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2019: As Ogonis Make Peace…

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For the people of Bomu and Lewe communities in Gokana Local Government Area of Rivers State, 2019 has started well in more ways than one. For nearly two years, these two neighbouring communities with lovely people, rich vegetation, scenery, arable land, streams and rivers, save the devastation caused by oil exploration, had lived together like the good neighbours that they truly are.
 They speak the same dialect, intermarry, live happily together and carry on well with their lives as well as do their main business of fishing and farming and other economic activities with amiable tenacity. But by some bizarre circumstances the peace and good neighbourliness associated with them became somewhat elusive. No thanks to the communal strife of nondescript ratings that pitch brothers against each other.
 Needless to say that both communities have had their fair share of fatalities and other spoils of war as dozens died, houses and other valuable property worth millions of naira were destroyed and the people rued the incidents.
 Several efforts aimed at resolving whatever the dispute was had failed to produce the desired result because, with the benefit of hindsight, at the slightest stir, fresh crisis erupted, with its attendant reprisals and outcome, to say the least.
 Last year, precisely on September 23, the 6 Division of the Nigerian Army, Port Harcourt, had intervened with a view to reconciling the two communities and ensure that the people embrace peace, live in harmony again and offer their usual hospitality to visitors. But as noble as it was, a reconciliation meeting initiated by the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of 6 Division, Major-General Jamil Sarham, in Bori Camp, Port Harcour,t was stalled due to the absence of one of the warring communities.
 Major-General Sarham had said the peace meeting was initiated as part of the Army’s mandate to ensure peaceful coexistence in the society, insisting that the absence of representatives of one of the communities would not deter the Division from achieving lasting peace not only in Bomu and Lewe, but the Gokana LGA and Rivers State as a whole.
 Speaking at the botched peace parley, the Chairman of Gokana LGA, Hon. Paul Kobani, who himself was present at that meeting regretted the colossal destruction the warring communities had recorded in the disturbances.
 As the popular saying goes, ‘uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,’ Kobani who inherited the Bomi/Lewe crisis when he assumed office as council boss also shared the sentiments of the Army when he assured that he would not relent until lasting peace returns to the area. 
 He disclosed that the GOC had visited the affected communities on September 20, last year to assess the level of damages the two communities recorded and has asked him (Kobani) to invite the two parties for the meeting at the headquarters of 6 Division in Port Harcourt.
 Interestingly today, the bloodbath, injuries and destruction that trailed the clashes may now be a thing of the past as the various peace moves initiated by stakeholders have finally yielded positive results.
Weeks after the peace parley by the Army in Port Harcourt, some stakeholders in Ogoni land, at a meeting, vowed that they will no longer tolerate continual communal clashes between the two communities.
 The stakeholders, including the Gbenemene (King) of Gokana Kingdom and the leadership of KAGOTE, an acronym for Khana, Gokana, Tai and Eleme (the four local government areas that make up Ogoni land), the Solomon Ndigbara Foundation and many youth groups in the area after a meeting in Yeghe, a community in Gokana, vowed to apply every traditional means in ensuring that peace returns to the warring sides.
 In a resolution read after the meeting by Secretary of the Gokana Community Youth Leader, Vincent Kobah, the stakeholders warned that sponsoring crisis between Lewe and Bomu would attract punishment.
 The resolution partly reads, “That henceforth no more shooting in the two communities of Bomu and Lewe. That any further fighting or shooting from Bomu or Lewe and as well as other communities in Ogoniland will attract the forces (anger) of the whole Gokana and, indeed, Ogoni.
 Accordingly, the youth president of Lewe community, Stanley Nagbe, and his counterpart from Bomu, Sunday Michael, committed themselves to ensuring peace between the two communities.
 Meanwhile, a former Niger Delta agitator, Solomon Ndigbara, gave a hint as to why the conflicts had lingered while speaking on telephone during a Radio programme in Port Harcourt, alleging that cultists have hijacked the crisis between the two communities.
 Ndigbara said, rather emotionally, that the Gokana people will go tough on anyone caught promoting crisis in Bomu and Lewe.
 He said, “I always advised them not to allow these cult boys take over the communities from the chiefs. They have taken over the whole leadership from the chiefs and are operating on their own.
