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Despite High Interest, Russia Achieves Little in Oil and Gas Sector in Africa

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Sankofa oil and gas project

By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh

According to the World Bank, Russia holds the world’s largest natural gas reserves, the second largest coal reserves, and the eighth largest oil reserves.

Over the past years, Russia has expressed heightened interest in exploring and producing oil and gas in Africa. Emboldened African leaders and industry executives have accepted proposals, several agreements and whatever were signed with Russian companies, but little has been achieved in the sector.

With the rapidly changing geopolitical conditions and economic fragmentation fraught with competition and rivalry, African leaders have to understand that Russia might not heavily invest in the oil and gas sector, not even in the needed infrastructure in this industry.

From our monitoring, research and several interviews with experts especially inside Africa, we can conclude that the Russia-Ukraine crisis has brought into its fold good opportunities.

Understandably, Russia is energy self-sufficient and it does not need to import energy from Africa, it can only act as a fortified gatekeeper. It has been done these several years, primarily to ensure, to a considerable extent, control of Africa’s energy from entering the global market.

The popular opinion now is that potential African producers can take advantage to attract investments required to build infrastructure that would enable them to expand exploration, production and exportation to meet the anticipated increase in demand in Europe.

Reading the daily news feed, Russia’s interest in possible participation in the oil and gas-related projects is perceived by some experts as a bid to either sabotage or control the flow of oil and gas from Africa into Europe. Many more experts have scholarly written about the implications of the Russia-Ukraine crisis, and what that means especially for Africa. The crisis casts a long shadow across Africa.

Despite the geographical distance, there are implications for the need for forging pan-African solidarity and adherence to working towards developing the continent’s natural resources. If this is not done, then Africa will continue importing oil and gas, and it would be increasingly certain, only to sit on the untapped reserves.

During June 2021 interview discussions with NJ Ayuk, Executive Chairman of the African Energy Chamber, a pan-African company that focuses on research, documentation, negotiations and transactions in the energy sector, he expressed the urgent necessity for scaling up Africa’s production capacity in order to achieve universal access to energy.

He further noted the challenging tasks and pointed strongly to the need for a transformative partnership-based strategy, (that requires transparency, good governance and policies that could create a favourable investment climate) and that aims at increasing access to energy for all Africans.

Natural gas, affordable and abundant in Africa, has the power to spark significant job creation and capacity-building opportunities, economic diversification and growth. Sustainable development of African economies can only be attained by the development of local industry – by investing in Africans, building up African entrepreneurs and supporting the creation of indigenous companies. It requires cooperative efforts by Africans.

Can there be a unified approach to collaborating on issues of energy projects in Africa? To this question, NJ Ayuk said that Africa has already made an indelible mark in the oil and gas industry, and Africans must become more accountable, and plan better in the energy sectors. But for some, potential external investors only admire “dating and promising” and, in practical terms, not their priority to invest in the sector. This Russia has exemplified with its decades-old undelivered agreements, not really engaging in the energy sector in Africa.

He rhetorically asked Africa has been receiving aid for nearly six decades, and what good has it done? In order to change the tide, Africans must be responsible. Consider the impact of energy deficiency. Approximately 840 million Africans, mostly in sub-Saharan countries, have no access to electricity. Hundreds of millions have unreliable or limited power at best. Even during normal circumstances, energy poverty should not be the reality for most Africans.

The popular narratives about the prevalence of energy poverty on the continent have to change. We need good governance that creates an enabling environment for widespread economic growth and improved infrastructure. African leaders need an unwavering determination to make Africa work for us, even when there are missteps and things go wrong.

The African Energy Chamber is raising A Banner for African Oil & Gas. It plans to hold an oil and gas conference this October. As part of the conference, its special report titled “State of African Energy Q2 2022 Report” will be presented during the conference. According to the report seen by this author, increasing oil and gas activity and a record number of new discoveries have set the stage for significant industry growth in the second half of 2022.

In Namibia alone, for example, two breakthrough discoveries, Shell’s Graff and Total Energies’ Venus-1X, have opened frontier oil play onshore. Industry experts estimate that Venus-1X may hold recoverable resources of some 3 billion barrels of recoverable oil, making it Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest-ever oil discovery. Namibia, in fact, has led the way in new oil and gas activity this year and is emerging as an exploration hot spot. In northeast Namibia and northwest Botswana, ReconAfrica has licensed operations for the newly discovered 8.5-million-acre Kavango Basin, one of the world’s largest onshore undeveloped basins.

