Governor Henry Seriake Dickson
Daniel Markson-Iworiso writes that there is every reason for Bayelsa State to roll out the drums on its 16 years anniversary, come October 1
Come October 1, just as the country will be marking its 52 independence anniversary, Bayelsa State will equally be rolling out the drums to marking its 16 anniversary. Bayelsa was created on October 1 1996.
Interestingly, this is the state where crude oil was first discovered in Nigeria in commercial quantity. In fact, it is on record that Bayelsa has one of the largest crude oil and natural gas deposits in the whole country. Aside from its natural endowments, Bayelsa also enjoys the rare privilege of producing the first President to emerge from a minority ethnic group. Indeed, this is a rare feat and to us in Bayelsa State, it is one experience that will remain with us for a long time to come.
Naturally, a state like Bayelsa, should command and evince the respect and admiration of all, owing to the discovery of oil in commercial quantity in Oloibiri in 1956. The discovery, no doubt, ended almost 50 years of unsuccessful oil exploration in the country by various companies. Indeed, the discovery launched Nigeria into global reckoning as a major oil-producing nation, considering the fact that over 5,000 barrels was pumped per day from the swampy oilfield of OML 29, measuring about 13.75 square kilometres.
Notwithstanding the enormous wealth that came from the discovery of oil, majority of our people still live in extreme poverty. It is sad to note that 56 years after the discovery of oil and now 16 years since the creation of the state, not much has happened to alter the largely rural status of what is today nicknamed the Glory of all Lands.
Oloibiri, the small creek community where oil was first found in Nigeria, has today become some sort of metaphor. Several authors have written about Oloibiri. One author likened the abandoned creek community as a once beautiful village bride, who suffered countless rape by the same man who professed undying love for her and with several unfulfilled promises of marriage. Now, she lies desolate and there is nothing left in her that is desirable for any other man to treasure.
Yet, another anonymous author once wrote in a piece titled ‘Mission Oloibiri: “The goose that lays the golden eggs nourishes the same persons who famish her so as to exploit her more effectively.”
Many other narratives of the political economy of Bayelsa State by such discerning intellectuals like Claude Ake and local natives alike noted the prevailing unsavory ecological circumstances that had actually contributed largely to its under-development.
While it may seem “inappropriate” at this time to raise issues of this nature given the fact that we now have a President who hails from the same ‘land once forgotten’, I guess it is also pointless to state that there have been tons of research and studies carried out over the years to establish the reasons why countries with abundance of natural resources hardly prosper. Oftentimes, the closest these studies have come, perhaps in an apparent bid to unravel the reasons why nations rich in oil, gas and other mineral resources remain impoverished and economically disadvantaged is often hinged on the concept of resource curse.
Curse or no curse, some people have alluded to the fact that the emergence of Dr.Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as President was God’s own way of compensating the very same deprived people out of whose land oil was first discovered. As good as it seems I will be quick to dismissing that line of reasoning as one which smacks of conventional wisdom. President Jonathan, no doubt, is first and foremost, a Bayelsan, one in whom we take enormous pride in for his forthrightness, patriotic zeal and uncommon leadership insight. Indeed, President Jonathan has exhibited a rare trait of a leader who truly symbolises our collective resolve and aspiration as a people earnestly desirous of turning a new page in our country’s history.
Before I am accused of deliberately making Mr. President the focus of this piece, I think the point must be made clear that the emergence of Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as President does not necessarily address the long years of brazen neglect by the Nigerian state in its failure to adequately cater for the goose that lays the proverbial golden egg and upon which the economy of this country is built.
In other words, the fact that we have a President today who is a son of the soil certainly does not amount to a once-and-for-all compensation or settlement for us in the region. This much is true because I have heard people make comments like “It will be disastrous if President Jonathan fails to turn around the fortunes of his people after the expiration of his term in office.”
I think that is an unfair comment to make. President Jonathan is the President of the whole country. He has a responsibility to govern all parts of the country, not just Bayelsa or Niger Delta region as a whole. Besides, how does having a son of the soil as President, as many would like us to believe, amount to an appropriate compensation sufficient enough to atone for the long years of cruel, unjust deprivation and unfair exploitation and depletion of our natural resources? How does it adequately compensate for the terrible devastation of our natural environment and eco-system in the last 56 years since the discovery of oil?
Truth be told, what is done is done. We cannot undo the sins or mistakes of the past. The past is clearly behind us. What is important now is for us to press on in our collective pursuit to build a better country where everyone will have a true sense of belonging and be made to feel the impact of government. The ethnic card and politics associated with it must stop as basis for national renewal.
This is why the emerging face of Governor Seriake Dickson as a bridge builder in a multicultural nation like ours is most commendable. We are seeing a new era of politics of substance, politics of meaning and conviction.
Interestingly, the home state of Mr. President is already leading the way in this regard. There is an awakening taking place in Bayelsa today. Governor Henry Seriake Dickson has so far kept faith with his promise to undertake a fundamental reform of the governance culture as contained in his now famous inaugural speech.
