As the President-General Urhobo Progress Union (UPU), Olorogun Moses Taiga has given effective leadership to his kinsmen, writes Shola Oyeyipo
In the history of the Niger Delta region, there has been various individuals that took up the responsibility of leadership on behalf of their people, who they believe have not had a fair share in the scheme of things in Nigeria.
Not a few Nigerians will forget the names of the likes of nationalist Justice Udo Udoma who pioneered the COR State (Calabar Ogoja Rivers) Movement-the first organised group for self determination in Nigeria, soldier and pioneers of minority rights activist in Nigeria, Major Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro; environmental activist, and winner of the Right Livelihood Award and the Goldman Environmental Prize, Kenule Beeson “Ken” Saro-Wiwa; foremost Ijaw and Niger Delta leader, septuagenarian leader of Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Chief Edwin Clark; humanitarian worker and rights activist, Chief Rita Lori-Ogbebor and a host of other prominent personalities who at the risk of paying the ultimate price, spoke out loud on the plights of their people.
One of such persons in contemporary Nigeria is the President-General, Urhobo Progress Union (UPU), Olorogun Moses Taiga. He emerged president-general of the highest Urhobo umbrella body after traditional rulers, community heads and members of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the UPU organised an election that ended the ambition of factional leader, Chief Joe Omene.
After all the intrigues that charactetised the UPU leadership tussle in December 2016 and Moses Taiga emerged president-general, unopposed, Chief Okotie Osiobe became the First Deputy President-General and Capt. Anthony Onoharigho became second Deputy President-General. Abel Opudi became treasurer, while Mr. Abel Oshevire was voted Publicity Secretary with Dickson Oyovwe as his assistant. The position of assistant legal adviser was won by Omovie Itebu. And ever since, their leadership has never relented in putting issues concerning the Urhobo nation, the Niger Delta and Nigeria at large in proper perspectives.
A die-hard advocate of restructuring, Taiga has particularly been disturbed about the activities of herdsmen who he accuses of slaughtering people like animals. He has insisted the federal government must abandon the proposal to establish cattle colonies for herdsmen, maintaining that “no inch of land in Urhobo nation will be ceded for that purpose.”
Leading Urhobo nation, which spreads across 24 kingdoms in eight local government areas of Delta State, was relatively easy for Taiga, a multifaceted businessman, humanitarian, philanthropist and patriot, who exemplifies the best of an old tradition of Urhobo leadership.
Since his leadership took strong footing among his people, he has intervened in various capacity. Apart from calling on President Muhammadu Buhari and all other relevant authorities to wade in on the escalating herdsmen menace across Urhoboland, he has continually bargained a better deal for the Urhobo nation.
He is predominantly preoccupied with how his Urhobo ethnic group would take its pride of place in Delta State and in the country. He always corrected the insinuation in some quarters that Urhobo land is part of the territory being claimed by Biafra secessionists and he advocates empowerment for youths and women.
Top on his agenda as UPU President-General, according to him, is, to honour the second President General of UPU, Chief Mukoro Mowoe, who led the association from 1931 to 1948 before his death by setting up the Mukoro Mowoe University. The process of the formation of the university is already in top gear under the supervision of Prof. S. W. E. Ibodje.
The second project is to renovate the Urhobo College, the old school that produced eminent Urhobo people like the Orodje of Okpe, including Tiaga himself, but which is now a ghost of itself. Thirdly, rather than having Urhobo children carry out only menial jobs, UPU under his watch proposes to create opportunities for Urhobo youths to learn technical trades. Hence the pressure on government to fix the two technical schools in Urhobo land.
His fourth agenda is to set up a micro finance bank to cater for the ever hard working Urhobo women, so that they can borrow money and also pay back as a way to empower them.
Apart from leading his Urhobo kinsmen, Taiga is a renowned member of the Rotary Club and the District Grand Master of Grand Lodge of Freemasonry, Nigeria. Freemasonry, according to him, is a worldwide organisation – an association that teaches people the spirit of brotherliness, being kind to one another, teaches the truth, teaches faith, and teaches hope and charity.
“It is the oldest and largest fraternal organisation in the world and also a social and educational group well known for promoting the values of honesty,” he said in an interview with a national daily recently.
A thorough bred Urhobo man, who had all his primary and secondary school education in his native homeland, he is known to have deployed the combination of his native knowledge and academic understanding to play effectively in a complex business world.
He eventually graduated from the University of Lagos with a degree in Accounting and started a career as a Finance Administration Officer in the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lagos. He was to start work as an Investment Executive at the Nigerian Industrial Development Bank (NIDB) but from there he proceeded to study leave in the United Kingdom in 1973. There he qualified as a Chartered Accountant.
On his return to Nigeria in 1980, he joined a major American oil exploration and production company, Philip Oil Company, Nigeria where he worked for 24 years. While there, he rose rapidly and by the time he retired in 1997, he had acquired significant level of experiences because he had moved from being the Finance Director, Managing Director to become Vice Chairman and Chief Executive of the company. He later become the Chairman, EXCON Group of Companies that has a wide range of business interests in oil, shipping and finance.
But despite his huge business successes, Tiaga is indisputably attached to the Urhobo nation. And at every opportunity, he canvasses positions that are considered most favourable to his clan and the Niger Delta region as a whole.