 ”Any community that they send their machineries on their own they feel that they can fight and destroy other communities. It is not like we do not know them. But we will let them know that with the aid of this body (making reference to the resolution) everything will stop.
 ‘I know a number of our leaders and different groups that have come into this matter but they (the fighters) did not respect them, Ndigbara said.’
 However, there were signs that something good was imminent after the Yeghe resolution, as the peace process took a more concrete position with the signing of a peace accord between representatives of Lewe and Bomu communities at the palace of the Gbenemene (King) of Gokana, HRM Festus Bagia, precisely on Thursday, January 10, this year.
 Worthy of note is that the peace agreement was initiated by Kobani, the Gokana council chairman, in collaboration with some Ogoni leaders under the aegis of the Gbo Kabari Ogoni (Ogoni Elders Forum).
 Speaking on behalf of the forum, former President of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), Barr. Ledum Mitee, expressed confidence in the peace agreement and appealed to the two communities to adhere to the peace deal.
‘There has been conflict between both communities of Bomu and Lewe for sometime now. And the peace process was put in place by the Local Government Chairman, the Gbenemene of Gokana, and Gbo Kabari.
 ‘Working together we tried to look into the matter and have been having conversations with both communities for sometime. Today (January 10 peace accord) has been remarkable in the sense that we have already achieved some form of truce. Following this process, at least, for three weeks hostilities have ceased.
  Like a river achieving its course, everything was falling into place, the Community Development Committee (CDC) of both communities also declared their support for the peace accord at the epoch making event.
 Speaking, the CDC Chairman of Bomu Community, Goodluck Gbara-age, said that the desire of the two communities is for all to live in peace and unity.
  ‘We are two neighbouring communities. We are brothers. We intermarry and we want to see that our youths should please toe the path of peace so that the developmental strides of His Excellency, Governor Nyesom Wike, can also come to Bomu and Lewe.’
 On his part, the CDC Chairman of Lewe, Theophilus Kpaakpa, called on the youths of both communities to sheath their swords and work for the development of the area, even as he corroborated the views of Mitee that since the peace talks started there has been no record of any untoward incident in any of the communities.
‘In the first place we have to thank God that for about two weeks today, we have not heard gunshots again between these two communities. And the Paramount Rulers of Lewe and Bomu have gone on air to say there should be peace.
 ‘We are also toeing the same path as CDC chairmen of Lewe and Bomu that there should be peace. We cannot do anything without peace. We have gone back.
 ‘Two years now I am tired. My co-chairman, CDC chairman of Bomu is also tired of this thing. So we are supporting the Gbo Kabari of Ogoni,” Kpaakpa stated in an emotion-laden voice.
 Similarly, Paramount Ruler of Lewe, Chief Sibe Lebatom lauded the initiators of the peace deal. He said, “I am grateful to Gbo-kabari, the executive Chairman, His Majesty and the Bomu/Lewe Peace Committee for inviting Bomu and Lewe for a peace talk today.
 ‘Thank God we have achieved it. We promise and we agree that we will cease fire as from today. We have heard from them. We have signed. I pray that let both communities subscribe to the tenets of what we have signed today.
 ‘Saying is one thing, implementation is another. Whatever has bothered Lewe and Bomu from today that we have agreed peace should come to stay in Jesus mighty name. Amen!
 Like his compatriot, Paramount Ruler of Bomu, Chief Nasikpo Nledi Nyiedah, promised to abide by the tenets of the accord.
 He stated, “We are here today to kick-start the peace process between Bomu and Lewe communities that have been in crisis all these months and years.
  In the main, like officiating ministers say in church when joining a couple, ‘to have and to hold….. The need for this newfound peace to be sustained cannot be over emphasized. It should be savoured, cherished, pampered and the dotted lines or tenets should be clung to tenaciously so that it does not slip away so that the people do not return to the trenches. In the main, there is no better way to begin the year than what the people have done — holding out the olive branch.
 If the assurances of the traditional rulers, the CDC chairmen and other stakeholders are anything to go by, there is no doubt that normalcy would return to their land, while the people will live happily as good neighbours.
 The winners in all of this are not only the people of Lewe and Bomu, but the Gokana and entire Ogoni people; as it is hoped that this feat will rub-off on other warring communities and make them borrow a leaf from the January 10 accord.