For good reasons, Bayelsans who hitherto were cynical about politics and politicians due to their penchant for failed promises have had cause to beat a retreat. They are now seeing fundamental things happening in government unlike in the past. Of course, the values are also right. Consistently for the past six months, the Dickson administration has lived up to the commitment to announce and publish all revenues accruing to the state.
This singular move, which was designed to entrench a regime of transparency and accountability in the conduct of government business, has indeed done a lot to rebuild the lacerated ligament of confidence of the people in governance. It has further endeared the state to investors as evident in the influx of investments in key sectors of the economy such as in the agricultural sector where an MoU was recently signed with a Dutch firm seeking to set up a cassava processing plant in Bayelsa for the purpose of export. Tourism is also looking up as a strategic means of development with the basic infrastructure and policy framework being put in place.
The last sixteen years have been quite challenging as a state but our people are beginning to understand and appreciate that under the Dickson administration, politics is no longer business but a mission. Indeed, through his actions and pronouncements, Governor Dickson has re-enacted Dante Alighieri’s lux fiat - show the light, to bring to the fore that he that finds himself at the head must lead the way for others to follow.
Bayelsans are truly persuaded that the restoration agenda is well on track. The ban on commercial motorcycle has given way to brand new Restoration taxi-cabs and buses now visibly plying the streets of Yenagoa and its environs. There is also the massive restoration of decrepit infrastructure, reformation of the institutions of good governance, strict enforcement of law and order in line with our avowed commitment to ensure zero tolerance for crime and criminality. The Dickson administration has no doubt, made the necessary investment in security in order to create and sustain a secure society governed by the rule of law.
Even more evident is Governor Dickson’s astute resolve to deliver on education given his principled stand on the development of the human capital. This is one area the governor is very much passionate about and that was why he described it “as our most compelling and urgent need.” Little wonder, his declaration of state of emergency for the sector immediately resulted in the pronouncement of the policy on free and compulsory education for all our children in primary and secondary schools with emphasis on computer literacy, science and technology. This policy has since taken effect so also is the rebuilding of educational infrastructure.
Bayelsa State is fast becoming the epicentre of educational excellence. Never in the history of Nigeria with exception to the regime of the Western Regional under the leadership of late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, has any state government taken such keen interest in the education of its citizens like Governor Dickson has done. For the first time in the history of the state, tution-free education is further backed up by provision of free school uniforms, writing materials, exercise books, school sandals, including the supply of state-of the-art school furniture to enhance the quality of learning for every Bayelsan child. Quality education has become an economic necessity, taking cognizance of the challenges of the modern knowledge economy.
To further underscore his attachment and passion to education, Governor Dickson’s giant strides in this sector are evident in the award of scholarships. First, was the award of N1b post- graduate scholarships to three hundred persons to study in the best universities in Nigeria and abroad. Then, there is also the award of scholarships to 250 secondary school indigent pupils under the Bayelsa State Restoration Secondary Schools Scholarship Scheme, started by Chief DSP Alamieyeseigha and President Goodluck Jonathan while governors of the state. The scheme is being sustained by Governor Dickson in his effort to build on the solid foundation already laid by the duo. What is interesting here is that of the 250 beneficiaries of the scholarship scheme, fifty of the slots were allocated to students of Ijaw speaking parts of Edo, Delta, Akwa-Ibom and Ondo States.
Governor Dickson’s determined effort to impact meaningfully on the state’s educational sector is informed largerly by the dearth of requisite manpower to drive the future growth and development of the state.
As Bayelsa gets set to mark its 16 years anniversary, one thing that can be taken for granted under this present administration is the fact that there is a new ‘sherriff’ in town whose word is his bond. Governor Dickson has really redefined governance as a tool for development, accentuating stout leadership and integrity. It is widely shared that the paradigm shift in governance offers the prospect of faster economic progress than ever witnessed. In the evolving scenario, we can see a bold identity of creative leadership and enterprise with the sole objective of casting off poverty in Bayelsa State.
No doubt, making this vision an enduring one would require collective effort, cooperation and some sacrifice on the part of the good people of Bayelsa State, serving a higher, more worthy goal than individual or group interest.
On the part of the leadership, we have seen a lot of courage in this regard, raising hope of greater possibilities. Thus, at 16, it is plausible to contend that Bayelsa State is still relatively young and the journey of statehood is arguably tough and mixed. But there is great hope that the future is very bright. This is the good news! As reckoned by President Barack Obama, “In the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it.” We are living this reality in Bayelsa.
The boundless energy, vision and love for our dear state have been very critical in the making of a new Bayelsa State. We can all see the consciousness and patriotic spirit to properly actualize the great deeds behind the creation of the state while also building on the legacy of the founding fathers. Sure, there is more to come. Happy 16 years anniversary our dearly beloved state of Bayelsa- the land of new opportunities and endless possibilities.
• Markson-Iworiso is the Chief Press Secretary to Bayelsa State Governor