Rivers State is one of the thirty-six (36) states that make up the political structure of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The state was created on the 27th May 1967 by the then military government of General Yakubu Gowon. Why was the state created out of the then Eastern Region? Some said it was to balkanize the Eastern Region which was under the rulership and control of the Igbo, thereby reducing the numerical, economic and political support for the Igbo in the event of a major political conflict between Nigeria under Gowon and Eastern Region under the late General Chukwuemeka Odimegu Ojukwu. Others posited that it was to enable the Gowon administration free access to the emerging quantum petro-dollar from the state. It had also been argued that the state was created to satisfy the long agitations from the minority ethnic groups clustered around the area up to Calabar for a state of their own [recall that this agitation actually started in about 1954 through to 1958 at the Willink’s Commission when the peoples of the areas involved asked for the creation of the Calabar-Ogoja-Rivers (COR) State].
Whatever the reasons for its creation, the purpose of this article is to assess the state in terms of its development efforts and suggest ways for better progress. It is instructive to note that out of the forty-five (45) years of its existence, indigenes of the state had ruled it for twenty-six years and this translates to 58%. Let us also agree that development goes beyond the building or provision of infrastructure or social amenities. Development is the consistent improvement of the people’s environment, human beings, resources, valued systems and traditional occupations.. The environment consists of the forests, water bodies, rocks, valleys, mountains and the entire landscape owned by the people. Human beings include their brains and especially their talents, experiences, knowledge and philosophies embedded in their spiritual minds and psychologies that propel them to act, re-act or take no action. Resources here refers to all the surface and under the surface things of material value including land, vegetation, crops, trees, minerals, heat-energy, gas, coastal areas etc. Valued systems refer to those generally accepted traditional principles or customs with which life is lived. They include the governmental system, principles that guide private relationships, inter-communal relations, sports and entertainment, law and adjudication, etc. Traditional occupations refer to the economic systems of engagement for the production of wealth and sustenance of life. These occupations were derived from the nature of the people’s environment, their known talents, resources and valued systems. In all of these, no particular mention or attention is paid to infrastructure or social amenities because they are the palm oil with which development is consummated. In order words, they are facilitators of development; they cannot be development on their own. Hence I insist that infrastructure is not development.
So, back to Rivers State and at the commencement of the life of the state, the then Commander Alfred Diette Spiff, as the pioneer leader of the state, drew up a very ambitious plan to develop the state. This led to the establishment of the College of Science and Technology ( now Rivers State University of Science and Technology), College of Education ( now Ignatius Ajuru University of Education), School of Basic Studies ( now College of Arts & Science), School of Nursing, School of Health Technology, Nigerian Tide, taking over of primary and secondary schools hitherto owned by churches and establishing new ones, construction of roads, establishment of utilities board, Pan African Bank which died later due to funds mismanagement and those responsible used the stolen funds to float their own banks, Pabod Finance & Investment, Pabod Breweries, Pabod Supplies, Pabod Foods, scholarship and bursary programmes, building of the state Secretariat complex, stadia and providing supports for the establishment of Federal institutions, agencies and facilities like the army barracks, airforce base, naval and police infrastructure across the state. There were NPA, River Basin Development Authorities, NEPA/PHCN facilities and offices, refineries and petrochemicals, University of Port Harcourt, Nitel/Mtel, NIPOST, NAFCON and private businesses represented by the giant oil and gas companies, oil and gas services companies etc. All these in addition to other facilities established by the Eastern Region government including Trans-Amadi Industrial Layout, Hotel Presidential Port Harcourt, Oilmill Factories, Bori Camp etc. Also established were dispensaries, health centres and hospitals.
Later, Rivoc, RisomPalm Ltd, WAGI, Onne Port, School-to-Land Authority, Liquefied Natural Gas projects, Bori Polytechnic were established. There was the expansion of state and federal enterprises and projects in the state. Thereafter, the state hosted the OMPADEC and now NDDC corporate headquarters, and established Omoku Gas Turbine and the state is currently working on the monorail and Greater Port Harcourt City projects. I do not know why a state that hosts these significant infrastructure is still classified as underdeveloped/undeveloped by the UNDP.
