Realising The Rivers Dream: Achievements Of Past Governors

Rivers State House of Assembly

Although Komo’s tour of duty was basically to restore peace and stability to the state, which he professionally achieved at the expense of many lives, monumental social dislocations and humanitarian crisis, not just in Ogoni, but also across most other communities, he further embarked on the construction of some roads through direct labour. In fact, he supervised the construction of the Kaduna Street and Rumuola junction flyover projects on Port Harcourt-Aba Expressway. He also initiated the Neighbourhood Water Scheme that resonated across the state, and gave a touch of life to many public healthcare facilities, primary and secondary schools.
Col Musa Shehu took over as the eleventh governor of the state in August 22, 1996. He left office on August 13, 1998. Shehu tried to bring human face and compassion to his administration through confidence building, and most times, policies that tended to appease rather than force compliance. To this end, he reinstated some 143 civil servants unceremoniously sacked by Komo, and worked hard to make labour a friendly partner in governance. He gave priority to rural electrification, completion of road projects and rehabilitation of existing ones, integrated water supply, and also gave facelift to public schools and health institutions. He built the Obi Wali Integrated Cultural Centre on Abonnema Wharf Road. In fact, it was Shehu’s administration that renovated the Braithwaite Memorial Hospital, and upgraded the facility with the installation of a modern kidney dialysis machine. He further renamed the Civic Centre Complex as Alfred Diette-Spiff Sports Complex, and pursued with vigour, a deliberate policy to eliminate illegal oil bunkering and adulteration of petroleum products, which had impacted negatively of the socio-economic lives of the people.
Following the mysterious death of Abacha and take over by Abdulsalami Abubakar, Shehu was removed, and Group Captain Sam Ewang was appointed as the twelfth governor of the state in August, 1998, and served for about nine months. Within the short tour of duty as governor, Ewang reduced the school fees charged by public secondary schools, and also paid the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) fees for all senior secondary school students of Rivers origin. Although he had a running battle with civil servants over welfare issues, including their demand for salary raise, Ewang managed the storm, and built 500 detached housing units for government workers in the state. He also struggled, and repurchased, for the government and people of the state, the defunct Pan African Bank corporate headquarters building by Superbod Stores on Azikiwe Road, which was almost sold out to private interests.
With the effective return of democracy and election and swearing-in of Dr Peter Odili on May 29, 1999, as the thirteenth governor of Rivers State, and third civilian to run the state government, a new renaissance in governance and commitment to realising the dreams of the founding fathers of the state was re-enacted. He recorded significant successes in many sectors, from education to health, road, rail, water and air transport, power generation and electricity supply, sports, culture and tourism, road infrastructure development, housing, urban renewal and physical planning, and also gave human face to civil servants’ welfare, promoted peace and security, and opened a new chapter in the history book of the state judiciary.
Indeed, Odili built the Omoku, Trans Amadi, Eleme and Afam power stations, and installed the first-ever state-owned power transmission line from Omoku to Trans Amadi Main sub-staion in Port Harcourt. He built housing estates for civil servants on Aggrey Road, Creek Road, D-Line, Iriebe, and more than 5,000 low cost housing units across the 23 local government headquarters. In addition, he raised state workers’ minimum wage and ensured the payment of Christmas bonus to every government worker. He expanded and rebuilt the state Government House, with a Presidential Lounge, Banquet Hall and Chapel. Odili also procured tractors and harvesters for agricultural cultivation, fire fighting trucks for the state fire service, Rivline buses for road transport, boats for marine transport, helicopters, private jet and air ambulance for air transport operations, and supported rehabilitation of the rail tracks, just as he procured new coaches to enhance rail transport for school students. To further reduce traffic congestion on the roads Odili installed traffic lights at strategic junctions on streets and major roads in Port Harcourt City and its environs.
Apart from building a housing estate for the state lawmakers on Aggrey Road, which was rejected for security reasons, Odili also built about the best House of Assembly complex in Nigeria on Moscow Road, built Obio court complex, resurfaced Station and Azikiwe Roads, Aggrey Road, linked Slaughter on Trans Amadi by road to Woji and Elelenwo, with two bridges, constructed Air Force flyover and Olu Obasanjo Bypass linking Rukpokwu from Port Harcourt-Aba Road. He also expanded and dualised Ikwere Road from Education to Rumuokoro and Rumuokoro to Port Harcourt Airport. He further resurfaced Elelenwo and Woji roads, constructed Peter Odili and former Stadium Road (Ken Saro-Wiwa Road), and rehabilitated Wimpy-Iwofe Road, among others. Odili also initiated and commenced construction of the Ogoni-Andoni-Opobo link road (Unity Road), Trans Kalabari Road, Okrika Ring Road, Ada-George Road, Okujagu-Woji-Akpajo Road with two bridges, and the resurfacing and rehabilitation of many others across the state.
