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May 22, 2024

Costly megalomania of Rivers governors (I), by Ochereome Nnanna

Costly megalomania of Rivers governors (I), by Ochereome Nnanna

Ochereome Nnanna

RIVERS State is the wealth iest of the four core oil producing states – Akwa Ibom, Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers. It is always either the highest federal allocation and oil derivation earner, or second. Definitely, it is the highest in terms of internally generated revenue among the four since it is second only to Lagos in that regard.

Rivers State has only one major town – Port Harcourt. The rest are mere glorified conurbations of, and channels to, Port Harcourt, with very little lives of their own. A state like Rivers should be a Nigerian developmental masterpiece. This state is only second to Lagos in terms of the amount of money it has earned since 1999. What can we really point to as something that sets the state apart as Nigeria’s foremost oil state, with seaports and supposedly Nigeria’s third busiest international airport? What marquee hotel or resort centre can Port Harcourt boast of, compared to Lagos and Abuja? If you have good answers let me hear them.

Given its revenue strength, oil power and maritime endowments, Rivers State is severely underdeveloped. Akwa Ibom, with its many towns, is far ahead.

Two main factors are responsible for Rivers State’s relative backwardness. The first is that the political leadership of the state has conditioned the people for consumption rather than production. The typical Rivers person, with all due respect, believes in chopping their oil money: stomach infrastructure. Most of them – from the highest to the least – depend on the government. Very few Rivers indigenes are thriving 100 per cent without any iota of pecuniary links to government. They are just like typical Northerners. Many states, even in my own native South-East, especially Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo, are like that, but today we are discussing Rivers State, for a reason.

The second, and perhaps more important factor of failure of Rivers State’s wealth to reflect in its development, is what I call self-enslavement to the reigning President and the Federal Government of Nigeria.

There is a psychological factor that underpins this phenomenon. Rivers was principally carved out to weaken the Igbo who were once the political overlords of the defunct Eastern Region. Rivers State (Port Harcourt) was the only one out of the original 12 states created by General Yakubu Gowon in 1967 in which the property of the Igbo nation, were officially designated as “Abandoned Property”. In other parts of the country, Igbo property owners came back and had little problem in reclaiming them. Rivers was tied to the apron strings of the Centre, and never wants to break free.

Till date, the shadow or fear of Igbo domination continues to play on the mind of the typical “Rivers man/woman”, especially the Igbo-speaking indigenes, most of whom deny their Igbo ancestral roots to the derision of their neighbours. There are only three broad ethnic groups in Rivers State: Igbo-speaking, Ijaw-speaking and Ogoni-speaking, along with their respective dialectal twists. Only the Igbo-speaking distance themselves from their proven ancestral heritages without any credible historical or cultural validations.

It is this mentality that psychologically pushes the typical Rivers political leader, especially their Governors, towards a strong attachment to the Federal Government and the President of the day, who is typically either of Fulani or Yoruba extraction. Their governors habitually dip their hands into the public treasury to curry the pleasure of the President in power as if to assert their belonging and entitlement to that office. Since 1999, everyone who has governed Rivers State spent unquantified amounts of the Rivers people’s money to slavishly serve the President of the day with a view to be anointed president. But they always get put in their places at last.

Between 1999 and 2007, Dr Peter Odili (Peter de pay) squandered from the state’s coffers to fund former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s many political projects, including the series of removals of the leaderships of the National Assembly and Obasanjo’s aborted “third term” bid. He colluded with Obasanjo to deny Chibuike Amaechi his governorship ticket. When he ran for president, his generosity had already wetted the ground for him, even in the North. He was good to go.

But the same man he served like a slave, Obasanjo, shoved him aside and settled for Governor Umaru Yar’Adua, a terminally-sick Fulani blueblood and Chemistry lecturer who only desired to return to the classroom after his eight years as Katsina State Governor. Obasanjo forced Yar’ Adua to run for President and bundled Odili out of the race. He did not even consider him for Vice President. Instead, he went to the Ijaw to pick Umaru Yar’ Adu’s Vice President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan.

Odili, who bestrode the Rivers State firmament like an emperor, threw himself at the feet of President Obasanjo, who trampled and abandoned him in the trash bin of Nigeria’s political history. Today, Odili, a man who likes to make flowery speeches, lives the life of a silent recluse. 

Peter Odili only talks in the public as a “supportive father” of whoever is in the Brickhouse of Rivers State. Does he have a choice? When a person is in power in Rivers State, he reigns. When it is over, he goes. There is no Jagaban of Rivers State. Rivers State is not Lagos State. Nyesom Wike is getting his fingers burnt for trying to play out of this tune.

Take a look at former Governors of Rivers State: today a roaring lion, tomorrow a dead rat. In the next edition, I will bring former Governors Amaechi and Wike into focus as a warning to Governor Siminalayi Fubara. It will be up to him to continue like his predecessors or make a difference.