1. It is great to be home, in Port Harcourt, to join you all in tribute to a city, which in the 100 years since that faithful day of 30thAugust 1913, has done so much for so many. At 100, the city of Port Harcourt is still roaring with potentials, as it appears strongly
determined to assert its well-earned position as a comprehensive industrial, entertainment and scholastic hub. There can be no doubt that this is indeed a special city; not only is it a few months older than modern Nigeria; its streets are literally paved with history, and legacies.
2. I want to thank all members of the organising committee for the excellent arrangements, and particularly, our eminent elders and leaders, Prof Otonti Nduka, Prof Tekena Tamuno, Prof E.J. Alagoa and Prof Nimi Briggs who conveyed the good tidings of this centenary celebration and the letter inviting me to be part of it. For anyone who has experienced Port Harcourt, whether as a native, a resident or visitor, it is difficult to stay away from the city without a deep sense of sentimental attachment.
3. At each and every time in its ancient and modern history, Port Harcourt or the area now known as Port Harcourt has been a melting pot: from European explorers who came in search of slaves, palm oil and trade, to modern-day venture capitalists in search of good fortune as well as job seekers from all over the nation in search of opportunities, not to
talk of big multinational companies and the various ancillary concerns drawn by the allure of oil. In every sense, and to everyone, Port Harcourt has always been interesting and a force for good.
4. Port Harcourt in its first 100 years seemed to have formed a strong relationship with Oil. In the colonial period, the trade in Palm Oil dominated the economic activities of the then Eastern Region of which Port Harcourt was a part. The City quickly assumed its reputation as an Oil City as it became the centre of the Palm Oil trade. In post-colonial Nigeria, the City maintained its status as the centre of the Oil business, with the emergence of Crude Oil as the economic main stay of our great country. Whether palm oil or Crude Oil, Port Harcourt has remained an Oil City.
5. The city has transformed significantly in many ways through the years, but its unique essence as a magnet of hope for many from all walks of life has remained true. Its charm is irresistible. Its vibrancy is unmistakable. But perhaps its most valuable component is its proud, amiable, resourceful and enlightened people with their unique patois, cuisine and style. This is what makes Port Harcourt, truly Port Harcourt.
6. This, after all, is the city of a multitude of talents and heroes: distinguished academic titans like Professor Ebigberi Alagoa, Professor Tekena Tamuno, Professor Nimi Briggs; great writers and leaders of thought: Gabriel Okara, Elechi Amadi, Kenule Saro-Wiwa; legal luminaries: Nabo Graham Douglas (SAN) Justice Karibi Whyte rtd, Justice
Mary Odili, and O.C.J Okocha; great sports personalities: Monday Sinclair, Adokiye Amaesimaka, Richard Owubokiri, Jossy Dombraye, Abu Yahaya, I.K. Eze, Samson Siasia, Jackson Bide, Macaulay Apah, and Mercy Akhide; accomplished artists and cultural workers: Rex Lawson, Ola Rotimi, Hilda Dokubo, Geraldo Pino, Daniel Wilson and more recently, Duncan Mighty, among others.
7. Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I could go on and on reeling out a list of who is who, including my Vice President, Architect Namadi Sambo who lived for a while in this great city.
8. Our Port Harcourt has always opened its doors and welcoming hands to all and sundry, scholars, market women, business tycoons, poets, writers, musicians, public servants, politicians; it is in every regard a city of possibilities and a land of hope where neither tribe nor tongue constitutes a barrier to the fulfilment of dreams. It is no secret that Port Harcourt is the city that helped shape my life and by the special grace of God, I now serve you as Nigeria’s President.
9. The city is the product of the contributions of many hands and many ideas and the process of its making and growth is certainly still on-going. In this regard, I would like to encourage present and future leaders of Rivers state, and especially, the city of Port Harcourt to pay special attention to the many scenic and historic endowments of the city, especially the many rivers and creeks, the old historic buildings and the landmarks that gave Port Harcourt its well-known sobriquet as the Garden City.
10. Cities are physical entities but they are also strong emotional constructs, and so it is that in the case of Port Harcourt, those who have been privileged to live within its borders or encounter it in the course of their life’s journeys, remember it with fondness and nostalgia. Some call it “Pora”, or “Porta”, “Pitakwa”, while others call it “Port” or “PH” for short. Whatever Port Harcourt means to you, it will always remain one of our nation’s treasured cities. We should do everything to support its rise.
