Dickson’s New Bayelsa

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Emmanuel Addeh writes on a series of events held in Bayelsa to mark the administration’s sixth year in the saddle

Any government worth its salt knows the importance of information dissemination, especially in a democracy where the constitutional right to government information is a sine qua non for effective governance.

Yet, in developing nations where citizens’ access to information as to the goings-on in government is highly limited due to a number of factors, including poor basic infrastructure like electricity or even the people’s ‘I-don’t-care’ attitude of not being interested in government activities, this poses a huge challenge.

However, some states have taken a more pro-active role in putting the information right in the hands of the electorate, even without their people demanding for it.

Aware of the need of the people to be carried along on how their state is governed, the Seriake Dickson-led administration since the last week of January, embarked upon activities to upgrade the knowledge of Bayelsans at home and in the diaspora on how the state has fared under the incumbent.

With the Information Ministry now manned by Mr. Daniel Iworiso-Markson, a remarkable information manager, the plan to bring the goings-on in Bayelsa started with a series of inter-ministerial briefings involving all the ministries and major agencies of government.

The second phase which was to coincide with the 6th anniversary of the self-styled Restoration Government, took the state by storm, with Bayelsa standing still, literally.

It wasn’t just what the state had done in the last six years, but also an outline of what it intends to do for the people in the remaining two years, which ends in February 2020.

So, for the first phase which entailed that every commissioner and heads of agencies came face to face with the governed or stakeholders, including traditional rulers, market women, farmers, students, non-governmental organisations and journalists who were availed of the opportunity to ask even questions government officials usually consider embarrassing.

From the smart commissioners, to the not so smart ones, from the orators to the reticent, from the high flyers to the time-wasters, from the sociable to the timid, each of Governor Dickson’s aides had their day in front of those they are meant to serve.

Some got a few boos, but the consensus of the majority was that in six years, Dickson, like a man on a mission, has been focused, refusing to be distracted by the proverbial noise in the marketplace.

From Finance to Tourism, Education to Health, Youth Development to Security, the aides to the Governor laid their achievements bare to the stakeholders.

On Finance, the state said it had succeeded in growing its Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) from a paltry N4.7 billion annually to about N12.14 billion at the end of 2017.

It has managed to fish out several ghost workers in the civil service, thereby saving the state huge funds, especially among teachers, cutting fictitious wages among teachers by about N300 million monthly.

Commissioner for Education, Jonathan Obuebite, spoke on how over N3 billion had been spent by Bayelsa State as counterpart funding in the Education sector in the last six years and over N60 billion sunk into the sector.

A state of emergency declared by Dickson since 2012 had continued to yield positive results in contrast to the deplorable condition of schools inherited by the present administration, he said.

Today, the construction of headmasters’ quarters, teachers’ quarters, classroom blocks in more than 500 Primary Schools, renovation of over 160 Secondary Schools across the state, introduction of boarding schools and free school feeding programme, among others remain a landmark.

For a state which is 80 per cent water coupled with its peculiar challenges, the launch of a home-made drone system to assist in the prevention of crime and criminality from a central control point has changed the face of security in the state.

Commissioner for Science and Technology, Chief Blessing Ipigansi-Igbagara, said the mechanism was developed by an indigenous manpower and technology system.

The system also has a direct link to the Police on patrol duty at different locations with about four drones with the speed limit of 150 kilometres per hour deployed to every police station in the state.

When it was his turn, the Commissioner for Culture and Ijaw National Affairs, Mr. Austin Dressman revealed that Governor Dickson had approved the completion of eight out of the 10 mausoleums at the Ijaw Heroes Park which currently houses the late Isaac Jasper Boro and General Owoeye Azazi’s remains.

He said the nod for the construction of a 400-seater pavilion at the park which would be completed in three months had already been given.

“Books have been produced to help children in schools learn the Ijaw language, with the immediate employment of 40 graduates of Izon language from the Niger Delta University, Amassoma,” he said.

The Ijaw Cultural Day on every Friday to encourage Ijaws to dress in their own attires, has been in force while those who flout the dress code are sanctioned and others rewarded for complying.

To power the state and halt the perennial power outage, especially Yenagoa, the state capital, plans on the supply of 24-hour uninterrupted electricity by September have been concluded.

Managing Director of the Bayelsa Electricity Company, Mr. Olice Kemenanabo, asked the people of the state to hold him personally responsible if the plan does not materialise in the next seven months.

And to health, the Specialist Hospital situated in Yenagoa can now reverse some life-threatening medical conditions, including strokes, when presented within the first hour of attack and dead limbs due to chronic diabetes.

Commissioner for Health, Professor Ebitimitula Etebu, said the government has acquired the latest equipment available in the field of medicine.

“Most people who have stroke are either paralysed on one side of the face, arm or leg. If such patients are brought in within an hour, we can now reverse the processes that led to it and ensure that blood flows to the affected vein, then the patient will live,” he told his audience.

The Professor of Medicine highlighted the establishment of the Diagnostic Centre, Drug Storage and Distribution Centre, Construction of modern referral centres across the eight local government areas, construction of house officers’ quarters at the Federal Medical Centre and production of specialist manpower as part of the government achievements in the health sector.

