By Kester Kenn Klomegah
After nearly three decades of extremely low political, economic and cultural engagement, Russia is indeed returning to Africa. For obvious reasons, Russia’s relations with Africa turned extremely worse as some diplomatic representations were unexpectedly cut, all cultural centers closed, and many projects were suspended. Of course, relations with many foreign countries have faded into the background compared with the challenges the country had to deal with in order to preserve its statehood.
Understandably, Russia has had to struggle with its post-Soviet internal and external problems especially during the first decade, from 1991 till 2000, which has been described by policy experts as the “Lost Decade on Africa”.
Still the second decade, 2000 to 2010, saw the reawakening with decades among the Kremlin, Government officials and academic researchers debated consistently whether “Russia needs Africa or Africa needs Russia” while African leaders were already turned towards Asian and the Gulf regions especially China and often asked why wake up the “Sleeping Giant Bear”. China became the best development suitor in Africa.
During this period, Russia seems to have attained relative political and economic stability. “As we regained our statehood and control over the country, and the economy and the social sphere began to develop, Russian businesses began to look at promising projects abroad, and we began to return to Africa,” noted Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov early September when he addressed students and staff of Moscow State Institute for International Relations.
This process has been ongoing for the past 15 years. The return is now taking the form of resuming a very close political dialogue, which has always been at a strategic and friendly level, and now moving to a vigorous economic cooperation.
To reflect and consolidate these trends and in order to draw up plans for expanding consolidated partnerships with the African countries, President Putin initiated the Russia-Africa Summit last year during the BRICS summit in Johannesburg. The initiative was strongly supported. This October, it will be implemented under the co-chairmanship of the heads of Russia and Egypt, since this year Egypt is heading the African Union.
Further, from my research and monitoring, it is interesting to recall here that during the BRICS summit in Durban, on March 26-27, 2013, BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) discussed, among other topics, “BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Development, Integration and Industrialization.”
The BRICS membership gives an additional competitive advantage. Firstly, none of the members of this association is tainted with a colonial past on the African continent, and second, the BRICS member countries as a matter of principle do not interfere in the internal affairs of African countries. None of the BRICS member countries spread democracy in Africa by force or impose their values with the help of expeditionary corps and air strikes.
The U.S. and the European Union (EU) monopoly in African countries is steadily coming to an end, as new players have come to the African continent, namely the BRICS countries. Russia is now the new force. Russia’s renewed interest in Africa is due to a desire to restore its previous influence and to build allies as it experiences growing criticism by Western countries.
During my long years of research has shown me that Africa is a huge continent that still requires economic development. Its active demographic growth and abundance of natural resources are creating conditions for the emergence of probably the world’s biggest market in the next few decades.
Today, Africa moves towards raising its social, economic, scientific and technological development, and is playing a significant role in international affairs. African states are strengthening mutually beneficial integration processes within the African Union (AU) and other regional and sub regional organizations across the continent.
Furthermore, African leaders keep in mind other key questions such as rising unemployment, healthcare problems and poor infrastructure development. That is, they now focus on measures toward realizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
So, in the contemporary period, Russia and Africa have to, both at a bilateral level and in various multilateral formats, take significant new steps forward in new joint projects in extractive industries, agriculture, healthcare, and education. Besides, there are aspects of the diplomacy that really need focus, for example cultural and social spheres as well as the use of soft power. Indeed, the forthcoming Russia-Africa summit in Sochi on October 23-24 should lay the necessary foundation for improving all these for a stronger partnership.
Quite recently, Foreign Affairs Minister Lavrov assertively acknowledged “Africa is one of our priorities. Our political ties in particular are developing dynamically. But economic cooperation is not as far advanced as our political ties. We believe that we should promote joint activity in order to make broader use of the huge potential of Russian-African trade and investment cooperation.”
Political dialogue: Russia has intensified promoting political dialogue, including the exchange of visits at the top levels. Interaction between foreign ministries is expanding. Last year, 12 African foreign ministers visited Russia. According to my calculation, Sergey Lavrov and his deputy Minister, Mikhail Bogdanov, have held talks with nearly 100 African politicians including ministers, deputies between January and September 2019. Bogdanov has interacted with all African ambassadors in Moscow.