11. Permit me to recall my early attachment to this great city. I began life in Mile 1, Diobu from where I had to go to work in “Town” as a Preventive Officer in the Customs and Excise Department. Our means of transportation was the city’s many buses and taxis. I would trek to the road and wait for the next bus going my way. The bus conductors ever so energetic and agile would jump out of the bus even before it came to a stop shouting “Borokiri”! “Borokiri”!! We all boarded in a hurry trying to beat the early morning rush to work.
12. As the bus travelled through the many other bus stations, the conductor will shout at the top of his voice “Education dey?” Then it was the turn of “UTC”, “Leventis”, “Loco”, “Station”, etc. We would pass the surrounding city landmarks: the tall and majestic Point Block ; the huge Secretariat Buildings,the Old Post Office, PABOD among others. In later years when travelling through the city, we listened to Radio Rivers and the news in Special English by Boma Erekosima. This was the journey of the Port Harcourt worker.
13. Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, you may have noticed that I did not add the word “late” when I mentioned Boma Erekosima’s name. Great men and women, who excel in their chosen fields, always live on in our memory forever. That is why Rex Jim Lawson, that pioneering, inspiring Highlife musician also remains evergreen.
14. I want to thank the many leaders, who by circumstances of duty have helped to make Port Harcourt what it is – Sir Lewis Viscount Harcourt, after whom the city was named Alfred Diete Spiff, the pioneer military Governor of Rivers State, and several military administrators and Governors to date.
15. I would also like to specially recognize and pay tribute to Harold Dappa Biriye; Senator Obi Wali; Prof Claude Ake, Melford Okilo; Isaac Adaka Boro; and Nwobodike Nwonodi (SAN), whose tireless and hardworking widow, Judith Nwonodi is a member of the organising committee. The leadership and sacrifices of these great Nigerians continue to inspire millions to do what is good for our country and our people.
16. Let me also thank generations of members and managers of the Port Harcourt Club, the Port Harcourt Boat Club, the Port Harcourt Golf Club, as well as numerous Socio Cultural Organisations, the many Villages and Towns’ Associations and Unions,Traders, Tourists and Adventurers,for their continued belief and support for the growth of
17. The Federal Government acknowledges Port Harcourt’s unique place in our development. We are resolved to continue to contribute to its development and the upliftment of the conditions of its people, and other Nigerians. The old, narrow Port Harcourt gauge rail system which was developed in 1916 to enable the smooth transfer of coal and other raw
materials for export from Enugu and other parts of the Eastern Region, and which has been abandoned for so long, will soon be restored and operations will commence as soon as the Eastern corridor is fully rehabilitated.
18. Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, the Federal Government is providing infrastructure to enhance the quality of research and instruction at the University of Port Harcourt, the state owned Ignatius Azuru University of Education and other institutions in this city.
19. The Petroleum Trust Development Fund (PTDF) skill acquisition centre along Airport road estimated at a cost of 15 billion naira will be completed in the second quarter of next year. The centre will focus on human capital development in the area of ICT and other diagnostics for heavy duty equipment. The Federal Government is also committed to
modernizing the Port Harcourt International Airport and upgrading it to befit the status of this great city.
20. I believe however, the greatest asset of Port Harcourt is its creative youth. This extensive volume of human potential requires an endless stream of space and opportunity so that they can help build the city, the state and our nation. We must sustain the re-orientation of our youth, to deepen their sense of commitment to the noble values of hard work, selflessness and discipline. The Federal Government will continue to collaborate with the state and local governments to ensure that our youths receive their due. To our young persons, I say, you must be prepared to learn and work hard. We must continue to secure the peace, and tranquillity that gave Port Harcourt its homely and comforting character.
21. This city has done so much and means so much to all of us. I congratulate the traditional, religious and community leaders and all the good people of Rivers state in general, on this epic occasion of Port Harcourt centenary.
22. Even as we celebrate, I have observed with pains that the struggle for political space in recent times is creating unnecessary tension in this city which has served all of us so well. I believe that this is not the best that Port Harcourt deserves. We can all as fathers, mothers and leaders do more to intervene and help douse the fire of partisan differences, in order to preserve the peaceful glory of Port Harcourt. This city will always be home for me, and I believe, for millions of others as well.
23. I thank you for the very warm welcome you have accorded me and my entourage.
24. Happy Centennial Birthday, Port Harcourt … I thank you all.