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Convention Report

Itsekiri in the United States as well as other parts of the world attended the 14th Annual National Convention of Ugbajo Itsekiri USA Incorporated at the Hilton DFW Lakes Executive Conference Center, 1800 Highway 26 East, Grapevine, TX 76051-9641. Centered on the premise of reviving the most important Itsekiri resource, the Itsekiri homeland, the event, themed “Unlocking Our Resources – Habitation of Our Homeland 2,” took place from Friday, September 2, 2011 to Sunday, September 4, 2011. For the second straight year, allotment was made for a children and young adults’ forum, providing opportunity for the youth to contribute their own ideas to the convention. The event ended with a Banquet/Fund-raising dinner, which featured cultural displays and other entertainment.
 
The convention kicked off with a cocktail reception followed by the children’s and young adults’ events on Friday, September 2, 2011. On its resumption on Saturday, September 4, 2011, teams deliberated and proposed ideas on Healthcare, Education and Infrastructure and Empowerment. This session, the day’s first, concluded with a town-hall-style assembly featuring questions and answers. A fund-raising dinner later that evening served as an appropriate crescendo for the events on the second day. On Sunday, September 4, 2011, a sight-seeing tour of Dallas, TX, highlighted by a visit to the site of the November 22, 1963 assassination of Mr. John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the thirty-fifth president of the United States of America and a rendezvous at the residence of the president of the host regional association, Mr. E. Goddey Ejuwa, and his family served as a fitting finale.
 
Friday, September 2, 2011
 
The Publicity Secretary of Ugbajo Itsekiri USA Inc., Mr. Frederick Edegbele welcomed everyone to the convention and gave an overview of the sessions for that evening. In a paper titled “Ugbajo Youths Involvement in Community Development,” Miss Ofe Ekwejunor-Etchie proposed the idea of forming ‘Ugbajo Youth Connects’ to go on missions to Itsekiri communities in Nigeria. She posited that UYC members will benefit from immersion into Itsekiri culture while sharing their experiences and transferring skills and technical knowledge through interactions with their local peers and performing community services, including cleaning community centers, painting homes, renovating schools, etc. On the issue of the difficulties in learning the Itsekiri language, Misses Irene Joe, Ib Ikhilioju and Juliet Awani highlighted obstacles they encountered while growing up. The gathering pointed to the unhelpful role of parents to impart the language to their children in contrast to the legacy from previous generations. The discussants and other youths expressed their heightened interest in gaining proficiency and commitment to collaboratively apply technology to develop tools to enhance their learning effort. Children aged five to fifteen years then participated in an entertaining quiz competition on the Itsekiri Language, Culture and Customs. The winners, Omawumi Sagay, Eyituoyo Edegbele, and OghoOrtitseWairami Edegbele, were selected for having the highest number of correct responses.
 
Saturday, September 3, 2011
 
The session commenced with a prayer by Madam Rosaline Johnson, a patron of Oma-Itsekiri, Denver, CO and rendition of the Itsekiri anthem by Mr. Robinson Omasan. The session was ably moderated jointly by Mrs. Rose Anne Amoruwa and Mr. Henry Enobabor, a former president of Agura Iwere. 
 
In his opening remark, Mr. Bawo Ayomike, President of Ugbajo Itsekiri USA Inc., reported the sorrowful loss of Mrs. Doris Meyigbemi Eyeguokan, nee Eyengho and Mrs. Victoria Ayu, who were member and patron of the Itsekiri National Association of Washington-Baltimore CMSA Inc., respectively, and Honorable Elliot Kperegbeyi, a staunch supporter of Ugbajo Itsekiri USA Inc. Further, he praised the effort of the president and members of the host regional association for their preparations leading up to the convention. In addition, he commended Mr. Pius Efejuku, the Treasurer of Ugbajo Itsekiri USA Inc. for his indefatigable fund-raising effort in seeking early commitment of donors as Sponsors and thanked donors and sponsors for their generosity and goodwill. Mr. Ayomike notified the gathering that the Warri South Local Government Council had constructed boreholes fitted with solar-powered pumps in three rural Itsekiri communities Ode Itsekiri-Olu, Usele and Orere, since the conclusion of last year’s convention, pre-empting the intention of Ugbajo Itsekiri to site a similar facility in Ode Itsekiri Olu. While lauding the effort of the erstwhile chairman, Mr. Mofe Edema, and his Councilors, and imploring them not to rest on their oars as the communities were in dire circumstances, he challenged and appealed to the other Warri local councils to emulate and demonstrate similar leadership. Similar to the action on providing water, Mr. Ayomike indicated that some altruistic Itsekiris had begun an effort to reverse the odious forestation of Ode Itsekiri Olu, and “entreat[ed] others to do likewise to quicken the reversal of the current deplorable state of our homeland.” He concluded by providing an update on the projects being undertaken by the organization to provide water in Aja-Amita, Aja-Igba, Jakpa and Orugbo, with photographs of the projects in various stages of construction, including the completion in Aja-Igba. 
 
