When the Rivers Stay Stagnant

How do you have so much potential, yet consistently fail to deliver? You go one step forward, then gladly take two steps backwards while smiling and beating your chest proudly. For a state called the Treasure Base of the Nation, and a capital city formerly known as the Garden City, Rivers State has disappointed on almost every developmental metric relative to the resources and potential available. Yet, just as Nigeria happily towers above its fellow underperforming African countries, Rivers State embraces the wrong peers to feel it is doing well.

Before we even go on, let’s get something straight considering the timing of this article. If you think that the election results published by INEC for the 2023 elections reflect the will of Rivers people, kindly disembark that thought. The Rigger-in-Chief knows that when he dances towards a church altar for a perfunctory thanksgiving over his election “victories”, he is merely making a mockery of the people unfortunate to be on the pews at that time.

Back to the stagnancy of the state I hold dear. From 1999, literally every Rivers State Governor has had interest in the Nigerian Presidency. It has almost become a case of “money miss road” where we have governors who would rather devote their time to playing Abuja politics and divert state monies in hope of buying bigger positions rather than focus on developing the riches in the state. And there is a high level of poverty and unemployment in a state where the residents suffer from a double whammy of low incomes and high prices from the inflationary pull of the oil companies and politically connected persons.

Ignoring his famous bouts of megalomania, the outgoing governor has been famously called “Mr Projects”. While it is clear that economic growth requires good infrastructure, one cannot help but wonder if there is more to development than erecting flyovers around Port Harcourt, or if any transport engineering ethos were followed in determining whether an area needed a flyover, and if so, what kind of flyover would be the best for the current and future projected traffic levels. I think that there is a lot more that the state can do with all the monies that it gets.

I wanted an experienced businessman as the next governor, but now that Wike has fixed Sim in the Brick House, here are a few areas that the new governor can help us address.

Firstly, we need to fix the ease of doing business in the state. Job creation is not by appointing 200,000 Special Assistants, nor expanding the bloat in the Civil Service. We need businesses to be willing and able to setup shop in the state. It is these businesses that would create jobs for the teeming numbers of Rivers people. We should be looking at what incentives can be offered to attract entrepreneurs to the state. And the good thing is that many of the youths getting lost in devilish cult groups would see opportunities to earn a honest living, leaving only the committed criminals for the government to deal with.

Still on business facilitation, we need to pluck some low hanging fruits. There are two ports in Rivers State but the total traffic from ships in a year is likely less than what Lagos gets in a month. Although there are several reasons for the low throughput, we can look at the Onne Port that has terrible roads linking to it. Whether those are federal roads or not, we need to get them fixed. While dredging may be required to get bigger ships to the ports, the simpler infrastructural issues should be addressed.

We also need to throw the state wide open. Port Harcourt is already congested. Amaechi’s Greater Port Harcourt agenda needs to be reconsidered with a goal to create outposts in the three senatorial zones as seeds for new growth clusters. Achieving this would require getting cross-party support and selling the vision to Rivers people, so the agenda would transcend one administration. This could be a 10–20-year plan to spur development across the state aligned with business facilitation.

The governor also needs to note that Port Harcourt is not the same as Rivers State. We cannot continue the trend of throwing almost all monies at a part of Port Harcourt City when there are 23 Local Government Areas in the state. One of the issues driving the unhelpful upland/riverine dichotomy is the neglect of most areas outside Port Harcourt, Obio/Akpor and Ikwerre LGAs. For the state to grow and have peace, everyone needs to have a sense of belonging.

We also need to look at agriculture. We usually give the excuse of our lands having been destroyed by the petroleum industry, but the Netherlands have shown that we do not need so much land to run optimally productive agricultural activities. If we can unlock agriculture, we would have enough food to meet the state’s needs, surplus to sell elsewhere in Nigeria, with added potential for exports. The ports and international airport we have should be put to some good use.

Above all, I really wish the governor would look beyond “free” oil money. We have suffered so much from mental laziness that has blocked our brains from seeing numerous opportunities for economic growth. Imagine that with remote working and Starlink, workers in the tech industry can easily live in the relative quiet of Port Harcourt, avoiding sleeping in traffic, while spending some of their income patronizing goods and services in the state. Imagine having startup clusters with co-working office spaces. Imagine reproducing Agbara in Rivers State. What stops the state from making the right moves to have natural gas supplied to specified clusters and attracting companies there? Do you see how this ties into the ease of doing business strategy?

Rivers State can be so much more than thugs, praise singers, and incredulous election results. We can run a knowledge economy. We can be a state filled with well-educated people who can compete anywhere in the world. We can be a rising star to light a path for other sleeping states in the Niger Delta. I know this may be asking too much from someone who has been violently foisted on the people, but I just wish that for once, evil beginnings could yield good and my state’s story can change.

Image Credit: guardian.ng

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