Urhobo Historical Society


The Urhobo Voice, January 17, 2005 (pages 13 and 14)


SENATOR Fred Aghogho Brume represented Delta Central Senatorial District in the National Assembly in the 1999-2003 political dispensation. He was the first Chairman, House Committee on Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and Metallurgy.

Brume in this interview with Charles Oviri speaks on the factors responsible for the emergence of Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) and Urhobo Historical Society (UHS), their relevance to the socio-economic. development of Urhoboland and other issues bordering on his achievements in the senate, his detention by military government and the death of his son.

The excerpts:

What are the factors that led to the emergence of Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) and Urhobo Historical Society (UHS), and how relevant are the two bodies to the socio-economic development of Urhobo nation?

Urhobo Progress Union, the umbrella body of the Urhobo nation, was born out of necessity exemplified by the fact that earlier in the 1940s, the Urhobo were regarded as unreliable set of people with fraudulent tendencies, and as such were looked down upon by the rest of the Nigeria society, even by the colonial administration.

As a result, Urhobo persons found it difficult to secure employment in the colonial service and large commercial houses run by colonial traders. The presumed negative qualities of Urhobo which was depicted in the era of  “Urhobo wayo” was detested by many outstanding Urhobo men, who valued honour, truth and virtues of good characters. They felt Urhobo should not be denigrated by the larger society; hence they came together to form the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) to uphold higher qualities and virtues of life.

Some of the founding fathers are Chief Mukoro Mowoe, Chief Okpodu, Chief Ometa and students from the Yaba College then, like Dr. Fred Esuri, late chief Salubi who later became professionals. They saw the urgent need to improve the image of Urhobo and to promote the positive area, of Urhobo culture. Urhobo Progress Union was very effective to the extent it reached an understanding with the colonial administration that any Urhobo person seeking employment in the public service be screened by UPU and recommendation made as regards his character to guarantee good conduct and behaviour in the colonial service.

It was with the same assurance and guarantee that the Urhobo were employed by large commercial houses and admitted into institutions of higher learning.

Gradually, the image of Urhobo started to improve, because UPU was directed at bringing progress to Urhoboland. It also motivated the establishment of Urhobo College, Warri, and many Urhobo People started to hold positions of trust and recognition at the national level.

The improved reputation of Urhobo became manifest when the then Captain John Obada was appointed ADC to the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the then Col.David Ejoor emerged as military governor of Midwest region, and Chief Jereton Mariere became the first civilian governor of Midwest region; while Chief Mukoro Mowoe became honourary member of Warri Province in the House of Representatives.

I stand to be corrected by historians that UPU was one of the indigenous socio-cultural organisations to be formerly registered with the colonial government. I have no doubt that UPU will still be relevant today, if it continues to serve as the umbrella body pursuing Urhobo interest. Urhobo Progress Union alone cannot pursue and project the interest of Urhobo nation that was why Urhobo Historical Society (UHS) came on board to pursue special interest areas.

The Urhobo Historical Society was also born out of necessity, that is why one of its pioneer leaders and chairman, Prof. Ekeh, did not fail to remind everyone that the society emerged to collate relevant historical information concerning Urhobo in the Western Niger Delta when falsehood were being propagated as facts by other ethnic groups in order to support an otherwise untenable situation.

They observed that some people were propagating and publishing falsehood and therefore decided to organise themselves to delve into historical documents in the archives of colonial masters to study them carefully and make such available to the public and judicial or administrative bodies set up by government, to have good judgement and take decisions based on facts.

One of the first things the society did was to gather the clear historical facts about the origin of Warri. Historical facts revealed that colonial traders, on behalf of the Queen of England, had agreement for acquisition of land with the Agbassa people, who were Urhobo at a time there were no Itsekiri in Warri city. These facts are enough to enlighten the public that Warri city already had Urhobo before the colonial masters. The historical facts are of paramount interest to Urhobo and other ethnic neighbours whom the Urhobo would want to live with in harmony, but would not want to trample upon them (Urhobo) as if they are second-class citizens. This is the situation that is being rejected all over the world, and Urhobo will vehemently reject it.

The same way, the Urhobo of the Niger-Delta, who, by the special endowment of God, have relatively large population of about 50 per cent in the state and 67 per cent of Warri city, would not condone a situation where some people will trample upon them. The Urhobo Historical Society, became relevant and useful in bringing historical facts to advance our interest and UPU should embrace their effort, since what they are pursuing is in line with the original interest or vision of the founding fathers (of UPU). Urhobo Progress Union should embrace scholars who have outstanding academic records, who have chosen to do research in order to bring out materials that will advance the interest of Urhobo in a decent and sound manner, so that Urhobo sons and daughters of the next generation can look back and be proud.


Would you say the objectives and aspiration of the founding fathers of UPU have been achieved by the present leadership of UPU?

