By Nwokedi Nworisara
What the world is applauding today as the revolution unfolding in Bayelsa State Nigeria is only the prominent role played by Governor Dickson to fast track and concretize an Agenda that is older than the State itself. Well,many people now know this Agenda as the Ijaw cause,a long standing yearning for commensurate development of these riverine minority areas in Nigeria.
The Ijaw nation has always felt marginalized in the political and economic set up in Nigeria and looked up to their leaders to do something about it. Some of these leaders played their roles well, others just tried their best according to their own understanding of it but everyone did something to advance it or even slow it down through history. Those who advanced the cause across history appear to take their compass from the declarations of a visionary student leader and activist Major Isaac Adaka Boro of the late 60s. Boro sought independence from Nigeria for the minority Ijaw tribe. His Kaiama declaration was a vision of future prosperity and unity for Ijawland. He died a hero of the cause he believed in.
But as time passed it became possible to achieve the same goals even without secession. Ironically the Nigerian Civil war played a prominent role Gowon gave further impetus to the Minority agitation that concretized with the Willinks Commission on the Minorities Report of the late 50s when he created States from the Regions thereby giving the Riverine its own known as Rivers . So for the first time it was possible to localize and consider properly solutions to the age old minority dilemma of political exclusion in Nigeria.
The passion to develop Rivers State burned in the heart of the Ijaws who led it from the first Military Governor Diete Spiff to the civilian Governor Melford Okilo but they were not satisfied with the still persisting minority status of the Ijaws in Rivers State. So they began fighting for political and economic liberation. They wanted to have their own State and also wanted to develop the area to make it more modern and attractive to investors. To this end, some legislators and political leaders of thought began to meet. Prominent amongst them was Former Governor Alamieyeseigha,Chief Okorotie etc. They got in touch with the famous Architect Herbert Aduke to work on a Yenagoa city Masterplan as a concrete vision of development while the agitation for a State movement covers the political side. They worked in unity irrespective of where the Ijaw leaders resided.
It was General Abacha that granted the plea for Bayelsa State in 1996. Military Governors were appointed to oversee it. However,it was not until 1999 that the State could enthrone a leader( Governor Alamieyeseigha) that concrete steps to reposition the new State started.Fundly nicknamed the Governor General ,Chief Alamieyeseigha recalled how the early Bayelsa State was just a stretch of narrow road from Mbiama when he arrived to governin 1999. No public facilities were available, offices resided in typing pools across Yenagoa. He managed to build a Government House majorly for use of his Deputy Goodluck Jonathan “so he can sit down,plan and work” while he as governor worked from home.
By 2004 there was already meaningful changes in the landscape; the dual carriage way known today as Melford Okilo way,the then Rivers governor that contributed immensely to making the 3 local councils that now form Bayelsa State reachable and habitable. But the most significant step was the release of the Yenagoa Masterplan. It was indeed this Masterplan that attracted this writer to Yenagoa for the first time. Then we were just part of a Consulting team that worked on the Niger Delta Masterplan process. By 2005 our firm was invited by then Bayelsa State Deputy Governor to work on the his vision of crises free Niger Delta. He wanted a grassroots organisation to keep peace and security. His proposals led to the formation of Community Committee at the lowest tier so that some level of democratization can exist in governance here. It was then I noticed the Deputy Governors industry and meticulousness to details for indeed after weeks of work he was not satisfied with our submission but rather sat down with us day and night until it was perfected to his taste.
When he assumed office as governor after ex- Gov. Alamieyeseigha’s removal from office,the then new governor of Bayelsan State invited us back to work- this time on the Yenagoa city Masterplan. German firm Albert Spears had just submitted a review of Herbert Aduke’s 2004 work. This review had 3 dimensional drawings of the proposed city.The new governor wanted to fast track implementation of this modern Capital and created the Yenagoa City Development Authority to concretize the plan. We were trained afresh for the job visiting similar cities like Abuja to take in their Masterplan process while at Calabar we were attracted to the exemplary refuse disposal system. Amsterdam ,we did not visit but gave us an idea of below sea level development. The CCDA was properly funded by Governor Goodluck Jonathan and in a short time just before he left office to become Vice President in Abuja, the German firm Albert Spears submitted their final report and Yenagoa city vision was instantly transformed. The document was indeed a marvel to behold. The Ox bow lake,the Central Business district,the green zones,the government boulevards and the Creeks ,etc.
Unfortunately, this uplifting work was now in danger of proceeding further.The incoming Governor Timipre Sylva ,we could not predict. Indeed Governor Jonathan actually hesitated before accepting to leave the job of governorship to go to Abuja as Vice President. Indeed things were going well here and he was passionate to replicate or better what Gov. Donald Duke did in Cross River. We helped put up a retreat for his executive to under study the Cross River Model with both His Excellencies in attendance, and our governor endured this grueling conference at Calabar. Now he has to hand over and we prayed that the incoming governor would continue the process. It didn’t quite happen as we expected even after the incoming governor promising publicly during the last extended Exco meeting to carry on with the Masterplan process.
