By Oghenekevwe Laba
LAGOS AUGUST 20TH (URHOBOTODAY)-The unity and peaceful co-existence of Urhobo Progress Union, UPU, United Kingdom branch is being threaten by leadership crisis that has been rocking the organization for the past three years. If the crisis is not effectively managed by the leadership of UPU both at the headquarters and in United Kingdom, the existence of the noble organisation in United Kingdom may become a thing of the past.
Facts emerging before Urhobotoday, an online medium revealed that the peaceful co-existence of members of UPU United Kingdom branch is being threaten as a result of leadership crisis which had resulted in two factions with the incumbent President of the Urhobo Progress Union, United Kingdom branch, Chief Okpako Ganigan on one side and Chief Omasoro factions on the other side.
It would be recalled that the crisis had its root three years ago when a Presidential election of the Union alleged to have been won by Chief Omasoro against Ganigan was cancelled due to protest of alleged irregularities and another election was conducted which brought in Ganigan as the current President of UPU United Kingdom Branch. Since then organisation had not known peace.
The latest development which might finally put an end to the existence of the organization in the United Kingdom if not effectively manage is the allegation by opposition group that the election conducted by an electoral body purportedly handpicked by Ganiga on 7th August 2016, is marred with irregularities and is not accepted by majority of the UPU members in United Kingdom. They argued that due democratic process was not followed.
Their argument is that Ganiga disbanded the dissolved the unified electoral committee which majority members of Urhobo Progress Union, All Urhobo Kingdom heads and elders resident in United Kingdom have approved and allegedly replaced it with an electoral committee purportedly handpicked by him.
They protested that if Urhobo Progress Union President General, Chief Joe Omene inaugurates inaugurates the executive whose election was organized by the electoral committee alleged handpicked by Ganiga on the August 26th, 2016 as being peddled, they would boycott being member of Urhobo Progress Union in the United Kingdom and form a parallel independent Urhobo association.
Urhobotoday gathered that in an attempt to execute their threat, the opposition group under the aegis of Urhobo Leaders Forum had scheduled a general meeting for August 28th, 2016, to brainstorm on the way forward. According to our source, the proposed meeting may have to do with their next action should the EXCO which is bringing in Ganiga for second term is inaugurated by UPU President, Chief Joe Omene on the aforementioned date. The invitation letter circulated through email to members was signed by the Secretary of the Urhobo Leaders Forum, Chief Peter Atie.
Speaking to Urhobotoday on phone over the issue, former President of UPU United Kingdom branch, Chief Paul Akpofure who is among those leading the pack of protesters and a close friend of Ganigan as learnt, said it is abnormal and disrespect for other Urhobos in United Kingdom for Ganiga to dismantle a unified electoral body approved by all and re-constituted a new electoral committee contrary and against an earlier decision by the entire Urhobos.
He said it is his opinion and majority of like mind that such action is tantamount to disrupting the peace and unity of the community and breach of the norm of democratic process.
“This undemocratic and deliberate acts of the President are pointers to one single obvious fact which is, he, Chief Emmanuel Okpako Ganiga had no intention to conduct an all inclusive transparent and fair election that would have put an end to a long standing UPU UK crisis in Urhobo Community.
“His action was an attempt to restrict the people from electing their leader and ensure he returns to office through the back door. He foresaw likelihood that if a transparent election takes place he may likely loose. So this is a tactic to stop the people from electing alternative leader of their choice.
“Having reconstituted a new body at the general meeting on July 24th, 2016 against the wish of the people, Ganiga proceeded with the conduct of election in 7th August 2016. He did not give members time to register for the voting process. In accordance with the constitution, the onus of how and when an election should be conducted rest on the electoral committee.
“My taking time to call you today is because of patriotism for my people. My fear is that the unity of the union is being threatened. This is not what Mukoro Mowoe stood for, Salubi fought for, Obahor and other Urhobo leaders stood for. It did not reflect the slogan Urhobo Uvuovo, neither does it reflect the oath of allegiance to the union.
