A keynote speech presented at the 23rd Annual Convention of Urhobo Progress Union America which was held September 2016 in Houston, United States.
The President of Urhobo Progress Union America (UPUA) Dr. Michael Ukwade, The chairman of the Interim Caretaker Committee Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) Worldwide, Chief Gabriel Ofotokun, Mr. Chairman, distinguished guest, ladies and gentlemen. I consider it a great honour and privilege to have been called upon to speak on the theme of this year’s convention, Visionary and Ethical Leadership: A Vehicle for Urhobo Progress and Development.
I want to commend the president and members of the executive, the Board of Trustees (BOT) Chair and members of the board of trustees, and of course the entire members of UPUA for the choice of this theme which could not have come at a better time.
Throughout history, great changes have always been achieved by individuals who had a vision, and were able to communicate that vision to others. Visionary/ethical leaders always attempt to serve and promote the welfare of the people they lead. To be worthy of its salt, a visionary/ethical leader has to be organised and leads based on principles that guarantee his people, among other things, their lives, their liberty, and their pursuit of happiness.
When the instruments of governance or leadership are in harmony with the cultural and social needs of the people, not many bother to probe the purpose or the success of the leader. When on the other hand, the political arrangements for running the affairs of the people become destructive of the ideals that had helped to sustain their lives, cultural, and social needs, the tendency for the people to ask questions about the success of their leaders ultimately arises. Unfortunately, that is the situation in which we find ourselves today.
The theme “Visionary/Ethical Leadership” was chosen because of our understanding of the role that ‘good leadership’ can play in the development and progress of the Urhobo Nation especially in times like this when there is neglect and disunity among the Urhobo people because of a decline in moral values within its leadership.
Over time we have seen Urhobo leaders manipulating and using UPU as a platform for pursuing their selfish aims or goals without having any plans of bringing progress and development to Urhoboland. This has made it impossible for UPU to effectively and demonstratively perform her goals of bringing progress and development to the Urhobo people.
Visionary leaders are the builders of a new dawn, working with imagination, insight, and boldness. They present a challenge that calls forth the best in people and brings them together around a shared sense of purpose. They work with the power of intentionality and alignment with a higher purpose. Their eyes are on the horizon, not just on the near hand. They are social innovators and change agents, seeing the big picture and thinking strategically. There is a profound interconnectedness between the leader and the led. Visionary leaders search for solutions that transcend the usual adversarial approaches and address the casual level of problems.
A Visionary leader is good with words as well as with actions, and so can bring his/her vision into being in the world, thus transforming it in some way.
Visionary leadership is based on a balanced expression of the spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical dimensions. It requires core values, clear vision, empowering relationships, and innovative actions. When one or more of these dimensions are missing, then leadership cannot be effective.
Ethical leadership speaks about our identity, what we are and what we can become, how we live and how we could live better. Ethics is a philosophical term originating from a Greek word “ethos” meaning “custom” or “character”. It is concerned with describing and prescribing moral requirements and behaviours, which suggests that there are acceptable and unacceptable ways leaders behave.
Ethical behaviour is defined as behaviour which is morally accepted as “good” and “right” as opposed to “bad” or “wrong” in any given situation. Ethics is the code of values and moral principles that guide individual or group behaviour with respect to what is right or wrong. Ethical behaviour is both legally and morally acceptable to the larger community.
An ethical leader takes into account the purposes of everyone involved in the group and is attentive to the interest of the community and the culture. Such a leader demonstrates an ethic of caring for others and does not force others or ignore the intentions of others. They attend to the community goals and purposes.
A commitment to core values
A commitment to values is an outstanding characteristic of all visionary leaders. They embody a sense of personal integrity, and radiate a sense of energy, vitality and will. More self-aware and reflective than others, visionary leaders follow an inner sense of direction, and lead from the inside out, as exemplified by Chief Mukoro Mowoe who was a prime example of commitment to values, vision, and had the interest of the Urhobo people at heart. He was regarded as a universal man, kind-hearted and full of sympathy. His leadership was committed to the services of people, bringing progress to Urhobos and Urhoboland.
The moving engine behind UPU successes and foresight in Urhobo human capital development was Chief Mukoro Mowoe. His father, Oghenemohwo, and mother, Onokporere, were both Urhobo from Evwreni. The original name of their child was Umukoro Oghenemohwo, which became shortened, corrupted and anglicised as Mukoro Mowoe. As a full-blooded Evwreni man, he grew and functioned beyond Evwreni social and territorial boundaries and made all Urhobo people the beneficiaries of his wealth, his physical and intellectual energies, and his patriotic commitments. It was this prominent man who strengthened the UPU which we have all inherited today.
Urhobo needs to return to the Mukoro Mowoe’s era of a strong central leadership structure built under the umbrella of UPU with a well articulated national vision. As of today, not many of us know the national vision that guides the Urhobo ethnic nationality and its UPU leadership. The Urhobo leadership under Mukoro Mowoe identified the challenges which faced the Urhobo of their era and confronted them decisively.
