Gov. Seriake Dickson
Justice Joffa is not averse to criticism of the Bayelsa State Government but not at the expense of the reality on the ground
The relative comfort of our adopted homelands notwithstanding, patriotism and our common humanity demand that we still take a keen interest in sustainable development and overall growth of Nigeria. This is the core relevance for the establishment of the League for Accountable and Responsive Governance, a pan-Nigeria Diaspora coalition in the United States of America and now with five branches in Europe.
We have watched carefully to realise that effective and responsive governance is still an issue in Nigeria and we are determined to undertake periodic fact-finding tour of various states in Nigeria, to determine where we can most effectively allocate some technical and financial assistance.
In line with current global practices, we noted that the Diaspora Community represents a significant avenue for substantial funds and technical expertise which are vital to development causes and we hope to make our presence felt in the foreseeable years by being in the vanguard of advocacy for stronger relationship between Nigeria and the Nigeria Diaspora as strategic development partners. Therefore, governments at all levels will necessarily have to tap into such development avenues in similar organisations and improve on the culture of governance.
The foregoing were indeed issues of concern when we recently visited Bayelsa State to possibly correlate available information with actual scorecard for the benefit of the public and potential investors and also have a firsthand appreciation of development challenges and how we could possibly be of assistance.
We began with Bayelsa State chiefly because over the last few months, the Senior Special Assistant on Diaspora/International Relations, Office of the Governor, Honourable Charles Zuofa, has in several Town Hall meetings and Business Round Tables, in conjunction with teams of economic and development advocates, consistently presented the state as an investment friendly destination and Governor Dickson as a man of impeccable integrity, whose word is his bond.
They were unrelenting in their invitation to come and see things for ourselves. However, given the undistinguished track record of governance in many states in recent past, we were high on scepticism. Yet, we are pleased to say that we finally agreed to come on this fact-finding trip as we noted some convictions on development strides in the state. .
It is universally settled in the western world, that the chief business of government is to bring development to its citizens. As Aristotle suggested, the critical benchmark for measuring development is people’s quality of life, not to be confused with wealth. It is the prospect of people to realise their full potential as human beings. That is what we looked out for during our visit to Bayelsa State.
Again, we reckoned that “The basic objective of development”, as espoused by Mahbub ul Haq, in the first Human Development Report in 1990 “is to create an enabling environment in which people can enjoy long, healthy and creative lives.” Whereas, standards of living are difficult to measure, indicators of social development are available: Employment, Agriculture, Health, Infrastructure, Investment, Safety and Security, Education, and Good Governance, among others.
Then, how did Governor Dickson’s administration fair when measured against these universal standards?
The primary obligation of any government is to protect the public, the lives and property of the people. This requirement cannot, obviously, be unqualified for the reason that there will always be those determined to breach the law or undermine whatever safety measures put in place. But it is the government’s job to do its best in ensuring that in a free society, people can go about their lives facing the least possible risk of crime or harm. We found that the state government has been conscious of its responsibility in this regard through serious security arrangement.
An idle mind, it is said, is the devil’s workshop. As a direct strategy to prevent the youth from being idle and ensure security and safety for the people of the state, the government is taking aggressive steps to creating lucrative employment for the youth by making Bayelsa State the investment magnet of the Niger Delta.
The Bayelsa State Secret Cult and Kidnapping and Similar Offences (PROHIBITION) LAW 2012, was proposed by the governor and has been passed and duly signed into law. The Anti-kidnapping law prescribes the death penalty for the crime of kidnapping.
Considerable funds have been committed to strengthening the police force in the state to effectively discharge its obligations. The formation within its ranks of Doo Akpo, a well trained and equipped Rapid Response Unit, monitoring both the land and the waterways, has been well received by the people. This is especially so following the notoriety of the defunct Famu Tangbe of the previous era. In addition, there is a 24-hour, aerial surveillance over the entire state, which gives timely information to Doo Akpo.
Also, the importance of health in personal life cannot be overemphasised. It has come to be regarded as a prerequisite for optimum socio-economic development of man. Health care as a right of every individual has been recognised in many countries.
Apart from plans to upgrade the 500-bed Hospital in Yenagoa to a state-of-the-art specialist facility, comparable to any other in the world, modern General Hospitals are being built in each of the local government areas, thereby eliminating the need for people to commute outside their areas of residence for medical attention.
With the global trade in fake drugs reaching several billion dollars yearly, the establishment of the Bayelsa State Pharmaceutical Company being handled by former DG, NAFDAC, Prof. Dora Akunyili, to procure, produce and distribute drugs, can be considered a key development. Indeed, a huge boost to effective health care delivery.
