The creation of Rivers State on May 27, 1967, amongst 11 others from the old regional arrangement, was the climax of the series of anti-minority movements or agitations by the burgeoning leaders in a region now known as South-South geopolitical zone. In the broadcast that gave birth to the states on that date, the then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon (rtd), reasoned that “creation of States is the only possible basis; for stability and equality” in the country.
Indeed, the creation of states gave the minorities immeasurable sense of belonging and paved the way for self-actualisation. It also weakened the attitude of dominance of the majority tribes.
Popular and prominent platforms used in advancing the cause in that period of our history were the Rivers Chiefs and Peoples Conference (RCPC), the Rivers Leaders of Thought (RLT) and the Niger Delta Congress; a political party founded and led by Chief Harold DappaBiriye.
In the forefronts of the quest for states in this part of the zone were irresistible men like Chiefs Harold Dappa-Biriye, Nwobudike Nwanodi, Emmanuel Oriji, Wenike Briggs, Ashirim Unosi, M. D. Selema, Richard Woyike and several others, yet to be celebrated.
They came from different ethnic backgrounds, political affiliations and ideological leanings, but were united by a common faith and cause. They were focused, committed and undoubtedly altruistic in their pursuits.
They were driven by a rare passion and saturated with a desire to liberate their people from years of unjustifiable neglect, social and economic deprivation, as well as political emasculation, experienced even before independence in 1960. They saw in the creation of Rivers State “the salvation of the Niger Delta Peoples and their environment, where there will be parity of opportunities for all citizens irrespective of the size”.
The emergent pioneer administrators, under the leadership of a vision-driven governor, Commodore Alfred Papapiriye Diete-Spiff (rtd), now Amanyanabo of Twon Brass in Bayelsa State, were thinkers and brilliant in their different callings. They were clear in their vision, and as pioneer state builders, laid the solid foundation for the rapid growth and development of the young state.
Following the sudden termination of the glorious era of the pioneer state builders in 1976, the state came under a succession of military dictators led by non-indigenes that did not only fail to sustain the pace of development but also truncated the dream of the founding fathers.
Notwithstanding, the achievements of the era of the founding fathers were the envy of other states. In the course of time, Rivers State became one of the most notable and populous states in the federation, even after the creation of Bayelsa State in 1996.
At the wake of democracy in 1999, a new chapter in the socioeconomic and political history of the State began. It was a new dawn for the State and its people. Hope was rekindled and aspirations ran high. Expectations were equally high among the citizenry who desired a breath of fresh air after long period of military administrations.
The political leadership from 1999 to date tried to reverse the decades of anomalies perpetrated by the military junta in collaboration with some unpatriotic citizens. Unfortunately, some, if not most of the elected men and women, lacked the profound emotion, “cast of mind” and commitment that characterized the first generation leaders.
Nevertheless, Rivers State today stands out as one to be reckoned with in terms of infrastructural development, social, economic and political relevance amongst states in the federation.
May 27, 2017, the state that once held and still holds the hope for many will be 50 years old. By Providence, the Golden Jubilee anniversary will rest on the shoulders of the present administration under the leadership of Governor Nyesom Wike. Interestingly, it is happening at a time when, many believe, the state is undergoing reckonable socio-economic changes; a kind of renaissance that has rekindled hope, restored confidence in governance and bolstered pride of the people.
The celebration, no doubt, will transcend fanfare and merry making. Obviously, it will take stock of the diverse milestones in the life of the state and its people, as well as launch a sustainable development graph that would prepare future generations for the challenges of statehood. In addition, it will showcase visible achievements of the present administration, including investment opportunities that abound in the state.
Already, some on-going projects have been earmarked to commemorate the event. Two of such landmark projects include the Ecumenical Centre and the Port Harcourt Pleasure Park; a project apparently intended to promote a culture of recreation, without ruling out the fact that it will be a very good source of revenue for the state.
While the Rivers State Government is working round the clock to have a befitting and memorable Golden Jubilee celebration of the creation of Rivers State, it should be supported as one celebration that would touch the hearts of our political and other leaders and bridge the yawning gap or divisiveness created by unhealthy politics.
Above all, the Golden Jubilee celebration, is expected to heal wounds, promote peace, love and unity, and inspire a deep appreciation of the sacrifices of our founding fathers in the attainment of our cherished common heritage.
Ezekiel-Jenewari is a seasoned journalist and retired Director, Rivers State Ministry of Information and Communications.