To be fair to the incoming governor,there was a temporary income glut in Bayelsa after 2007 and CCDA became the first target. Funding was slashed to the extent that head of the authority resigned. During our first meeting with His Excellency Governor Sylva made it clear to our team and Albert Spear that his preference was development of the Central Business District rather than the Tourism Agenda. He was of the opinion that petty businesses coming into Yenagoa was the first firm basis for development. However as time progressed this approach only led to undue pressure on the land and eventually distortion of the plan. Increasing population ,lack of development control led to indiscriminate buildings being sited on green zones as well as on drainages. Consequently, the State woke up to the reality of flooding by 2011 and at last the mistake became obvious. To find a quick solution development control was hurriedly put together and threats of demolition surfaced. By then it was too late.
While in Abuja as Vice President,and later President with the passing of President Yar Adua,President Goodluck Jonathan was strategizing on how to make amends in his State. The Ijaw elders forum was convened by King Turner to search for a man that represents the Ijaw dream in the modern day to help carry through the plans of the founding fathers. They considered many qualities prominent of which is prudence. They needed someone who could be focused on the job without being distracted,someone who could do the “impossible”. Meanwhile Hon. Dickson as member of the House of Representatives had become the backbone of the Goodluck Jonathan administration. In a clime where representatives represented themselves and family and slept through proceedings, he was different. He was vocal and articulate. He retained the lasting opposition spirit and was a thoroughbred radical mixed with an establishment spirit; what you may see as an impossible combination. He championed the Freedom of Information Bill amongst others drawing strongly from his background as lawyer,Police officer and legislator. To his credit in this direction,Hon. Dickson was the only one that had successfully defied Governor Sylva; resigning as State Attorney General to run for office into the Federal House of Representatives and then snatching re-election from the very jaws of official conspiracy against his candidature.
So Hon. Dickson was the chosen one. The only snag was whether he would agree. Yes he had ambition to run only after his second term as member of the Federal House and this was already common knowledge. Would he agree to fast forward his ambition? Now he was Chairman of prominent house committees and was right hand man to the President,wouldn’t his absence affect the President? These were the considerations but the urgency was more in the fact that President Jonathan’s tenure was the best chance to help Bayelsa march forward and his tenure could not be taken for granted to continue for a second term. At last Bayelsa elders succeeded in getting Dickson to run sooner on the accord that he will be supported to do it his way.
This writer has gone into details here to properly situate the overriding reason for Bayelsa Restoration Agenda. Restoration is therefore a movement to concretize the vision of Bayelsa forefathers for a modern and economically viable State.
After achieving a level of political independence,the Ijaw race takes the next step to make Bayelsa economically viable so that it can become the Jerusalem of the Ijaw nation. To this end, it will have to make the environment of the cities attractive to investors who demand a minimum level of amenities; to live and do business here. Since the Boro idea of independence was defeated even in his time,the only option left taking cogisance of the fact that that oil wealth is non renewable, is to attract investment through tourism,trade and industrialization. Tourism would mkill two birds with one stone. It would beautify the State and open it for outsiders while attracting investors thereby making her globally competitive.
In either choice you need to provide an enabling environment for people to live here and invest their money to help you reach your own potentials. It has to be an outward looking policy since the political set up cannot even permit you to own your own resources at least not fully yet.
The foregoing explains what often is irritating to some locals who keep asking why not just share the money,why look out for investors when poverty is the major issue here. But then fighting poverty is the overriding concern of Bayelsa Restoration. Fighting poverty in a sustainable way leads government to save for the rainy day and empower its future generation to acquire the capacity to take what the Creator has given to them as of right. Education and human capacity building becomes a core agenda to fighting poverty.
It was at this stage 2012 that Hon. Dickson took over the governorship after a landslide victory over the incumbent. His Excellency mounted the roastrom at Peace park 14th February 2012 to put forward a tailor made development plan that could not have been better woven. He named it Restoration,because it was to restore the concrete implementation of the plan of Bayelsa founding fathers; to restore a God given glory to the Bayelsa.
Governor Dickson’s approach was made clear from the beginning. He would fight poverty in stages and would not be stampeded to play politics with these key objectives which means that he was never bogged down with political correctness.
The first step was to restore security to the Region so that he could build critical infrastructure to open the State for business of development. Then he would face capacity building for the young teeming population via free education and scholarship programmes. The next was to open Bayelsa to the world and the world to Bayelsa. Bayelsa began to play host to prospective investors and global events.
