|Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Atlanta, GA, USA
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RIVERS: THE SQUANDERING OF RICHES
ne misconception some people outside the state often have about Rivers State is that it is rich only on account of petrodollars. This misconception is even sometimes stretched further in some circles to translate into regarding the Rivers peoples as a bunch of lazy souls who only depend on cheap petrodollars. That is not true.
In contrast, Rivers State may still rank among the richest in the country, even without the crude oil deposits. The state is wholly balanced in terms of natural endowment . We have always been self-sufficient in food production. In Rivers State we have the rivers which supply rich marine ( sea ) foods and also rich alluvial soil for crop production. Of course, there are the rich mangrove forests and rain forests which support a variety of economic activities.
So in Rivers State we are blessed with a rare combination of two very rich and rewarding natural occupations-fishing and farming. While those who live in the riverine portion of the state are predominantly fishermen and fisherwomen those in the upland areas are naturally good farmers. However, there are those who strikingly combine both occupations. For example, most part of Ogoni farm and also engage in fishing activities.
I recall that my High School bosom friend, Tamunoemi West who is from the riverine area of the Rivers State showed a flair for crop farming. He competed favorably with me and others from the upland area of the state during our Agricultural Science practical . We were together in the Young Farmers Club.
Rivers State can also boast of a variety of cash crops such as, oil palms, raffia palms, rubber and others. Lumbering and canoe carving are other thriving businesses in Rivers State. So, we too can do without crude petroleum.
Yes, Rivers State is rich and we always have a way of showing off our wealth. I again, recall that during our trip to Ilorin, Kwara State, on the occasion of the 1980 Children’s Day Celebration inter states exchange program, our ( Rivers State) delegation happened to be the only one which arrived there by air. All other state delegations - Anambra, Ogun, Sokoto et al, got there by road.
The other day the former Finance Minister Dr. Ngozi Okonji-Iweala reportedly remarked that Delta State is richer than some African countries. That is very true. And so is Rivers State.
With a glut of cash at the disposal of the people in the Port Harcourt “Brick House”- a jumbo monthly allocation from the Federation Account - huge internally generated revenue - two seaports, two giant refineries, a petrochemical complex, a fertilizer plant, an international airport, an array of oil and gas and allied companies, it now appears that money is no problem to the Rivers State government but what to do with money. I understand in Rivers State today money is being dispensed like water. I also understand that in the spirit of this season of cash overflow, the current Rivers State governor happens to be the most generous of them all. He is considered to be holding the record of Nigeria’s father Christmas. He probably could have beaten the legendary Nigeria father Christmas, the late Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola , had the late politician turned business mogul still been around. However, the important difference is that our “golden” governor is a public officer who as ethics demands, ought to have been tight-fisted with public money. He allegedly sponsors every imaginable events-from the real to the mundane, from the serious to the trivial. The Rivers State governor is alleged to be the chief financier of the reigning PDP. He is said to be readily available to pick up the bills whenever Obasanjo decides to kick out any implacable National Assembly officer. Any PDP bigwig who visits Rivers State is always guaranteed sack loads (Ghana Must Go) of Naira to take home. So in effect Port Harcourt is now the pay point of the P.D.P. In addition to being the nation’s slaughter house, Port Harcourt has become the bribery capital of Nigeria.
The “high flying” governor is also working hard to burnish his image as he is widely speculated to be angling for the nation’s top most political post. He has earned quite a haul of chieftaincy titles all over the country. In Nigeria when you are given those” honors” you just have to show “appreciation”. And guess who can better appreciate such honors than our “golden” governor.
Talking of showing appreciation; the Rivers State governor reportedly rewarded the state’s delegates to the Obasanjo’s National Political Reform Conference with a handsome handshake of brand new luxurious cars and (who knows?) other unseen liquid largesse ; for their commendable performance on the Resource Control debate.
Governor Peter Odili has left no keen observer in doubt that he is a very ambitious politician. He has already re-enacted the nauseating ploy of crowd-renting, a sad reminder of the Abacha years. The rented crowds I understand, now contribute to the already chaotic Port Harcourt traffic situation as they form human traffic, singing the praise of the “ golden” governor whom they tell any idol soul who has the time to listen to them ,is the best material for the next president of Nigeria. Quite a tall dream!.
