Silvia enjoyed every bit of her life in a city she was proud to belong to, especially since her family was also residing in the state. She attended her secondary school in the city and upon conclusion of her secondary education, proceeded to the Rivers State College of Arts and Science popularly called CAS. She had enrolled for the famous pre-degree programme known as ‘IJMB’, an academic programme for young school leavers who were seeking admission into a tertiary institution, not only because they wanted to get into the university, but because they didn’t want to stay idle at home for one year, or perhaps for some, because they wanted to dodge domestic chores. Whatever the case might have been, Silvia was “catching her groove” with all the social activities mixed with academic work at CAS until the day came when she had to get on with her life in pursuit of qualitative education.
The year was 2001, and Silvia’s destination was Canada where she was going to study in a University in Lethbridge, Canada. Upon the successful conclusion of her studies in 2005, she got herself a job in a reputable firm where she worked for four years before willingly resigning to come back to Nigeria for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme in 2009. Her plane landed at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, and she took the next available flight to Port Harcourt – that lovely city she left about eight years ago. She got in late to Port Harcourt and didn’t get to see much of the city en route to her abode somewhere at Elekahia housing estate, but she instinctively knew that a lot has changed in the city, especially with all the negative news she had been hearing and reading about the youth restiveness while at Canada. The intense jetlag she experienced didn’t let her get to see anyone within the first four days of her arrival since she sleeps at day time and finds herself awake only at night. When she eventually had a discussion with one of her friends who paid her a visit, she made this statement:
Tammy, having spent eight years in Canada, I can boldly say that if you relocate all Nigerians to Canada, and all Canadians to Nigeria, it will take just a year and Nigeria will start becoming a lot more like Canada while Canada will fast become like Nigeria.
The Garden Chaos
Although Silvia’s statement was accredited to Nigeria as a whole and not just Rivers State, her statement inspired the title for this piece; Port Harcourt: Who is in the Garden? A careful analysis of Silvia’s statement reveals that beyond poor infrastructural and economic development, lack of mind (people) development is the bane of our society (looking at Rivers State in particular). It is common knowledge that the current Government Administration of Rivers State has been trying to restore Port Harcourt back to her garden city status, and to achieve this, lawns, trees and gardens are being planted at some strategic locations of the city. A laudable step in my opinion, but here is a question I keep asking myself; how do we create a garden city without citizens with a garden mentality? Before you read on, kindly take a few moments to ponder on the question.
If you walk through the streets of Port Harcourt with a worm’s eye view as against a helicopter or a bird’s eye view, then I bet your observation will be as keen as mine! Have you noticed citizens urinating on the recently planted lawn? Have you noticed that drainages serve as refuse dumps? Have you noticed how both the illiterate and supposedly educated fling trash out of the window of vehicles? Have you noticed the proliferation of litters at the just concluded Ikwerre road that runs from Education bus-stop at Mile-one up to UST at Mile-three? Have you noticed that goats often feed on the leaves of the flowers planted at Rumuokwuta round-about and along Rumuola road? Have you noticed the heap of refuse on various streets and roads across the city? Have you noticed that there is no effective refusal disposal system in the city? Have you noticed that the citizens do not feel or have a sense of responsibility in helping restore the city back to her garden city status? If your answers so far have been affirmative, then you are already sharing my lenses, and you will answer the question yourself; who is in the garden?
A Gardener’s Counsel
As against the practice of always discussing problems alone, southern brands magazine has the culture of not just highlighting problems or discussing issues. We are poised to publish solution oriented articles. Below are well thought out ideas on how we can successfully transform our lovely Port Harcourt into the Garden City we desire:
1. Refuse Disposal: An effective refuse disposal system will have to be put in place by the relevant authorities (RSESA/RVSG/Others). This is to ensure that citizens do not use the absence of appropriate refuse dumps as an excuse to dump or litter refuse on the streets, roads and drainages. A public toilet system should also be considered. We suggest the mobile toilet system.
2. Street Sweepers: The job of ensuring that all major roads, streets, and public buildings are regularly kept clean should be outsourced to private firms that offer janitorial and sanitary services. A minimum of five firms should be engaged in order to engender competitive discharge of their duties which will consequentially improve their performance as long as such contracts are awarded on consideration of merit. This will require the firms to employ a reasonable number of idle citizens as well.
3. Sensitization: Massive, consistent, extensive and well planned campaigns should be organized to sensitize the populace on the importance of having a healthy and clean environment. The ultimate goal of the campaign is to make citizens feel and have a sense of responsibility in joining the campaign of recreating our Garden City.
4. Enforcement: Regardless of the effectiveness of the refuse disposal system that will be put in place and the amount of sensitization that will be carried out, there are those who will always tend towards breaking the rules. Hence, the need for a strategic enforcement policy which will not seek to intimidate defaulters but rather will subject them to a well structured mandatory mind/behaviourial re-orientation programme. This will eventually convert defaulters into canvassers of the campaign within their various localities.
Since Nigerians (in this case Rivers citizenry) cannot be relocated to Canada according to Silvia’s illustration, and the occupants of the garden can of course not be evicted, and the issue must be addressed, then the bane has to be tackled. So we go back to our questions: who is in the garden? The obvious answer is, citizens without a garden mentality. The next question, how do we create a garden city without citizens with a garden mentality? Another obvious answer – change their mentality. If you have read this piece up to this point, it means you are amongst those that will have to take the lead in making change happen. Do not litter the streets, do not urinate indiscriminately, and endeavour to enlighten those in your circle of influence.
Together we can make change happen!
Maple Dappa is a writer, brand development and management strategist, and social entrepreneur.