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The ‘little girl’ from Warri who spoke at US Congress

The 385-page book, “I Spoke at the American Congress: The Little Girl from Okere-Warri” published by Rolldat Publications, Lagos Nigeria, in 2022, is Dr. Evelyn Omawunmi Atsiangbe-Urhobo’s bold and detailed account of her life from the early ages till she retired from formal employment. 
From the remote corners of Okere, despite all odds, Omawumi Urhobo made it big to the international stage through hard work, common sense, courage and God’s help. 

It is therefore a written narrative that will, should inspire young people. By their nature, autobiographies capture past personal experiences and how they fit into an institutional, national, or international framework of things which the author believes will be useful to readers by informing, educating, or stimulating them into doing positive things in life. 

For Dr. Omawumi Urhobo, there is a deliberate attempt to present her experiences from childhood into adulthood through the graceful age of 70 to demonstrate the overwhelming power of disciple, commitment, determination all by the grace of God. So, we are dealing with a book that is introspective and reflective, narrated with the benefit of experience and time. 

To achieve these, the power of memory is very important. Time obliterates or moderates or plays tricks on memory. However, in the book under review, the author has a knack for recalling intimate details of experiences which she had some sixty-five years ago.

And I wondered if she kept a diary from Age 10! Read Also: US, rich countries still derailing climate negotiations at COP27 Often, biographies tend to be hagiographical; presenting only palatable experiences, leaving out aspects of their encounters with people and institutions which they believe might portray them in bad light. The fighter in Dr. Urhobo abhors this. 

‘I Spoke at the American Congress’ by all standards, is frank, honest and unpretentious in the well-articulated narratives. 

Indeed, the subtext is that of an activist, a highly focused personality who decided very early the path of life she wanted to tow. With the help of Heaven, she was able to achieve her life’s dreams, concluding at the end of the interesting narrative, that ‘as I cruise on towards my seventieth birthday, I know that God still has a lot lined up for me to achieve. 

I spoke at the American Congress though biographical, falls into the motivational writing category. 

For, it details the personal determination and rise of a little girl from the poverty-stricken environment that was Okere-Warri in the late 1950s and early 1960s to the glamorous world of diplomacy. 

With little or no role models to copy, an inner spirit spoke to little Omawunmi that she must not end up like the other girls who were made pregnant and whose lives and dreams were truncated by that social accident. 

Omawumi was by her on account, ‘a militant child who found a cause to fight on every occasion’, who ‘fought for others more than I fought for my own personal causes, p. 59. 

 The book is divided into fourteen chapters. The Foreword is written by Zanele Mbeki, wife of Mr. Thabo Mbeki, former President of The Republic of South Africa. It has attestations from such persons as Chief Onyema Ugochukwu, (CON), her children, Mr. & Mrs. Gbubemi Ukubeyinje, Sa’adat (Stella) Adiah Ibrahim, Mr. John Onyeukwu, Mr. Emmanuel Efeni and others. Each chapter captures the events of that period in her life, told with passion and attention to details. The narrative does not start from the beginning, which is the author’s way of drawing attention to issues and ideas that meant a great deal in her life. 

The first chapter titled ‘Attending at (sic) the Global Women in Management Workshop’ is an account of a visit to the US when she had the opportunity to address a Committee in the American Congress. That she starts from the middle of the story shows how significant that experience was to her life’s trajectory. 

The interesting part of this narrative and experience is that she got on the delegation through her commitment to the challenges of the ordinary poor people of society, a woman who never forgot her roots. 

Because her heart was for helping the less-privileged God continued to give her opportunities that would enable her to fulfill her dreams. Chapter Two takes us through her birth, circumstances, family, and primary school education. 

She paints a clear picture of Okere in the period under review. It was a community where there were many mothers and aunties and cousins all living together with a degree of harmony despite occasional fights, but with the absence of a father figure. 

It was also a community where ‘a rather barbaric tradition of killing of twins and children born from incestuous relationships’ (p.62) and where there was a ‘high rate of sexual openness and freedom (which) the young ones are exposed to’ p. 65. This chapter gives us an insight into character formation and development. 

Despite the predominant licentiousness, the little girl decided very early that she was not going to be a part of it. 

Writing about the Awankere festivals she observes: “In fact, the festival itself has its sexual connotations. 

And so, very many young people get pregnant quickly and recklessly with this exposure. 