This is great news for our industry, which was hit especially hard by Covid-19 and has struggled to regain momentum. The energy sector was crippled by historically low volumes in 2020 and 2021, creating an even more critical need for new exploration. And Namibia is just one example of the new discoveries being made all over Africa. The Q2 2022 report outlines a number of new developments across the continent.

Eni discovered the Baleine field in Cote d’Ivoire last year, which contains as many as 2 billion barrels of recoverable oil and nearly 2 Tcf of gas offshore. This is a big deal for Côte d’Ivoire, which up until now has been producing about 34,000 barrels of crude per day from four blocks.

In Angola, TotalEnergies is drilling for the first time since 2018 and has executed a sale and purchase agreement with state-owned Sonangol for two blocks in the Kwanza Basin offshore. Other majors, including ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, and Eni, are active in Angola as well. More than a dozen high-impact wells are predicted in the next 18 months in Libya, Ghana, Mozambique, South Africa, Equatorial Guinea, Morocco, Egypt, and others. Egypt alone has awarded eight oil and gas exploration blocks to Eni, BP, Apex International, Energean, United Energy, Enap Sipetrol, and INA.

And after long delays because of Covid-19, licensing rounds are planned, open, or under evaluation in more than a dozen countries including Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Gabon, and Congo. The results are expected to be announced this year. Higher greenfield spending is also forecast as more projects get the green light. In Kenya, for example, large investments are expected in the greenfield onshore development of Tullow’s South Lokichar basin, Turkana County. At an estimated 585 billion barrels, this is widely considered one of the last big conventional onshore projects in the world.

These discoveries and others referenced in the Chamber’s Q2 2022 report are tremendously exciting. And if managed properly, it could make significant progress toward the goal of a just energy transition: alleviating energy poverty, stimulating economic growth, and improving the lives of everyday Africans.

The State of African Energy Q2 2022 Report outlines an unprecedented level of new oil and gas discoveries on the African continent. The simple, staggering fact that more than half of Sub-Saharan Africans lack access to electricity means priority must continue to end energy poverty. With Africa’s population projected to exceed two billion by 2040, generation capacity will need to be doubled by 2030 and multiplied fivefold by 2050.

Oil and gas are Africa’s lifeblood and the foundation for economic development. The future depends on sustaining the longevity of the industry. And with such vast quantities of oil and gas available, we should increase production accordingly and use those resources to benefit Africans.

Africa’s wealth of new oil discoveries is not only a chance to recover some of the devastating losses suffered in the last two years – it represents an opportunity to achieve an energy transition that benefits all Africans. According to the report, increasing oil and gas activity and a record number of new discoveries have set the stage for significant industry growth in the second half of 2022.

Some experts interviewed have expressed their thoughts. Some believe that Europe can look to Africa as a preferred energy supplier. On the other hand, Africa is ready to welcome investors currently pulling out of Russia if they can genuinely invest in developing oil and gas infrastructure which Africa seriously lacks in this industry. That’s a real opportunity, I think, for Africa at this point in time.

Mohammad Sanusi Barkindo, OPEC Secretary General, (before his death in early July) stressed in his last speech that “It is essential if we are to develop new technologies, strengthen the human capacity and remain leaders in innovation so that we can do our part to meet the world’s growing need for energy, shrink our overall environmental footprint, and expand access to underserved communities. Yet the industry is now facing huge challenges along multiple fronts, and these threaten the investment potential now and in the longer term.”

Regrettably, we are seeing global energy cooperation becoming more fragmented. New regional alignments are threatening to reverse years of progress toward creating a more stable and interconnected energy system. We cannot afford to allow multilateral energy cooperation and global energy security to become collateral damage to geopolitics, the OPEC Secretary General said.

As an author of this article, I would acknowledge that for African countries with huge oil and gas reserves, it is necessary to underscore the importance of cooperation in exploring and producing this resource to support the needed sustainable development goals and attempt at becoming more prominent on the global energy stage.

Today, African countries face major challenges. Rapid population growth and the worsening energy crisis are constraining economic growth on the continent. In addition to that, poor transport infrastructure, access of the population to health services, low level of education and food supply insecurity are severely hampering efforts to improve the quality of life throughout Africa.

