Governor Rotimi Amaechi On Centenary Celebrations Of Port Harcourt
Today I am filled with excitement and feel truly honoured and particularly blessed to be sitting as Governor of Rivers State at a time when our beloved city Port Harcourt commemorates a hundred years o f its founding. The celebrations today are an announcement that our city has come of age in a different way. One hundred years of growth albeit in fits and starts is a testament of the enduring nature of our city and the burst of life it continually gives to those who live here. Port Harcourt has remained the city that everyone who visits makes home.
Like the theme of the symposium “Port Harcourt City, Past, Present and Future” suggests, this is a time to celebrate our history and culture. It is also a time of remembrance, reflection and most importantly a time to project in terms of development of how Port Harcourt should look in another fifty to a hundred years.
As we celebrate this historic moment we must with much thankfulness pay tribute to the men and women who have served and worked assiduously to frame the canvas on which we now paint. May I use the opportunity of this special occasion to on behalf of Rivers State Government congratulate the hardworking men and women who cut the forests and paved the way for our city a hundred years ago. Chief of these is our own respected Chief Jonas Happy Elemuwa Nwuke, the first black provincial commissioner for Port Harcourt whose significant contributions to the development of the city include the development of the Trans Amadi Industrial layout. He it was who lowered the Union Jack when the British left in 1960. Along with Chief Nwuke, we remember the various mayors and administrators who handed over the baton to our most visionary first military governor of old Rivers state, HRM King Alfred Diete-Spiff, the Amanyabo of Twon brass, and his team of able and the men and women who served in that pioneer government of our state, for setting the pace and pathway for development in Port Harcourt. Posterity has judged them fairly and today their works continue to speak for them.
May I also pay my resects to the Late Melford Okilo, who amongst other things established the Rivers State University of Science and Technology in Port Harcourt, as well as AIG Fidelis Oyakhilome who signed the edict to establish the Rivers State school of basic studies. It was also Oyakhilome who noting the importance of agriculture he also introduce the school to land programme which not only increased agricultural input in port Harcourt, but also afforded young school leavers the opportunity to learn and farming.
Former Governors Anthony Ukpo and Ernest Adeleye deserve our respect and appreciation for inaugurating the provisional council of Rivers State polytechnic and signing the edict establishing same school respectively, while we acknowledge today the roles played by my predecessors Chief Rufus Ada George and Sir (Dr.) Peter Odili in elevating face of Port Harcourt and expanding the City.
The city of Port Harcourt means different things to each one of us as we have had different experiences. But one thing that is clear is that our city is very dear to all of us.
I grew up in Port Harcourt as a young boy, had my primary, secondary and tertiary education in Port Harcourt and so I can speak first hand about this city. I was not from a rich home. I used to pick food from Olu Obasanjo road – Man must wack as we called it then. I hawked at different times for my parents in this city. After God, I owe my growth to Port Harcourt.
I am quite nostalgic about what the city of Port Harcourt used to be. It was popularly called the garden city because of the order that characterized our houses built in beautiful well-planned layouts and the greens and open spaces all over the city. Pot Harcourt was also serene and had a peaceful mien which explained why many people preferred to holiday in Port Harcourt. You could leave your doors open to visit a friend in another street and return to still find your belongings intact. We would walk from Diobu to Borokiri. We used to climb trees to watch football at the temporary stadium.
How many of you remember that we used to dance nwa otam in Bonny or Opobo or when we couldn't go to either place we would go to Iloabuchi Street to watch the dancers. Those of you from places like Ikwerre would remember our regular “wake keepings” during burials. You could go from wake to wake confident and assured that you would get food to eat. Nobody was afraid. Nobody worried. Our Port Harcourt was a city bubbling with life, where to be called a port Harcourt boy didn't only mean that you had swag, like our youth will say today, but meant that you were responsible, responsive, respectable, intelligent, sociable and found dignity in any career path that your choose.
The residents of Port Harcourt people were admired even when they went out of the state because they were hard working and had pride in their culture and of course we had all the oil companies around, doing their businesses without any iota of security challenge. But one day we woke up and our city had changed. Some people masquerading as Niger Delta militants began to maim and kill with the support of politicians. The Port Harcourt we used to know gradually changed from its grace and position of honour to a gory situation. There is no well meaning resident of the old city of Port Harcourt who does not strongly desire that the city return to its original status.
An assessment of the crux of the matter would show that at the root of most of the crisis was poverty, although in some cases greed as well. This explains why the present administration from 2007 till date has made and implemented clear urban renewal policies to return the city of Port Harcourt to the garden city it used to be. I know that we may have forgotten the demolition exercises undertaken by this administration in our first tenure and even till now. This was not done to witch hunt anybody for whatever reasons, even though some persons perceived it as such. It is important to note that the port Harcourt that we are going to leave behind will be far better than the Port Harcourt that we met in 2007.
Besides our removal of illegal structures on the right of way, the State government has done so much in terms of road construction; this job is still on- going as we can see in parts of Port Harcourt. The old Port Harcourt Township is wearing a new look in terms of roads and drainages as well as the construction of several sports facilities in the area.
As we speak the State government is reconstructing all roads and drainages in D/Line. My honest assurance to the residents of Diobu is that these efforts will be replicated in the area. Government has also constructed several bridges within the city of Port Harcourt to ease movement and reduce traffic congestion. The end advantage of all of these efforts is a boost to the economy of our State, which we are already witnessing.
I do not intend to bore you with the achievements of this government. The fact is that is why you elected us. To govern and to deliver to you infrastructure that is functional. We have pledged to serve you with humility and render transparent and accountable stewardship even as we strive to better the lives of our present and future generations.
On behalf of the present administration, I wish to firmly promise that Port Harcourt will surely be better by the close of this administration to the glory of God and the well being of our people and those who come to Port Harcourt to do business. Our dream will be a global destination for tourism, investment both local and international business.
I therefore urge us to sustain our sense of hospitality and friendship.
Long live Port Harcourt
Long live Rivers State
Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.