• Thursday, June 20, 2024
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The Nigerian nation: A look through Urhobo chiefs

The Nigerian nation: A look through Urhobo chiefs

Certain long standing issues that I have been dealing with- the elites and the traditional leaders’ structure and political progress in pursuing independence and developing the economy. I found these themes developed in the autobiography of Chief Obrik Uloho- “The Strength of an Eagle and Peace of a Dove”.

Uloho’s biography is a template for social history for most Nigerians who were first and second generation educated between 1930-1965. His book captures the spirit and the almost indefinable nuances of what it is to live in a rural community and then going to school. It is a testimony of just how brave our fathers were in sending us to school.

It is also demonstrated an incredible belief that the acquisition for knowledge was an essential foundation for progress. It might have helped that the English administration and district officers were around and the population held them in high esteem.

If this English man can be so respected, Uloho’s father thought, let my son also go to school so that he too may be respected. With respect comes progress and political power.

Uloho’s journey is the journey all pioneers went through- up to the very unscientific method of admission to primary school, class one. You gained admission if your right hand stretched over your head was long enough to reach your left ear. If you were small it is unlikely you can go to school at 5 or 6, because when your hand may not be long enough to go over your head to touch your ear.

Many started school at around 8 or 9 years, and even then, many who went to secondary school were in reality much older =than 13/14 you ought to be when you started secondary school. Many finished secondary school at 20 or even older.

There is no nation where slavery was common in which the black people of these countries have prospered; they still remain at the bottom of the economy

It is only of late that I found out that most of my classmates were older than myself, when they started celebrating their age at 80 years. It is possible for a fag to be in class one at 18 in a secondary school.

The prefect he served was also 18 and in class V. It happened to me!!! My fag and I celebrated our 70th birthday in the same year!!! Till that celebration I thought I was five years older than him.

Uloho’s book deals extensively with the extended family system; the intricacies of growing in a polygamous family, the lack of actual boundaries in these relationships, even so the closeness of male siblings to their mothers and the early cultivation of responsibility the eldest son acquires at very early age.

Hardly had Uloho found a job in Ibadan before he took in two of his siblings sent to him by his parents. The family was a microcosm of a welfare state, everybody chipped in to make everybody’s life more bearable on the hard road of progress.

Education remains the seminal force of our life in the 1940’s – 60’s. It provided our roadmap and it never failed us. That is why the neglect of education in today’s Nigeria is worse than lamentable. This is why our leadership cannot lead our children remain relatively uneducated, unemployed and veer towards crime.

Uloho’s journey through education provides a missed nostalgia- getting a job without a godfather in Ibadan, going to school in the College of Technology in Enugu, thereafter going on scholarship to London, promotion without protestation, employment without bias. The book gives us a glimpse into what a super civil service we had.

You can go to United Kingdom on scholarship under Western Nigeria Government in 1958, return to work in Mid-West Nigeria in 1962 and be posted to Benin with no hassle of transfer documents- a straight easy fit to a system that was good and functional with adequate perquisite- a senior civil servant with a Peugeot car, single, desirable, available- a Warri boy full of that peculiar braggadocio and swagger the essence of manhood.

Through all this, Uloho has treated the complexity of Urhobo culture and custom in all its vivid colour and in a language that speaks to the reader such that he envisions the dreams, the dancing, the colours, the pathos and the vibrancy.

All these amidst the indelible lessons he learnt at Government College, Ughelli which produced most of his lifelong friends. The school was good to him and he was good to the school in all the improvements he and other old boys engineered for the school.

That spirit of philanthropy he transferred into humanitarian work with Rotary International, thus underlining his basic goodness in the service of other men. It was not all success, he unashamedly failed in farming and was unable to keep hold of a profitable franchise from Shell for his Petrol Station and had his taste of Urhobo wayo when a friend refused to pay his commission (person when wise pass you, when he succeeds you grumble, isobo wayo).

