I didn’t have much excitement making it again to the Garden City. The reason was simple. This was probably my fifth visit, so there needn’t be any hullaballoo about another sighting of the place. I had already formed opinions about the city during those earlier mostly brief trips. It had been admiration, disappointment or an admixture of the extremes.
Yes, admiration about the evolving culture of the amalgam of the people of this city, the commercial hub of Nigeria’s South –South geo-political zone. Disappointment and sadness over the neglect of this headquarter of a region that has been laying the golden egg for the comfort of the entire nation. And also, there was an admixture of the extremes. I saw in the residents, a disposition to sustain hope amidst rubbles; the triumph of the Nigerian spirit – the penchant to trudge on, whatever betides.
Port Harcourt, like Lagos, has made room to accommodate different races. Undoubtedly, the majority of the people swelling the population, apart from the indigenes are co-citizens of Rivers State and of the neighbouring South East and South-South. Yes, Port Harcourt has its pull on the miniature nations that make up Nigeria - Igbos from as far as the rice fields and yam mounds of Abakaliki, the serene Coal city of Enugu; the commercial city of Aba, that bedlam of a city called Onitsha and that multi-ethnic state, Edo - the heartbeat of the nation.
There are also the riverine kith and kin of the Niger Delta in Ondo, Akwa Ibom and Cross Rivers States, the Urhobos, Itsekiris, Isokos and their kindred from Warri aka Waffi land. You have here, Nigerians from all walks of life. You can’t miss out the Hausa community. O yeah, our northern kindred terrorised by the infamous Boko Haram zealots are finding a safe haven here. Added to these are adventurous foreign nationals who are making a living out of the tempestuous oil fields of Port Harcourt and its suburbs.
You would discern the relatively higher quality of living in Port Harcourt. There is a palpable confidence which the residents exude. You get the impression that all is well and nothing is amiss. There also appears to be a marriage between affluence and poverty. The middle and upper middle classes can chose to live next door to the jetsam and flotsam and be at peace. How did Port Harcourt achieve this realism?
The seeming accommodation of the different phyla of the Port Harcourt community had me curious. How come the relatively rich could have as neighbours less priviledged Homo sapiens without a feel of threat? Can you imagine how uncomfortable the “oppressors” of Ikoyi would be feeling whenever economically challenged and disadvantaged AJ city dwellers get too close? Also, ponder if it wouldn’t be Armageddon let loose expecting Asokoro and Maitama landlords to feel at home when less equal mortals as inhabitants of Dutse Alhaji or Gwagwalada are lurking around?
I got assurance that Port Harcourt was relatively low on crime and that but for occasional flashes of violence, the city is safe and calm. It didn’t sound true, what, with the reign of terror frequently unleashed on the Niger Delta by restive agitators? Their demand is clear to all - a rational share from the exploitation of the black gold - the fulcrum on which the Nigerian economy still dangerously leans. Just who would fall for such misconstruction? A chauffeur assured me that the restiveness has quite subsided - thanks to the amnesty programme, a stratagem initiated by the late President Umaru Shehu Ya’Ardua among his famed seven point agenda. Sadly, seminal President Ya’Ardua didn’t live to see his amnesty programme through. Poor him, he couldn’t initiate the modus operandi of its implementation. Nonetheless, despite the extant circus show in the name of execution, there is some measure of gain as the boys have been relatively calm.
The predominant language of communication in Port Harcourt appears tobe Pidgin - the Nigerian reinvention or adulteration of the English man’s language. Pidgin is a comfortable choice among residents – spoken pari - parsu good English. There is as well a larger proportion that is at home with the Queen’s English.
The dress sense of the inhabitants of Port Harcourt is interesting too. Curiously, you may not often come across the popular flowing gown and those hats now code named “resource control” - thanks to President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and his kin. My take on my trips is that those gowns appear confined to the elites and the truly traditional people. The popular dressing in Port Harcourt is simple western wears. The good English and dress orientation is understandable. Port Harcourt and its environs have a history of exposure to European culture being accessible to the greater world through the Atlantic predating the inglorious transatlantic slave trade era. This exposure has further been fortified by the immigration of foreign nationals that are prospecting for oil.
Inhabitants of Port Harcourt give the impression that they are happy-go-lucky. They conduct life and businesses without qualms. They are a far contrast to Fashola’s Lagosians who are ever on the edge. In Fashola’s Lagos, people always seem to be frenzied about anything under the sun. They go to bed late and wake before cock crow. This sadly has been the norm over the ages. The characteristic fiascos that are requisite in hitching rides on the now extinct Bolekajas, the waning Molues and still ubiquitous Danfos succinctly tell about the way we live in Lagos. Beyond these, there is sustained harassment of the citizens by fellow citizens. Of course too, the state terrorises the citizenry through myriad institutions and requests. Ask Lagosians, they will tell ugly tales by the Nigerian Police, Kai Brigade, Latsma, Local government officials often turned thugs, etc. However, Lagos is not the subject of discussions here.
