|Urhobo Historical Society
A Call for Urhobo Intellectualism
By EseOghene Ovie
National Space Research Development Agency (NASRDA), Abuja, Nigeria
There appears to be no doubt that the Urhobo nation is one that is in motion, both within itself and in relation to the larger Nigerian society and the world at large. Although you might doubt this dynamics from the tone of the following discourse, it takes nothing away from the fact that we are a dynamic people in very dynamic times. In effect the Urhobo nation cannot be oblivious of the times we live in and the social, cultural economic clime besetting all of us. The task to reposition the Urhobo nation intellectually is great, the challenge is daunting and the journey will be arduous. The course and sense of this dynamics is what this paper intends to espouse in general and in particular emphasize the need for a renewed technological push towards achieving a developmental and societal paradigm shift towards becoming more of a knowledge driven producing people. This production here is one that is spawned out of a rich, flourishing, and deliberately entrenched intellectual culture: an intellectual culture that should be at par with and even leading anything found the world over. We must begin to prepare and stock up on the intellectual capital needed to thrive within a knowledge-based economy not depending solely on the natural resources obtainable from the earth underneath our feet.
To put the last statement in perspective, I want to draw our attention to some of the obvious happenings around us and point out the manner of influence these events have had on us. With the larger global economic meltdown affecting all nations to varying degrees worldwide, we cannot remove ourselves from the impact this crisis is having on a people who are predominantly traders and derive their economic livelihoods almost in direct proportion to the health of the larger world economy. This is natural also, considering the use of the dollar (American green back) as the monetary standard for trade amongst nations. It therefore follows that as the dollar or the country that owns that currency (in this case united states of America) falters economically, all other economies depending on this currency and deriving their trade from the US mainly, are exposed to the same economic vicissitudes. The fact need not be overstated that with Nigeria being chiefly a consuming nation and deriving most of her imports from the US, we are bound to experience a large amount of the shocks that must naturally flow out of our dependence on US made goods and services. We must also place this within the narrower context of having for the first time a black man as the president of the united states and the hopes it raises for nations like ours which might falsely be lured into thinking this presents potential for a better trade balance between both nations, however misplaced it is to think that this solves all of the problems we face.
On the need to be more involved in the sources of our economic sustenance, it is not too early to ask ourselves where the next major source of revenue will come from after our oil is gone. This is definitely not a panic question; if we choose to see ourselves now as the goose that lays the golden egg, we must be asking the question what happens when the oil goes out of production, because the Urhobo people will not be migrating out of their lands when this happens and we will also not be given the kind of attention being given the Niger delta now with all the carrots and palliative incentives being offered. Also we definitely will not be having our youths put up under any guise the banner of confrontation towards a central government that may begin to see itself as less obligated to respond to the wishes of the Niger Delta. In a nut shell, I am trying to describe the on-you- own mentality that will ensue from our oil drying up. And if history has lessons to teach us, we must know that when outward aggression ceases, internal unrest rears its head. Do we see all the aggression being channeled towards the central government being reproduced nearer to home because we failed to plan and cater for the future developmental needs of our people? If the question is asked what should be done, a currently applicable example will be the events taking place in the Arabian Gulf country of UAE which shares similarity with Nigeria and the Niger Delta in being a major oil producing region with its oil resources dwindling. Having said that, it is the measures these countries are taking to ensure sustenance that is important with massive investment in their human capital and developmental projects that will ensure continuity of revenue generation without oil.
Coming home to the regional or national level, we are a people faced with very daunting and seemingly insurmountable challenges. From the underrepresentation which is obvious at the national level to the muting of the Urhobo voice at other levels of government. There is indeed a dearth of involvement by Urhobo and also a great time of opportunity to reverse our ill fortunes if we only strive conscientiously, constructively and purposefully to bring the Urhobo to the forefront of everything influential and involving. Events in our immediate geopolitical space of the Niger delta must be made mention of as it speaks volumes about where we are coming from and where we are headed. The menace of militancy and the attendant eroding of our value systems (cultural and economic), makes for poignant mentioning at this time. Since this paper isnít much about discussing the nature of militancy in the Niger Delta and its attendant effect on the lives of Urhobo sons or daughters, we will not deny the effect militancy has had on us mentally and psychologically. This being said, I have to say it has in no small way made us a weaker and more unstable people. This is so because the gains it brings are transient and vacillating. Also the truth must be told that the intent of the struggle was hijacked (if there ever was a sound basis for starting off in the first place) and corrupted. Any endeavor founded upon the shaky sands of greed and avarice is bound to leave out the majority of those it will naturally purport to help and thereby make a mockery of the intended goals.