Dennis Naku

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Should Daughters Inherit Father’s Property?

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Recently, a court in one of the southern states nullified the practice of denying female children the right to inherit their father’s property. The ruling confirms that the female child can inherit her father’s property. It is good but how the message is going to be sent to the villages at the grassroots calls for concern.
This issue of women inheriting directly from their lineage is supposed to be translated to the rural areas. This will give them a sense of belonging.
One thing is for the government or a competent court to make and interpret such law, another is for kinsmen to obey and allow the female children inherit their father’s wealth.
There are those who hold tightly to the cultural practice that females should not inherit their father’s property because, according to them, women get married out. Some people have vowed not to, feeling that if a daughter partakes in the share of her father’s property, she will take the proceeds to her husband’s house. Even as educated as some persons are, and having attained certain levels in the society, they still hold to the opinion.They claim that it is African culture. In some rural areas they don’t bother whether such laws are in existence and view it as imported.
Another group say there is nothing wrong in that since the woman came from such lineage. For them, such idea is primitive and archaic in this 21st century.
A legal practitioner, Chidi Enyie explained that every female child has a right of inheritance.
Citing Section 42 Sub 1&2 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended, he said that every person has a right to freedom from discrimination.
He said that was invoked in Ukoje Vs Ukoje (2020) where the Supreme Court came to a judgement that no person by reason of sex shall be discriminated against by reason of sex from inheriting the property of the parents.  The same way the males are entitled to inheritance, that’s the same females are entitled.
According to Barr. Enyie, the issue of sharing inheritance comes into play when a deceased parent dies intestate, that is dying without a Will, but if it is when there is a Will, it means the deceased person has done the sharing of the property in the Will.
“In most cases, it happens when there is a Will.  In our custom in Nigeria, they tend to favour the male child, but the Supreme Court judgement remains the name unless it is reversed in later decisions”, he said.
His words: “As it is, the barrier of discrimination has been nullified. Both male and female can inherit.  Even if she dies, her children are supposed to continue the ownership of the property, they are supposed to inherit their mum.  It can continue to run from generation to generation in that lineage”.
He pointed out that it depends largely on the type of marriage as sometimes in a customary marriage, the custom of the people will apply so long as the custom is not repugnant to national justice, equity and God conscience, then the custom will apply.
But in a Statutory marriage, Esien vs Esien (1934), he said that the Supreme Court came out with a decision that if it is the biological father of the child and not the customary father of the child.
“But ignorance on the part of the society tries to hamper the execution of the judgement of the Supreme Court”, he insisted.
He maintained that the judgement of Ukeje vs Ukeje is being criticised by the Ibo tribe that it wants to nullify their customs stressing that it should not prescribe what their custom should be.
He advocated that women should remain vibrant and contend for their right until awareness is created about the equality of both sex.
A pharmacist, Mr. Edet Okong, said such issue is prevalent in Nigeria because of poverty and illiteracy while it is not practised in other countries.
He noted that women have a share in his family whenever they are sharing things.  
He asked: “Is it not somebody from that family that gave birth to the woman?”
A legal practitioner, Mr. Ejike Uboh, noted that the issue of inheritance has to be handled by the court.
He said that NGOs need to carry out a lot of campaigns to the rural areas to be able to change the mindset of people who still hold into such cultural practice.
Uboh said that females inheriting their father’s property is good and traceable to the Holy scripture and called on FIDA and traditional rulers who are the embodiment of customs to sensitise people, giving reasons why such practice should stop.
