Urhobo Historical Society

Networking as a Critical Success Factor
in the Socio-economic and Political Development of the Urhobo Nation

By Dr. Igho F. Ogbera

Associate Director/Head of Research, the Nigerian Economic Summit Group

(Culled from The Urhobo Voice, April 12,  2004, pages 22 and 23)


Being paper delivered  at the Annual Atamu Day of the Atamu Social Club of Nigeria, held at University of Lagos, Akoka, on Saturday, March 20, 2004.


It is my great honour and pleasure to be part of this august gathering. I thank the organizers of the event for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts with you about one of the most critical strategies for engineering desired social change, namely, networking.

Our assembling today constitutes a special forum for us to reflect on our journey so far and to identify those areas we have not fared well and how to collectively move the Urhobo nation forward. I am not here to berate anyone but I must state one fact: if the Urhobo nation succeeds, we all have succeeded; if it fails, we all have failed. But as a nation with enormous human and natural endowment, the Urhobo have no business with failure. And because we have not done very well collectively as the sixth largest ethnic group in
Nigeria (from an estimated total of 374 such ethnic groups), there is need for us to reflect and re-strategize, to guarantee successes in the increasingly complex political environment in Nigeria. This we can do effectively through strategic networking and building of alliances.


The Urhobo Nation


Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, before delving into the business of the day; permit me to briefly refresh our mind on who we are and where we are coming from. As I earlier mentioned, the Urhobo nation today remains the sixth largest ethnic community in Nigeria, with over two  million people and 22 kingdoms, occupying a strategic position within the oil-rich Niger Delta region. The kingdoms are so bound together by blood, culture, marriage, occupation, geography and politics that their fates are mutually intertwined. Indeed, we are the ‘breadfruit’ of Nigeria, producing more than 64 million barrels of crude oil annually, which add greatly to the revenue and foreign exchange earnings of our country, Nigeria. Besides, the Urhobo nation is famous for other economic activities like farming, fishing, and commercial forestry.


In terms of human resources, we have produced and are still producing great and notable sons and daughters in all fields of human endeavour. There is hardly any field where an Urhobo son or daughter, either in the country or in Diaspora has not excelled. We have also produced prominent and forthright leaders, who have fought in various capacities for the progress of our people. Amongst them are Chief Jereton Mariere (whose statue we are commissioning today), Chief Mukoro Mowoe, Chief Omohwovo Okoro, the founder of the Urhobo Brotherly Society (now Urhobo Progress Union), Chief Agboter, Chief M. G. Ejaife, Chief Adogbeji Salubi, Chief David Ejoor, Senator D. O. Dafinone, the Ibrus and of course, our illustrious son, the present Executive Governor of Delta State, Chief James Onanefe Ibori, just to mention a few. We have also able-bodied youth as epitomized in Atamu Social Club of Nigeria, a club that has brought to the fore the exemplary leadership qualities inherent in the youths of the Urhobo land. We as a people were known to be highly united, with strong cultural background, despite some minor linguistic differences that exist among some of the clans. But of late, we have begun to allow personal and narrow interests to becloud our sense of collective interests and corporate survival. We have existed as a nation and must remain a nation for the progress and development of Urhobo land.


In recent times, the Urhobo nation has started to witness a gradual but progressive marginalization in the scheme of things in the Nigerian federation. In spite of our enormous human and natural resources and contribution to the common wealth of Nigeria, we have over the years been strategically schemed out of the national policy arena, to the extent that today, we have no representative in the present executive cabinet of President Obasanjo’s administration. Yet, some ethnic nationalities with a few thousand people have representatives within the federal executive council. Where have we gone wrong? Urhobo land has been neglected by successive regimes and what ought to have been an envy of other parts of the country, in terms of development, has been turned to a war theater with rapid decay of infrastructure, high unemployment, poverty, insecurity and low level of industrialisation.


Our people live daily in fear of the unknown; we kill and destroy one another daily from external incitement. We lose gradually our greatest assets, the youths to war and different forms of crisis. Our land is increasingly being militarized and our people intimidated and molested at the least provocation. We are gradually losing grip of the development of our land and the human resources, and urgent attention is required to address the situation. The onus of moving the land forward falls on all of us. We must redirect our energies and work assiduously as a united and forward-looking people.


