Obrikogho Uloho:Family Threatened to Disown Me if I Married a White Woman
Chief Obrikogho Miller Uloho is undoubtedly the foremost Estate Surveyor practising in the South-South zone of Nigeria. A foundation member of the Nigeria Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers, he turned 90 years on the ninth day of the ninth month this year. Yet his passion for the profession that brought him wealth, national recognition and peace of mind, has not waned. Although he has retired to his homestead, Ughelli in Delta State, he still oversees the activities of his firm, Uloho and Company spanning Edo, Delta and Rivers States. Sometime in December, family members from far and near, friends and professional colleagues will gather at his expansive Ughelli country home to celebrate his 90th birthday. Chief Uloho sat down with Sylvester Idowu to reflect on his 90 years on earth. Excerpts:
What is it like celebrating 90th Birthday?
I believe that I am blessed. As a Christian, you are aware that it is said that the lifespan of a man is three scores and 10, that is 70 years. I have crossed 70 and I have added 20 to that which I considered to be special blessing on me. So I am looking forward to that great day of celebration in December because the actual date of my birthday is September 9, 2022. That date, 9/9 is a special date but my children and well-wishers felt it will be more convenient for them to celebrate it in December. That is why we fixed 17th of December 2022 for the celebration, although on the 9th of September I got a lot of congratulatory adverts in various newspapers. I am grateful to God. I am excited and looking forward to the actual celebration.
Sir at 90, you still look energetic, you are not using walking stick. What is the secret ?
You are not fair if you say am looking energetic. I am energetic! First, it is the grace of God. Then, I think it is the style of life because my father was only 54 years old when he died. Your lifestyle contributes to how long you will live, apart from accidents and so forth. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink and I eat my food with moderation and I don’t over overfeed . You will be surprised that at 90 my Blood Pressure is 120/80. So I don’t worry too much about anything. I take things as they come. I eat moderate food. I don’t drink and I don’t smoke. I smile at everybody. I have no enemies. I think that must be the secret of my looking young.
Can you give us a peep into your background. When and where you were born? How was your growing up like?
I am Urhobo by tribe. I belong to the royal family of the Great Ughelli Kingdom and you know Ughelli system is promogenitious system of kingship, from father to first son and Uloho’s father was the second son so he couldn’t be the king. His elder brother became the king, the second son became the Iyase or the prime minister of Ughelli kingdom. So that’s why we belong to the royal house. I was born in Ughelli but at age 5 I was taken to Warri by my uncle who brought me up in Warri. So, I am an Ughelli indigene but a Warri person by upbringing. I was in Warri, grew up there till I started elementary school there. I attended Government School Warri, then Government College in Ughelli. That was the time I came to Ughell. I was not known in Ughelli, until the time I came to Government College. After Government College Ughelli, in those days by the time I finished writing my school certificate, Labour Department sent me an invitation asking me to report at Ibadan in December 1957 for a job.
I went to Ibadan, went through the interview and I got the job. I was employed as the Inspector of Land in the Ministry of Land and Housing. I was then planning to study Architecture or Engineering abroad but unfortunately I lost my father on February 25th, 1958, barely a year and few months after my school certificate. So, I gave up the idea of going abroad and decided to settle down. I resolved that if I want to live well, I have to work hard. I was working under the land office, which qualification is that you must get qualified as an Estate man. That was how I developed interest in Estate management. The only place they were offering Estate Management in Nigeria then was the old Nigeria College of Arts, Science and Technology, Enugu campus. So I worked hard, gain admission to that Institute. It was only 25 people that were admitted every year and out of the 25, five were reserved for special area. Twenty were open to everyone including the area they reserved the five for. My belief, was that if it is even one person while should it not be me? So I worked towards it and was lucky I got an admission to study Estate Management in Nigeria College, Enugu campus. And of course, I got western region scholarship. Not only that, the ministry where I worked needed me on completion of my studies, so they added in-service. So I was a fulltime scholar of Western Region Government and at the same in-service as far as Ministry of Land and Housing was concerned. So, when I have my full bursary as a full time scholar, I was also getting my salary. So I lived well. I therefore studied well and ended up in Britain. I completed my course in the College of Estate Management, London in 1964.
By the nature of my studies, I have to do two-year industrial training. So I have two options to do my two years industrial or do my two year studies before two year industrial which would have taken four years. But if you are hardworking you can compress the 4 years into two years, which was what I did, That means that you have to go to the office, do your IT, take some time for your meal then you go back to the class. I was attached to Greater London Council, the (Violation Department of Greater London Council) and I worked there till 12. Close by 12, went to the restaurant, had my meal and by 2’0Clock I was in the College of Estate Management, and I went for my studies from 2pm to 8pm. By 8pm I find my way home, make meals then slept, very early in the morning I was up to get ready to go to the council to do my IT. So that was the routine and at the end of it all by the time I passed my final exams at the College of Estate Management, I have also completed my two years industrial training.