A mechanic, Nude Ikegwuru, insisted that it is impossible for a daughter to inherit her father’s property and argued that women are exempted from paying levies in some communities and so should not.  
He made reference to the Aba women riot of 1929 which prevents women from paying tax in Nigeria.
A businessman, Gold Ibokwe, said that such laws and decision by the government should be taken seriously as time goes on.
According to a medical laboratory scientist, Ebere Nduidi, “when a woman is not married, she should have right to any property in her father’s home but when she gets married, I don’t think that is necessary.”
He emphasised that when a woman gets married, she changes her name and start answering her husband’s name, becomes somebody’s wife and so should not as she has been legally married.
Although he argued that the daughter can if it is her biological father’s property and not a general family case and insisted that if she gets the property before the death of the father, she should not return it.
“Fathers have the right to Will properties to their daughters if they want. They have equal opportunity as the male children”, he opined.
An entrepreneur, Davies Peter, said a woman can inherit her father’s property while she is alive and after her lifetime, the property should be released to the family.
According to him, since she bears the name of another family, the children shouldn’t continue the inheritance.
He advised that natural justice has to take its course instead of imported law while the laws be properly looked into and maintained that there should be some exception to the interpretation of some of the law as regards Nigeria and Africa generally.
He said although some of the laws are treated based on the fact that women are referred to as the weaker sex and they try to wave certain things.
He cautioned that people should not bring what is impracticable into existence and argued that male and female are not equal.
Mr. Kayode Ojo, an Architect asked: “Don’t you think that when you give a woman land in her father’s house, another one in her husband’s house, it will be too much? 
“ A man and a woman is a family, the husband and the children, so she should inherit in her husband’s house”, he noted.
Although the law supersedes tradition, he said, but that is if he wants to give the land to his daughter, at the end of the day, it is her own and insisted that tradition cannot prove the law wrong.
A pharmacist, Mary Udoh, said that fathers should be sensitised about writing Wills before death, so that if a property is bequeathed to whether a female or male, nobody under the law can take it away from such child.
An engineer, Emeka Obi, said what one may call cultural barriers and taboos is a common problem in Nigeria.
As he puts it: “People’s customs and traditions are peculiar to those who practice them. If according to the way of life of a given people, their daughters don’t have a place in the family inheritance, so be it, but if out of love or goodluck, a father Wills a property to any of his daughters, I have no problem with that”.
A nurse, Mary Uche, in her own view said: “ This is a welcome development. We are more of girls in my house than boys. “Could you believe that we lost our Dad, we the girls buried him but the boys took all the properties. And even if a woman dies, all her properties will be given to the sons’ wives. The only things given to the girls are clothes, if you demand more, they will tell you to go and inherit your husband’s house. If you are single, they will tell you to go and marry”.
The consequence of denying the female child the right of inheritance of father’s property is that if it comes to a situation where she is expected to contribute to family pressures, definitely she will withdraw. 
I’m not sure that any property can be too much to be owned by a woman.  If she has properties both in her father’s house and husband’s home, better for the children; after all, they were not stolen but inherited from grandparents. 
Religious leaders should preach more to the populace on improving the lives of people in the society.
Traditional rulers, NGOs should continually have dialogue and pass the messages down to the grassroots and perhaps to those in the urban centers no matter how learned and their level of exposure.

By: Eunice Choko-Kayode

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Features

Should Daughters Inherit Father’s Property?