Lavrov conducted bilateral dialogue with African countries at the UN in New York, between September 24 and 30, 2019. Lavrov held talks with Foreign Minister of Algeria Sabri Boukadoum, Foreign Minister of Morocco Nasser Bourita and Prime Minister of Sudan Abdallah Hamdouk among others.
During their conversation on the sidelines of the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly, all the sides discussed matters concerning the further expansion of multifaceted partnership, foreign policy collaboration in regional and international affairs.
With other questions such as the practice of democracy, Russia does support whatever regime is in power. While this makes its policy predictable, it does not encourage good governance and democratic practices in those countries that are severely challenged in these areas. Many other countries follow this practice and even countries like the United States, which often do speak out forcefully on behalf of good governance, are not always consistent.
Economic and investment cooperation: Africa truly is a continent of new opportunities and there is huge potential here for developing economic ties. Many see Africa’s growth primarily not because of aid, it is because of businesses and entrepreneurship, consistent efforts at creating wealth and employment. Africa in the 21st century does not need charity but wants to be an economic partner. African countries are not lacking the resources to boost the relationship, but the will power has always been put on hold or totally ignored.
Russia has shown strength in Africa in niche sectors such as nuclear power development, launching African satellites, and constructing energy and mining projects. It has been seeking to exploit conventional gas and oil fields in Africa; part of its long-term energy strategy is to use Russian companies to create new streams of energy supply. With regard to other economic areas, it may have to identify more sectors like this rather than compete head-to-head in a wide range of sectors with European Union countries, China, the United States, India, and others.
But U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration said recently that “Russia has bolstered its influence with increased military cooperation including donations of arms, with which it has gained access to markets and mineral extraction rights. With minimal investment, Russia leverages private military contracts, such as the Wagner Group, and in return receives political and economic influence beneficial to them.”
While Russians are aware of the equal competitive conditions in the continent, Africans on the other hand view Russia as another fairly large trading partner and, probably a stabilizing and balancing factor to other foreign players. In terms of stringency of strategic outlook and activeness on economic engagement, the country is seriously lagging behind China, U.S., EU, the Gulf States, India and Brazil.
Trade: Russian aid, trade, and investment in Africa, especially Sub-Saharan Africa, are modest. Russian exports to Africa have been growing modestly and reached $18.5 billion in 2017. Russian imports from Africa have been flat and totaled only $2.1 billion in 2017. This was well below Turkey’s trade with Africa in 2017.
Russian trade is heavily concentrated in North Africa, especially with Egypt. Noticeably, Russia’s relationship with North Africa is more significant. Nevertheless, Russia apparently wants to maximize the business relationship rather than the aid relationship. The problem is that Africa has little that Russia wants to buy.
It is, however, necessary to raise trade and economic ties to a high level of political cooperation. Russia and Africa have to show not only an exceptional commitment to long-term cooperation but also readiness for large-scale investments in the African markets taking into account possible risks and high competition.
Equally important are African businesspeople who are looking to work on the Russian market. Definitely, time is needed to solve all these issues including identifying and removing obstacles to mutual bilateral trade and investment.
Weapons and arms diplomacy: After the collapse of the Soviet era, Africa owed US$20 billion, later written off. This debt was due to weapon and arms delivery to Soviet allies including Ethiopia, Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and a few other African countries. Now, Russia is the largest seller of arms to Africa and is willing to sell to any country. This gives it a certain advantage as many Western countries prohibit arms sales to a few countries.
More recently, Russia has made significant arms deals with Angola and Algeria. Egypt, Tanzania, Somalia, Mali, Sudan and Libya have also bought arms from Russia. The Russians also provide military training and support.
In Africa, Russia seeks to guarantee security. In the classical sense, security guarantees imply something different. Russia has very warm, historically developed relations since their decolonization. This forms the theme for the Sochi summit: “For Peace, Security, and Development” which organizers explained would serve as the foundation of the final joint declaration.
Soft power interplay: Experts and members of the Valdai Discussion Club noted that soft power has never been a strong side of Russian policy in the post-Soviet era. Federation Council and State Duma, both houses of legislators, enacted a law that banned foreign NGOs from operating in the Russian Federation. As a result, African NGOs that could promote people-to-people diplomacy and support cultural initiatives as well to push for good image, is non-existent.
