by Dolapo Aina
One of my first impressions of this city is that people love to party. And it was collaborated by one of the taxi drivers. Simply put, Port Harcourt is a city where it would appear everyday is a Friday night and the next day, wary-eyed party goers all head back to work.
On Sunday, the 6th of October, I had reason to travel to Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State. Hopping on a plane for a 45 minutes or 60 mintues flight would have been a no-brainer. But when you are in Nigeria, you just have to be careful, not when three days earlier, a plane crashed. Phobia for local flights is my only phobia; but it seems some ArikAir officials at an aviation exhibition held in October were able to allay my fears and convince me about their brand new planes.
One of the advantages of comfortable road travel is that you get to view the breathtaking greenery of Nigeria; you get to see the landscapes of several Western and Eastern states. You get to stop over at the popular Benin stop-over, which I had first encountered in 2006. After about 10 hours, I arrived in Port Harcourt courtesy of ABC Transport. Port Harcourt at night is simply amazing (maybe due to the location I stayed.) Any amiable traveller of any corporate profession worth his/her salt and last penny would know that the best and easiest way to get to know and get a feel of a new city is by cementing acquaintances with a literate taxi driver and also an illiterate taxi driver (both come in handy.) Also, seated by the driver portrays and exudes simplicity and camaraderie rather than aloofness, when seated at the back.
While I was sharpening my already sharpened relationology skills espoused by the Brit Matt Bird by discussing with the driver; I sighted an edifice and I became mute, dumb and stupefied (include your own vocabulary, you wont be wrong). I saw the prestigious and luxurious Hotel Presidential in all her glory. I have seen and been to hotels in Lagos but aside Radisson Blu’s edifice, I doubt if anything comes close to what I saw. If you haven’t been to Port Harcourt and haven’t seen this hotel’s beauty at night, well, in simple non-Wole Soyinka or rather in non-Patrick English, you would think you were in Abu Dhabi or Macau. The iniquitousness of the oil money was evident at night (mind you this was past 8pm). I began to understand why a small city with stupendous oil money is giving the Presidency a tough stance. The oil money is right in your face; you can’t miss it.
Wide awake at past 2am and witnessing the following day’s sunrise was amazing. If the oil money was visible at night; it was blinding during the day. A visitor to this city would confess that this city is benefitting from her oil resources; unlike other neighbouring oil states. As an observer who looks for patterns and connects the dots, several things were noticed about this beautiful city.
Foremost would be that this city is a land filled with opportunities for everyone. If you aren’t certain of this statement, in simple English, this city is not a land of ethnic bias, when it pertains to opportunities. Kindly explain, how a Yoruba man from Ondo State would gladly tell you that he has been driving taxi in Port Harcourt since 1982 and his job has educated his children. Kindly explain how Yoruba men are the bosses (chairmen) of some motor parks. Kindly explain, how you would hear the Yoruba, Ibibio, Ibo and Hausa languages been spoken on the exclusive residential streets and not only in the markets?
The little Lagos where the oil money is right in your face. You can’t miss it. This is another Lagos where everything is the same. Even the CD hawkers actually arrange their wares the same as their Lagos colleagues. And the hawkers are from Ebonyi State; likewise as their Lagos counterparts. This is a city where the angry sun reminds one of Lagos and Yobe States. A city where, one can’t but notice and wonder why the men don’t dress as fabulous as the ladies on a Monday of all working days. The male fashion GQ Magazine should be handed to all working-class men in this city. This is a city where it seems the ladies have a much better dress sense than the men on a Monday morning. And what about the traffic? The traffic in this city is loco and would give Lagos, a hard run for her money.
I observed that this city appeared to have married and singles ladies who don’t carry; like hand-bags, lugubrious faces and have the simplest of courtesies to utter pleasantries before you do. A rarity in Lagos, where every upwardly mobile young professional carves out his/her own territory on a first meeting; competing for social and professional relevance.
I boarded taxis and I realised that this city is where taxi drivers know you are from Lagos or Abuja. This is so because; unconsciously Lagosians and Abuajians, board taxis and instinctively their fingers search for the seat belts. The seat belt gives you away. Thank you LASTMA. This is a city where majority of the indigenes aren’t interested in driving a taxi or the taxi business. The Yorubas, Ibos and Hausas are in charge of this transport sector at least in Port Harcourt. Without doubt, there seems to be no segregation in this city. A city where the semi-retired militants wait to pick up their sixty thousand Naira every month. It seems like the land for all to make el dinero-the money.
I decided to have a feel of the public transport and so, I boarded some commercial buses. I observed that everyone seems to have a joke to crack including bus drivers. One in particular took a jibe at a passerby and the lady responded with an even funnier jibe without any abuses flying about. Not so in Lagos. This city seems to have honest people, I left an item in a taxi and I reluctantly called the driver, who found it and returned it.
One of my first impressions of this city is that people love to party. And it was collaborated by one of the taxi drivers. Simply put, Port Harcourt is a city where it would appear everyday is a Friday night and the next day, wary-eyed party goers all head back to work. A city where it is evident a multitude of opportunities abound with a minute number of people having varied options; unlike Lagos, where a multitude of people are chasing limited opportunities. A city where high school friends would tell you opportunities abound aplenty. If this is bound out of the fact that they want one to stay might take a while to figure out.
Listening to Nigeria Info FM’s Port Harcourt radio station, I couldn’t fail to notice that, this city has citizens who are more politically aware and vociferous than Lagosians about their political views. But one sight which I seem to see on news items about developing nations and during my limited road travels, staying in perhaps the poorest village in the East (Agbor Isu, Ebonyi State) during my national service for 9months (which gave me a first-hand and hands-on understanding of how rural communities work and their way of thinking)and my trip to Port Harcourt is that women are the real farmers in developing countries.
Women were the ones with hoes and cutlasses on bicycles heading to the farms. So, I ask, who are the real farmers, men or women? Because even in Port Harcourt, it is the women. The food we men consume with gusto and relish are cultivated and harvested by the women. What do the men do? Drink palm wine to stupendous stupor!
Be that as it may, this is a city anyone would love to return to. People seem to be oozing hospitality even the silverspoon-born caballeros, senoras and senoritas. This is a city where everything makes money. A city to visit. This city just won another regular visitor. The Parisians would say “see Paris and die”. I say see Port Harcourt and fall in love. Like one of the movie title of the James Bond franchise, this truly was, “from Port Harcourt with much love” as the Spanish title of this article translates into.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.
Follow @ynaija on Twitter