But if one thought that the inter-ministerial briefings were mere propaganda, the next week, it was the time to take stakeholders in the state to the locations of each of the projects. It was a big deal with the invitation of several Nigerian leaders to witness the inauguration of several projects.

Nigeria’s former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo led the pack of eminent dignitaries, but not before the likes of Gen. Alani Akinrinade (rtd), former Governor Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Prof. Gordini Darah, Yinka Odumakin, Labaran Maku, John Odey, Senator Ibrahim Mantu, Jerry Gana, Shettima Yerima, former and serving lawmakers, and professionals from all over the country had graced the stage to flag off many projects.

However, as is customary with the Governor, it started with a Thanksgiving Service, attended by tens of clergymen and interspersed with prayers and choral renditions.

At the event, Dickson said his administration had in the last six years succeeded in laying the foundation for development, prosperity and greatness.

The governor added that despite the challenges, temptations and victories, his administration, in partnership with the people of the state, have steered the state on the path of development and prosperity.

He said, “In a volatile climate, we have worked together to create a solid foundation, we have been working together as a people, in spite of distractions and economic challenges.

“We now have the best in solid infrastructure and public schools. Some of the over 5,000 pupils in these schools told us that they have never neither had tea nor eggs but now they are having qualitative education and a solid future.

“The over 5,000 beneficiaries are the future of Bayelsa. Among them are the next Governor. That is what we have achieved. We have built the best public health institutions and put in place a Health Insurance Scheme with over one billion naira in the pool of fund. We have built facilities and people come from within and outside the state to enjoy them. We have put in place a greater system,” Dickson boasted.

The next day was followed by a public lecture on Restructuring, during which Akinrinade and his team took time out to inaugurate projects.

They all agreed that the Governor had translated good governance in concrete terms by building critical infrastructure for the development of the state.

Inaugurating the Malaria, Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS Research Centre, Alhaji Mantu described the health facility as exceptional, noting that, it would provide vaccines capable of preventing life threatening diseases.

According to him, “Governor Dickson has made the best investment as the project will not only preserve the health of Bayelsans, but attract people from all over the world.”

He said the facility would also transform Bayelsa to be the Singapore of Africa and also increase its internally generated revenue.

Other projects officially opened were, the Bayelsa Health Insurance Scheme Complex, the Malaria, Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS Research Centre as well as the Information House, which now accommodates the state Ministry of Information.

But before Obasanjo’s visit, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Chairman, Uche Secondus, was there to savour what he said was the Bayelsa Government’s special way of doing things.

He inaugurated the Oxbow Lake Pavillion in Swali, Yenagoa and thereafter, welcomed defectors back from the APC to the PDP.

A day later it was the turn of Obasanjo to visit the state. His itinerary was long and tedious.

At a meeting with traditional rulers in the state, Obasanjo said he was shocked over the rapid transformation which Dickson had brought to Bayelsa State within six years.

“We came here in 1998/1999 and I have seen the rapid transformation. I commend all the people who have joined hands in building this state. When I see the transformation that has happened between 1998 and now, I doff my hat for this man called Dickson. When I came into Yenagoa, Jerry Gana told me, ‘this governor is working hard’ and I told him if he’s not working hard, I won’t be here.

“You call me a Bayelsan and I’m proud to be a Bayelsan. Any good place like Bayelsa is a place to be. Here we’re seeing real transformation. Any place where we are seeing transformation is a place to be.

“I thank you Governor Dickson for inviting me. Anybody who was here 20 years ago and the development that has taken place, will appreciate the money spent. Thank you Governor Henry Seriake Dickson. You’re making it easy for investors to come, to relax and to do business.

“If you hear that I’m coming here often, don’t be surprised. One of the things that has struck me is the relative peace Dickson has brought in Bayelsa State. I don’t know how you did it. May be we have to come for your tutelage,” the former President said.

He took time out to inaugurate the Bayelsa State Drug Distribution Centre, State Specialist Hospital, and the Diagnostics Centre.

He also formally declared open the Gloryland Drive at Igbogene, renamed as Chief Olusegun Obasanjo Drive as well as the unveiling of the Government House Heliport, which is now known as King AP Diete Spiff Heliport.

Chief Obasanjo who took a facility tour of the health projects, said he was highly impressed by the level of commitment demonstrated by the Governor in providing world class health facilities and services to the citizenry.

He also commended Governor Dickson for keying into the vision of the late Director General of NAFDAC, Prof Dora Akunyili in the establishment of the Drug Mart and Distribution Centre, noting that the facility would assist in curbing the menace of fake drugs and drug abuse.

Chief Obasanjo who enrolled in the Bayelsa Health Insurance Scheme as an honorary enrolee, also took time off to interact with selected students from state-owned model schools at the Ijaw National Academy.

On Saturday it was time to wrap up the three-week long series of events that had strained almost every participant, but one thing all those who were part of the programmes agreed upon was that in his six years as Governor of Bayelsa, Dickson has not done badly.