“Let it be on record that the President General of UPU Worldwide, Chief Joe Omene is aware of the fragmentation that existed in UPU UK for the past three years. Let it be on record that prior to the eventual questionable general election of 7/8/2016 in London, the President General, Chief Joe Omene and two key Executive members particularly Acting First Deputy President General and Treasurer of UPU Worldwide, Chief (Evangelist) Mike Ederewhevbe were duly informed with great emphasis on likely consequences should they fail to intervene immediately by ensuring strict compliance with adopted majority decision. Now if indeed and as it factually appears to be why did the UPU HQTRS fail in his Constitutional duties and moral responsibility to ensure the doctrine of brotherhood, love and peace which our Union stands for is upheld? It is a fact that Omene and his EXCO has compromised.
“As a result of this irregular election and compromised of UPU Headquarters, 95% Urhobo resident in United Kingdom will be holding a meeting on August 28th to carry on a new entity as urhobo community in United Kingdom having regards to the passive believe that the President General of UPU in Nigeria had collaborated with Ganigan by virtue of his failure to tow the line of peace and unity. He failed to heed the advise and recommendation put before him by me as the ex-president,” Akpofure disclosed, just as he alleged that despite several appeal by members to the President and his Executive to subject the Unions Account to an Independent Audit Committee in compliance with ARTICLE 19 of their Constitution, the President refused same, thereby committing constitutional breach.
Hear him, “Thus, having established such a fundamental offence against the President whom to the knowledge of all is both a qualified Accountant and Solicitor in United Kingdom, it is my firm believe that a Disciplinary Committee be set up to probe him and if found guilty he should be disqualified from contesting for any future elective position. My position as a financial member with constitutional right cannot become a contentious issue to request for any financial bank statement for verification of any information received. In view of this fact, and having been denied this request, I humbly request through your office copies of Bank Statement for the following period:
A–UPU UK Bank Statement of Two months prior and After UPU UK Convention 2014.
B–UPU UK Bank Statement of One month prior to and Two Months After UPU UK Convention 2015. A simplified Financial Report showing evidence of Authorized Expenditure in line with Union procedures.”
Speaking on the same vein, a member of UPU United Kingdom branch, Dr Sam Egbeniyoko said to their understanding the leadership of the Council of Chiefs and Urhobo clan heads were working together to hold one UPU general election with an independent electoral committee which had been put in place to prepare the electoral register, publicise the election and conduct a free and fair election, adding that its rather surprising therefore that one of the factions had rushed ahead to hold their own election, with 109 electorates in a population of more than four thousand possible Urhobo voters in the UK.
“The question is, what would anyone stand to gain by perpetually dividing our revered UPU body in the UK? Or is it that one of the faction or both cannot subject themselves to a general free and fair UPU election? What are they afraid off?
“It should be pointed that any clandestine, faction, one-sided election will not gain the acceptance and respect of the Urhobo people in the UK. One would therefore appeal to both factions to submit themselves to the electoral process presently being organised by Urhobo Council of Chiefs and Urhobo Clan Heads. Both bodies represent the embodiment of Urhobo culture and tradition and the efforts being made by them to unite the UPU should be appreciated and respected.
“I wish to appeal to Chief Masoro and Chief Ganigan factions to submit the list of UPU members in their register to the independent electoral committee set up by the Urhobo Council of Chiefs and Clan Heads to collate the electoral register in preparation for the general election. People who are not yet registered should be given opportunity to do so by paying their registration fees and dues and in the process raising the awareness and money for UPU. Communications should be sent to all Urhobo clubs/association and Urhobo clan unions to encourage people to register and vote. Anything worth doing, is worth doing well even if it might take a couple of weeks longer.
“Our revered UPU election should not be held in a shadow of secrecy or her leadership emerging from a smoke filled room. Urhobo people want transparency, openness in the election of their leader so that they can give the support he or she needs to paddle the UPU ship.
“We are too small to be divided and a part cannot be bigger than the body. The UPU had existed for more than fifty years and no one or faction should seek to own the UPU here in the UK or seek to divide our revered, long lasting institute,” Sam Egbeniyoko stated.
Reacting to the allegations while speaking to Urhobotoday on telephone, President of Urhobo Progress Union, United Kingdom branch, Chief Okpako Ganigan disputed the allegations describing it as “Cork and Bull” story.
Urging the reporter to distance himself from the issue because the aftermath would not be palatable to him, he enjoined Urhobotoday’s reporter to call Chief Joe Omene for the latest report of all that had been happening UPU United Kingdom branch, just as he maintained that the allegations were selfishly motivated.
