By Lindsay Barrett

The recognition of past heroes of Rivers State autonomy and acknowledgement of Retired Navy Commander Alfred Diete-Spiff’s (right) near legendary status as the first Governor of the state set the tone for the celebrations.




Prof. Godini Darah (left) delivered a well-received and exciting lecture at which ex-President Goodluck Jonathan (right with Governor Wike) was received with a standing ovation by the crowd.

Although the golden jubilee celebrations that have just ended in Nigeria’s Rivers State recalled memories of a glorious past the hopes and challenges of the future were also kept in profound perspective. The honour and gratitude expressed by the present governor Nyesom Wike for the work of his predecessors beginning with the first state Governor Retired Navy Commander Alfred Diete-Spiff who was prominently visible in many events, set a tone of respect for the historic role of the state in Nigeria’s national reality.  This concern was prominently exhibited at the seminal anniversary lecture delivered by Delta State’s Professor Godini G. Darah. The lecture entitled Democracy and Development in Nigeria: The Case of Rivers State was an exciting and comprehensive examination of the historic provenance of the state and especially of its role as a regional economic powerhouse that has truly served as the “treasure base” of the entire nation. Prof. Darah’s presentation threw light on the original purpose for which the amalgamation of Nigeria in the colonial era was crafted. The origin of this structural transformation of Britain’s colonial intent in West Africa was traced to Lord Lewis Harcourt, a Colonial Secretary who was eventually to be granted historical recognition when the city of Port Harcourt was named after him. Professor Darah related this to the eventual transformation of the colonial structure from regional hegemony to state autonomy and proposed the ongoing fine tuning of this trend in the future as the best way forward for Nigeria if it was to remain a truly equitable and united nation. This exhortation drew increased relevance from the presence at the lecture of Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan former President who was welcomed with a loud ovation on his appearance from the huge crowd of mostly young people.

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Stalwart PDP members Prince Uche Secondus (left) and Senator Ben Obi stood by the Governor for the festivities and were also prominent in the audience at the Town Hall meeting on Democracy Day. A stilt dancer symbolises Rivers people’s pride and determination to rise above all odds.

Large and enthusiastic crowds attended many of the Golden Jubilee events and the Town Hall meeting on Democracy Day was no different as  Dame Patience (Mama Peace) Jonathan joined Governor Wike onstage to unveil the mid-term report of his administration.

Public acknowledgement by Governor Wike of Dr. Peter Odili’s role as his mentor was given credibility when the citation for the former Governor was read out to a huge audience at the awards night. The citation was read by Prince Shedrack Akolokwu, Special Adviser to the Governor (right).

In addition to the fact that former Governor Peter Odili ‘s role in creating the ascendant political establishment in the modern Rivers State was openly acknowledged by the Governor the underlying gravity of the process of celebrating the golden jubilee of the State reflected critical issues arising from contemporary national political experiences . The respect and spontaneous adulation exhibited by audiences for former President Goodluck Jonathan whenever he appeared during the festivities was a credible expression of resistance and localised patriotism. As the celebrations progressed it became clear that while the Jubilee Committee had been at pains to make the festivities as non-partisan as possible the support base for Governor Wike’s continued success as a leader was rooted in the Caretaker Committee of the PDP that is led by Senator Makarfi. This aspect of the circumstances surrounding the events came to the full notice of most observers when Governor Wike hosted a Town Hall meeting on Democracy Day, which was two days after the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the state. As he unveiled the mid-term record of his achievements before another huge and enthusiastic audience Governor Wike was forthright in his defence of his decisions and objectives as a leader who is determined he said to transform the state in fundamental ways to re-position it as an economic leader for all of Nigeria and even West Africa in the future.

The special night of awards was an extraordinary exhibition of self-determinate unity and hope for the future. The Real Brass Band made up of young citizens symbolised the exciting innovative new generation while the awards to historic figures like pioneer governor Diete-Spiff (right) testified to the resilience of the spirit that motivated the founding fathers of the state.

Governor Wike’s commitment to a schedule of increased infrastructural expansion became the central focus of his participation in the celebrations as he spoke passionately about his vision for providing a self-determinate base for the future in all his outings. As a consequence the Golden Jubilee celebrations, which coincided with the second anniversary of his tenure in office, served to promote the idea of a new order of communal unity and tolerance for the people of the state as well as to provide as opportunity for the Administration to register its perception of the state’s role as a component of the national entity. The creative legacy of some of its most highly regarded indigenes who have passed on was effectively symbolised by the star-studded performance of a dramatisation of Elechi Amadi’s famous novel The Concubine. The ubiquitous sound of modern renditions of classic highlife compositions by Rex Lawson performed by some remarkable ensembles, including an extraordinary brass band that performed for the Awards Night that concluded the official celebrations defined the atmosphere of cultural self-determination and solidarity that pervaded the festivities.

Cultural legacies and the concern for the welfare of future generations were at the heart of the celebratory mood. UN Children’s Day coincided with the founder’s day of the state and Deputy Governor Her Excellency Mrs  Ipalibo Harry-Banigo took the salute from school children.

Prof. Darah’s lecture was presented in précis form by him but the detailed printed version was widely distributed to the large crowd of young people who attended the event. The resonance of the events put together for the celebrations should last for months into the future because Nyesom Wike, the incumbent Governor appears to have decided to focus on the future generations who will inherit the legacies of the state’s past. Although the committee that was appointed to implement the celebrations was headed by two elder statesmen Chief Ferdy Alabrabah former Chairman of UBA and Barrister O.C.J Okocha (SAN) former NBA President, it put together a programme that placed major emphasis on the participation of the youth. In the course of fulfilling this mandate they mounted a veritable festival of events that brought out community-based cultural groups, traditional rulers, young entrepreneurs, children, women and other special interest groups on specific days. In the end the festivities proved to be an extraordinary carnival of fraternal bonding. At the same time Governor Wike’s self-confident promotion of his political viewpoint and circumstance in most of his speeches gave the events profound resonance as a national and regional celebration.   

The Chairman and Alternative Chairman of the Rivers@50 Committee Chief Ferdy Alabrabah and Hon. O.C. J Okocha (SAN) (photo left) initiated a festival of fraternity and the state’s people responded joyfully 

Governor Nyesom Wike acknowledged his debt of gratitude to former Governor Peter Odili (photo left) when he unveiled the ultra-modern Port Harcourt Pleasure Park (right). He asserted that his mentor had set the pace for infrastructural growth that he was pursuing.

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