Okwe Obi, Abuja The Federal Government has directed investors coming into the country to pay more attention to rural areas in order to trigger rapid development, adding that there is no amount of money invested in rural development was too much to accrue huge benefits. Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Heinekan…
In a 1971 inquiry into the development of West African Literature, Adrian Roscoe penned a masterpiece entitled: “Mother Is Gold”. In it, Roscoe raises pertinent questions, such as: How did West African Literature begin? What influences affected its growth and development? How much does it imitate European models? And the like. In resolving these issues, Roscoe submits that West African Literature has deservedly, come to assume a life of its own, regardless of the controversies that trailed its development as an authentic field of study.
Like the concerns that Roscoe shared in his literary excursion, the birth of Rivers State was as controversial as any new experiment. It is indeed a historical fact that Rivers was one of the States created in 1967 in controversial circumstances. The military government of Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria’s then Head of State, had abolished the four regional administrations and divided the country into twelve states. The action was believed to be a war strategy. The Eastern Region, one of the four regions that made up the country at the time, had declared itself an independent entity known and called the Republic of Biafra. The declaration was rejected and resisted by the military regime that was in place in Nigeria at the time.
To weaken the support base of the new republic, Gowon’s military regime applied the divide and rule tactic. It ensured that the Eastern Region no longer operated as one entity by creating separate states for the minority ethnic groups of the region. The idea was, ostensibly, to liberate them from the ballyhooed spectre of Igbo domination. But it was, primarily, aimed at ensuring that they have a divided loyalty for Biafra. The strategy worked to a very large extent. The division dealt a staggering blow to the unity, strength and cohesiveness of Biafra.
Rivers State was one of the byproducts of the Gowon strategy. With the creation of Rivers and South Eastern States out of the then Eastern Region, the ethnic minorities of Eastern Nigeria heaved a sigh of relief. They felt somewhat liberated from the majority Igbo ethnic group. This development, no doubt, affected the loyalty and commitment of a good number of them to a nascent Biafran Republic, which they felt, rightly or wrongly, was not going to protect their interests or meet their yearnings and aspirations.
The Civil War has since been won and lost and the calculations have changed. The politics of state creation has also assumed a new tone and timbre. Consequently, the creation of Rivers and South Eastern states at the time are now viewed beyond the narrow confines of a war strategy targeted at the new Republic of Biafra. Indeed, we have moved away from the politics of state creation to the real benefits that come with it. It is on the strength of this that we are better able to appreciate why states like Lagos and Rivers are celebrating their fifty years of existence. While we may say that Lagos was made and developed largely by the Federal Government, having once played the dual role of both a state and federal capital, we cannot say the same thing of Rivers. Rivers state was a regional byproduct. But its creation gave verve and impetus to the development and growth of Port Harcourt, its capital. Port Harcourt, a port city on the Niger Delta flank of Eastern Nigeria, never existed until 1903 when the decision to build it was taken in Owerri by the colonialists. The major attraction, which what is today called Port Harcourt had for the white overlords was its contiguity to the sea. In building the new city, it was envisaged that a sea route would be opened up, which will make the city a major trading post. This development initiative, which the colonialists set in motion was sustained by the Eastern Nigerian government. However, with the creation of Rivers State, the development potentials of Port Harcourt witnessed a quantum leap. Today, Port Harcourt stands out as one of the most developed cities in Nigeria. Fifty years down the line, it can be safely said that the creation of Rivers State has paid off handsomely. When we reflect on the gains that have accrued from the 1967 exercise, we can say without contradiction that Rivers, then and now, is gold. From Peter Odili to Chibuike Amaechi, the story of governance in Rivers State has been one of huge success. The governors have made good use of the huge oil revenues that have been accruing to the state. The result is the uncommon developmental strides that the state has witnessed.
As a matter of fact, there has been no dull moment in the life of Rivers State. After Odili and Amaechi, the state is now in the hands of another patriot, who is passionate about the development of the state. Under the present regime of Nyesom Wike, Rivers is marking 50 years of its existence. Wike is the man of the moment and he is using the opportunity created by the 50th anniversary of the state to tell the story of not only the state as it has been, but also that of his government.
It must be noted that the ascension of Wike almost two years ago, as the Governor of Rivers State has largely been one of controversy. Having fought hard to maintain his hold on the state after winning a keenly contested election, Wike is both loved and loathed, depending on which side of the divide you belong to. Whereas the opposition in the state has stopped at nothing to whittle down his power and influence, the governor does not appear perturbed. He maintains an iron grip on the state to the amazement and consternation of his detractors. Even in this time of celebration, the divided house that is Rivers State is playing out. While it is expected that the founding fathers, leaders and elders of the state will close ranks and take time off to reflect on the journey so far, there are voices of dissent in the air over the ongoing celebrations. The divisive politics of the state is taking its toll on what is supposed to be a convivial moment for the people of the state. But Wike is moving and rowing. He has refused to be distracted by the rancour that is threatening to creep into the celebrations. It is actually a historical coincidence that Rivers State attained 50 at this time. And the governor has grabbed the opportunity with both hands. He has counseled those who are worried by his ascendancy not to lose sleep. Instead, he wants them to accept the inevitable and join him in making Rivers State greater. That is why he has put aside all the differences and has invited the leaders and founding fathers of the state to be part of the success story that is being told.
Wike may be the vehicle through which the story of the new Rivers State is being conveyed to the public arena. But he is insisting, and rightly too, that he is in office in the service of the people. People should, therefore, look beyond him in the celebration of Rivers State. This is in recognition of the fact that Rivers State will not attain the envisioned height or realise its desired objective if the leaders of the state do not bury the hatchet and come together for the overall benefit of the state. That explains the governor’s call for reconciliation and unity of purpose during the recent thanksgiving and dedication service held as part of the activities lined up for the 50th anniversary of the state. The olive branch waved by Wike should be viewed beyond partisanship and embraced by all people of goodwill.