…Growing up there, then, there was this formed consciousness in me that I was not growing to toe this line of promiscuity. p. 65. Chapter Three titled Hussey College (1965-1971) chronicles her years in that elite secondary school and how her days there helped to shape her future aspirations. 

Some of the friends she made there have remained close after many decades. 

Her brilliance and speed in athletics started manifesting while in Hussey College and she represented her school, the state, and the country at different sports outings. 

In Chapter Four, she documents her National Youths Service experience at Ibadan. The narrative in this chapter is very interesting starting from how she secured her posting to Ibadan. 

Her involvement in the liberation struggle of South Africa using the International University Exchange Fund (IUEF) is captured in Chapter Five, titled ‘My Work with the International University Exchange Fund. 

The IUEF became a platform which launched her into the global network system. Chapters Seven, Eight, Nine, deal with her interaction with and foray into Education as a medium of developing potentials of individuals in society, Community Banking, and her business ventures. 

I The Morgan Smart Development Foundation narrates activities of this body named for her late father and how it has impacted lives of people. 

We sense a strong devotion to the memory of her fate father Mr. Morgan Smart Urhobo a boxer who died rather young. In Chapter Nine, she gives a detailed account of her personal life, especially the issue of single parenting. 

As usual her frank, unpretentious accounts are riveting, educative, and almost philosophical. Her capacity to recall the details of her romantic relationships is remarkable. It shows the personality of the author — she took deliberate and unpopular decisions and has stood by them despite what people may say. Of course, she acknowledges the fact that she was not mentally or psychologically prepared for some of the consequences of single parenting. This did not stop her from rising to the occasion and doing her best. 

While Chapter Eleven — Travels/Award and Recognition Travels – deals with her travels around the world both for work and pleasure, with all the awards she has won in her colourful career, Chapter Twelve — My Sojourn into Politics — focuses on her foray into the world of politics at the grassroots level in Okere under the umbrella of a political party. 

In her brief romance with politics, she saw firsthand all the shenanigans of politicians and how the most popular candidate does not always win in elections. 

 Chapter Thirteen, aptly titled ‘The Conspiracy of Silence Against the Women of the Niger Delta’, Dr. Urhobo rails against the neglect which the poor women in the riverine areas of the Niger Delta have suffered over the years. 

‘The women live under excruciating poverty, but in most cases, are still breadwinners in their homes and family’. 

She also blames government officials because ‘when visitations are carried out by top government officials even from the legislative arms, they always end by the water side leading to the riverine communities. p. 371. 

Though well narrated in smooth and elegant prose, there are a few infelicities that should be corrected before the next edition is published. 

For example, the possessive apostrophe in nouns is completely missing throughout the text and the printer makes use of a full stop in its place. At page 369, the word ‘exuberant’ is used in place of ‘exorbitant’. 

Also, some of the otherwise historical and memorable pictures are blurred. A better production or resolution could have been achieved. These infelicities are minor and do not remove the pleasure of reading a well-written book which contents are inspiring and educative. 

I Spoke to the American Congress evinces and promotes the virtues of commitment, love, single-mindedness, caring for the less-privileged through advocacy on behalf of the poor, courage, determination, fairness, hard work and a life of purpose. 

It promotes the culture of sowing positive seeds in life, seeds that later would generate trees. 

It will be a good read for the younger generation, especially those who have invested in, or channeled their intelligence to the notorious Yahoo Yahoo social menace because of their desire for quick money. 

It captures the essence of the old life, how schools and parents inculcated discipline in children.

During her career the ‘little girl from Okere’ has won over twenty-five awards from within and outside the country as we read from page 341 of the book. Some of these include: National award as Woman of Honour (WHO) by the National Council of Women Society (2004) A Merit award by the Student Union Government of Petroleum Training Institute in recognition of her outstanding efforts in elevating lives, especially youths in the Niger DELTA (2005). 

Induction into the University of Lagos Sports Hall of Fame Lagos, 2005. 

The Corporate Woman of Excellence Award as Community Leader of the Year by Corporate Amazons Magazine Lagos, 2007. 

 African Icon of our Generation Award in 2007 bestowed on her for exemplary life of excellence. 

An international Award as Woman Millenum Development Ambassador by Teachers Without Borders in the USA. Finally, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, the ‘Little Girl from Okere’ author of the well written ‘I Spoke to the American Congress’, the story of the Little Girl from Okere-Warri’ is no longer a little girl; she is now a grand dame at 70, for which we give thanks to God. Congratulations Ma!