Tuesday, October 22, 2013

An Encounter With Port Harcourt's Gridlock

By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

Since graduating from the University of Port Harcourt many years ago, I always look forward to any opportunity to reconnect with Port Harcourt, although it is always difficult to say what exactly fires the attachment. Maybe, the inexplicable  joyful feeling that often wells up in one at the thought of visiting again a place one had spent some very useful years of one’s life. Whatever it is, that feeling betrayed itself again when I had a reason to visit Port Harcourt two weeks ago, specifically, Saturday and Sunday, October 5&6, 2013. Although an important assignment had taken me to a sub-urban community in Rivers State a couple of months ago, the last time I was in the Garden City was in 2009 to attend a literary conference we had put together to mark the 70th birthday of my former Creative Writing teacher, INC Aniebo, who was formally retiring from the University of Port Harcourt.

 This time, I came in by road from Owerri, and I had nothing but anger for the Federal Government which owns that road. From the point a green signpost welcomes you to Rivers State (with this rather rude advice: “Do No Not Litter”), the wide, dualised road is so smooth that most drivers are virtually flying, which, ironically,  sometimes makes one wonder if it was not even safer to leave Nigerian roads in very bad shape, if only to slow down some demon-pursued drivers. But there is a state agency called the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), whose job it is to control over-speeding on our highways; they need to wake up to do their job and save the many precious lives being wantonly wasted daily in this country. 

The part of the highway that falls into Imo State can only be best described as the road to hell. So, what is the meaning of that? That part of the road wears an angry look always and viciously attacks cars in such a way as to suggest it is punishing them for mustering the effrontery to ply on it. Now, was the contract for the entire road awarded to the same contractor? Why is one part made so good and welcoming and the other left to remain so dangerously bad? President Goodluck Jonathan should order the immediate completion of work on the Imo State section of that road or he would be sending a very ugly signal whose interpretation would be very hurtful to his image.  That he does not need to pass through that part of the road on his way from Port Harcourt Airport to Otuoke does not mean it should be left in such a horrible state. Other human beings with red blood equally running in their veins also use that road. Well, enough said on this for now. 

Port Harcourt town, in my opinion, now effectively starts from Rumuokoro, although one could notice its very rapid encroachment into hitherto rural communities like Igwurita, or even as far as Omagwa where the airport sits – that is, if for you, township means the disappearance of long stretch of bushes on both sides of the highway and proliferation of shops in small buildings on the hitherto quiet, uninhabited lands where those bushes once stood guard. Rumuokoro itself used to be a near-lonely bus-stop where we disembarked in those days as students to find buses or taxis to UNIPORT, further down the East-West Road. It is now a hub of human and vehicular activity, and equally, the starting point of Port Harcourt’s greatest and most enduring challenge, namely, terrible traffic congestion.

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