There has been an on-going call for our people to unite and have one strong voice to achieve our common vision. We cannot continue to allow our nation to be exploited and destroyed without running to its aid. With our heavy contribution to the wealth of this nation, we do not deserve to be marginalized in any form and at whatever level. As it is, the Urhobo nation has nothing to show for the enormous oil wealth in the area. As a result, there is increased poverty and frustration and unemployment among the army of youths. We cannot watch our proceeds being massively used for the development of other parts of the country while our people remain in abject poverty. Allow me to illustrate this with one example. The power generating station at Ogorode district of Sapele was expected to serve Sapele and other surrounding communities. But this was not to be; rather the electricity was fed into the national grid to serve privileged areas in other parts of the country, while the people living around the source of power stayed in perpetual darkness, unlike other areas where such generating stations were sited, like the Shiroro and Kainji dams, and Egbin Thermal station. How can one justify or rationalize this gross injustice.


As I said earlier, I am not here to berate anyone, but remembering such things makes me weep for our people, because rather than seek for useful solutions to all these, we allow our minds to be dissuaded, seeking selfish and narrow ends at the expense of collective interests. There is a serious task which involves developing the area, empowering the people and ensuring that the Federal Government concedes sufficient compensation to our land that bear the brunt of environmental degradation and other sundry problems associated with oil exploration. We have what it takes to actualize our dreams and vision for the Urhobo land and one possible way of realizing this great vision is through networking.


What is networking?


There are no fixed definitions for “networking.” The term is used in many ways and has a variety of meanings to different people. Of all the available definitions, I would like to conceptualize networking along the thoughts of Professor Paul Starkey. According to him, “networking is a process by which two or more individuals or communities collaborate to achieve common goals.” Networking can also be seen as the communication and exchange processes by which an extended group of people with similar interests or concerns interact and remain in contact for mutual assistance and support. Networking is a means to an end.


Networks are increasingly important, whether local, national or international. People talk about networks in communities, in businesses and in organizations. For some people, networking seems just another jargon. But many organizations and, more recently, communities now recognize networking as a valuable means of sharing information, of furthering common objectives and values, and most importantly, as a strategy for promoting socio-economic and political growth and development of communities and nations.


Basically, there are two main types of networking-bonding (i.e. associative networking) an bridging (i.e. dissociative networking). Bonding involves the sharing of information among people with common characteristics, norms or belief systems. It is a horizontal form of networking, and one would say that networking by the Urhobo people today is largely of the bonding type.  On the other hand, dissociative networking (bridging) involves building alliances across cultural boundaries for strategic reasons. The use of dissociative networking has been described by networking experts as the most potent strategy for advancing community development efforts, especially in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and politically complex nation as Nigeria.


In Nigeria, some ethnic minorities in the south have long recognized the utility of strategic bridging and have effectively utilized it to advance their socio-economic and political interests at local and national levels. The Urhobo nation has, on the other hand, in my view, been over-relying on associative networking (i.e. bonding). Given the limited dividends from this approach thus far, we must now broaden our networking activities by starting to build bridges and forming alliances with other ethnic groups (especially with other ethnic minorities within and beyond the South-South zone) as a strategic step to advance our socio-economic and political frontiers. After all, it is a statistical fact that together as a block, Nigeria’s ethnic minorities collectively outweigh any one of the three largest ethnic groups.


Characteristics of a network


Most networks have some or all of the following characteristics. They are:

* Venues for social action through exchange and mutual learning.

* Sustained through some form of communication and information sharing.

 * Committed to a jointly-developed structure and shared responsibility.

 *  Based on commitment to shared objectives and means of action.

 * A group of communities/organizations and or individuals who come together to pursue joint goals or common interests.


Benefits of networking


Individuals, groups and communities consciously or unconsciously engaged in networking because the socio-economic and political problems and issues that they face on a daily basis (especially in a competitive environment such as ours) are too large and weighty for them to tackle on their own.


Networking is used as a strategy of giving greater impact to individual or group efforts. It involves synergy and has become highly fashionable in moving communities forward across the globe. We must learn to synergise efforts through bond networking and, more importantly, strategic alliances with other ethnic nationalities to fast-track our efforts at socio-economic and political growth and transformation. No human being or community is an island, and we cannot do it alone.


Basically, networking will help us as a group to:

* Accomplish those things we cannot accomplish alone – complex development problems and issues that seem overwhelming, e.g. resource control and real political and fiscal devolution of power to states and local governments.

* Influence others, within and outside the network.

*  Promote exchange of ideas, information, knowledge, insights, experiences and skills through cooperative programmes and arrangements.

* Provide a needed sense of solidarity, moral and psychological support.

