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Happy birthday to us!!!

MY dear home state, Rivers, will turn 50 tomorrow; and I’m in Port Harcourt at the moment, participating in the serious as well as entertaining Golden Jubilee celebrations that have been organised by Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike (CON).

Wife of the Rivers State Governor, Justice Eberechi Suzette Nyesom-Wike, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, Deputy Governor, Dr. Ipalibo Harry-Banigo and Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Ikuinyi-Owaji Ibani unveiling the Rivers State Golden Jubilee Celebrations official logo.

I’m a member of the Golden Jubilee Committee; but that’s not the only reason why I am here. Even if His Excellency had not kindly invited me to join the committee, I would still have flown in from London this week ANYWAY, to help my brethren fly the Rivers flag, because this milestone is important for ALL Rivers people.

Fraternal relationship

Rivers was one of 12 states that were created on May 27, 1967 by the military government of ex-President Yakubu Gowon. Our first Governor was Alfred Papapreye Diete-Spiff. Nearly 20 years later, on October 1, 1996, some Rivers Ijaw communities, including Diete-Spiff’s, broke away to form a new state, Bayelsa.

But it wasn’t a bad separation.   We have a warm fraternal relationship with Bayelsa. Many Bayelsans still have homes in Port Harcourt. Happy Rivers-Bayelsa marriages are commonplace; and many famous Bayelsans, including Spiff (OFR, now the Amayanabo -King – of Twon Brass) and Dr Goodluck Jonathan (GCFR), will receive Golden Jubilee State Honours at a glittering gala night tomorrow.

Governor Wike has also approved a State Honour for our most recent past Governor, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi (CON), who (along with all of his predecessors) is described as a “distinguished personality” on the list of awardees.

Considering that the once-friendly former and latter have been at loggerheads for the past few years and usually heap abuse on each others’ head, this is an unexpectedly gracious gesture on Wike’s part. I was gobsmacked when I heard!

When I saw Governor Wike a couple of days ago, I told him how pleasantly surprised I was by his gesture (particularly since I had heard him criticising Amaechi the day before!). And he gruffly informed me that he was honouring everyone who had occupied the seat before him, as if it was no big deal.

But it IS a big deal! It’s an olive branch.

If Amaechi, the leader of the Rivers wing of APC, shows up tomorrow night to collect his award and thank his successor, the leader of the Rivers wing of PDP, for acknowledging him, many Riverians will be absolutely delighted because we have long yearned for unnecessary and destructive frictions to be eliminated.

When leaders (and the zealots who surround them) bitterly confront each other, instead of collaborating productively, development is inevitably stunted. When big boys plunge into do-or-die fights, innocent citizens get caught up in the crossfire.

As we have seen in the Western world, it is possible for people to be political opponents in a civilized way; and I’m praying that the spirit of statesmanliness will enter Amaechi’s heart and propel him towards his ancestral turf on our special anniversary. Fingers crossed that he gives peace a chance on this significant date. I will be waiting with bated breath at the awards venue. Let’s see what happens.

Bigger picture

Anyway, back to the bigger picture: Here we are five decades down the line. And this Jubilee matter is not just about the frenetic fun, flashy fanfare, fancy functions and numerous TV/radio/newspaper/magazine adverts. This week should also be a time for profound reflection and unsentimental navel-gazing.

We’ve had 50 years in which to establish our identity as a state that is largely populated by Niger Deltan minorities. We’ve had 50 years in which to learn how to do our own things as intelligently as possible. We’ve had 50 years in which to become architects of our collective destiny. We’ve had 50 years in which to capitalize on being the capital of the Nigerian oil and gas industry.

How have we done? What marks out of ten do we deserve, given that we have faced countless challenges from major tribes, given that we have battled with several circumstances beyond our control, given that our demands for true federalism have not been heeded and given that we have also made mistakes?

I’ll leave it up to Vanguard readers to offer us a score that reflects our overall performance. Please text or email your views, adding your state of origin. It will be interesting to discover how we are perceived by indigenes as well as “outsiders”. I’ll let you know, next week, what the outcome of this informal opinion poll is.

In the meantime, let me say: HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO RIVERS STATE AND CONGRATS TO US FOR SURVIVING 50 YEARS IN A DIFFICULT COUNTRY!!!

I’d also like to praise Governor Wike for displaying a progressive streak by appointing a female deputy, the wonderful Dr (Mrs) Ipalibo Harry-Banigo.

I should also express sincere gratitude to the Governor for renovating the General Hospital in my Ogoni village, Bodo City…AND for completing the Kpopie-Bodo Road – and adding drainage and street lights. I attended the commissioning ceremony and there was a lot of genuine jubilation from residents of Bodo and their neighbours.

As Kenneth Kobani, the Secretary to the State Government (also a Bodo native), points out: “The Governor is very popular in Ogoni because he has done very well for us. Street lights in rural communities are rare, within a Nigerian context.”

Let’s hope he keeps up the good work and that the next 50 years are better than the first half-century!


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