Emmanuel Addeh reports on the resistance to efforts by the current administration in Bayelsa State to reform what many agree is a hugely overburdened public service and attempts to douse the ensuing tensions
“If you want to make enemies, try to change something”- Woodrow Wilson, statesman and former American President.
In the short term, change, according to leaders who have taken it upon themselves to reform the status quo, can be a bitter pill to swallow.
It becomes even more complex when the reformer believes that the resistance change is not induced by altruistic motives but by selfish external influences driven by ulterior motives.
The world over, it is well documented the several outright rejection of and sometimes, erection of road blocks to social and economic changes, even if they would in the long term, be of benefit to all.
In Bayelsa, the current administration is grappling with an all-out hostility to its decision to refashion the civil and public service, remove the unnecessary weight it carries and redesign it for sustainability.
By the last quarter of last year, the state government had concluded arrangements to rid the entire gamut of the service of people they thought shouldn’t be there.
These persons, according to the several committees it set up were payroll fraudsters, credential forgers, promotion racketeers, overaged workers who have refused to retire and other misfits.
To be fair, many believe that these same persons who are now seen as misfits were a creation of the same system. Bayelsa since the return of democracy and with its first civilian governor, the late Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, ran like a community, if not a family rather than a state of laws.
No systems, no clear-cut rules, regulations were routinely flouted and employment into the civil and public service was more a matter of favour, a matter of giving jobs to supporters, rather than the creation of a perfect fit for existing vacancies.
Indeed, the story is that even those who came back from Rivers State after the creation of Bayelsa State, were absorbed into the state civil service on grounds of sympathy. For Governor Seriake Dickson, no system survives with such huge distortions.
And so, as the civil service expanded, the monthly wage bill kept skyrocketing in a state that is perhaps, the least populated in the country.
The state kept struggling with the increasing bill, rising to over N6 billion at a point and exceeding by far states that are much more populated, until the bubble finally bust during the last economic recession and Bayelsa buckled under the weight.
The restructuring started in earnest when over 4,000 names were suspended from the payroll, then the committee moved into Amassoma, Southern Ijaw, Alamieyeseigha’s hometown, where the Niger Delta University is situated.
There, they met one of the most absurd situations: non-academic staff, mainly cleaners, clerks, messengers etc, more than quadrupled the academic staff they were meant to support. Then the sub-committee set up for the purpose started the cleansing. That was when trouble started.
Those purportedly affected, mostly community people, shut down the institution, welded the access gate to the institution, barricaded the road leading to the school for many days until the security agencies thought enough was enough.
To them, the institution was their farm, their heritage. Much of the argument for retaining the status quo in the institution bordered on a so-called unwritten agreement that the land on which the institution was built was exchanged for perpetual employment for the locals. This position has been dispelled by government.
A detachment comprising the major security agencies in the state, which was later to clash with the disgruntled demonstrators, was deployed.
In the end, a number of persons were feared dead, some policemen were injured, while the university was looted by hoodlums that had infiltrated the group.
In the meantime, the Government of Bayelsa State condemned the violence and attack on the state-owned NDU in a statement by the Special Adviser to the Governor on Media Relations, Mr. Fidelis Soriwei.
The government blamed opposition political leaders for the “mobilisation of the hoodlums who barricaded the gate and disrupted academic activities.”
It said that the hoodlums attacked a detachment of policemen who were deployed to the NDU and injured some of them before ransacking the Amassoma Police Station.
“These mischief makers have mobilised, funded and armed hoodlums to disrupt academic activities in the school, and forcibly close it down even when negotiations on the recent retirement of over-aged personnel of the institution have been concluded and agreements reached.
“These hoodlums have for the past one week stopped free movement of vehicles and persons on public roads. They disrupted conduct of businesses in and around Amassoma by putting canopies on major roads to pander to political interests who are desperate to tarnish the good image of the government,” said the statement.
Accordingly, the Bayelsa State Government warned communities to note that the institutions are the collective properties and investments of everyone in Bayelsa and are not owned by any particular host community.
The situation was gradually spiraling out of hand, with a groundswell of criticisms, seemingly unjustified, against the governor who was then away from the state. The social media was awash with insinuations that the governor had deployed security personnel to murder Alamieyeseigha’s people.
Sensing the implication of the deteriorating security situation and how sentiments and politics was trouncing rationality and common-sense, the Bayelsa State governor, Dickson and a former governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori, a friend of late Alamieyeseigha eventually met with the people of Ogboin and Amassoma, over the killings.
Both leaders told their audience, including traditional rulers, elders, youth leaders and management of the NDU that the meeting was necessitated by the recent happenings in the area in which some persons lost their lives during clashes with security operatives deployed to keep the peace in the institution.