Our monitoring, research and analysis show that Africa has the fastest-growing population in the world, but half of this population is without energy supply. That is why African leaders have to seriously prioritize the right energy policies to make access to energy the most effective way possible.

Russian Presidential Special Representative for the Middle East and Africa, Mikhail Bogdanov, in an April interview with Interfax news agency, was asked “many people in Europe are convinced that Africa is capable of increasing the production and supplies of gas to Europe instead of Russia’s. In your opinion, how realistic is this?” He explained that “the world is governed by market rules. The reason is the existence of a whole system – consumer markets, traditional suppliers, contracts, not to mention pipelines and oil terminals. In short, this cannot be done in an instant. It will take years to replace supply chains and to build new infrastructure.”

Bogdanov says Africa is beyond any doubt, the continent of the future, both from the point of view of human resources and because it is a storeroom of the world, one of the richest regions. Another issue is that colonial powers, as well as neocolonialists, have never let the Africans take advantage of the treasure which is literally right under their feet. People are working despite the fact that unscrupulous Western competitors are trying to hinder the operations.

President Vladimir Putin addressed the plenary session of the VTB Capital Russia Calling! Investment Forum organized and held by VTB Bank. As usual, the forum brought together from all over the world, business leaders, investment managers and consultants, as well as international experts in the field of the economy and finance. Putin had the opportunity, not only to listen to academics and researchers, sometimes even opposing views of the current developments, but also enjoyed an interactive exchange of opinions with potential investors, and an insight into the mood of business partners both from Russia and abroad.

On Africa, Putin noted at the VTB Capital’s Russia Calling Forum, that many countries had been “stepping up their activities on the African continent” but added that Russia could not cooperate with Africa “as it was in the Soviet period, for political reasons.” For decades, Russia has been looking for effective ways to promote multifaceted ties and new strategies for cooperation in energy, oil and gas, trade and industry in Africa.

But so far, Russia’s investment efforts in the region have been limited which experts attributed to the lack of a system of financing policy projects. While the Russian government is very cautious about making financial commitments, Russia’s financial institutions including banks are not involved in financing policy initiatives in Africa.

At the same time, Russian companies currently have a weak presence in Africa, simply there is no stimulus for efforts to localize the production of equipment and strengthen technological partnerships in the energy sector. Russia contentiously claims the leading position as a supplier and now rapidly diversifying its products at discounted prices to the Asian market.

With the emerging new economic order characterized by competition and rivalry and the additional fact that Russia already has thousands of decades-old undelivered pledges and several bilateral agreements signed which are yet to be implemented with individual countries in the continent, it is simply logical that Africans should not expect much in this oil and gas (energy) sector from the Russian Federation.

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International Youth Day 2022 and Nigerian Youth Ordeals

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International Youth Day

By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

Friday, August 12, 2022, is a very important date in the global calendar. It is a day that the global community sets aside to celebrate this year’s International Youth Day. The important purpose of this annual celebration, going to information from the United Nations (UN), is to among other things raise voices against any injustice or discrimination happening in the world against the youth. Again, going by available records, International Youth Day was recognized by the United Nations when they passed a resolution towards creating it in 1999 at the United Nations General Assembly. This day came into existence with the recommendation of the World Conference of Ministers and they are responsible for 12th August being declared as International Youth Day.

Essentially, there was a need for this day because a very large amount of youth in the world are struggling with issues related to physical or mental health, education and employment and thus all these issues need to be addressed. When the government or society does not focus on the proper development of the youth, they tend to become rebellious and many times they can opt for the choices which are neither good for their development nor for their country.

Certainly, the global community uses workshops, concerts, conferences, cultural events, seminars and meetings involving national and local government officials and youth organizations to celebrate the day while recognizing the contributions of young people and volunteers who are working towards the betterment of the society and are raising important issues that need more attention of the society, there are, however, painful signs that the situation back here in the country says instead of celebrating, the average Nigerian youth is currently in a state of frustration.

From commentaries, the frustration of these young victims of our nation’s socioeconomic challenge was not only fuelled by the gap between the extravagant promises made in the past by the government without fulfilment but predicated on the ills that flow from bad leadership which daily manifests in the tradition of leading without recourse to transparency and accountability. And as a consequence, ‘stifles development, siphons all scarce resources that could improve infrastructure, bolster education systems and strengthen public health and stack the deck against the poor masses.

