On behalf of myself, chiefs and people of the Rivers State, I welcome you once again to Port Harcourt, the capital of the Rivers State, with profound joy and gratitude. We welcome you with joy and boundless happiness because today we stand heads high among other Nigerians in our common endeavours for peace and progress of our united and beloved country.We are able to do this today because of the creation of the Rivers State which your Excellency in your wisdom, humanity and foresight brought about in order that the ideals of self-determination, equality of opportunity and freedom, may prevail in one indivisible Nigeria.
In the happy circumstances in which we are, we always remind ourselves of our struggles right from pre-colonial days for self-determination and integrity of what now is the Rivers State. We draw inspiration from this in our battle with the problems of peace and reconstruction and our vision of greater achievements for the people of the State and for all the peoples of this great country. When in the last century, the Whiteman encroached on our rights as independent and sovereign people and the coastal areas of our territory were threatened in naval battles against far superior forces. We were finally brought under colonial rule as the Oil Rivers Protectorate resulting from treaties made directly with representatives of Queen Victoria of England. The colonial government was later established throughout Nigeria. But already irked by the status of a subject people as other Nigerians, we were assailed by a worse situation in which we found ourselves under domination by fellow Nigerians. Our hopes and aspirations of development and well-being economically and socially were stifled by the manipulation of a Government of which we were supposed to be a part and parcel. Our natural wealth and resources were exploited to develop other areas while our own area was left virtually undeveloped. We were regarded as second class citizens and suffered untold indignities, physically and spiritually. Because of this, the desire for freedom to manage our own affairs by ourselves in the context of one Nigeria began to burn fiercely in our hearts. This burning desire found expression in the Ijaw people’s league formed in 1942 to fight first for a Rivers province. And in 1947 this was achieved when a Rivers Province was created out of what were Owerri and Calabar provinces. This was a landmark in our painful journey in the quest for a state. But we never rested on our oars. The final goal was like a beacon beckoning us on in our struggle. We intensified our efforts.
Over the years the movement for a Rivers State gathered momentum and the Rivers Chiefs and Peoples Conference was inaugurated. This body presented a memorandum to the Constitutional Conference in 1957. The result of the Conference was the appointed of the Willink Commission to enquire into the fears of the minorities and the means of allaying them. The outcome of the Commission was the creation of the Niger Delta Special Area, and the subsequent establishment of the Niger Delta Development Board with headquarters in Port Harcourt. We had to accept this palliative, for it was nothing more than a palliative, and went along with the nation’s leaders who opted for independence in 1960. We did so because there was still hope of more regions to be created as was provided for in the constitution.
But the minorities received a rude shock, particularly the Rivers People, when the former Eastern Region Government rejected out of hand the creation of a Rivers State. And when we sought through constitutional means to achieve our burning desire for a state, we were persecuted, discriminated against and subjected to indignities.
Then came the 1966 crisis and the subsequent setting up of the Ad Hoc Conference. We again raised our voice through our accredited representatives at that conference. It was the representatives of the former Eastern Region who, as always, opposed the idea of the creation of states in the country. Event then followed event in quick succession, culminating in the creation in May, 1967 by Your Excellency of twelve equal and autonomous States in the country out of former four regions. Then the secession and the civil war. And the Rivers State came under rebel occupation.
Your Excellency, it is not my wish to reopen wounds that are already healing under the balm of time and the ballast of your mature leadership by recounting the atrocities committed against Rivers people by the rebels. But suffice it to say that we suffered enormous losses in life and property. More than 200, 000 homes were destroyed as a direct result of pillaging by the rebels. If one took an average of five persons, that is, a husband, wife and three children per family, one would come to staggering figure of a million people, that is, about two-thirds of the total population of the state, who had no shelter of any sort at the cessation of hostilities. I have just established a Housing Corporation among the objectives of which is to provide homes for these citizens of the Rivers States made homeless by the rebels.
Very briefly, your Excellency, I have given you the synopsis of the story of our struggle and final victory. A victory in which Your Excellency’s inestimable role will certainly illuminate the pages of history.
The guns are now silenced and it is now peace. But we are now faced with peace-time problems of resuscitating our ravaged economy, reconstruction and reconciliation. In the achievement of these objectives the Rivers State is determined to match abreast with the rest of the country. When your Excellency paid us your first visit in 1969 at great personal risk amidst sounds of war, 1, on behalf of the chiefs and people of the Rivers State, pledged you our unalloyed support and loyalty in the prosecution of the war to crush the rebels. And now, in these changed and joyous circumstances, I once more on behalf of the one and half million people of the Rivers State pledge our whole-hearted support for your ideals of peace and reconciliation.
In this regard, I am constrained to refer to mischievous allegations and uniformed criticisms that are being directed at this state from certain quarters. Malevolently tendentious statements are being freely made calculated to isolate this state from the rest of the country by presenting us as unwilling to forgive the past. Most of these baseless allegations and the manner in which they are peddle are so redolent of the shameless propaganda that poured forth from the rebel radio that one is astounded at the stubbornness of human nature to learn a lesson from the pages of history –contemporary history in this case!
