Rivers At 52: Matters Arising


Irish poet, Edmund Burke, once said; “all there is for evil to triumph is for good people to ‘do nothing’.
In other words, members of society must react and question anomalies to promote peace and development.
Similarly, American liberal activist, Wendell Philips, is quoted as saying, “External vigilance is the price of liberty.
To this end, it is clear that no society can enjoy bliss and attain freedom, independence and liberty without being vigilant or engage in productive effort that would engender growth.
The laudable effort of the founding fathers that fought for the creation of Rivers State in 1967 must be celebrated for the overall good of Rivers people.
State creation movement in Nigeria took several approaches before regions and states were eventually created. In fact, the circumstances that led to the agitation for a state in the Niger Delta cannot be discussed in isolation of the broader social problems which affected the Nigerian nation.
It is equally important to accentuate the fact that state creation movement emanated from the fear of domination by the major tribes in the Nigerian project.
Ben Naanen (2002) pages 340-350 in Ebiegberi, Joe Alagoa and Abi Dere-Faka in the book entitled The Land and People of Rivers State Eastern Niger Delta; “the struggle for ethnic hegemony has been linked to formation of pan ethic union from the 1920s.
Professor Naanen posited that the ethnic movement also took the form of cultural and welfare associations before assuming political status when party politics was introduced in Nigeria.
For instance, the Jamiya Mutanen Arewa also known as Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) was founded in 1949, Egbe Omo Oduduwa formed in 1951 and thus constituted the nucleus of Action Group while the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroon (NCNC) was inaugurated in 1944 and the Igbo in Lagos were in majority in the party.
Since this party formation were dominated by the so-called major tribes, fears of minority groups deepened.
In the Niger Delta Region, the Ijaws are credited with the formation of Rivers Peoples League in 1941, followed by agitations by the Ogonis, Ekpeye, Etche and Abua.
The first attempt to create Rivers State was the creation of Rivers Province in 1947 comprising Ahoada, Brass, Degema, Ogoni with Port Harcourt as its Headquarters.
The creation of Rivers State, therefore, was not any act of benevolence but as a result of combined agitations of ethnic groups in the state.
This is where it is pertinent to list most founding fathers and they include Chief Harold Wilcox who later changed his name to Dappa-Biriye, Chief D. Davis Manuel and Chief Francis Alagoa, among others.
However, those who actually signed the Rivers Leaders of Thought document were S. N. Dikibo as chairman, E. N. Kobani representing Ogoni Division, Dr I. J. M. Fiberesima (Degema) R. P.G. Okara (Brass Division), G B C Otoko (Opobo Division) and N. Nwonodi (Ahoada and Port Harcourt Division). This does not undermine the roles of Dr Obi Wali and Ken Saro-Wiwa, among others.
To the glory of God, on 27th May, the Military administration of Yakubu Gowon created the 12 States structure and Rivers State was one.
Thus Rivers State was created 52 years ago on 27th May, 1967. The celebration of the birthday of the state has always been threatened by Children’s Day celebration and birthday celebration of some governors whose birthdays fall on 27th May. It is on record that Navy Commander Alfred Diete-Spiff was appointed the first Military Governor of Rivers State while Elder Pikibo Oju-Daniel Kalio was appointed the first Secretary to State Government. The question to ask at this juncture is, 52, years after, what are the lessons to learn from the founding fathers?
In the words of former Minister of Youths, Sports and Culture, Alabo Tonye Graham-Douglas, “The Founding Fathers bequeathed unity of purpose to us all”.
Graham-Douglas called on Rivers people to reconcile their differences to engender peaceful co-existence and stressed the need to emulate unity of purpose exhibited by the founding fathers to build a virile Rivers State.
In the words of a former Governor of the state, Sir Peter Odili, at the recent inauguration thanksgiving in honour of Governor Nyesom Wike at the Yakubu Gowon Stadium, “Rivers elders must unite and fight collectively to entrench peace in the state”.
He concluded thus, “Rivers State elders must embrace moral high ground to promote unity’.
No doubt, Rivers State needs unity and peace. For Professor Emeritus E. J. Alagoa, the Rivers State Government and, indeed, the Niger Delta States must attach premium to result-oriented research in our universities that will place the state in particular and the region at large on a fast lane of development.
At 52 years, insecurity must be defeated to facilitate communication and transportation of goods across the state.
Wike’s government should ensure safe transportation of goods across riverine communities in the state.
In this regard, Governor Wike, during his second term, must change the narrative of kidnap, rape, robbery and killing along PH-Bonny and PH-Kula, Bille sea routes.
It is also pertinent for the authorities to promote Rivers culture and, in turn, project in good light the favourable identity of Rivers people.
To this end, the present administration must resuscitate the ailing media establishments such as Radio Rivers, RSTV, The Tide Newspaper, Garden City Radio and Council for Arts and Culture as well as the Rivers Readers Project to promote Rivers indigenous languages.
The authorities must also accord priority to the welfare of senior citizens such as retired civil servants through prompt payment of pensions, gratuity, promotion arrears and regular payment of salaries of workers. Thank God the amended pension law has been assented to.
Sika is a PH-based journalist.


Baridorn Sika