…Speaks on how Urhobo should play politics, leadership of Olorogun Teiga
Chief Johnson Modika Barovbe is a man of many paths. He retired from the corporate world as the Managing Director of Dumex Nigeria Limited many years ago and went back to his first love, education. He is the proprietor of the prestigious Westminster College in Lagos. He is also a traditional chief and a major stakeholder in the Urhobo Nation
He is the Tosogbe of Badagry, Okunna of Agbon Kingdom and Ahwotu (crowd puller) of Urhobo Kingdom. He is the Chairman, Board of Trustees of Urhobo Social Club, a foremost Urhobo club, based in Lagos. He spoke with Saturday Vanguard on a variety of issues.
You were part of the Urhobo Progress Union delegation that visited President Muhammadu Buhari sometime ago in Abuja. You made some demands, how far have they been fulfilled?
Yes, you are right. I was part of the delegation that visited President Buhari, led by the UPU President General Worldwide, Olorogun Moses Taiga. Olorogun Taiga spoke on behalf of the Urhobo Nation. He spoke on the need to restructure Nigeria, as espoused by the South South People’s Assembly, of which the Urhobo Nation is a part. He also requested for the return of Urhobo lands which were given to the military, but have been diverted to private use.
The menace of the Fulani herdsmen was another issue Olorogun Taiga raised during the visit. We are still waiting for President Buhari to fulfill his promises. The military is yet to return the unused and misused lands to the host communities, as promised by President Buhari, while herdsmen continue to wreak havoc on the Urhobo Nation.
Just last week, a woman died as a result of injuries she sustained when herdsmen attacked her in her farm in Ewhu-Urhobo. This is a community that was flooded recently and yet to recover from the large scale losses from the flood. We are not happy about the continued herdsmen attack on our people. The UPU under Olorogun Taiga will continue to engage government until we get the desired results.
So, will you say the visit was fruitless?
No, far from it. These things are continuous and we need follow up as I said earlier. Our President, General, Olorogun Moses Taiga is doing just that. There are other issues the UPU is also pursuing, which Olorogun Taiga also presented to President Buhari. For instance, the sea port in Sapele was given to the navy, but they are using only a small portion of it.
We want the government to release the unused portions so that port activities can commence there. That will enhance the local economy. We also want better funding for the Federal University of Petroleum (FUPRE) in Effurun; also the Petroleum Training Institute. We want the steel company in Ovwian-Aladja to operate optimally and improve the local economy.
The Urhobo Nation is the fifth largest ethnic group in Nigeria, but we feel we are not getting our due in terms of government appointments, patronage and representation. The Urhobos are over 40 per cent of Delta State population, but we have only one senator out of three, three members in the House of Representatives out of 10 from Delta State.
At the state level, we have only eight out of the 25 local government areas in the state and only 10 out of 29 members in the State House of Assembly. We are clearly marginalized even though we are a major ethnic group. Ultimately, we are for restructuring, but while we are working on that, we want these immediate issues addressed. I do appreciate, however, that a couple of these issues are constitutional matters, but we shall not relent.
What is your take on the forthcoming general elections; what are the issues?
I am an elder statesman, so my advice to politicians is that they should not overheat the polity. They should stop seeing politics as a do or die affair. Ultimately, holding a political office is a call to service, but that is not the way it is in Nigeria. That is why politicians make it a do or die affair. We must all work towards making political positions less attractive financially. We must also make the process less expensive to ensure the right people can get into positions.
Now on issues, there is hunger and suffering in the land. The economy needs to get better. There is also insecurity. I just told you about Ewhu, a community in my place, which is currently under illegal occupation by herdsmen. Of course, the issue of restructuring is there. These are basically the issues the political parties and their candidates should be addressing.
Which party or candidates will the Urhobo people likely vote for?
The Urhobos are not a herd of buffaloes that move in one direction without asking questions. Even in the Action Group and NCNC days, there were Urhobos in both parties. The important thing was that at the end of the day, they put their political differences aside and ate and drank together as brothers and friends. That is the kind of politics we want in Urhobo land. At all times, Urhobo interest must take precedence over personal interest. I told you the issues that are important to the Urhobos. We are going to look at the performance, programme and promises of the candidates and the parties and these I guess will guide our people in their voting patterns.
But I do not think anybody can and should tell all Urhobos who to vote for. I have already advised the UPU President General, Olorogun Taiga, that the UPU should refrain from endorsing candidates. The UPU is a socio-cultural umbrella body of all Urhobos and the President General must remain father of all. Attempts by UPU to endorse candidates in the past have polarized the Urhobo Nation and ended up disastrously. The responsibility of UPU is to tell any candidate that comes to the body the needs and expectations of the Urhobo people. We know what we want and will vote for whoever can grant the Urhobo Nation its heart desires. But the UPU must not be dragged into partisan politics.
What is the solution to the Aladja/Ogbe-Ijoh?
My President General, Olorogun Moses Taiga, has already addressed the issue. The Delta State Government set up a panel of enquiry to look into the causes of the border dispute. The panel submitted its report long ago. The government should show courage and its neutrality in the conflict by implementing the report.
Final Message for your People
I advise the Urhobos to be united. They should keep faith with the UPU ably led by Olorogun Moses Taiga. We should all rally round Taiga to move the Urhobo Nation forward. Amroma vughe, meaning we should know who we are.