SOCIO-POLITICAL ORGANISATION OF THE URHOBO

SOCIO-POLITICAL ORGANISATION OF THE URHOBO

The Urhobo people are one of the largest ethnic groups in the Niger-Delta region of Nigeria. Geographically, they occupy the southern portion of Benin lowland and waterlogged areas of the oil rich Niger-Delta. Urhobo people are found mainly in Ughelli Local Government, in Delta State. They are also in Ethiope, Okpe and Sapele local government areas.

Urhobo people are known for their unique language especially their version of pidgin English, interesting names and culture. Their neighbours include the Isoko, Itsekiri, Bini, Ijo and Ukwani. A large number of Urhobo clans claim to be of Bini origin than of Ijo or Igbo origins.

The environment of the Urhobo people is covered by water bodies, green vegetation, trees and forest. This is why the people engage in riverine activities, like fishing, salt mining, hunting, farming, oil palm and timber production as major economic activities.

The Urhobo political system was based on eldership and age grade. The king of the Urhobo people is called Ovie. The title is believed to be borrowed from the people of Bini. The Ovie carried out priestly, religious, executive and legislative functions. The Urhobo had their traditional religious practices.

They were organized in fragmented or decentralized system. They share a lot in common with the Isoko. The village group, made up of people of common descent represented the largest and most recognized political unit among the Urhobo. The Urhobo were divided into quarters, which were further divided into family compounds.

The council of elders (Ekpako) controlled the administrative affairs of the people. The elders were responsible for taking vital decisions affecting the people. There was also the office of the Otota who was the village spokesman, expected to be a man of good character, sound knowledge of the people’s history and culture, good oratory skills and personality. There was also the office of the Iletu (commander of war), a middle-aged brave man who should be a member of the council of elders.

The age-grade is another important socio-political institution amongst the Urhobo. The Urhobo had a well-organised age grade system for male of different ages such as 12 and 15 years, 15 and 40 years, 40 and 45 years and 55 years above. Each age grade had more specific function, authority and status.

There were also titled positions like the Ohonwonre, Ade and the Okaka. Membership was on the basis of payment of fixed sums, wealth and social status. Among the Urhobo, age, oratory, skills, knowledge of the village customs and traditions were very important in determining individual’s status in the society.