If Bayelsa State Governor Seriake Dickson preens himself on being “the only Valentine governor in the whole universe,” it is not just because he is adored by the people. But, it is also because the date, February 14, holds a special political significance for his administration.
Not even the current sombre economic realities could subdue the festive ambience in the state that straddles a substantial part of the Niger Delta last February 14. For that Tuesday was also a day it commemorated Dickson’s fifth year as governor. The governor, who for the above reason is nicknamed, among other things, “the Valentine Governor”, had stomped into his second term in office after his victory in the bitterly-contested election of December 5, 2015.
Indeed, no election in the state’s history had elicited as much nationwide interest as that election. And it is not hard to figure out why this happened to be so. The former ruling party, Peoples Democratic Party had just lost its grip on power at the federal level to the All Progressives Congress. So, Dickson, as its flag-bearer in the state, found himself unwittingly leading its fight for survival.
Indeed, “fight for survival” it turned out to be, for Bayesa, being also the former President Goodluck Jonathan’s home state – as one of the few surviving PDP – controlled states – was hoping to remain so. Surely, the prospect of the APC flag-bearer and the state’s former governor, Timipre Sylva, returning to the Creek Haven once more as governor would not have been a cheery one for the ex-president. Was he not behind the former’s removal from office?
These undercurrents may have helped prepare the grounds for what Dickson’s chief press secretary, Daniel Iworiso-Markson, described as the election that witnessed “the worst violence in the nation’s history” in his book, How Governor Dickson Deployed People Power to Defeat Federal Might, which was launched on February 14. Perhaps, also, many out there in the streets of the state capital, Yenagoa, would want to corroborate this assertion.
But Dickson rather owes his folks-hero status to his indisputable landmark achievements in the state. Politicking, the governor believes, should be left behind with the elections. His Restoration government was back in power for a second term. That was what mattered.
When he first won the election in 2012, the governor had pledged in his inaugural speech not to “play politics with security and development”. Hence, he gave the state’s security system an unprecedented makeover and, thus, consigned the ugly spectre of insecurity in the state to the past. In the new system, a state-wide security communication network linked all the communities to the command and control centre. Thus, the governor and security commanders are constantly in touch with all the communities.
This security setup, which witnessed the installation of electronic surveillance equipment across the state, was backed up by a rapid-response security task force code-named “Operation Doo Akpo”.
Dickson, during his first term in office, also tackled the state’s infrastructural deficit head on. The accelerated infrastructural development of his administration did not corroborate the gloomy narrative bordering on the state’s indebtedness to the tune of N342 billion, allegedly incurred by the previous administration. Nor did the recent economic recession hinder his remarkable strides in agriculture during the first year of his second term. The governor himself crowed about the fact that the much-feared recession had not stopped his paying the salaries of the civil servants regularly.
Understandably, his administration – flying the banner of the Restoration Agenda – had swung into action with a sense of urgency. The mission, which was to drastically improve the state of infrastructure throughout Bayelsa, yielded the desired results particularly the state capital, Yenagoa. His administration aimed to diversify the economy of the state, which supplies a substantial part of Nigeria’s oil revenue, through tourism, agriculture and industrialisation as well as through the construction of new infrastructure, including a good network of roads and the expansion of other existing ones.
Opening up the state for easy accessibility across the three senatorial districts in a bid to promote trade and industry, thus, became a top priority. Of course, the obvious implication of this for investors is not only having an easy access to all parts of the state, but also their ability to open businesses wherever suitable without worrying about basic infrastructure. This is also good news for farmers and agro-allied businesses, because they will easily be able to transport their products to markets. Likewise, tourists will move around to locate and enjoy the natural beaches and visit the numerous tourist attractions in the state.
Yet, the administration had to contend with a serious challenge. That is the fact that almost the entire state is on wetlands. The consequent marshy terrain makes infrastructural development not only expensive but also cumbersome. Nonetheless, the Dickson administration has so far been able to complete over 350 kilometres of roads across the state, 15 bridges, over 50 public buildings and two flyovers.
