Rt Hon. Rev Francis E Waive represent the Deputy President of the Nigerian Senate, His Excellency, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege at the ongoing 26th Annual Convention of Urhobo Progress Union America, UPUA in Philadelphia, United States of America.
Below is an excerpt of His Excellency’s speech that I read on his behalf at the Convention.
“OPENING REMARKS BY HIS EXCELLENCY, DEPUTY PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE, SENATOR OVIE OMO-AGEGE, THE OBARISI OF URHOBOLAND, AT THE 2019 ANNUAL CONVENTION OF THE URHOBO PROGRESS UNION AMERICA (UPUA), HELD IN PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA, U.S.A. ON AUGUST 30, 2019
I am delighted to be here with you at our 2019 annual conference and for the opportunity to address this gathering of distinguished sons and daughters of Urhobo as well as our special guests. Looking around I can see so many familiar faces here today.
The Urhobo nation worldwide is proud of the UPU America for remaining an exemplary force for the promotion of Urhobo unity and interests. Thank you indeed.
2.0 We are gathered here in what has become our annual “catching up” on where we stand, as well as where we are headed. It is right and indeed quite germane to keep deliberating on how we can advance the Urhobo nation to greater heights, particularly in terms of socio-economic development.
3.0 We have the resources – oil, gas, fertile land, hardworking and talented people to make Urhobo a land of opportunities and center of political power in our state. Estimated to be more than two million people, we constitute more than 50% and about 3% of Delta State and our national population, respectively. We contribute more than 10% of our country’s oil wealth.
4.0 Urhobos took off fairly well in the scheme of things at Independence, we had a thriving economy and Urhobo led in politics and business. But somewhere, we lost it. We became marginalized and denied of our rightful place in the social- economic and political equation of our state and country, with little or no political influence despite our huge electoral strength.
5.0 This was the state of affairs of the Urhobo nation when I arrived the senate in 2016 as the Senator representing Delta Central Senatorial District and the Urhobo nation. This situation was unacceptable to me and I believe it was too, to everyone seated here today and millions of Urhobos worldwide.
6.0 The Urhobo nation has always allied with the national ruling party. First, the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC); the National Party of Nigeria (NPN); the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in that order.
7.0 Such alliances gave Urhobo tremendous influence at a period, and Urhobo secured important political positions. Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh was appointed Federal Minister of Finance in the 1st republic; Jereton Mariere was ceremonial Governor of the Midwestern State; Chief Patrick Bolokor was Minister of State for Foreign Affairs in the 2nd republic; Chief Felix Ibru was elected the first Executive Governor of Delta State in 1991, and Chief James Ibori, became governor in 1999.
8.0 Urhobo nation was also rewarded with some very critical industrial projects such as Delta Steel Complex, the Warri Refinery and Petrochemical Company, the Ogorode Power Station at Sapele, the Delta Electric Power Generation Station at Ughelli, and the expansion of the Warri Port during the Second Republic.
9.0 So, guided by the urgent need to change the course of the ship of the Urhobo nation and raise the political profile of Urhobo, we knew we had to build new relationships. So, we went to work, caucusing with APC in the Senate and building new alliances and eventually joining the party from the Labour Party.
10.0 Since then, we made tremendous progress and today your brother, my very self, is now the fifth highest political office holder in Nigeria. As Deputy President of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the power of Urhobo voice in national politics will be louder, clearer and stronger and so too will be Urhobo influence.
11.0 Whilst I am humbled by my June 11, 2019 historic election to this high office of State, I am very proud and fulfilled that we were able to forge great alliances with which we successfully engineered this great victory at the apex of our complex national politics to put the Urhobo nation in its place of preeminence, pride and duty in national affairs.
12.0 Many thanks to President Muhammadu Buhari who has shown fairness to us. Without his support it would have been impossible for me to win the leadership contest. Mr. President has also appointed Olorogun Festus Keyamo, SAN, the Minister of State, Niger Delta Ministry and Olorogun Bernard Okumagba, the new Managing Director of the Niger-Delta Development Corporation (NDDC). Many more Urhobo sons and daughters are expected to be appointed in due course.
13.0 Aladja is now linked to the national rail network after 34 years that the project was abandoned. Retirees of Delta Steel Company are now being paid their entitlements after over several years of neglect.
14.0 It is my hope that with more strategic thinking, focus and actions, the Urhobo nation will never make the costly mistake of shying away from its rightful place in our nation again. But having attained this new level in national politics, how are we going to consolidate on what we have achieved for the good of our people?
15.0 History shows that when we stand together, there is no obstacle we cannot overcome in our determined effort to improve the lives of the people. So, at this time, Urhobo must unite and show resolve, if we are to consolidate on the progress we have made. And there is no other place to begin this process than our umbrella body, the Urhobo Progressive Union, UPU which is factionalised at this moment.
16.0 Mr. President, since the division in UPU in January 2017, I have stayed away because I believe in one, indivisible UPU worldwide that is non-aligned to partisan political interests. But the time has come to speak out and find a solution to this ugly development. Today’s realities of obvious sponsored selfish aggressive partisan political attacks on the soul of the UPU, cannot help the Urhobo nation in any meaningful way whatsoever. It is high time we called ourselves to order in the interest of peace, unity and accountable governance in Urhoboland. Let all, wholly and unconditionally, embrace peace, reconciliation and leadership retooling of the UPU. This task demands a new spirit of patriotism, courage and responsibility. Nothing more, nothing less.
