By Lucky Oji
Chief Joe Orode Omene, is the President General of Urhobo Progress Union,UPU, and also the President of Famous Academy Grammar School, now Okotie Eboh Grammer School, Sapele, Delta State. In this interview with Sunday Vanguard, Chief Omene speaks on issues concerning the 2019 general elections and the position of Urhobo nation as the 4th largest Ethnic Nationality.
President Muhammadu Buhari visited you at your country home, Mosogar, before the 2015 general elections, and later you visited former President Goodluck Jonathan.What was the visits then all about?
UPU is about the welfare and benefits of the Urhobo nation and you cannot separate politics from it. Apart from it being a socio-cultural organization, it is also concerned about how the Urhobo can benefit from the larger state called Nigeria. And to achieve this feat, we must be involved in electioneering issues from the state to the national to know what is our gains in it, and only then you can advise your people to vote for a particular presidential or governorship candidate.
When I met former President Jonathan, I discussed with him and he did assure us, and said he made a mistake in his first tenure by not giving Urhobo its fair share and promised it will be corrected if he wins but unfortunately, he could not make it. Buhari also came to my house, and it was the same question I asked him. Jonathan at that time was more explicit about his commitments, he was more forthcoming, while Buhari at that time was not and that was why we the Urhobos supported Jonathan but this time, the incumbent president still needs to come and convince us that he means well for the Urhobo nation.
President Buhari has gone to West, East and other parts of the country but he has not come to see Urhobo to give us any form of assurance. Today, we have no minister from his government, and in fact, if you talk of empowerment, we have not gotten any form from his government. Being the fourth or fifth largest ethnic nationality, we deserve to have at least a ministerial position. Ministerial position we don’t have, how many chief executive positions in government parastatal do we have; we don’t have a fair share in this government as it stands today.
Are you in any way saying Urhobos are being marginalized in this present government?
Sure. We are seriously marginalized; if you like make somebody a board member. How many federal board members do we have, when we have a lot of federal boards in this country, how many chairmen of federal boards does Urhobo occupy, even the appointment given to Chief Frank Ovie Kokori has not been inaugurated, somebody in this government is yet to convince us as a people that Urhobo is not being marginalized.
We read in the newspapers that Urhobo will take decision on which presidential and governorship candidates they will support in 2019 elections, what are the criteria you are looking at?
Many things have gone wrong before now, though, Jonathan tried to correct it before he left. We have no minister at Jonathan time, but towards the end of his tenure, he gave us a ministerial position. What is wrong if Buhari appoints Urhobo as ministers or chairmen of boards, but as it is now, nothing, so does he convince us we are part of his government, no hope. These are the things Buhari must address. There should be assurance that when the new government comes, we will have it or he can make some appointments to show commitment by making so many Urhobos board members, then we know the change has come to affect us as a nation or ethnic nationality.
What will now be the position of UPU if eventually these demands are not met?
I can’t speak on it now on until then, but if at the end of the day the requests are not met by those in government and the other not in government assures us what he will do for Urhobo, we will take our decision. The important thing is that if you are not doing it now, but will do it, let us know so that after voting, we will know that these are our benefits. For example, apart from the North, Igbos and Yorubas, no other ethnic nations have higher population than Urhobos, yet the people are being marginalized. As we know, government is about people, so if other tribes that their population is not up to Uhobo could be given ministerial slots, what is our crime or do they have more qualified people than us?
In the 2015 governorship election, UPU restricted its support to only Urhobo candidate, is it going to follow same in 2019?
No, it is going to be thrown open. You see, we have Urhobos in PDP, APC, Labour party and this time, it is not about Urhobo but any candidate that can meet the yearnings of Urhobo nation. It is not about SSAs, and SAs without having the interest of Urhobo as a nation at heart. Appointing commissioners without giving them powers to function does not mean you have the interest of the people.
There are speculations that Omo-Agege and Ogboru had drawn a battle line, don’t you think it will have effect on the chances of Urhobo producing the next governor?
What is happening between them is personal interest and not for the general people, but when they were fighting for the structure of the party on who controls the structure of the party they were together and very close. Now that it has reached the stage, they are at loggerheads, and the person causing this is an outsider. But UPU is going to invite both Chief Ogboru and Senator Omo-Agege and let them tell us the reasons why they cannot work together. Then if it is personal we will know and if it is in Urhobo’s interest we will also advise them.
Is there any clause that the UPU President General must be resident in Urhobo land?
The truth is that only the person who lives in the land can govern his people. Like the Prime Minister of Britain, he cannot stay in Germany and say he is the Prime Minister of Britain. If you are the President of Nigeria, you cannot live in Ghana and still claim you are governing Nigeria from Ghana, same applies in the case of the UPU President General. You cannot stay outside Urhobo as President General, impossible, if you are doing that, it means you are not a popular person. It is either you imposed yourself or somebody imposed you on the people because if the people wholeheartedly chose you, you must be with the people and live with them.