The vision of the founding fathers of UPU has been the pursuit of Urhobo interest in a dedicated manner, and whether the present leadership is in pursuit of excellence that would give Urhobo nation the image that is  trustworthy outstanding and reliable, that has eternal values and high qualities, is a different thing.

I believe many people would say that the original high values which the UPU of old wanted to project is no longer there, therefore there is need for improvement in the way and manner the present UPU leadership is handling the affairs of Urhobo nation.

In the first place, UPU of old was known as a socio-cultural organisation, not a political party, as it did not align officially to any political party, but to ensure that the best of Urhobo is projected for leadership positions in relevant and emerging areas of governance.

Presently, the values, which UPU leadership tend to manifest has become increasingly questionable, both the ways and manner the UPU leadership has prevented and avoided issues from being discussed and debated in a democratic manner within UPU organs for best decisions to prevail, it appears this is not being done. It also appears there is increasingly raw exercise of power in pursuit of raw power for self aggrandisement, rather than the general interest. What we are seeing in the present leadership is a manifestation of unrefined pursuit of power for selfish reasons, so that individual holders of power can benefit rather than as a means to serve the people generally, so that Urhoboland can become better.

The UPU of old sought to improve Urhobo image for the betterment of Urhoboman with honour, and defended what is right, so that the image of Urhobo nation can be compared with the best in the land, in order to move Urhobo away from “Urhobo Wayo” to that of courageous pursuit of truth and what is right. My prayer is that UPU will steer its way back to a dedicated pursuit of the original aims and objectives, which made many of the founding fathers sacrifice much of their time and energy for Urhoboland.


What leadership qualities would you recommend for the leadership of UPU?

We are witnessing a scenario across the country, where leadership of socio-cultural organisations are occupied by men who have certain educational attainment, and who have track records that can be tested to. Even traditional rulers in various communities are people with cognate educational, experience and track records we can be proud of. This is why I am delighted with Okpe Kingdom, when recently they selected the best to occupy the Okpe stool made vacant by the demise of the late Orodje of Okpe Kingdom, Orhorho I JP.

Urhobo should be mindful of these starling qualities in the selection or appointment of people to sensitive positions. It should not be how much the person has, but what he can  contribute and how he is respected among his counter-parts across the country.

We need to do more homework in the selection of the next leadership of the UPU, we will certainly need people with higher values and good antecedents.


You do not belong to any Urhobo socio-cultural organisation  which we know of; what is responsible?

That is not true, I was one of the original members of Urhobo Social Club, Lagos. I was one of the very active supporters and promoters of Urhobo Social Club in the 70s.

The Urhobo Social Club itself came out of the crisis in Nigeria; it will interest you to know that it was formed as a result of the advice given to Col. David Ejoor (rtd.) by late J.S. Tarka.

I was an active member. Even now, I am the president of Urhobo Leadership Forum in Abuja. I initiated and funded the forum when I arrived Abuja as the senator representing Delta Central Senatorial District.

I brought Urhobo sons and daughters in the public service and captain of industries together to meet periodically to identify and pursue matters that affect Urhobo nation in the scheme of things.

The Urhobo Leadership Forum meets every month, and till date, I make available the venue and general logistics for meetings to take place.

We have been working on areas of special interest, which I cannot disclose on the pages of newspaper.

I belong to Urhobo social groups. When I was in the senate I tried to arrange regular consultations with the UPU, but communication broke down when I was not being informed about vital things and events.


You were the senate for four years (between 1999 and 2003). How would you describe your experience and achievements, and what were those things you set out to achieve?

It was my first time to serve in any legislative body. It was a worthwhile experience. I have a background of occupying executive positions, and with my background in engineering and industrial management; I was trained to achieve results, either as a manager or technocrat. The achievement that brought me to limelight was my success in the establishment of the Delta Steel Complex, where, as the general manager, I completed the steel plant and it was the only steel plant in production to lay the industrial foundation for the country before inconsistencies in government policies terminated the dream.

Therefore, during my campaign for election into the Senate, I was in the pursuit of  goals like the establishment of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), so that there can be development in Niger Delta area which has been neglected. I believed that if the commission is properly funded, it can transform the Niger Delta to an industrialized haven in this part of the world.

I set out to pursue things like the establishment of a federal university in Delta State to be located in Delta Central, which is the heart of oil production in the state.

I pursued goals such as construction of major highways that could link Warri Ughelli-Patani and Port Harcourt, so that both sides could become industrial belts like we have in developed economies of USA and Germany.

I also set out to revive the steel sector. These are some of the goals I set out to pursue in the National Assembly.

These goals and targets are definite, therefore, I concerned myself in doing essential spade work to achieve these concrete objectives, rather than in empty and bombastic talk.

