Saturday, 27 March 2010

The city of garden

IN September 2009, I was in Port Harcourt on two occasions, and something kept drawing me to the city. Last week, I had opportunity to be in the city again.
It was in the afternoon when my phone rang. It had gone on for some time before I picked the call. I was in the peak of production and was not ready to be distracted. My phone rang again. The caller this time was my friend in Port Harcourt.
After some exchange of pleasantries, he asked: “Greg, how about seeing Port Harcourt this weekend?”
In a spontaneous fit, I accepted an invitation to see the Garden City once more. But I was incredibly nervous. The image that flashed into my head was that of militants wearing headscarves and bandana dancing (maybe bobbing back and forth at best) in small tight circles, in a completely belligerent manner. There had been arguments as to whether security had really returned fully to the city.
I remembered that only recently Warri was rocked by bomb from a set of people, yet to be unmasked.
It was an opportunity to unplug, perhaps, step away from life in Lagos and explore the Garden City.
By the time the plane touched down on the tarmac, my mind was fully prepared for the Garden City experience, which has always been exciting. I got into the city and everywhere was cool.
The country had witnessed relative coolness and many flights had been cancelled these past weeks.
As soon as I got to GRA, my mind went straight to the roast yam, plantain and fish, a favourite menu in this part of the country, which I ate the last time I came.

RIVERS State has a landmass of 11,077km? Its capital city Port Harcourt is one of the fastest growing metropolitan cities in Africa; is strategically situated, making it an economic hub servicing the South East and South-South regions.
The state has two major refineries, seaports, airports including an international one, and is easily accessible by land, air, rail and sea.
Politicians seeking territorial relevance without building any basis for sustainable legitimacy resorted to encouraging misguided youths to form violent gangs, which they branded as “cults”.
These criminal groups unleashed terror by day and night on law-abiding citizens in Rivers State. Indiscriminate killings, kidnapping and molestation of people where brazenly carried out.
Above all these were the inexplicable failure of the state (government at all levels) to enforce the law. The government was unwilling or unable to enforce the law. In consequence, near anarchy ensued and miscreants became laws unto themselves.
This was the regrettable state of affairs before Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, assumed office in October 2007.
Upon assumption, the government had no doubt in its minds that the principal task before it was to restore law and order in Port Harcourt and in Rivers State as a whole.
It was clear from the on-set that the provision of security through the enforcement of law and order is the primary constitutional basis for the existence of government.
Ensuring the security of lives and property of its citizenry is therefore the highest responsibility of government.
Port Harcourt, with its robust nature, has a vibrant social life with booming entertainment that is well entrenched. Just like its steaming commercial pulse, its social life is on the upswing with numerous outlets.

In the evening, my friend was in my hotel room. The time was almost 10pm and fear gripped me that I was going out in the city where “your next door neighbour may be a ‘kidnapper’, so I thought. The adventurous spirit in me urged me on.
As soon as we drove out, my friend asked, “where do we go now?”
I was silent for some minutes. “Circular Avenue,” I heaved, remembering the place I stayed when I came for the Garden City Literary Festival.
Suddenly, the car came winding down the narrow Circular Avenue GRA, and rolled up to a halt in front of a popular hotel on the street. I was excited when I saw a troupe of ladies ‘mounting guard’ on the road. It was as if the whole girls in Port Harcourt had milled down to Circular Avenue. They were all there — all shades of colour and height.
“These people will make I good story,” I muttered aloud.
“I know you wanted to see the other side of Port Harcourt; its seamy side, but nonetheless a perfect way of saying that the Garden City is safe. Don’t you think so?” my friend said.
I nodded, “Yes!”
The night was crawling in gradually and I didn’t want to miss out of the human traffic in the avenue.
Later, we moved and our first shot was D’s Place, a sit-out in D-Line. We guzzled wine for the two hours we spent there; as we waited for the night to wear on.
We sat in a far corner of the table and watched, as people streamed in and out.
There was a characteristic note of intimate conversation between everybody. I was just interested in my drink.
My friend left his seat to join them. My heart almost leapt out of mouth. I thought I would be introduced as a journalist, it would have meant there won’t be opportunity to have a little knowledge of nightlife in the city.

