The Bridge Builder Bayelsans Need

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Kemela Okara

By Ayaowei Curtis-John

It is hard to describe Kemela Okara as a ‘typical’ politician. Because he is not. The impression one gets on meeting him for the first time is one of a confident, service-driven private sector player in government. That is because he means business every time. His serious attitude to work could be attributed to traits he inherited from his late father, Robert Okara, a judge in the judiciary in the old Rivers State from which Bayelsa State was carved out. Judicial officers are not known to be flippant. His easy understanding of the public sector could also be said to have been the result of the civil service background of his mother, Esther Okara, who retired as a Deputy Director in the Rivers State Ministry of Health. His own background as a successful lawyer has also helped him to cut through layers of public-private sector clutter to achieve results at the fastest possible time using the most efficient method possible.

Since his foray into politics, Okara has distinguished himself at all his duty posts, beginning with his appointment as the Commissioner for Trade, Industry, and Investment from 2014 to 2016 during the first term of outgoing Governor Seriake Dickson. He envisioned Bayelsa State as a ‘model of an African success story.’ To give bite to that mission, his ministry hosted the first edition of the Bayelsa State Investment and Economic Forum (BSIEF). The blueprint for Bayelsa’s industrial development, which his ministry developed in conjunction with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) also stands as a testimonial to his vision of service to the people. This is aside promoting entrepreneurship in a manner that has resulted in more than 3,000 micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in Bayelsa State accessing over N2billion fund to grow their businesses.

These achievements resulted in his reappointment by Governor Dickson after he received the people’s mandate for a second term in office. On November 30, 2017 Dickson rewarded Okara’s hard work and loyalty by appointing him as Secretary to the State Government (SSG), his last duty post in the Dickson administration. Working alongside the Governor, Okara became a key contributor to the Restoration Agenda to make the Dickson administration ‘finish strong.’ Broadly, the Restoration Agenda made it possible for all ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to develop and execute clear road maps to ensure that government did not falter on the home stretch of its second term.

But, then, of what good is it if a government leaves laudable legacies without any guarantee of continuity? Okara threw his hat in the fray as a possible successor to the outgoing Governor to consolidate the achievements of the last eight years “for the good of all and the love of Bayelsa.” The journey to realising that ambition starts on Monday, September 3, 2019 when the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) holds its governorship primaries to pick the party’s flag bearer at the upcoming November 30, general elections in Bayelsa State.

If the goal of the party primaries is to pick and robustly support the best candidate that will safeguard the future of Bayelsans, then Okara comes highly recommended. His candidacy carries a lot of weight across party lines, economic blocs, professional groups and within the rank of progressive Bayelsans. This is because of his proven track record of service to the people, his loyalty to the party and his vision to carry through a programme to sustain development in the state, as enunciated in his manifesto. Combined, these should easily have guaranteed him the ticket to fly PDP’s flag at the general elections. But, then, there are a few housekeeping issues to take care of to ensure PDP does not short-change itself at the polls.

First, is that internal democracy must be made to work within PDP. Worldwide, it is an accepted fact that politics is a game of numbers. Mindful of this, the party zoned the 2019 governorship to Bayelsa Central Senatorial District, which has yet to produce the Governor of the State since 1999. Within the central district, Yenagoa LGA has the highest bloc votes in the state. By fielding a candidate from Yenagoa, PDP would literally have locked in the votes to ensure victory in November. To do otherwise is to lose the votes to the opposition.

Targeting the highest bloc votes will, however, be an exercise in futility without a good and visionary candidate with a great masterplan that is generally acceptable to the electorate. Again, Okara fits the bill. Over time, he has demonstrated clear understanding of key issues in Bayelsa politics; he has proved himself capable of solving basic and complex problems of governance; his network of contacts cut across influencers within and outside PDP and he has achieved high personal visibility amongst the electorate.

His impeccable profile thus takes care of the remaining two issues that PDP stakeholders must address before the Monday primaries. As Lagos State has demonstrated, there is nothing inherently wrong with continuity. Since 1999, the State has been governed by the Alliance for Democracy (AD)/Action Congress of Nigeria (CAN) and the All Progressives Congress (APC), which is the special purpose vehicle of opposition. With every transition, succeeding administration have almost always improved the development masterplan that makes Lagos a subject of envy by other States. Bayelsa has also been work-in-progress for PDP since 1999. As Governor, Okara can only improve on the legacy of development he would inherit.

More than any other candidate in the race for the PDP ticket, he is widely accepted as the individual whose appeal cuts across every political tendency in the state, especially as represented by the group led by former President Goodluck Jonathan and the Restoration Group led by the outgoing Governor, Seriake Dickson. This fact is important because it underscores the need for a unifying candidate that would become a rallying point for other contestants and their supporters after the primaries. Without a strong candidate with a cross appeal to all interests, PDP should forget about winning the governorship race in November because opposition will capitalise on this internal weakness to decimate the party. Power, once lost, may take a long time to recover.

As things stand, Okara represents PDP’s brightest prospect of a return to Government House in November. His gubernatorial ambition needs the strong support of all party members, not just for him to emerge as a candidate but, importantly, to be voted as the eventual winner of the upcoming general elections in Bayelsa State in November 2019

*Ayaowei, a Bayelsan resides in Port Harcourt