Before then, I got a letter from Ibadan congratulating me that a new region has been created, to which I now belonged and that they will continue with their scholarship but that at the end of it all I should not come to Ibadan again that but report at Benin, the capital of the new Midwest Region.
By 8th of January 1965, I got my election as a Chartered Surveyor of Great Britain, which qualifies me to practice real estate landed profession, anywhere in the world. So today, I am a Chartered Surveyor of Great Britain and when I returned to Nigeria, those of us who were pioneers in this profession came together and set up what is known today as Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyor and Valuers. So I am foundation member of that body.
Upon your return to Nigeria, what step did you take? Did you return to the ministry?
Yes, once you had the scholarship, you are bonded in those days to serve the government for five years before you are free. When I returned, the Ministry of Land and Housing knew they needed me so they also gave me in-service. So, I had the moral and legal obligation to, not to just return to Nigeria, but to also go to the Ministry of Land and Housing. I could just have decided not to go and face the consequences but I returned to the Ministry and I started my work as a full Lands Officer from where I got my promotions.
So at what point did you leave the Ministry of Lands and Housing?
I worked from April 1965 to 1970. Then I had my five years bond. Having completed the five years bond with them, then I was free to leave without any penalties. Then I made up my mind to leave the civil service and start my professional practice. So by September 1st 1971, I resigned. I did not give one month notice but paid one month salary in lieu of notice and I left to set up my professional practice under the name of Uloho and Co, a firm of Estate Surveyors and Valuers located In Benin
I commend the Western Region Civil Service. It was the best I have ever seen in the world. Throughout my stay in Nigeria and Britain, I never for one day reminded them of my allowance at the end of the month. It was there and when they transferred me to the then Midwest Region, they did not forget me. They wrote to me that when I finish, I should not come to Ibadan but go to Benin. They paid all my allowances. I lived like a Lord there in UK up to the last day. They sent me my ticket to return to Nigeria by air without reminding them one day. I commend the Western Region Civil Service but I don’t know what it is now.
What was your experience like to set up Uloho and Company?
It was not easy. I knew I was taking a leave into to somewhere I am not sure of my regular income as was guaranteed as a civil servant. It was not easy but at the same time as I was leaving, a very close friend of mine, who was an engineer in Shell Marketing Company was constructing a filling station in Warri where I grew up and he said that I should apply as one of the people to manage the filling station, and I listened to his advice and applied and it was given to me. So at the time I was setting up my practices, I called my younger brother who is now in the United States to join me and he was the one running the filling station while I had time to build up my professional practice. The two took place the same time. My brother was helping me, the little income from there sustained me and my family and I just told you my professional practice did not take off in time. I remembered the first brief I got was about oil spillage to make a claim against Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), after how many years since 1972 to this time I have not been paid that fees, because it was an agreement that when they pay the compensation, they will pay me. The lawyer through whom I got this job keeps on telling me it has not been paid until I gave up. It was not easy but after some time I pulled through.
I started getting jobs because by the time I finished with the civil service, I was in charge of all the State Land and I was renting houses in the new Midwest. By that time, I got in contact with a lot of big people and property owners. And when I resigned they were very excited because of the way I dealt with them, they decided to patronize me so they started using my company. But before then, little was known of the practice of Estate Surveyor and Valuers. They all relied on government valuers. Government will decide what to pay you, but when we started private practice. It was not easy. After some years, the practice took off. So I have no cause to regret leaving the civil service .
Sir your firm is one of the notable firms in the Estate Management business and what brief would you consider as your breakthrough?
As I have told you I am one of the foundation members of the Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers and very few people were senior to me but it was not easy. The breakthrough came in the mid-1970s. The military government acquired all the schools in the states and then the proprietors ran to me, because many of them knew me, to prepare their claims against the government which I did successfully and that was the beginning of my breakthrough and then the government too started giving me a lot of assignments.
