Feature: What role will Wike get in Tinubu’s administration?


By Ayo Akinfe


With all this constant talk about Nyesom Wike I actually hope Bola Tinubu can find a role for him that involves developing the Niger Delta

[1] Rivers is not just any state in Nigeria. It is our fountain of wealth and ideally should be the bellwether of the Nigerian economy. There is no reason for it not to be competing with Lagos State when it comes to attracting foreign direct investment (FDI)

[2] What makes Rivers State unique is that it has always been at the forefront of economic change in Nigeria. Rivers State was the centre of the slave trade, the palm oil trade and now the crude oil trade. It has always been the cash cow of Nigeria. The reality is “No Rivers State: No Nigeria.” Since amalgamation in 1914, it has probably generated more wealth for Nigeria than any other state (Lagos may have something to say about they though)

[3] As a historian, I am equally fascinated with the way Rivers State was more or less a creation of the colonial era. Frederick Lugard for instance built Port Harcourt out of nothing. A derelict and largely uninhabited marsh, all it had then was the Ijaw village Okrika and the migrant Sabon Gari Igwe Otcha, made up of Igbo traders who came down the River Nigeria from Onitsha to participate in the palm oil trade

[4] No part of Nigeria prospered from the abolition of the slave trade as much as Rivers State. To fill the void left by the end of slavery, the British turned to palm oil and Rivers became the most economically vibrant part of Nigeria. Around 1900, Nigeria was the world’s largest palm oil producer and Port Harcourt was the port through which most of it was exported

[5] This development brought thousands of Igbo traders into modern day Rivers State palm oil traders. The likes of Jaja of Opobo were Igbo traders, towns like Bonny sprang up out of nowhere as these migrants founded settlements and even today, the Igbos known as the Ikwerre, are the majority in Rivers State. Odili, Amaechi and Wike are all Ikwerre, which is an Igbo sub-group. As far as I am concerned, an Ikwerre man is just as Igbo as a Wawa or an Ngwa one. Their dialect is Igbo through and through

[6] On March 25 1807, the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act received its royal assent from the King of England, abolishing the slave trade in the British colonies and making it illegal to carry enslaved people in British ships. From then onwards Rivers State began an unprecedented growth. Do you know that most of the slaves shipped through the Niger Delta passed through the port of Calabar but when it came to palm oil, Port Harcourt became king. Maybe the British left Calabar because they wanted to lay the ghost of slavery to rest

[7] In 1832, the British began exporting palm kernels from Nigeria and by 1911 British West Africa alone exported 157,000 tonnes of which about 75% came from Nigeria. As recently as the early 1960s, Nigeria’s palm oil production accounted for 43% of global output. Today, we are actually producing more then we did back then but our output only accounts for 7% of the world total

[8] We no longer dominate the palm oil trade partly because the British never deemed it fit to invest in palm oil plantations in Nigeria. In the 1870s, British administrators took the plant to Malaysia and in 1934 that country surpassed Nigeria as the largest exporter of the product. You know why? The first commercial scale plantation in Malaysia was founded in 1917 and established in Tennamaran Estate in Selangor. How come the British saw it fit to establish a plantation in Malaysia but not in Nigeria? It tells me that the slave trade mentality still prevailed. They deemed us not worthy of serious commercial activity

[9] As fate would have it, Rivers State also killed the palm oil trade following the discovery of crude oil at Oloibiri in 1956 and the commencement of production in 1958. That year, our first oil field came on stream producing 5,100 barrels per day and since then, we have not thought of anything else. Today, Rivers State is the second largest crude oil producer in Nigeria and has a GDP of $21bn and a budget of N480bn ($1.3bn). However, its internally generated revenue (IGR) is only N61bn (170m). Now, for me this figure is skewed as under resource control, oil revenue should count as IGR in Niger Delta state’s

[10] I just have this gut feeling that when Nigeria ends her mad dependence on crude oil, Rivers State will also be at the centre of it. Personally, I take the stance that nothing other than manufacturing will get us out of this morass. Rivers State will be key to that. Just imagine the size of the Nigerian economy if we had shipyards at Port Harcourt, Bonny, Degema, Buguma, Abonema and Opobo building merchant cargo ships, air craft carriers, submarines and naval gunboats? Nyesom Wike, have this as your target!


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