It is not just the natural disposition and strategic location of Rivers State as the hub of oil and gas in Nigeria that makes it stand tall among its peers, there is also an irresistible aura around the unique composition of the state. It is inhabited by people of diverse linguistic and rich ethno-cultural background, bonded by strong historical tie.
Created in May 1967, as one of the 12 states that evolved out of the ashes of the old regional blocks in the country, Rivers State will clock 50, precisely on May 27 this year.
The Rivers State Government has left no one in doubt that this heroic moment would not be glossed over but fully celebrated.
In the build-up to the celebration of the golden jubilee, the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike has already unveiled the anniversary logo, and constituted functional committees to take charge of the series of activities earmarked for the anniversary.
The main anniversary committee, headed by Chief Ferdinand Anabraba, has also addressed a world Press Conference, detailing the various events that will characterize the golden jubilee anniversary.
As the event draws close, pundits and critical stakeholders in the state have continued to lend their views on areas that should be accorded importance during the celebration.
Of particular interest to most stakeholders is the packaging and artistic presentation of the rich and diverse cultural potentials of Rivers people as a spectacular brand to the world.
Their conviction is based on the fact that the strength of Rivers people is in their cultural diversity, and the golden jubilee anniversary provides the right avenue to reconsolidate the values and cultural ties that bind the people together.
In the views of a first class traditional ruler in Rivers State, HRM, King Leslie Nyebuchi Eke, JP, Eze Oha III of Evo Kingdom, putting cultural exhibition at the centre stage of the celebration will trigger a cultural revolution in the state.
The traditional ruler, who described Rivers State as a “rainbow state” with multiple noble currents of cherished norms and values woven into a collective destinity, said Rivers at 50 has not only come of age but achieved greatness of international acclaim.
The revered monarch who is also the Eze Gbakagbaka of Ikwerre Land cautioned against unfettered westernization, noting that, “the fate of posterity can only be secured through the integration of the cultural diversities of the state which is the pathway to true greatness”.
He pointed out that, “culture as the identity of the people is very critical to development, we must ensure that we don’t loose our indigenous languages to westernization. English should not be our first language. Parents should always teach their children the mother tongue, we are indigenous people and our culture is our pride. If we sustain it, then our future is secured, if we falter, we loose all”.
These cultural values, he pointed out, are portrayed in the Rivers dance steps, delicacies and distinct languages.
Commenting on the role of the traditional institution in the sustenance of culture, the royal father said, traditional rulers as natural leaders were the direct custodians of culture and tradition.
He assured that traditional rulers have not lost touch with their pivotal role in cultural development, and highlighted the historical contributions of legendary traditional rulers, such as King Jaja of Opobo, Chief Harold Dappa Biriye, Eze King Frank Eke, among several others of blessed memory, to the development of the state.
King Eke who is also the Nyerisi Mbam Oro-Evo, commended Governor Wike for taking to the advice of the traditional rulers in the state.
He averred that; “the harmonious relationship between the traditional rulers in the state and the governor has produced good governance”.
Reflecting on the exploits and vision of the founding fathers of the state, the monarch said the present administration in the state has lived up to expectation by not relenting on its commitment to the development of the state in the face of virulent opposition and paucity of fund.
He pointed out that; “The task of renewal in the state is endless, we must jointly support the government to continuously recreate the state with greatness, a conscientious appeal to service is more insightful and rewarding than unconscientious and brutish struggle for power”.
The royal father took a swipe at what he referred to as “opposition or criticisms that are not well intended or populist oriented”, but based on self interest, stating that Rivers State was bigger than any single individual interest and any act that tends to undermine the will of the people should be resisted.
As the Chairman of the Publicity Sub-committee on the Golden Jubilee Anniversary, at the Rivers State Traditional Rulers Council, the Eze Gbakagbaka, thanked Governor Wike for approving a day for the exclusive exhibition and performance of the traditional rulers during the anniversary.
In his views, the Chairman of the Rivers State Post Primary Schools Board, Hon David Briggs, affirmed that culture was critical to the development of any society.
Speaking with The Tide in an interview, David Briggs disclosed that the future development of the state depended on the proper articulation of the cultural values into our institutional development.
He cautioned against what he referred to as “crazy civilization”, saying the economic, educational and technological development of Rivers State should be indigenous based.
According to him, the state government has taken practical steps to ensure that local languages are sustained, by inaugurating a special committee for curriculum development on local languages.
“The Rivers State Government is working with the National Council on Education to fashion out modalities of implementing an indigenous based education system in the state where local languages will be imbibed in the school curriculum”, he stated.
Briggs further posited that; “the most potent means of development is when it is centred on inherent needs and not importation of culture and foreign ideas”.
According to him, “any developmental approach that is not indigenous based is cosmetic, shadowy and therefore stifles and dies”.
He said the Post Primary Schools Board under his watch has plans to embark on talent hunt at the grassroots, to give opportunity to people at the grassroots to develop their talents and skills for self development, noting that, “the key to sustainable economic breakthrough is the path of self reliance”.
Also musing over the importance of culture to the development of the state, the Executive Director, Rivers State Council for Arts and Culture, Chief Deede Baede, said the ruin of any society starts from the debasement of its culture.
Speaking to The Tide, in Port Harcourt, recently, Chief Baede said the economic fortune of the state presently lies in the exploration of its enormous tourism and cultural potentials.
He pointed out that the vision of the founding fathers of the state in establishing the Arts and Culture Council was driven by the desire to consistently explore and preserve the rich values of the state, regretting that successive governments lost touch with the vision.”
However, Baede said the Council has worked hard to promote cultural dignity of the state by winning prestigious laurels at national fiestas.
He commended Governor Wike for his vision in reviving the culture and tourism sector in the state, particularly his approval for speedy completion of the permanent site of the State Arts Council in the old Port Harcourt Township.
Chief Baede, who assured the commitment of the Arts Council to promote the culture of the state, also appealed that the Council should be made to play active role in the golden jubilee anniversary celebration of the state.
“We in the State Council for Arts and Culture are happy to be part of the golden jubilee anniversary celebration of Rivers State. Rivers is a state of great cultural potentials, and we represent the artistic rendition of the various culture of the people.
We want the government to give us the opportunity to showcase the rich culture of the people throughout art performance during this momentous celebration”.
It would be recalled that the Pioneer Executive Director of the Rivers State Council for Arts and Culture, Chief Uriel Paul Worika had, during the last edition of the world Tourism Day celebration in Rivers State, stressed the need for Rivers people to live up to their cultural identity. He warned against what he described as “debasement of culture”, emphasizing that the best way to promote sustainable peace and development in the state was to get back to root of cultural development and strengthen the tie that puts the state on a note of distinction.
The elder statesman described Rivers State not only as an investment haven but “a home to all”, where hospitality and true happiness thrive”. He called on the Rivers State Government to tap into the culture and tourism potentials of the state.
With the euphoria in the air, Rivers people are obviously looking up to a celebration that will not only entertain them with pomp and fanfare, but will also make them have nostalgic reflection of the past, and somber reflection of the future.
But as a common adage says; “The taste of the pudding is in the eating”.