In terms of my achievement, I will say, I was not much of a noise maker, but I believe that these main goals, which I see to be in the interest of the greater society of Delta Central, Delta State and Niger Delta, I pursued, so that they could be achieved, and I am proud that I was able to bring NDDC into existence.

If I did not succeed in achieving 100 per cent of what I wished in the structure and funding of the commission, yet the 80 per cent achieved is much better than nothing; and from that beginning, we can build and improve on it.

I did the basic groundwork to see that the Federal University was established. There were initial hiccups because some of our people seemed not to understand what is possible at that time and therefore slowed down the process. The president, as a result of my persuasion and the support of others, approved the establishment of a Federal Univesity campus in Delta State at Petroleum Training Institute (PTI), to be known as PTI Campus of University of Benin, with the department of Petroleum Engineering and Gas Studies, so that we can produce high quality manpower in the oil sector. We had hoped it would take off in September 2004, but because of technical lapses, it was not reflected explicitly in the budget. This time around, all hands are on deck and everything is being put in place.

We hope appointment of personnel will be made early, so that the first set of admitted students can resume in September 2005.

In the metallurgy and steel sector, we did what we could to revive the steel plants, which Delta Steel was one. We recorded some success, but could not achieve total result because they were matters that required lobbying, as it were.

We signed the contract for the revival of the Delta Steel Plant, but we were disappointed by the inadequate performance of the contracting partners, and that stalled the revival until the issue of privatization came in.

The other project close to my heart was the construction of a dual carriage-way from Warri-Ughelli, Bayelsa and Port Harcourt. I committed larger part of my constituency vote to the engineering and design. We had agreement in principle with Julius Berger to do it, but we have to continue with the pressure to see that it is implemented.

I want to add that I intentionally declined to take office in the Senate as principal officer, because of what was made clear to me at the outset, that as a principal officer, I cannot become Senate committee chairman, and because my going to the Senate was primarily to pursue some definite goals, I declined to contest or be available for positions as principal officer.

These are some of the areas I wanted achievement for my people.


How has NDDC succeeded in achieving the aims with which it was set up?

The primary objective of NDDC is to bring development to the Niger Delta region. I would say most of the developments in Niger Delta by NDDC have not been successfully pursued and achieved as expected.

At present, NDDC is funded by the Federal Government and oil companies. Originally, we thought people from the area should be shareholders by contributing financially  with certain percentage of the 13 per cent derivation fund; so that they can speak authoritatively as shareholders in the project. The absence of that has left it more of a federal establishment, whereas, NDDC belongs to the region.


In 1999, you won election to Senate on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), but in 2003 you contested on the platform of Alliance for Democracy (AD); why did you move to AD?

There was lot of abracadabra in the way the affairs of the state PDP was handled. A situation where a standing senator wanted to go back, and after paying the necessary dues and fees, somebody from somewhere said primaries cannot be contested, and a winner emerged from the primaries without contest. This was the issue. I thought I should leave the people of Delta Central to choose who they wanted to represent them, but again, there was no election, and a winner was declared.

It was another level of abracadabra, that is why things are still what they are. Democracy is still at its infancy stage surely, but we cannot continue like this.


What has been the most challenging moment of your life?

The past two years have been very challenging in the sense that I contested an election where I had the support of the electorate, going by assessment, yet I was not declared winner.

Secondly, about two years ago, I lost my son, Ovie Brume, a young man brought up in the categories of the best who had performed and succeeded in that category both in and outside classroom. He attended the best institutions in the world (Beckley and Harvard Universities), and was snatched by death. Barely a year later, my immediate younger brother, who fit into the category of high achievers, a man of excellence, the best surgeon in the Nigerian army, was also snatched by death. I have within this period, been faced with these realities, coupled with how to steer my life in such a way that I will continue to maintain excellence and high value of life, God fearing life in pursuit of righteousness which seems to have motivated me to public service, and at the same time, try to meet my normal obligations.

The past two years has been the most challenging period of my life. But I believe that by the grace of God, it will blow away, and I will see more prosperous and successful years.

No doubt, there are good moments in your life, what are those good moments you want to recount?

There are many good moments. I was happy to be one of the best students in my higher school level to win a scholarship to study Chemical Engineering in an American university, and graduated with a first class honour.

I was also happy to have attended one of the best universities in the world, Massacheuset University of Technology, where I finished in record time and was employed as a professional staff of the World Bank.

I was happy when I returned home, and was called to service at the end of the civil war in preparation for reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation.

I was happy to be challenged by being the pioneer project coordinator and general manager of Delta Steel Complex. I was also happy to be thrown into detention and released without being scathed, because in the process, I saw another dimension of life and God.

I was happy about my political service as a senator.

I am happy and proud of my family, because they have performed excellently in and outside classroom, and because I believe that with God nothing is impossible and above all, I know by His help and as I remain with Him, tomorrow will be more glorious than yesterday.