This is an invaluable book about Urhobo customs and indeed the origins of Urhobos. At least we now have more in print than the old writings of the intelligence reports, without which many Nigerians would know little of, about their past; so weak has historical telling of our origins have been, that we have almost our history since the cessation of the Intelligence Reports.

Sometimes I wish the government had continued the intelligence reports of the colonial government. If we had, it would be easy to find out the miscreants in the society.

Chief Uloho prospered and through his prosperity we see urhobo’s progress: His painstaking building of his businesses, from washing Lorries to travelling in Armel’s transport, the building of hotels, hostels and a prosperous estates business to which he attracted 3 of his children. You follow his painstaking brick by brick building of his business and the upliftment of his family which has prospered tremendously.

It was not all roses but what is life? It has its ups and down, a delightful story of how to be traditional, prosperous and yet be a good father, who could not even avoid in Warri the escapades of an attempted armed robbery.

He outwitted the armed robbers a few years ago and fled into a nearby mechanic workshop and from there to the police station which organized a rescue and caught some of the robbers. Uloho was 84 when this happened. What a life!!!

Before all this, he learnt how to ride a bicycle monkey style: grew up in fear of the Lord, his father and was able to navigate the syncretism between African Culture and perceived Christian behavior and practices.

Despite this, he was a pillar of the Anglican Church even though at his baptism, the Anglican priest asked and expected an English baptismal name like David. Uloho answered that his baptismal name was Obriko: he read the puzzle in the priests face and asked whether God discriminated against Urhobo.

Finally as a chief Lands and Survey Director, he was a member of the special panel to look into Land Tenure in Nigeria. Unfortunately the panels’ efforts were frustrated when the Federal Government promulgated the Land Use Decree which wrongly vested all land ownership in the Federal Government which in turn could lease it out on the basis of usage.

While the decree was supposed to simplify land tenure system has introduced a veritable morass of confusion in land tenure and land use in Nigeria such that the powerful could cheerfully ignore it and prospective buyers pay for the land at market prices; compare this with the system employed by the IDEJO chiefs of Lagos.

Modern and Traditional Elites- the coming together for political progress- is the academic theme in bringing together both elites to fight the colonial master’s intervention in the land tenure ( see how Herbert Macaulay and the Oba of Lagos joined to fight the colonial government).

In Post-independence Nigeria, the educated elites have swallowed all the posts of the traditional elite without the perspicacity and purpose of politics- and its principal function being services for the people and not in service of the person.

Nigeria and its diversity of over 200 ethnic groups should be an inclusive model. Inclusivity has now been regarded as a modern virtue. This virtue need to be more realized. After all, we deal and inhabit one geographical centre. Yet we are more divided, more intolerant of our brothers; intolerant to the helping the poor, intolerant of divisions.

We ought to be taking a lead from the United Kingdom, who have long a history of tolerating other racial types- so much so that UK has at Indian Prime Minister, Ireland – has another Prime Minister.

Yet there is division between Itsekiri and Urhobo- subject which Uloho did not address. But tribalism in the Delta and Edo is a lot less than in many Rivers area- between Kalabari among themselves. Others have a suspicious relationship between Obonnema and Abonnema between Buguma and Gbukuma. On top of this there is division among the Bakana people in the Rivers.

There is suspicion between Abonnema, Buguma and Bakana, even though all these people claim a common Ijaw ancestry. There is division and rivalry between Ikwerre Upland versus the Ijaws, who inhabit the Maritime areas. And this is reflected in the choice of Governors.

Uloho is from the oil producing areas.

The only people whose area produce the wealth of Nigeria are themselves not rich. They are as poor as the Slaves- in the US, Latin America, the Caribbean, Egypt, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Venezuela, and the US. These countries which had a major slave population, whose work produced the wealth of the nations of those states.

It is interesting to note that all countries who used slaves for the growth of their economy- the slave owners and other white people who came as immigrants have prospered.

There is no nation where slavery was common in which the black people of these countries have prospered; they still remain at the bottom of the economy. So we have oil in the Delta and Rivers states of Nigeria. The area has the poorest people in Nigeria. (Do not be deceived by the antics of South/South government).