No doubt, the history of mankind is replete with a plethora of genuine agitations. For instance, a pregnant woman under labour who is about to give birth does have genuine reason to agitate, scream and shout as a result of labour pains.
The civil rights movement in the United States of America was precipitated by the genuine agitations from the Afro-Americans, while the black majority in South Africa fought the apartheid regime before they regained freedom in 1994.
The Niger Delta region formerly known as Oil Rivers has had its own fair share of agitations to demand for justice, arising from the quest to deprive the people of the region, particularly the people of Nembe Kingdom, the proceeds of palm oil which was the main article of trade at the time.
Eminent Rivers men, Tamuno, T.N. and Alagoa, E.J. (1980) stated that a formal agreement was reached in 1856 between Nembe rulers and the British authorities to streamlise areas of cooperation.
The European traders were to pay fees to the Amanyanabo of Nembe upon entry to the rivers as well as respect domestic laws and customs. The leaders of Nembe Kingdom, on their part, were expected to protect the traders to facilitate collection of debts and also to serve as middlemen between the Europeans and the hinterland.
Unfortunately, the agreement was breached in 1879 when Sir George Goldie established the Africa National Company which later transformed to the Royal Niger Company with the engineering depot in Akasa, Nembe.
It was this unresolved economic crisis that made the people of Nembe, under King Frederick William Koko, who felt marginalized and neglected to invade the Royal Niger Company in Akasa, on 29th January, 1895. The Akasa Raid, as the invasion was popularly called, became the first known revolt against the authorities in the old Oil Rivers.
This is not to undermine the efforts of other distinguished leaders of the Oil Rivers such as King William Dappa Pepple of Bonny, King Jaja of Opobo, Nana Olomu of Itesekiri and Oba Ovonranwem of Benin Kingdom, who fought for justice at that time.
Experts agree that the famous Akasa Raid served as a source of inspiration for upcoming agitators and freedom fighters in the region. But one thing is clear; from pre-independence to post-independence Nigeria, the response to genuine agitations by the leadership had not been encouraging.
Speaking in an interview, Professor Emeritus, Ebiegberi Joe Alagoa, emphasized that the Akasa Raid was an inspiration to agitators such as the Ijaw Rivers People’s League founded in 1941 and Isaac Adaka Boro, among others.
Professor Ben Naanen (2002) on pages 341 to 350 of a book titled: “The Land and People of Rivers State: Eastern Niger Delta”, edited by Ebiegberi Alagoa and Abi Derefaka, posits that the Ijaw dominated Rivers People’s League was founded in 1941 with the main objective of removing Rivers territory from the Owerri province as a response to the emerging pattern of domination.
Professor Naanen further argues that, at the same time, similar agitations were also going on among non Ijaw Rivers people such as the Ogoni, the Ekpeye, the Etche and the Abua while the agitation itself climaxed into a petition addressed to the Governor-in-Council of Owerri and Calabar provinces.
It would be recalled that the Rivers Province was created in 1947 comprising Ahoada, Brass, Degema and Ogoni with Port Harcourt as its headquarters, arising from the combined agitations of the people. The creation of Rivers Province was, therefore, the first attempt at Rivers State creation before the actual creation on May 27, 1967.
Thus, the main platform for which Rivers State was created was that of genuine agitations by concerned elders, chiefs and leaders of the State, who include but not limited to Chief D. Davies Manuel, Chief Francis Alagoa, Chief J.R. Wilcox, Dappa Biriye, among others.
The essence of State demands then, was to engender the creation of political units to bring about a degree of ethnic and regional balance in the allocation of resources and power equation.
The climax of the efforts of founding fathers of Old Rivers State was encapsulated in the report called “Rivers State Memorandum” by Rivers Leaders of thought, which urged the Gowon administration to create Rivers State by decree and ratify later by constitutional process. The signatories to Rivers State memorandum were S.N. Dikibo as Chairman, E.N. Kobani representing Ogoni Division, Doctor I.J.M. Fiberesima representing Degema Division, R.P.G. Okara representing Brass Division, G.B.C. Otoko representing Opobo Division and N. Nwonodi for Ahoada & Port Harcourt Division.
Today, as Rivers people celebrate 50th Anniversary of the State creation, much is expected from the leadership of the state particularly in the area of good representation and tolerance, as it will be unfair to see divergent views and genuine agitations as voice of the opposition.
Our Golden Jubilee Anniversary should be used to reflect on calamities that befell the people of Umuechem in Etche Local Government Area who suffered humiliation and killing of their people for opposing toxic waste dump, and the Ogoni people who lost the cream of their statesmen for daring to challenge environmental degradation from petroleum exploration in their land.
Meanwhile, the state government should address the plights of workers, pensioners, the physically challenged and nip in the bud social ills in our State. Rivers people should know that the battle against marginalization is still on.
Sika is a Port Harcourt based journalist.