17.0 Now let me address the issue of education which is the subject of this year’s convention.
18.0 Education in every sense is one of the fundamental factors of development. No country can achieve sustainable economic development without substantial investment in human capital. Education enriches people’s understanding of themselves and world. It improves the quality of their lives and leads to broad social benefits to individuals and society. Education raises people’s productivity and creativity and promotes entrepreneurship and technological advancement. In addition, it plays a very crucial role in securing economic and social progress and improving income distribution.
19.0 I must remark here that the giant strides we achieved in education and human capital development was the result of the desire of the UPU to pull Urhobo people from obscurity. It was that zeal that inspired the establishment of Urhobo College, Effurun in 1948. It also went further to award scholarship to deserving Urhobo persons who went overseas to acquire university degrees. It is to the credit of the UPU that the first two Urhobo graduates, Macneil Gabriel Ejaife (graduated in 1948) and Ezekiel Norucho Igho (graduated in 1950), were also the earliest beneficiaries of the scholarship scheme. They returned home to respectively become Principal and Vice-Principal of Urhobo College.
20.0 The founding of Urhobo College gave Urhobo youth the opportunity for secondary education. Its efforts complemented that of Government College, Ughelli which opened in 1945. When the University of Ibadan matriculated its first set of students in 1948 an Urhobo, Victor Erereko Ovie-Whiskey of blessed memory, was one of them. By the 1950s, more Urhobo had become graduates while the golden moment came in 1964 when two Urhobo, Frank Ukoli and Robinson Imishue, obtained doctorate degrees. Mudiaga Odje followed in 1965 and since then there has been no looking back.
21.0 While we have made considerable advancement in education, we must pause and think of many of our children and youth who are out of school for one reason or the other. We cannot run away from the reality that Urhobo children are among the 10.5 million Nigerian children the United Nations statistics claim to be out of school.
22.0 A balanced education system promotes not only economic development, but productivity, and generates individual income per capita. Its influence is noticeable at the micro level of an individual family and as Urhobos, we cannot be indifferent. The quality of education could be improved significantly by investing heavily in education. This investment will not only provide the necessary tools and equipment for learning but will also facilitate the recruitment of very competent teachers.
23.0 Again we need to create horizontality between schools, research centres on the one hand, and industry on the other, by changing the focus of our research institutes and universities to what our industries need. Over the years only a very negligible percentage of universities’ and research institutes’ discoveries have found expression in our industries.
24.0 All Urhobo children should have access to affordable and quality education that develops their talents, unleashes their unique potential and prepares them for a successful life. This calls for action and that is why I am so pleased with the theme of this year’s convention.
25.0 Urhobo’s development through education cannot be taken in isolation. Whatever we do must be in line with the policies and standards of both the Delta State and Federal governments, as the case may be, else we may end up training, within the Urhobo enclave, manpower that may be unaccepted outside Urhoboland.
26.0 The Buhari administration is committed to repositioning Nigeria’s workforce for the modern technological age through significant focus, resource and, where necessary reform, in tertiary and technical education. We will accelerate investments in primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare programs, interventions and infrastructure.
27.0 Urhobo land accounts for over 10% of Nigeria’s crude and possibly more than 40% of that of Delta State. At this broader (oil economy) level, we need to keep encouraging schooling in this area, including particularly, research on what other uses oil can be put now that the world is fast moving away from oil. We must learn from the fate of coal as a source of energy. This is why we fought vigorously for the law establishing the Federal University of Petroleum Resources (FUPRE), Effurun in Uvwie.
28.0 FUPRE is the first Petroleum University in Africa and the sixth of its kind in the World. As a premier institution of Oil and Gas in Africa, FUPRE has the mandate to provide world class education, training, research, consultancy and extension services for the petroleum and allied sectors. It was established on March 27, 2007 by a special Presidential directive and was subsequently signed into law on October 17, 2017 by the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigerian following the passage of its bill sponsored by me.
29.0 The law mandates the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF), ministry of Petroleum and Nigerian content and developmental and Monitoring board (NCDMB) to be part of the funding of the University by remitting 2% of annual budget to the University. But these three funding agencies are yet to agree or make any commitment to fulfill the law. The non-implementation of the FUPRE law with regards to funding poses an existential threat to the university as it makes it impossible for the University to be able to attract best brains for training of personnel for the Oil and Gas industry.
30.0 FUPRE must not die. I will take up this challenge and ensure full implementation of the FUPRE law as soon as possible.
31.0 Urhobos should also make investments in the education to boost access to good education by our people as government alone cannot do it. The philanthropists among us should consider scholarship foundations to encourage students to gravitate towards these identified areas.
32.0 We also need to intensify efforts to benefit from the scholarship programmes of oil and related firms operating in Urhoboland. For example, it was reported that in 2018, about $5.9 million or N1,805.99 Billion was deployed by Shell Petroleum Development Company Joint Venture with the Federal Government, together with the Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCo).
33.0 I therefore will continue to join other patriotic
political leaders in our country to give our unflinching support to President
Muhammadu Buhari and his cabinet to move Nigeria forward based on the Next
Level national development and growth agenda.
34.0 Thank you for your attention as I wish us all fruitful deliberations. God bless you all.
HE, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege
Deputy President of the Senate.”