Don’t be deceived by the seeming carefree disposition of residents of Port Harcourt. The shoes do pinch. However, like the average Nigerian, they have developed stoic philosophies that see them through challenges. They will ever wish that tomorrow go better. One thing obvious of Port Harcourt is the rape on affordable living. At the slightest nudging, the man on the street would grumble over the expensive cost of living, especially accommodation. They complain that landlords fix rents on the basis of affordability by oil workers. They expect everyone to have business relationships with oil firms. They expect financial buoyancy, simply naming the price, and you to take or leave it.
You cannot fail to notice the entrepreneurial spirit. Mini shops litter the streets. Ditto Keke Napep - they are literally ubiquitous. The residents are also at home with electricity failure. Oh, that is a national malaise, uncured by 15 years of governance by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party.
There certainly can’t be a story on Port Harcourt and indeed Rivers state without a commentary on the politics of the place. There has been this elephantine battle between the gladiators. Some consider it a tussle between the Nigerian first family remotely marshalled by the titanic Okrika Dame called Patience Jonathan and her war-worn hubby, your President, my President and that l’enfant terrible – Governor Rotimi Amaechi.
I have kept pondering how Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi has been able to weather the storms - surviving the political machinations unleashed by Aso Rock. Mind you, this is the political terrain of the sitting President whose state - neighbouring Bayelsa stands by its son. If we are to believe election results, the President garnered over 90 per cent of the votes cast in his state. Ditto his feat in Amaechi’s Rivers (before the rofo rofo fight) which expectedly stood by their in-law, Dame’s hubby. The trend of election results was similar in all states of the East and the South - South like Delta, Edo, Akwa Ibom, Cross Rivers, Imo, Enugu, Abia and Ebonyi States.
At Aso Rock, the predisposition is that of spending of resources. The Presidency has all it takes to kick the dissident gadfly called Amaechi in the ass, at least to quell his noise. Also, considering the tempestuous nature of our politics, I sometimes fear the extreme - putting him in political limbo or giving him a dose of the Niccolo Machiavellian treat. Fathom one of the prescriptions of that evil and dark-minded genius Prince: “If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared”.
Governor Amaechi, God helping him has had to be overly smart to be able to out fox Aso Rock. If he would heed the prescription of the Prince he would keep escaping entrapment: “The lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognise traps, and a lion to frighten wolves”
From what we see, Governor Amaechi has opted to be both lion and fox. He keeps over-heating national politics, challenging the status quo, daring the President and staring him in the face. In the greater Nigerian culture, this is simply courting trouble. Now, Amaechi has murdered sleep and has for long had the battle line drawn. Thanks to him, the Nigerian political pendulum no longer swings in one direction. The People’s Democratic Party is being given a run for its money by the All Peoples Congress, the landing pad of Rotimi Amaechi.
I have also attempted unearthing the raison d’etre for Amaechi to have passed through the troop. It’s simply the commitment to good governance and delivering promises to the Rivers people. In my missions to Port Harcourt, I have found the man on the street attesting to Amaechi’s enviable achievements. In contrast, they see former governor Dr Peter Odili’s tenure as an outright misfortune. How true, the Shakespearian positing that the evil that men do lives after them!
I have been hopping in and out of Port Harcourt in the last three - four years. I am in no doubt that the challenges to social and infrastructural development are enormous. Indeed on a more recent trip, I saw in the city, the native scourge of our city settings - chaotic traffic, poor housing, pothole -ridden roads, decaying infrastructure and people living in sub-human circumstances. I cannot lay claim to being sufficiently familiar with Port Harcourt, ditto other parts of Rivers state. However, my foray from the airport through Igwuruta, Rukpokwu, Aba Road and Woji did expose the sorry state of some parts of the city.
Nonetheless, there were obvious attempts at stemming the rot to which the famed Garden City has depredated. There are brick built green- roofed schools set in green lawns, occasional greenery ( - is it to win back for the city its Garden City acclaim?), beautiful new expressways, one of them just beside the Nigeria Air Force barracks. I also saw new roads under construction - the new airport expressway which I gathered is the brainchild of the State government and the Eleme Road which leads to the Eleme Petrochemical Plant and Okrika, the village of Dame Patience. There is a glamorous stadium under construction which reminds one of Johannesburg‘s Soccer Stadium. It is a relieving option to the decaying Liberation stadium. There is also the impressive refurbishment of the Port Harcourt International Airport at Omagwa - thanks to President Jonathan and erstwhile Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Oduah. It’s a worthy facelift of the main entry point to the nation’s oil fields.
I hold a rather feeble understanding of Port Harcourt, but I remember that recently, former President Olusegun Obasanjo was a guest of the State government to commission some projects delivered to the good people of Rivers state. He awarded Governor Rotimi Amaechi a pass mark. We know OBJ well. Remember his famed golden handshakes and brashness. He certainly would have taken Governor Amaechi to the cleaners if he hasn’t lived up to expectation.