Since creation in 1967, the composition of Rivers State, old and present, had always been multi-ethnic and, some political calculations have always been sensitive, intriguing and balancing. Observers of Rivers politics will easily point the direction power will go even before the gladiators hit the rostrum. The reason is not far-fetched, the old leaders of the state understood that it was more important to keep the State in peace than to have power in a crisis-ridden atmosphere. The concerns that influence the political class also influence the polity too.
From pre-independence times, Rivers leaders have managed to wade off regional domination and internal differences by concentrating on the need to keep the state for the present and future generations; this was easily observable in their
campaign and voting patterns. However, politics is gradually eroding that brotherly consideration in contemporary times and the threat of domination and crisis is now showing up. Ethnic considerations that would have polarized the state started in post-civil war era, as talks of Riverine and Upland dichotomy polluted the political lexicon of the state. The 1979 elections were maturely handled by the political class and possible conflict averted. Now the elements are again manifesting, the Governorship became the ultimate desire of every tribe.
After many years of military rule., the political space was again open to the people in 1978 and after the elections in 1979, the people elected the first civilian Governor, in the person of Chief Melford Okilo, an astute politician from the Ijaw (Riverine) town of Ogbia (now in Bayelsa State). He was the second indigenous Governor of the State, after the pioneer military Administrator, Cdr. Alfred Diette Spiff (himself a Riverine, from Twon Brass, also in Bayelsa). Okilo successfully completed his first tenure of four years, secured a second term of which he governed for only three months before the military again seized power on the last day of 1983. Between 1984 and 1990 the Federal Government posted whoever they liked to govern the State, until January 1991, when the democratization effort of the military under General Babangida produced another civilian Governor in the person of Chief Ada-George, an Ijaw (Riverine) from Okrika, He became the second civilian Governor of the State. The administration of Chief Ada-George was terminated less than two years into the tenure by a military coup led by General Sani Abacha in November 1993. The country was thus returned to a full circle of military rule. So for another six years soldiers decided who becomes governor or administrator. The military under General Abdulsalami Abubakar supervised another transition programme in 1998.
In the 1998/9 dispensation, the political system was securely under the control of politicians of the Riverine section. Men like Graham Douglas, late Marshal Harry, Rufus Ada George, etc were the owners of the leading political parties- PDP and APP. Yet the PDP fielded an uplander from the smallest branch of the section.
The emergence of Sir, Peter Odlil was essentially a product of patriotic reasoning not selfishness, Odili was an uplander from Ndoni, was the first uplander to govern the state as the third civilian Governor. A study of the election results showed that Odili enjoyed more Riverine support than upland support. He ruled for eight years.
Longer than any of his civilian predecessors had ruled. Then when he was to hand over power, he placed the baton on the laps of lkwerre-born Celestine Omiehia, before the courts reversed it and gave to the current Governor, another lkwerre-born. The incumbent Governor, Rotimi Amaechi has since completed the first term and has effectively started his second term, so the natural political line of thought agitating the minds of the people is, ‘Who succeeds Amaechi?”
While it is instructive to note that the geographical entity governed by both Okilo and Ada George is different from the present Rivers State as the old state was divided in 1996. It is also note worthy that the section that became Bayelsa State is entirely ljaw (Riverine) meaning that the Riverine in Rivers State is now smaller than it was. The implication is that politics can be altered against the Riverine if the usual understanding is ignored. The uplanders now have the numerical edge that the Riverines once enjoyed.
Politics and elections are about people, but, people are not just numbers but the application of strategy to achieve desired results. So after the splitting of the state, the numbers changed but not the trend. Odili’s eight years was longer than the combined time Okilo and Ada George spent in the office. Yet governorship was ceded ‘to the Ikwerres (upland) to settle two basic arguments, they are now the single largest tribe and the Riverines had two previous Governors. Now we are at the verge of another transition, and the minds are working. The leaders are looking; the other political parties and ruling PDP must provide reasonable direction.
What should determine the direction of search must be in line with our political history. There are those who want us to consider in. senatorial districts, for such, one of the three senatorial districts is yet to produce a Governor. They will argue that the Governorship be ceded to the Rivers South East senatorial district. This point is valid. Then there are those who will argue that it has to be along the lines of sections as it had always been. For them, it will be morally unfair to keep the governorship from the Riverines again after sixteen years of unbroken upland governorship. Again their position is correct. Then there is the third group that will say it’s not about senatorial districts or sections but about tribes. They will argue that the Ikwerres, Ogonis, Kalabaris, Okrikans, Ogbas in that order are the bigger tribes and should do it turn by turn before it gets to others. Unfortunately, this argument has no balance and’ ingredients of fairness. It also reduces the serious business of governance to an all-corners engagement that may produce nothing good for the people.
In the circumstance, it will be most reasonable to take the advantages of all the positions and shop for the best material.
The first position gives Rivers people a chance to get the best material from a third of the state. The next position keeps the search ‘within a half of the state, while the third reduces the search to almost one tenth without even balancing the swing between the majors and the minors. Remember, when it went to the upland, the consideration was to give the smaller tribes within the section. So if we want to be fair and still remain democratic enough, then we can start from the section, then the district before we narrow to the tribe, while still very much concerned about the capacity of the aspirants. If we set our standards well, then we shall have little or no acrimony as we gradually arrive decision point.
Dr. Boma George Henry Adonye