By Tonye Princewill
ONE hundred years is a lot longer than most humans can expect to live. But it’s a short time in the life of a city.
Considered in human developmental terms, therefore, Port Harcourt’s First Centenary might be thought of as a ceremony to celebrate our coming of age.
This, to a large extent, is certainly the case. The tribulations of our recent past, with its attendant fears and insecurities, does indeed call to mind the anxieties and frustrations associated with teenage life. These hardships have contributed greatly to our social evolution and political maturation.
But teenage life is not all about anxieties and frustrations. In fact, I quite enjoyed my teen years, which I now look back on with fond memories. I have friends who feel the same way.
Just as sociologists and psychologists tend to over-generalise when it comes to the developmental problems of young people, we too, I think, should look beyond the traumas of the past decade.
That’s not what Port Harcourt is about, any more than terms like “rebellion” and “anomie”can be applied to the behaviour of all teenagers at all times.
Port Harcourt has an evolving ethos, a character that is being shaped continually by a complex array of experiences, some negative, others positive: Experiences that extend back into the past, and forward into the future.
The purpose of the Centenary is to explore the city’s evolving ethos, to celebrate its past and express our confidence in its future—to affirm its possibilities.
Stated simply, it is values and beliefs, as exemplified in the diverse experiences of the city’s social and ethnic groups, its heroes and historical episodes that we are celebrating.
The Centenary is merely a means to an end. Like all ceremonies, it is an instrument for refreshing our shared memory, a tool for tinkering with our collective consciousness, tightening our cohesion and enhancing our capacity for coordinated action. It is a melding and mending ritual.
There are bound to be complaints about the cost—especially since Chief Chimbiko Akarolo, Mayor of Port Harcourt, when appointing the Chairman of the Local Organising Committee, LOC, predicted a grand “Olympic” scale celebration.
According to Balema Papamie, Chairman of “Port Harcourt 100,” the LOC’s promotional cognomen, the ceremonies will probably start sometime this month or next and build up to a festive crescendo, possibly in November—the proposed Centenary month.
In the mean time, Papamie says, Port Harcourt 100 will designate special days, weeks and weekends in the intervening period, during which various interests and ethnic groups, foreign, local and national, are to be featured.
The scale of the effort may be debatable. But how much are the values we believe in worth? What price tag can we place on the past one hundred years of our evolution as a city—on the sense of cohesion that the celebration will help to accomplish?
I am, of course, a businessman. So I cannot ignore the balance sheet entirely. My belief, though, is that while the Centenary is going to gulp quite a bit of money, it will also generate lots of revenue for local businesses, including restaurants, transport services, hotels, tourism enterprises, etc.
The most important returns, though, are likely to be the intangibles. The Centenary is a debutant ball, a second “coming out party”, following the National Sports Festival, for a city that has just returned from the brink.
In a country where the excoriation of government has attained ritual importance, the Centenary is also a means of showcasing a well-run city and state. Port Harcourt is a city that works, a place where public administration is having a visible impact.
It doesn’t work perfectly. The Garden City is not an Eden. There are roads that need attention, while subsidence, the sinking of the ground due to oil extraction, is causing many building to crack. Some structures are even collapsing.
This too needs to be seen, especially by visiting policy makers from Abuja. They also need to travel over the roads that are gullied and pock-marked, and barely passable, because the Federal Government has not met its obligations to us.
In the temperate zones of Asia, Europe and North America, spring is approaching. But visitors to the Centenary from places like China, the USA and Europe will learn that “spring” is forever in Port Harcourt, where the temperature is never below 25 degrees centigrade (C) or higher than 28 degrees C.
There is so much for visitors to see and experience: Everything from a three-headed cobra (discovered in the Okpo Local Government Area) to mangroves swamps and the expansive beauty of the Atlantic. There are tropical fruits, high cuisine and a vibrant nightlife.
I will return to the Centenary from time to time, as events unfurl.