Not to be outdone, this “high flying” governor who like his big boss in Abuja, has shown a penchant for globe-trotting, is reported to have already taken his generosity campaign beyond the shores of Nigeria. Unconfirmed gist have it that he has helped out some not so needy institutions here in God’s own country with an overdose of dollars.
In all this, one is not insinuating that Governor Peter Odili is corrupt. At least President Olusegun Obasanjo and his lap dog called the Economic and Financial Crime Commission, EFCC, have not said so. But I have good reasons to suggest that all the state governors, especially those of the oil bearing states are already multi-billionaires. The Vanguard of August 11, 2006 quoted the EFCC Chairman Mallam Nuhu as claiming that the commission has confiscated assets and monies in excess of N50 billion from a former state governor.
Yet, I do not think that governor Peter Odili has done all there has to be done to develop Rivers State or that developments on the ground in the state is commensurate with the unprecedented huge revenue the state has been earning in the present dispensation. I am made to understand that the increase in the derivation fund to the oil bearing states has made little if any, impact on the living condition of the Rivers people in the grassroots. I do also understand that the physical development of the long overstretched Port Harcourt city has not seen much improvement in spite of the apparent cash glut disposition of the state government. And this is the one reason those of us in MOSOP, Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, have taken the Resource Control argument to the next level- that by Resource Control we do not mean the allocation of more money to the already corrupt state governors, to embezzle. Our own idea of Resource Control is communal or grassroots control of the proceeds from our land by the real landlords in the villages who are being shortchanged by the predators in the state Government Houses and their cronies
Governor Peter Odili could do something about the one-city-state status of Rivers State. For instance, the NPN administration of Governor Melford Okilo ( of the Old Rivers State) planned some new towns for the state. There was the Bori new town project, Ogbia new town and others .However, before Governor Okilo could develop the new town projects his administration was swept out of office by the General Buhari’s military coup of December 31,st 1983 . Police Commissioner Fidelis Oyakhilome who replaced Governor Melford Okilo as the military Governor of Rivers State seemed to have a different idea as to what to do with the new towns projects of his predecessor. He turned the designated site for the new Bori town project into his own School-to-Land corn farm . I do not know what Oyakhilome did with the Ogbia new town site.
However, Governor Peter Odili could do well to dust the files on the new towns projects and develop them. He has enough money to execute these projects if only he would slow down on the funding of his presidential ambition project. But must he squander all of Rivers State funds on his own personal political ambition? Yet, we do not need another Obasanjo in Aso Rock after May 29, 2007. Odili looks good to continue Obasanjo’s reign of terror.
I am told that Governor Peter Odili is in absolute control. He has zero opposition and zero oversight in the manner he has chosen to run the state. On paper there is a legislative arm of government which in a democracy should do the oversight job concerning how the executive arm is run. But in today’s Nigeria the states Houses of Assembly (legislatures), I am told , are an extension of the executive arm. They have no mind of their own and so are incapable of acting as a watch dog over the excesses of the executive. Even though the situation is said to be nationwide that of Rivers state is strikingly disturbing. The father and son relationship between the Speaker of the state House of Assembly has made the Rivers State situation quite pathetically worse. Mr. Henry Chukwurah reporting for the Sun newspaper in its July 10, 2006 edition noted that the leadership of the Rivers State House of Assembly has not changed in all seven years that this administration has lasted. The Speaker Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi is described in that report “as a long time personal aide of Dr.Odili, beginning from when he was Deputy governor”.
What is more, Governor Peter Odili is reported to have effectively employed a carrot and stick, very big sticks, approach to silence the opposition so much so that nobody has been able to stick out his neck to challenge him for all the squandering of the state riches and the terrorization of innocent citizens.
