Urhobo land has suffered consistent neglect and underdevelopment since 1999. That year was the beginning of the 4th Republic after almost two decades of military rule, with the only hiatus being the short-lived Babangida transition programme of 1992-93.
Urhobo underdevelopment is in all facets: infrastructural, economic, education, health, culture, etc. Urhoboland is now synonymous with poverty, joblessness, insecurity of all forms, infrastructural decay, unemployment, despondency, depravity etc. Indeed Urhobo land, it can be said, is the poverty capital of Delta State, with most of the Urhobo youths consigned to tricycling/ motorcycling (okada) riding.
But things have not always been so. In the past, Urhobo was progressive and fast-developing, so much so that it was the envy of other people in Nigeria and elsewhere. Urhobo had leaders who occupied strategic positions in Nigeria and who operated with a high regard for Urhobo interest and advancement of the land. Indeed, Urhobo Politicians of the past were men of knowledge and character; chaste, disciplined, and patriotic to the Urhobo cause.
Mukoro Mowoe is the undisputed father of modern Urhobo and provided exemplary leadership. He was succeeded by Chief J.O. Okpodu who continued with the legacy of astute and committed leadership.
T.E.A. Salubi and Jereton Mariere were front liners in the project of the creation of the Midwest region/state in 1964. The two prominent nationalities of that movement were the Urhobos and the Binis.
Chief Mukoro Mowoe represented Warri Province at the Regional House of Assembly in Ibadan. Chief T.E.A. Salubi was minister for Education in the Western Region while Mariere became the first Chancellor of the University of Lagos when it was established in 1962.
There were three Urhobos prominent persons in the military in the early period. Major General David Akpode Ejoor was first military governor of the Midwest/Bendel State. He was also a former chief of Army Staff and first Commandant of the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA).
Major General R.M. Dumuje was the first Quartermaster-General of the Nigerian Army and served in both the Airforce and the Army.
Major General Obada was Chief of Staff of the Airforce and also Minister of Works. He served in both the Airforce and the Army.
Urhobos played prominent roles in the two major political parties then – National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN).
At the state level, Demas Akpore was Deputy Governor to Ambrose Ali in his first tenure. In his second tenure, Ray Inije became deputy governor.
Fred Brume was General Manager/CEO of Delta Steel Company (DSC). Brume used his good office to employ many Urhobos and Niger-Deltans to key positions in the Company. He ensured Urhobo and other Niger-Delta contractors were well patronised without demanding a bribe for his kindness. Thomas Ogigba was a member, board of directors of DSC.
Daniel Okumagba of the NPN, who lost narrowly to Ambrose Ali of the UPN in the governship election was appointed by President Shehu Shagari as Chairman, Board of Directors of Ajaokuta Steel Company. Chief Patrick Gbinije was Chairman, Committee of Mines, Steel and Industry in the House of Representatives, Lagos. Also, Chief P. E S. Ideh was a member of the Federal House of Representatives in Lagos.
Dr. E J. Sohwo’s hospital, Ethiope Hospital Ltd, dominated private hospital enterprise in Lagos, then-capital city of Nigeria. It’s headquarters was in Tin Can Island, Apapa; with branches in Surulere and Calcutta Crescent, Apapa Quays, Lagos, as well as Sapele. The Ethiope hospital Ltd enjoyed the highest patronage from Federal parastatals in the mega city of Lagos.
Okion Ojigbo was principal private secretary to General Olusegun Obasanjo as Military Head of State. When Shehu Shagari became president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Okion Ojigbo was appointed a speech writer to Alhahi Shehu Shagari. He wrote an authoritative biography on Alhaji Shehu Shagari.
Chief Damrere Dede was secretary to the Nigerian Navy. His younger brother Brownson Dede remains one of the most experienced Nigerian diplomats. Dr. Akpojaro was minority leader Bendel State House of Assembly. Sir Harrison Jefia and S D. Obar were also prominent members of the House.
Chief Alams Barovbe was Chairman, Benin-Owena River Basin Development Authority under Shagari, while Patrick Bolokor was minister of state.
Chiefs Joseph Orhorho and Dr Emmanuel Urhobo were prominent lawmakers in the Bendel House of Assembly.
David O. Dafinone was the NPN caucus leader in the Senate. He was regarded the most articulate of the senators of his generation.