To explain this position, a recent report from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), reveals that in the second-quarter Q2:2020 unemployment rate among young people (15-34 years old) was 34.9%, up from 29.7%, while the rate of underemployment for the same age group rose to 28.2% from 25.7% in Q3, 2018. These rates were the highest when compared to other age groupings. Nigeria’s youth population eligible to work is about 40 million out of which only 14.7 million are fully employed and another 11.2 million are unemployed.

For a better understanding of where this piece is headed, youth in every society, says a study report, has the potential to stimulate economic growth, social progress and our all-national development. The strategic role of youths in the development of different societies of the world such as Cuba, Libya, China, Russia and Israel is obvious.

Youth unemployment is potentially dangerous as it sends a signal to all segments of Nigerian society. Here in Nigeria, the rate of youth unemployment is high, even during the period of economic normalcy i.e. the oil boom of the 1970s (6.2%); 1980s (9.8%) and 1990s (11.5%). Youth unemployment, therefore, is not a recent phenomenon. But if what happened in the 1980s/90s was a challenge of sorts, what is happening presently, going by the latest report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), is a challenge. This and many other concerns have expectedly caused divided opinion and a proliferation of solutions.

From the above, it is obvious that ‘we are in a dire state of strait because unemployment has diverse implications. Security-wise, the large unemployed youth population is a threat to the security of the few that are employed. Any transformation agenda that does not have job creation at the centre of its programme will take us nowhere.’

From unemployment challenges to the poor education sector, it is accurately documented that many Nigerian children are out of school not because they are not willing to be educated but because the cost of education is beyond the reach of their parents. The public schools are short of teachers with dilapidated buildings. Private schools on the other hand where the environment is conducive to learning are cost-intensive and out of reach of so many students and their parents.

In like manner, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been on strike since February 14, 2022. The group embarked on such industrial action to protest the government’s inability to implement their demands on salaries and allowances of lecturers, and improved funding for universities.

The implication is that for the past six months and counting, these youths have been idling away at home and the Federal Government has not considered the damage such failures impose on this future strength of the nation that their generation will provide the next leaders.

Now, looking at the above painful account, and considering the fact that the nation Nigeria races to the 2023 general election, the question(s) may be asked; how far can the youth go in a nation where tribal loyalty is stronger than our common sense of nationhood?  Can the youth effectively guard their courage? How far can the youths go as change agents in a country where excruciating poverty and starvation continue to drive more people into the ranks of beggars, whose desperate struggle for bread renders them insensible to all feelings of decency and self-respect? Or in a society where the majority of the youths can easily be induced to work across purpose and in a political space where a high density of the youth’s population resides in various villages with no access to information or livelihood? Can they truly create any impact? Or remain united for a very long time.

While the answer(s) to these questions is being awaited, the truth must be told to the effect that to make this year’s world youth day rewarding as well as change this trend, and achieve the objective of engaging youth in formal political mechanisms, increase the fairness of political processes by reducing democratic deficits, contributes to better and more sustainable policies which have symbolic importance that can further contribute to restoring trust in public institutions, especially among youth, there are inescapable actions that the youths must take, there are steps/action plans that Nigerian youths must execute.

Separate from constructively and sustainably engaging the Federal Government, It will not in any way be described as out of place if the youths harness their population advantage and their demographic dividends to form a formidable opposition that holds the government accountable or better still seek political offices come 2023 general election.

Supporting this position is Section 39(1) of the 1999 Constitution adopted from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN, 1948) which gives everyone the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The youth must also access the power of the press as Section 22 stipulates that “the press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall, at all times, be free to upload the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter [Chapter IV: Fundamental Rights] and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people”, which has been emboldened by the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.

It is important that Nigerian youths continue to speak up against violations of human rights, suppression of free speech and freedom of the press. Unlike their elders, youths must not initiate, encourage or spread false, mischievous or divisive information capable, or with outright intent, of misleading the populace and disrupting societal harmony and peace. Within the ambience of the law, they must speak up with facts against any wrongdoing or oppression by the government or fellow citizens capable of endangering sustainable democracy and the effective delivery of good governance.

They (youths) should view as evil the argument by political deconstructionists that Nigerian youths must face difficulties as there is no nation where each has his/her own job and house, and where all children receive as much education as their minds can absorb. This claim is not only ‘rationally inexplicable but morally unjustifiable. It is a fact that government lacks the capacity to fix socioeconomic challenges alone. But any government with goodwill and sincerity to save and serve the people must develop creative and innovative channels to promote sustained and inclusive economic growth, social development, environmental protection and job creation.

