Nigeria Matters

The Greater Port Harcourt Project

The Greater Port Harcourt Project: A Served Or Preserved Master-plan?

Housing, one of the most important basic necessities of mankind, is known to tremendously affect human health and well-being. It is wisely acknowledged that adequate housing is essential for good life, is a key requirement for an efficient and satisfied labour force and the foundation of satisfactory community life.

The growth of Port Harcourt and its region has been phenomenal since its inception in 1913. Growth has been experienced in terms of population and space. Two years after it’s founding the population was 5,000. Census figures for the city through its history are 7,185 in 1921; 15,201in 1931 and 71,634 in 1953 .The 1963 census gave the city’s population as 179,563 and in 1973 it was 213,443 (Ogionwo, 1979). The 1991 census fixed the population of Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor Local Government Areas at 645,883.

The projection for 1996 by the National Population Commission is 832,471 for the two local governments and the interim figures for the 2006 national census is over one million. Spatially too, Port Harcourt city has grown to cover much of the Upper Bonny River Basin. Originally the city covered a 25 km2 area between the UTC junction and the New Layout Market. In the land use and vegetation map of Nigeria (1975/76) the built-up area of Port Harcourt covered 17.4km2. Twenty years later, a similar map showed the extent of the city as 89.4km2. This is a five-fold increase. By the 1976 Local Government Reform, the Port Harcourt Local Government Area Council stretched from Choba and Rukpokwu in the north, Iriebe in the east and the main western channel of the Bonny River in the west. This is an area of over 239.6 km2.

Since the emergence of the Lord Lugard’s colonial city, government has staked its interest in land through acquisition and control of land from indigenous communities using laws and regulatory tools. The two most important laws during the colonial era were the Township Ordinance and the Public Lands Acquisition Ordinance both of 1917. Whereas the Township Ordinance established broad physical layouts of towns and classified Nigerian towns into first, second and third class townships, the Public Lands Acquisition Ordinance provided for the compulsory acquisition of land by government as “crown land”

The city limit has been expanding and today encompasses over 50 native settlements. The Rivers State government has proposed to annex the bulk of the landmass north of the city and has called that the New Port Harcourt City. This new city from our map analysis and published sources is bounded by at least 10 native towns in the population range of 10,000 people or more (Rivers State Government, Draft Report, 2008). The sitting of the new city has leaped the existing dimension of sprawl, changed the dynamics of land space. Urban growth in Port Harcourt is an integral part of its process of transformation of from a port city, to one of the nation’s most important industrial and commercial centres. It is also a testament to the failure of successive governments to manage urban growth.

Over the years, government has acquired land ostensibly for public use. Nigeria4betterrule participants raised questions on the use of such land and suggested that the beneficiaries have been high income people. Public land acquisition has been the arena of conflict between indigenous land owners and government over the years. Thus, access to land for the majority of urban dwellers especially low and medium income people is through the informal land market. Primarily, it is the interplay of these factors and the impact on both demand and supply of land that has fuelled the pattern of urban conurbation in Port Harcourt.

The growth of Port Harcourt and its region has been phenomenal since its inception in 1913. Growth has been experienced in terms of population and space. Two years after it’s founding the population was 5,000. Census figures for the city through its history are 7,185 in 1921; 15,201in 1931 and 71,634 in 1953 .The 1963 census gave the city’s population as 179,563 and in 1973 it was 213,443 . The 1991 census fixed the population of Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor Local Government Areas at 645,883.

The projection for 1996 by the National Population Commission is 832,471 for the two local governments and the interim figures for the 2006 national census is over one million. Spatially too, Port Harcourt city has grown to cover much of the Upper Bonny River Basin. Originally the city covered a 25 km2 area between the UTC junction and the New Layout Market. In the land use and vegetation map of Nigeria (1975/76) the built-up area of Port Harcourt covered 17.4km2. Twenty years later, a similar map showed the extent of the city as 89.4km2. This is a five-fold increase. By the 1976 Local Government Reform, the Port Harcourt Local Government Area Council stretched from Choba and Rukpokwu in the north, Iriebe in the east and the main western channel of the Bonny River in the west. This is an area of over 239.6 km2.

