Since its creation by the then Federal Military Government through Decree No 14 of 1967, some persons have rightly or wrongly asserted that Rivers State, like its parent geographical region – Niger Delta, has remained marginalized.
There are also others, including politicians from the state, who feel that the state’s natural resources, strategic position and human assets have attracted to it, marginal development compared to other states in the region and the nation at large.
Indeed, at 49, the cries of marginalization in the Niger Delta region – the resource zone of the nation at large and Rivers State in particular, have not abated.
Take, for instance, the intrigues over the passing of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) which has remained still born at the National Assembly for over 12 years because of sundry contrived reasons including the 10 per cent host community fund which has pitched virtually all the Northern Senators in opposition to the proposal.
What about the marginalization in the allocation of the oil blocs in the Niger Delta region, over 83 per cent of which is owned by Northerners?
Investigations revealed that Rivers State, the hub of the oil and gas sub-sector of the nation’s economy bears the unedifying identity of marginalization in developmental infrastructure compared to other states in the North.
Even as the devastating effects of oil and gas exploration and exploitation have combined with the difficult aquatic terrain to make the cost of the construction of durable roads prohibitive, the role of the federal government in this regard has been unimpressive, to say the least.
In the areas of siting of federal establishments and industries, political appointments, recruitments, scholarships and federal placements under the Federal Character Principles, the state still remains marginalized, our investigations revealed.
In spite of these inequities, Rivers State has continued to enjoy a healthy relationship with other major tribes of the nation and the government at the centre.
Indeed, Rivers political elites from the time of Chief Melford Okilo, former governor of the old Rivers State to Rufus Ada George, Peter Odili to Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, have maintained a tradition of non-hostility to the Federal government.
Some had even promoted robust alignment with the majority parties for fear of the state being left in the cold by the parties in government at various times.
At other times, the state had been wooed by political parties and contestants because of its natural resources which sustain national economy. This has attracted for Rivers State the appellation of the “Beautiful bride”. However, those unhappy with what they called the under- development of Rivers State over the past 49 years described the state as a “cheap bride”. How true is this?
Niger Delta activist, Elder statesman and religious leader, Dr Sokari Soberekon said that the rebellion led by the late Isaac Adaka Boro was to protest the marginalization of the minorities of the Niger Delta region and regretted that inequities had continued against Rivers State by majority tribes.
“We are the cheap bride. They don’t love us. If they love us, they will not do what they did to us”, he said.
Soberekon noted that, with the discovery of oil in Oloibiri in old Rivers State in 1958, a great opportunity for prosperity and good life opened for Nigeria and the oil-bearing communities. According to him, poverty, sickness and neglect had remained the lot of Rivers people till now, in spite of the state being the treasure base of the nation.
Going down memory lane, the Elder statesman recalled how Second Republic governor of old Bendel State (now Edo and Delta States), Prof. Ambrose Alli was denied the Derivation fund principle by the law court. He said that in 1982 he ( Soberekon) confronted Second Republic President, Shehu Shagari during his campaign tour to Port Harcourt and demanded for Derivation as contained in the Nigerian constitution, upon which Shagari approved 1.3 per cent.
Soberekon also decried the non-appointment of a Niger Deltan into the position of substantive oil minister, saying it is a reflection of the un-ending marginalization.
In his contribution, Dr Tubonimi Ideriah, a lecturer in the Rivers State University of Science and Technology regretted that the state has never benefitted from its immense contributions to the national coffer.
Ideriah said that as long as Rivers remains a minority group, it will continue to be short-changed by the majority tribes.
According to him, the marginalization could also be seen in the absence of Rivers Senators in the nation’s senate saying it is a big blow to the state.
According to him, issues that concern the state will not have the input of the state’s Senators during such debates.
However, Dr (Mrs) Mina Ogbanga, a civil society activist and Director, Centre for Development and Support Initiative insisted that Rivers State has made meaningful gains in the socio-economic landscape of the nation.
According to her, Rivers State will continue to remain the beautiful bride to be wooed by interest groups and stakeholders in the Nigeria project.
Ogbanga said that the fact that Rivers State does not have Senators in the upper chamber of the National Assembly will not affect the pace of development of the state.
In her contribution, Dr (Mrs) Priye Iyalla-Amadi a lecturer at the Ignatius Ajuru University of Education, Port Harcourt noted that in the years of Dr Peter Odili as governor, Rivers State was a beautiful bride desired by all, but regretted that the situation was now different.
According to her, the state had been lucky to be at the centre of national politics and economy and needs to remain there.
“We need to play politics of diplomacy to benefit from national politics”, she said.
Iyalla-Amadi said there is an imbalance in the relationship between Rivers and others states, saying this development is also reflected in the now popular Upland/Riverine dichotomy within the state.
She recommended the promotion of justice, fairplay and equity as a way forward, stressing the need for the imbalance to be resolved.
For Baridon Sika, a journalist and social commentator, the developmental challenges of Rivers State call for efforts by government to promote peace and unity above party and other considerations.
It also calls for promotion of indigenous languages, culture and technology which combine to promote a favourable identity for the people of the state.
This is why, he commended the state governor, Chief Nyesom Ezenwo Wike for his pledge of loyalty to, and co-operation with the federal government as well as his efforts to fight criminality and promote peace and security in the state.
Sika said it is only in an environment of peace and unity that the state government’s recent pledge to develop the state’s culture and tourism potentials as revenue earners could be realized.
According to him “one way of evoking state interest in a people is to celebrate their history and the invaluable contributions of pioneering leaders, beyond naming of streets after them”.
Sika also called for renewed attention to the development of Rivers languages initiated by the pioneer governor of Rivers State, Commander Alfred Diete-Spiff and funding of state media organs to effectively sustain the visions of providing favourable image for the state and promoting the languages of the people.
“Leadership is not only about projects but also the overall well-being of the people”, he said.
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