Investment experts in the oil industry keep warning that Port Harcourt in Rivers State is going in the way Warri in Delta State went; down the hill with exit of Shell and exodus of service providers. This led to downturn and capital flight that down-rocketed the value of property in Warri and increased the shutting down of hotels and other receptor-businesses. Concerned indigenous experts such as Igo Weli of Shell continue to appeal to the youth of the region to sheath their agitation swords and apply dialogue to avoid total collapse of the economy of Port Harcourt.
Now, at a business dinner lat Sunday called Rivers Evening of Truth at Juanita Hotel in the Old GRA, Business Rivers Group, an emerging think-tank in business and investment made up of top business operators in the Garden City, dedicated the moment for brainstorming to save the declining city. Many of the experts and investors led by an estate expert, Utchay Okorji, expressed their love and preference for Port Harcourt over Lagos, saying everybody must not move to Eko.
Giving reasons why life should be better in Port Harcourt, Okorji said: “Rivers State is my choice city. I do not like Lagos, I love Port Harcourt. Both cities have some characteristics especially in presence of multinationals. Quality of life is measured in three critical areas: Accommodation, feeding, and education of your children. If you check upper limit residence and central business district rent rates and clusters of 0 to 7 km, Port Harcourt has Aba Road and Old GRA; rent there is between N3m and N6m. For Lagos, it is Ikoyi and Victoria Island; rent there is between N6m and N13m.”
He however said Port Harcourt was bleeding by the number of family heads and bread winners that relocate to Lagos every day. Should a middle class family especially oil industry worker relocate from PH to Lagos, he would transfer a yearly spending budget of at least N6m to Lagos such as N1.8m for rent, N3.3m for food and the rest on medicals, clothing, repair of vehicles, etc.
Those attending the dinner were warned not to allow politics and bias affect their mindset and contributions. It was meant to be an evening of truth to solve a problem. Some mentioned rampant thefts now ravaging the city. Those close to judges and magistrates say there is an upsurge in theft and bad debts cases in Rivers courts.
Joyce Daniels, moderator, reeled out latest data from the NBS that showed Rivers is 36 out of 37 in land registration speed while Zamfara is now number one. “Banks sources say dormant accounts are huge in PH, and that most of those transferring their accounts take them to Benin and Uyo. It is as bad as that.” Ease of Doing Business: PH is 32 on latest ranking, she noted, adding that MC: Turkey clothes now move well in Uyo and Anambra.
Lloyd Robinson, who said he is an advertising agency owner, said the best way to measure the business health of any city is billboard advertising. “Right now, the major advertising sector now in Port Harcourt is church, followed by one particular telecom company. Before now, Michelin was the biggest advertiser in Port Harcourt.”
He said Lagos State made N50Bn in one year from advertising alone. “Port Harcourt advertising has practically collapsed. From the International Airport in Omagwa to the city, you now have only five billboards occupied (out of over 25). It’s vacancy everywhere. In Lagos, a billboard still goes for N10m, but in Port Harcourt, you are lucky if you g0t N2m, yet the churches will haggle and cajole you till you accept N1m. Right now, Uyo, Delta, Cross River make more money from billboard advertising than Port Harcourt.”
Ibrahim Yaku, a Lawyer, spoke on value of land, saying absence of certificates of occupancy (C/Os) has made land in Port Harcourt not able to attract bank capital to fund businesses. “It is difficult to raise capital with land in PH but it is so easy in Lagos. The absence of quality land titles in PH makes the economy non-liquid. If your business is failing, you can hardly secure capital infusion because of absence of certificate of occupancy, an issue of land registration. So, Lagos takes advantage of this. Banks cannot lend money without a sound title. So, lending is more in Lagos than in PH.”
He went on: “The only force driving the economy of PH was oil, and when the crash of prices came, it affected PH very much; its solvency crashed. And, fund for change of business line can only come from the banks, yet, no sound titles to facilitate this. This is the biggest headache those of us involved in structuring business deals face in PH. Ogun State has declared 60 days as maximum to process land registration for titles. Success stories are in Lagos, not in PH for structured transactions.”
Femi Asalu: Manufacturing: A key problem in PH is sense of entitlement with the natives. For instance, we work in Trans Amadi. There was a gas leak repair job on a pipeline. As we started digging, community boys came and insisted they were the ones to dig. This drove the cost to 10 times the original cost.
Nwaubeta Uchenna; Architect: There are no Sight Services infrastructure in PH such as roads, water, electricity, etc that attract investors to estates. An example is the Stella Obasanjo Estate in Iriebe. There are no roads, no electricity, no water, etc to attract patronage and help investors repay loans. People can’t take up the apartments until Sight Services are available.
Nwokoma Nwanko: Estate manager: Harassments from community people are rampant in Port Harcourt: local council teams asking for tenement rates. In some instances, local councils of both Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor send demand notices on same property. We do not know if they do not know their boundaries, and they won’t tell you know how they arrived at the assessment. I do write to LGAs to ascertain the demand notices because many of those harassing us are self-appointed.
