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President Goodluck Jonathan has said the struggle for political space in Rivers State is creating unnecessary tension and that it is not the best the peace-loving people of the state deserve.
A former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon (rtd.), whose regime created Rivers State in 1967, urged the people to work for the peace and stability of the state and Nigeria.
Governor Rotimi Amaechi, however, declared that he would never watch oppression and that if social justice is put in place, peace would come.
Amaechi, who is also the chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), insisted that Rivers State must be reclaimed from looters and that the people must stop the thieves from taking over power in the Niger Delta state.
President Jonathan, Gen. Gowon and Amaechi spoke yesterday at a symposium as part of the programmes lined up for the Port Harcourt City Centenary Celebration, with the theme: “Port Harcourt City, Past, Present and Future,” at the Alfred Diete-Spiff Civic Centre, Moscow Road in the Rivers State capital.
The event was also attended by members of the National and Rivers Assemblies; the Secretary to the Rivers State Government (SSG) George Feyii, who chairs the Centenary Celebration Committee; commissioners, other top government officials, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT), Prof. Joseph Ajienka; traditional rulers and other eminent personalities.
Papers were presented by Profs. Tekena Tamuno (a former VC of the University of Ibadan (UI), Nimi Briggs and Otonti Nduka as well as Mrs. Judy Nwanodi, among others.
President Jonathan also unveiled two books: Port Harcourt at 100: Past, Present and Future and Economic Development of Rivers State.
The President, who was the special guest of honour, was represented by his Special Adviser on Research, Documentation and Strategy, Oronto Douglas, noted that Port Harcourt had done so much and meant so much to many people.
President Jonathan said: “Even as we celebrate, I have observed with pains that the struggle for political space in recent times is creating unnecessary tension in this city, which has served all of us so well.
“I believe that this is not the best Port Harcourt deserves. We can all, as fathers, mothers and leaders, do more to intervene and help douse the fire of partisan differences, in order to preserve the peaceful glory of Port Harcourt.
“This city will always be home for me and, I believe, for millions of others as well. We must continue to secure the peace and tranquility that gave Port Harcourt its homely and comforting character.
“The greatest asset of Port Harcourt is its creative youth. This extensive volume of human potential requires an endless stream of space and opportunity, so that they can help build the city, the state and our nation.
“We must sustain the reorientation of our youth to deepen their sense of commitment to the noble values of hard work, selflessness and discipline. The Federal Government will continue to collaborate with the state and local governments to ensure that our youths receive their due.”
The President also admonished the youth to be prepared to learn and work hard, while stressing that the Federal Government acknowledged Port Harcourt’s unique place in the nation’s development.
He said his administration has resolved to continue to contribute to the development of Port Harcourt and to uplift the conditions of the people of the city and other Nigerians.
Jonathan described Port Harcourt as the product of the contributions of many hands and many ideas, noting that the process of its making and growth was “certainly” still ongoing, adding that the city, in its first 100 years, has formed a strong relationship with oil, palm oil and crude oil.
Gen. Gowon said: “I am particularly happy that I made modest contributions to the development of Port Harcourt as a capital city, with the creation of Rivers State by my administration in 1967, following the split of Nigeria’s four regions to create a 12-state federation.
“Successive administrations have done their utmost to transform Port Harcourt, which has not only become the oil capital of Nigeria’s economy, but is today one of the most commercially viable state capitals in the country and the administrative headquarters of one of the fastest growing states of the federation.
“As we gather to celebrate 100 years of the founding of Port Harcourt, I will like to take the opportunity to counsel that we all continue to work for peace and stability of Rivers State and Nigeria as a whole.
“This is because if any part of our land is not at peace, everyone will suffer the consequence at one time or another. I urge you to take the opportunity of this centennial celebration to unite.”
The former head of state also lauded the founding fathers of Port Harcourt, who, he said, worked tirelessly to ensure the development of “our beloved Garden City”.
Gen. Gowon also stressed that Amaechi and members of his team, as well as members of the planning committee of the centenary celebration, among others, have done well.
Amaechi said: “The Rivers State we have now belongs to you; you must reclaim it from the looters and me. That is what the centenary is all about. We must recreate the Rivers State that we have, so that our children can have a better place to live in. You must stop the thieves from taking over power.
“I am happy that you have given me an opportunity to serve. All of us who have served should allow the younger ones to come in. When I was running for governorship, they said I was too young and would not be able to govern and I felt challenged, to prove to you that I can govern.
“We have made sure that now, the average age to govern Rivers State is 45. Those of us who have served should go and do other things; we are all graduates. Let us go and practise. Allow others the opportunity to take over the governance of Rivers State.
“I am a Catholic. The church does not preach peace. The church preaches social justice. If social justice is put in place, peace will come.
“There is no disagreement between the President and I. I respect him as my President. I respect the fact that he is an intellectual. I respect the fact that God has blessed him to get to that post. Nobody can get to that post without the blessings of God. Respect to that office is respect to God.
“I was also told that you cannot watch oppression, because if you watch oppression, you will die. I submit completely to the President, but on behalf of Rivers people, I also ask for social justice. I believe that the President means well, I believe that the country has so many problems.
“As a leader, a lot of people will abuse you, but as a leader, you must continue. I support him (President Jonathan) in accepting that. I support him in continuing to govern this state and I assure you, peace will come.”
The NGF chairman also pointed out that Port Harcourt was accommodating to every Nigerian, but suddenly the people woke up, with some people masquerading in the name of Niger Delta taking over the streets of the city, declaring that they were armed by politicians and they began to maim and kill.
As the Speaker of the Rivers House of Assembly, Amaechi said, he passed a Bill into law, asking the government to prosecute the criminals for cultism and murder.
The governor said: “It was shortly after I became governor that the government began to prosecute them (the criminals). If we took action at that time, we will not be where we are today. How many of you remember that those who were in government were part of cultism? Because you need an array of young men to fight the war.
“The little ones that were available were because poverty had set in. Individuals became the army of politicians. Do you remember that as they were killing themselves, our treasuries were being looted? They were fighting for politicians to be governor, deputy governor, members of the House of Assembly.
“We tackled the issue of insecurity in Rivers State. Until Mbu (Mbu Joseph, Rivers Commissioner of Police) came, I was driving myself with one car behind me. Now, I need more cars and more policemen, so that I can be safe.
“That is why I said I would not be part of transforming. I prefer to go back to where Alfred Diete-Spiff (the pioneer military governor of the old Rivers State) left us. Then, we had wonderful primary schools that I attended and there was the need to rebuild the old Port Harcourt.
“There was the need to rebuild our city. There was the need to reclaim our city from the hands of dangerous men, who had taken possession. We began the process of rebuilding what we met on the ground. The first thing to get back to what Port Harcourt used to be is education. We wanted to give the children the opportunity of getting the type of education we got in public schools.”
Amaechi also noted that not many parents could afford to take their children to private schools, with ICT introduced in Rivers public primary schools. “Rivers people are now enjoying good roads, with more being constructed”, he added.
The Chairman of the Port Harcourt City Centenary Committee, George Feyii, who is also the Secretary to the Rivers State Government (SSG), said efforts to celebrate the centenary started last year, with Port Harcourt older than Nigeria by one year.