Another observation from the land use and vegetation maps for the region in the 1970s and 80s is the reclamation of vast areas of marginal land in the south of the city bordering Bonny River. Most of the mangrove swamps bordering the city have been reclaimed during the 20-year period; even the river channels are narrower than before for the same reasons. This typifies the Borokiri axis; one of the many neighbourhoods in Port Harcourt city. It is surrounded by mangrove swamps and originally was inhabited by fishermen who used it as fishing ground. The reclamation of mangrove swamps for urban development by government and individuals in Borokiri have been going on since.

From five maps and one satellite image describing the land use, types and changes in Port Harcourt, the Borokiri area was analyzed to determine the progression of reclaimed portion. Prior to 1965, a total of about 432,014.4m2 of land, which today represent 16 per cent of the total landmass of Borokiri existed in the
neighbourhood. Between 1965 and1975, a total of about 654,136.6m2 representing 24 per cent of the land was reclaimed. The period from 1975 to 1985 saw the lowest reclaimed portion of land in the neigbhourhood with 106,261.2m2 of land representing only 3.9 per cent of the total area. The period between 1985 – 1995 and 1995 – 2005 had the highest period of reclamation of land in Borokiri with 56 percent representing more than half of the entire land area.

The 2003 law for Physical Development provided for the establishment of a State Planning Board and Planning Authorities in all (23) local government areas of the State. It has never been implemented. The same lassez-faire attitude has also been taken in the implementation of the State land development and land registration laws. Section 4 of the Land Development (Provision for Roads) Law Caption 73 initially dated 1933 makes provisions that are to be complied with before land is sold off in lots. This includes the making of lay-out plans that indicate what parts of the land were to be reserved for roads. Local land owners are obviously not acting in recognition of this law. CAP 74 of the laws of Rivers State dates back to 1917 and provide for land registration.

This is obviously abused by both government officials, communities and private buyersas the transfer of titles to land in Port Harcourt goes on mostly outside the formal governmental processes and channels. The greater proportion of developers does not possess the Certificate of Occupancy which is the recognized title to land. Port Harcourt has no clearly defined settlement development policy; neither does it have a clearly defined urban policy. The implementation of the Land Use Act of 1978 in facilitating access to land has been very selective, especially benefitting those in public office and their supporters. Public sector land delivery has proved to be an inefficient regulatory

tool for urban land management. Thus, the inefficient urban planning system
has promoted urban sprawl.

The Greater Port Harcourt Master Plan prepared in 1975 was never implemented. The institutional framework for managing urban growth was also not established. Rather, the present administration has established a new Ministry of Urban Planning to implement the proposed Greater Port Harcourt Plan. With rapid population increase, and the need for shelter at affordable cost, urban development is informal and sprawling into wherever on the urban fringe land is available with willing buyers and sellers.

Urban growth in Port Harcourt has generated problems for urban management. The settlements that have experienced this growth in the urban fringe have generally suffered the lack of urban services and lack access roads. There is usually no planning. This has reduced the liveability and functionality of the cities. While it is clearly impossible to put an end to sprawl development, it is possible, it can be controlled, such that development proceeds in a planned and regulated manner. This is perhaps the greatest challenge to urban planners in Nigeria in a rapidly urbanizing context. Urban physical planning in the form of planned lay outs, development control and other regulatory mechanisms must be put in place.

In August 2007, 25 slums in Port Harcourt were earmarked for demolition and replacement with new housing units by the Rivers state government (Guardian Newspapers, 24th August, 2007). However this move was strongly resisted by those affected. It appears that residents of slums are not always willing to relocate to less crowded accommodation. The way that land enters the development process, especially registration of title and decisions on what land is used for should also be properly addressed at all levels of government – national, regional (state) and local. It is obvious that indigenous land owners must be part of this process. The political class must realize that building functional cities, which are adequately serviced and have decent transportation systems, are crucial legacies they must endeavour to leave behind. There is need to strengthen urban governance, by improving human capacity, proper funding and building institutions that are efficient not just in the Port Harcourt but in other cities in Nigeria.