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on

Recently a court in one of the southern states nullified the practice of denying female children the right to inherit their father’s property. The ruling confirms that the female child can inherit her father’s property. It is good but how the message is going to be sent to the villages at the grassroots calls for concern.
This issue of women inheriting directly from their lineage is supposed to be translated to the rural areas. This will give them a sense of belonging.
One thing is for the government or a competent court to make and interpret such law, another is for kinsmen to obey and allow the female children inherit their father’s wealth.
There are those who hold tightly to the cultural practice that females should not inherit their father’s property because, according to them, women get married out. Some people have vowed not to, feeling that if a daughter partakes in the share of her father’s property, she will take the proceeds to her husband’s house. Even as educated as some persons are, and having attained certain levels in the society, they still hold to the opinion.They claim that it is African culture. In some rural areas they don’t bother whether such laws are in existence and view it as imported.
Another group say there is nothing wrong in that since the woman came from such lineage. For them, such idea is primitive and archaic in this 21st century.
A legal practitioner, Chidi Enyie explained that every female child has a right of inheritance.
Citing Section 42 Sub 1&2 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended, he said that every person has a right to freedom from discrimination.
He said that was invoked in Ukoje Vs Ukoje (2020) where the Supreme Court came to a judgement that no person by reason of sex shall be discriminated against by reason of sex from inheriting the property of the parents.  The same way the males are entitled to inheritance, that’s the same females are entitled.
According to Barr. Enyie, the issue of sharing inheritance comes into play when a deceased parent dies intestate, that is dying without a Will, but if it is when there is a Will, it means the deceased person has done the sharing of the property in the Will.
“In most cases, it happens when there is a Will.  In our custom in Nigeria, they tend to favour the male child, but the Supreme Court judgement remains the name unless it is reversed in later decisions”, he said.
His words: “As it is, the barrier of discrimination has been nullified. Both male and female can inherit.  Even if she dies, her children are supposed to continue the ownership of the property, they are supposed to inherit their mum.  It can continue to run from generation to generation in that lineage”.
He pointed out that it depends largely on the type of marriage as sometimes in a customary marriage, the custom of the people will apply so long as the custom is not repugnant to national justice, equity and God conscience, then the custom will apply.
But in a Statutory marriage, Esien vs Esien (1934), he said that the Supreme Court came out with a decision that if it is the biological father of the child and not the customary father of the child.
“But ignorance on the part of the society tries to hamper the execution of the judgement of the Supreme Court”, he insisted.
He maintained that the judgement of Ukeje vs Ukeje is being criticised by the Ibo tribe that it wants to nullify their customs stressing that it should not prescribe what their custom should be.
He advocated that women should remain vibrant and contend for their right until awareness is created about the equality of both sex.
A pharmacist, Mr. Edet Okong, said such issue is prevalent in Nigeria because of poverty and illiteracy while it is not practised in other countries.
He noted that women have a share in his family whenever they are sharing things.  
He asked: “Is it not somebody from that family that gave birth to the woman?”
A legal practitioner, Mr. Ejike Uboh, noted that the issue of inheritance has to be handled by the court.
He said that NGOs need to carry out a lot of campaigns to the rural areas to be able to change the mindset of people who still hold into such cultural practice.
Uboh said that females inheriting their father’s property is good and traceable to the Holy scripture and called on FIDA and traditional rulers who are the embodiment of customs to sensitise people, giving reasons why such practice should stop.