Also, Nigerians are in agreement that the law is the supreme instrument of the state which must be respected and no one is above the law. This particular fact, if well understood, will assist the youths to comprehend that as citizens, they are constitutionally eligible to vote and be voted for.

Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), a Lagos-based Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). He can be reached via Jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374

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Design Mistakes That Make Your House Look Cluttered

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SweepSouth design mistakes

We’d all love our homes to have an inviting, well-put-together look, but there are a few common design mistakes that make a room feel messy and cluttered. Clearing clutter away seems an obvious first step towards a more polished look, but there are other simple decorating tricks that will bring order to your space, making it more open, organised and tidy.

Not having a dedicated drop zone

We all have that spot in our homes where we put our keys, and our bags, take off our shoes or just drop random things. It’s usually close to the front door or wherever you enter your house from. It’s where you unburden yourself of everything that’s in your hands when you get home. This space can, however, end up being a mess and it makes your house look untidy.

To combat this, allocate the most convenient space to be a drop zone, and put out storage baskets for items such as shoes. Add a table if there’s space and place pretty little containers on top of the table to hold keys, wallets and even letters.

No cable management 

Everyone is guilty of having little to no cable management in certain parts of their home, especially in the living room where there are lots of electronics. Cable management isn’t the most fun thing to do in the world, but if they’re left open and exposed, they can be a massive eyesore.

Cables can be hidden in a number of ways, such as running them along the wall at floor level or through the ceiling or cupboards to keep them out of sight, but it requires expert knowledge to do so and can require extending cables and drilling holes.

Using oversized furniture 

Nothing cramps up a space more than furniture that’s too big. You might want that great coffee table, but the truth is that it’s too big. And if you insist on it, it’s just going to make your home look overcrowded and uncomfortable.

If you already have the furniture, consider selling it online and using the money from that to purchase items that fit the room you need it for. Take measurements before you shop so that you don’t end up buying the incorrect size. Crowding a room with too many bits of furniture can also make it feel disorganised. Cut down on the amount needed by using multi-functional furniture, such as sturdy pouffes that can be used both for seating and as side tables, coffee tables with storage for cables and TV remotes, and mirrors with shelving attached to them.

Keep it fresh

“Unmade beds, dull floors, and a generally dirty space all contribute to making a house look disorganised. Get into a habit of tidying up your space. If you have family living with you, teaching them to clean up after themselves helps. Even better, save yourself time and stress by hiring a vetted, reliable, excellent and affordable cleaner to thoroughly clean your home on a weekly basis,” advises Awazi Angbalaga, Country Manager for a home-cleaning tech company, SweepSouth.

“A home that feels fresh and smells wonderful can instantly improve your mood and mental health, whereas a house with dirty carpets and unattended old furniture usually holds stale, musty odours that feel stifling. You might not even notice it because you’ve lived in the same space for so long but be aware of the way your home feels and smells the moment you step into it after having been outside in the fresh air,” she says. “your rooms can do with a good routine freshening up that includes dusting them from top to bottom, thoroughly cleaning the floors, opening up the windows and washing up dirty bedding. The good thing is that SweepSouth always has the right SweepStar to do the job on your behalf”

If you can’t throw out old furniture or carpets, try these clever tips from the SweepStars who clean Nigerian homes every week through SweepSouth’s service, to banish smells:

  • Sprinkle bicarbonate of soda on carpets and couches, let it rest for an hour, then vacuum up every trace of powder

  • Put a ball of cotton wool that’s been dipped into a fresh-smelling essential oil, like lemon or eucalyptus, into the vacuum bag for a fresh smell every time you vacuum

  • Clean hardwood furniture with a polish made from two parts olive oil with one part lemon juice and use a soft cloth to rub it into the wood. You could also use almond oil with a few drops of lemon essential oil sprinkled in, dabbing a bit of the mixture onto a cloth, then rubbing gently into wooden surfaces

Overfilling open shelving 

Open shelving is all the rage, and it looks lovely – when done right. It’s a common mistake to fill open shelves with books, picture frames and all the other objects you can’t find a home for, but this type of storage actually works best when it’s not overcrowded.

