Bayelsa recently played host to former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon (rtd), Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, and First Republic Minister, Chief Edwin Clark, during which they visited the Ijaw National Academy, one of the key projects of Governor Seriake Dickson administration. Segun James, who was there, reports
For Bayelsa State Governor Henry Seriake Dickson, charity should always begin at home. After all, as the adage goes, if you give a hoe to a man, he will always hoe towards himself. It was this that has propelled his undertakings since assuming public position – that he would always be measured by the level of his achievements as governor of Bayelsa state even if he becomes the president of Nigeria or whatever position he occupies in future.
So it was when he rolled out the drums to welcome Africa’s first Nobel Laureate in Literature, Prof. Wole Soyinka, to the Ijaw National Academy, a secondary school he founded penultimate week.
In the life of young and impressionable people, little things no matter how insignificant, matters, but being in the presence of an academic colossus like Soyinka even matters more. So it was that as the governor escorted Soyinka out of the school, he was told that the students were grumbling he never allowed them to have enough time with the Emeritus Professor of Comparative Literature and Drama; to question him, interact with him and of course, have a photo opportunity.
It was this that prompted the decision of the state government to appoint Soyinka as the Honorary Education Ambassador of the state.
In making the award, Dickson stated that Soyinka’s exceptional accomplishments in the field of Literature and his irrepressible spirit in espousing the right values of socio-political theory and ethical standards had placed him in a good position to fly the Bayelsa flag in the fight against ignorance and poverty of the mind.
He also appealed to the Nobel Laureate to use his clout to canvass support for the programme and assured prospective donors that any funds realized would be put to judicious use.
“Let me also appreciate you for your long years of commitment and dedication to the issues and causes affecting our people. And, you are still going on championing the cause for restructuring and bringing about a just and equitable world, Nigeria and the Niger Delta.
‘’I therefore have the honour to appoint you as a Special Honorary Education Ambassador of Bayelsa State. This appointment is made not only on account of your exceptional global profile and reckoning as a Noble Laureate but also for your well known love for our people and passion for the democratization of knowledge world-wide.
‘’It is my considered opinion that your exceptional accomplishments in the field of literature as well as your irrepressible spirit of espousal of the right values of socio-political propriety and ethical correctness stands you in good stead to fly the Bayelsa flag to fight against ignorance and poverty of the mind. It is therefore, my fervent hope that in your new role, you will enlarge the coast of the restorative educational programmes of the state government.’’
While accepting the conferment, Soyinka expressed appreciation for the honour done him and assured the state government that, he would do his best in advancing the cause of education in the state.
The Ijaw National Academy, Kiama, was set up by Dickson in his bid to advance the academic position of the state and ensure very talented young children from the state who are trapped in the deep back waters of the Niger Delta have the opportunity of education which was never available to their parents.
The governor drew inspiration from his own days as a young man in the then deep riverine community of Toru Orua where he had to row the canoe everyday over five kilometers to go to school. It was this that made him join the police force while also sponsoring himself through the university to become a lawyer.
Dickson insisted that this had indelible impression on his mind that when he became the governor, he knew his main priority would be the education of the Bayelsan child. He has never wavered since then.
The Ijaw National Academy is a co-educational boarding school of 1,000 pupils which is not only non-fee paying, but dedicated to the study of the sciences and mathematics. The school is not just free of all tuition but all the pupils’ books and feeding is borne by the state government as part of plans to relieve their parents from any burden.
All the children in the school were pooled after an exhaustive assessment from all the eight local government councils of the state.
According to the Special Adviser to the governor on Student Affairs, Mr. Austin Adigio, a lawyer, the first indication to the governor that his investment on the children was not in vain happened soon after the school resumed operation and the pupils were to go on their first midterm break.
“They called me that most of them would rather stay back at school and read instead of taking a tortuous journey along the serpentine waters of the Niger just for a two day holiday. The governor was impressed and happy. But this also inspired the governor to embark on the massive road construction projects that is linking the deep riverside areas to the upland. In fact, in no distant future, most communities on the fringe of the Atlantic Ocean would soon be linked to the state capital. That also applies to my community in Brass Island, Okpoama.”