The general mission of UPU was well defined at its formation. That is to be the strongest umbrella for articulating the interests and aspirations of individuals and the polities, in an effort to develop the whole of Urhoboland.
In recognition of their motto “Unity is strength,” Urhobo had to pull in the same direction (not in different or opposing directions as it is today.) Development was conceptualized in qualitative and quantitative terms, in measurable and immeasurable indices as well as in capacity building through the educational development of our human capital.
When the Military struck in 1966, all ethnic associations were disbanded because they were thought to be inimical to military government’s processes. The only strong ethnic association spared in the exercise was the UPU, thanks to Major General David A. Ejoor, a top military officer who had friendly working relations with the then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon. Though UPU was not disbanded, conventional wisdom dictated that we had to go underground as well. UPU could not be made visible; its activities were submerged, and hence while Chief Salubi was President-General and later succeeded by Chief (Dr.) Esiri, it appeared to many observers that UPU and the two Presidents-General were not active. After the Civil War, the inactivity or silence of UPU continued up to the 1980s and even 1990s.
Much of the progress made towards the uplift of Urhobo would not have been possible without the contributions of a number of dedicated and patriotic individuals. These individuals had the foresight for the development of Urhobo human capital and they became the driving engine for many of the successes attributed to UPU. Many of these early leaders came of age during the 1920s through 1950s. They were individuals whose everyday lives of duty, honour, achievement, and courage helped to push Urhobo from obscurity into prominence. They responded to the call of duty as expressed in UPU’s admonition to its leaders in their time that: You pay to serve Urhobo People. Today however, the reverse is the case. You exploit the Urhobo people when you serve.
The Urhobo of our era must not only identify her challenges, it must confront such challenges with a clear national vision, which must not be known to the leadership alone, but also to the average Urhobo man and woman.
The Urhobo voice should be heard on major national and regional issues. Urhobo is the second largest group in the Niger Delta, coming after the Ijaw. Yet, on Niger Delta issues, the Urhobo voice has been more than silent, while those of the ijaw and Ogoni are heard clearly through their Ijaw National Congress and the MOSOP machineries, respectively. This is so much so that today, the Federal Government and the oil companies operating in the Niger Delta often sneeze whenever the Ijaw and the Ogoni people cough. As far as they are concerned, Urhobo is non existent.
Never in the history of Urhobo have Urhobo people been so concerned about their future and about the purpose of the political and social arrangement that govern their lives. Urhobo, a major ethnic nationality in Nigeria is of prehistoric existence and has survived through ancient times, colonial rule and military occupation to arrive at the present state of affairs. Politically, Urhobo people continue to be subjugated to other ethnic nationalities into a minority status where they are marginalised when it comes to the distribution of political and economic resources. The denial of equal rights of citizenship in a corporate Nigeria has been made worse by the lack of cooperation among Urhobo people, and the poor representation of Urhobo interests at ALL levels of government. A major reason for this lack of proper representation can be attributed to the on-going subversion of the rights of Urhobo people to choose their leaders in free and fair elections.
The Failure of Urhobo Leadership
With UPU plagued with problems of discipline, lack of principles and sense of purpose that had guided the progress of UPU in the past, UPU has lost focus and is clearly unable to articulate Urhobo interests, let alone promote them. Today, we have leaders who concern themselves more on how to live in affluence while the people they claim to lead live in abject poverty. What a shame!
The following are some of the glaring examples of the inability of the current UPU leadership to serve Urhobo interests.
- UPU no longer has an Education policy. The leadership showed no interest in reclaiming Urhobo College at a time when other agencies seized the opportunity offered by Delta State Government to recover their institutions.
- UPU no longer cares for the masses it once served. The Union has fast degenerated into an elite club, out of the reach for many.
- UPU leadership has become an agency for gaining access to State, Federal government, and Politicians’ monies, all corruptly acquired.
- Most of the monies collected on behalf of UPU are usually diverted into personal use and not directed into UPU coffers as required by the usual UPU practice.
- UPU has failed to address security concerns in Urhobo Lands instead UPU is said to have a youth wing that serves as its military arm that are usually encouraged with financial inducements to participate in partisan politics in ways that lead to violence and rigging of elections on behalf of greedy politicians.
- UPU has failed to provide adequate representation or submit memorandum as needed for tribunals or conferences to explain Urhobo position at State and National levels alike.
The position of some Urhobo Ivie as leaders has also become difficult. They are neither here nor there on matters of service to their people. Consequently, they appear to have been forced into a position in which they are unable to fulfill their leadership role as custodians of Urhobo culture and traditions.
The following examples will suffice to point to some of the more visible problems of Urhobo kingship.
- There is a growing perception that most modern kingships in Urhoboland are designed to serve as agencies of the government so in the eyes of many, the institution is a ready-made tool which the state uses to manipulate and appropriate traditional authority for political gains.
- With the inability of Urhobo People to find ways to support their kings, the position of the institution of kingship has become jeopardised.
