The history and culture of Urhonigbe

The history and culture of Urhonigbe

The history and culture of Urhonigbe


You’ll be shown some sympathy by its citizens if you thought that Urhonigbe community were located in Delta state of Nigeria; because it lies between Agbor, hometown of the governor of Delta State Arthur Okowa, and Abraka, where Delta State University is located. Indeed, every village or town that you encounter on the road between these two towns – Abavo, Oyoko (which has one of the biggest foodstuff markets on the axis), Umutu, Obinomba, Obiaruku, etc. -- is in Delta. But don’t expect forgiveness in this mistaken notion, because all you need to do is get a map, and you’ll see that Urhonigbe, home to the largest rubber plantation in the old Western region, is in Edo State!

Urhonigbe, about 60 miles (about 97 kilometres) from Benin City in Edo State, was founded as a military outpost of the old Benin empire. It soon grew to become a big town, and at the height of its economic prosperity due to the large number of persons who came to swell its population to find jobs in the rubber estate, was second only to Benin in the present Edo South senatorial district.

Then, thanks to the free education programme of the Western region that kicked off in 1955, at about the time the Western Nigerian Development Company (WNDC) established the rubber plantation, there were about 14 primary schools. Two modern schools were added to the list through the efforts of the Catholic and Anglican churches that actually pioneered educational development in Nigeria.

However, for inexplicable reasons, it was only in 1968 that the first high school was established in the shape of Iyekeorhionmwon Community Grammar School (ICGS) to serve the old Iyekeorhionmwon district council area in the present Orhionmwon LGA. It was a big relief for parents who had to send their children to secondary schools in other towns at huge costs.

In 1964, the Urhonigbe potable water scheme that piped water from Ethiope River, whose source on its territory, was commissioned. Before then people relied on wells for their supply of water.

During the First Republic, Urhonigbe was for a brief period, including the years before and shortly after Independence, the headquarters of the district. When the headquarters were moved – under very tense and violent atmosphere -- back to the more centrally located Ugo-Ni’ Iyekeorhionmwon, the buildings and other immovable property of the Council provided the start-up facilities – classrooms, student hotels and playfield -- for ICGS.
The impact of secondary education on the community has been so dramatic. Several of the graduates of the local high would gain admission to Nigerian universities and polytechnics, while a good number found their ways to overseas countries in North America and Europe.

In 1973, a general hospital was established to complement the existing maternity and dispensaries in the provision pf health services.
However, with petroleum displacing rubber – indeed all agriculture-related activities -- Urhonigbe’s economic fortunes plummeted. Abandoning the drudgery of traditional farming, people moved in large numbers to seek employment mostly in the oil industry Warri, Sapele, Port Harcourt; but also in the construction industry that was triggered by the oil boom of the immediate post-civil war years, leading to the phenomenal growth of bureaucracies in Benin City in Benin City and Abudu, arising from the latter’s emergence as headquarters of Orhionmwon LGA following the local government reforms in 1976.
Today, Urhonigbe is a shadow of its former pulsating self. The number of primary schools has reduced, and although a girl’s secondary school and a technical school have swelled the rank of post-secondary schools, these are grappling with intakes to fill their classes. A recent survey revealed that the chances of children living in Urhonigbe gaining admission to high schools through the competitive national common entrance examinations are two out of 10. The majority of Urhonigbe children who are able to gain entrance through competitive processes are those who live in urban areas and have access to improved educational facilities.

In response to the present low standard of education in the community, members of the committee are offering support, an example being the Daniel and Alice Jesuorobo Scholarship Fund (DAFSF). The organization has committed to awarding scholarship to children from poor backgrounds to get a quality education.

Prominent Urhonigbe citizens include Pa Iriabe, a retired director of the Leventis Group; Dr. Peter Eguakun, a former Director of Primary HealthCare in Edo state; Dr. (Mrs. ) Nosakhare Aladeselu, an educationist, gender activist, CEO of African Women Empowerment Group (AWEG) and daughter of the late Benjamin Ikponmwosa (B.I.) Ogbeiwi; Tommy Odemwingie, a former features editor of The Guardian, and an international development expert who has worked with several UN agencies and son of the late senior Okakuo (general in the community’s army, Chief Odemwingie Osemwenkha; the well-known civil society leader activist Felicia Onibon, CEO of Change Managers International Network, who is the daughter of the late Lawrence D. Odiase, who, until his death in 1980, was a director in the Ministry of Defence and is the father; Henry Imasekha, a well-known banker and investor; Adaze Wilson Imafidon, a retired officer of the New York Police; Wilson Ogieva, politician and former commissioner in Edo state; Raphael Irorere, who recently retired from Exxon Mobil; Osaretin Peter Gaius Enogieru, a school proprietor; Osaro Odemwingie, senior political adviser to the Delegation of the European Commision to Nigeria and ECWOWAS; Kingsley Jesuorobo, son of a former chairman of Orhionmwon LGA, an international immigration lawyer Founder, Principal and Managing Partner of Kingsley Jesuorobo & Associates, a Toronto, Canada-based firm of Barristers, Solicitors & Notaries; Tiko Iyamu, a multiple award-winning professor of Information Technology at the Cape Peninsular University of Technology (CPUT), Cape Town; and former Nigerian international footballer Peter Osaze Odemwingie, who played for clubs in Belgium (La Louvière), France (Lille), Russia (Lokomotiv Moscow), England (West Bromwich Albion Cardiff City, Stoke City, Rotherham United) and Indonesia (Madura United).

Despite the loss of grounds on the economic front, the community has managed to hold on to its traditions, including its traditional religious observances, such as the annual Igue and Ekaba festivals; as well as Izeki, the once-in-eight-years rites of passage for graduating from one age group to another.

While Igue is part of the Benin-wide observance, Ekaba is dedicated to the Olokun deity of which Urhonigbe is known world-wide as the shrine that serves as the global headquarters of worship. While Igue features wrestling and activities aimed at cleansing the community, Ekaba is a most colourful dance festival that lasts for all of two weeks, during which period natives take a break from farming, trading and other economic activities. It is also a period of endless feasting and exchange of visits. Izeki is the one festival that draws home the largest number of the members of Urhonigbe community.

Due to its large size in land area, agriculture flourishes in Urhonigbe, with cassava, yams and plantains the major produce. Locals used to dub the community “The food basket of the Nation.” However, it will take massive backward integration efforts for it to live up to the accolade.
In recent times, there has been a wave of private sector investment in the community, the latest been the opening of Urhonigbe Hotel and Suites limited in the town.

Meanwhile, the government of Edo state has commenced the revitalization of Urhonigbe Rubber Estate to the tune of N5.1bn on 2, 3000 hectares, with 200 jobs already created in the planting of the first phase of the project.

The horizon is indeed bright for the prospects of the greatness of Urhonigbe being reenacted. Anyway, given its comparative demographic advantages, Urhonigbe has remained for a long time the heartbeat of the area

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