Between (their) Harcourt and (our) Port Harcourt

by SOC Okenwa

From every African standard and yardstick Port Harcourt in Rivers State is a beautiful city with beautiful people. A visit there may confuse a first-time visitor who had been to Lagos to the extent of questioning if the Rivers State capital city is in Nigeria or in Cameroun. The only thing that will remind such visitor that PH is after all a Nigerian city is the Okada riders, the poor folks hawking items on the roadside and PHCN darkness phenomenon. Port Harcourt is an example of how Nigerian cities should look like and organized with poverty tamed and isolated. But that was before now; now things have taken another dimension.

Extreme violence has given birth to chaos and anarchy in the city. For the past week or thereabout cultism and cults have taken over governance with their agents spreading death, destruction and mayhem; blood and tears and sorrow. Celestine Omehia has been reduced to ceremonial Governor with the militants ‘administering’ the city their own violent way. Without the Abuja federal muzzle and backing I believe by now perhaps the Omehia administration would have been sacked and sent to ‘exile’.

That is how bad things have deteriorated and how low the city has sunk, the lowest in recent memory. Yet there are hard truths in the PH ‘war’. Last weekend I called a good friend of mine, a senior advocate, resident in Port Harcourt and he was reporting to me of how supposedly cult elements were freely terrorising everyone; he lamented how politicians were ‘arming’ the boys and encouraging them to unleash crude violence on the populace.

The lawyer said that some of the cult groups he had sighted in his area wore full military and police uniforms thereby disguising themselves from the original military and para-military forces. He told me that the Port Harcourt I had visited earlier this year and had expressed pleasant surprise has fallen to the dogs! While home and in the Garden City early February this year I was amazed by the sheer hedonism on display, the sophistication of dwellers and the ease with which money was spent and comfort procured.

Criminals and criminal acts have since usurped the genuine agitation for resource control in the Niger Delta. From kidnapping of expatriate oil workers to even school-going kids, illegal oil bunkering rings to occultic gangsterism Port Harcourt has degenerated into a lawless city overwhelmed by crooks and thugs. Though a lot of sympathy has been expressed towards the genuine agitators for resource control one wonders if such public sympathies has not waned with current realities.

Yet the pertinent questions to ask are these: who between the Federal Government and the Niger Delta states governments are guiltier in the pauperisation of the majority Niger Deltans? The Federal Govt. that gives out monthly ‘allowances’ to the states while cornering the lion share of the huge petro-dollars or the state governors who pocket the monthly federal allocation instead of using it for development of their various states? Who wittingly or unwittingly is benefiting from the siege on PH? Who is reaping from the nightmare of PH residents?

The bloodbath in Port Harcourt has exposed how dangerous the subsisting Niger Delta crisis could be if allowed to continue. The Niger Delta remains the greatest threat to the corporate existence of Nigeria. The PH battle of cults reminds me of the Middle east lingering crisis especially Gaza Strip and West Bank cities in Palestine. Cities where brotherhoods (Hamas/Fatah) engage one another in supremacy warfare.

The militants’ claims of abandonment by politicians having used them to ride to power must be treated seriously. In Rivers State the Omehia/Amaechi political factors cannot be ignored. That is where the PDP comes in. The former Speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly Rotimi Amechi was “chosen” as PDP gubernatorial flagbearer prior to the April 14th electoral heist. Suddenly his name with others including Ifeanyi Ararume of Imo State were dropped for no genuine reason other than politics. When they challenged this callous PDP action in court the PDP expelled them from the party.

The current governor, Celestine Omehia, replaced Amaechi as the PDP’s candidate in the guber polls. By allowing Peter Odili to steal more than enough as governor between 1999 and 2007 Rotimi Amaechi must have ‘struck’ a deal with him: impeach me not and get installed as my successor. Only for the rug to be pulled under Amechi’s feet at the eleventh hour; that was unfair if you ask me but it serves Amaechi right. Odili betrayed Amaechi and the Ikwerre man is not happy about that. While Odili is enjoying his loot somewhere Amaechi feels he will only take his pound of flesh by venting his anger on the streets thereby destabilising the Omehia administration.

Today the anger of dashed ambition and betrayal has manifested on the streets with Amaechi cult boys taking on the Omehia cult boys with the former more formidable on the ground having established ‘strong structures’ since 1999. I gathered that between Omehia and Amaechi there is a kindred kind of tussle running over for a long time. There is this envy fuelled by ambition and passion for supremacy.

If President Yar’Adua genuinely wants peace to return to the deserted streets of Port Harcourt then Rotimi Amaechi’s whereabout should be found out and his alleged sponsorship of the terror in PH investigated. Military solution may bring about peace but that would in the long run amount to scratching the surface of a deep animosity, deep problem.

Between the late British Lewis Vernon Harcourt (whose name was used to describe the Port of the Rivers State capital), their colonial Harcourt and our Port Harcourt there exists a history of “sex perversion”; but on a broader note everything is being perverted in Port Harcourt: sexual perversion, perversion of justice, social perversion, political perversion and resource control perversion. Everything there right now smells perversion and it appears the spirit of the late imperial “sex pervert” lingers on albeit in an unwholesome scale in our search for stable federation devoid of hypocrisy and injustice.

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