To paraphrase Martin Luther King Jnr., darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Ignorance cannot drive out ignorance, only education can do that. Progress in education is critical to human development in its own right and because of the links to health, equity and empowerment.”
Here again, the Dickson government has been active in confronting the challenge. Free and compulsory education throughout primary and secondary tiers of education has been declared and is being purposely implemented. Schools are being renovated and new ones built. Science and laboratory equipment are being supplied to the schools. Uniforms and books are free and available.
Arguably, a major example anywhere else in Nigeria is the building and equipping of residential quarters for teachers and school heads. An agreement has been reached with a reputable Canadian institution to train teachers from the state. There is growing enthusiasm among young graduates to take up opportunities in teaching.
There is a scheme that automatically assures graduates with a minimum second class upper division, scholarships to any institution of learning in the world for further studies. Impecunious but brainy children from the creeks of the state also have a special scholarship programme in place to school anywhere in Nigeria and abroad. This is commendable.
We also moved around the state to see a good showing in agriculture. Staying true to the traditional occupation of the people- fishing, the government is making significant outlay into modern aquaculture. People are being trained to handle and manage fishing trawlers. Large scale fish and shrimp production is on stream. Rice farms in Isampou, Peremabiri and Yenagoa have been revived with the potential to produce enough grain for the entire West Africa market at full capacity.
Infrastructure equally scored very high in current development in the state. The state capital and beyond, wear the look of a mammoth construction site. Winding road network linking all senatorial areas and out of the state are progressing rapidly. The determination of the government to align the state with the standards obtainable in other jurisdictions is tangible.
It was Barack Obama who said Africa did not need strong leaders, but strong institutions. Interestingly, one area in which Governor Dickson has shown strong leadership is the establishment of strong institutions.
In keeping with his campaign promise, he insisted on the passage of the Bayelsa State Accountability and Fiscal Responsibility Law. This law, in effect, recognizes the fact that leaders are de facto servants of the people, by compelling the government to give monthly stewardship of the monies entrusted to their charge. This, the governor, personally discharges in the monthly Transparency Briefings before journalists and Bayelsans from all walks of life.
A further requirement of the law is the compulsory savings of the state for the proverbial rainy day. Far from being mere window dressing, today government business is not shrouded in secrecy, indeed ordinary Bayelsans know how much the state receives, spends and saves on a monthly basis.
Supplementary to the Transparency Briefings, a Committee on Information Management has been setup, with a view to affording people opportunity to call dedicated hotlines and make inquiries about government activities. All the above are impressive democratic ideals which we appreciate as institutional values in our organisation and we see them as fundamental to good governance.
The foregoing development index has boosted the confidence of Bayelsans in the good intentions of their government and the investing public in the integrity of the state to protect their investments. The corollary of this is the record influx of investors into the state. The employment projections for the youth in this regard are pretty good.
A major concern for many people trying to do business and partner governments in Nigeria is where to direct inquires and get honest, reliable answers. We are delighted that the Diaspora/International Relations bureau, headquartered in the Governor’s office, is not an office in name only, but a fully equipped and functional Bureau. Many of our concerns on bilateral ties to the government and business were promptly treated.
It will be thoughtless to conclude this piece without a brief word on Governor Dickson, who is finally the visionary of the new Bayelsa. Whereas we did not meet with him, nor did we seek to do so on this trip; we have every expectation of doing so on successive visits.
He may be affectionately called “Countriman” in testament to his enduring affinity with the common man as we gathered among the people, but there is nothing common about the robust agenda he has set for the state, nor modest about the determined fashion that he has set about executing it.
Many of his initiatives have been brilliant, bold and courageous. He has surrounded himself with the most discerning and astute minds, regardless of their state of origin. Most notable of all his policy directives thus far, has been his Transparency Initiative, fueled by his desire to change the governance culture in Bayelsa State. This is a cardinal indicator for judging good governance which is quite laudable.
“There is good government when those who are near are made happy, and when those looking from afar are attracted.” (CONFUCIUS, The Wisdom of Confucius). This quote from Confucius properly summarises our verdict on the early days of Governor Dickson in Bayelsa State. We are attracted; very attracted.
We do not pretend that all is well. There is yet much work to be done, but the early indications of cynicism are giving way to good confidence. It is our sincere hope that there won’t be a relapse as we had in some state governments in the past otherwise democracy is imperiled with dire consequences for the people.
*Joffa is the economics secretary, League for Accountable and Responsive Governance