Almost oil workers have relocated to Lagos, Lekki in particular. The result is less people to demand for housing services. There are vacancies here and there. It is reducing value of houses in PH. It’s now a buyers market due to the glut. Tunde Amadi: Lawyer: Frequent changes of local councils are an undoing. Because there are no elected officials, the caretaker committees are changed every 90 days. This is chaotic. There is no time to plan. I am looking for job in Lagos too. There is no production in PH; Aba, no road, Lagos, the airport is chaotic. So, PH becomes a big village. No airport, no sea port. Intels will over charge you in Onne, etc. See Bayelsa, there is no single good bakery there. All the bread in Bayelsa comes from Warri (Delta State). It’s that bad.
Lecturer at RSU (former UST): I think insecurity is the major reason for the decline of Port Harcourt. Go to the Rivers State University (formerly Rivers State University of Science and Technology), we have started seeing that when some professors are passing, some boys would now call them ‘Our Oga’ (our mentor, indicating he is their sponsor or benefactor on campus). This kind of situation had departed from that University some years past. Now, reports of robbery are back. The VC just called a meeting where he lamented over this menace. Now, the back gate used to shut down by 10pm, it was reduced to 8pm; soon, it may come to 5pm. Remember that if there is no security, there would not be investment.
Danladi Ogule; Advertising: The hubs are now Lagos and Abuja. Clients do not consider Port Harcourt anymore. Port Harcourt must work on its image. I was in a meeting in New York and debate was going on about cities in Nigeria to host an event. They decided to google and find out. Lagos yielded positives such as fashion shows, marathon races, etc. They googled Port Harcourt but only insecurity, bloodshed and violence showed up.
Let the CEOs here do positive articles about the city of Port Harcourt and put up.
Ogechi: Consulting: Our job in Port Harcourt is to overhaul business process of Rivers State Government. Do you people here want changes at all? You fight us daily. We have spent one year without information.
Joshua Eregolima: lawyer: Access to justice, law, training, education is very important. Teach people what to do.
Chinyere; Financial services: Black soot has been an issue in Port Harcourt for over a year now. The world is wary of environmental issues now. So, some CEOs are not ready to make long term commitments in Port Harcourt. They come in briefly and get out. The state must solve this one quick.
Emeka Ekenta, Medical Doctor: Black soot is great threat to the viability of Port Harcourt. There is exodus and poverty. People don’t come to clinics anymore. A woman comes for Caesarean Section (CS) without a dime. People no longer patronize government hospitals. Government doctors work more in private clinics and hospitals.
Taxation issues: There are multiple taxes. This is real cause of exodus of business people from Port Harcourt. Touts would come from the local councils, the communities, the RIRS, IRS, etc. They invade new businesses demanding for up to N4m, when you have not even made your first million.
PH ports: Lagos is full of ports but those in Port Harcourt are not busy. You cannot import or export through Port Harcourt. PH is now a big village without commercial flow because there are no viable outlets.
Eric Dudu Obeta; Importer: I have lived in the Us for years but I see that owners of houses here do not contribute to do the access road. They have exotic houses with roads and they do not care. There is harassment everywhere, not just in Port Harcourt. It is there right in Lagos.
Elvis: Lagos is stressful. Lekki is full of taxes. There are touts in Lagos too.
Most Port Harcourt businesses cannot even compete in Lagos. Yes, there could be unique security challenges but its down to poverty. Property in Uyo is not valuable.
The way forward – Dakuku Peterside; DG of NIMASA
I am conscious of the fact that I will be sharing my thoughts with men of knowledge, men of skill and men that invested in private efforts. I am conscious of the fact that no society moves if it does not respect men of knowledge and men of skill.
The men am seeing this evening are men of knowledge and skill. What President Ramos of the Philippines did was to assemble men of knowledge and top players in the private sector to seek solutions.
The private sector or business people did marvelous things to turn around the economies of the Philippines, China, South Korea, etc. It is for the intelligentsia. A method must be worked out how to engage with skilled people. Society changes by change of policy,
Engage with the state government, prod the government to think in certain ways and to set guiding posts for the business people to follow. Government sets policies that would set targets on per capita, GDP, etc. Open the economy for inflow.
Leaders must be vision leaders. The leader must table a vision and where that vision should lead the people to and how to get there. This apportions tasks to different sectors in both the public and private sectors with the chief executive of the state as team lead.
The Rivers Disconnect: There must be the right leaders to do this. The people in this hall can change the economic trajectory of Rivers State. Begin with engagement. You have the power to change the way the government works. There seems to be non-deployment of the intellect available in the state. You as businesses can work together to make the state work. You can get the government to change the way it is working; you can change the government. Today is the best time.
In a vote of thanks, a prominent member, Enyinna Onyegbule, said solution must be found to the exodus of businesses and capital from Port Harcourt and Rivers State.
“We started this four years ago, and we are determined to engage. Posterity will judge us harshly if we don’t take action today. We will keep engaging the business group.”