Emmanuel Addeh writes that there is a conscious effort to change Bayelsa State’s reputation as a backward state to one of the most advanced among its peers
Bayelsa State is peculiar in many respects. But one of the most striking features of the oil-producing state which has over 70 per cent of its total land space under water, is its complex topography.
With an area of about 21,110 square kilometres, picturesque tropical rain forest, low lands stretching from Ekeremor to Nembe, a maze of meandering creeks and mangrove swamps, the state remains one of its kind in the Nigeria’s South-south region.
But added to the thick, swampy forests, the natural terrain has combined with the vicissitudes of oil exploitation to make the entire configuration very difficult, especially for landmark projects.
Every little piece of land for any project is built from scratch, literally. Essentially, what that means is that you build the land first, before thinking of locating any infrastructure on it.
Many people have described the state in many ways. Some have characterised the state, especially the capital in somewhat unflattering terms. But all that is changing. Bayelsa, tucked in the heartlands of the Niger Delta, is gradually opening up to the world.
It would appear that the current political leadership in the state has realised that without investment in infrastructure, the state would remain in the backwater, stripped of sustainable development and jeopardising the future of generations unborn.
Seemingly slowly but steadily, Bayelsa appears to be taking an integrated approach to infrastructural development, with various parts and aspects closely linked to form a whole.
From agriculture to transport, from health to tourism, education to sports, there is a conscious effort, many agree, to lift the state away from the toga of being backward to one of the most advanced among its peers.
Created 20 years ago, the young state is fast catching up with the rest of the world with the renewed effort to give the much needed infrastructure a facelift.
Those who were present when the state was created by the late Head of State, Gen Sani Abacha, say the entire place was like the biblical universe during its creation; formless and desolate.
However, after 17 years of democracy, Bayelsa is taking shape. It is not where many think it should be, but the state is also not where it was on creation.
Projects are springing up and if the momentum is sustained, Bayelsa would soon become a major hub for business and recreation in the next couple of years.
On a tour of major projects last week, Governor Seriake Dickson who visited various ongoing works, underscored the need to open up the state to the rest of the world.
The governor inspected the current upgrading of the Samson Siasia Stadium to a world class sports facility, the massive Bayelsa Diagnostics Centre, the ongoing Governor and Deputy Governor’s office complex, the Oxbow Lake, the airport project, golf course, heliport, among many others.
At the completed Diagnostics Centre, Dickson bemoaned the incessant cases of wrong diagnoses of ailments in the country, noting that it remained a major challenge to Nigerians.
Dickson revealed that the problem motivated him to make a huge investment in the health sector of the state to serve as a heath tourism centre for Bayelsans, Nigerians and indeed the rest of Africa.
He explained that the state’s ultra-modern Diagnostics Centre in Yenagoa, having been fully completed, had already commenced a dry run of the equipment and called on residents to put the hospital to good use.
“What we are addressing now is diagnosis. Because what is killing our people is wrong and inaccurate diagnosis. So we are addressing that. We are building hospitals and this place will feed most of them,” the governor noted.
Describing the huge project as ‘world class’, the governor said the vision of his administration was to make the state a haven for people who need to satisfy their health needs.
The centre operated by Trigen-Craton in the heart of Yenagoa offers radiology services with the latest facilities in the industry including MRI- Tesla, CT Scan 160 slice, digital x-ray, 40-sonography, mammography among others.
It also specialises in pathology which includes services like haematology, clinical chemistry, immunology and endocrinology.
Other services rendered by the centre are: DNA testing, Endoscopy, cardiology and general wellness.
During the inspection, the governor noted that the project was built to last, explaining that all Nigerians could access the services of the centre from now.
“From the report, this project has been completed a long time. What they are just doing is to test-run the facilities. All the machines are world class. All the projects have been painstakingly done.
“This is a project that will stand the test of time and it is of the highest possible quality. We are building a Bayelsa that is for the future and this project is one of its kind in the country and in Africa,” he said.
He added that the people of the state would be grateful to the administration when they are able to access the level of investment that was made on the project.
“Even if people don’t appreciate it, it doesn’t matter, we are doing it for posterity. With the facilities here, no Bayelsa person needs to go outside this place for diagnosis.
“Just anybody in this country can be attended to here. We are taking an integrated approach to development. People can fly in from the airport that we are building.
“Our philosophy is to bring the world to Bayelsa. This is medical tourism and we will build our economy this way,” he stressed.
The governor posited that when the other 350-bed hospital commences operation, it would complement the diagnostics centre and make the state prominent for medical tourism.
The same enthusiasm is being channelled into building the airport, which the state Commissioner for Works, Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo said government was optimistic would welcome the first flights in the next couple of weeks.
Ewhrudjakpo said that the Dickson’s government would construct a temporary terminal building which would later be converted to an executive protocol lounge.
He noted that the government was in a hurry to test-run the airport to prove a point that not one naira of the project was diverted.
“Some people have said that the governor used the money for re-election. If he used it for election, the contractors would have even left site now,” he said.
The state government also seems to be thinking seriously about taking the youths off the streets, with the attention being paid to the upgrading of old sports facilities and building of new ones.
It is also currently fast-tracking the ongoing rehabilitation work at the Samson Siasia Stadium in Yenagoa to keep the youths of the state busy and to ensure the state’s teams play their league games at home.
The government is also dealing with the issue of the poor drainage system outside the stadium complex and is laying organic fibre turf on the football pitch and the tartan tracks of the stadium.
“We are doing this to meet the required international standards and this government is trying to open the state to the international community and the sports sector must key in and open up sports tourism,” the governor said.
Added to that, the state is also building its own golf course to be able to draw the huge number of golfing crowds that frequently travel across the country to play the game.
Dickson says the project is more than a golf course, but a golf estate. The governor promises to ensure that golf top shots around the world and youths in the state access the facility.
“The essence of this government building and investing hugely in these projects is to diversify into other areas of the economy, aside from oil and gas,” Dickson said.
He added, “Before we came here, we stopped over at the heliport. People who are coming to play on the golf course and polo field are coming to stay at the estate and enjoy these tourist facilities.
“They can fly in and out and that’s why we also built a heliport here. All the projects have gone really far. The whole idea is to make Bayelsa a tourism hub and lay a foundation for the future economic development of the state.”
The story was the same at the Oxbow Lake project in Swali, very close to the ongoing federal secretariat and the Central Bank of Nigeria, Yenagoa.
Enfolded in a blanket of romantic ambience, the awe-inspiring aura of the beautiful lake is also set to give visitors a memorable experience at the lakeside.
The project has a pavilion, boat club, shopping mall linking the galleria and teens park, which is also adjacent the Tower Hotel and has been designated the entertainment and leisure zone of the state.
So, it’s not all gloom and doom for the young state. It may have had its own share of political and economic challenges, but Bayelsa is breaking free from all its strangleholds.
And when the current projects become fully functional in the next few months, hopefully, the state may truly live up to its sobriquet: “The glory of all lands.”