none in promoting and forging bonds of friendship with other peoples of the Niger Delta and Nigeria. A review of our ties with our ethnic neighbours in the Western Niger Delta will amply affirm this assertion. Geographically, Urhobo lies in the centre of the Western Niger Delta and serves as its heart. We are proud to have enduring and warm relationships with all five ethnic nationalities that surround the Urhobo people in the hinterland rainforests of the Western Niger Delta. Happily, all of them are represented in this assembly.

 

Benin. Benin lies to our north. Urhobo language has an endearing term of affection by which we know Benin and the Benins: Aka. In matters of shared commerce and agriculture, in customs and language, Urhobo relations with Benin are counted by thousands of years. Such enduring relations have grown luxuriantly in the past 100 years and more when large Urhobo migrant communities sprouted up in rural Benin. The flourishing friendship between modern Urhobos and their kinsmen in Benin owes a great deal to the especial bonds that developed between that remarkable King of Benin, Omo N’Oba Akenzua II and several Urhobo chieftains. It is a tradition that his magnificent successor, His Majesty Omo N’Oba Eradiuwa, has continued. We salute the Kings and the good people of Benin for their friendship for the Urhobo immigrants who have settled in their midst. We believe that these Urhobos have reciprocated well and have contributed substantially to the growth of modern Benin society and economy. Today, inter-marriages between Benin and Urhobo men and women, especially in rural areas, have grown dramatically. This wholesome development points to the strengthening of Benin-Urhobo relations in the 21st century.

 

Itsekiri. Itsekiri lies to the west of Urhoboland. Placed in the Atlantic coast, the Itsekiri have had special relations with hinterland Urhoboland for centuries. During the age of European trade, the Urhobo people relied on Itsekiri as an avenue for securing industrial goods from Europe. In return, Urhobos supplied the Itsekiri the agricultural goods that fed them. These reciprocities in their economies were paralleled by social developments whereby marriages between Itsekiri and Urhobo increased family ties between the two peoples in an extraordinary fashion. These family ties have happily overcome difficulties created by political differences and have been especially helpful in periods of crises. Today, it is estimated that at least as many Itsekiri live in Urhoboland as in Itsekiri lands. It is remarkable that the Urhobo city of Sapele has the single largest concentration of Itsekiri. Sapele also serves as the epicenter of Itsekiri language and culture. We are proud of these trends and Urhobo leadership will do their utmost to ensure that the relations between Urhobo and Itsekiri will grow to the benefit of both of our people.

 

Ijaw. Ijaw lies to Urhoboland’s southwest in the Atlantic coast and in the creeks of the Niger Delta. The Ijaw have been in Urhobo folk imagination from immemorial times. They are widely regarded by Urhobos as faithful friends and allies. Economic ties, featuring food supplies to the Ijaw and supply of fish products to the Urhobo, are old and continue to this day. There is an ample Urhobo population of economic migrants in Ijaw lands, consisting of fishermen, gin-makers, and palm-nut collectors. On the other hand, there is a strong Ijaw presence in Urhobo cities and towns. Inter-marriages between Ijaws and Urhobos are common, resulting in numerous Ijaw families with Urhobo members. The extensive boundaries between Urhoboland and Ijawland have largely been peaceful. We are proud to say that Ijaw-Urhobo relations are a true model of cordial ethnic relations.

 

Ukwuani. The ancient lands of the Ukwuani people lie to the northeast of Urhoboland. Economic and commercial ties between Urhobo communities and the Ukwuani people are ancient and well-ordered. For centuries, Ukwuani maidens were favourite brides in Urhobo culture. These marriages have created firm bonds and peaceful co-existence between Urhobos and Ukwuanis. Such Ukwuani towns as Ubiaruku and such Urhobo towns as Abraka have been shared by the two neighbours in peace. We salute the Ukwuani people for their good disposition towards the Urhobo people.

 

Isoko. Isoko lies to the southeast of Urhoboland. There are many Isoko and there are many Urhobo who would resent the idea that Isoko is being treated as Urhobo’s ethnic neighbour. This is because the distinction between Urhobo and Isoko is more political than cultural. In all other respects outside of politics, the Urhobo and Isoko share a common culture, a common economy, and even a common history. In modern times, the Isoko have become the most influential economic force in the Urhobo city of Ughelli. In the Urhobo-Isoko Diaspora, Urhobos and Isokos share common unions. Given the current political separation between our peoples, we have invited Isoko representatives as our guests to this Summit. But we would like to assure our Isoko brothers and sisters that the problems confronting the Urhobo and Isoko people are alike.  The solutions to our problems may not be different.