Politics was not left out. During the First Republic, NCNC was the dominant party in the state. In the Second Republic, there was strong presence of the NPN, NPP and UPN in the state. We must not forget that it was Rivers and Cross River states that gave NPN the wining votes in the political arithmetics of 2/3 of 19 in 1979 presidential election that gave Alh. Shehu Shagari victory. All through the Maradonic era of the General Ibrahim Babangida military rule, Rivers people were present in good numbers in the SDP and the NRC. It witnessed the creation of provinces, districts, local governments and the existence of a robust three arms of government. Its judiciary had improved from district or provincial courts to magistrate, customary and high courts. Another significant political milestone of the state was that it gave birth to Bayelsa State and today, the state has twenty-three local government areas with over five million heads( see National Population Commission website).
Despite all this, the state is still classified as an underdeveloped state. Why? The reason is simple: In all these achievements, there had not been consciously sustained effort at improving the items of development. That is why today the Rivers environment is endangered and being extinct; the talents of the people are not known ( Rivers State government should put in place an educational system that can discover, grow, mature and sustain the Mercy Chinwos, Monalisa Chindas, Julius Agwus, Finidi Georges, Owugbokiris, Jossy Dombrayes, Jimmy Conters, Tam David Wests, Ken Saro-Wiwas, Obi Walis, Claude Akes, Elechi Amadis, etc). The people of Rivers State do not have the capacity to discover, exploit and refine mineral resources deposited beneath their soils. They cannot even clean-up their environments polluted by crude oil spillages. The traditional occupations of the peoples of Rivers State have not been improved: to proof this, let the state government carry out a research to determine whether or not Agricultural produce in the state had increased in quantity and quality compared to what they were in the 1980s? What about industrial estates where the numerous wasting fruits and vegetables can be processed into other foods, while their chemicals can be used in other industries for further processing to meet high level demands for special chemicals? Given its topology, Rivers State deserves at least ten industrial estates. Besides Trans-Amadi Industrial Estate, is there any other one that can make significant contribution to the ongoing computation of the state’s GDP. What and where are the valued systems of the people? Are they constantly being improved or had been neglected. In Ikwerre ( part of the state) where I come from, traditional wrestling was the “tonic fever” that captured and soothed souls in the land and made more people happy. Where is it today?
What is in vogue in the state are some esoteric weird values that can hardly qualify as values. Elderlys’ secret societies have given rise to rampaging youth cultism whose son was militancy hidden under the phantom resource control agitations. As at today, over 80% of the secondary schools in the state are afflicted with cultism; while about 30% of the primary schools in the state are overdosed with cultism. If care is not taken, in the near future, it will penetrate the nursery and kindergarten schools as well as social homes. All the tertiary institutions in the state are the seventh-havens of cultism practices and they control oil bunkering and illegal mining of crude oil in the state. These are booming because these cultists have strong political support; despite the existence of the state laws prohibiting cultism in the state. At the end, Rivers State had lost its character and life had never been the same again. This is where we are today with the youths of Rivers State and the role of values in our efforts at development.
To worsen the matter, there is high level unemployment of youths, many children of school age still roaming the streets of Rivers State, unresolved inter-community conflicts fueled by cultism, corruption in government, general lack of appropriate development pathways or ideologies.
So, the task before the Rivers State government is to rework its development agenda towards the items of development. It is not just about building roads, bridges, buying and installing transformers etc which had been the case since 1967, but more about to provide them in context since they are needed to improve a particular item of development. Real development is when the people are directly responsible for the transformation of the items of development in order to satisfy their needs.
Rivers environment needs to be preserved. Rivers talents need to be taught and developed via the formal educational system where Rivers children should have unfiltered access to total free education up to the university level. Rivers resources need to be discovered, exploited and refined by Rivers people. Rivers agriculture needs to be constantly engaged to move it from the subsistence level to the commercial/industrial level. Risompalm Ltd and Rivoc are clear examples what is being wasted today. Rivers lands should not be sold outrightly but leased. Rivers State needs a bank to support her development efforts. There is need to strongly redirect economic efforts of the people to resources where they have comparative advantages. For example, it will be appropriate to encourage the Ikwerre, Etche, Ekpeye and Ogba along crop farming; while at the same time encourage the Ijaw along fish farming.
Rivers values must not die because doing so, the people and indeed Rivers State also die in character. Every development requires some level of character or discipline to carry and support it; where that is lacking, no positive development can occur and that is the state of Rivers State and indeed Nigeria today. Nigeria lacks the discipline required to carry and support the development she aspires, hence she had remained under/un developed. The provision of infrastructure should be based on the need for it to facilitate defined item(s) of development.
At 45, Rivers State had done averagely well in building infrastructure. But at 50 in 2017, Rivers State will be expected to become an industrialized state driven by its empowered talents whose focus will be to unleash knowledge and structural growth in the agriculture, resources and values of the peoples of Rivers State.