Michael Watts discusses the current state of violence, its root, and its future in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
Some years ago The Economist (December 22, 2001) published a witty piece recommending to its readers “unusual excursions.” Pyongyang topped the list, but Port Harcourt, a sprawling city of almost three million in the heart of Nigeria’s oil-rich Delta region, was listed among the prime destinations. “(H)ot, humid, malarial, polluted and prone to sporadic bursts of violence” was how The Economist summed it up. Local color included “potholes up to half a mile long” and cars that are driven “at incredible speeds on the wrong side of the road to avoid the potholes.”
Port Harcourt, still fondly called the Garden City by some, has descended into another of its sporadic periods of bloodletting, but this time the crisis is more serious and troubling than much of what has come before. Beginning in early August, on the back of a rash of hostage taking – including the seizure of young children and aging mothers along the Port Harcourt-Yenagoa axis – the city has witnessed an explosion of gang violence. Amnesty International noted that beginning on August 6, there was an 11 day period of total mayhem in which gangs fought one another openly in the streets and randomly shot ordinary civilians.