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Day Urhobo honoured their own

By Peter Ishaka
He is an ordinary man who spent his life in the service of an ideal, and toiled for it. Chief T.E.A Salubi described him as “a most willing worker,” “quick,” “reliable” and “inherently a patriot with the greatest interest of Urhobo at heart.”

“The fire of Urhobo progress and wellbeing” added Salubi, “burns fiercely in his heart.” He did not toil in vain.
At the 8th Annual Conference and the 10th Anniversary of Urhobo Historical Society held recently at Effurun and Ovu. Delta State, Chief Gordon Mukoro was honoured with UHS distinguished award.

A tall handsome man, already in his late 80’s and blind, Chief Mukoro recorded in elegant handwriting the details of the Presidential tour of ranches of Urhobo Progress Union throughout the federation in 1964. The record of the tour formed a significant part of the book: T.E.A. Salubi: Witness to British Colonial Rule in Urhoboland and Nigeria.

Also honoured was Chief. L.U. Ighomrore, the first bursar of Urhobo College, Effurun, that collective efforts of the Urhobo people to enhance the education of their children. Born in 1916 and also blind, Chief Ighomrore and Chief Mukoro’s paths crossed several times in their task to uplift the Urhobo nation.

At the crowded venue in Ovu, both men were reunited and they hailed each other with wisecracks and nicknames. Thereafter, they shook hands. It was a memorable reunion. Indeed, history is not just a record of celebrated deeds of great men and kings, but also a record of ordinary men who toil day and night to attain human progress.

There were other 16 awards, including Omorowhovo Okoro co-leadership service award presented to Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark “for encouraging the virtues of courage, selflessness and good governance in Urhobo leadership.” Chief Mukoro Mowoe service award went to Chief Johnson Ukueku, for “peerless leadership in the affairs of Urhobo subculture of Agbon and his native Eku.” Prof Onigu Otite, earned the Adogbeji Salubi Urhobo Service Award…

But the UHS 8th Conference was not all about awards. It was also an opportunity to honour past Presidents of Urhobo Progress Union who hail from the quiet little town of Ovu – Chief Omorowhovo Okoro (then Urhobo Brotherly Society), Chief John Okpodu and Chief T.E.A Salubi – all late. They all served the Union with distinction. Indeed, Chief Ibru first task at Ovu was to lay wreaths on their graves, before his entrance to Ovu Grammar School, venue of the Thanksgiving Service was heralded with canons.

It was a big crowd as many people poured out to celebrate with the inhabitants of the sleepy town with amazing big names.

Dignitaries on the high table were  Major General David Ejoor, rtd; His Majesty, Okpara 1, Ovie r’Agbon; His Royal Majesty, Orodje r’Okpe; His Majesty Ogoni-Oghoro 1, Owhorode r’Olomu; Chief Goodie Ibru; Chief Johnson Barovbe; Prof John Enaohwo; Prof. Bright Ekuarare; Prof. Albert Aweto; Prof. Revd. Samuel Erivwo;

Monsignor Erhueh; Mrs. Benedicta Nwariaku (nee Salubi); Chief Daniel Obioma; Chief S.S, Ubruche; Dr. Aruegodore Oyiborhoro; Mr. Charles Akoroda; Prof. Peter P. Ekeh, the celebrated chair of UHS, and a man whose insight can be called profound…

Earlier at the Petroleum Training Institute, Effurun. other serious issues that impact on the well-being of Urhobo people were tabled and dissected by experts. Dr. Solomon Ovie, Assistant Director, Water & Fisheries Research, NIFFER, New Bussa, delivered an insightful lecture, titled, “Fish and Fisheries of Urhoboland: An Investment Option.”

He said at a time various species of fish were so abundant in Urhoboland and their nutritional value must have aided the Urhobo people who are “intelligent and hardworking.” He noted that people above 50 years preferred fish to meat because of their nutritional value and reduction of high blood pressure.”

Malachy Akoroda, a Professor of Agronomy, University of Ibadan presented an engaging lecture on “Root and Tuber Economy Under a Weakening Ecology and Culture” while Professor Peter Eruotor of Delta State University, Abraka did on “Challenges of Cassava Farming in Urhoboland: Problems and Prospects.”

But then, the viability of any business depends on peace and security, Perhaps that was why the larger theme of the Conference was “Peace and Personal Security in Urhoboland.” For sometimes now, major cities in Urhoboland – Effurun, Ughelli, Warn, Sapele, Abraka and even smaller towns in the country side have become theatres of crime and violence. No time is safe: many of the youths have been ravaging the land in broad daylight and under the cover of darkness.

The nights in particular were filled with shadows of unmentionable fears. Many people cannot sleep in their homes because of fear of armed robbers. People, particularly those in the Diaspora who are retired are afraid to return home. Those who are not afraid of witchcraft are afraid of armed robbers or kidnappers.

Some out of frustration, sold their properties and relocated to Lagos or Abuja. Dr. Peter Obakponowe, President General, Agbon said the issue of recurring violence in certain communities was so disturbing and frightening that it had been tabled at Urhobo Progress Union Meetings. Ughelli, where Obakponowe practices medicine was one such centre of violence. The criminal activities of young men held the city by the throat and paralyzed business activities. Uvwie land was another theater of violence.

The police could not be relied upon to combat the rising wave of crimes. Chief Tuesday Onoge, younger brother of the cerebral Prof. Omafume Onoge noted that in spite of the numerous road blocks mounted by police and soldiers “they have not captured one armed robber.”

He alleged that “all the criminals in Uvwie live in the barracks.” He described the police as “soldiers of fortune who were more interested in extorting money from the people. All they do is to embarrass us and collect money”, he said.

One sore incident that occurred during the week Conference held was the tragic death of six women traders at Ughelli road and Delta Steel company intersection in Effurun. A bus conveying the six women who traded in palm oil was held up by the police when an oncoming trailer rammed into the bus and killed all the occupants. The police took to their heels thereafter. “You can’t rely on them” said Onoge, “Even if they respond to

calls, their bureaucracy is something else. We have a situation where police men pursue robbers with wailing siren. Are they serious?”

The prospect of taming the crime waves through government’s effort seemed distant. Dr. Obakponowe suggested that the community vigilante system should be strengthened. He spoke with the weight of knowledge and experience. He said Ughelli, where he has lived for decades was now peaceful “because of the community vigilante group” which he tagged “a counter group.”

He said the use of the vigilante group accompanied with occasional “jungle justice” has restored peace to the town. Professor Vremudia Diejomoah, former Director of the International Labour Organization said the tide of crimes could be stemmed by providing jobs and encouraging companies that fled the area in the wake of uncontrollable violence to return.

During the Conference, the  book: T.E.A. Salubi: Witness to British Colonial Rule in Urhoboland and Nigeria, was also reviewed by Professor Simon Umukoro and Dr. Sunny Awohefeada, both of the Dept. of English and Literal Studies, Delta State University, Abraka.

The fourth book in the series of UHS publications after Warn City and British Colonial Rule in Western Niger Delta; Studies in Urhobo Culture, and History of the Urhobo People of Niger Delta,  according to the reviewers, is a “magnum opus” and “wears many hats as a biography, an autobiography, memoir, history, diary and more.’” Edited by Peter P. Ekeh, the erudite Professor and author of highly acclaimed Social Exchange Theory:

The Two Traditions, the book is a rich collection of a man’s meticulous record of the life around him. Since the moment Chief Salubi discovered his ability to write, he kept a diary and recorded on a daily basis moments of life: good times and lean times, until his death. Chief Salubi knew that the secret of life is in its ordinariness.


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