Needless to say, Your excellency, that such allegation deliberately made to mislead the informed render more difficult task of reconciliation.None less, we on our part will continue to strive for complete reconciliation with those who wronged us, even to the point of trying to enslave us. In this, as in other national endeavor aimed at unity and progress of this our great country, we shall not let Your Excellency down.
As I have said times without number, the doors of Rivers State are wide open to all law-abiding Nigerians irrespective of state of origin and who would accept unreservedly of state of origin and who would be to negate all the ideals of freedom, equality and unity for which our youths fought and died. Our motto is Equality –equality for all in the state and in all Nigeria, no matter one’s station in life; Service-selfless service for the upliftment of material and spiritual well-being of fellowmen; and Justice-justice for all, irrespective of tribe, race, creed or religion. These tenets guide our thinking, our attitude in our activities in our co-operative efforts in seeking solution to state and national problems. I am happy to note that, the communities from all other states, including the East Central state, comfortably resident in. this municipality, have turned out joyously to welcome you. This is proof of positive of our open door policy and a disproof to the sceptics. All we River State want is peace and unity among all Nigerians. But peace and unity presuppose understanding of each other’s problems, legitimate hopes and aspirations. It is such understanding that will further strengthen the cords of unity and fellowship in the country.
Your Excellency the stability prosperity and progress of individuals states is the stability, prosperity and progress of Nigeria. In recognition of this fact, my government, though faced with enormous problems, is determined to establish the basis for growth and development that would in time make this state one of the most prosperous and happy state in Federation. This a formidable task for any government in circumstances other than those in which we find ourselves; but with the help of God and our pioneering spirit, this Government will achieve its goal. All the available resource of the Government, human and material are therefore geared towards this end. In this regard, in second National Development Plan, my Government has given priority to Agriculture and Transportation. Agriculture because it is the economic mainstay of the state and during plan period its modernization and diversification of its products will be our main objective; and transportation because it facilitate movement of people, evacuation of produce and opening up of hitherto inaccessible area to commerce and trade in a State whose special Geography presents great problems of transportation and communication. All this is designed to resuscitate and revitalize the economic life of the state which was virtually obliterated by the war. In order to effectively achieve this ends our transportation and communication difficulties which are many-sided, have to be definitely overcome so that the great difficulty of movement with which we are at present faced will be minimized. In this connection, it appears to us imperative that we should be linked with not only the States to the north of our own state but also with the State to the west and east.
In the plan we have not overlooked the dispossessed and displaced people of the state. This class of people include farmers, fishermen and traders. Provision has been made for their rehabilitation to set them up on the way once more to gainful employment and the wherewithal of a contented life. It is appropriate at this juncture to express our deep appreciation for Federal Government assistance to this State in rehabilitation in all its various forms. The People of the Rivers State are most grateful. However, I would like to say that our State was worst hit by the war, and that even before the war we were a deprived people. Consequently, our needs are still very great. We therefore eagerly look forward to receiving more Federal Government rehabilitation assistance.
Having mentioned agriculture and communications, and the needy farmers and fishermen and traders who still stand in need of yet some more Federal Government rehabilitation assistance, I wish to say that our Development Plan, as Your Excellency is aware, also makes provision for the modernization and planning of our urban and sub-urban centers. Special attention will in this regard be paid to Port Harcourt, which will not only be restored to its pre-war status as one of the most important industrial and commercial cities of the country but will be developed to become a befitting capital of the Rivers State. Commercial houses and industrial establishments in and around Port Harcourt are therefore being given every encouragement to reactivate their way-damaged businesses and industries. Parts of the town itself will be re-planned and modern office blocks, of which there is at present a total lack, will be built.
Your Excellency, I have outlined our hopes and aspirations and our needs and set-backs. I assure you that my Government is determined, in spite of formidable difficulties, to ensure that the Rivers State will not be a weak link in the chain of Nigerian unity and progress. The people of the Rivers State have unshaken faith in Your Excellency. Your Excellency’s fatherly approach to and understanding of our problems are a source of hope to us. The mature leadership which your Excellency has shown which has wrested the Federal Republic of Nigeria from the forces of disintegration and ruin has indubitably placed your Excellency among the great men of the world. We are indeed proud of your Excellency.
I am indeed reluctant to take your Excellency’s mind back to your Excellency’s recent misfortune; still I wish to express, for this occasion, our condolences for the loss your Excellency sustained in the child which died. The poet has said that “into each life some rain must fall; some days must be dark and dreary.” We pray that the future brings lasting blessing to Your Excellency.
Once more may I assure Your Excellency that the people of the Rivers State bound together by tradition, culture, common suffering and aspiriations will march forward together for the glory of ONE UNITED NIGERIA.
One again, welcome, Your Excellency, to the Rivers State. We wish Your Excellency a happy stay.
Military Governor, Rivers State