Presently, greater Port Harcourt has a population of about 1.5 million people going by the 1991 population census. Of importance to this study is that the city has sprawled to cover the entire land area equated with the Upper Bonny River Basin. It is in fact the restricting effects of the Bonny, Imo and New Calabar Rivers that have for now checked the spatial growth of the city. The area known as Greater Port Harcourt also corresponds to the study area. It includes six Local Government Areas; namely all of Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor; parts of Eleme, Oyigbo, Etche and Ikwerre. The present-day socio-economic environment of Port Harcourt is undeniably linked to petroleum exploitation in the Niger Delta. In spite of the massive wealth arising from petroleum, some commentators who reach me via “nigeria4betterule” debate have claimed that there is still a lot of material deprivation in the Delta. Port Harcourt’s population reflects this deprivation.

12 Comments

  1. In every developing environment,there are uphill task and challenges but then,we believe where there is a will…there is also a way-out. NO doubt, Gov. amaechi is dogged and set out to bring the face lift of our beloved state as the hub of the nations economy…

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  2. may God giv Govnr Rotimi Chibuike Ameachi more grace 2 do more n als 2 implement d plan of the greater Port Harcourt City

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  3. their is more than enough development to be done in Nigeria, thank God for people like govnr. ameachi who have not chosen the part of money laundary but to make ph a city of attraction.

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  4. i love your comment jaja, you sound very intelligent and you are talking real facts. i live in london and i concur to what you said.thats wat makes london one of the best cities in the world, and portharcourt can also achieve that…..

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  5. this is actually the time civilization and sustainable development is taking it place and a new turn in port harcourt, of-course its expansion will go beyond it neighborhood; like diobu and chioba etc. it shouldn't call for much arguments and misunderstanding…

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  6. … this is actually a reflection of the PH uncontrolled problem that has lead to a garbage city,traffic congestion,undrained platforms and even the resultant rapid growth in crime,militancy and kidnapping.

    For me, an a non indigene with a strong interest in the development of the Niger Delta, its good having a resource material like this to point out clearly to us, the developmental histrory of our city-Port Harcourt.

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  7. …we need more of this. The reason is simply that our geography is really in troublen if it’s not told. kudos!

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  8. Tom calm down.. London used to be the city of London only and westminster, centuries ago, Islington used to be a village near LOndon but its now in the heart of the City. Places like Croydon, which is really in Essex is now part of Greater London. What is my point? Cities expand, cities grow.. Diobu was once a settlement near Port Harcourt, go and argue now that it isnt in Port Harcourt…

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  9. Port Harcourt City Local Government does not extend to Choba. Choba is not even in Port Harcourt. Choba is a town in Emohua local Government area that extends to Obio Akpor Local Government area. The entire Obio Akpor itself is not a part of Port Harcourt city. The fact that the University of Port Harourt was located in does not diminish the town status of Choba which is purely an Ikwere farming community. The rate the name Port Harcourt is being used would soon see every town and village of the Igbo speaking clans of Rivers state up to ABIA AND IMO to be refered to as Port Harcourt. The city of Port Harcourt is a coastal city of about 5 miles long and about 4 miles wide. A town founded by the British that do not have any indigenous people. The port Harcourt city ends at the end of the OLD GRA with the Ikwere road which was formerly Owerri road being used as asses road to the neighbouring Ikwere villages to the interior Igbo land. The Aba road was built much later. The Ikwere road and the ABA roads became the only two roads that lead to the out side world from Port Harcourt city. Diobu it self was a camp built by the colonial masters to house workers who worked at the Port Harcourt Harbour. The Diobu it self was not a part of the Port harcourt city. The UTC ROAD which is now AZIKIWE ROAD WAS THE ONLY ASSES road linking Diobu and Port Harcourt city.. Travelling to places like Aneka, AKPOR, ozuoba, Elelenwon, Igrita, Rumueme, Rumumasi. In those days was not like travelling within the same city. It was like travelling from one town to the other just like one would travel from Nnewi to Okigwe or from Gbangan to Ile ife. The fact that all these other towns have also developed to sonme extent does not make them parts of Port harcourt. They are Obvious various Rivers state towns and cities.

    Amaechi is doing a good job by developing these places . The development of these places do not make them parts of Port Harcourt.

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