By Prince Kabari
RIVERS State, the treasure base of the nation, is celebrated its Golden Jubilee at a time when Governor Nyesom Wike is turning the State into projects site of some sort in unmistakable demonstration that even now is no time to think of what you do not have but to think of what you can do with what there is. The plethora of quintessential projects including construction of Jetties, roads, bridges, edifices, parks and gardens, amongst others, which take in hand infrastructure gaps to accelerate economic growth, has no doubt earned him the people’s title “Mr. Projects.”
There is no gainsaying that such imposing feat is indeed brave and adventurous especially against the backdrop of continuing dwindling Federal Accounts Allocation to the State. More so is the fact that the immediate past Governor of the State, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi, had tactlessly disclosed at a thanksgiving service held by the Greater Together Campaign Organisation in Port Harcourt on Sunday, May 17, 2015 that Rivers State was broke. He said: “In Rivers State, no money. I think Wike is coming, we are waiting. He will look for money for salary; there is none… So he will have to manage. But when he pays out salary, we will see if any of them can do what we did in this State; whether they can build the schools, the roads, even to get a loan.”
In spite of the prognostication that the ‘oil rich state’ moniker used for oil producing states including Rivers was virtually no longer spot-on the current administration of the NEW Rivers State seems to be directing scarce public resources to critical growth sectors of the economy that would ultimately improve the wellbeing of the people.
The Port Harcourt Pleasure Park at the heart of the State Capital which has just been commissioned would not only serve the needs of day trippers and generate revenue that is much-needed but also heighten the grandeur of the city as well. A notable attraction at the Park is the lake that is constructed apparently to bring to light the cozy atmosphere around the watersides which is in fact a major signature of Rivers State.
Indeed, we can find many natural habitats in the hinterlands and developing those areas would have better served the interest of the State rather than the wacky white elephant scheme conceived by the erstwhile administration in the name of Port Harcourt Monorail Project that was to cost the State well over Seventy Billion Naira; a very conservative cost of seven flyovers according to experts. It is our choices far more than our abilities that show what we truly are.
The lakeside outlook at the Park is undeniably, in my view, an inspiration to explore the tourism potentials of the State. Inspiration gives a desire and decision makes it an intention but action makes it real. People and Government need encouragement to take action and that’s what this expose seeks more than anything else. It is instructive to note that Rivers State is tomorrow, or some future day, what we establish today. We are today what we established yesterday or some previous day.
Fifty years ago, several indigenous ethnic groups (including Ogoni, Ikwerre, Abua, Ekpeye, Ibani, Opobo, Okrika, Kalabari, Etche, Ogba, Engenni, Obolo and others) who had been merged with the chartered territories of the Royal Niger Company to form the colony of Southern Nigeria were carved into an autonomous region known as Rivers State, with the split of the Eastern Region of a loosed union called Nigeria; an experiment that is still struggling to work. Until 1996 the State which currently is made up of 23 local government areas and located in the south-south geopolitical zone of the Federation covered the area now known as Bayelsa State.
Rivers State with its capital in the Garden City of Port Harcourt covers a total of 11,077km land area and has an estimated population of about 5 million people who have a rich and unique cultural heritage and usually known to be friendly and hospitable. The state is very well known for its vast reserves of crude oil and natural gas. It was perhaps the richest and most important section of the African zone of the British Empire at the time. Rivers State, the treasure base of the nation, has two major oil refineries, two major seaports, airports, and various industrial estates spread across the land. More than 40% of the country’s output of crude oil is produced in the state.
Also, prior to the discovery of oil in commercial quantity in 1958, Agriculture was the primary occupation of the people of Rivers State. Around 19th century when the industrial revolution reached its crowning in England, the area was then referred to as Oil Rivers Protectorate due to its abundant palm oil and kernel which basically constituted the main revenue source of the country. However, suffice it to say that in addition to the abundance of oil and gas reserves and agriculture, the indigenous peoples of Rivers State are surrounded with rivers and live within the rainforest which offers fascinating sights to behold.
Interestingly, the name, Rivers State, as we are told, derives from the many rivers that border its territory, and understandably so, including the Atlantic Ocean on the south and Imo River on the north. Others include Santa Barbara River, Bonny River, Ogoni-Andoni River, New Calabar River, Nun River, River Orashi, San Bartholomeo River, Sombreiro River, and St. Nicholas River amongst others. The inland part of Rivers State consists of tropical rainforest with huge tourism potential and towards the coast the typical river delta environment features many mangrove swamps.
Unfortunately, however, successive governments of the State had been incredibly far away from harnessing the natural endowments and rich tourism potentials that abound in the environment in relation to its name. Instead, development in Rivers State has unduly been moving northwards particularly within the capital city where there are evidently limited natural attractions, if any at all.
