By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo
Port Harcourt lacks big ideas.
The country lacks cities. Lagos is bursting. Port Harcourt is there, once promising, now oblivious of its potentials.
A new city must seek to attract youths and job seekers. It must present hope and excitement.
I think Port Harcourt failed miserably. Port Harcourt has been prodigal. It should stand shoulder to shoulder with Lagos. It once tried, but today foreigners have fled, and indigenes are relocating to bursting Lagos.
Port Harcourt lacks big ideas.
Port Harcourt has the sea. And can have a bigger and better seaport than Lagos. There isn’t a reason on earth why Port Harcourt can’t match Lagos in cargo handling, with the big markets of the Southeast all around it. The bigger problem isn’t that Port Harcourt has failed to grow, but it’s unaware, aloof.
Port Harcourt has an international airport, properly cited outside the city and positioned to serve Rivers, Imo and Bayelsa. Lagos has nothing on Port Harcourt.
With a little commitment and a couple of people looking into the future, Port Harcourt should be winning investors away from Lagos. And it’s in our national security interest that this happens. We are safer with our eggs in more than one basket.
So why is Port Harcourt languishing?
And it’s not for lack of funds. Port Harcourt isn’t Potiskum. Rivers state has half the budget of Lagos with one-tenth the financial burdens of Lagos. Port Harcourt swallows the bulk of what comes to Rivers. Rivers has support from the NDDC and the Niger Delta Ministry.
Rivers is, unfortunately, a one-city state. So Port Harcourt is like an only child of a rich father. Or perhaps, the only son of a rich father with many daughters but who isn’t bothered about training the girl child. So Port Harcourt is suffused with attention. Lagos, in contrast, in its entirety, is perhaps one large a city with slums, outskirts and all.
Port Harcourt has no excuse.
The South-South and South-East should have a village meeting. With Aba and Owerri synergizing with Port Harcourt, the capital of the former Eastern region could rise to its great potentials. For a start, a ten-lane road linking Port Harcourt and Aba will boost Port Harcourt’s aspirations as the new Lagos.
Qatar is still studying Dubai. Arab cities once ultraconservative are now wooing tourists with open arms. Port Harcourt must study Lagos. Lagos has openness and warmth. Yorubas are friendly people. Lagos makes every newcomer feel like a potential landlord. Lagos gives hope and gives all persons their C of O’s.
Why hasn’t Port Harcourt lived its potentials? Port Harcourt must count its teeth with its tongue. Ogun is attracting more investments than a Port Harcourt which lies by the sea. Port Harcourt must ask itself questions. Why are investors choosing rural Ogun ahead of Port Harcourt?
There is a lot of crime in Lagos. Crime exists in Ogun. But what the investor fears the most is organized crime. There is crime in Ogun but you won’t hear that a local government chairman has fled to Abeokuta because a group of boys have become too much for him to handle.
Investors worry when they hear that oil workers need soldiers to get to their offices in some upland Rivers communities. There is an abundance of crime in Lagos, but Lagos hasn’t witnessed militants threatening governments and hasn’t witnessed rampant banditry. Companies in Lagos might pay multiple taxes, but they don’t pay criminal protection taxes to the underworld.
To challenge Lagos, the attitude of the Rivers government and indigenes must change. The government must think big. You don’t do that by building six flyovers on one road when you have no mass transit system. No organized bus transport system, No rails.
Those who run Rivers must then have a 50-year comprehensive plan, not ad-hoc, piecemeal ill-digested policies, and childish whims intended to rouse the rabble and fool the gullible. The prioritization of projects to foster a new Port Harcourt must not be dictated by fantasy.
The people of Rivers must welcome settlers and see them as partners in progress. They must buy into the vision of a greater Port Harcourt. A welcoming Port Harcourt will make them more prosperous in the long run. Clannishness is short-sighted.
So rather than selfish militancy masquerading as freedom fighting, the youths should provide security and help create an environment to compete with Lagos.
The people in Rivers must think big now. If Port Harcourt grows into another Lagos, prosperity will be unleashed on Rivers, on the region. Villagers in communities surrounding Port Harcourt will become millionaires like those of Amuwo Odofin and Ajah in Lagos. Aba could be the home of new industries like Ota.
The welcoming open hands of the Yoruba helped Lagos bloom. Rivers people must renew their minds. But insecurity is the reason Port Harcourt bled business. Insecurity is the reason why shippers prefer Lagos. But any ambitious city that treats settlers as parasites won’t grow. No city will grow if its indigenes see government as a food kitchen.
The aim should be to create a better Lagos.
The project doesn’t require magic or sorcery. The government of Rivers should proclaim the vision and chart the course. And the people will join the mission.
For now, Port Harcourt is occupied with small ideas, playing monkey-post politics.