Selfless. Bold. Courageous. Powerful. Influential. Athletic. Enigmatic. They were all these and more. The Pathfinders, Great Lives who shaped Rivers State.
A time like this is a time to reflect, and in reflecting, the past comes alive, especially when attempting to capture, even if adumbratively, the life (and times) of an unforgettable gallery of men who, like magnificent colossuses, traversed the trobbing firmament of their callings, to the glory of the state.
The list is obviously inexhaustive: the heroes, the titans, the politicians, the moguls, the activists, the academics, the artists, the environmentalists, and others in the crucible of history. Thus, we shall only dwell briefly on the few who spent better part of their youth to provide the platform upon which the demand and ultimate creation of the state was realized, including, however, a superficial appraisal of some public men of the Alfred Diete-Spiff era (May 27, 1967 to 1975).
But before we adumbrate on that, let us recall the spirit of self determination that gave birth to the history of the struggle for the creation of an administrative unit to embrace the diverse ethnic groups that make up Rivers State. This is moreso as it would provide an insight into how most of the dramatis personae in that struggle ultimately served in different capacities under Diete-Spiff.
Let us first state that the struggle for the creation of Rivers State was publicly carried out under various names and organizations both at home and abroad.
Some of them were the Ijaw Rivers Peoples league, Ijaw State Union, Ijaw National Union, Rivers State Movement, Rivers Chiefs and People Conference, Rivers Study Group and Council of Niger Delta Rehabilitation.
Others were Gesi Ijaw Union, Niger Delta Congress, Ijaw Union, Niger Delta Volunteer Service of Late Major Isaac Adaka Boro, Oil Rivers People league, just to mention a few.
Through petitions, resolutions, welcome addresses, memoranda, special delegations and parliamentary debates by elected representatives of the people, both the regional and central government authorities in the country were pressured to recognize the unanimous yearnings and aspirations of the people inhabiting the compact expense of the Niger Delta territory which include present day Rivers and Bayelsa States.
During the 1967 – 1970 fratricidal civil war in Nigeria, Major Isaac Adaka Boro, Captain Amangala, Captain Nyanayo, Warrant Officer Nothingham Dick and many others died without witnessing the eventual creation of Rivers State.
The rest, it is said, is history. But suffice it to say that that history recorded the survival of a few Rivers sons in the libreration struggle. They were Mr. Timmy Samuel Owonaro, Chief Harold Dapp-Biriye, Chief Melford Okilo, Chief Ben-Wari, Chief E.A.D. Alikor, Chief O,M, Asisi-Abbey, Chief I.J. Fiberesima, Mr. J.M. Areweriyai and Chief M.E. Soba.
Others were Mr. Wenike Briggs, Mr. S.N. Dikibo, Mr. D.T. Ayawari, Justice R.P.G. Okara, Dr. Obi Wali, Chief Nwaobidike Nwanodi, Chief Edward Kobani and Mr. Francis Ellah.
In recognition of the role played by these illustrious sons of Rivers State, the first Military Governor of the State, Commander Diete-Spiff named Dappa-Biriye, Nwanodi, Obi Wali, as members of his cabinet. While Dappa-Biriye was Commissioner for Agriculture, Fishery and natural resources, Nwanodi was incharge of health, and Wali, Rehabilitation.
Others were Chief E.J.A. Oriji, Economic Development, Trade and Industry, Chief S.F. Kombo Igbeta, Establishment; Dr. Nabo Graham-Douglas (SAN), Justice/Attorney-General; Mr. Oluke Ngei, Works, Lands, and transport; and Dr. W.T. Wakama, Local Government and Information.
The rest were Mr. W.P. Daniel-Kalio, Secretary to the Military Government and Head of Service, and Prof. Isaac Dema, Chairman, Public Service Commission.
Before profiling Diete-Spiff and his men, let’s first get to know who Major Isaac Adaka Boro was.
