The newly elected President of the Warri Boys Association, Mr. Matthew Ogagavworia, in this interview with Godwin Oritse, frowns at what he describes as the total neglect of Warri, its ports, steel plants, refineries, and petrochemical plants, and demands that the attention that is given to the Lagos ports should be extended to Warri ports. Excerpts:
What informed the decision to form the Warri Boys Social and Welfare Society also known as the Warri Boys Association?
The association was founded by a group of people that have lived in Warri. They are not necessarily Warri indigenes. In fact, in Warri, we do not have indigenes. We only know people by their first names, so there is this bond that you were in Warri; either you did your primary or secondary school or you have worked or lived in Warri.
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We have a unique English Language and a lifestyle. You’re aware that we are the customary owners of the Pidgin English language worldwide. Due to neglect by successive governments, both at the federal and state level, Warri has now become a shadow of itself.
Warri, which used to be home to all and sundry, has become a desert town that is worsened by decaying infrastructure and total neglect by the state and the federal government in the sharing of developmental projects.
Infrastructure is at its worst level in the area. The economy has been worsened due to the exit of the oil majors and their attendant service companies; the collapse of the Delta Steel complex; the Warri Refinery and Petrochemical Plant; and many others that hitherto provided employment and contract offers that created economic prosperity for the area in the good old days.
The once booming Warri port is now a shadow of itself! As you know, every port needs to be dredged periodically. As it stands today, we have an unfeeling government that tells us that our ports cannot receive certain kinds of vessels because of the shallow waters. The Lagos ports are dredged constantly. The level of attention the ports in Lagos are enjoying should also be accorded to the Warri ports.
We have the new port and we have the old port. They should also be dredged. A booming seaport has a multiplier effect on the economy and the environment. The money’s velocity increases.
For example, if ocean-going cargo vessels began to berth in Warri again, we would have several people who would be ship chandlers. Those ship chandlers will buy products that are made in the Warri environment and will also employ people. It’s a whole value chain. Right now, our people are jobless, and some of them are being forced to think of ways of living that are not in consonance with the Warri culture that is known for industry and hard work.
These are some of the issues that worried the founding fathers. So, let’s have a body that can begin to raise consciousness and bring to the fore issues that Warri has suffered over time, so that both the Federal and State governments will factor our concerns into their planning effort.
Warri should be Nigeria’s energy corridor, just like Texas is to the US. Warri has paid its dues, but in return, she has been shortchanged by the authorities who only take but do not give back.
They will have to give back. So, that is the origin of the Warri Boys Association, officially known as the Warri Boys Social and Welfare Society.
When was this society founded?
The society was founded in 2006. The idea kicked off during a casual conversation between two prominent Warri boys, namely Dede Mabiaku, a well-known Afrobeat musician/artist, and a pilot named Captain Austin Anianu.
This incident took place at a lounge in Oregun, Ikeja, popularly referred to as Roli’s Spot, which was, at that period, a popular hang-out for boys that grew up or lived in Warri. The formation of the association was actually an idea whose time was up, as some other prominent Warri boys living in Lagos also nurtured the same idea.
These include the likes of the late George Eboakoke, Gbemi Arueyingho, Tony Edo, Victor Hans, Weyinmi Ekperigin and others. These groups of friends met and held an inaugural membership meeting and concretized the association — ‘Warri Boys Association’. Meanwhile, the boys from the Sapele axis already had theirs named ‘Sapele Boma Boys’ which had prominent Sapele boys.
Actually, the existence of the Sapele Boma Boys gave rise to the idea of the formation of the Warri Boys Association, whose objectives, amongst others, are to bring together boys that grew up or have lived and gained great values in Warri. The association has several objectives, some of which are:
*To build a platform for Warri Boys to engage in rebuilding and improving on the Warri image of yesteryears, which is basically oneness, peace, and unity.
*To create an opportunity for Warri boys to bond/socialize together in Lagos with developmental thoughts towards Warri in mind.
*To build a formidable unit to stand by each Warri Boy in Lagos at that time to plan development support projects for Warri from time to time.
*To build a team of great Warri Boys (Waffarians) to influence State/Federal Governments to refocus on developing and improving infrastructure in Warri.
*To re-build the old Warri culture of being your brother’s keeper.
*To build a respectable Warri representational mouthpiece of value for the harnessing and uplifting of the great potential and values of Warri.
The WBA held meetings regularly at Roli Spot, facilitated by the late George Eboakoke. Roli would arrive at Roli Spot early in his car, with large speakers and other equipment, and set up the place ahead of the meeting.