In a world driven by economics, the man who holds the tools for production being king, the most important tool of todayís globalised world is the intellectual capital and knowledge base obtainable within any society. This I propose should be the direction of thrust for the Urhobo nation in its planning for tomorrow. If we are not going to be considered losers at the demise of the oil era, we must learn to indigenously grow into a nation with skills and education to match. The intellectual content of the average Urhobo should be able to compete with the best anywhere. And a culture of production should be aimed at so as not to waste all this human capital on the pages of books, journals and within the walls of classrooms.
Nothing stops Nigeriaís development from being tied to the development of the Urhobo nation with the Urhobo son and daughter being at the very heart of this development. Our level of development should be a measure of the advancement of whatever society we find ourselves participating in. Considering the times of globalization we live in and the shifting of standards, we must make sure we are at the forefront of whatever competition is going on around the world. By this competition I am referring to intellectual competition. This is the competition that differentiates and thrives on the trade of ideas and the stacking up on intellectual currency. The Urhobo nation must see the imperative in building up an intellectually self sustaining society with the power house of that society being the engendering and engineering of skill, professionalism and pursuit of knowledge for short, medium and long term strategic planning. The aim of this exercise should be to make sure that Urhobos are found at the forefront of every cutting edge decision and policy that is made. We should truly show ourselves to be the big heart of this nation and a true measure of the pulse and health of Nigeria.
Drifting a little bit from the core message which has been more of a hypothetical exercise, a more practical firsthand account of ways in which the Urhobo nation seems to display its aloofness with important matters bedeviling it is in the area of Nigeriaís space industry. The strategic nature of the Nigerian space industry is going to be my talking point for now and the important role to be played by the intellectual input and output going into this establishment is one I will emphasize in no small measure.
The Nigerian space industry is one that started off in 1999 and has the mandate of launching Nigeria into being a player in the space industry and into becoming one of those few countries with the capacity to manage and coordinate events outside of our immediate atmosphere and environment. The means and technological knowhow to get objects into orbit and control same is an engineering and scientific feat; mastery of which leapfrogs a nation many miles ahead technologically: from the manufacture of new and novel materials to the creation of entire industries that support large portions of the host communities through gainful employment; to the ability to hold a strong military presence by possessing the wherewithal for weapons technology that encourages deterrence and offence from a distance. Also the ability to monitor from space any point on earth you wish to monitor in a non invasive manner makes the pursuit of this technology imperative. We can pretend to feign ignorance and relegate the importance of this venture. We might say it is not for us to be interested in such things as I frequently hear the Urhobo man say he is more interested in what happens on his soil to the utter exclusion of all that happens outside his immediate domain..It must be said that our domain has blurred and we no longer have that luxury of claiming an isolated existence but that just doesnít exist any longer. We must vie and compete for all that there is to compete for as an ethnic nationality within the wider national space so as to make our voice strong powerful and most especially relevant in our times. This outlook must change for we canít leave others to manage what lies within us, more so when it has to do with the products of our minds.
The need to grow a strong and self sustaining science program for the students of Urhobo extraction is imperative for the challenges of tomorrow if we must have a sound intellectual societal engine to drive the change we so desperately need. Though not foreseeing any separate existence for the Urhobo nation, we must not rely on the expertise of others to bring the consciousness and necessity of being proficient in any scientific and cultural endeavor to the Urhobo nation. We must have our own experts in every possible field of human endeavor as can be authoritatively said of some other ethnic groups who seem to be ever more increasingly aware of the need to acquire and remain at the cutting edge of knowledge acquisition and the task of getting intellectuals properly dispersed in every field of scientific endeavor. When this happens and experts are needed to occupy positions, the heritage factor comes into play and statistically those with the highest number of experts will more readily be available for filling these positions and dictating the policy and also bringing more of their ilk into the frame of things. Now why do we not consider pursuing similar academic outlook and push for a quiet albeit accelerated drive to get persons of Urhobo extraction into all of the cutting edge areas of science and engineering to drive this technological effort?
One way to achieve this will be to inquire into the nature of education our students get and see how relevant this is to achieving the goals stated here. If it canít be done as a consistent Urhobo agenda due to the mixed ethnic composition of our schools, we can develop schemes of identifying and grooming potential talents all through their academic career and harnessing their efforts into the larger Urhobo plan of technological growth. This scheme can be used to sponsor and track the intellectual flow within the Urhobo nation and even archive the names and expertise of these professionals so as to have a data bank for reference purposes. These experts must also be made to recognize the collective effort put into his or her training, so that they understand the need to give back and perpetuate whatever knowledge they have acquired. It goes without saying therefore that we have to live and learn from our mistakes, correcting them whenever we discover them and moving ahead to greater pursuits.