A Rich History, a Promising Future: Rivers State, at the Heart of Nigeria's Oil-Rich Niger Delta, Is Building a Prosperous Future Based on Its Illustrious History

New African, August-September 2006 | Go to article overview

A Rich History, a Promising Future: Rivers State, at the Heart of Nigeria's Oil-Rich Niger Delta, Is Building a Prosperous Future Based on Its Illustrious History


In the 39 years of statehood, Rivers State has always played an important role in the socio-economic affairs of Nigeria. Situated in the Niger Delta, it is a major player in the oil and gas sector. By current estimates, Rivers State is Nigeria's largest producer of oil and gas.

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An ethnically diverse state, Rivers has been the arena for some of the most significant struggles for minority rights in the Niger Delta. It was here that one of the first, and most politically relevant Niger Delta minority rights groups, the Niger Delta Congress led by the late Chief Harold Dappa Biriye, emerged to sound its clarion call for equal opportunities for the Ijaws even before national independence was granted.

The territory that became Rivers State was also the location of the first armed struggle for autonomy and self-determination mounted by Isaac Adaka Boro on behalf of the Ijaws against the Federal Government after independence. Today these facts are major landmarks of the history of the state.

The original Rivers State was split in two when Bayelsa State was carved out of it in 1996. The territory from which the Boro and a substantial proportion of the core Ijaw groups originated became part of the new Bayelsa State. Today, the new Rivers State, which is still inhabited by diverse ethnic groups divided between so-called "upland and riverine communities", has become one of the most important economic centres not only in the Niger Delta and Nigeria, but also in the entire West African sub-region. Created in 1967 in response to long years of agitation on the part of leaders of the minority ethnic groups in the then Eastern Region, Rivers State helped to lessen the justification for secession, but also made the state one of the key theatres of the Nigerian civil war.

One of the heroes of the war on the Federal side was the aforementioned Isaac Boro who became a major in the Nigerian Army and fought to recapture the state's territory from the Biafran secessionists. He died in one of the fierce battles of the war, and has the largest public park in the state capital, Port Harcourt, named after him.

The state's very first governor was a 26-year-old naval officer, Alfred Diete-Spiff, who is now the Amanyanabo (King) of Brass in Bayelsa State. After the war, his tenure was marked by rapid infrastructural development, especially in and around Port Harcourt. Many of the landmarks of his rule remain relevant today and the present government has embarked on the renewal and expansion of this legacy in order to enhance the state's position as an important location for investors.

A symbol of this renewal is the refurbishment now underway of the state's famous landmark, the futuristic 20-storey skyscraper called the Point Block. This building, the tallest anywhere in the Niger Delta, was a symbol of the resurgence of hope when it was built in the 1970s by Diete-Spiff after the Nigerian Civil War.

Once occupied by some of the most dynamic private companies in the state, such as merchant banks, estate agents and oil service companies, Point Block fell into disrepair in the early 1990s. Today, the Odili government has embarked on the most comprehensive architectural and technical overhaul of the landmark since its creation. This is typical of the dynamic infrastructural growth that has characterised Odili's government.

The building of an ultra-modern new Government House on the site of the old Brick House, a colonial structure which was home to the state's governors, is another major achievement of the Odili administration that symbolises his determination to leave a legacy of renewal and hope after his tenure ends in 2007.

The entire Niger Delta played an important role in the economic growth of the West African sub-region prior to the discovery of oil, and the area occupied by the Rivers State was always at the heart of these activities. …

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