Revealing Port Harcourt!

In the last four years; Port Harcourt was ranked the second least desirable city to live in, just ahead of Harare of Zimbabwe. It was also identified ten most depredating cities and ten least desirable cities in the world to live in. There seems to be a reciprocal relationship between The Economist enlisting and the environment Perception Index of the city; the higher the ranking of a city in the index the lower it is placed in the liveability list.

Before going deeper into the city phase, let us see how we can find a general correlation between the little tenure Governor Chibuike Amaechi has spent. The Chibuike regime has set overarching policies and guidelines to oversee and coordinate activities of all actors involved in producing public-reason actions. Such coordination is on the basis of a broad vision – a roadmap setting the overarching goal of the governance in the longer term.Few years ago, on May 10, 2006, when the state PDP (ruling party) made him their flag-bearer; supporters sang ‘I believe’….Yes I believe-in my ability, myself and my potentials. Their expectations ran high. And promises became faith. It came to pass. In a long few-year inning Amaechi’s domestic score was indeed high. He broke the shortest-term enviable record, gave leadership a better look and put Port Harcourt on a sound economic footing.

Yet the Amaechi is very happy one for Rivers people. People will remember him more as a minion of a people-power as a good steward of domestic affairs. No matter a leader is efficient or not, he respect public opinion. The people of Port Harcourt will not forgive him.

But still people decide maturely and decisively. When they provide the mandate for governance, they do it clearly. In the process people have always voted for change – rejecting the incumbents unhesitatingly. All these must be factored properly into the thinking of the strategists of the party governing us now. People have no permanent party allegiance; they have permanent enlightened self-interest. Operating in such an environment one must be very careful about how they conduct their governance business. Surrounding oneself with a bunch of sycophants will nurture the seeds of destruction of the government. Watching the debates (or whatever goes by that name) that go on in the national Assembly makes one apprehensive of the future of our democracy. When will we discuss our bread and butter issues? Humans, as a selfish animal by instinct, can have an overwhelming pursuit of self-interest that leads them to deny the rights of fellow humans or to indulge in a degree of selfishness that they may completely ignore the collective goodness for society.

The predecessors did yield to that temptation. That attitude describes a hypothetical situation in which multiple individuals, acting independently to fulfill their self-interests, ultimately deplete a shared limited resource even when it is clear that it is not in anyone’s long-term interest for this to happen. The central idea is based on mediaeval agreement to serve.

Per Amaechi’s example, it is in the public interest to put the next and succeeding leadership onto the land even if the economy-producing capacity of the common resource is exceeded and permanently damaged. Nevertheless, before November 2007; there was growing disenchantment about the status of our health system itself. It is widely known that in almost all health complexes in Rivers State; the number of sanctioned physician positions is higher than the filled ones. In many cases, there were only two or three physicians present against eight or nine positions in each government health centre.

The State health complexes patients often do not get the drugs needed; in many cases the x-ray machines and other vital equipments often remain out of order. It is reported that at the Rivers State level more than 65 per cent of the ambulances are ‘idle’ at any point of time as funds for their repair are unavailable. We have far too few nurses than are needed and almost quarter of a million fewer health technologists – physiotherapists, x-ray technicians, speech therapists, lab technicians and the like – than are needed to serve the population. Even in the twenty-first century only about 20 per cent of births are attended by skilled birth attendants; more than 12,000 pregnant women continue to die during pregnancy or childbirth due to complications. That translates to 32 pregnancy-related deaths a day or more than one every hour. Although we have achieved considerable success in reducing the infant mortality rate, at least 60 newborns continue to die every day in Bangladesh within the first months of their birth. Almost 4 per cent of these newborns do not live beyond the first seven days of their life. On the other hand, although we have been successful in reducing the total fertility rate quite significantly, our population continues to grow. Today health-Care situation in Rivers State is favourable.

Although Amaechi’s work has been criticized on the grounds of adept decision and round-table, his term can be applied to real-world resource management of common goods via increased government involvement on betterment of the society. No radio jingles, no posters and no verbal campaign, his works is speaking, campaigning and beckoning. My fellow writers will visit Port Harcourt city this summer. They might have got loss, as one who once lived in the garden city before November 2007. The city today, illustrates the argument that free access and unrestricted demand for a finite resource ultimately destroy the resource temporarily or permanently through overexploitation. Like some other writers before me, Gov.Rotimi Amaechi is not a praise-dancer. He is focused and no-nonsense! Was primarily interested in the problem of human population growth; however, in his leadership-style, he considers larger resources such as environmental inundation. It is true that as a governor, he should not be taken too literally nor be seen as a public tragedy but a decent transformer.

