A Jungle In The City

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Going by the pace of development in Rivers State, especially Port Harcourt, there are clear, unambiguous indications that Port Harcourt metropolis is underway to become a mega-city.

Already, some areas of the city have begun to wear new looks due to the reconstruction of some impassable roads, construction of drainage system, regular clearing of dump-sites and the general urban renewal policy of Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi’s government, meant to return Port Harcourt to its past glorious status.

But while some new things are taking root, there are some structures and areas that still constitute eyesores within the Port Harcourt metropolis. One of them is the Jubilee Park.

Jubilee Park was a relaxation centre built by the colonial administration in the 1940s for people to relax and unwind after work and on yuletide seasons. The Park was one of the valuable legacies left behind by Harcourt, the first administrator of the then coast area of Port (now known as Port Harcourt).

For making his marks and for his general developmental efforts at turning the city  into an El-dorado of a sort, the then coast area of Port was named after him. It was for the same reason that his remains were interred inside the Jubilee Park.

Located between Bendel and Niger streets, the Park was a cynosure of all eyes between 1940s and 1980s. It played host to both adults and children who always clustered round the place to relax. Besides attracting new comers to the whole area of Bendel and Niger streets, residents around the Jubilee Park were living with joy and a sense of pride that could be compared with those living in Ikoyi in Lagos State or Government Residential Areas (GRA) in Port Harcourt.

Today however, the story has changed. Visitors now avoid the Jubilee Park area like a dirty ghetto, while residents around the place live with fear and sense of shame. The poor state of the Park makes the whole area looks like a slum.

Surrounded by low-standard restaurants and residential houses, the once famous Jubilee Park is now overgrown with weeds and brambles. It plays host to rodents, snakes and hoodlums who have made the whole area a danger zone. While the Niger Street side of the Park has been turned into car wash and football pitch, the other sides have been encroached by motor mechanics and bicycle repairers whose operations constitute noise pollution to the residents on daily basis.

The Park contains four small buildings, three of them have been overgrown with brambles; and one other structure that was cast in form of a dome and whose function is yet to be ascertained. Two of the buildings are being used as public toilets, while the other two are made up of dilapidated, non-functional restaurant and bar.

The left-over of the flowers and trees planted as decorative measure by the Fidelis Oyakhilome’s government are still there thickly covered with wild, thorny bushes.

The Jubilee Park, in a nutshell, constitutes an eyesore, not only to the residents in the area, but generally to the whole community. Besides the fact that the whole area is not attracting new comers, many residents are willing to relocate due to noise pollution caused by the illegal motor mechanics around the Park and the fear of possible attacks by hoodlums.

In fact, the poor state of the Jubilee Park would no doubt make even the dead beat sycophants, who make a career out of speaking in favour of ruinous, conservative trends, longing for some quick, immediate positive actions.

Mr. Tammy Ogan who lives directly opposite the Jubilee Park decried the neglect which the park has suffered from successive administrations in the State, and the danger its poor state was exposing residents of the area to.

He could not understand why such a place located within the main Port Harcourt City and where a distinguished man like Harcourt was buried would be left to become a dangerous zone where hoodlums smoke Indian hemp (Igbo) at night.

“You need to come here at night and see things for yourself. In fact, that tomb you are seeing over there (pointing at Harcourt’s tomb which is already covered with weeds) is where Harcourt, the man after who Port Harcourt was named, was buried. But it is sad and mind-boggling that this is the place where these bad boys use as hide-out at night to smoke ‘Igbo”, Ogan said.

Recalling with nostalgia that Jubilee Park was a place where he and his childhood friends including The Tide’s Group News Editor, Thomas Abbey (popularly known then as Sacramento) used to relax in the 1970s, Ogan lamented that “it is sad that our people, especially our modern-day political leaders can no longer maintain our rich cultural and political heritage”.

He continued: “I know that many of our people that belong to this generation are out of touch with this historical fact, and therefore may not know how Jubilee Park came into being basically because only handful of  them had been born in the 1940s. But many of our leaders in government today can not deny the knowledge about that historical Park”.

He therefore called on the state government to take over it and make good use of it.

“After all, Agbani Darego Hall over there (pointing at it) is in use and it is generating revenue for the government,” Ogan said.

Speaking in the same vein, another resident who pleaded anonymity for fear of being attacked by the hoodlums, particularly pleaded with the state government to consider the health and the safety of residents around the place and make a turn around of the Park.

She drew The Tide’s attention to the rowdy and untidy state of affairs around the Park, especially the noise coming from the activities of motor mechanics and football players.

“You can see that this side of the Park (Bendel Street) has been turned into a mechanic workshop and a dump-site, while the other side (Niger Street) has become a football pitch and car wash. We have quarreled several times with these guys over the noise pollution they cause us . We have asked them to relocate, yet, they are still there”, she said.

She, however, said that the most dangerous aspect of the menace is the activities of some hoodlums who use the Jubilee Park as a hide-out to rape young ladies and rob innocent citizens.

“There was an attempt by these bad boys to rape two young ladies about two months ago around 8pm. It was the combined intervention of the residents and passers-by that rescued those ladies. That is how dangerous  this place is. We are just praying that the state government would come to our rescue and do something very urgent about this place”, she said.

Although, all efforts to get the reactions of either the State Commissioner for Urban Renewal or his Environment counterpart did not yield result, investigations by My City, My Soul revealed that Governor Amaechi had personally gone on an inspection tour of the place twice, and may have a plan action for the place.

But the question on the limps of most residents around the Park is: How long will it take the State government to reclaim and transform the place that has been constituting en eyesore within Port Harcourt for a long time?

 

Boye Salau