Sunday, May 27, 2018, Rivers State as a geographical entity, clocked 51 years.
By virtue of Decree No. 14 of 1967, the Federal Military Government of General Yakubu Gowon on 27th of May ,1967 created 12 states structure out of the four regional structure that hitherto existed.
Among the states created was the old Rivers State with Port Harcourt as the State Capital. The old Rivers State at its inception in 1967 covered a geographical area; measuring 15, 786 square miles with a population of one million, five hundred and forty four thousand, three hundred and fourteen (1, 544, 314).
It is important to emphasize that the creation of old Rivers State from the defunct Eastern Region was not an act of benevolence. Rather, it was a product of genuine struggle by the founding fathers of the State.
Prof. Ben Naanem in a book titled “The Land and People of Rivers State: Eastern Niger Delta”(2002 page 339-350)which was edited by Emeritus Professor Ebiegber, Joe Alagoa and Abi Denefaka, traced state creation movement to ethnic nationalism which began since 1920s.
Naanem further stated thus: “Although these ethnic movements were founded as cultural and welfare association, they quickly assumed a political character when party politics emerged in Nigeria.”
It is on record that the Northern People’s Congress founded in 1949 transformed into a political party in 1951; Egbe Omo Oduduwa formed in 1945 constituted the crux of Action Group while the Igbos formed the nucleus of the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC).
In the Niger Delta region, the Ijaws played a key role in the agitation with the formation of Rivers People’s League in 1941 with the aim of removing Rivers territory from Owerri Province. Other ethnic groups that featured in the State creation movement were the Ogonis, Ekpeye, Etche, Abua and Ikwerre.
Consequently, the first attempt to create Rivers State came in 1947 when the Rivers Province was created comprising Ahoada, Brass, Degema and Ogoni, with Port Harcourt as its headquarters.
Rivers elder statesmen insisted on creating Rivers State out of the existing political structure then because neither the Igbos nor northerners (Hausa/Fulani) appreciated their peculiar environment challenges.
One thing is clear; the state creation movement was not devoid of internal crisis among Rivers people themselves. Records show that some ethnic groups especially the Ikwerres, Ekpeyes and Idokis whose languages are related to the Igbo later dissociated themselves from the Rivers State movement. This was, however, resolved with the signing of a memorandum by statesmen from all parts of Rivers State.
It is pertinent at this juncture to mention some of the founding fathers which include Chief Francis O. Harold J.R. Wilcox who later became Harold Dappa- Biriye, Chief D. Davis Mannel, Chief Francis O. Alagoa, Chief Paul Birabi and much later, Dr Obi Wali, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Captain Elechi Amadi and Eze Opurum, among others.
This is where it is necessary to suggest to Rivers leaders of today to remember that Rivers State has a rich history of unity of purpose. Leaders from different parts eschewed their differences and came together to fight injustice in both Eastern Nigeria and the larger Nigerian polity and got the creation of Rivers State.
One thing comes to mind; to what extent do leaders of today celebrate past leaders?
Governor Wike has helped to celebrate past leaders in no mean way. For instance, Governor Alfred Diete Spiff established Rivers State College of Science and Technology; Chief Melford Okilo upgraded it to Rivers State University of Science and Technology, now re-christened Rivers State University by Governor Nyesom Wike to enable it offer all courses of study.
Governor Wike has named Rivers State Polytechnic, Bori after the late environmentalist, Ken Saro-Wiwa; Port Harcourt Polytechnic to Captain Elechi Amadi Polytechnic and only recently changed Creek Road to Dame Patience Jonathan Street.
It is true that Governor Wike has renovated Alfred Diete Spiff Sports Centre popularly called Civic Centre and by so doing restored it to its former glorious state.
It is said that to whom much is given, much is expected. To this end, Governor Wike should extend his good work to other sectors that were dear to the hearts of the founding fathers. These include the Rivers State Readers Project which late Kay Williamson and Emeritus Professors, E. J. Alagoa and Otunte Nduka midwifed and which the government of Commander Diete Spiff at the time funded to help create the much needed favourable identity for the young state.
Governor Wike should also lead advocacy with some form of activism to fast-tract clean-up of impacted sites in Ogoni land, address soot and air quality challenges in parts of Rivers State.
The sorry state of the state-owned media does not depict that we appreciate the vision of the founding fathers who established them. This is why Governor Wike should expedite action to revamp Radio Rivers FM, The Tide Newspaper, RSTV and Garden City Radio, as well as Rivers State Council for Arts and Culture as he promised during the recent media chat in Port Harcourt. Rivers State secretariat complex also begs for renovation.
Those in positions of trust should, however, ensure that their public utterances unite the people. This is because the utterances of most public officials in recent times do not only amount to hate speeches but destructive and malicious.
It is worthy of commendation that various developmental projects have earned Governor Wike several awards within and outside Nigeria. It is even more commendable that the governor has not abandoned any project of his predecessors that have direct bearing on the welfare of citizens, neither has he embarked on white elephant projects that would not be completed within the life span of his administration. This, indeed, is the way to show good leadership.
Probably, it is this apparent show of pragmatism and commitment to serve his people that necessitated elder statesman, Professor Ben Nwabueze, to call on Governor Wike to save Nigeria from nepotism, sectionalism and perversion of justice, during the public lecture to mark Governor Wike’s third anniversary.
Sika is a staff of Radio Rivers (99.1FM), Port Harcourt.