Born to a Headmaster on September 10, 1936, Jasper Isaac Adaka Boro, a native of Kaiama, worked briefly as a teacher and later a cop in 1958 before attending University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN). He was once Senior Prefect at Hussey College, Warri, and President of UNN students Union.
He was arrested, tried and sentenced to death on June 21, 1966 for declaring Niger Delta Peoples Republic. Pardoned and released by General Yakubu Gown, the then Head of State, Boro enlisted in the Nigerian Army as Second Lieutenant and fought during the Nigerian civil war, rose to the rank of Major and died in active service on may 16, 1968. He was later given a post-humous award, Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON).
Alfred Papareye Diete-Spiff, Seriyai 11, Amanyanabo of Twon Brass, was born on July 30, 1942 at Twon Brass to Chief Claude Diete-Spiff Amange and Madam Sarah – Ann Diete Amange.
He had his education at St. Luke’s School, Nembe, St. Barnabas Town and St. Joseph’s College, Sassie-Buea in the Western Cameroun. At various times, he was Meteorological Officer, Lagos Airport, and a rating at Elder Dempster Lines before transferring to the Nigerian Navy.
Widely travelled, Commander Diete-Spiff was Rivers State Military Governor, 1967 to 1975, Appointed Amanyanabo in November 1978, he is the Ochikuba Osa of Ogbaland and a businessman of Catholic faith.
Harold Jeneibiwari Roland Dappa-Biriye was born on September 26, 1920 and attended Kings College, Lagos between 1937 and 1941.
Incensed by the injustice and inequalities of his time, Dappa-Biriye, more than anyone else, championed the creation of Rivers State, forming various groups, including the Rivers Chiefs and Peoples Conference (RCPC) and the Niger Delta Congress (NDC). He also played active role alongside Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Tafawa Balewa and others in achieving independence for Nigeria.
He had held several state and federal appointments. For a life devoted to the public service of Nigeria, Dappa-Biriye was honoured with an award of the Officer of the Order of the Niger on October 1, 1980. He died in 2005.
Professor Isaac Solomon Dema, pioneer Chairman, Rivers State Public Service Commission from 1969 to 1975; Chairman, Board of Management, Rivers State College of Science and technology, Port Harcourt, (1971 to 1973) member, Rivers State Advisory Council under Governor Peter Odili, among others, was born on July 9, 1921.
A native of Ogbema in Abua/Odual Local Government Area of Rivers State, Dema was an international nutrition consultant who contributed greatly towards reducing infant mortality in Nigeria.
After his primary and secondary education in Ahoada and Lagos, he obtained Bachelors and graduate degrees in Human Nutrition from the University of London. He was the first African to be appointed Professor of Human Nutrition, University of Ibadan.
Kenule Beeson Saro-Wiwa, a native of K-Dere in Ogoni, was born in October, 1941. A businessman, novelist and television producer, Saro-Wiwa was the Administrator for Bonny and member of the Interim Advisory Council, Rivers State during the civil war period. Between 1968 and 1973, he served variously in the Executive Council as Commissioner for Works, land and Transport; Commissioner for Education; and Commissioner for Information and Home Affairs.
An environmentalist and rights activist who pioneered a non-violent approach to the ecological injustice in his native Ogoni and the Niger Delta region, Sara-Wiwa was sentenced to death by hanging along with other eight Ogonis by the General Sani Abacha administration in 1995.
He is generally regarded as a martyr by the people of the Niger Delta in the struggle for resource control.
Nwaobidike Nwanodi was born on February 14, 1931. He was President-General, Ogbakor Ikwerre Cultural Organization Worldwide in 1963 and was later elected member of national parliament representing Ahoada Central Constituency between 1964 and 1965.
He served as Rivers State Commissioner for Economic Development, Trade and Industry; Commissioner for Health and later, Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General between 1969 and 1975.
The Governorship candidate of the defunct Nigerian Peoples Party in 1979, Chief Nwanodi was appointed Senior Advocate of Nigeria in 2006 and member, Rivers State Advisory Council during the administration of former Governor Peter Odili.