On education and culture. Simply cultural cooperation could be described as catastrophic. With education, Russia now offers a few state scholarships. Official figures from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs pegged it at 15,000 students, only one-third of this receives Russian grants. The remaining two-thirds are fee-paying clients. The Ministry of Higher Education told me last month during interview discussions that there are nearly 21,000 African students while some in the far regions are still undocumented. This also means that African elite and the middle class pay approximately US$75 million annually to Russian educational institutions. Average tuition is US$5,000 per year.
Over the years, one of the key challenges and problems facing Russian companies and investors has been insufficient knowledge of the economic potential, on the part of Russian entrepreneurs, the needs and business opportunities of the African region. Africa needs broader coverage in Russian media. Leading Russian media agencies should release more topical news items and quality analytical articles about the continent in order to adequately collaborate with African partners and attract Russian business to Africa. The media can, and indeed must be a decisive factor in building effective ties.
After several years of consistently constructive criticisms, Russian authorities have ignored media cooperation. Russia could use its media resources available to support its foreign policy, promote its positive image, disseminate useful information about its current achievements and emerging economic opportunities especially for the African public.
Russian media resources here, which are largely not prominent in Africa, include Rossiya Sevogdnya (RIA Novosti, Voice of Russia, Sputnik News and Russia Today), Itar-Tass News Agency and Interfax Information Service. Besides, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs could use its accreditation opportunities to allow African media to work in Russia. While the Foreign Ministry has accredited foreign media from Latin America, the United States, Europe and Asian countries, none came from sub-Saharan Africa. Instead of prioritizing media cooperation with Africa, high-ranking Russian officials most often talk about the spread of anti-Russian propaganda by western and European media in Africa.
Professor Vladimir Shubin, Deputy Director of the Institute for African Studies under the Russian Academy of Sciences, reiterated: “Russia is not doing enough to communicate to the broad public, particularly in Africa, true information about its domestic and foreign policies as well as the accomplishments about Russian culture, the economy, science and technology in order to form a positive perception of Russia abroad and a friendly attitude towards it as stated by the new Concept of the Foreign Policy.”
Russia-Africa Summit: Russia holds its first summit in October. Through this, Russia and Africa aim jointly at advancing relations to a fundamentally new level and a wider dimension. Of course, Africa is not fully satisfied with Russia due to its “diplomatic niceties” and largely unfulfilled pledges and promises. Russia already has a plethora of post-Soviet bilateral agreements that it is now implementing, with some degree of limitations, in various African countries. It’s clear that Russia might not make any public financial commitment as many foreign countries have done over the years. But Russia needs to demonstrate that it has a plan to engage Africa in a significantly greater way than it has in recent years.
According to my investigations, Russia would sign 23 new bilateral agreements with a number of African countries and issue a joint declaration that would lay down a comprehensive strategic roadmap for future Russia-African relations.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, while addressing the Russia-Africa Economic forum in July also added his voice for strengthening cooperation in all fronts. “We must take advantage of all things without fail. It is also important that we implement as many projects as possible, that encompass new venues and, of course, new countries,” he said.
Medvedev stressed: “It is important to have a sincere desire. Russia and African countries now have this sincere desire. We simply need to know each other better and be more open to one another. I am sure all of us will succeed if we work this way. Even if some things seem impossible, this situation persists only until it has been accomplished. It was Nelson Mandela who made this absolutely true statement.”
In July, President Vladimir Putin took part on third day of the International Parliamentarian Forum that also brought African legislators, emphasized that “the modern world needs an open and free exchange of views, confidence building and search for mutual understanding”.
Indeed, judging from the above discussions about the changing geopolitical relations, after the first Russia-Africa Summit, there has to be a well-functioning system and mutual willingness in the spirit of reciprocity to achieve a more practical and comprehensive results from the new relations between Russia and Africa.
Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and policy consultant on African affairs and Brics. He is the author of the Geopolitical Handbook titled “Putin’s African Dream and The New Dawn: Challenges and Emerging Opportunities” devoted to the first Russia-Africa Summit 2019.
International Youth Day 2022 and Nigerian Youth Ordeals
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
Design Mistakes That Make Your House Look Cluttered
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.
Redefining the Role of UPU for the Urhobo People
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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