He would also be the last to leave after meetings, to disassemble the equipment and demobilize. We miss him greatly to this day. In some instances, Dede Mabiaku would request for meetings to be held at his residence and would thrill the audience with the sounds of heavy highlife and Afrobeat music.
At meetings, attendees were feted with drinks and quality Delta cuisine amid jokes and deliberations. Banga and Owo soups were usually served. These are boys that have lived in Warri, benefited from Warri ideology and philosophy, and believe that Warri deserves its fair share of its infrastructural resources in the national equation.
It may interest you to know that commerce is part and parcel of our lifestyle. We make creative jokes out of nothing and everything. We used to call it “wording” in the good old days. Have you observed that the mention of Warri is a recurring decibel in Nigerian stand-up comedies? It is therefore not surprising that boys from the Warri axis are doing so well in comedies and Nollywood.
We are proud and willing to give back to society our time, talents, and network to influence policy decisions both at the state and federal levels, so that Warri can get what it deserves and those who are in the Warri environment can feel and benefit from it too. It’s symbiotic.
What has been your major challenge since you became President of the association?
We shall be unveiling a five-year strategic plan for the association. This would ensure continuity of the vision and mission of the association across future executives. Our strategic blueprint will be so clear and encompassing that no future Exco will want to depart from the laid out plan.
It will be a path to prosperity, a path to a new Warri, a path to a developed Warri, a path to the prosperity of members, a path to the betterment of our kind that are back home. Insecurity has worsened the issue of unemployment. Our graduate youths now drive Okada and Keke to eke out a living, and this is unacceptable because our people are known to be scholars.
Those of us who did not have the opportunity to go to school when we were growing up acquired our skills while working at our jobs. Currently, there are no good roads. The new roads you see were built by the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, and some by former Governor, James Ibori.
I became President on September 11, 2022. The election was held at the Lagos Country Club, of which some of us, including my humble self, are members. It was a tight three-horse race, but the majority of the members needed a change and a shift in narrative in the affairs of the association, hence I was chosen.
I have also assured them that the confidence they have placed in me is not misplaced and that we would be sharing our strategic plans for the association in a short while.
The first thing we would do is to make sure the association has enough publicity, and that is ongoing. We would be more visible to the Nigerian public and to stakeholders that have an interest in the Warri project.
The level of poverty in Warri is really mind-blowing. How do you hope to tackle this?
Gainful employment has decreased drastically in Warri. However, the average human being just has to survive. When we were growing up, people could acquire skills from their parents. Most parents were doing well.
But today, parents are struggling to survive. Poverty has even affected the psyche of most parents, such that even though they are aware that their child is living in the fast lane, they are hapless in response because they have lost the moral fibre to keep such a child in check or on the right track. We would not stop.
The state government, the Okowa government, needs to partner with us and do more than it is doing currently. The pace of development in Warri is too slow. The number of young ladies you see hawking their bodies for cash has increased because poverty has gone to take a seat in Warri. God forbid. We will come out of it.
Does the association have any political implications?
We are a non-partisan group but we are politically conscious, knowing that politics dictates what happens to us as a people. You need the political will to put Warri in a good position. Apart from former governor, James Ibori, who tried, the other governments have had no interest.
Recently, we saw a token effort by the Okowa-led Executive to fix the Effurun-Sapele road, and this has lasted for almost three years. Due to the poor infrastructure and maintenance, entering Warri from the Effurun roundabout takes a few hours. Despite the fact that it is a federal road, Deltans use it more than any other citizen. What is wrong if Delta State takes up that road, fixes it, and then sends a bill to the federal government for a refund?
What would you want to be remembered for after your tenure as President?
After my tenure, I wish to be remembered for being a President that helped to reset the association on a path of sustainable prosperity for its members and also for the sustainable development of Warri.
This time around, we are not talking about that narrowly defined Warri of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, but a Warri that will include the adjoining towns that have become part of the Warri metropolis today. The state government should budget heavily for Warri urban, and the federal government should ensure that the ports are operational.
What has changed since the concessioning of the Delta Steel Plant? Shell did not depart with her oil reserves. What’s the update? If another entity has acquired these assets and is doing a similar thing as Shell, why are we not feeling their impact?
What is their corporate social responsibility budget for creating an enabling environment for business to thrive and for our people to be gainfully employed such that the average youth can attain a prosperous life in the Warri environment?
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