Appraising Nigeria’s ‘Valentine Governor’

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As we count down to the fifth anniversary of the Restoration Government in Bayelsa State on the 14th of February, not a few analysts and political watchers of the state will attempt to cast a retrospective look at the journey so far and take a stand. To be sure, some have already done so, even in some form of opposition politics but what is incontrovertible is the consensus that the last five years have witnessed a new order, a paradigm shift, rubbing off brightly on our socio-economic progress as a people.

Arguably, it has been a remarkable journey, tough and testy but the resolve of the leadership to make a difference has been most salutary. The Restoration team ably led by Governor Henry Seriake Dickson, has clearly etched its own brand of “Profiles in Courage”, a leadership metaphor denoting what really makes contemporary Bayelsa thick and indeed refreshing our thoughts on the importance of leadership and vision in the development of societies.

From 2012 when the Restoration Government came into being, we have seen a practical application of policies and programmes to create a vision of what the future could really be as opposed to the inherited jaded and broken order, and of course, the inspired idealism to make society work far better, because the leadership dreams greatly and strive to make such lofty dreams come true.
As Theodore Roosevelt puts it, this kind of leaders are those “who can kindle the people with the fire from their own burning souls”, reflecting practically why Governor Dickson is extraordinarily popular among the folks as the contriman governor or “talk na do governor”.

The above perspectives, I believe, are those compelling indices from which we can duly appreciate the last five years of purposeful leadership in Bayelsa State. Andaccordingly, we can also take proper cognizance of the lessons learnt so that the state does not slide into any form of confusion in the future on account of the usual combative politics as witnessed especially in the last election.

So it is in this context, I think, we can begin to look at the Legacy Projects of the Restoration Government in the last five years and mark them up not only in the overall contributions to development but also the thinking which shaped them as superior deductions in formulating public policies in the state. The point has usually been about the essence of such policies as they relate to the needs of the people even in comparative terms. The people, the long forgotten Bayelsans, in far flung communities, have always come first.

Actually some of what we now see as solid achievements are products of the yearnings and aspirations of the people as they related them to the governor during the electionnering campaigns. Yes, we have seen and applauded by the people such wise andcompelling thoughts on the declaration of emergency in education, for instance, the answer to opening up the state for commerce by the novel construction of roads and bridges, massive infrastructure including what the government decided to do with the construction of so many institutional public buildings, and many more. Yet such good thinking is affecting the on-going provision of pipe-borne water across the state, never thought of because Bayelsa is literally floating on water but as they say, there is water everywhere but none to drink, on account of the health implications of drinking untreated water. This is what leadership and proper governance is all about.

Now, in specific terms, as we interrogate Governor Dickson’s Legacy Projects at this juncture in the life of the state, I think posterity will record the Restoration Government in bold stripes as farsighted by the singular action of declaring emergency in education in 2012 which was a logical step considering the huge rot in the educational system in the state. This has consequently improved education significantly as marked by the astronomical increase in enrolment because education is totally free in an unusual manner as well as performance going by the affirmation by WAEC, for instance.

We particularly remember with pride the re-introduction of quality boarding schools in all the senatorial districts, mouth watering scholarships at home and abroad, 21st century infrastructure to make learning conducive for both teachers and students and we can see a deliberate design to create a pool of very modern young population, articulate with the right education to fit into a knowledge economy and in whose hands the future of Bayelsa resides. Things can’t be the same again especially for future leaders of the state because the Restoration Government has created and entrenching a standard below which the people will raise objection.

The same strategic thinking informed the action on infrastructure making Bayelsa one massiveconstruction site as it were, leading to the greaterinterconnectedness we now have in the state, which is good for economic development. To the ordinary leader, the huge cost of building roads and bridges across the three senatorial districts in such a geographical location where water is everywhere was enough to scare such thinking on massive construction but the real leader of change, Dickson, thought otherwise and history will never forget his sense of leadership and abiding vision of making a difference.

