Thursday, January 14, 2016 11:20 am
True to the prediction of book makers, the Countryman Governor of Bayelsa State, Henry Seriake Dickson, recorded a resounding victory against the all conquering All Progressives Congress (APC) in the recently concluded Bayelsa State polls. In deed it was a well-deserved for Dickson and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) going by the concrete achievements of the governor and his popularity with the ordinary people.
What is baffling and ironical to me was why a man whose political philosophy is anchored on non- violence and consensus building would suffer so much violence orchestrated by the APC militant leaders in connivance with some rogue elements in the military to cow Dickson and rig the polls for APC. These attacks left some PDP members killed and many Bayelsans injured. And true to his personality of a politician of conviction, Dickson cancelled the celebration of his victory in honour of those killed and dedicated his crown to God, Bayelsans who voted and victims of the election violence.
Self-effacing almost to a point verging on shyness, Governor Dickson doesn’t seem like one who would have chosen politics as a vocation. However, beneath that look lies a steely resolve. It is that gritty spirit, coupled with a yearning for public service, that has helped him navigate the often vicious world of politics.
Although he has held public office as Chairman of the defunct Alliance for Democracy, Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General of Bayelsa State, member of the House of Representatives from 2007 until early 2012, he mostly kept a low profile and stayed away from the limelight. So he was a largely unknown politician outside his home state until he took the nation by storm with his sponsorship of the amendment of Evidence Act bill, the first ever since 1954. But the old saying that fortune often favours the meek would change all that on February 14, 2012, when he was inaugurated as Bayelsa State governor.
Some may have viewed Dickson’s triumph then as the predictable outcome of being the candidate of the ruling national party in a president’s home state. But such cynical notion would have been validated if he had lost in the recent gubernatorial election where the implied support from Abuja was totally absent. This victory was despite the fact that some figures within his party were, curiously, bent on frustrating his re-election bid. Prominent political associates of former president Goodluck Jonathan, led by his wife, Dame Patience, Senator Emmanuel Paulker and Dr. Tarila Tabepah who ordinarily should back Dickson worked so hard to deliver the candidate of the All Progressives Party (APC) Chief Timipre Sylva to no avail. Many of these politicians decamped to the APC while some of them remained in the PDP to give the governor the fight of his life, not because he has not delivered on his campaign promise to Bayelsans but simply because he has refused to service the greed of the elites.
This in conjunction with the deployment of federal might to capture Bayelsa State by hook or crook made the governorship battle the fierciest in the Niger Delta. But Governor Dickson’s resolute focus on the crown, his community to community campaign on issues, his track record of service delivery and concrete achievements in the last four years, his popularity and organic link with the electorate, the regular citizens who vote were the instruments which kept the APC at bay from Bayelsa. Dickson’s victory is therefore a bold reaffirmation that people’s will should always triumph above federal might once a people resolve to stand by their leader.
If the APC takes all Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom states where re-runs are expected as well as retain Edo, then Nigeria can be effectively described as a one party system and that would breed bare faced dictatorship!
There is a subtle but poignant point inherent in the triumph: it established Governor Dickson as a preeminent voice in the Niger Delta; it curtailed what would have effectively been a resounding humiliation for the PDP, the Ijaw nation and subversion of a people’s choice to decide who governs them. Indeed, a defeat for Dickson would, conceivably, hav unleashed a domino effect across the Niger Delta states and change the political equation in the region. In other words, a denial of Dickson’s well deserved victory would have changed the pendulum in favour of APC in the Niger Delta / South South states where periodic elections would hold and re-run elections ordered by the courts. It is against this background that I agree with political analysts who posit that the re-election of Governor Dickson has saved the nation from drifting to a one party state. If the APC takes all Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom states where re-runs are expected as well as retain Edo, then Nigeria can be effectively described as a one party system and that would breed bare faced dictatorship!
For Dickson, however, the contest was never about notching up bragging rights; it was a question of rendering service to the electorate. And it was by no means the typical soapbox rhetoric. Mounting the saddle in a state where spending on public utilities had always seemed like an afterthought, there are actually compelling reasons to assume the state of affairs would remain decadent. Dickson shook up such cynicism in the people by proving that service delivery in politics could indeed be the norm and not the exception.
In doing so, he kindled a new political consciousness in the people that repulsed the old decadent order and embraced an option that promises a better future. It was such progressive thought – reinforced by Dickson’s fidelity to the common good – that nurtured a sense of obligation in the people, reflected in the decision to resist the shenanigans that made the Bayelsa election a near bloodbath to retain the governor in Creek Haven.
It was altruism at work and it has been the defining virtue that underpins all of his actions as a public servant. This selfless commitment to the public good has inspired a new work ethos in the state where the workforce is predominantly civil servants. The results are proving to be inevitable socio-economic benchmarks of assessment for states across the federation. A brief highlight of his scorecard makes this self-evident: construction of 450 kilometres of roads in the last three years; rebuilding the Isaac Adaka Boro road into a six-lane highway; and building Bayelsa’s first ever flyover.
These and several other impressive works were implemented in spite of declining revenue from the federal purse. Anyone familiar with the philosophy on which the governor’s development vision revolves won’t find this surprising. For him, an enduring economic growth can be achieved only through investments in sectors that are not tied to the vagaries of oil price. This explains his strong emphasis on human capital development and the drive to make agriculture in the state a profitable venture. The importance he attaches to that goal is underscored by the fact that many indigenous companies have been beneficiaries of the administration’s policies on award of contracts.
Of course, committing over 30 billion naira to the state’s free education and scholarship programmes is another ample demonstration of that conviction. He has, in addition, built 400 primary schools across the state, 24 model boarding secondary schools in the state’s 24 constituencies, and rebuilt many secondary and tertiary schools, including the previously moribund Bayelsa State College of Arts and Science.
Youths for whom tertiary education might have otherwise been a mirage have seen their dream come true. The scholarship scheme launched by Dickson funds bachelor’s and master’s degrees as well as doctoral programmes in Nigerian and foreign universities for thousands of Ijaw-speaking people.
The commitment to agriculture has actually yielded immense fruits as evident in the number of plantations with thriving cultivation of rice, cassava, plantain, vegetables, and palm produce. The ancillary industry spawned by the state’s programme in agriculture has been just as impressive, with the Ebedebiri Commercial Cassava Starch Processing Plant coming on stream. Experts say the plant could actually generate over 30 thousand jobs at its optimal capacity.
He may have been re-elected as governor, but the larger beneficiary of that victory is the Bayelsa electorate. Election of the state’s helmsmen – as in many other states – had long been subject to external whims which were seldom ever in sync with the wishes of the people. Dickson’s election has put an end to that and laid the foundation for democracy to flourish. The hope is that it would not be truncated by the desperation of a few for whom political ambition counts more than the people’s wellbeing.
Comrade Onumah is a Public Affairs Analyst, wrote from Yenagoa