Bestowed the Doyen of the Port Harcourt bar as the oldest practicing lawyer in the jurisdiction in 2012, he was a life member of the Body of Benchers.
Dr. Obi Wali born on February 27, 1932 at Rumuigbo, near Port Harcourt, Rivers state, was the first Ikwerre man to get a doctorate degree.
After his primary and secondary education, he obtained a bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of London via the University of Ibadan in 1959. He added a doctorate in English from North Western University, USA in 1967.
A former lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Wali was pioneer Commissioner for Rehabilitation in 1967 and a distinguished Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria representing Port Harcourt (now PHALGA and OBALGA) Senatorial Zone. He died in 1993.
Nabo Bekinbo Graham-Douglas was born at Abonnema in Akuku Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State on July 15, 1926. After his primary education at Abonnema, he attended Kalabari National College, Buguma.
He was called to the English bar at the Inner Temple in London in 1955 after reading law at the University College, Exeter.
After a very successful legal practice in Nigeria and Ghana, the turn of national events in 1968 forced him into public affairs. That year, he was appointed Attorney-General of the Eastern region by the new Military administration of the region. He resigned after six months because of his opposition to secession.
During the Nigerian Civil War, Graham Douglas served as a special envoy to both Britain and the United States of America, explaining the federal position on the civil war and representing Nigeria at international conferences.
As Rivers State Attorney General, he stoutly defined and defended the position of the state on the so-called abandoned property issue.
In May 1976, he was appointed Chairman of the Council for Legal Education, a position he held until his death in 1983.
Author of some ten books on various aspects of Nigerian Law, Graham-Douglas was the first legal practitioner in the country to be elevated to the position of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in 1975. In 1989 he was honoured with the award of the Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (CFR).
Emmanuel Johnson Anachor Oriji was born on September 5,1921. After his primary and post primary education between 1938 and 1950, Oriji, through hardwork obtained an intermediate Bachelor of Law (LLb) of the University of London in 1955.
A celebrated teacher who taught in many schools across Nigeria, Oriji was a councilor and later chairman, Ikwerre/Etche County Council from 1954 to 1960.
Oriji was a member, Eastern House of Assembly, 1960 to1966; Chairman, Rivers State Rehabilitation Committee for Upland, 1967-1969, and pioneer commissioner for Education and Establishments, Trade and Industry, as well as Agriculture in Rivers State.
A frontliner in the fight for the creation of Rivers State, Oriji was Chairman, Board of Directors, Projects Development Institute (PRODA), Enugu, member, Rivers State Advisory Council, and member, Rivers Sate Council of Traditional Rulers.
While in government, he initiated many landable projects, including the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa and General Hospital, Emohua.
In appreciation of his efforts, he was given the title of Ochi Oha I of Ikwerre and later crowned as Nnenwe Eli Emohua XI in 1973.
Emmanuel Elechi Amadi is a reknowned writer and author. Born on May 12, 1934 at Aluu, Rivers State, he attended the famous Government College, Umuahia, Abia State, from 1948 to 1952.
He obtained a Bachelor of Science in Physics and Mathematics (combined honours) from the University College, Ibadan between 1954 and 1959; Diploma in Land Surveying from the School of Surveying, Oyo (1960 to 1962) and briefly practiced Land Surveying before joining the education corps of the Nigerian Army.
He left the Army in November, 1965 to teach in secondary schools and much later became a seasoned administrator with the Rivers State Government, overseeing, at different times, the Ministries of Information, Education and Lands as commissioner,
He is a creative writer, and one the best known authors published by the African Writers Series. He is a playwright and an author of many books, including the popular trilogy: The Concubine (AWS 25), The Great Ponds (AWS 44) and The Slave (AWS/210), as well as a verse play, Isiburu.
Amadi is popularly acclaimed in African Literature as the leading authority in ‘The Supernatural in African Literature’ due to the excellent presentation in his works of pre-colonial African societies as ruled by the gods.