Rivers State, sometimes known as the Venice of Nigeria, is a God-given state in the southeast of Nigeria that is surrounded by rivers and the sea. The Rivers People are a minority community in the southern portion of the former Eastern Region along Nigeria’s coast and Port Harcourt, often known as the “Garden City of Nigeria,” which is the state’s capital. Rivers State consists of Ikwerre, Kalabari, Ibani, Nembe, Yenagoa, Okrika, Ahoada, Ogoni, Opobo-Nkuro, and Bile people.
Most of the Rivers’ people are farmers, fishermen, and traders. Also, the majority of them reside in small towns and islands along the creeks and the Atlantic Ocean. Because of their early encounters with Europeans in the 17th and 18th centuries, they embraced education, and many of them were highly educated and skilled in a variety of disciplines. The Ibos, who reside on the continent, are the dominant ethnic group in the Eastern Region.
Anambra and Imo border the north of Rivers State, Akwa Ibom and Abia border the east, and Bayelsa and Delta border the west. Thus, the commercial hub of Nigeria’s oil sector is thought to be the city of Port Harcourt, which serves as the state capital.
In this piece, Naijabiography explores the history of Rivers State, the culture and heritage of the people, as well as their trades and contributions to the economic development of the country.
Rivers State was formerly a part of the Oil Rivers Protectorate from 1885 to 1893 as a result of the numerous rivers that surround its land when it joined the Niger Coast Protectorate. Also, the area was combined with the Royal Niger Company’s chartered areas in 1900 to form the colony of Southern Nigeria. When the Eastern Region of Nigeria was divided, the state was created in 1967. The state gave up territory in 1996 to create Bayelsa State.
As a result of their early trading relations with the Portuguese and other Europeans who first arrived in the region that is now known as Nigeria in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Chiefs in the Riverine Area were immensely powerful and civilized. Due to the lucrative commerce with these riverine chiefs, the British government established the Oil Rivers Protectorate in 1884 and declared authority over the riverine areas. This declaration was, however, ratified at the Berlin Conference in 1885.
Furthermore, the British Foreign Office oversaw the Oil Rivers Protectorate in those years, which indicates that trading with Europeans began in the riverine regions of the Niger Delta, Badagry, and Lagos in what is now known as Nigeria.
Earlier before the ‘80s, various indigenous populations and the British colonial authority signed a number of protection treaties. It was during those years that the Ijo Rivers People’s League was formed in 1941, and from that point on, agitation for the establishment of Rivers province commenced. Also, the League was replaced by the Council of Rivers Chiefs in 1953, and in the same year, the Calabar Ogoja Rivers (COR) State Movement also came into being.
In 1931, the Rivers Chiefs and the People’s Congress were named the Council of Rivers Chiefs, after which, in 1956, the group changed its name to the Rivers Chiefs People’s Conference. Up until 1958, the region and its residents’ constant desire for an independent state were palpable. The nationhood of the country was confirmed during the constitutional convention that year, and a deal was achieved on some measures to allay the concerns of the local ethnic minority. However, the COR State Movement had split off at this time to advance its own cause. Following that, the British established a commission under the direction of Sir Henry Willink to investigate the concerns of these autochthons.
The Niger Delta Development Board was conceptualized (thanks to the Willink Commission, NDDB). Although the intention was to address the issues of underdevelopment, this fell short of the public’s expectations. After considerable unhappiness, some of the people tried to use illegal means to accomplish their objectives. A “Delta People’s Republic” was then declared in February 1966 by Isaac Boro, Sam Owonaro, Nottingham Dick, and his allies. The Federal and the previous Eastern Nigerian administrations resisted the insurrection for twelve days.
However, Decree No. 14, which permitted the foundation of Rivers State, was issued on May 27, 1967, during the rule of General Yakubu Gowon. Since then, Ijaw groups have continued to complain about political exclusion, environmental degradation, and economic destitution. As a result, on October 1, 1996, a separate Bayelsa State was created out of Rivers State, and on the same day, the Omuma Local Government Area of Rivers State was established to include places like Umuru in Ofeh.
Earlier, before the creation of the state, the Rivers People submitted a number of petitions and demands for the establishment of states during the initial struggle. On the floor of the Federal Parliament, these were rejected. However, despite the extensive commercial activity taking place and the numerous resources in the area, the argument was made that Rivers State was not economically viable to construct. When these judgments were made, Chief Melford Okilo, the Parliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, openly sobbed, and one of the key campaigners in the fight to establish Rivers State was Chief Okilo.
In order for the Rivers People to continue supporting the Federal Government in the civil war, Isaac Adaka Boro (Izon) from Yenagoa, an undergraduate at the University of Nigeria Nsukka, and his fellow student Freedom Fighters declared war on the Federal Government. However, the uprising lasted for 12 days. Sam Owonaro (Izon), Nottingham Dick (Izon), Nyanayo (Nembe), Okumaye, (Kalabari), (Buguma), and numerous other State University Undergraduates who took up arms and were charged with treason were with him. Chief GKJ Amachree represented them in court when they were charged. This uprising was a significant factor in the Federal Government’s final decision to establish Rivers State.
In addition to these activists, the entire Riverine Area population—including paramount chiefs, lawmakers, government employees, clergymen, university professors, and even young children—participated in this fight for their cultural identity. Regardless of their political differences, all the Rivers men and women agreed to unite in the struggle because they all believed that this was their shared destiny.
Finally, on May 27, 1967, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, the Military Head of State, transformed Nigeria into a nation of 12 states, including Rivers State. Port Harcourt served as the state capital when Rivers State was established on May 27, 1967. The Federal Military Government chose Lt. Cmdr. Alfred Papapreye Diete Spiff, a Nembe native who, at the time this article was published, is the Amayanabo of Twon Brass, as the first military governor of Rivers State.