A mechanic, Nude Ikegwuru, insisted that it is impossible for a daughter to inherit her father’s property and argued that women are exempted from paying levies in some communities and so should not.  
He made reference to the Aba women riot of 1929 which prevents women from paying tax in Nigeria.
A businessman, Gold Ibokwe, said that such laws and decision by the government should be taken seriously as time goes on.
According to a medical laboratory scientist, Ebere Nduidi, “when a woman is not married, she should have right to any property in her father’s home but when she gets married, I don’t think that is necessary.”
He emphasised that when a woman gets married, she changes her name and start answering her husband’s name, becomes somebody’s wife and so should not as she has been legally married.
Although he argued that the daughter can if it is her biological father’s property and not a general family case and insisted that if she gets the property before the death of the father, she should not return it.
“Fathers have the right to Will properties to their daughters if they want. They have equal opportunity as the male children”, he opined.
An entrepreneur, Davies Peter, said a woman can inherit her father’s property while she is alive and after her lifetime, the property should be released to the family.
According to him, since she bears the name of another family, the children shouldn’t continue the inheritance.
He advised that natural justice has to take its course instead of imported law while the laws be properly looked into and maintained that there should be some exception to the interpretation of some of the law as regards Nigeria and Africa generally.
He said although some of the laws are treated based on the fact that women are referred to as the weaker sex and they try to wave certain things.
He cautioned that people should not bring what is impracticable into existence and argued that male and female are not equal.
Mr. Kayode Ojo, an Architect asked: “Don’t you think that when you give a woman land in her father’s house, another one in her husband’s house, it will be too much? 
“ A man and a woman is a family, the husband and the children, so she should inherit in her husband’s house”, he noted.
Although the law supersedes tradition, he said, but that is if he wants to give the land to his daughter, at the end of the day, it is her own and insisted that tradition cannot prove the law wrong.
A pharmacist, Mary Udoh, said that fathers should be sensitised about writing Wills before death, so that if a property is bequeathed to whether a female or male, nobody under the law can take it away from such child.
An engineer, Emeka Obi, said what one may call cultural barriers and taboos is a common problem in Nigeria.
As he puts it: “People’s customs and traditions are peculiar to those who practice them. If according to the way of life of a given people, their daughters don’t have a place in the family inheritance, so be it, but if out of love or goodluck, a father Wills a property to any of his daughters, I have no problem with that”.
A nurse, Mary Uche, in her own view said: “ This is a welcome development. We are more of girls in my house than boys. “Could you believe that we lost our Dad, we the girls buried him but the boys took all the properties. And even if a woman dies, all her properties will be given to the sons’ wives. The only things given to the girls are clothes, if you demand more, they will tell you to go and inherit your husband’s house. If you are single, they will tell you to go and marry”.
The consequence of denying the female child the right of inheritance of father’s property is that if it comes to a situation where she is expected to contribute to family pressures, definitely she will withdraw. 
I’m not sure that any property can be too much to be owned by a woman.  If she has properties both in her father’s house and husband’s home, better for the children; after all, they were not stolen but inherited from grandparents. 
Religious leaders should preach more to the populace on improving the lives of people in the society.
Traditional rulers, NGOs should continually have dialogue and pass the messages down to the grassroots and perhaps to those in the urban centers no matter how learned and their level of exposure.

