We know the state was created in 1967, But before, in 1900, the British colonialists had already established the Rivers Province (same as where the state is, that was ‘created’ 67 years later!). The headquarters was Port Harcourt (PH.), and was governed by the foreign office.
Even before then in 1882 Abonnema was established as a major sea port with booming trade going on with the British and other mercantile Europeans. Oil palm and kernel, timber and such like were brought from the hinterland to the seaport and exported. The British moved quickly to hold sovereignty over the lucrative land; they established the Oil Rivers Protectorate in 1884, dealing a fatal blow to local kingdoms and kings.
So in 1900 PH had a hospital, native court, high court and post office. Then Nigeria, amalgamated 1914, starting exerting herself for greater freedom from the British – but instituted policies that brought retrogression to Rivers Province. Booming Abonnema port was shut down even till today. People were made to suffer through the creeks to get to PH port since there were no link roads. Still, at independence, more policies were instituted in the country to favour Lagos port, rendering PH an idle port.
Infrastructural development ceased with the dismantling of local kingdoms and the departure of the British. Rivers people were subsumed in the created Eastern Region where the only boatyard was at Opobo – but with headquarters at Aba, and run by the Ibos! The shutting of the vibrant port ended meaningful commercial activities and dried up employment and job openings. As a matter of fact, only PH metropolis was connected to the national grid, so as at 1969 -70 others in Rivers had never seen electricity in their lives!!
Shockingly, almost 15 years earlier oil had been discovered in Rivers in 1956! It had no positive impact on Rivers or its people.
A military governor was appointed, and this started the pullback from the brink.
As at the time Commander Alfred Diette – Spiff resumed duty as the first Governor, the State Capital PH and white man’s Garden City was so infrastructural deficient that the governor had to govern from 24 Queens Drive Ikoji for 11/2 years! Prominent sons and daughters of Rivers were already people of note in Nigeria and they rallied their personal resources to start putting some things in place.
Notable was Chief Godfrey Amachree. He was the first Black under Secretary-General of the UN, the first Solicitor – General of the Federation in the British colonial administration and one of the first few Nigerians called to the Inner Bar – a Queens Counsel. He formed the Pan-African Bank purely to empower his people. He volunteered his office for the military governor to utilize and coordinate activities temporarily. PH was being ravaged then by civil war.
Fondly called GKJ, Godfrey Amachree was the first Nigerian to own a private jet. Chief G.K.J Amachree was the wealthiest man in Rivers, and he used his wealth to make other make others wealthy. The environmentalist and school football captain died on August 9, 1999.
Governance in Rivers State.
(Navy) Lt. Commander Alfred Diete–Spiff Until 1st September, 1968 when he moved to PH, Diete-Spiff had a system of four administrators running the state (famous the late Ken Saro Wiwa was the Bonny administrator)
Diete Spiff embarked on massive housing projects in the difficult, land-locked and water-logged terrain. He built the tallest, biggest government secretariat in Nigeria, (apart from the Federal Secretariat, Abuja).
He built a sports complex, not an ordinary football stadium for the youths. Diete Spiff also established the state broadcasting corporation. That was a timely thing too; on the day the state was created, Riverians got to hear news of state creation on Radio Kaduna- or on Radio Biafra then! He revitalized the few comatose industries. In 1996 Bayelsa was carved out of Rivers and that is actually where Diete-Spiff comes from.
A former Navy commander, he sits as a traditional King now. I can say that he is the only Nigerian dead or living to preside over a modern state and also rule over an established ancient throne.
King Alfred Diete Spiff is the Amanyanabo of Twon Brass, Nembe in Bayelsa State.
Rivers is one state with an outstanding factor of commitment on the part of successive governors-they complete their predecessors’ projects, making government a continuum.
In many other states and even at the federal level the helmsmen regularly display what Olusegun Adeniyi, former SSA to President Yar’Adua calls “small minds in government”.
A cursory look round the nation will reveal a landscape dotted with white -elephant projects, abandoned by successive governments, not for lack of viability but because the praise for a project would go to the initiator AS WELL AS the one to complete it. No, he wants ALL the praises so he will only initiate and complete his OWN projects!
Chief Melford Okilo was in the parliament when Nigeria practiced the parliamentary system. He, with Chief Warmate, Dappa Biriye and Amachree and many others were unflinching in the struggle for state creation. Okilo wept openly in parliament when the state creation request was thrown out on the floor, in the 50’s. It is poetic justice that he became the first elected governor.
Now Rivers people were some Nigerians that were early exposed to westerners and western education. They were highly educated, until the country stagnated the area. There were only 25 secondary schools and no single tertiary institution there when the state was created. Okilo started the first state owned University of Science and Technology. He was the first person to start an IPP-a really ambitious project indeed, in those days! And in the Rivers terrain, it was doubly so.
I have seen Okilo’s Kolo Creek Gas Turbine in Ogbia (now in Bayelsa) and I am struck by it. It is in Imiringi, about 3 hours drive from PH. To get there, you have to drive down a narrow road through thick mangrove forest until you get to a twine cord bridge!! Men direct cars to cross one car at a time. This nerve- wracking passage is on a bridge that is U-shaped and low-lying; the descent is heart-stopping, giving the distressing feeling of one plunging swiftly to one’s doom! Worse, it is: one ‘road’ in, one-road out-you’ve got to REPEAT the experience if you are to go back. Terrifying!!
… Kudos here to the Bayelsa Governor Seriake Dickson who has recently built a road to Imiringi. I drove on it late 2015 and got out of the vehicle and knelt down on the road in thanksgiving!
Under Okilo, local people were empowered to govern their communities. In just one terms in office (1979-83) he brought about much rural development. He died in 2008 at 74.
Governor Rufus Ada George. He didn’t last because of military incursion in government. However he started the Okrika Ring Road. It was completed by the Rotimi Amaechi government.
Sir Peter Odili A medical doctor, he presided over what I believe is the greatest human amnesty programme except maybe the one in Colombia this year. Odili concentrated greatly on human development. During his 2 term tenure, Odili built, commissioned and handed over the ultra modern Government thank Creek House – Knowing he would never occupy it.
He dredged creeks and commissioned a gas turbine. A lover of sports, he bitted Nigeria cut several times when cash crunch hit, during major international sporting events.
Original post by http://thenationonlineng.net/rivers-run-golden-rivers-state50-part-2/