Here him, “What they are saying is pure rumour. They are cork and bull story. I urge you not to put yourself into the issue because the aftermath will not be fine. I am a lawyer myself. I urge you not to go into the malicious publication. You know our people do not like good things. Whatever they are saying to you is selfishly motivated. Call Omene to get the correct information. A representative in person of Chief (Evangelist) Ederewhevbe was sent from UPU headquarters to monitor the election.
“An electoral body with a chairman was set up. I cannot conduct an election myself. How will a President of union conduct an election himself? I set up an electoral committee to conduct the election. Are they saying I have no power to set up electoral committee? Have you ever seen where the President has no power to set-up electoral committee? An electoral committee has always been set-up by an EXCO.”
Responding to question that out of two thousand members of Urhobo Progress Union in United Kingdon, it was alleged that it was only One hundred and ninety eight that voted, Ganigan has this to say, “Whether they come or not that is not the issue. The election was free and fair. If I were you, I will advise you do not publish it because it is not for the interest of the Urhobos. How many urhobos are there in UK that two thousand members will vote? The problem is that because they do not want to be part of the true urhobo sons and daughters, they are finding excuses to castigate the result of the election.
“I can tell you that the number of registered voters we had is enough for any union to go ahead. We do not need the numbers, it is the quality of the people and what the people has to do. If there is an election to be conducted and there is true publicity of the election and you do not come to register do you have to tell the people not to go ahead because you have issue within yourself?” he queried.
Responding to question of what attempt he has made to reconcile the different factions hence he is the leader of UPU in United Kingdom, Ganigan responded thus, “I have conducted a lot of reconciliatory meetings. People just want to be lawless. This is not a lawless country like where we are. There are rules here. You do everything according to the constitution and you do everything by the rules. I have called them severally for reconciliatory meetings. I have called the whole community and even the President general back home travelled to mediate on this matter. But they said no they want to form their own union. They formed their own association. What is happening back home is also happening all over the world where the Urhobo man is very difficult to rule. As we speak, the President-General is trying to come over to United Kingdom. If he knew that the election was not credible will he come over? That is what is happening in the United Kingdom. I have been sending publications to Urhobotoday and I have not sent things that will deform the character of anybody.”
When contacted, President-General of Urhobo Progress Union Worldwide, Chief Joe Omene wondered why people like creating confusion, stressing that Former Urhobo Progress Union President in the United Kingdom, Chief Paul Akpofure who brought Chief Okpako Ganiga into office after his tenure expired is the one that is fighting him.
“Ganiga was his deputy. After his tenure he did not contest for second term. He now brought in Ganiga. Now after the expiration of the tenure of Ganiga, he wants to come back. Is his action morally justifiable? Use me as an example. May be after the expiration of my tenure, I did not contest for second term. Later after the expiration of the person who took over from me, I will now come to say I want to contest again after I did not contest initially.
Secondly, in the last election that brought in Ganiga somebody else was declared the winner. He was Chief Masoroh. It was the same Chief Paul Akpofure who wrote a protest petition to UPU Headquarters during Aziza’s tenure that the election was fraught with irregularities and as such it should be cancelled for another election to be contested. Aziza calls for fresh election. Masoroh refused to participate and Ganiga won. It is amazing that he the one leading the protest in this election. Before this election he protested and the Headquarters sent an observer to oversee the election. He is now complaining again that the election was not properly conducted.”
Responding to question if it is normal for only one hundred and ninety eight members to vote in a situation where UPU has two thousand members in United Kingdom, he said, “Let me take an example from Urhobo Progress Union Worldwide which had over two million members all over the world. But it was only 500 members that voted in the election that brought Chief Aziza into office. It is not compulsory that everybody must vote. This is delegate election. It is not that every Urhobo man must vote. If you want to vote you have to register. If you did not register, you will not vote,”
Omene argued that Akpofure who has always been on the same side with Ganiga has not protested about the alleged faulted election before UPU Headquarters in Nigeria, saying he had just heard it for the first time from Urhobotoday’s reporter.
“Well he has not put his protest before us. He has not protested to the national body. I am just hearing it from you for the first time. We have not got any petition from him. If we have any petition we will look into it on its merit,” he promised.