By: Eunice Choko-Kayode

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Business

Rivers: The Wheel Propelling Nigerian Economy

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The economic importance of Rivers State to national development has never been in contention. It is easy to discern, even by the blind. It was not by happenstance that the state was christened the ‘Treasure Base of the Nation’. The state earns the sobriquet on account of its contributions to national development. What is rather in contest is the benefit accrued to the people of the state from the huge natural deposits the state is endowed with.
Generally known as the hub of oil and gas industry in the country, Rivers State accounts for 40 per cent of Nigeria’s crude oil production. It is also the largest economy in Nigeria after Lagos. It has vast crude oil reserves among other natural resources, and remains a leading supplier of the nation’s wealth with associated export revenue.
Apart from Lagos, Rivers State contributes the highest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to the nation’s economy. It accounts for about 65 per cent of government revenue and 88 per cent of Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings. As at 2010, Rivers State was contributing US$21,073 next only to Lagos with US$33,679 as GDP.
Despite its relatively low industrial base, the State has two of the nation’s four petroleum refineries at Eleme, two major seaports in Port Harcourt and Onne, an international airport at Omagwa, an oil and gas free zone, and a petrochemical and fertilizer plant in Onne, an industrial estate at Trans-Amadi, a gigantic liquefied natural gas plant in Bonny and tens of petrochemical related companies.
There is no gainsaying the fact that the aggregate growth of the Nigerian economy weighs heavily on the natural resources of Rivers State. For over five decades, the oil and gas sector has remained the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy till date. Little wonder that happenings in the oil and gas industry tend to have serious impact on the other sectors of the nation’s economy.
In the area of oil and gas which creates the wealth that sustains the nation, Rivers State ranks the highest contributor. Apart from playing host to two of the nation’s four petroleum refineries, the state also hosts major oil companies such as The Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC), Total Exploration & Production Nigeria Limited (TEPNL), Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and tens of petrochemical related companies. Added to these is the existence of a multi-billion naira Liquefied Natural Gas plant in Bonny which produces a million tones of gas per year.
It is, however, regrettable that in spite of Rivers State’s status as the hub of oil and gas in the country, these multinationals are reluctant to move their headquarters to the state citing insecurity and restiveness as excuses. It was even recently that NLNG relocated its head office to Port Harcourt.
Meanwhile, the new spate of development from marginal oil fields by the multinational oil giants has also created a vent for the participation of indigenous firms in the nation’s oil and gas sector. These firms include Minipulo, Nestoil, Belema Oil and Sahara Energy, among other upstream operators.
The import of this is that in spite of marginal neglect of the state by the Federal Government in terms of infrastructure and human development, Rivers remains the epicentre of Nigeria’s oil and gas activities, contributing a significant percentage of government’s revenue. That Nigeria was able to prosecute the three-year civil war successfully without borrowing a kobo was courtesy of the oil wealth. The oil boom of the 1970s also led to the mass importation of foreign manufactures, salary reviews and arrears payment, oversea scholarship and training of workers, among others.
Also given its position as a natural seaport and railway terminus, Rivers State has long established itself as an investor’s haven, with the bulk of its tenants in Trans-Amadi Industrial area of Port Harcourt.
Before now, there were several companies scattering around the state, such as Michellin, Pabod Breweries, Port Harcourt Flour Mills, Nigeria Engineering Works (NEW), West African Glass Industry (WAGI), Slumberger, Halliburton, Metalloplastica, Rivers Vegetable Oil Company (RIVOC), Riversbiscuit, Flag Aluminium, Indorama  Eleme Fertiliser &Chemicals Limited, NAFCON, now Notore, among others.
Although a good number of these companies which once contributed to the economic growth of the state and Nigeria at large had since closed shop or relocated outside the country due to a number of factors ranging from poor electricity supply, general infrastructural decay resulting in high operational cost, multiple taxation and insecurity; a handful of them that are still in existence in the state make significant contributions to the nation’s economy in terms of employment generation and wealth creation.
Not too long ago, Pabod Breweries which was once moribund was revived by South Africa’s SAB Miller through a partnership that appears to be yielding good dividends to both the state and national economy, alongside Indorama Group.
Meanwhile, Rivers State also plays host to the second busiest seaport after Lagos. It hosts two of the nation’s seaports – Nigeria Port Authority (NPA), Rivers Complex and Onne Port. This suggests that the state constitutes a major commercial centre in the country. The state’s proximity to Aba in Abia State and Onitsha in Anambra State – two notable destinations for containerised imports, adds impetus to the commercial status of Rivers State, and also contributes in no small measure to the economy of the country.