The military were probing some people and they wanted to know more, so they brought me in. I was carrying out valuation, representing people. After sometime, I was picked by the Federal Government as one of the 11 men in a panel called Land Use Panel. Many of us were picked from the country – lawyers, accountants, geographers to determine, look critically into the land tenure system of Nigeria and to come out with a recommendation of how we should be able to settle the problem with the land tenure system. It was under Obasanjo Regime in 1977 and I was a member of the 11-man committee. After months of diligence, visiting all the traditional rulers in Nigeria, we went to Kano. We were locked up there to write our report. After writing our report, there was a majority report and a minority. Ten of us agreed that the land tenure system of Nigeria was interwoven with the tradition and customs of the Nigeria. So it should not be tampered with it. We made useful recommendations to solve the problem of land tenure system in this county. We came up with that but only one man wrote a minority report saying that government should go and take over all the land and when we finished the report, the federal government circulated all the reports to all the 12 states for their comments and I believed that the comments were favourably in support of the majority report but government got a wind, that the states were backing the majority report and because they had their own agenda on what they wanted to do, they just went ahead to promulgate the Land Use Decree of 1978 unifying the whole land system so that government can take over all land .
I think this was meant to bring the southern tenant system in line with that of the north. Olusegun Obasanjo was the head of state but Musa Yar’Adua was handling the affairs. Years after, when I met with the man who wrote the minority report , I said you had your way, government have taken over freehold of all the land in the country and what is your feelings? The man said, I must confess, I did not know it was going to be like that. He now regrets his coming up with his minority recommendation. You can see that Nigeria has created more problems in the land tenure system in this country than what it was and they put the 1978 decree into the constitution before handing over to civilians, so that we cannot remove it and it is creating more problems now.
Let’s look into your family now, when did you marry and how many children do you have?
Having lost my father very early, I made up my mind that until I am qualified and get a good job, good home, I will not get married. That was my pledge but when I got to Britain, something happened. I fell in love with a Manchester girl, I sent a letter to my family that I wanted to get married but my family refused that they will not allow me to get married to a white girl. I was threatened that if I did I should not only change my name but I should not come back home. I told the English girl and she accepted my family’s stance.
But when I came back, I got a job and was living very comfortably, it was then I met my wife and got married and today I have 10 children, four boys and six girls. But do you know the interesting thing? My younger brother who helped me to manage the filling station before going to America to study ended up marrying a white woman. Even my own daughter I sent to Britain ended up marrying a white man, the same opportunity I was denied but I am very happy for them because they have three children each.
Do you have only one wife?
No. After marrying my wife in Warri, 12 years later, I got married to a second wife. The first wife, Mukoro Mowoe’s daughter has six children and the second one from Isoko has four children.
After 90 years, do you feel fulfilled?
What do I need again? I pity those who rely on pensions. I am more than fulfilled. I am very comfortable. What do I need again? I have everything. I have good cars, drivers, cook and housekeeper. Not one, two, three cars, I have them. I eat what I want to eat and my children are backing me up.
Looking back now, is there anything you ought to have done that you did not do?
I don’t think so. That’s a million naira question. Apart from my professional practice, I told you I have some investments. I have a hotel and also a managing partner of Uloho and Co in Benin. I got married, trained all my children. They are all graduates and they are living well. I have settled for community service. Now I am the most senior chief in Ughelli Kingdom I don’t think I have any cause to complain. That will be unthankful to God.
If you look at the era in which you grew up and now, do you think there are a lot of changes?
There are a lot of changes. But the way I look at it is that, we should not look at Nigeria in isolation of what is happening in the world. We are too much in a hurry. We are the architect of our misfortunes. People go abroad and see good roads and others. People worked there to enjoy. They should come back home and replicate same. We are not being fair and people have misruled this country.
Also, people are more knowledgeable today. You cannot tell a child sit down there without that child not questioning you why. So globally, things have changed. These days there is lack of respect for elders, lack of respect for tradition. Everything has deteriorated. So it is left for us to see what we can do.
Late Gamaliel Onosode was your very close friend. When he died, you felt really bad?
Yes, he was a fellow Ughelli man. I felt bad and I still miss him. We attended the same Government College, Ughelli together. When he was the President General Worldwide and I was the Vice President. My hands were full. Apart from my professional practice, my hands were full with community service. He was an Ughelli man. When he was down and was abroad, we were communicating. I still miss him but we can’t query God. We must also accept that death leaves a painful memory.
You are so passionate about Government College Ughelli?
Do you know what? In my hotel in Warri, I told them that any government college activities taking place there should be free and whenever I am in the office and if somebody come and say he is from Government College, let him come in and I will attend to him. Right now, I am developing a park in Government College Ughelli. The fence you see around Government College today I initiated it. I am also serving Rotary and my community services.
What messages do you have for the younger ones in your profession?
They should tap the resources in the profession but the unfortunate thing is that the young ones are too much in a hurry. There are good ones but too many bad ones. My advice is that they should be patient and professional. They should be knowledgeable people in order for them to live a comfortable life and not to scam people.