By Agbara Akpoka
In 1967, Rivers state was created and politically so nomenclature. Inherent in this naming is the fact and real sensitivity that the state is water logged or possibly based on one of the analogies espoused that the military battalion that liberated the then Bonny and Port Harcourt and the rest parts of the present day Rivers State during the Nigerian Civil War, actually came through the Rivers from Lagos. Though, that is not the thrust of this piece of writing. The focus of this writing is to put across to other minds my insight of the political arguments on riverine, upland dichotomy that had preoccupied the frames of most people this time in our beloved state. That is said against the backdrop of not allowing anyone or group for selfish political interest, mould our views or twist the truth concerning the real description, character and nature as well as the composite of Rivers State. It is not aimed at causing any cynicism or negatively agitate the minds of the readers in or outside the state. It is but my candid outlook.
The above assertion of a dichotomy is considered a false one because it exists as a mere rhetorical device used to judge and confuse other peoples’ decisions. It is truly a beguiling antics of the promoters of the division in order to grab power to their minority advantage without respecting the opinion of the majority. Indeed, it is anappealing pretentiousness to the extent that it is aimed also to project a politically motivated rallying cry to inspire people to act the way they want; it is a slogan or argument cloth with emotions to sway people to believe that in reality, there was a clear distinction between their ostensible Riverine -Upland fringes of the state.
Undeniably, a false dilemma or dichotomy it is,in that, it is an informal but unfounded fallacy, which is secured on a basis that erroneously circumscribes the options of plausible understanding of the real nature, character and composition available for the people of Rivers state.This fallacy is classically used as an argument to force their opponents into an extreme position of acceptance by the assumption that there are only two positions, which are riverine and Upland. But equating the part, which according their argument are in the riverine to those uplandis in subtlety painting an implicative picture that would mean the Riverine deserves to be zoned the position of the highest political job. This superlatively fallacious division is capable of blackmailing the general public into believing that that part (the Riverine) is been marginalised or not given political space or denied political participation if not given the slot to produce the governor now, which in clarity is a false dilemma.
According to the Merriam Dictionary collegiate definition of “Riverine” meaning 2, states “living or situated on the banks of a river “. It adds to clarity to expound that for a place to be called a riverine, that community or place must not necessarily be living in the sea, just by the banks of a river. Flowing from this understanding, would any part of Rivers State be excluded from being called riverine? It is hardly probable to say so. May be parts of Ikwerre LGA, such as Ubima, Egbeda, Aphana, Omerelu, etc can possibly qualify as upland as against the rest parts of the state.
From a pragmatic theoretical perspective, division or dichotomy would be understood as a partition of a whole (or a set) into two (subsets). Saying it otherwise, in attempting to divide a whole it must be such that the set or the different parts should be mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive. That is to say that everything must belong to one part or the other and nothing can belong concurrently to both parts. The questions: Is there any part of Rivers State that does not have water or mangrove or rivers? Don’t all the parts of Rivers State exist either on land or islands? The fact that you are in the high sea does not make you exclusively riverine. There is no feature of those in the high Sea that is exclusive and exhaustive for them. These features are also shared by those around Bodo, Ogbakiri, Kono, Onne, Woji, Elelenwo, Emohua, Abua, Ogbelle, Omoku, Odual, Joinkarama, Opoko, Kala-Oko, Mbiama, Mgboshimini, Iwofe, Odual,which by the claims of the proponents of the division are upland. The fact that they claim the riverine situate farther into the sea does not make them riverine to the exclusion of those they argue are upland.
In the distant past, before the creation of Rivers State and about then in 1967, most parts of it were more waterlogged with rivers and mangrove swamps than it is today. At that time, I am sure there were no harbours and Seaports as there are today. That presupposes the fact that there had been enormous human activities at reclaiming the lands from the sea to have what is the present-day Port Harcourt and Rivers State in general. I am sure we could all recollect that the present-day Eagle Island, which mainly is the land of the Ikwerre was a huge sea before it was reclaimed from the river. Would you today accept the claim that the Ikwerre people who occupy Eagle Island in Port Harcourt are riverine communities as your argument presumes? Whether one accepts it or not the Ikwerre people who inhabit that axis of Rivers State have similar characteristics with the Bonny, Bile, Keh, Andoni and the Opobo people. A clear understanding of this expounding present Governor Nyesom Wike as Riverine man given that he is from Akpor clan in Ikwerre. Hence, there is no clear point of dichotomy here or the argument of dividing the state in an upland, riverine manner based on the reason that one side is farther into the sea. It is very unnecessarily misleading and would not represent the desire of the vast majority of the people.
The argument for this dichotomy is favoured by some selfish minority politicians and professionals- those whose only interest is to make more profit at the expense of the vast majority of the people. It is indeed a political position nattered by them to make the pendulum swing towards their forecasted position from where they would benefit immensely to the disadvantage of the majority of the people. The disaffection this sort of position would cause to the state is not their concern.