The enthusiasm of Adidio about the achievements of Dickson as governor is shared by former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, who formally commissioned the school.
A very impressed Gowon wondered how Dickson could have achieved so much at a time of deep recession in the country. While urging him not to rest on his oars, the general was particularly elated that the school was built in the home community of his former colleague in the army, Major Jasper Isaac Adaka Boro, the man who helped to liberate the Niger Delta area from the invading Biafran Army during the Nigerian civil war.
Gowon said Dickson’s revolutionary approach to educational development would turn around the fortunes of Bayelsa State in no distant future.
He described the facilities at the Academy as impressive, adding that the vision behind the setting up of the free boarding secondary school is commendable as it is designed to achieve academic excellence and capacity building.
While charging the students to make optimal use of the scholarship programme and protect the facilities provided for them, he expressed optimism that they would be among other Nigerians that would take the country to greater heights in the foreseeable future.
Although the education of the children is free, the sponsorship of the academy and other similar schools located in the headquarters of the eight local government areas of the state is pooled from the salary of every government worker in the state beginning from the governor himself.
Every worker in the state including all political office holders are made to contribute a percentage of their salaries to the Education Trust Fund set up by the government to manage the affairs of the schools so that it does not have any financial hitch.
The Fund is managed by prominent and elderly academics and elder statesmen from the state. At the commissioning ceremony of the Academy in Kaiama, Dickson presented a cheque of N97 million to the State Education Development Trust Fund Board.
Presenting the cheque, Governor Dickson explained that, in addition to the N100 million recently released to the Trust Fund, government deducted N97 million from the salaries of both political appointees and civil servants for the month of June, 2017 including the 5% contribution from the State monthly internally generated revenue.
The governor said he was proud of his achievements in the education sector, noting that it was under his leadership that boarding schools were established and funded by the state government, 20 years after the creation of Bayelsa to nurture and build a crop of future leaders for the Ijaw nation and the country as a whole.
Dickson used the opportunity to name the access road linking the Academy to the East-West Road after Late Prof. Kay Williamson in recognition of her contributions to the development of Ijaw language and culture. He stated that other key facilities would be used to immortalise eminent sons and daughters of Ijaw land.
In his remarks, Ijaw National Leader, Chief Edwin Clark, attributed the lack of development in Ijaw land to the absence of educational institutions in the area and therefore called on the people to support the free education policy and programmes of the Dickson’s administration regardless of their political differences.
He commended the governor for his wisdom in using education to fight poverty and underdevelopment, expressing optimism that the Academy would achieve its set objective of producing quality students for higher institutions of learning both within and outside the country.
The Ijaw national leader used the opportunity to restate the need for the country to be restructured to give both minority and majority groups a sense of belonging to enhance national security and development.
In his speech, the chairman of the state Traditional Rulers Council, King Alfred Diete Spiff, noted that, the Ijaws in Bayelsa would not have witnessed the level of development, if it had not been for the benevolence of Gen. Gowon, who created the old Rivers State from which Bayelsa was carved out in 1996.
A representative of Kaiama Community, Chief Ekpein Appah, and a member of the House of Representatives, Hon Douye Diri, expressed gratitude to the governor for carrying the people of Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government along in the scheme of things, adding that no government has been so kind to the area as the present administration.
During the facility tour of the school, a portrait of the General Gowon painted by an SS1 student of the Ijaw National Academy, Master Ebidoumene Godsfavour, was presented to the former Head of State.
Dignitaries who graced the commissioning include the Bayelsa’s First Lady, Dr Rachel Dickson; a former Deputy Governor of Sokoto State, Alhaji Muktar Shagari; retired federal permanent secretary, Amb. Godknows Igali; former Information Minister, Mr Labaran Maku; Prof. John Pepper Clark, Dr Gabriel Okara, late Isaac Boro’s compatriot, Capt Sam Owonaro (Retd), King Alfred Diete Spiff and other royal fathers.