FEATURE ARTICLE

Monday, June 10, 2019
[email protected]
Atlanta, GA, USA
RIVERS, OH RIVERS!

he Blue Angels! This is the official name of the Rivers State soccer team. Yes, we had Angels in Rivers State in those days. Blue and White are the official colors of Rivers State. In map reading blue represents river. And white means peace. Meantime, may I congratulate the Rivers State contingent to the 19th National Spots Festival. Rivers State placed second, behind Delta State, out of 36 states in the Federation. We didn’t do so well when I had the honor of representing the state at Bendel ’81 ( 6th National Sports Festival).

Rivers State is (was) very rich. Apart from oil money, the Rivers State economy was boosted ( in those days) by a hefty internally generated revenue; having been blessed with a plethora of industries such as an oil refinery, a petro-chemical plant, a fertilizer plant, two seaports, Michelin , Coca Cola, Metaloplastica among others. And we had a way of showing off our wealth. For instance, during our visit to Kwara State, on the occasion of the 1980 Children’s Day interstate exchange program, our delegation was the only one that traveled to Ilorin by air; thus affording me my first flight experience as a second year High school student. For which I grateful to the NPN administration of the late Governor Melford Obiene Okilo. Delegations from Anambra, Ogun, and Sokoto all traveled by land.

Awash with surplus cash, Rivers State has become looters paradise, for the many governors, (both military and civilian) that the state has had the singular misfortune of being governed by. And we have a long list of kleptomaniacs who have misruled that otherwise most blessed state in the Nigerian federation.

We had one Air force officer, Group Captain Ernest Adeleye, of the “Budget of Madness” infamy, who did not only loot cash but reportedly left the “Brick House” in Port Harcourt with a trailer load of kitchen utensils and cutleries. And there was one Col. Dauda Musa Komo, the contour faced Zuru warrior who presided over the Ogoni pacification project of the 1990s, who was alleged to have built a warehouse for the cash he stole from the Rivers people.

Of course, Rivers State has always produced the biggest father Christmases in Nigeria. Recall, Dr. Peter Odili ,who donated to every imaginable causes-from birthdays to weddings to providing cash for Obasanjo to take out recalcitrant lawmakers. He also tried to help his political cause by loading Obasanjo’s presidential campaign with tons of cash of Rivers money. However, he was dubbed by Obasanjo, as the foxy retired General pulled the rug from under his vice presidential ambition feet. That guy had no regard for Rivers State money. He treated our state treasury like his personal ATM.

His protégé Rotimi Amaechi followed Dr. Odili’s footstep , loading then candidate Muhammadu Buhari’s presidential campaign with stolen Rivers State money; while shopping for his wild vice presidential ambition. But like father, like son, Rotimi Amaechi was denied a vice presidential position after emptying Rivers State treasury for Muhammadu Buhari and Ahmed Bola Tinubu.

With so much money to play with, the contest for political power in Rivers State has always been intense and sometimes bloody. Not just internally, Rivers State is always hotly contested as a prize jewel by the ruling party at the national level. And this has contributed to the heated political climate in the state.

State governors in Nigeria are sometimes accused of contriving security crisis in their states in order to justify the spending of “security votes”- a bogus allocation made to the governors to spend without accounting. This is more so, in Rivers State. During the Ogoni crisis of the early 1990s the Rivers State Government would every now and then cook up security reports to the federal government, and raising tension in the Ogoni territory to justify security votes spending .

Meantime, Rivers State is still awaiting the birth of another Dr. Dinma Deni Fiberesima, the only civil commissioner in Rivers State who was patriotic and courageous enough to protest a “budget of Madness” by our thieving governors. Dr. Fiberesima’s protest against budgeting to steal, in the Rivers State government was emphatic. He resigned his position as commissioner for Health, when the then military governor, Group Captain Ernest Adeleye allocated more than what he estimated for his ministry for the annual budget.

In those days, Rivers State was relatively peaceful. We had the ”usual” inter community clashes, a common feature with multi-ethnic communities in that part of the world, but nothing compared to the gory spectacle of incessant blood- letting that was to come following the dawn of the Third Republic politics. In the early 2000s the insecurity situation in Rivers State came to a head; leading to what came to be known as ” Rivers of Blood”. Yes, blood flowed freely on the streets of Port Harcourt and in the creeks.

Various commentators have traced the escalating violence in Rivers State to the tenure of one of the former governors of the state, Dr. Peter Odili. According to Chidi Odinkalu and Ayisha Osori in a book entitled: THE MYTH OF THE INDISPENSABLE MAN IN AFRICA, the tenure of Governor Odili was “ marred by widespread evidence of corruption, mismanagement organized political violence and electoral fraud”.

In a recent press statement by Civil society groups in Nigeria, they stated inter alia: “ it is a notorious fact that the Rivers State that Dr. Odili ruled was dominated by criminal gangs and militias, many of them with support from the governor’s office. Often, competition between these gangs made life in Port Harcourt and many other parts of the state impossible”.

And the Guardian (Nigeria) in its editorial of September 10 , 2007, comments as follows: “the entire area (Port Harcourt) is now ridden with utter criminality: murder, kidnapping, extortion, gang wars over territorial control, the sharing of spoils of kidnapping and/ or stolen oil, even to settle to settle personal scores by local militia chieftains”.