Resist the temptation to fill every inch of shelving, and rather space things out. Edit down what you’d like to display and leave open space between some of the items. Put your favourite decor items out, but bear in mind that too many decorative pieces will make it look cluttered.

The same rule applies when you’re styling a coffee or dining room tabletop. Give careful thought to what is visible in the room, especially if it’s a small space. Display only what you love, and make sure not to overfill the table. Group small items together in a shallow bowl or on a tray so that the arrangement stays tidy and keeps small objects from looking lost by elevating them on a stack of two or three books.

Not using vertical space

If you’ve ever mounted your TV on the wall, you will know how much of a difference it makes to space to not have your TV sitting on the cabinet or table. Making use of wall space – vertical space – isn’t good just for small areas, it frees up every room in the house. Put up shelves or hang things from your ceiling to get them off your countertops and floors.

For example, use wall-mounted shelves to arrange books and get rid of the bookshelf taking up some much-needed floor space. Using vertical space makes a huge difference in almost any room.

Keep these tips in mind when you’re decorating your space and your home will feel like a clutter-free oasis.

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Redefining the Role of UPU for the Urhobo People

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Mike Owhoko May Nigeria Never 9th National Assembly

By Michael Owhoko, PhD

The Urhobo is among the first 10 major ethnic groups and the fifth largest in Nigeria, yet, its initial capacity to command considerable influence in the Nigerian polity was weakened by the lack of brotherliness, unity and trust among its people, unarguably, owing to the multiplicity of dialects, as depicted in the 24 kingdoms that make up the nationality.

In an attempt to eliminate this deficit, prevent disunity-induced regression, and raise sustained awareness for unity and trust across the divide, the founding Urhobo leaders came up with a philosophical slogan of Urhobo Ovuovo.

Specifically, the concept of Urhobo Ovuovo was informed by the need to foster unity as a strategy for driving the collective interests and aspirations of the Urhobo people, particularly within the Nigerian space. The concept, which simply means, Urhobo is one, became the major thrust of the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU), formerly Urhobo Brotherly Society at its formation, in 1931.

Its founding leaders recognized clearly from the outset that without unity among a people, unison and progress might be hampered, prompting them to identify and highlight the dangers of disunity to peace, growth and development in pursuit of the Urhobo vision.

On the strength of this, the leadership of UPU led by Chiefs Omorohwovo Okoro, Mukoro Mowoe and Thomas Erukeme made unity a catalyst and driver in their quest for progress in Urhobo land, as aptly captured in the union’s motto: Unity is Strength.

This was also reflected in the Aims and Objectives of the union’s Constitution, namely: “To foster the spirit of love, mutual understanding and brotherhood among Urhobo people.”  Since then, unity has remained one of the guiding principles in the decision-making process at UPU.

All free-born of Urhobo, irrespective of place of birth and location, are automatic members of UPU. Branches of UPU exist in all corners of the globe, particularly in countries with a significant presence of Urhobos. From Europe to the United Kingdom, Australia, and from America to Asia and the Middle East, UPU is active. All positions held by UPU executives are held in trust for all Urhobos.

Thus, it came as a surprise to many sons and daughters of Urhobo ancestry about the alleged decision of the current national executive of UPU led by Chief Moses Taiga to endorse a particular candidate for the 2023 governorship election in Delta State. Regrettably, up till this moment, the executive is yet to deny the allegation. However, since silence means consent, it is assumed to be true, at least, for now.

By this position, the leadership of UPU is unwittingly laying a foundation for potential cracks in the body of the oldest socio-cultural organization in Nigeria. The endorsement negates and runs contrary to the vision of the founding fathers, as it is not only a recipe for disunity in Urhobo land but capable of encouraging the emergence of parallel bodies or equivalent associations.

The UPU could be likened to a father with members as children. Like children in a family, it is absurd for a father to overtly demonstrate preference or declare support or identify or show love for one over the others. This can permanently put a division in such a family.

Since all gubernatorial contenders in the 2023 general election in Delta State are of Urhobo descent, it was needless for the UPU to have expressed a preference for one candidate over the others, more so, when the outcome will ultimately produce an Urhobo son as a winner. Therefore, in line with the spirit of unity and progress for the Urhobo nation, UPU should have invited all candidates for a counselling meeting premised on peaceful electioneering conduct devoid of violence.