Sadly also, even the once delightful Rivers State Museum, Isaac Boro Garden Park, and the Zoological Garden amongst others which are all concentrated in Port Harcourt town are no more charming to say the least. At best they are at death’s door. In fact, the lack of better alternative lives gritty residents and visitors alike with choice of the neglected Port Harcourt Tourist Beach or the treasure-trove Buguma Beach and the likes during festivities.
There wouldn’t be a better time to consider the development of identified tourism sites in Rivers State and encourage leisure industry and investment outside the crowded city centre. We do not have to reinvent the wheels as nature already offers rivers and rich forest reserves; indubitably an untapped treasure of Rivers State, which only need to be conserved and fashioned to meet our tourism needs.
The YorwiksKono Beach which is positioned on the coast in Khana Local Government Area of Ogoni is one beautiful natural site that is hiked up to the scenic overlook of parts of the Ogoni, Andoni and Opobo River. Distinguished by long stretches of glowing white sand and gorgeous blue waterKono beach ranks amongst the best in the State and caters to bar lovers and sunbathers. At the shore in Kono Beach, visitors can also swim, surf and jet ski in the warm and crystal-clear Atlantic waters. It is about 45 miles (72.4 km) from Port Harcourt.
Similarly, in recent years ecotourism in the tropics has increased. While rainforests are becoming increasingly rare, people are travelling to nations that still have this diverse habitat, perhaps, that explains the artificial rain forest in Barcelona, Spain. Locals are benefiting from the additional income brought in by visitors and areas deemed interesting for visitors are often conserved. Ecotourism can be an incentive for conservation, especially when it triggers positive economic change. Ecotourism can include a variety of activities including animal viewing, scenic jungle tours and even viewing cultural sights and native villages most of which we find in the hinterlands of our prized State.
If these practices are performed appropriately this can be beneficial for both locals and the present flora and fauna setting aside environmental despoliation and also expand the tax net of the Rivers State Internal Revenue Service who seeks to legitimately increase the run of the mill monthly Internally Generated Revenue to about N7billion and more in the years ahead.
Accordingly, the Upper Orashi forest is one of the foremost forest reserves around the Niger Delta area as Bird watching spot of the country. The forest is located near Ikodi Village in Ahoada Local Government Area. The reserve is a freshwater Swamp Forest. Biseni forest is also one of the bird watching sites in Nigeria which is located north-west of Ahoada, just west of the Upper Orashi Forest in the Taylor Creek flood plain of the Niger Delta.
Every local government area in Rivers State has lots of enviable tourism potentials whose proper development could be immensely beneficial and would no doubt beget economic developments to the people, state and nation at large.
It is also to provide a legal and regulatory framework to guarantee proper administration of the industry that the NIGERIAN TOURISM DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION DECREE 1992 provides in section 10 inter alia that:  There is hereby established for each local Government of a State, a committee to be known as the Local Government Tourism Committee [in this Decree referred to as ‘the Local Government Committee’’]
 The Local Government Committee shall consist of (a) The Chairman of the Local Government Council as Chairman; (b) The Councillor charged with responsibility for matters relating to tourism; (c) A representative of the State Ministry charged with responsibility for matters relating to tourism; (d) A traditional ruler; (e) Three persons who by reason of their ability, experience or specialized knowledge are capable of making useful contributions to the development of tourism; and (f) The Divisional Police Officer in the Local Government Area.
(3) The Local Government Committee shall subject to the control of the Tourism Board and the Corporation have responsibility for – (a) Recommending to the tourism Board projects for development as tourist attractions; (b) Advising on such matters relating to tourism within the Local Government Area; and (c) Preserving and maintaining monuments and museums in their areas of jurisdiction; and (d) Providing and sustaining communal interests in tourism.’’
There had been several prescience and concepts in the past to spread development across the State, particularly to create cities in Bori and Ahoada in the first instance also as a deliberate measure to decongest Port Harcourt which is over populated already, but vision on its own is not enough. Hard work and dedication is required to make that vision a reality. Indeed, investment in tourism would no doubt be an attempt at diversification of the economy of Rivers State and exploring an Untapped Treasure of the Treasure Base of the Nation.
It is only a remarkably brave person who can translate vision into actuality and relying on his acts of incredible bravery and admirable quality of great courage and strength of character one could safely refer to the incumbent Governor as a hero. Ralph Emerson once superbly said that “A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is only brave five minutes longer.” I am therefore minded to believe, with the people of the State, that the NEW Rivers vision would congregate the necessitous political will to break with the ineptitude of the past, where essence had been unduly multiplied without necessity, and deliver on the expectations of the oil rich but impoverished peoples of Rivers State.
Obviously, without leaps of imagination or dreaming we loss the excitement of the possibilities in Rivers State. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning. We are made wise not by the recollection of the past but by the responsibility for our future, so, while most people see things and say why I typically choose to dream things that never were and say why not?
Prince Kabari, a public affairs analyst, writes from Port Harcourt