It is certain that the modest efforts of Governor Henry Dickson would improve the development strides in Bayelsa State if the new government of Douye Diri sustains the tempo, writes Stanley Nkwazema
Many believe the man from Toru Orua and immediate past governor of Bayelsa State, Henry Seriake Dickson has done so much to garner some accolades, having spent the last eight years transforming the state. He has elevated the standard of education, with Bayelsa rising from perennial 32nd position in federal examinations, to being rated among the top six in the last six years. Good infrastructure development, improved healthcare delivery and a secure state, despite threats, are some of his other achievements.
In his last weeks, Dickson worked at a frenzied pace to finish stronger and commissioned several projects before leaving office on February 14. To many, the ‘Kontriman’ Governor, who revolutionised education by introducing the free compulsory education from primary to tertiary institutions and employment of Masters and PhD holders from the state to lecture in the schools, served the state with all his might. The people of Bayelsa will appreciate the investment in education in the near future when some of the graduates of the system start taking over positions of authority.
As part of the finishing strong initiative of the administration, Dickson directed that all projects nearing 90 per cent completion, including the Onopa Bridge, which leads to the New Yenagoa City, be completed. The Opume Bridge in Ogbia Local Government Area and the Harold Dappa-Biriye Conference Centre in Onopa, were completed and commissioned. Other projects include the high profile road by the Nigerian Airforce Mobility Command, the Kpansia Market road and the Yenizue-Gene New GRA main access road, the Bayelsa Palm and the old Assembly Quarters roads, which were completed and are now in use.
Also commissioned was the completed first phase of the Isaac Boro Expressway, between Oxbow Lake and Opolo Roundabout, while the second phase between Opolo and Tombia Roundabout at Etegwe were resurfaced.
Indeed, to Dickson, lack of education was at the root of instability, militancy and insurgency, and he urged multinational oil companies to emulate the Nigerian Army by adopting secondary schools already built by the state government. He disclosed that the government had committed N80 billion to the development of educational infrastructure in Bayelsa, aside from salaries, in pursuit of the vision to create access to education.
According to him, the state has 13 functional model secondary schools with about 10,000 young Bayelsans enjoying free education in quality boarding secondary school.
Dickson, who spoke at the maiden matriculation ceremony of the Bayelsa State Polytechnic, Aleibiri, Ekeremor Local Government Area, told the mammoth crowd of students and stakeholders that the large number of projects embarked upon by his administration would stand him out as a leader who came prepared to serve his people
He is always proud to let you know the difficulties he encountered getting formal education in the then old Rivers State while growing up. He wants people to note that though, some people may not appreciate his modest revolutionary projects, but that posterity would be fair to him in its judgement as one who paved the way for sustainable development through education.
“The Polytechnic was established in line with this administration’s vision of producing the critical mass of manpower required to drive the oil and gas industry and other sectors of the economy. The Polytechnic will ever remain dear to me. I urge the management to strictly focus on technical-oriented courses and research. Most of the investments we have made as a government, including the Bayelsa State Polytechnic, are futuristic in nature. We are tackling the bigger issues that would expand the frontiers of development of our dear state.
“One sure way to actualise this vision is by addressing educational challenges, and that’s why we have built several schools and provided scholarships. We will even give the last set of scholarships before I round off my service by February 14th. To ensure Sustainability, our programmes, such as the Education Development Trust Fund and Higher Education Loan Scheme, are all backed up by law.
“People may not appreciate what we have done, but I’m very sure that posterity will be fair in its judgement on my stewardship. I want the world to watch out for the Bayelsa children that we are training now because we have broken the jinx. If these Investments are sustained, we will have excess human capacity in every field of endeavour.”
Although there are fears that most of the institutions could be neglected or at best turned to glorified institutions just like the Bayelsa State University before Dickson’s intervention, the Chairman of the schools Governing Council, BYSPOLY, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Mike Zuokumor (Rtd), lauded Governor Dickson for his foresight in establishing the institution which, he noted, would enhance the development of its host communities.
It is worth recalling that several years ago, Bayelsa State languished in the bottom half of states’ students’ performance chart in the West African Examination Council and in other examinations.
However, moving from the sad ‘laughing-stock’ status and after investing heavily in the critical education sector, both in the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors, the state is now occupying an enviable 5th position in the latest chart released. The huge investment in the education sector is worth acknowledging and has changed the narrative by establishing the Ijaw National Academy in Kaiama and by establishing model secondary schools in all the Local Government Areas in the state.
The Bayelsa State Education Development Trust Fund (BYEDTF) Board was established by Law in 2017. The 14-member board is composed of people with broad knowledge and expertise in major fields of education, fund-raising, endowments, educational foundations, et cetera. The fund will be used to drive academic excellence and human capacity building in the state and help prepare Bayelsans for a future without petroleum. The board of the Bayelsa Education Development Trust Fund has received the sum of N100 million as take-off grant from the state government.
It is worth recalling that former governor Dickson brilliantly engineered the establishment of the University of Africa, Toru-Orua, and Bayelsa Medical University, outside the Niger Delta University which was established before his administration, to increase the accessibility of Bayelsans to quality and affordable education.
Years ago, many doubted and questioned why the Bayelsa State House of Assembly would pass a Bill establishing a new state-owned university when the existing Niger Delta University and other state-owned tertiary institutions could be further developed for optimal performance. Such a move was then thought to be irrelevant.
However, Dickson, in his usual unruffled and focused nature, calmed the storm and the frayed nerves by reassuring the citizens of the state that the University of Africa was being established to change the narrative of university education in the state and Nigeria, through a paradigm shift from a publicly funded university education to a Public-Private partnership, where the state contributes part of the funds and the private sector helps out with the other part. Now, skeptics are wiser.
Indeed, Dickson had on March 31, 2017, signed the Education Trust Fund Bill into law, which made it compulsory for different categories of workers, including contractors and civil servants in Bayelsa, to pay education levies.
In June 2017, he inaugurated a 14-member board of the Education Trust Fund, chaired by a former Minister of Science and Technology, Turner Isoun. The board went to work and in February 2018, presented its first annual report to the governor, declaring a receipt of about N800 million out of which it spent N300 million, leaving a balance of N500 million.
Dickson said, “We have also drastically reduced the number of out-of-school children by 90 per cent. Our model boarding schools, which today have over 10,000 students, mostly from poor families on full government scholarships, is also one of the revolutions that has happened in that sector.
Before the Dickson led government assumed office, it was an incontrovertible fact that private schools were booming, as all government institutions of learning were in a state of comatose. Teachers seldom attended classes, as well as students. The remote areas were even worse as school facilities were dilapidated and in certain cases inhabitable and, indeed, there was neither supervision nor incentives like housing for workers who were from outside the region. There was heavy rural-Urban migration yet salaries were being paid and since there was no proper supervision, the schools’ board became a dumping ground. This was what influenced the Dickson administration to focus on the three vital areas of, infrastructure, manpower and quality educational quality.