At the meeting which held at the Diepreye Alaimeyeseigha Memorial Banquet Hall in Yenagoa, Dickson who had earlier met with the Governing Board of the university at the Government House, Onopa, said he never ordered the killings, despite all the provocation on the security operatives.
While noting that he remains one with the Amassoma people, in spite of the fact that the issue had been highly politicised, he insisted that aside the late Alamieyeseigha, no other governor had done the much he (Dickson) had for the people of the area.
“My heart bleeds because these are government decisions that are largely in the best interest of the people in the long run, because the survival of that school is more important, the survival of our state is more important. l am looking at the bigger picture, how to sustain the school and the state,” he said.
Dickson condemned the attack on the police and regretted the ensuing deaths, describing it as sad and unfortunate, but avoidable.
However, the governor maintained that the protest was sponsored by people who were bent on making Bayelsa ungovernable, but regretted that those who took part in the demonstration and attempted to stop the police from doing their job were deceived by some politicians.
“I hear that some politicians are saying that there are plans to relocate the school from Amassoma. And people are believing that. It’s very said. It’s not true. Apart from Alamieyeseigha who started that school, no other governor added a new block until I became governor,” Dickson added.
He said many of those who spearheaded the protest were not workers of the university, stressing that they looted computers, televisions and other assets of the institution.
In a bid to deepen the reconciliation efforts, the governor later said a formal delegation would also be sent to commiserate with the bereaved families while those detained by the police would be released, stressing that efforts were on to ensure the reopening of NDU to resume academic activities as soon as possible.
Dickson urged Bayelsans to always guard against misinformation and propaganda peddled by such politicians whom he noted were envious of the present administration’s track record of achievements in the last six years.
His words: “The NDU remains a state-owned university, completely funded by the government of Bayelsa State. And that is an institution where all Bayelsans have an equal stake.
“With the investments we have made and continue to make, it is very clear that our plans for the NDU are good apart from the administration that took the step to set up the institution.
“We must commend them for their vision and foresight. There is no other government in Bayelsa State that has put in more resources, time and energy towards building a sustainable NDU than this government.
“So, I call on people to ignore the propaganda by failed political leaders in this state and desperate politicians who have nothing to show for their ambitions and for their plans; those who want to install their cronies.”
In the aftermath of the crisis, the governor has continued to seek peace and ensure that calm returns to the state.
In one meeting with First Class Traditional Rulers in the state, the governor described peace as a precondition for democracy and sustainable development to thrive.
He insisted that the disturbance in Amassoma community was traceable to some sponsors, who have been engaging in subversive acts to destabilise the state.
Dickson, popularly called the contriman governor observed that from the period of his re-election, there had been distractions from the activities of such sponsors, noting that they had made several attempts to undermine the security of the state, particularly as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), lost control of the federal government.
The governor, who vowed not to allow the machinations of the detractors succeed, stressed that the peace and stability his administration had worked hard to achieve in the last six and a half years would endure and be improved upon.
“Our state is poised for investments; a lot of people are trooping into Bayelsa for investments and to take advantage of the stability to do business. And we all have a duty to cooperate towards deepening the peace.
“Since my re-election, when they couldn’t stop me at the primaries of the re-election, they have now turned to the issue of, let us see how he will rule; let us see how he will have peace, especially with the federal government not controlled by his party, PDP,” Dickson said.
He added, “In reference to the ongoing public service reforms, our state is in transition, away from evil things and attitudes and now moving to the promised land, the land of prosperity, development and peace. A land flowing with milk and honey.
“I urge you to continue to resist those who do not mean well for the state. They try to misinform our people so as to cause problem as they still live in the past. These people come with different stories to misinform you, taking things out of proportion, making promises without fulfilling them. Watch out for them.
I call for support and understanding especially in view of the ongoing public service reforms. You have a governor who means well for you. Play your part by praying and continue to support us as the holy book says, we should pray for those in authority,” Dickson told the people.
But in the course of the brouhaha, several interests had arisen, people with other motives were taking advantage of the situation, purportedly including a popular musician in the Niger Delta region, who was also adding fuel to fire by waxing songs and arousing sentiments. This was strongly repudiated by the King of the area.
The Amananaowei of Amassoma, Maj. Graham Naingba (rtd), warned against attempts to ignite fresh tension and deepen the crisis that engulfed the area.
The monarch cautioned a popular Ijaw musician, Barrister Smooth, who is from Delta State against waxing any music on the crisis involving the NDU and the Amassoma community.
In a statement, the monarch noted that such an action was condemnable and reprehensible as it could negate ongoing efforts of the Bayelsa State Government to resolve the crisis.
He added that Governor Dickson, had not only put adequate measures in place to address emergent issues but was also effectively resolving the crisis.
He warned characters with dubious intent with the backing of politicians focused on 2019 elections to desist from exploiting the crisis to cause further division in Amassoma community.