Today, the Rivers State capital of Port Harcourt, the hitherto peace haven of Nigeria, has become the slaughter house of Nigeria. The entire state has been turned into a jungle as killer gangs and hit squads on government payrolls overrun the place. Now, there are concerns in some circles that the security siege in Rivers State may have been deliberately created to justify the huge security votes that are being expended with no one to account to. And that the spiraling violence which has engulfed the state has its roots in the recruitment and arming of youths by the ruling PDP, who served as thugs for the purposes of rigging elections. Whenever elections are over the armed gangs naturally look for other ways of engaging themselves. Governor Peter Odili cannot feign ignorance of this straight truth. Sometimes the arm gangs so recruited break loose and want to be on their own.
Is it a co-incidence that Rivers State has recorded the highest incidence of obvious politically motivated assassinations in the present dispensation? Prominent politicians from the state, Dr. Marshall Harry, Chief A.K.Dikibo, Hon. Monday Ndor among others, were brutally murdered while other vocal opposition figures like Professor Tamunoemi David-West ,have reportedly escaped several assassination attempts.
At times like this Rivers state and indeed all of Niger delta need men and women of courage, people of steel who can speak truth to power; not those who seek accommodation with the tyrants in the Government Houses for selfish personal gains while the rest of the population roast. So far such men seems out of reach in Rivers State. With the exit of such gurus of the struggle like H.R.H Harold Dapa Biriye, Ken Saro Wiwa, Dr. Obi Wali, et al, Rivers State looks orphaned. Professor Tamunoemi David-West who has been consistent in speaking out against irresponsible governance in the state seems all by himself now..
At this time one remembers Dr. Dinma Deni-Fiberesima of blessed memory. Remember him? Recall the “ Budget of Madness” episode? Dr. Dinma Deni-Fiberesima is one of the greatest patriots Rivers State has ever produced. The seasoned Ophthalmologist as Rivers State Commissioner for Health did what would be considered unthinkable in that part of the world when he rejected the Budget for his ministry when he discovered that the Governor Group Captain Ernest Adeleye, had inflated the figure he( the Commissioner) proposed . The Director of Odadiki Eye Hospital stood firm in refusing to connive with the kleptomaniac air force officer to rob his state. In the battle that ensued, Dr. Dinma Deni-Fiberesima bowed out of the state executive council and walked tall as a hero.
Rivers State, which has had only four indigenous governors since its creation in 1967, has also had a singular misfortune of having outsiders whose only mission in the state had been to plunder its wealth. However, Governor Peter Odili who happens to be one of those few indigenous governors of the state with all the money at his disposal, had a golden opportunity to leave land mark developments in Rivers State but his all-consuming presidential ambition seems to have gotten the better part of him
Meanwhile Group Captain Ernest Adeleye ( as he then was) may turn out to be the worst thief who has ever occupied the Port Harcourt Government House. His own looting reportedly had a bizarre twist as he was alleged to have literarily rolled out the “Brick House” on departure. He was alleged to have emptied the place with an 18-wheeler truck-taking along such trivial items as kitchen utensils-spoons , forks and so on. I wonder if he left behind a broomstick.
Col. Musa Dauda Komo, the contour-faced Zuru warrior who presided over the Ogoni pacification project of the 1990s, is also a leading contender in the Rivers State looting game.
Back to Ernest Adeleye: I understand he, like our vengeance-possessed , life president seeking ,pro-corruption President Olusegun Obasanjo, is a Baptist. Due apologies to good Baptists like my late Dad, President Jimmy Carter , Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. et al.
May be, such dreaded characters shouldn’t have shared a church with them.
The current Rivers State Governor, Dr. Peter Odili who is a Knight, I understand, is also a “Christian”.
But Dr. Dinma Deni-Fiberesima was a good Christian who observed the tenets of the Christian faith-integrity, honesty, faithfulness and devoted service to God and humanity. When shall God send us another Dinma Deni-Fiberesima in Rivers State?
Who will deliver Rivers State from Peter Odili and his gang of predators?.
Rivers, Oh Rivers!, the treasure base of the nation, home of the Blue Angels; I lament the flight of thy innocence; the raping of thy Soul, the slaying of thy Prophets.