As you walk through the reception area of the prestigious Hotel Presidential in Port Harcourt, through the left flank to the swimming pool area, you will discover that you are walking through the 70,000 square kilometers of the Niger Delta, which is indicated to be almost 10 percent of Nigeria’s total landmass.
The visitor would look on both sides of the hallway the entire scenario of the Niger Delta captured by work of art now on exhibition from September 27 to October 7, 2023 mounted by Heritage Africa founded by Pamela Tamunotonye.
The tour is guided by eminent and creative tour guides (artists) led by Tamunotonye the chief curator of TOCOPPH’23 and founder of ‘Eritage Africa’ herself. She is a media consultant and publisher whose passion for tourism, Niger Delta, and things of social impact is noted beyond the oil region.
There is ThankGod Okorisha, the co-curator at TOCOPPH. He is a journalist and development communications practitioner as well as founder of the Niger Delta Archive Project. There is Kalada Briggs, a cinematographer and skilled pilot. He owns ‘Pixpective’, but his brand exudes deep love for visual storytelling.
Nengi Dublin Green is a painter and photo realistic artist. He is a student of the University of Port Harcourt, Fine Art and Design. Innocent Chikezie is an artist passionate about the native ambience of African culture. He has a Master of Fine Art, School of Art & Design, Trent University, United Kingdom.
PHDrones is a fast-growing tech company in Port Harcourt with over four years of experience creating epic shots and films. Damiete Williams is into wellness, beauty, and photography expert, as well as founder, Damiwills Photography Company operating in Port Harcourt.
The tour concept takes two dimensions: a journey from the Garden City’s glitz to the creeks as well as from old times to modern times.
This is the context in which an observer can view the works of Okorisha such as ‘Lifestyle, Desire, Hopes in the creeks’ which shows ordinary people in the creeks to houseboats made by the people for their transportation as well as the photo of Angel D’Laff, a PH based comedian who was celebrated for his Guiness World Record (GWR) attempt. The comedian attempted to create a GWR for trying to slash with a long sword an apple placed on the head of someone. He also did ‘Face of the Creeks’ showing young people gathered at the creeks.
The drones of Belama PHDrones captured the emerging and alluring beauty of some spots created in recent times in the garden City. Some of them are the NLNG Roundabout and Tank Flyover. Damiete Williams created an enchanting artwork of ‘Women dressed in Rivers’ attire’.
The exhibition is mounted in solidarity with the UN Tourism Day, 2023. Heritage Africa thus created the Art Tour of Port Harcourt and Niger Delta with the title: ‘Tour of Contemporary Photos of Port Harcourt (TOCOPPH): In and Out’. The chief curator explained that ‘In and Out’ means what is in Port Harcourt and what is outside it, simply termed ‘TOCOPPH”. It is indicated as ‘Tour of Contemporary photos of Port Harcourt: In and Out 2023’.
According to the Chief Curator, “The exhibition aims to showcase the beauty, diversity, and cultural richness of the Niger Delta region through a collection of stunning photographs and artworks captured by renowned local artists.
“It provides visitors with a visual journey of the landmarks, landscapes, and hidden gems across Rivers and its surrounding Niger Delta states, fostering a sense of pride and appreciation for the local heritage.”
The exhibition showcases a diverse range of photographic styles and techniques, allowing viewers to appreciate the various artistic approaches used by the featured artists. “Each artist brings their own unique perspective, thereby offering photography, painting, live-painting, and drawing.”
In an interview, Tamunotonye admitted that enthusiasm grew hugely to expand the size and concept of the exhibition.
What excites the organisers however is that everything on display is from the Niger Delta, showing the other side of the story of the oil region.
“This effort is to promote the region and the artists. It’s to show the world what other resources there are in the oil region, and the limitless opportunities that abound.
“You can buy the works, and you can donate to the effort. That is why we are very appreciative of the Director-General of the Rivers State Tourism Development Agency (RSTDA), Yibo Koko. He supports young people, shows them what to do, makes all avenues to succeed open to them, even if there is no money to give. Money is not everything.
“There are opportunities that also get you the money. He inspires young people. Good also comes from this region. The narrative should change. How you beg decides what you get.”
Koko steps in:
Koko is seen as many things to many people. Many however remember that he was pushing for a N100 billion grand scheme that was expected to change the narrative of the state, using culture and tourism. He is one of the top comedians who gained fame on the Opa Williams’ ‘Nite of A Thousand Laughs’ show. He is a prominent filmmaker with movies such as ‘A Clean Woman’, which fetched him accolades including an Outstanding Achievement in Film Making Award at the 42nd Brooklyn Arts Council International Film Festival, Long Island University, New York.
In his intervention, the RSTDA CEO regretted that the narrative of the oil region has been distorted by stories of violence and politics. He said these always drown every other story from the Niger Delta. “This masks the narrative because bad news is seen as good news.”
He thinks those who tell the story may be part of the problem. He however believes in vision, which he described as the art of seeing things impossible.
He said Rivers cultural product is their way of life; eating bole, etc, is part of the Port Harcourt lifestyle. He said there is need for the re-jigging of the Port Harcourt story.
He admitted that much was expected from the government side but that the private sector and individuals are the real agents of tourism offering.
On why corporate bodies seem to shy away from sponsorships of art and culture, the renowned professional said security votes are drying up corporate social responsibility votes of companies that would have sponsored many events in art and culture.
He therefore advised artists to persevere; be consistent and do proper planning of any programme or project they want to roll out.
“People look for tangible things, thus, abstract things take time to gain support. We should not tell our story from point of defeat.”
He said people look at situations differently, saying the bad spots in Port Harcourt can be changed to energy spots for productivity. “Some people are right now shooting movies in the very places people feared most in the Garden City, with the so-called bad boys doing one thing or the other. Some bad boys play the guitar.”
Koko said movies and festivals can be used to reduce stories of violence. “Collaboration is key. To build power, avoid some things.”
On his specific message on the World Tourism Day, he said it is about green investments.
“Plastic waste has swallowed the beaches and seas. Cleaning is now an urgent reality. Water bodies are now dumpsites. One year dedicated to clean up will beautify the Niger Delta, and there is revenue in it. It is not too difficult. If leadership shows interest, it will be a success.”
On green investments, Koko said Andoni shoreline is the best in West Africa. He mentioned the beauties of the route from Abonnema to Buguma to Degema. He did not say what may happen to any tourist travelling that route.
He admitted that over 96 percent of people want Carniriv (which reigned in the days of Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi as governor), but argued that there are many other things that can promote tourism and other private efforts promoting festivities and tourism. He talked about the concept of the mystery rider used in knowing public opinion on any matter.