Ethnicities and Language(s) of Rivers State
Rivers State is a multi-cultural and multi-tribal area with a lot to offer in terms of the human variety. Since the final year of the first millennium, people have lived in the region that now comprises the current state. Therefore, the ethnic groups represented in Rivers State include Abua, Andoni, Ekpeye, Eleme, Egbema, Ekpeye, Kalabari, Ndoki, Ndoni, Okrika, Ogoni, Engenni, Etche, Ibani, Ikwerre, Ogba, and Odua, among others.
Furthermore, observations affirm that the people of Rivers State are warm and well-known for their hospitality. This is because they have a rich cultural legacy that has been sustained from one generation to another. Research reveals that Port Harcourt is the second-largest commercial, agricultural, and busiest airport and seaport in Nigeria. According to records. Port Harcourt and Onne are the locations of the two seaports in Rivers State.
Furthermore, the riverine Ijaw, the Ogoni on the lower Imo River, and coastal coastlines of the main lands, the Ikwerre people, and other Igboid groups on the main lands are some of the earliest known established communities in what is now Rivers State. The Rivers State government now recognizes over 26 different groups, each with its own language, way of life, and cultural heritage.
Aside English language which was introduced by the colonial rulers and pidgin English which is common among the Igbo people, there are several other languages of the Rivers’people. Rivers State language include; Igbo, Ekpeye, Egenni, ijaw, Kalabari, Bille, Obolo, Kalabari, Abua; Degema; Kalabari; Ogbronuagum; Bille, ibani; Ndoki(igbo), Eleme; Nchia; Odido; Baan, Baan; Gokana, Ikwerre(igbo), Khana, Baan, Kana, Kirike, among others. These languages are spoken according to ethnicity and local government.
Trade of Rivers’ People
Agriculture was the main source of income for the inhabitants of Rivers State until the commercial discovery of oil in 1951. Due to the region’s plentiful palm oil and kernel, which essentially served as the nation’s primary source of income throughout the 19th century when the industrial revolution in England reached its zenith, it was then known as Oil Rivers Protectorate.
According to a report published by Nigeria’s Ministry for Agriculture, in 1983, farming was the primary occupation of around 40% of the people living in rural areas. In the report, it was mentioned that one of the top states that is producing yam, cassava, cocoyam, maize, rice, and beans is Rivers State.
However, the state’s overall land area, mainly in the highland region, is suitable for farming to an extent of about 39%, which is up to 760,000 hectares. In addition, rubber, coconut, raffia palm, jute, and oil palm products are among the major cash crops produced. Vegetables, melon, pineapples, mangos, peppers, bananas, and plantains are a few additional food crops.
Furthermore, in Rivers State, the fishing industry is also a significant sector. In addition to being profitable, fishing is a popular pastime. According to the research conducted, there are over 250 different types of fish, and the riverine areas have a large number of artisanal fishermen. Among other valuable kinds of seafood, the state offers crabs, oysters, shrimp, and sea snails. The area is also home to vertebrates including birds, mammals, and reptiles.
Rivers State Economy
The state is renowned for having enormous deposits of natural gas and crude oil. merely because it was arguably the richest and most significant region of the British Empire’s African domain. For years, Rivers State has remained a significant source of revenue for the country. In a report released in 2007, with a gross domestic product (GDP) of $21.07 billion and a per capita income of $3,965, the state was rated second nationally in 2007.
In another research conducted, there are two significant oil refineries, two significant seaports, airports, and other industrial estates which are dispersed throughout Rivers State. Therefore, the state produces more than 60% of the nation’s total crude oil output- clay, glass sand, and silica sand are some of the many natural resources that may be discovered there.
Reports also affirm that the state’s oil-refining capacity is the biggest in the country, with more than 340,000 barrels of crude oil per day.
Rivers in Rivers State
Rivers State has been regarded as the only state with the highest numbers of rivers and seas. There are about 21 rivers in the state.
The rivers include; the Imo-Ogoni River, Kaa River, Ngololo River, Ogu/Onne River, Ogochie River, Okulu Aleto River Channel, Oloshi River, Opobo Channel River, Otamiriochie River, San Bartholomeo River, Sombreiro River, Santa Barbara River, Andoni River, Bodo River, Eleme/Okrika River, Emesu River, among others.
Rivers State Culture and Festival(s)
Some cultural activities and festivals have long been forgotten in Rivers Stae, especially since the advent of civilization and because of the people’s focus on crude oil and other trades. For instance, in 2019, the state resuscitated Okon-Esaa, or ‘Yam Title Festival’ which had been forgotten for about 44 years.
Okon-Esaa, or ‘Yam Title Festival’ is a recognized festival in the state known to be the identity of the Eleme Kingdom, which is splitted into four different levels, and it starts with the first level named “A-Chu.” A-Chu is the display of 21 tubers of yams on a yam barn in 100 places, bringing the total number of yams to 2,100 in a barn, which is traditionally known as the “O-gun.”
The A-Chu yam title is greatly praised since it confers a chieftaincy title as a reward for good farming. The celebrant is required to climb Epee cha ebo ekpo, a symbolic traditional hill, as part of the ceremony, which represents his ascent through an effort from the status of an ordinary citizen to that of a title holder. Obo, Obere Obo, Otaa Obo, and A-Chu Ette Esaa are the other names that come before and after A-Chu in the order of appearance. A man needs to have 42,000 yam tubers in his barn to be able to claim the title of A-Chu Ette Esaa.