Yenagoa — Former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon (rtd), thursday laid wreathes at the graveside of celebrated Ijaw hero, Major Isaac Boro, who first declared a Niger Delta Republic in 1966.
The ex-Nigerian leader also gave a worthy mention to Capt. Sam Owonaro, Boro's second in command who also fought against the federal forces in a battle that lasted 12 days before the 'rebels' were overwhelmed, tried and jailed.
Owonaro, touted to be the only surviving dissident of his era, attended one of the ceremonies in Kaiama, Bayelsa State, on a wheelchair, where Gowon inaugurated the Ijaw National Academy, a free boarding secondary school.
Gowon, who was on a two-day visit to the state and had inaugurated several projects since his arrival, however, insisted that Nigeria must remain as one indivisible country where everyone is treated fairly.
At a separate occasion before the wreathe laying ceremony at the Ijaw Heroes Park, Yenagoa, the former leader who later granted amnesty to the rebels and made them fight against Biafra forces a year later, emphasised that the contribution of the Ijaw people to the development of Nigeria must not be under-estimated.
He noted that many Ijaw elders, including Chief Edwin Clark, encouraged him to create several states out of the then existing regions in order to ensure that minority groups were not subsumed by bigger ethnic groups in the country.
"A lot of your elders encouraged me to see that we created the states so that the minorities can contribute to the development of the country. Even your Chairman (Clark) worked with me and many others from this part of the country.
"The Ijaw people have contributed to the development of this country and have guarded its unity jealously. Some of them we have now lost. You have made efforts to keep the nation one," he said.
At the Ijaw National Academy, Kaiama , in Opokuma/Kolokuma Local Government Area of the state, Gowon said the importance he attached to education made him establish unity schools all over the country, especially after the civil war.
He urged other states to learn from the government of Bayelsa and make education a priority, stressing that education remained the key to the country's growth and development.
He urged the students of the academy to make use of the school correctly and properly and protect the facilities therein.
He stated: "I hope you young people will make very good use of it, you will ensure that you will not only use it correctly and properly but also defend it to the last of your blood.
"That means, I hope you will never think of creating any problem in this academy to destroy these excellent facilities that have been provided for you."
In his remarks, Governor Seriake Dickson described Gowon as a father of the nation, who had contributed tremendously to the unity and the progress of the country, both during and after his reign as Head of State.
Governor Dickson, who noted that his administration has in the last five years, embarked on a journey to turn around the fortunes of the state, promised to do more even in the face of the prevailing economic challenges.
Also speaking, the Chairman of the occasion, Chief Edwin Clark, used the opportunity to restate the need for the country to be restructured to give both minority and majority groups a sense of belonging to enhance national security and development.
In his speech, the chairman of the state Traditional Rulers Council, King Alfred Diete Spiff, noted that the Ijaws in Bayelsa would not have witnessed the level of development, if not for the benevolence of Gen. Gowon, who created the old Rivers State from which Bayelsa was carved out 21 years ago.