* Link people of different levels, disciplines, communities and background.

*  Broaden the understanding of an issue or struggle by bringing together different constituencies.

* Provide the critical mass needed for local and national advocacy and lobbying – networking has been quite useful and successful at influencing decision-makers both within and outside the network.

* Reduce duplicating efforts and wasting of resources.

* Open opportunities, strengthen and sustain capacities.

* Under certain circumstances, mobilize financial resources for development.


Problems of networking


Networks all over the world can face many organizational problems. Some of these are structural and financial in nature, while others relate to more subtle networking matters. Most networks tend to have different levels of membership; a core of critical agenda-setters and activists, and a periphery of user-members. The first are key, as the ‘spark-plugs’ and leaders of the group … generally interested and persuasive, knowledgeable and respected. The latter are people who belong to the network, but operate as members-at-large, using its information and products, but not contributing much of their own inputs. Some members of this category may constitute the black-sheep of the network and may at some occasions work at the background to derail the efforts of the networks or do things to tarnish the image and reputation of the group. It is on record that some Urhobo sons and daughters use their respective privileged positions not only to advance their selfish interests but in the process work to undermine the collective interests of the Urhobo nation. It must be mentioned at this point that unity, cooperation and solidarity constitute the key building blocks of networking. Their absence remains a threat to the group’s vision and aspirations.


Networks can also easily become dominated by some powerful and highly influential members, and personal interests maybe promoted as collective interests. Sometimes, jealousies and rivalries may become the order of the day among some of the influential members, to the extent that the objectives and vision of the group are undermined. In all of these, there must be effective leadership to ensure sufficient internal cooperation and unity to enable members to see the value in acting collectively to build for the common good of the group. As things are, it appears we not only lack the charismatic leadership but the principle of shared values and oneness needed to move the Urhobo nation forward to greater heights.


Within the Urhobo nation, there are numerous socio-cultural groups and associations, but we must understand that these associations, including the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU), as they are presently designed, run and managed, may not take Urhobo land to the Promised Land. Apart from the fact that many of them have existed without visible achievements and contributions to the well-being of the Urhobo nation, they remain crisis-ridden and private interest-driven platforms. Some members of these associations use them to profile themselves for government favour in terms of appointments and contracts at the expense of the collective interests. Their voices are never heard on critical national issues affecting the Urhobo nation and when it is necessary to act they turn blind eyes and keep mum. Even the UPU for close to three decades was incapacitated and completely lost focus due to the tough gale of leadership squabble and internal politics. I am not too sure right now if these malignant tendencies have been completely removed from the apex body of the Urhobo nation.


The challenge is how to build a formidable unifying force, capable of delivering results of socio-economic and political engineering for the present and future generations of the Urhoboland. It is clear that given our continuing socio-economic and political marginalization, many of the Urhobo associations may not claim to have discharged fully the responsibility and obligation of promoting the well-being of the Urhobo nation.


Way forward


Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, all Urhobo sons and daughters have a key role to play in ensuring the socio-economic and political transformation of the Urhobo nation not only through bonding among ourselves but through strategic alliances and building bridges across our cultural boundaries with other ethnic nationalities. This requires the elimination of conflicts and crisis in our land, fostering team work, unity and cooperation, and articulating a “Marshal Plan” for the rapid development of the Urhobo nation. The UPU must live up to its responsibilities and work out programmes of coordinating the activities of the different socio-cultural groups and associations in the land.


We should work towards a conference of all Urhobo socio-cultural groups and associations to be held annually, (different from the Urhobo National Day and devoid of cultural carnival) under the auspices of UPU to brainstorm and fine-tune concrete development strategies to move the Urhobo nation forward. All hands must be on deck to give Urhoboland the attention it deserves at this point in our development process. Any deliberate and serious effort to promote the socio-economic and political development of the Urhobo nation must be addressed through strategic alliances with other ethnic minorities especially in the South-South zone. The utility in this mechanism is enormous and if effectively utilized may jump-start the economy of Urhoboland for rapid socio-economic and political transformation. The present-day Nigerian situation makes this mechanism imperative for us to adopt.


Besides, it is essential that all Urhobo socio-cultural groups and associations synergise to adopt consistent, coherent and transparent programmes for the development of Urhoboland. There is a need to harmonize efforts, build consensus and adopt common strategies in tackling the various problems of development confronting the Urhobo nation.


I thank you for your time and patience and pray that God will help us to realize our dreams for the Urhobo nation.