Rivers State is not lagging behind either in the area of hospitality industry. Apart from the popular Hotel Presidential located along Aba-Port Harcourt Road, which has been in existence since the days of the Eastern Nigeria, there are several other hotels scattering around Port Harcourt and its environs. Prominent among them are Meridian Hotel at Old GRA, Port Harcourt; Landmark Hotel at Waterline area of Port Harcourt, Sasun Hotel at Trans-Amadi, and a host of others. The avalanche of these hospitality industries in the state does not only boost the economic base of the state, it also attracts and facilitates investment in the country.
Added to this impetus is the NEW vision of the present administration in the state led by Governor Nyesom Wike, which has led to a deluge of social infrastructures, thus attracting investments to both the state and the country at large.
It is, however, a painful irony that despite the avalanche of wealth tapped from crude oil sale and other economic opportunities in the state over the years, there has been a complete neglect of the state by the Federal Government in the area of basic infrastructure. For instance, the two major roads that link Rivers State with other parts of the country, namely, the Eleme section of the East West Road that leads to Onne industrial hub, and the Oyigbo section of the Port Harcourt-Aba Road have been in a state of disrepair for years without attention from the Federal Government.
Worst still, the multinationals that operate in the state and Niger Delta as a whole, and who ordinarily should be a propeller of development have only succeeded in adding to the sufferings of the people. They do not only devastate the environment with their oil activities and leave their host communities with destroyed farmlands, polluted air and deteriorating marine life, they also subject the indigenes to a second class citizens in terms of employment.
One of the most disturbing paradox is that crude oil for export is transported to Bonny and Forcados through a network of pipeline stretching across 6,000km over communities and living quarters approximately the distance between Cape Town in South Africa and Cairo in Egypt. Yet, little or no measure is taken to ensure the maintenance of the pipes which often corrode and burst, leading to oil spill, killing people and devastating environment, water and farmlands. Worst, the Federal Government that is supposed to be a regulator appears helpless and complacent as it lacks the political will to rein in on these oil conglomerates to stop the criminal environmental pollution in the state. This obviously accounts for occasional pockets of unrest and restiveness in Rivers and other Niger Delta states.
Many analysts and keen observers have decried the criminal neglect of Rivers State by the Federal Government. Piqued by the aberrant, incongruous structure of the Nigerian federation, especially the iniquitous disposition of the Federal Government in robbing Peter to pay Paul, a professor of Economics, Willie Okowa, had in a seminar presentation on Rivers State since 1967 said, “The use of oil resources derived largely from Rivers State in the creation of the infrastructure basis for development in other parts of the country while denying the same treatment for the territory in which oil is found speaks of a callousness that is numbing to the mind and an outrageousness that is a challenge to the ethics of civilised behaviour”.
The Rivers State governor, Chief Nyesom Wike himself has, at several fora, complained about the inequities and apparent lack of visible federal presence in the state despite the state’s contributions to the nation’s economy. He believes the state deserves a special status and consideration from the Federal Government given its contributions to national growth.
Presenting a paper on ‘Institutional Weakness and Challenges of Development in Rivers State in Abuja in 2016, Wike observed that, “the state has suffered sustained neglect, marginalisation and injustice from successive federal governments and its agencies”.
The governor continued: “Even as no new development project has been initiated in the state for decades, what is most distressing is the failure of the Federal Government to adequately maintain some of the critical federal infrastructure in the state.
“I am referring to the Port Harcourt Terminal building, the Port Harcourt seaport, as well as the East West Road, particularly the section that leads from Eleme junction to the Onne industrial hub that has remained broken for years without attention from the Federal Government.”
Five years after Governor Wike made this cursory observation, has anything changed? Perhaps not. Apart from the Port Harcourt International Airport Terminal building which was constructed recently, all other critical federal infrastructure listed by the governor for attention in 2016 have remained unattended to by the Federal Government. It took the intervention of the state government under Wike to fix two of the federal roads in the state: the Industry Road that leads to the NPA, Port Harcourt seaport and the Igwuruta-Chokocho Road.
Indeed, this disturbing irony of an oil state wallowing in poverty and squalor speaks of an utter insensitivity and indifference that is not only numbing to mind, but also strange to all ethical conducts.
But how long will this criminal neglect and deliberate marginalisation continue? When will the Rivers people get a fair share of the national cake? When will the Federal Government realise that Rivers State is the the wheel that propels the nation’s economy and should be accorded honour and respect? Who will rescue the Treasure Base of the Nation from the oppressive claws of national inequities?  Questions. Endless questions.

 

By: Boye Salau

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