- Some Ivie have now resorted to dishing out of chieftaincy titles on a cash and carry basis, making worthless the once respected, honoured, and revered title of a chief in Urhobo Community. Every Dick, Tom, Jack and Harry who can financially afford it can now be a Chief. You no longer have to Earn it.
- Lingering complaints that the palaces of Urhobo Ivie are no longer open to the poor and the unprivileged among the people who are in need of protection or some form of help.
- Inability of the Ivie to organise any program to deal with the issue of security that grows worse by the day in Urhoboland. The Yoruba Obas by contrast are known to have serious input in organising civil defense that deals effectively with security problems in their respective areas.
- Acceptance of financial rewards like stipends, free cars, and other forms of largesse that are purely discretionary and unaccounted for in government budgets.
- Dishing out of these types of gifts impugns the integrity of the Ivie and compromises their loyalty to the people.
- Lack of involvement in the development of their areas of influence.
- With the people unable or unwilling to support the royal institutions, many of the new class of Ivie have become more dependent on the Government than on their own people for survival.
- The dependence on the government has thus opened up a new dynamic in Urhobo affairs that allows the Government to meddle needlessly with the culture of Urhobo people.
The Way Forward: Revamping Urhobo Leadership
In spite of the present failures of the leadership of UPU, many among us still believe that the organisation, like our founding fathers did in time past, has a role to play not only in restoring Urhobo fortunes, but also in spearheading efforts for the progress of Urhobo in the 21st century.
Urhobo had prepared and implemented their agenda for unity and development in the past through the agency of the UPU and UPU can do it again. UPU is too precious to be allowed to fail. UPU should be restored to its usual place of honour from where it can resume activities for the progress of Urhobo people.
The question that comes to mind then is, how does someone go about the process of reforming an inept organisation like UPU?
Perhaps, the answer would be in the hands of members of the current Caretaker Committee who were appointed and have accepted to take over the affairs of UPU in the interim and to serve selflessly.
It is understood that the appointment of the caretaker committee became necessary in lieu of the fact that the current UPU leadership is alleged to be corrupt, ineffective, visionless, self serving and therefore too dysfunctional to reform itself. It should be ensured that members of the Interim Caretaker Committee have no record of any form of impropriety that could impugn their integrity, and undermine or compromise their ability to be honest and sincere in their given task of reforming UPU.
The Ivie as the custodians of Urhobo culture and traditions must eschew their personal interests and ideologies for the good of Urhobo people.
The Ivie should be in a position to call on the out-going UPU leadership to surrender to the Committee as a matter of patriotic duty, all monies, gifts of vehicles and other tangible properties owned by UPU or received on behalf of UPU for custody and proper documentation.
Mr. Chairman, Your Royal Highnesses, Respectable Chiefs, Distinguished guest, Ladies and Gentlemen, In order to send a loud and clear message to all and sundry, that Urhobo people will no longer tolerate incidences of unaccountability among their leaders, especially those in UPU, the caretaker committee will need to be empowered to investigate and where necessary, recommend prosecution of any member of the leadership found wanting.
In concluding, let us remember:
- The dictum by the Lebanese Poet, Kahlil K. Gibran (1883-1931) which the United States President, John Kennedy also sneaked into his inaugural day speech of January 1961.
- It says, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” This statement is directed to all other peoples of the World who desire progress for their people, and the Urhobo People are not excluded.
- Mukoro Mowoe, President General of UPU (1937 – 1948) during a Presidential tour of UPU branches sometime in the 1940s, had also expressed his own version of the dictum in this way.
He said, My belief is that every being born into the World has a duty to perform to his people, either to the village or town or country ………Frankly speaking, any one of you who should fail to play his or her part for the uplift of our dear tribe, it [would be] better that he or she had not been born.
- Urhoboland was transformed by the energy and the dedication of a generation of visionary, selfless, and effective leaders, and the Urhobo people remain grateful for their sacrifices.
- Now it is up to us, a new generation, to redefine that commitment of visionary, selfless and effective leadership to our people in our own time.
- Urhobo must stand up strongly united to be counted at National central tables, make demands on the State as a group and be recognised. Otherwise, we would be strangled by smarter people of other ethnic groups who struggle to get as much as possible or even more than their fair share from our limited political and economic resources.
- I make bold to say ladies and gentlemen, to all of us gathered here today that, if we the Urhobo people wish to see progress and development in our communities, then we need visionary and ethical leadership. We need leaders that put the needs and aspirations of the Urhobo people first. Can we find any? Yes, we can!
- I have absolute confidence in our capacity to achieve a bright future as an ethnic group. I am sure that if given a chance to be re-incarnated, we would all choose to remain Urhobo as implied in our National Anthem (Edefa Mei Ria kpo, Urhobo Mei Wa Re.)
- This being the case, we have a sacred duty to rally round ourselves to search for visionary, ethical and selfless leaders who will help guarantee the continuity, unity, progress, and development of our Urhobo ethnic group.
I salute you all, I thank you for your time, and I thank you for listening.
God Bless America!
God Bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!
God Bless Urhobo Nation!
Presented by Major Cletus Obahor (rtd)