Otherwise, the physical number of LGAs in the areas so termed riverine against the upland invalidates or do not support their argument according to the above stated conditions of division. That is to say, the parts most be mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive. By their claim, Eight (8) LGAs, which consist of Akukutoro, Asaritoro, Bonny, Degema, Andoni, Opobo/Nkoro, Okrika, Ogu/Bolo are riverine, while Fifteen LGAs, which consist of Ikwerre, Emohua, PH, Obio/Akpor, Khana, Gokana, Tai, Eleme, Oyigbo, Etche, Omuma, Ahoada West, Ahoada East, Abua/Odual and Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni are upland. It is politically sacrilegious to divide 8 against 15. 15 is almost twice of 8. Yet, you want to equate them. By voting strength, almost all the 15 upland LGAs have more political polling units and votes than all the 8 riverine LGAs. This configuration also counters their argument. Indeed, it is politically not sayable to divide the state into 8 LGAs against 15 and equate them for political power sharing. That is the most arrogant way of demonstrating unjustifiably, political superiority. It is actually needless and should be jettisoned. This sort of argument will only expand the fissures of dissension amongst the ethnic nationalities in our beloved state.
Let it be stated publicly that when it comes to the nominations and appointments of the people of Rivers State into political positions neither this selfish dichotomy – (upland riverine) nor nationalities are considered as a yardstick. This is because the creation of the so-called dichotomy was and is driven by selfish and a great sense of haughtiness. Otherwise from the times of the Eastern Region, we have had a great deal of persons from the riverine as they would claim, appointed and elected as Ministers, Governors, State Assembly Speakers and Judges etc not on the basis of the so-called riverine upland dichotomy. For instance, Chief Diete Spiff was appointed the firstGovernor of Rivers State, Chief Melford Okilo was elected Governor of Rivers State, Chief Rufus Ada George was elected Governor of Rivers State. These three Governors were all from the so-called “riverine” part of Rivers state and the Ijaw speaking ethnic nationalities. At that time, no one from the upland had become Governor but the riverine was comfortable. The question of dichotomy did not arise. There was no argument in favour of the upland neither from the so-called “uplanders” or the riverine who mostly claimed that a dichotomy exists.
Alabo T.Y. Graham-Douglas was appointed Minister 3, Late Prof. Tam David West was appointed Petroleum Minister, the present Secretary to Rivers state Govt. Hon. Tammy Danagogo, Nabo Graham-Douglas was Attorney General of the Eastern Region. Dr Bennett Birabi, Hon. Kenneth Kobani, Chief Precious Ngelale, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi, Gov. Celestine Omehia, Gov. Wike. In all these appointments and elections, there was no consideration of the riverine/upland dichotomy. The Hon. Minister for transport today, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi who is reported to have hyped this dichotomy recently at one of his APC Party functions, did not consider this dichotomy when he contested election in 2007 immediately after his master, Governor Peter Odili’s tenor ended.
Again, implicit in that arrangement is the fact that all of the LGAs in the riverine are one nationality- the Ijaw, which will now be equated to about six other nationalities in the upland. These nationalities include, the Ogba, the Ndoni, the Ekpeye, the Ikwerre, the Etche, the Oyigbo, Egbema and the Ogoni. A further implication is that each time any of the tribes or nationalities take the Governorship slot, the next becomes the turn of the Ijaw. This is impracticable, hence, not sayable.
Besides, let’s assume that the idea to create a dichotomy to strengthen the state through the practice of democratic ethos towards achieving an egalitarian society, which should naturally reduce the friction and perceived sense of marginalisation and domination in the state is a good thing. The question is, when exactly was this dichotomy agreed upon in Rivers State? Which political party did? Realising that the aim of any political party is to win election and form government, is it possible that all political parties would zone their elective positions to a particular part of the stateeven if, it is to their detriment at elections? What if they cannot find a good candidate at a particular time from a particular divide that the positions are not zoned to? Would they stop contesting the position? Could thatbe possible?
Factually, majority of the leaders of Rivers State who subscribe to this argument of an existing dichotomy are those who have failed the people of the state. I have listened to and read the works most of the founding fathers of Rivers State. Most narrated the activities and discussions that were held just before and after the civil war. Rivers State was created about the same time the war started and our father Diete Spiff was appointed the first Governor of our dear state. At the very least, records show that he had been the best Governor of Rivers State with unsurpassed achievements but for the incredibly revolutionary tilt of the Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, CON, GSSR, POS Africa at developing the state. What was unique about the government of Governor Spiff then was that almost all parts of Rivers State seemingly participated in the government equally. He ruled in the interest of all. So, the palpable fear of not having our brother as Governor which dominate our thoughts today was not there. Hence, the issue is not about the division of the state into Riverine and Upland, but the demonstration of an inordinate sense of fair sharing of our God-given common wealth in governance.
Otherwise, since the matter is political, why is not dichotomy hinged on the basis of the three Senatorial Districts in the state? Rather than in a non-existent factor. What sense of marginalisation are they talking about? When Rivers West Senatorial District and Rivers South Senatorial District have dominated and are suppressing Rivers South East. What sort of greed is that? It must be stated firmly that greed, haughtiness, and disrespect cannot address the problems of intolerance and the complications associated with our ethnically and resourcefully diverse state. Therefore, we ought to look and work towards making the state an egalitarian sort.
By an egalitarian state, I meant, governing or dispensing governance in such a way that no part or nationality in the state will be made inaccessible to government resources and civic equality, realising that in treatment and responsibility differences, some people benefit more and can quickly receive more privileges than others. Whilst, we administer the state, we should strive to accentuate parity and equal conduct towards gender, religion, economic status and political leanings. In order words, the common wealth of the state be distributed equally justifying all measurable yardsticks: gender equality, economic and social as well as political and educational, rather than relapsing into holding a meaningless and fallacious riverine, upland dichotomy that would not engender peace and development in the state.
I repeat, this is but my way of expressing my discernment on the issue of Riverine and Upland division. It is not a tribal or group opinion but the insight of an individual, a committed mind to the Rivers project.