The helmsman at the glory of all lands seeks to consolidate his work, writes Bolaji Adebiyi

Douye Diri, governor of Bayelsa State, came into office practically against the run of play. He was already in court though, challenging the declaration of David Lyon, the All Progressives Congress candidate as the winner of the governorship election that was held off-season in November 2019.

The Independent National Election Commission had awarded the price to Lyon, saying he amassed 352,552 votes against the 143,172 of Diri, who ran on the platform of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party. The latter complained to the election petition tribunal. But it was a different suit that brought trouble to the declared winner.

The governor-elect was at the parade ground in Yenagoa, the state capital, on the eve of his inauguration on 13 February 2020 when the Supreme Court pulled the rug off under his feet. The apex court said his ticket was tainted by Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, his associate, who, it said, filed false information with INEC. The court, therefore, said since something cannot stand on nothing, Lyon was hanging in the air and could not mount the saddle of leadership in the state.

“We were sure our petition was going to succeed, anyway,” Diri had said months after he took office, in an attempt to ward off the tag of a miracle governor. Whatever it is, the pre-election suit made that claim redundant as the third party, the Allied Party’s, case against the declaration was extremely weak and could not upturn the status quo.

For Diri, therefore, the circumstances of his ascension to office leave him with a charge, requiring that he prove his electoral potency. The 11 November contest ahead for the governorship of the state offers him the opportunity to demonstrate that he is not one of those derisively referred to as “the Supreme Court” governor. The task might not be simple. He is up against Timipre Sylva, the former governor of the state, and Lyon’s godfather, who plotted the APC’s electoral victory in 2019. The kingmaker now wants to be the king.

However, Diri thinks it should not be a difficult task. “When we talk about the roads we have built, some people went on social media and were asking why they were giving the governor accolades, and these were the same people who were in power for five years and didn’t do any road of that magnitude,” he told some editors who went to visit him in his homestead last week, in a clear reference to Sylva’s performance in office.

“My case,” the soft-spoken governor says, “is the magnitude of my work in the last three and a half years.”  Anchoring his return bid on his achievements will be the noble thing to do, after all, the strongest case for democracy is that it offers the best opportunity for the citizenry to make a choice based on their assessment of the worth of the candidates that put themselves forward for their service.

The good thing about the upcoming contest is that the two leading candidates have been in the saddle and the people have a concrete basis for assessment. APC’s Sylva was governor for five years and would later become the minister of state for Petroleum Resources, reporting directly to the President, Muhammadu Buhari, for four years. In all, he had done nine years at the top level, excluding his years in the Rivers State House of Assembly and his stint as special assistant to the minister of Petroleum in President Olusegun Obasanjo’s years.

Diri thinks Bayelsa has little or nothing to show for Sylva’s experience. Maybe. His own three and a half years would be up for the people’s assessment too. He speaks of his strides in infrastructure development pointing at his three senatorial districts’ highways leading out of Yenagoa, the state capital. His big-ticket road projects are Sagbama-Ekeremo in Bayelsa West, Yenagoa-Oporoma in Bayelsa Central, and Nembe-Brass in Bayelsa East.

Last Thursday, Abubakar Saad III, the Sultan of Sokoto, inaugurated the newly completed 10.2km Glory Drive dual carriageway. The road, which was started by Goodluck Jonathan, who later became president of Nigeria, stretches from Onopa, in the heart of the capital city, through several communities and terminates at Igbogene. He has also started work on the Nembe-Brass Road which has been illusory for years before now. “Everybody has forgotten that road, including their son (Timipre Sylva) who said that the road was not economically viable when he was governor,” he said.

With over 50 roads done, Diri argues that their sheer economic impact on several communities was bound to erode the sphere of poverty in the state. He thinks his boosting of Small and Medium Scale Enterprises with N200,000 per two persons per the 105 wards in the state monthly, his attention to the payment of pension and gratuity, regular payment of salary, youth empowerment, development of the New Yenagoa, and the improved security in the state are the strong points that will put his shoulder above his challenger in November.

“Looking at what we have done in just three and a half years, our people say we can’t go back to Egypt,” Diri says, in a clear derision of Sylva. Well, it’s just a few weeks away before the showdown. Without a doubt, the governor has made his own little contribution to the expansion of the once linear state that was carved out of Rivers State in 1996 by Sani Abacha, the nation’s late maximum ruler. Will the people reward him? He thinks so. But Time will tell.

Adebiyi, the executive editor of Western Post, is a member of the Editorial Board of THISDAY Newspapers

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