COMRADE Efemena Kelly Umukoro is the National Press Secretary, Urhobo Progressive Union (UPU). In this interview with our correspondent, ANTHONY ARUGBA he talks about the struggle of the Urhobo nation and way out of the Niger Delta crisis.
How has the journey been so far for the UPU Youth wing?
You cannot talk baout UPU without the parent body led by the President-General, Chief Joe Omene. He is a blessing to the Urhobo nation. We are proud to have a leader who has the interest of the Urhobo people at heart. He is a leader who can make sacrifices to ensure the unity of Urhobo nation. As you know, Urhobo had a little crisis, but by the special grace of God that crisis has been resolved. The Urhobo nation is one and is waxing stronger at the moment.
What would you say are the major achievements of the current administration of the youth wing?
So far, we have been able to expand our tentacles therefore creating branches of UPU. We have gone as far as Edo State; we have also been able to participate in Ghana Urhobo day celebration and inauguration of their branch in Ghana of which our PG youth wing worldwide was present. So, we have been fully involved and right now, I can boldly tell you that UPU is duly represented in almost all the 24 kingdoms of the Urhobo nation.
So far, with the activities of the union, would you say you have met the expectations of the youths?
Of course, we have done that. The UPU is here to fight for the common interest of the Urhobos. For instance, the Ese saga in Bayelsa State, the UPU mobilized because we have our lawyers who went to Abuja to stand for her; we defended an Urhobo girl from a poor background. So, we have been able to do that. Even during the Aladja crisis we were not left out and some other crisis in other areas. We are committed to the Urhobo campaign.
What is the UPU youth wing doing to solve the problem of youth restiveness in the Urhobo nationality?
First and foremost, I love that question. The Urhobo nation is one of the most peace loving ethnic nationalities and also the fifth largest ethnic group in Nigeria. In terms of crime and criminality, the statistics is extremely low. We have actually participated in so many summits. Violence doesn’t solve problem; rather, it increases the problem. As Urhobo youths, we are intellectuals, we believe in calculating and sitting down on a round table to discuss the way forward and not to carry arms against the government. Yes, we have been marginalized, but we have decided to follow due process by channeling our complaints through the appropriate quarters, which is why we came up with the youth summit that is holdings next week. My father will always tell you,’’ never you allow your background to bring your back to the ground.’ We the Urhobos, we love peace. It is not as if we cannot agitate, protest or carry arms, but because we want a united Nigeria. During the youth summit, we are going to discuss issues that borders on how youths can be meaningful to themselves; how talent can create opportunity for every youth. Look at the likes of Okiemute who won West African Project Fame. She never allowed the circumstances of the marginalization of Urhobo people to weigh her down. It is time for the Urhobo youths and youths in this country to begin to think outside the box, you need to think of something meaningful to do. Again, we are coming up with a programme between now and December and will be doing the programme kingdom-by-kingdom. We planned to be chatting with the youths to know their problems, and then proffer solutions. Fighting war does not solve any problem and I believe the Urhobo youths are an example for other ethnic groups in Nigeria to emulate. UPU as an apex body will never carry arms against the government despite the marginalization because that is not the best way to express our grievances. It is better to be productive than to be violent.
You have good plans that will make the union grow to greater heights, what are the challenges confronting the union?
Our greatest challenge is finance. I want you to know that 90 per cent of UPU members make sacrifices because we are not being paid by the government. We sacrifice our own resources to ensure we advance the course of our people. For instance, if we want to bring certain inspirational speakers, can we actually pay their bills? How many of us are financial buoyant to take care of these needs? If the Delta State Government can partner with us in terms of providing us the enabling environment to host our programmes, we will impact more on the union positively. If the government can assist us, then I think we will have everything we need to educate the youths in the Niger Delta region.
Are the elders in the Urhobo nation carrying the youths along in the scheme of things?
Yes. They are doing well in this regard. They gave us the permission to hold the summit which is coming up next week. And at the end, we will come up with a communiqué that will pattern the way things are being done in the Urhobo nation.