“It has come to the attention of the traditional institution and authorities of Amassoma that a popular musician, Chief Barrister Smooth, has released a musical record in the form of an inflammatory dirge on the recent crisis in our dear community, Amassoma.
“While we are not opposed to genuine efforts geared towards peace, security and prosperity of our town, the people of Amassoma are not in support of the activities of the particular musician with the backing of politicians which are designed to inflame passions in the community.
“Politicians should leave Amassoma alone. The tendency to exploit a crisis situation to aggravate conflict cannot be the best way to show concern and love. This is unknown to the culture of our people.
“The Amassoma community finds this curious action as unpatriotic. Amassoma can do without these crocodile tears and detrimental sympathies.
“For the purpose of emphasis, we advise that nobody should compose a song to inflame tension and threaten public peace in our community.
“The governor and the traditional authorities have not only put machinery in place to address the issue but are indeed resolving the crisis. Nobody should do anything that will inflame passions or acts that can lead to further unrest in our community,” the monarch said.
Also, the heads of the various security agencies in Bayelsa State have resolved to raise their level of synergy to ensure cases are resolved before they get out of hand.
At the 42nd State Security Council meeting held at the Government House, Yenagoa, the various Security Commanders assured members of the public that concerted efforts were being made to bring about permanent peace in Amassoma community and its environs.
While urging all parties to remain calm, law abiding and cooperate with the security agencies in the maintenance of peace in Amassoma and other parts of the state, they also warned the youths not to allow themselves to be used by self-seeking individuals and desperate politicians to foment trouble.
The Bayelsa Elders Council has also joined other well-meaning groups to condemn in its entirety, the crisis that rocked the community resulting in the loss of lives.
This was contained in a communiqué issued at the end of a meeting between Governor Dickson and the Elders Council in Government House, Yenagoa.
The communiqué, which was jointly signed by the Chairman of the Council, Chief Francis Doukpola and its Secretary, Lady Ann Yougha empathised with the bereaved families and those injured in the unfortunate incident.
The Council called for early return of peace to the Amassoma community, urging the various factions in the community to cooperate with the government to enthrone enduring peace and unity.
While also calling for the early reopening of the Niger Delta University, NDU, the Council stressed the need for the state government to take appropriate steps to facilitate reconciliation efforts in Amassoma.
The Elders Council expressed support for the ongoing reforms at the NDU and the public service, adding that the process would make for job creation and sanity in all the government ministries and agencies.
On the issue of school fees, the Elders Council urged the management of the Niger Delta University to as a matter of urgency make information available in the public domain to the effect that fees in the school have not been increased.
Meanwhile, the police say they have contained the crisis in the town and arrests of persons who perpetrated the violencehave been effected.
“In the wake of the violent protest and destruction of properties by hoodlums at the Police Division, Police Out-Post and the Niger Delta University (NDU), the Commissioner of Police CP Don Awunah, led the Senior Police Officers to Amassoma community for on-the-spot assessment of damages.
“Similarly, at the Niger Delta University the hoodlums stole desktop computers, deep freezers, fridges, televisions and other appliances, from several offices in the school
“After assessing the damage and the property stolen, the Commissioner of Police directed the Command’s Tactical Commanders to apprehend the suspects and recover the stolen items.
“The Tactical Commanders immediately swung into action and based on actionable intelligence, and the combined effort of Local Vigilante, Policemen raided a Criminal hideout at Ogobiri Community, Amassoma and recovered seven computers stolen from the ICT centre Niger Delta University (NDU) and a ceiling fan,” Asinim Butswat, Spokesman of the state Police Command said.
The police refuted insinuations that Governor Dickson gave any order to invade Alamieyeseigha’s town, stating that the Vice Chancellor of the University and some critical stakeholders reached an agreement to reopen the school.
“Therefore the school authority informed the Bayelsa State Police Command through a letter, to provide security in the university to prevent hoodlums from stealing the property of the university.
“Consequently, on 21st May 2018, the command deployed security personnel to the university. On arrival at the gate, the detachment of policemen met a hostile crowd, who fired shots at them. The Police had to use reasonable force to contain the hostile protesters.
“In the ensuing melee, two police officers were injured, five Police vehicles vandalised and the protesters attacked the Amassoma Police Division.
“Meanwhile, 18 suspects have been arrested for riotous behaviour, attack on the police station and police officers. The suspects will soon be charged to court.
“The command has also rescued eighty 80 Youth Corpers who are vulnerable to attack, from Amassoma Community and were handed over to the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) officials in Yenagoa,” the police said.
But in the words of Dickson, the mark of a good leader is being able to do the right thing always. “The preliminary report that I have received is appalling; but my duty is to do what is right,” Dickson maintained.