 

We have narrated these relationships between the Urhobo People and our immediate neighbours in the Western Niger delta for two reasons. First, we want to assure you all that Urhobo progress of the last seventy years has been possible only because of the friendly environment in which we exist. Second, Urhobo’s relationship with other peoples of the Niger Delta and beyond has been governed by the principle of give-and-take. We want to benefit from any relationships in which we are implicated. But we also want to give back to the communities from which we have received.

 

These principles have also governed Urhobo’s relationships with other peoples outside the Niger Delta. Urhobo have lived and prospered in several corners of Nigeria while contributing to the welfare of those communities. For example, Urhobos were among the first batch of tin-miners in Jos, a community to whose development they contributed substantially. We thank all Nigerian communities that have hosted Urhobo migrants over the years.  In this regard, I wish to make special reference to the good fortunes of Urhobos in rural Yoruba lands. Early in the 20th century, Urhobo palm-nut collectors settled in large numbers in Ikale, Ilesha and Ogbomosho in an occupation that entailed the harvesting of nuts from wild palm trees. It was an occupation in which our people are specialized. It was an occupation that also helped to develop the kind host communities that received the Urhobo people. We thank them all. I should mention that some of our brightest jurists were born and raised in Ikale country of Ondo State. The late Chief Ayo Irikefe, a former Chief Justice of the Federation and Chief Victor Ovie-Whiskey, a former Chief Judge of Bendel State, were two legal giants who were born in Ikale country and who had their first lessons in education in that fertile branch of the Urhobo Diaspora.

 

Urhobo cities and towns have also received many other Nigerians into their midst. We trust that we have given to others in the measure in which we have received from the Nigerian community.

 

We believe that our future development will rely on harmony between the Urhobo people and other ethnic nationalities of the Niger Delta and Nigeria as a whole. As we face new challenges in the 21st century, we will rely on your friendship in our search for solutions for these hurdles. For instance, it is a point of view that is now widely canvassed by Urhobo leaders of thought that we need an Urhobo State within the Federation of Nigeria in order to speed up our pace of development. We assure you all that an Urhobo State will in no way disrupt the good relationships between the Urhobo people and their neighbours. On the contrary, we believe that an Urhobo State will strengthen the economic and social circumstances of the Niger Delta.

 

I wish to thank you all for accepting our invitation to this unique Summit. Specifically, we thank Your Excellency, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, our dear Vice-President for graciously honouring our invitation. We thank our Minister of Niger Delta, Obong Ufot Joseph Ekaette and his colleague, Elder Godsday Orubebe.

 

Permit to thank especially the esteemed Governors of the Niger Delta, both those who have come in person and those who have sent their representatives. We thank Your Excellency Rt. Hon. Adams Oshiomhole, Governor of Edo State, for your presence and friendship. Please convey our warm greetings to the Omo N’Oba and the great people of Edo State. We thank Your Excellency Rt. Hon. Timipre Sylva, Governor of Bayelsa State. These are trying times in our communities in Delta and Bayelsa States. Please convey our sincere sympathy to those affected by circumstances that they did not create. We thank Your Excellency Rt. Hon. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, Governor of Rivers State. We thank you for your contribution to the development of the Niger Delta and to the Nigerian Federation. We thank Your Excellency, Rt. Hon. Liyel Imoke, Governor of Cross-River State for honouring our invitation. We are aware of a sizeable Urhobo population in your State. Please convey our greetings to your people and my fellow Urhobos in your state. And we thank Your Excellency Rt. Hon. Godswill Obot Akpabio, Governor of Akwa-Ibom. Your people and my people have many bonds that tie us together, despite the apparent physical distance between us.

 

I want to reserve a special word of thanks to our Guest of HonouronHHHH, Your Excellency, Rt. Hon. Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, Governor of Delta State. We appreciate your co-operation in organising this Summit.  We are aware of your kind assistance in hosting your colleagues from other states.  We thank you.

 

Permit me to extend especial words of gratitude and thanks to the officials of cultural organizations which have graced this assembly. They represent millions of Nigerians. We trust that they would have acquired a better understanding by of the Urhobo people by attending this Summit. We thank the representative of Afenifere of the great Yoruba people of southwest of Nigeria. We warmly welcome Ambassador Raph Uwechue, the President-General of Ohaneze Nd’ Igbo, the apex cultural organization of the great Igbo people for your presence at this Summit. And we salute the Arewa Consultative Forum for its good wishes towards the Urhobo  people. We thank you all for your friendship and co-operation.

 

To all our guests, particularly our immediate neighbours, let me say the following: Please make sure that you make individual Urhobo friends before you leave town. I say to all Urhobos, please regard all our guests as brothers and sisters.

 

May God Bless Nigeria. May God Bless Urhobo and all Ethnic Nationalities of Nigeria.

 

 

Olorogun Felix Ovuodoroye Ibru

President-General, Urhobo Progress Union

 

July 30, 2009

 

 

 


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