Justice Gabriel Ayo Irikefe was Chief Justice of Nigeria and first Attorney General of the Midwest Region/Bendel State. Justice Ovie Whiskey was Chairman Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) now INEC. Gamaliel Onosode was presidential adviser on budget to Shagari.
P.B. Djebah was Chairman, National Supply Company. Chamberlain Akarue was General Manager/CEO, National Shrimp & Fishing Company; Chief Abel Akpedeye was Chairman, Ethiope Salt Company owned by the Federal government.
When Dr. Federick Esiri was President General of Urhobo Progress Union, the then President Shehu Shagari always visited him privately to consult with him.
Chief Alice Obahor (Minikaju) was Urhobo woman leader and great mobilizer. Chief Lady Agbassa, who is elder sister to Sir Harrison Jefia was also another great woman leader.
Chiefs W.T. Odibo, J.E. Ukueku, B.B. Bakpa, Pius Origho, F.U.Oroke, Yard Ogba Okoloko, David Oghen, T.J. Sokoh, E .O. Esiso, M.U. Ahwinahwi,J.O. Edewor, D.D. Opuama, Wilson Mega, J.D Yembra, Jefia Notoma, M..O Kpohraro, Cyril Ikanone, J.K.B. Gbemre were all powerful figures in Urhobo land who could make a difference with just a telephone call.
Dr. Mudiaga Odje was the lead counsel/lawyer of NPN. He handled the popular presidential election case between Shagari and Awolowo involving the two-third majority controversy. Shagari never forgot that favour. Indeed, when Thomas Ogigba lost his father, President Shehu Shagari attended the wake-keep at Okpare town, staying till dawn. Urhobos in those days were a force to be reckoned with.
Micheal Ibru was the richest man in Africa at a time. He was the first African to prepare his Company annual budget in dollars. Ibru had a Geisha product made for him in Japan. There was no city/town in Nigeria where Ibru fish products were not present. The patriotism in him made him engage most Urhobo people as his distributors and other major stakeholders. I recall Dickson Ugen, a prominent son of the Ugen family, who was General Manager in Ibru organization in Lagos then.
The front cover page of Nigerian Airways tickets had an advertisement of Ibru Group of Companies on it. In other words, every visitor to the country had some immediate acquaintance with Ibru Organisation even before entering the country. Merely mentioning the name Michael Ibru opened doors of favour to any Urhobo person anywhere in Nigeria and overseas. Ibru owned almost all of Tin can Island, Creek Road, Apapa Quays, Iganmu, Ilupeju Industrial areas in Lagos. The land where the National Theatre Lagos is built was acquired from Ibru.
Felix Ibru was first executive governor of Delta State. Before him, Jereton Mariere had been first governor of the Midwest region/state.
Mr Shaire was adviser on works to Governor Felix Ibru. He conceived and built the Delta Broadcasting Service (DBS) in Warri.
Before 1999, Urhobos mattered in the scheme of things, both at the state and national levels.
Then came 1999 and everything fell apart. Urhobo leadership passed to a crop of saboteurs, rascals, selfish elements, crooks, ignoramus and primitive accumulators. Imagine Urhobo being led by the likes of the thieving ex-convict James Ibori, his accomplices – Ighoyota Amori and others. Who were these people before 1999? What were their achievements outside of politics? These people sought power not for the purpose of impacting society positively, but for the looting of the commonwealth into their private pockets. By so doing, they rendered Urhobo powerless, beggarly, underdeveloped, haggard and backward.
There is even now a more worrying trend among Urhobo politicians as we approach the 2023 general elections. The countless number of aspirants for the Delta governorship position is not only worrying but detrimental to the actualization of the goal of an Urhobo politician as governor of Delta in 2023. Indeed, it is a fact that the Amori-led DC 2023 is nothing but a scheme to divert attention from the ultimate goal of electing an Urhobo politician as Delta governor in 2023. I have a lot of pity for those who are yet to learn from Amori’s frivolous antecedents as a traitor and backstabber of Urhobo collective interest.
As 2023 beckons, wisdom demands that we retire anyone with a trace to the 1999 looting culture in Delta State; and vote in a new breed of untainted, honest, and sincere patriotic leaders to restore Urhobo to her pre-1999 legacy of progress and relevance.
May 1, 2022
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