In the area of empowerment, it has been all encompassing but really the women have had a better deal from the government. However, the recent thinking and action especially in properly localizing agriculture to fit into the economic lives of the people is changing the narrative to affect a greater number of people. From modern and mechanized fisheries to rice and cassava cultivation to other economic occupations, government is refocusing big time to serve the economic interest of Bayelsans in a much more structured manner and we are getting results, reflecting a well-thought out diversification of the state economy beyond the preponderance of oil and gas as economic mainstay.

As we continue to look ahead for a far greaterrelevance and economic development in the comity of states, we cannot but think straight about the importance of having the international airport atAmassoma, a major economic decision now rounding off in the final phase of completion, which is likely torevolutionise how the key businessmen and women in the Niger Delta and the eastern zone transact business and engage in their social relations on account of the proximity of the airport to their destinations. And, of course, this consideration rationalizes why Amassomawould be a preferred destination in logging their journeys. This is pure economic sense particularly when it is recognized that the airport is both cargo and passenger airport and with a strategic location as an advantage to those with economic interest in that corridor.

But beyond the economic changes the Restoration Government has brought to the state are those structural institutional changes now driving the wheel of progress in Bayelsa State. These are very important because without proper institutions as we had pre-Restoration, governance is more or less a cartel, a charade and creates room for untold corruption because it would be easy for leaders in government and those running the bureaucracy as well as their collaboratorsto be corrupt. This weighs down heavily on performance and the good of society.

So it is in this context that we have to see the infusion of the policy of transparency and accountability as critical issues in the Restoration Government in the last five years and we have seen the implication in moulding a reformed government structure working for the greater good of the people. Invariably, I think that we must continue to believe and reasonably, too, that the last five years have seen relative stability in the state, looking at where we were and the regrettable tendencies which shaped our past.The peace and stability were, however, not achieved by accident but through hard thinking on the cost of insecurity to development and thus a lasting solution was devised by way of being more scientific intackling the social menace.

This is how the street gangs of pre-2012 are now rehabilitated, living a new life as government itself also introduced smart policies to make such social vices unpopular and unprofitable. Importantly, the people themselves could see the sincerity and dedication of the state leadership to make life far better for them, seeing the contriman governor relate with them one-on-one on a daily basis to rub minds on the challenge of development in the state now and in the future —and why everybody must get involved.

Really, to the perceptive mind, the forgoing attribute has endeared Governor Henry Seriake Dickson to the people so much that it has also affected his politics and style of leadership. It strikes to note how the governor holds so many meetings with Bayelsans of all cadres even at the government House, being the house of the people, anyway, and getting along so well with them. Dickson’s past as a key figure in the Niger Delta struggle still reflects in his politics, a contriman, endearing him to his people as a grassroots politician, preaching peace as basis for development in the state.

As the public would soon read from a book on the last election, I think that was the height of the running battle the governor has had with some elites in the state. The riveting book which contains all the inside stories of what transpired in that election, will be launched at the fifth anniversary. The crux is actually about the divergence of opinion on the utilization of public resources and the inherent struggle to differentiate between the public good and the morals ofwhy the “rent factor” in governance is aberration.

The situation could be so tough and grueling but what is important going by the governor’s experience is that the people will usually side with the truth especially when it had been so demonstrated over time as we have had in Bayelsa in the last five years of Dickson’s dedicated and altruistic leadership. And that was why he could be re-elected in the last election, ore of a war situation, characterized by untold abuses and external dubious influence. In the heat of it all, Bayelsans were united, resolute that come rain or shine Dickson was their governor and being the wish of the people, they prevailed and democracy won.

In summation, the last five years have been quite humbling for the Restoration Government, as it has struggled amidst fierce opposition to make a difference in the lives of our people. We have seen clearly that the far-reaching reforms by Governor Henry SeriakeDickson and his team were informed by exigency which have, however, brought succor to the people via socio-economic development across the state.
Although we cannot yet say it’s Uhuru but going by therecord of our progress in the critical areas in the last five years and with so many possibilities especially given the hard thinking and innovative leadership in the state, we can face the future with a lot of hope. The situation in Bayelsa, in spite of the current economic climate, looks good and promising.
-Iworiso-Markson, Chief Press Secretary to Bayelsa State governor, sent in this piece from Yenagoa.