By Francis Ewherido
About five years ago, the former editor of The Guardian, Abraham Ogbodo, told me he would return to his village once he retired from The Guardian. Retire to the village in your 50s? What will you be doing? Not many people do that, especially in Urhobo Land. I did not take him seriously.
In those days, I remembered that some people who retired and relocated home died not long after and, of course, the predominant story then was that their relatives, who were witches and wizards, donated them in their coven. They were killed, cooked and eaten in the coven (please don’t ask me how). It did not matter that their deaths could just have been as a result of a change of environment or disruption in the routine the body was accustomed to for decades. So, I was wondering what Ogbodo would do to keep busy after over 30 years of active working life.
Ogbodo kept to his words, he has since relocated to his hometown, Agbarha-Otor. His reasons for coming home were compelling. He wanted to engage in advocacy and community engagement. He felt the youths needed a new paradigm. Many of those they saw back home were people, who had nothing yesterday, and a year later, had palatial houses and fleet of cars. Consequently, many of the youths want to be politicians or yahoo-yahoo boys. Ogbodo wants to inculcate in them the virtues of patience and hard work; he wants them to learn that life is like a building, you lay one block at a time. He wants them to discover their purpose and spend the rest of their lives living it happily. He is still on the matter.
When we spoke 10 days ago, he talked about the need for more interventions: He wants more prominent sons of Urhobo to come home to invest. He wants people to set up enduring businesses with good fundamentals and strong corporate governance, so that the businesses can outlive the founders. He wants partnerships, based on integrity and shared vision, so that the institutions can endure. The partnerships will also enable each partner to punch far above what s/he could have done individually.
Last Thursday, Ogbodo’s words reverberated in my mind as I beheld a spectacle in Ovwodokpokpor-Olomu, Delta State. It was the grand opening of a resort and farms. The ultra-modern resort in the heart of a rural setting creates a pleasant contrast that inspires hope. It is a reality made possible by an audacious and courageous spirit; a product of a very creative mind. The venture is a stroll in a rural terrain where even angels would have a rethink before treading (some people have questioned the viability of such a project in a rural setting).
Before Ogbodo relocated back home, an older friend, Olorogun Jacob Diedjomahor, did. After over 30 years spent mainly in Lagos and America, he retired as the exploration manager of one of the top three oil companies in Nigeria. Then he came home to start farming on a very large scale. About two years ago, he started this multimillion naira resort on a 50-acre land in his village, Ovwodokpokpor-Olomu. The grand opening was what took me to Ovwodokpokpor. It is an unbelievable sight and a massive upgrade for the community. Life will never be the same in Ovwodokpokpor.
As I beheld the blend of nature and modernity, I thought of what will happen in Urhobo Land, Delta State and Nigeria, if at least one prominent son or daughter of each village came back home to set up a business that can bring some macro and micro economic transformation to his/her village? As if others were reading my thoughts, speaker after speaker (Ohworode of Olomu, HRM Richard Ogbon-Oghoro 1, Prince Austin Enajemo-Isire, Chairman of NSITF; VME Emmanuel Evue, Olorogun Edoreh Agbah, Engr. Alex Neyin and Engr. Mike Orugbo) spoke along the same line. More investments will bring down the crime rate and improve the standard of living, but most importantly, the young ones in the villages will have new sources of inspiration.
There are many Urhobo sons and daughters outside Urhobo Land, who want to come home to contribute their bit towards making their homeland a better place, but do not feel encouraged by what they see. The issue has gone beyond the fear of witches and wizards. There is a lot of insecurity. One of the speakers spoke about how he abandoned a similar project in his village due to insecurity. Also, some people, who went home to set up businesses in the past were kidnapped. Some regained their freedom and a few unfortunate ones lost their lives. One of the speakers was kidnapped twice in his own local government, but he remains a homeboy due to his love for his people. There was also a man, who came back from the United States to start a business. He was intimidated, harassed, beaten up and illegally detained with trumped up charges by his own people. He lost millions of naira. He has gone back to the US. Will he come back? Time will tell.
Sometimes, the problems come from the immediate families. Your brother, cousin or uncle abroad sends you money to buy a plot of land or build a house for him; you divert the money to personal use. Then, when he asks for progress report, you take photos of other construction sites and send to him. There was a story of one of such people, who came back to Nigeria to see his new property. In an attempt to cover up, the culprit murdered him. I cannot remember the part of Nigeria where this happened.
In our discussions, I have asked Ogbodo about some of the concerns of these people. He feels that people should not wait for the weather to be clear before heading to the farm. He also feels that if everyone shies away, who would change the narrative. All the speakers last Thursday shared the same sentiments. That is why people like Diedjomahor are back home. In the large gathering of people at the opening of the resort on Thursday, the seed of coming back to do something in their communities may have been sown in some of them. This is just inevitable, seeing the splendour of the resort and how it has changed the narrative of Ovwodokpokpor.
But I strongly feel that the kings and the presidents-general of the various kingdoms in Urhobo Land still have a lot to do. The development of a community should be understood to be what it is: deliberate human and physical capacity building. Deve or any form of extortion is a disincentive and should not be tolerated. It is deve that partly crippled Uvwie (Effurun) economy because it led to the exodus of many oil and oil servicing companies. The economy of Uvwie is yet to recover from the exodus. All hands must therefore be on deck to create an enabling environment for those who want to come home to develop their communities.