The most pleasurable shock Port Harcourt suffered in recent history is the emergence of Nigeria’s first world beauty queen, Agbani Darego, Miss World 2001. Daughter of a retired Customs officer with strong family values and more smashingly beautiful sisters, natural Agbani with her slim and lanky figure stole her way from the D-Line area of Port Harcourt close to Diobu to the centre of global showbiz. Now, most folks like to say, I live close to Agbani’s house. If you live in D-line, you are Agbani’s sister or brother, even if that person was from Sokoto. Port Harcourt city parts are named and identified with ‘Rumus’ as in Rumuola, Rumuibekwe, Rumukwurushi, and even Rumuosi (children of thieves?); and Lines as in D-Line and Waterline areas.
Port Harcourt may have been founded slightly over 100 years ago but the city has provided hundreds of heroes, stars and superstars. Some of Port Harcourt’s stars may be the nation’s villains, too. But, ask any Port Harcourt resident about who the city’s heroes have been, opinions will differ, though some names would recur on all lists.
Port Harcourt challenged Nigeria in the colonial days in football with the Red Devils (now Sharks?), making the annual Governor’s Cup later Challenge Cup a matter of war without bullet. Here, such names as Eddie Dombraye come to mind. The city has remained strong in contributing to soccer heroism with Adokiye Amasiamaka as the Chief Justice of Nigerian football. Other soccer heroes include Richard Owobokiri, Taribo West and Joseph Yobo.
According to Adi Wali, editor of the Informant, a Rivers State Government-owned journal, any mentioning must begin with Ihekwoaba, first mayor of Port Harcourt, who hailed from Nkwerre area of today’s Imo State. He thinks Elechi is not only a literary giant that has helped to make Port Harcourt the World Book Capital 2014, but he as a soldier trusted by the Scorpion (Adekunle as Brigade Commander) to rebuilt Port Harcourt within the civil war to enable Alfred Diete-Spiff to rule. Rex Lawson stands tall on every list as a hero of Port Harcourt with his philosophical lyrics that continue to summon all minds at top gatherings to this day in the Garden City and beyond.
Spiff apart, Adi thinks heroes of Port Harcourt must include Obi Wali of the blessed memory, Emmanuel Agumagu (one time chief justice of the state), the Douglas dynasty, the Nsiegbe family, and Uche Akarolo who was chairman, Rivers State Schools Board and Dominic Akarolo, pioneer member of the Rivers State House of Assembly. He also thinks the sage, Dappa Biriye of Peterside stand shoulder high, though there are others who think Dappa Biriye is not rooted in Port Harcourt despite the second tallest building in the city (the NDDC Tower) bearing his name.
For Sam Jombo, a lawyer and public relations officer of the Rivers State Microfinance Agency (RIMA), heroes of Port Harcourt should be restricted to those who elevated the essence of the city to national consciousness. He thinks Ken Saro Wiwa should take a bow especially with his Bassey and Company comedy. OCJ Okocha ranks high on Jombo’s scale as the 19th president of the Nigeria Bar Association, Daniel Wilsonfrom his Borokri enclave rocked Nigeria with his music. He is now feeding mouths with his top loafs (bread) in the city. Dumo Lulu-Briggs is mentioned for his entertainment contributions through two night clubs where people recreate even before being a major entrepreneur.
Hilda Dokubo of Nollywood is one of the other foremost Port Harcourt Girls on the lips of Nigerians. Julius Agwu does not seem to need anybody to nominate him as a real Port Harcourt Boy.
For Anderson Hart of the Port Harcourt Chamber of Commerce (PHCCIMA), the real Port Harcourt Boys and Girls should start from the likes of Alaye Eremie, one time commissioner for employment and economic empowerment during Peter Odili’s administration who was involved in promoting his peoples music. He thinks Madam Mud Mayer was a big entertainer in Port Harcourt and sang with various reputable music bands, known for her sweet voice and girl-child rights promotions. The late David Bull was a very prominent musician who played with Rex Lawson band and established Seagulls dance band, Adawari Mark Pepple is the MD/CEO Adamark Group of Companies and mass employer, while Sergeant Awuse is both an investor (Visa Carina) and politician. To him, Prince Uche Secondus, deputy national chairman of PDP owns various companies and contributes to the economy of Port Harcourt.
Yet, the likes of the Kalabari high Chief and oil investor, O.B.Lulu-Briggs and his brother, the professor, Nimi Lulu-Briggs (medical expert and former vice chancellor of Uniport) remain very crucial in the heroes list. The world renowned researcher, vice chancellor of the UST and now ‘Best University Manager’ according to Oxford based European Business Assembly, Bariname Beke Fakae, and the likes of Emilia Akpan, chairman, Rivers/Bayelsa chapter of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), and Aleruchi Cookey-Gam developing the Greater Port Harcourt, have continued to dominate the Port Harcourt Heroes list. AJ (Ajegunle) claim Gov Chibuike Amaechi as one of theirs, what would Port Harcourt’s Diobu, where Amaechi was bread, say? But, if one is looking for a real and current Port Harcourt Girl, in body and soul, one should look in the direction of Ibim Sementari, commissioner of information and brand ambassador or promoter of the New Port Harcourt, who is pushing Port Harcourt as the City of Change, City of opportunities and the place where there is Change the Eye can see.
Port Harcourt is the Garden city of Nigeria, a city carefully built by the colonial masters for their comfort, hence the presence of houses embedded between flower rows. Though most of the flowers have grown into threatening tall trees and the fragrance has been overtaken by oil fume, the city has taken a faster pace as petro-dollar washes the streets of Garden city. Nightlife has refused to die despite gunshots and the city has remained the melting pot of all nationalities. It has its brand of Pidgin English.
City is governed by the power of the voice and the force of dressing. The radio FM (frequency modulated) has found home in Port Harcourt right from the days of Jackline Gogo Abe, Furo Amato and Mambo Tumbowei who commanded the airwaves. For unique dressing, the city makes no light of the matter. When Agbani became Miss World, the state government (Mrs Odili in particular) invited her for real dressing and handed to her a huge box containing all the dresses of all ethnicities of the state to start her reign as Port Harcourt’s beauty ambassador and queen of clothes.
Ignatius Chukwu & Saby Elemba