All these were made possible by adopting the tenets of open governance through transparency and accountability policies and driven by a robust social and traditional media.
As this happened the Tourism Agenda was activated to help make Bayelsa an investment destination in line with the Dubai model. It became possible to extract some commitments for further infrastructural development through partnerships with Private investors and it was decided to focus on the niche areas of advantage to the State. The oil and gas constituting 40 percent of national output meant that Bayelsa could indeed produce and sell power to the nation. The deep sea port at Agge means that Bayelsa could invest on helping oil majors export their crude oil and gas cheaper and directly from here instead of pumping to Lagos with attendant security limitations. Oh,If only there is a Cargo Airport to complete the circle. Governor Dickson gets the Assembly to approve 50 billion Naira facility to kickstart the Airport project. Why not ,with the promise of a 6 billion dollar Chinese investment in the Brass petrochemicals and fertilizer plant known as Brass LNG, the State can afford to pay back. But if only the road is through to Nembe from Ogbia ! This effort was kickstarted three decades ago with contractors from the Joint Venture Partners and NNDC all along citing finance and security challenges as holding back progress. Governor Dickson releases 3 billion Naira to get it to Nembe and now plans to complete the remaining portion of the over hundred kms stretch to Brass before he leaves office 2020.
Meanwhile another government is in plaice at the national level with emergence of President Buhari and we witness a determined stretch of funding glut politically designed to scuttle the big ticket projects. It’s too late to go back now so Governor Dickson has to do his magic to sustain the state and starve off internal dissension . His prudence was tested and salaries were slashed and for the first time was in arrears. He was called names and faithfuls decamped but he refused to stop work on the projects. Now the 3.5 kilometer runway Cargo Airport built literally via sand filled land would land its first Boeing plane by June 2018.
The State is building an industrial power hub where it will facilitate procurement of gas for power companies wishing to produce and sell megawatts to other parts of Nigeria and the West African subregion. Don’t forget that this state was the first to build independent power stations in the 70s. To make the state environment business friendly and empower the people ,a digital processing of land papers is now in place in Yenagoa with the setting up of the Bayelsa Geographical Information System( BAYGIS). It means that in less than 50 days you can obtain your C.Of O. This makes land a convertible resource in wealth creation.
The State has spent over 25 billion Naira in a massive Health sector reform and can boast of one of the finest Diagonistic centre in Nigeria. Together with a Specialist Hospital structure that has so far been widely acclaimed. All these adds up to a health insurance scheme that truly works ,the first of its kind in Nigeria. Don’t forget that Bayelsa Health Ministry ranked tops in Nigeria in the handling of the Ebola epidemic.
The Bayelsans Agricultural sector has witnessed one of the biggest booms in her history with large scale investments and partnerships. Of recent,the Aquaculture value chain engaged unemployed youths as proud owners of 500 ponds built by the State in Yenagoa. Foreign partners from Hungary- Danish consortium with a 600 ton facility await the Cargo Airport to begin export of Industrial starch from Ebedebiri farms. The State oil palm covering 1,200 hectares is to be upgraded to 2000 hectares now managed by a private partner while the State begins to see a boost in IGR from 200 million to over a billion monthly. Rice potentials of the State , likely to feed Nigeria and West Africa is also now being exploited by investors.
In view of what was often regarded by the opposition as ‘doing too much”,Restoration was overwhelming returned to power in 2016. After his second term victory, Governor Dickson now focuses on rural and Youth Development cpnsidering that all indices has been put in place for sustainable employment of teaming youths. The outcome of ongoing local government reforms as well as the repositioning of the civil service will create direct employment opportunities. Bayelsa enviable experience in SMEs development has gotten positive attention of the world as more than 2 billion Naira was distributed to entrepreneurs. There is also a mentorship scheme whereby youths are attached to top participating blue chip companies to grant them valuable skills. These programmes have helped youths to become self reliant and move away from cultism and militancy.To add the crown to his state of emergency on education on assumption of office, last year a new University was established with private partners known as the University of Africa at Toru Orua, Sagbama LGA.
It was to further the objective of granting Bayelsans and other Africans world class education to help them becomes true leaders. It was a reaction to often unsavoury experiences gathered by the State scholarship scheme when money’s had to be converted to different currencies in order to pay the fees of Bayelsa Students leading sometimes to delays and shortfalls.
Aside from high performances at the WASC and NECO, the Bayelsa Youth was once voted the most literate amongst his peers in Nigeria. Last year a Bayelsans beneficiary of State scholarship emerged as best graduating student of Lincoln University,USA. All these and other visual reminders around point to the fact that Bayelsa Restoration has been a huge success after six years of Governor Henry Seriake Dickson in the saddle