Portharcourt: Visiting the Garden City
By: Deji Yesufu
It is no longer news that I visited Rivers State, Portharcourt, to be specific this past week. There were two reasons to be excited about visiting Portharcourt. First, I had lived in Portharcourt as a child and was looking forward to seeing what the city had become. The second was the joys of finally being recognized in a formal sense by a local church, a reformed Baptist Church, and being ordained into ministry. The man who ordained me is Pastor Aniekan Ekpo. He is the Pastor of Christ’s Reformed Baptist Church, also called The Reformed Tabernacle, situated at Rumoadara, in the heart of Portharcourt city. Pastor Ani, as we love to call him, trained as a pastor at the London Metropolitan Tabernacle (the Church C. H. Spurgeon pastored in the latter half of the 19th century). Pastor Ani was trained and commissioned into ministry by Dr. Peter Masters, the current minister at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Pastor Ani had been a minister with Qua Iboe churches, an evangelical Church, with roots in Akwa Ibom State. Pastor Ani eventually left Qua Iboe and commenced a full fledged reformed ministry in Portharcourt. It can be argued that Pastor Ani is the first Nigerian to begin a reformed work in this country. I am genuinely blessed to have been commissioned into ministry by this man.
The last time I travelled the Benin expressway was in 2018 when I went to Enugu to market my book Victor Banjo. The whole region of South-East and South-south Nigeria was the theatre in which the Nigerian civil war was prosecuted and as a civil war historian, driving through the city, the story of the war comes alive. Benin reminded me of the botched Midwest invasion by the Liberation Army which Victor Banjo led. The failure of that mission was the reason the government of Biafra executed Banjo and three others on September 24, 1967. Portharcourt, on the other hand, reminds me of the third Marine Commando led by Col. Benjamin Adekunle and his supporting officers of Majors Alabi-Isama and Akinrinade. Alabi-Isama tells the story of how Portharcourt was taken in 1968 by the Nigerian army and it became a springboard with which the army captured Owerri and other key Biafran strongholds – ending the war. I was delighted to see Hotel Presidential still regale at the centre of Portharcourt. This was the edifice that housed the Nigerian army after they took over the city from the Biafrans.
As a minister of the gospel, the first thing I recognize when entering a city is the people. Portharcourt is a densely populated city of about 3.5 million people. It is the capital city of Rivers State. The present governor, Nyesom Wike, has committed quite a lot of resources to building infrastructures – in fact I was still in the city on the day the President elect, Bola Tinubu, visited. Wike’s plea that Tinubu’s government should refund the state monies used to build federal roads fell on Tinubu’s deaf ears. Governor Wike had joined forces with Bola Tinubu to ensure that Rivers State was captured by the All Progressive Congress and they succeeded at it. In fact everywhere I went to in Portharcourt and I asked people about the just concluded elections, you could read the deep resentment against the governor. People told me they were mostly first time voters; they got their PVCs and voted massively for Peter Obi of the Labor Party. The word, however, on the streets was that Wike and his boys stole the people’s mandate. They allegedly walked into INEC coalition centres and rewrote the results. It is one reason why the BVAS failing to upload to the IREV was a major mishap in the just concluded elections. Proof that the state government knows people are still angry with them is seen in the fact that INEC state office is still being guarded by security forces three months after elections were concluded. The main road that passes through INEC Portharcourt is still shut down, with soldiers stationed there.
My stay in Portharcour was not all about mourning Wike. I had the wonderful opportunity of visiting the city centre, somewhere around a government reserved area. I went to fellowship with Crystal Vine Community Church, led by Pastor Nonso Ubajekwe, on their Wednesday midweek service. I am friends with a number of folks in the church on Facebook. So Maple Tammy Dapa (of mapemond.com) got a Bolt driver to bring me from Rumoadara to the city centre. The ten kilometre journey allowed me to see the glamour of Portharcourt. On Friday, a day before I left the city, Deacon Ken Maobi and his wife had me at their home for dinner. Summing up my experience at Portharcourt in a splendid way.
My thoughts on Portharcourt is my deduction on every part of Nigeria. Portharcourt is a city that houses the obscenely wealthy and the most heart wrenching poor in the same space. This is not a safe way to live because the moment the poor are left with nothing to eat, they will turn on the rich. The answer many proffer is to japa – join the mass exodus of middle class professionals leaving Nigeria. The question then is: where does a Christian minister like me leave to? How do I stand before God in eternity and tell him I left my country of primary assignment because there was famine in the land? Christian ministers should not only proffer solution to spiritual problems, we can also suggest ways at ameliorating our social issues. Beginning with government: we must have people in power that will serve the common men. Then we must have young people who will commit to building this country regardless of the allure of japa. Finally, all of us can commit to doing the right thing within our space of influence. As this wind of positive influence widens out, things will get better in this country.
Portharcourt is a city of great potential – like most parts of Nigeria. We can get the best out of that city and out of this country.