WE left D’s Place about 12midnight for some other clubs, Baracuda, Casablanca, name them. We were everywhere. It was more like a rehash of previous visit. The clubs we visited were all located in almost the same enclave in GRA. Actually fees are not just fixed in Port Harcourt’s club. However, every good one has its fancies. Bongainvilea is not entirely on fees, it’s about being classy and there are few restrictions. Casablanca is really all-comers, but sometimes operate on moderate fees. Casablanca is one place to catch real fun.
With a well established clientele and right balance. The girls are all gold diggers, like any place you get a mixed crowd so be firm, pleasant and select wisely.
Wine Bar is elitist and classy; The Wish is all-comers so also are Baracuda, Little Angels and Illusions. However, in all, your money tells your class and the class of girls you hang out with.
Besides, a bottle of beer or energy drink costs a baseline of N500 while a good wine or whisky goes for at least N6000; champagne is minimum of N30,000. The girls are very friendly, very hot, mostly clean, good fun and up for anything... at a price.
Some go as high as N10,000 per night, but those that enter Port Harcourt from Aba go for N5,000 or slightly less. You can drop into any of the clubs from Friday and it will be a pleasant environment to socialise.
At Casablanca, we had great time. The music was pretty good, with the DJ offering up a mixture of local hip-hop and the standard rotation of RnB/Top-40 nightclub hits. We saw a lot of ladies, who looked like drug addicts, skin weathered by crack, with bodies squeezed into body-hugging dresses. There were girls shimmying their hips to hard-hitting hip-hop bass on the dance floor, and those flinging themselves, wholeheartedly.

At about 4am when I got to my hotel, I was totally fagged out. I had somehow forgotten the reason for my visit. Port Harcourt now peaceful, come and enjoy the city.
Maybe the governor will confirm it. I was eager to hear from him the next day, which actually was when he will make a presentation to members of the Diplomatic Corps on security in Rivers State.

Amaechi: Why I go out at night without escort
THE governor said one reason he goes out to public places at night is to reassure residents of Port Harcourt that peace and nightlife have been restored to the state. Governor Amaechi,, who stated this Sunday night during a dinner with foreign envoys in Government House, Port Harcourt, said his free movement at anytime of the day was an indication that the security challenges were virtually over.
“If the security challenge is as bad as I hear, I will not take the risk of driving out in the night without escort,” Governor Amaechi said.
He cited instances of his late night movements to visit places and people. He said that as a young man, he attends nightclubs sometimes, stressing, “I do that also to reassure the citizens that they are protected, first by God, and through human instruments put on ground by the state government for the safety of their lives.”
The state’s Chief Executive thanked the envoys for honouring the state with their presence as they would exchange knowledge, which would lead to changing the perception about the state, adding that the assumption that whatever happened in the Niger Delta was in Port Harcourt was wrong.
He gave an example of the bomb blast in Delta State, which was ironically said to be in Port Harcourt in some quarters, while the kidnap incidences in the neighbouring Abia State was also painfully attributed to be in Rivers State.
Responding on behalf of the envoys, the Ambassador of Czech Republic to Nigeria, Mr Jaroslav Siro, said Rivers State and Niger Delta are very important to Nigeria, which is a major economic as well as business partner to their countries.
Mr Siro said the international community appreciated the handling of the recent constitutional problem in Nigeria and hoped that future issues would be addressed maturely, especially the forthcoming general election in 2011, which they hope to be conducted in a transparent manner.
He commended the Rivers State government for the initiative, and for what they are doing in the state, and urged the people to support the governor in achieving his laudable objectives.


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