If for a particular relevance in analyzing universal selfish behaviour of humans in maximizing self-interest even at the cost of damaging some collective interests, we should let him be. Therefore, it can be applied to describe many man-made environmental, economic and social problems in the world today. The ‘commons’ dilemma of the people stands as an example for a great variety of resource problems in various societies today, such as ethnic crisis and environment degradation. When water is used at a higher rate than the reservoirs are replenished, fish consumption exceeds its reproductive capacity, or oil supplies are exhausted, we face crisis.

Now, if we come back to our main topic where we started talking about the correlation between greed and lack of liveability in a city, we can definitely explain Port Harcourt situation undergoing transformation. Probably, no other place in the world depicts the ideal conditions of beautification and decency better than Port Harcourt does. Controlled pursuit of self-interest, coupled with proper implementation of correct policy and presence of adequate enforcement of relevant laws, has transformed our city into a city of paradise where citizens are enjoying basic amenities that are usually taken for granted by most citizens in the developed countries. Most of the land owners in Port Harcourt, no matter how much negative impact their future building-construction has on surrounding environment, has taken precaution against having the maximum advantage of the government/public land by building up to its maximum potential even sometimes by violating zoning and building regulations.

In many developed countries density control is a fundamental part of development regulations. Densities, usually measured by the number of dwelling units or families on a unit area of land (usually an acre), for different parts of cities are assigned through a long-term gen

eral plan (sometimes also called structure plan). Then a system of infrastructure is built to support particular densities assigned for particular parts of a city. Density also determines the ratio of required open space and built environment (usually defined by acres of land dedicated for a given number of people). What the governor has done in Port Harcourt is that he has completely tackled any effective density control measure in the building code or development regulations.

In Port Harcourt, as I’m writing this pen-piece, the nightmarish traffic congestion is no more. In almost all the parts of the city, there is no more regular load shedding, loss of underground water level, severe environmental pollution, over-flooding of storm drainage, no more lack of adequate open space and play areas. Living in Port Harcourt can now change your physical and mental health, productivity and above all your self-esteem, which in a way are directly related to the liveability indexes of our very own city.

When we frequently rant about this urban transformation, how often do we realize that these are nothing but consequences of true, transparent and collective service to the people? How often do we take a deep breath, set aside our myopic selfless-interests and think for the betterment of our collective future? We may spend an abnormal amount of money to decorate our own plot or house or flat but how many times we think about spending collectively to upgrade our common neighbourhood streets, parks or shared facilities.

Now that Gov. Amaechi has set the pace; how many times have we thought about how our buildings might affect the common road or underground water level which my neighbours also share with us? Instead of finding out a solution collectively by little self sacrifice, we try to grab as much as we can, even sometimes by adopting unfair means. We seem to have no problem in bribing the lineman from the utility company to make sure that we get the service even if it deprives our neighbours. But unfortunately we tend to forget that our selfish actions will ultimately create a ‘tragedy of the commons’, which we (ourselves) cannot escape from.

These are the common scenarios of our very society today, but it is also true that amid all this rancorous display of selfishness, there are some dedicated people who are fighting and sacrificing their petty interests to create a better future. But their voices are mostly lost either due to decreasing size of their caucus or due to increasing power of the forces that are behind these urban menaces, directly or indirectly. There are some dedicated people through their researches, writings and activities who are trying to come up with solutions to delay the social and physical decays of our city. The reason I have chosen the word ‘delay’, and not ‘stop’ is, because their efforts are not good enough to save our city given the magnitude of current problems today.

I don’t know how it is going to play out politically, but I know this is the right thing to do. Our political leaders need this kind of attitude, conviction and courage irrespective of political affiliation to initiate that effort. But under the current political milieu it may sound like a utopia. At least based on the recent history of our political climate it may sound like a daydream. But at the same time somebody may say what’s wrong in dreaming? Dreams sometimes come true and dreams can incubate zealous actions. There is nothing wrong in dreaming for a better future, but the problem is, as far as Port Harcourt’s current example are concerned we don’t have that much time or luxury to indulge ourselves in that kind of dreaming. We need actions and we need them right now, before the problems grow way out of proportions and beyond our control.

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