In addition, 18 roads and two outer ring roads were dualised while the secretariat for the Traditional Rulers Council in Yenagoa was constructed. Also, the road that links the old campus of the state-owned Niger Delta University in Amassoma to the new one was also completed. Add to these, the completion of 25 internal roads in Yenagoa, a feat which was replicated in all the eight local government headquarters during the first phase of total rehabilitation and transformation of roads in the state.
Among other completed projects is the construction of the state archives, museum, language centre, new secretariat annexes, governor and deputy governors’ office complexes, modern police mess, rehabilitation of the Gloryland Cultural Centre and construction of the Government House Clinic. And, of course, the pharmaceutical storage and distribution centre has since become functional, being the first of its kind in Africa.
Other noteworthy projects of the administration include the ambitious new Yenagoa city, which when completed hopes to be the new Dubai in Africa, especially in terms of facilities and opening business opportunities. There are also the strategically-located bridges in the three senatorial districts, the construction of an airport and the Agge Deep Seaport. Governor Dickson hopes that the successful completion of these two projects would speed up the quest for a diversified and vibrant economy, thereby making oil just one of the sources of income for the state.
The seaport, it is expected, would also jump-start the state economy so much in terms of massive job-creation, boom in trade, leading to a huge leap in income for the state and of course a new lease of life for the people. The governor also hopes that the completion of Bayelsa airport would, among other benefits, create a direct link to Yenagoa, thereby eliminate the two- kilometre drive from Port-Harcourt airport.
It is also to Governor Dickson’s credit that the education sector got a terrific shot in the arm across the state. Besides the poor working conditions of the teachers, infrastructure in public schools was in a sorry state before he took over the reins of government in 2012. Thus, Bayelsa which was among Nigeria’s educationally disadvantaged states soon became a state that enjoyed a successful free qualitative education.
The administration tackled the physical infrastructural deficit by building from the scratch over 600 primary schools with headmasters and teachers’ quarters, nine model secondary schools and 25 constituency schools with boarding facilities in each of the local government areas across the state. It also invested massively in human capital development by making education literally free from primary all through to the secondary level. Even essential materials like school uniforms, sandals and textbooks are provided to students without their having to pay for it.
In addition, a number of existing schools – like St. Jude’s Girls Secondary School, Amarata, which is the oldest girls’ school in the state and Bishop Dimeari Grammar School, Yenagoa – were re-built and upgraded. Then, the state government spent over N6 billion in the state scholarship programme, with about 140 Bayelsans on fully paid government scholarships to study for PhDs in highly-rated universities in Nigeria, Europe, America and other parts of the world. Also, 400 Master’s degree students and various undergraduate students who studied or are still studying overseas are beneficiaries.
The state is also partnering with the US-based Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, which aside from having Bayelsa students learning on its campus, also extended technical assistance and support to the state-owned Niger-Delta University.
Still on education, the state government established the following institutions of learning: Teachers Training Institute, Bolou Orua, Maritime Academy, Okpoama, School of Agriculture, Ofoni International Institute for Tourism and Hospitality, Elebele International Institute of Driving, Yenagoa Music School, Yenagoa School of Nursing, Tombia, Sports Academy, Asoama, Football Academy, Angalabiri, Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro College of Education, Sagbama, the multi-billion naira Youth Development Centre, Kaiama and the State Polytechnic, among others.
These landmark achievements, among others, explains the people’s adulation for their “Countryman” governor. This was evident during especially evident during the Thanksgiving Service at the King of Glory Chapel, Government House, Yenagoa and at the other venues, where the administration’s celebration of its fifth year held.
It also explains the attendance of distinguished Bayelsans led by Senator Ben Murray-Bruce and friends of the state, led by the former president’s Special Assistant (Media), Dr Reuben Abati.