The governor gave new impetus to education infrastructure development, with deliberate upgrade to state public primary, secondary and tertiary institutions, including the Federal Government-owned University of Port Harcourt. Odili acquired the Sani Abacha House on Port Harcourt-Aba Road, renamed it Chief Dapa-Biriye House, and handed it over to house the headquarters of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). He also gave a new identity to Dolphin and Sharks football clubs and they roared and won laurels, grabbing the Premier League and Champion Cup titles. During his tenure, the governor invested so much in security and restoration of peace as the state was riddled with communal conflicts, unrest and cult-related violence and killings in many local government areas, including Andoni-Ogoni, Ogoni-Ogu, Ogu-Eleme, Okrika-Eleme, Ogbakiri, Abual/Odua, Iba-Obelle, Ikwerre-Okrika, and Abuloma-Amadi-Ama, among others.
After his eight-year tenure, Odili handed over to Sir Celestine Omehia on May 29, 2007, as the fourteenth governor of the state. Omehia governed the state for just five months. Within that period, he made significant impact in the lives of the people, with the initiation of laudable policies and execution of pro-people projects. He initiated and commenced construction of Mile One ultra-modern market, Eliozu flyover, and Eleme Junction Interchange. He also began construction of a shopping mall at GRA Junction, and took it to 80 per cent completion stage. Omehia further faced the challenge of insecurity, and fought cult-related violence, kidnapping and hostage-taking to a reasonable level. He was the darling of civil servants and gave them hope, but his government was aborted by a Supreme Court judgement on October 26, 2007.
Rt Hon Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, the fifteenth governor, was sworn-in on October 26, 2007, and he governed the state for eight years. A paradigm shift in infrastructure development in all sectors overwhelmed his administration. In the roads sector, Amaechi initiated and constructed some 170 roads, which added more than 800km to the existing 1,000km since 1967. On the roads were 30 bridges. Of these, 10 were new road dualisation projects, which added to existing six since 1967, out of which only two were real dual carriageways. He expanded the Eleme Junction Interchange and Eliozu flyovers and completed both. He initiated and completed two new ones at Sani Abacha/Agip intersection and Obiri Ikwerre. Amaechi also executed five reclamation, shore protection and dredging/canalisation projects. He also expanded Trans Amadi, Eleme and Afam power facilities.
In the education and health sectors, Amaechi began construction of 350 ICT-based model primary schools and 23 model secondary schools in the 23 LGAs. Some 70 per cent of the primary schools were completed, the rest were abandoned, just as only about five of the secondary schools were completed, while the rest were abandoned. In the health sector, Amaechi added 150 primary health centres to the existing 45 since 1967, completed three secondary health facilities, but abandoned projects for two tertiary health institutions. He completed the 933-shop Mile One market commenced by Omehia, and also started and completed the 1,028-shop Port Harcourt Town Market. He commenced but abandoned both Motor and Electrical Spare Parts markets at Akpajo and Iriebe, respectively. Under public-private partnership (PPP), Amaechi started the high-brow Rainbow Town Estate, completed the Gulf Estate, the Silverbird Galleria, upgraded the moribund Superbod Stores to Port Harcourt Mall, and Integrated ICT Centre in Port Harcourt. He further added two modern structures to boost infrastructure deficit at the state Judiciary complex, rebuilt the Cultural Centre Complex on Creek Road, and constructed Obi Wali International Conference Centre on G. U. Ake Road, built Adokiye Amasiemaka Stadium at Greater Port Harcourt City and remodelled sports fields in Port Harcourt Township to mini sports stadia, and completed some units of Iriebe housing estate, among other projects in different sectors.
Interestingly, having evaluated the legacies of the past governors, it is instructive to note that all the past governors had one way or the other made positive impact in advancing the development template of the state. Granted that the military governors were basically answerable to those at the Presidency who appointed them into office, and therefore, were not obliged to prosecute the state’s agenda to the letter, they, however, strived to serve the people of the state through the delivery of pro-people development projects.
Perhaps, the past five civilian governors had the mandate of the people, not just to protect and defend the interest of the state and deliver on their social contract with the people, but to also work towards realising the dreams of the founding fathers of the state. While it is an academic exercise to argue who, among the past governors, actually initiated policies and programmes as well as executed strategic development projects with positive impact on the people, in alignment with the dreams of the founding fathers, it is easy to deduce that every Rivers man, elected into office to govern the state, had done his best to serve, protect and defend the interest of the state. It is, however, important to state that while they worked hard to serve the state, they had also unwittingly assumed that the interest of the state and that of the political platform which produced them were intertwined. But in our democracy, this is ultimately where the blurry line between political interest and state interest are misconstrued.
So, 50 years after, to what extent have the dreams of the founding fathers of Rivers State been realised, given the legacies of the past governors?
Truth is: If Rivers State sneezes, panics or is in turbulence today, not just the entire Nigerian political and economic superstructures but the international system experiences meltdown. Thus, whatever happens to or in Rivers State, resonates globally, with consequential or positive impacts. This is a classic testimony that the dreams of the founding fathers are gradually being realised!

Nelson Chukwudi