If it was a contest involving Urhobo sons and other ethnic groups, then UPU was obligatory to back its own, as demonstrated by the support given to Chief Daniel Okumagba when he contested as the governorship candidate of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in 1979. UPU also extended similar backing to Chief Felix Ibru when he ran for the same office under the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1993.

It is, therefore, imperative for the national executives of the union to strive at all times not to deviate from the objective of UPU, but focus on issues that can deepen unity and progress in Urhobo land, particularly within the context of emerging challenges.

It must draw from the experience of the founding fathers, who at the time, were confronted with daunting challenges, but overcame them through sheer vision and action plans as they did with the establishment of Urhobo College in 1948 when UPU identified education as a major tool for boosting opportunities and aspirations. This also led to the sponsorship of Messrs Gabriel Ejaife and Ezekiel Igho to universities abroad during the intervening period.

Besides, Urhobo territories straddling other ethnic neighbours that were facing expropriation threats were all reclaimed and regrouped within Urhobo geographical boundaries. Some of these cases involved litigation and these were won and recovered with the support of UPU. There was no true son and daughter of Urhobo who was not proud of these accomplished milestones then.

Even the translation of the Holy Bible into the Urhobo language was part of efforts to advance and strengthen Urhobo unity, which became a source of pride, as it went a long way in defining the Urhobo personality.

The Urhobo nation cannot be insulated from current dynamics and challenges in Nigeria.  UPU must therefore be proactive and respond to these vulnerabilities, particularly those that can potentially hinder development in Urhobo land.

Insecurity is currently a threat.  Fulani herdsmen have become a menace in Urhobo forests and savannas, stalling farming business and creating fear across the land through criminal activities. This is also responsible for the reluctance of Urhobos to come home to invest.  While efforts by UPU in this regard must be acknowledged, it should take further steps through concrete action plans to nip this criminality in the bud.  Urhobo Security Network (USN) and other surveillance groups should be strengthened and equipped to provide intelligence and sundry activities.

Urhobo wealth is outside Urhobo land, partly because of deve (development fees).  UPU should discourage youth from harassing and collecting these levies from potential investors and developers. Monarchs collaborating with youth in this shameful act should be sanctioned. If five per cent of Urhobo wealth can be attracted home for investment, jobs will be available for youth.

Also, UPU should constitute Economic Advisory Council to hold Urhobo Economic Summit annually aimed at identifying opportunities that will promote empowerment and stimulate development in Urhobo land.

The future is science and technology.  While the proposed Mukoro Mowoe University is commendable, it should be STEM-based (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).  Currently, there is under-admission of Urhobo sons and daughters to Petroleum Training Institute (PTI) and Federal University of Petroleum Resources (FUPRE).  UPU should sensitize and encourage all secondary schools in Urhobo land to predominantly pattern their syllabus after science to enable them to take advantage of these opportunities.

Also, there is a dearth of qualified artisans in Urhobo land.  UPU should establish technical schools similar to the former Sapele Technical College or Atamakolomi Trade School, where Urhobo youth can acquire vocational skills in carpentry, electricals, automobile engineering, welding, bricklaying, tiling, painting, tailoring, and other artistry works.

Of note is the Urhobo Historical Society (UHS) which was set up to study, research and document Urhobo history and culture, just as the Urhobo Studies Association (USA) was established to promote scholarships pertaining to Urhobo language, literature and culture.  UPU should support these institutions, particularly the USA to drive the study of Urhobo language and literature in universities up to the doctorate level.

Urhobo and her immediate neighbours have common socio-economic challenges and aspirations but are unable to work in unison for this purpose due to the trust gap engendered by domination fear.  This was one of the reasons the Itsekiri opposed the creation of Delta State from the old Delta Province with Warri as capital.  Rather than demonstrate leadership morality, Ibrahim Babangida took advantage of the confusion to appease his wife and in-laws, obviously due to oil benefits, by merging the Anioma region, which was hitherto under Benin Province, with Delta Province, and also made Asaba, an obviously unsuitable location, as capital.  The Anioma region should have rightly been made part of Edo State, not Delta.  UPU should therefore build bridges across its immediate neighbours to restore confidence.

It is therefore imperative that the current roles of UPU should be redefined within these contexts, to reposition Urhobo for the emerging challenges of this 21st century.

Dr Mike Owhoko, Lagos-based journalist and author, can be reached at www.mikeowhoko.com.

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