By Dumo Lulu-Briggs
Rivers State once had a glorious era, propelled by patriotic leaders. These leaders transformed the state into a preferred destination for Nigerians and foreigners alike. Life in Rivers State was never as it is today. Our people have been impoverished and traumatized, leaving a large segment of the population poor and homeless; the elderly are abandoned; majority of our youths are jobless and a large percentage of our children are out of school. Our people are made to see crumbs as real meals, but it has not always been this way.
Our founding fathers toiled to have Rivers State created by the military administration of General Yakubu Gowon in 1967 with great expectations that their efforts would usher in limitless opportunities and boundless prosperity for our people.
The pioneering military administration of Navy Commander Alfred Diette-Spiff laid a solid foundation for the state in human and infrastructural development and this was complemented by the civilian administrations of Governors Melford Obene Okilo and Rufus Ada George. That was the golden era of Rivers history.
Our state had great leaders like Chief Harold Dappa Biriye, Chief G.K.J. Amachree, Chief Paul Birabi, Chief E. J. A. Oriji, Chief Pikibo Daniel Kalio, Chief S.A.J. Wachukwu, Chief Dr. Nabo Graham-Douglas, Chief P.G. Warmate, Chief Wenike Briggs, Chief Isaac John Feberesima, Dr. G.B. Leton and Chief Emmanuel Aguma.
Yes, we had patriots like Ken Saro Wiwa, Chief Edward Kobani, Dr. Obi Wali, High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs and Sir Francis Ellah. We still have great leaders like Eze Emmanuel N.B. Opurum, Chief C. D. Orike, Sir Victor Odili, Chief G.T.G. Toby, Prof. Dagogo M.J. Fubara, Chief T.O.Graham-Douglas, Chief A.K. Horsfall, Dr. Ombo Isokrari and Mrs Ella Prest.
These leaders worked assiduously, some with their blood, to make Rivers State the envy of Nigerians – a land of love, peace and freedom. Since 1999, a different kind of political leaders who do not share the intrinsic values of patriotism and selflessness as espoused by our founding fathers, has dominated the political space of Rivers State, entrenching, recycling and multiplying themselves.
Rivers State is now a shadow of its glorious past and the founding fathers that are still alive are in shock that in their lifetime, the gains they achieved for the state have been so drastically reversed, while those who have passed on are turning in their graves.
It is indeed a travesty of natural justice that a state as endowed in human and natural resources as Rivers State can have its people so marginalized and pauperized. There is no gainsaying that the problem of Rivers State is that of political leadership. The torch has to pass to a new generation of Rivers people whose common enemies are hunger, disease, illiteracy and tyranny.