In a Tell magazine publication, Tell, February 11, 2002, a prominent activist in Rivers State, Comrade Patrick Naagbanton reeled out a long list of alleged victims of assassination and assassination attempts in Rivers State, These include: Hon. Monday Ndor of the defunct ANPP, representing Khana Constituency in the Rivers State House of Assembly, who was gun down at his Port Harcourt residence on August 19, 2001.

In an interview with ThisDay newspaper, ThisDay of March 8,2003, a Rivers State political leader, Chief Alabo Graham-Douglas also alleged a list of targets of elimination compiled by the Rivers State government .According to Alabo Graham-Douglas, his name was number one on the hit list while the late Dr. Marshal Harry was number two ‘. Dr. Marshal Harry who himself raised alarm over alleged threat to his life was assassinated in one of the many high profile politically-motivated killings that took place during the Governor Peter Odili and President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administrations. Another prominent Rivers son that was assassinated at the time is Chief A.K. Dikibo; a chieftain of the PDP.

Other prominent sons of Rivers State who suffered violent deaths include former Senate Minority Leader,Dr. Obi Wali, who was murdered at his house in his hometown of Rumuegbo by an assassin planted in his closet, Ken Saro Wiwa, murdered by the Nigerian state alongside eight of his fellow Ogoni campaigners on November 10,1995. And of course, Professor Claude Ake, who lost his life in a suspicious air crash in 1996; not long after his close friend Ken Saro Wiwa was murdered. I met Professor Ake for the last time on January 4, 1996, when I went to his residence at the Rumuebekwe Housing Estate, Port Harcourt, to brief him on the bloodbath unleashed on Ogoni land on that Ogoni Day, by the now defunct Rivers State Internal Security Task Force headed by Obi Umahi, an Army Major whom the brave The News magazine reporter, Casmir Igbokwe described as Lucifer with a smile. Professor Ake was an ardent supporter of the Ogoni struggle.

After a brief period of relative peace, Rivers State has relapsed into the throes of violence. Cult gangs are said to be having a field day, rampaging and terrorizing the entire state. It is reportedly so bad in the state capital, Port Harcourt, that those residents who could afford the cost are said to have withdrawn their kids from schools in the city and placed them in schools in neighboring states. Just last week a local businessman was gun down and beheaded by in Rumuekini in the Obio/ Akpo Local Government Area, a Port Harcourt suburb.

Khana Local Government Area, in the Ogoni territory is now under siege as rival cult gangs fight for supremacy. A forth night ago 20 persons from a single community were reportedly gun down in one day.

Governor Wike must address the dire situation in Rivers state, especially, the capital city of Port Harcourt. It is shameful that Rivers people would have to withdraw their kids from Port Harcourt schools and send them out of state for high school education. Port Harcourt used to be a magnet for people from all over Nigeria.

Governor Nyesom Wike in his second term in office, has an obligation to return Port Harcourt to the enviable status it once enjoyed in Nigeria. However, the task of restoring peace to our great state of Rivers is the responsibility of all citizens of the state- political leaders, religious leaders, community leaders activists, ordinary citizens. Like Governor Nyesom Wike noted when he met with Ogoni leaders in Government House recently,” All of the persons involved in cultism are known by the community leaders”.

And I may add: the state governor may also know some of the patrons of those criminal gangs and cults . He may find some of them in his cabinet or they may be close associates. Known cultists and gang members must be turned in by community leaders. Also, their sponsors and patrons must be held accountable. There must be no sacred cows. It is an open secret that most of those cult or gang groups are being sponsored by politicians and highly placed community leaders, some of them with ties to the government.

Communities need a lot of help from the government in combating the activities of gangsters. For instance, I understand that there has been instances where community leaders were able to round up and arrest cultists, only to have them bailed out from police stations by their patrons and they never have to show in court for trial. However, it is reassuring that governor Wike has promised to help communities deal this menace of violent cult groups.

Past governors and political leaders in the state, including former governors Dr. Peter Odili, and Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, must step up and work with Governor Wike, to restore peace in our dear state. And the Transportation Minister must turn down the heat of his political undertaking in Rivers State.

Governor Wike should pursue an aggressive industrialization program that creates jobs for the youths. This would help address criminal activities. He should be able to revitalize those industries in Port Harcourt.

It is heartening to note that Governor Wike has called for reconciliation . Indeed, Rivers State needs a great deal of reconciliation and healing. And hopefully, an end to the vicious cycle of senseless blood-letting which has engulf the state for too long.

A shout out to my friends: Evang. Victor Inengisa Somiari, Sylvester Kogbara, Livinus Kiebel, Dumbor Ereba, Braiye Ekiye, Patrick Naagbanton Dagogo Fibersima, Tamunoemi West, Goodliffe Eze, Benjamin Briggs, Ibitamuno (IB) Pepple, Amaefule Nsirim, Uche Jaja , Belema Wokoma-Peters, Vitalis Menegbo, Livingstone, Daniel Iyalla Eze, Blessing Amangala, Danagogo Friday, Uche Okwukwu, Felix Amadike, Azubuike Agburuga and others.

VIVA RIVERS!

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