A recent interaction with newsmen at his Ikoyi resident presented him with another opportunity to expatiate on some salient areas of concern for Urhobo people and the Niger Delta at large.
Asked how he thinks the Urhobo nation stands in the present Nigerian situation, Taiga who noted that issues of concern as relate to the Urhobo nation are outside the immediate political spectrum, pleaded that the current heated temperature in the polity is common place but that Nigerians should only learn to be patient with each other.
However, what is important to him is that President Buhari should consider implementing the 16 points agenda, sent to him by Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) through his vice, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo.
“The agenda called for the old parliamentary system of government in addition to the politics of it. We also called for the economic system of every region to produce and retain larger proportion of what it produced and contribute a portion to the centre. This is what we called for.
“We have said we will support any party and government that would do what the Urhobo nation wants. That is, we have our requirements that are well articulated. Once any government is aligned with us on what we want, it will get our support.
“One of the things we want is devolution of power. That is, there should be proper federal system where there is the federal government with defined power and the regions. In our presentation on restructuring, we are even suggesting for a part time legislature. Because that was what it was before. Full time legislature is a waste of money and resources. And that devolution of power should be coupled with power to retain your economic products,” he said.
To him, the clamour for restructuring is not limited to minority groups because even “The Yoruba and Ibo are major tribes and all of them, including the middle belt are calling for restructuring. I am a member of the South-south movement and we are in link with the Yoruba, Ibo and the Middle Belt. It is therefore not correct to say it is only the big boys who are saying no restructuring. In fact, nobody is saying Nigeria should not be restructured,” he maintained.
“If the rulers are sincere and in compliance with the 16 points agenda of PANDEF submitted to the president in December 2016 and they start implementing it one after the other, whether there is an overlap before the election or it is concluded before it does not mater. We met with other groups across the country and they all adopted the agenda.
“If there is sincerity of purpose and they start implementing the 16 point agenda now whether it is completed before the election or not, it will overtake whoever wins the election.
“I urge the government to implement what was considered useful for this nation. What I will not agree with is that the parliament has the constitutional ability to redefine restructuring, no. Restructuring as contained in that 16 point agenda is outside the parliament. So, we should start implementing the agenda.”
Not only did he assure the people that the Urhobo nation and their other brothers in the Niger Delta region are resolved to throw their weight behind any political party and presidential candidate that is positively disposed to restructuring Nigeria, he feels there are areas where President Buhari can immediately intervene to give his people a better deal.
“I am calling on the president, putting the population and the geographical size of the Urhobo nation into consideration; we should be entitled to more than three representation at the federal level. There was a time we had more. For example, my own House of Assembly used to have two and my area Udu Ugheli North and South used to have two members at the federal house but when it was all reorganised by the military, the numbers was reduced but we are reenacting the concept that we are too big in size to have only three representations.
“We are over 53 per cent of Delta State and yet we are getting 30 per cent of the 19 members of House of Representatives,” he contended.
On the federal government proposed N170 billion expenditure to build ranches for herdsmen, his comment was: “The issue is not the allocation of funds but that my people are farmers and herdsmen have come to drive our people from their lands with guns. There is a market we have at Ugheli. The herdsmen moved in there and people have been calling me that if we don’t drive them away the market will not operate.
“So, if government acquires land and they decide to spend money for grazing that is their decision but what my people are saying is that we don’t have land for grazing. We have land for farming and we should be allowed and protected to farm.”
He said rather than compelling people to give up their land for grazing, the appropriate solution is to embark on forestation as seen in other parts of Africa, particularly in Rwanda.
It is for these reasons and other sundry issues that he thumbs up for Southern and Middle Belt Elders’ Forums for sustaining the debate on restructuring in national discourse. He is certain that where the will of the people is trample upon, the electorate will determine who will subsequently lead them in 2019.
Interestingly, despite his conspicuous and fanatical commitment to emancipating his people, Taiga has not really had a smooth sail as UPU leader. He has been viciously challenged that he is not an Urhobo man, because according to them, it is his mother, and not his father, that is Urhobo. This is besides other affronts Olorogun Taiga has been accused of.
Apparently, some forces contending with Taiga over his emergence as UPU leader said as the son of the respected Joseph Taiga Zeze, is an Ijaw man from Kiagbodo.
But the simplest response to that by pro-Taiga commentators has been that the notion that somebody’s father must be Urhobo for such person to be Urhobo has no basis in Urhobo history, heritage, tradition or culture, because in Urhobo, women have equal right of inheritance to their father’s property with their male siblings and many enterprising Urhobos in history as well as those alive today who have contributed greatly to the development of the land are Urhobos through what ultimately turns out to be a maternal line.
Another argument is that going by the Nigerian constitution, a person is a citizen of this country by birth, if either of his parents, male or female is a citizen of Nigeria or, at any rate, a member of any community indigenous to Nigeria.
For some others, even if indeed his father is an Ijaw from Kiagbodo or anywhere else, Taiga should stand his ground and insist it is enough that his mother is Urhobo for him to be fully and authentically Urhobo.
Their argument is premised on the fact that he never identified as anything other than an Urhobo man. And as such, their plea has been that as Nigeria approaches the 2019 polls, Urhobos had better closed ranks and rally round the leadership of our umbrella platform, the UPU, under Taiga rather than make the coming election an opportunity to further disuniting the nationality.