How would you assess the contributions of the Senator representing Delta Central in the Senate, Sen. Ovie Omo-Agege in the Urhobo nation?
Honestly, I will say he is doing exceptionally well because there is no person in Delta Central that is not proud of him. For a person who just got to the Senate and has projected three key Bills, we are proud of him because he is a true son of the Urhobo land. We know his intellectual capacity so we voted for him because he is the right choice.
The Niger Delta Avengers are one of the groups sabotaging pipeline installations and facilities, do you think the way they are going about agitating is rational?
No. You cannot be destroying your own property because you have been marginalized. Yes. We have been marginalized, but picking arms against the government is not the way forward. Again, the Federal Government, on their part, should stop using Niger Delta issues to enrich few individuals. Few individuals are benefiting from what the federal government is giving to the region. Over 40million dollars have been pumped into the recreation of the region. What have they done with the money? It is time we ask our leaders in the Niger Delta what they have been doing with our money. When the money comes, they enrich themselves and if we continue in this trajectory, even if the federal government decides to drop one trillion into Niger Delta, with the way things are going, in the next four years, we will still agitate for marginalization. Because the money is not been used for the purpose for which it was disbursed. It is now a regime where you and your boys can handle fire arms, they pay money to you, and you pocket it and go away quietly. The federal government, again, on their part, should respect intellectuals. The UPU is not ashamed to be law-abiding, not at all. Some youths actually insult us on daily basis because we have refused to agitate violently. We can’t do that because we are civilized. We know the law and cannot engage in activities that are morally and legally wrong; we cannot be a party to the destruction of government property. The government should know that over the years, few people are the ones benefiting from the derivation. The region is still impoverished. The people are still hungry.
What is the way out to ensure that the benefits are not enjoyed by few individuals?
Two months ago, Ibe Kachikwu and Ike Clark called for a meeting in order to find a lasting solution to the Niger Delta issues. It is not by paying money to one or two persons for the purpose of amnesty that is not the solution. Let us see meaningful development. Let us look at Ogoni clean-up, how sincere is the federal government? Let money be pumped into the system, let the people see things with their eyes. You don’t need to carry Alfa Jets to protect pipelines, let the government do the needful and we (people of Niger Delta) will protect the pipelines by ourselves. That is the course the Urhobo has being fighting for. Let us start seeing things take shape for good, and the fight will stop and if they refused to stop we will see them as criminals, and as such; we will be the ones to point them to security agencies. If the government can be honest to develop this region, peace will return to the volatile region. We want the government to give the contract to people to execute and if they fail, their names should be published so that we can know those holding back the progress of the region. Let us make Niger Delta, Nigeria Dubai.
What’s your advice to the Nigerian youths particularly the Urhobo youths?
The Urhobo have shown good example over the years. I’m saying this because we have championed the cause of peaceful co-existence. Let other ethnic groups take a cue from Urhobo youths. Though, some persons may want to disagree with us saying,’ that is why they are marginalizing the Urhobos’ because we don’t engage in agitations. Peace is expensive. The peace we have in our hearts cannot be bought. I’m pleading to the Ijaws who are our brothers and other ethnics groups to come together. I ‘m appealing to us to take away our problems; let’s sit down as intellectuals and tell the government that,’ this is our future’ and as youths we are ready to sacrifice our lives to protect this amenities, but let the government be sincere and committed. For instance, I am a father, and for that reason, I’m not thinking of myself but the future of my children. Let us, as leaders, see serving our fatherland as sacrifice; let us shun every form of greed. As youths, I beg every single one of us to utilize whatever talent we have. Forget about that politician that wants you to steal ballot boxes; forget about that politician that remembers you only during elections and if they ask you to carry gun, tell them to put their first born children in front before you carry fire arms. Let us have a mindset change. Let us know that this politicians are using us like pampers. The time has come for us to say enough is enough.