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Port Harcourt: A Returnee’s Diary

23 Jan 2013

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First, let me state my credentials upfront, just so no one reads other motives into my intentions here. I am an indigene of Rivers state who had lived and worked abroad for some twenty-eight years, until I decided to return home two years ago, urged on by what I saw and believed to be an impressive attempt to transform my state. And although I am an Ikwerre indigene like Governor Rotimi Amaechi, I have never met the man and therefore have no reason to hold brief for him. I should also add that this diary was compiled over a three-month period, well before the recently reported face-off between the Governor and the Niger Delta Minister, Elder Godsday Orubebe. But naturally, in the face of that unfortunate exchange, the piece, originally written as part of a larger management report and a forthcoming book on governance in Nigeria, has had to be reviewed, somewhat.


It is also proper to state early that as an interested member of that broad family generally referred to as the Niger Delta, I believe that the exchange between the Governor and the Minister was most unnecessary. This is made even more so by the different nature of their jobs and the different mandates that they enjoy, as clearly defined in a federal structure. For, whereas the Governor enjoys the direct mandate of the people, the Minister serves at the pleasure of the President. In a proper federal structure, there is, and should not be a conflict. And I am also not aware that there is, or should be a competition between an elected state governor and an appointed Minister. Perhaps, as some politicians have argued, these are the early skirmishes of the battle for 2015! But, either way, the exchange was unnecessary.


That said, let me return to my set piece, which, as I earlier said, was originally inspired by my desire to attempt a review of Amaechi’s tenure, vis-a-vis my own desire to return home to Nigeria when I did, two years ago. Has it been worth it for me? Are there any regrets that I left a seemingly lucrative job in Manchester, in the United Kingdom to return to my state and to be a part of what appears an honest effort to transform our state?


Without question, based on the performance of Amaechi’s government, I believe it has been worth my while. What first struck me two years ago when I got back was the improved level of security in the state. Unlike an earlier experience, when I visited some six years ago, when the entire city of Port Harcourt was enveloped in a blanket of gun-trotting armed military men. It was most reassuring to find out that those days were gone and that the city was now a more stable and calmer environment that brought back memories of what it was like for me as a child.


But anyone who knows the city as well as I do, cannot fail to acknowledge that the sheer volume of development taking place, especially in the area of roads construction and urban renewal, is staggering. Knowing how Port Harcourt had ‘misdeveloped’ over the years, I would never have thought that it would be possible to dualise some of the key artery of roads within the city, as has been done. Who would have thought that the old Aba road, the famous Ikwerre road, the Oginigba-Rumumasi road and even the old Olu Obasanjo road could all be so beautifully dualised into six-lane roads.

It was also gratifying for me to discover that a 41-kilometre Unity Road complex from the Ogoni axis of the state to Andoni local government, connecting some 30 reverine communities to the rest of the state by road, was nearing completion. Apparently, the road had been started by the former Odili administration, but evidently expanded upon by the Amaechi administration. Even the famous Ada George road, which seemed ‘imcompleteable’, was virtually completed. I was also amazed to see that my old abode on Akwaka road, which used to be impassable and heavily flooded had also been rebuilt and upgraded.


However, I suspect that unlike me, others will argue that Amaechi’s most obvious achievement, which might well turn out to be his most enduring, has been in the Education sector. Let me illustrate this with a personal experience. I had the pleasure of once accompanying my eight-year old niece, Oroma, to her newly constructed primary school in Diobu. The experience was heart-warming. As someone whose consultancy work abroad had involved education, I knew that the standard I saw was as good as any, anywhere. For instance, the library unit and the Computer/IT rooms at that primary school were of very high standard indeed. And I have since found out that these units are all duplicated in the over 700 such primary schools that have been built in the past five years alone! It is therefore not surprising that the state has been consistently adjudged in the country as the best in the delivery of quality primary education in the past three years by the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC).


This monumental feat has been extended to secondary schools, where the standards are also of international nature, complete with imposing auditoriums, university-type living quarters and state-of-the-art teaching facilities. And to imagine that although education is entirely free at the primary and secondary school levels, complete with the supply of free books, shoes, bags and other items, quality of education is not in anyway compromised. These are rare feats indeed. And while all of this is going on, work has commenced on the relocation, and upgrading of the once prestigious, pioneer University of Science and Technology in the country, the Rivers State University of Science and Technology. The new site will now be within the Greater Port Harcourt City development scheme.


Yet, even with these achievements in education, there are those who insist that the Amaechi government has done more in other areas such as Health, Agriculture, Power generation, Job creation and Transportation. Obviously, each of these sectors could be the subject of separate papers because of the amount of quantifiable achievements attained in them. In summary, let us consider the Health sector, for instance, where 170 primary Healthcare centres have been built so far, each the size of a mini-hospital. What this means in reality is that for the first time in the history of the state, with a free-health scheme in place, the people have easier access to healthcare than ever before. This feat is also being duplicated in the Transportation sector where a 21-kilometre monorail project, the first of its type anywhere in the West-African sub-region, is nearing completion, and will hopefully, in the process, decongest the city and the frustratingly chaotic traffic that daily ties up the city in a knot!


But in my view, nothing could adequately decongest Port Harcourt better than the new Port Harcourt City, this is being literally created from nothing. Spread out over the Oyigbo-Okrika-Obio/Akpor and Etche local government areas, this new city project is conceived as a modern, comprehensively serviced urban area that would accelerate economic growth and development in the state. On paper, the project looks very good. But not being sure myself how this project will be funded, I am unable to articulate a position on the long-term viability of this project. But it is clear that a lot will depend on what happens after the life of the Amaechi administration, which leads me to the concluding part of my short intervention.


There is no question at all in my mind that the people of Rivers state are better served by the Amaechi administration. As an indigene who has a stake in the state and has taken time to study evolving events, I am immensely proud and even more proud of the fact that I came back home when I did. And I hope that my example will encourage others to follow in my footsteps.


Yet, deep inside one, I have fears, considering our antecedents in Rivers state. These fears have prompted me to ask myself a few pertinent questions: can the standards so eminently set up by the Amaechi administration be sustained, after the life of the administration? What guarantees are there to ensure continuity and sustainability after 2015? Did we not have farm settlements in the past, similar to the imposing current Songhai farms that the present regime has put in place? What happened to them? What if the next administration decides that Education is not its priority, will the current beautiful school structures not fall into disuse? The same applies to the Health Centres. Will there always be personnel to run and manage them? Will the newly completed multi-storey Niger Hospital (now called Kelsey Harrison Hospital) not be run down in 20 years time?


As a management Consultant by training, I worry that the management structures on ground today might not be enduring enough to cope with future challenges, especially if today’s passion is absent tomorrow. True, some effort has been made to address these problems, such as the establishment of Schools’ and Health Management Boards. But would these measures be enough? Is there not more that can be done? These, more than anything else, are perhaps the biggest challenges that the Governor must confront now before he commences the process two years away of handing over to a successor.


In ending, I should leave the Governor and his team with a piece of advice. They should never relent in their effort to finish the race strong, even stronger than when they started. They should not be detracted from completing the projects that can be completed. The Governor and his team should ensure that in the end, those who succeed them will have the love of the people at heart as they do. When they do that, Rivers state will be the better for it and their legacy as a team will be guaranteed.

Mr. Ihunda Amadi is a Management Consultant who lives both in Manchester, UK and Port Harcourt, Rivers Stat

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