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February 3, 2024

Ughelli, my Ughelli! Presiding over the destruction of your next generation, by Francis Ewherido

Francis ewherido

I was born and started life in Ughelli, a town then, but now a city, in Delta State. The only language spoken was Urhobo. My childhood memories were sweet. Ughelli was a very safe town. There were no fences separating compounds, so we had many shortcuts. Then the adults would send us on errands and spit on the ground. They would tell us that if the spittle dried up before we returned, we would die. We ran the races of our lives to deliver errands. On return, we would first go and check the spot of the spittle to be sure it was still wet. That meant we would not die. The adults kept spitting on the spot in our absence to ensure it remained wet. That way they perpetuated the myth. 

Ughelli was fun for me. The only time some of us wore clothes was on Sundays and during school hours. I played and ran around the streets of Okoroedafe and Otovwievwiere naked. I stopped when one of my playmates confronted me: “This boy, don’t you ever cover this your thing (penis)?” It was a public gathering of children and I was so embarrassed. I ran to the house to wear my pant and shorts. That was why when my children were growing up, if my wife rebuked them if she caught them naked in the house, I would challenge her: “Their father ran around the streets of Ughelli naked; why are you harassing them for being naked within the house?” This nakedness happened mainly in their rooms or from their rooms to and fro the bathroom.

Then, I also was not aware of the difference between male and female private parts until around three years to four years, one of the disadvantages of growing up without a sister. My older playmate was a girl called Oghenenioke and we used to play in the rain and have our bath together outside (the bathrooms then were meant for older teenagers and adults only). We were having our bath outside one day when I noticed that her private region was “empty.” I shouted, “Mama, mor.Dak’Ogheneniokevwishoshoo” (Mama, come o, Oghenenioke has no penis). My mother,Oghenenioke, and the women in the compound fell down and started laughing. I was laughing with them, reveling in my “ingenuity,” because I thought I discovered something they never knew.  These adults kept telling me repeat what I said and a round of laughter followed each repetition. 

During school hours, parents, especially mothers, carried canes and followed recalcitrant children to the school gate or class. You could cry buckets of tears, but you had to go to school. Among these children then are professors, captains of industry, top civil servants and many other successful men and women you see today. That was my Ughelli of the late 60s and early 70s before my family relocated to Ozoro, also in Delta, in 1973. 

Ughelli is no longer what it used to be. People from other ethnicities now live there and it is now a city. Speaking of Urhobo is now in pockets, but it is not because of people from the other ethnicities that is making the local language to die. I watched a video of an Igbo guy who grew up in Ughelli. His Urhobo is typically the Ughelli dialect without a trace of an accent. The Urhobo language is dying not only in Ughelli, but the whole of Urhobo land. If you speak Urhobo, you are labelled an “Ogb’Urhobo” (bushman). Such a tag is destructive to some young people’s self-esteem. Youngsters want to be happening guys in town and one good way is to stay away from their culture (language), in their estimation. 

Butmy main worry is not the erosion of our culture. It is the erosion of values. The stories I am currently hearing from Ughelli are not palatable. Over fifty years ago, parents compelled their children to go to school. Now, some parents are taking their children to where they will learn internet fraud. Parents pay major internet fraudsters fees to take their children as apprentices.  A friend of mine relocated from Lagos to Ughelli. He said our youths back home needed more role models and mentors to guide them.  I spoke with him some time ago. He said Ughelli is completely different from the Ughelli where I grew up. Morality has been thrown to the dogs in many families. It is not only internet fraud, cultism, drug abuse and “runs girls” are now abound. The moral fabric of Ughellihas undergone a metamorphosis, the type where a caterpillar transforms to a butterfly and you cannot find the relationship between the two creatures anymore. 

My mind went to the 70s. My father bought all our books, including writing materials (pens and pencils). How do you explain being in possession of another brand of writing materials that were not the bicpen or HB pencil he bought for you? You want to lie that they were exhausted? He would know you were lying, which is a more grievous offence, because as a teacher, he knew how long they last before replacement. And if they were exhausted, where did you get the money to get new ones? Why didn’t you request for new ones? The attention of some parents is no longer on studies, but how their children can become rich without doing the hard work.

Kidnapping is also rife in Ughelli. A friend told me that it is dangerous to step out of your house from 8pm. That is a death sentence for businesses that rely on night life.  Someone I know was kidnapped about three weeks ago. I do not want to go into details of the dangerous dimension kidnapping has assumed. It is worrisome. I know kidnapping is rife in Nigeria right now, but it is not good for the economic wellbeing of any town, state or country where it is rampant.

I want to remind those parents encouraging their children to do Yahoo-Yahoo or other crimes that they are playing with their children’s future. Beyond security agents clamping down on them, the world now knows that some Nigerians are into internet fraud.  Gradually fewer foreigners are falling mugu. With simple economy law of demand and supply, the business will die or shrink like a pond to a level where a tiny few can be accommodated. I hear that some parents who “invested” in laptops and phones are already complaining that the business is not as return-oriented as they expected. Some of these parents are putting not only their children, but their own future in jeopardy. Now that you are still young, go back to school or learn more enduring skills that can guarantee you a better future. Delta State has many institutions of higher learning and technical schools.

 And you the parents encouraging your children, you are getting old. Some of you have no reasonable assets, liquid cash or a retirement plan. What will happen to you when you get too old to fend for yourself and you have no children who can take care of you? Make everybody begin get sense. Urhobos, Deltans and Nigerians cannot get to their destinations with mindset.