Port Harcourt, also nicknamed Garden City, was essentially a byproduct of the discovery of coal in Enugu, some 250 kilometers north, and was conceived as a port from which the mineral would be transported to by rail for export to Europe.The British colonial administrator Lord Fredrick Lugard started building the city in 1912 and named it after his friend, the then Secretary of the Colonies Lewis Vernon Harcourt. And the name stuck, despite being known to some locals by the alternate name of Pitakwa.
It’s location was a swathe of farmlands that were part of the Diobu district of the Ikwerre clan, a sub-group of the Igbo ethnic group, that juts into the Bonny River. The area was referred to by the Ikwerre as Igu Ocha, which literally translates as “white palm frond’’ in Igbo. Nearby neighbours included the Kalabari Ijaw, the Okrika and the Ogoni, who all formed the early population of the city in addition to other people from farther places who moved there to seek a living.
Starting from its relatively humble origins, the city has undergone significant metamorphosis, largely due to the discovery of crude oil in the areas surrounding Port Harcourt and the wider Niger Delta region.
With its emergence as the country’s oil industry capital, starting from the mid-1960s when Shell moved its base of operations to the city from Owerri, Port Harcourt has grown into a large melting pot of the local and the foreign, teaming with people and leaving facilities outnumbered.
Currently, Port Harcourt is estimated to have at least two million people and continues to serve as a nerve centre for the country’s oil industry. It’s port and airport provide critical access to businesses located in the country’s southeast, serving major commercial centres such as Aba, Onitsha and Nnewi.
It has a vibrant social scene, featuring a wide variety of nightclubs tending to the needs of white-collar and blue-collar oil workers, often angling to loosen up after coming off their production platforms, and businessmen working in the service industry. A number of the clubs feature striptease dancers and sex workers.
Topography and Climate
Port Harcourt lies in a tropical rainforest region, with the vast mangrove swamps of the Niger Delta nearby and the Atlantic Ocean a little remove to the south. It has a temperature range of between 25 degrees in the peak of the rains between May-November to 30 degrees in the hotter months from December to March. The dry, harmattan wind blowing from the direction of Sahara Desert has very little impact on the city, inducing some dryness in between December and January. Otherwise, the city witnesses virtually year-round rainfall.
First starting in the area known as the Township, the heart of which is Aggrey Road, with the adjoining Government Reserved Area or GRA (where colonial officials and later local elites resided), the city has expanded rapidly in the last 40 years to include new residential places such as Diobu, D-Line, New GRA, Rumuomasi, Rumuola, Rainbow Town, Ogbunabali and the Trans-Amadi district, which has become the city’s main industrial hub, among others.
Along with the expansion has also come a significant growth in the number of educational institutions in and around the city. The prime tertiary institutions include the University of Port Harcourt, the University of Science and Technology and the College of Education.
For decades Hotel Presidential was not only the top hospitality stop in Port Harcourt, it was also a landmark. In the last two decades newer hotels have joined the contention, including international brands such as Meridien, Novotel and Protea.