Mrs. Rose Anne Omagbemi Amoruwa reported the spike in applications for the Ugbajo Itsekiri USA Inc. Scholarship program to more than 160 and that the organization had increased the number of annual recipients from five to ten. She announced the names of the current winners, videlicet:
 
  • OMAYONE, Amaju Benjamin, Pharmacy, 400 Level, University of Benin, Benin City
  • TORITSEMOTSE, Temisan Frank, Law, 400 Level, Delta State University, Abraka
  • IWERE, Yemi Choice, Biochemistry, 100 Level, University of Benin, Benin City
  • AKUIRENE, Temituokpe Joshua, Anatomy, 300 Level, Delta State University, Abraka
  • OLIVES, Marvellous Utseoritselaju, Electrical Engineering, 100 Level, Federal Universityof Petroleum Resources, Effurun
  • IGBIAYE, Tetsoma, Mass Communication, 300 Level, University of Benin, Benin City
  • OYON, Joy Abiekunogho, Linguistics, 100 Level, University of Port Harcourt, Port Harcourt• TENUMAH, John Gbateminigin, Plant Biology, 300 Level, University of Benin, Benin City
  • EBROHIMI, Frederick Omagbitse, Theater Arts, 300 Level, University of Benin, Benin City
  • EDDAH, Kennedy, Education Economics, 100 Level, University of Port Harcourt, Port Harcourt
She stated that these recipients receive an annual stipend of $500 (US$ Five hundred only), which is automatically renewable annually as long as the students maintained the requisite performance and presented their transcripts as verification.
 
Next, the convention broke into three sections to deliberate on Healthcare, Education and Infrastructure and Empowerment.
 
Led by Dr. Rosebel Efejuku as moderator, the team on Healthcare proposed 1) Collection of eyeglasses for recycling and use in Itsekiri communities, 2) Conducting education and awareness campaign to promote healthy living and preventive care on Malaria, Diabetes, Hypertension, etc. and 3) Organizing healthcare missions through collaboration with other non-governmental agencies that perform similar functions. 
 
The Education Committee, moderated by Messrs. Fred Boyo and Toju Ekwejunor-Etchie, recognized the value of education as a tool for social engineering in the development of human resources. The group enumerated a number of challenges as the bane of educational progress in Itsekiriland:
 
  • Large students-to-teacher ratios
  • Disinterest in education amongst youths
  • Parents’ inability to pay fees, buy books and other materials
  • Inadequate teacher-remuneration
  • Lack of transportation and poor or non-existent facilities in riverine communities
  • Absence of role models
  • High unemployment rates
The group also proposed both workable and long term solutions. Under workable solutions, it noted that Ugbajo could spearhead an initiative to register pupils and students at the primary/secondary levels; establish a mentoring program beginning with the alumni of Ugbajo’s scholarship awards; provide teacher enumeration and opportunity for professional growth; and, use of the media to raise awareness of the importance and value of education in Itsekiri communities. Long term suggestions included adoption and renovation of schools by Ugbajo regional associations; media campaigns to enlighten and raise the awareness and importance of education; dialogue with policy makers at the local level; sensitizing our youth to take advantage of the amnesty and resettlement of program by the Nigerian government; Improve infrastructure by renovating schools, desks, chairs, etc-with Ugbajo serving as a catalyst while inviting other groups to take the initiative on. 
 
The Infrastructure/Empowerment committee led by Mr. Eworitsemogha Mabiaku and Dr. Ted Iwere, focused on accessibility and sustainability of Iwereland’s physical and geographical terrain. The group proposed building linkages in terms of roads, communication, infrastructures to open up Itsekiri communities to productive economic activities-such as the uncompleted Ode-Itsekiri Bridge and construction of a highway from Koko/Ogheye to Lagos; immediate practical need is to build footbridges to link riverine communities; promote housing development in places like Ugborodo; campaign for the likes of Chevron and other operating companies to embark on housing projects for their itinerant workers with beneficial economic impact to those communities. Ugbajo will not undertake capital intensive projects but seek to bring others in for the initiation and completion of the projects. To empower the people the group suggested micro financing to enable traders, farmers, artisans and small business secure funds to engage in productive activities. In addition, it deemed necessary a re-orienting of Itsekiri officials, resourceful individuals and community leaders, to take ownership and stake in the development of Itsekiri communities by emulating projects such as the water projects and the deforestation of Ode-Itsekiri in other Itsekiri communities.
 
To cap the robust deliberations, a town hall styled Q&A session moderated by Mr. Tunde Johnson was conducted with the president, vice president and secretary for Ugbajo answering questions from the audience. Next, Mr. Goddey Ejuwa, the hosting president gave his vote of thanks speech. Finally, the session came to an end with two announcements- one, recognizing the Edegbele family for their significant contribution towards the hosting of the convention and the other, announcing that the 15th annual convention will be in Denver, Colorado hosted by Oma-Itsekiri Colorado.
 
A Banquet/Fundraising dinner anchored the convention on Saturday evening. The event featured cultural displays with an opening dance by the host-Agura Iwere Itsekiri DFW association. Asthe fundraising continued and guests dined away, Ugbajo announced its 10 scholarship recipients. It also recognized and presented plaque awards to the following: Messrs Omaseye and A.S. Mene, Chair and Secretary of ILF education committee; the Children Omoko Dancers at the 2010 13th Annual Convention in McLean, VA; and, a Post-Humorous award to the Late Mrs. Doris Eyeguokan for her propagation of Itsekiri culture.