The shoes Seriake Dickson is leaving behind
Dickson is on the verge of breaking a jinx of longevity in office by becoming the first elected governor of Bayelsa to have completed two full terms, which in some ways created a stable environment for the enunciation of policies and programmes, and seeing to their diligent implementation.
By disrupting the high turnover of Administrators/Governors, there has been signaling to investors, contractors, and sundry stakeholders of stability, certainty and sanctity of contracts which has often been a challenge in Nigeria’s public sector contracting.
Carved out of the old Rivers State, Bayelsa had three Military Administrators from its birth in 1996 until the advent of democracy in 1999. And no one elected governor, before Dickson, had been able to complete two maximum terms of four years each.
Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha governed from May 1999 and was in his second term when he was dramatically impeached in December 2005, on the apparent instigation of the Federal Government. Alamieyeseigha was succeeded by Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, who governed from December 2005 until May 2007. Under a cloud of legal turbulence, Timipre Sylva served as governor from May 2007 to January 2012, when he was sacked by the courts. Even before his judicial ouster, Sylva vacated his seat and Bayelsa had an Acting Governor for a brief spell.
What has Seriake Dickson done with his two terms? The answer is that he has been both phenomenal and transformational. And six broad themes of evaluation bear eloquent testimony to my assessment of Dickson’s legacy. The themes, interlinked and mutually reinforcing, are philosophy and style of governance, prudent resource management with a high tenor of accountability, infrastructure, human capital development, inter-governmental relations, and the deepening of Izon cultural heritage.
Dickson’s flagship infrastructural project is, without question, the Bayelsa International Airport, from conception to finish. But what is no less important is that his administration began the rapid and conscientious implementation of the Yenagoa City Master Plan, which had earlier been finalised in 2007. The implementation of the Master Plan gave rise to massive construction activities in Greater Yenagoa—bridges, flyovers, dualization of roads, erosion control measures, health facilities, new housing schemes, more spacious structures for government ministries, departments and agencies.
Among several sectors of attention, Dickson’s passion has been evident in striving to alter for good the narrative of Bayelsa’s human capital. Through a fine mix of determination, policy, infrastructure, and meaningful resource allocation, the administration scores high in the human capital development arena.
The impact of his multi-pronged interventions has been felt—and will linger—in basic, secondary, and tertiary education. The first signal that he meant serious business was to declare a state of emergency in the education sector. Primary and secondary education is free along with textbooks, notebooks, uniforms, and other stationery.
First, in tackling accommodation shortages, the Dickson administration rehabilitated 400 primary and secondary schools throughout the state, constructed additional facilities complete with staff quarters and administrative blocks. The government introduced compulsory boarding in all three senatorial districts. A Sports Academy was set up at Asoama, while another Football Academy was established at Angalabiri. At the tertiary level, Dickson’s signature is writ large. He established the following: Medical University, Yenagoa; the University of Africa at Toru-Orua, and the Isaac Adaka Boro College of Education at Sagbama.
In addition to instituting an Education Trust Fund and Students’ Loan Scheme, the government under Dickson continued the funding of inherited scholarships, and in fact awarded new ones. These included 140 Doctoral and 300 Master’s candidates. Indeed, all holders of First Class (Bachelor’s), Master’s, and Doctorate degrees were employed into the state’s academic institutions, just as medical, pharmacy, and medical laboratory graduates were absorbed into the state’s medical institutions.
The government has equally been vigorous in its pursuit of the health agenda, which has seen to the launch of the Bayelsa Health Insurance Scheme, the construction and equipment of a Specialist Hospital at Yenagoa, the delivery of a world-class Diagnostic Centre attached to the Medical University, establishment of new health centres, along with the rehabilitation of existing centres. Both the Niger Delta University Teaching Hospital at Okolobiri, and the School of Nursing at Tombia were upgraded.
Every Izon should be delighted at the various institutionalized measures championed by the Dickson administration to deepen Izon cultural heritage. He created a Ministry of Ijaw Culture, established the Ijaw National Academy in Kaiama, and incorporated the study of native languages in the school curriculum with scholarships for students of native languages and employment thereafter for such graduates. He went further to seek collaboration to introduce Izon as a course of study in universities outside Bayelsa. His administration also built and equipped a State Museum and Archives in Yenagoa.
Yet, despite championing the Izon cause, Dickson’s government has provided an umbrella to accommodate all others. Indeed, one of his assets is a talent for recruiting to join him in the task of governance seasoned and self-less personalities, as was evident in the composition of the Advisory Council of Bayelsa Development and Investment Council. He gave appointments to non-indigenes, Christians, and Muslims alike; built and equipped an ultra-modern Ecumenical Centre in Yenagoa. A grateful heart, Bayelsa now has a law-backed Annual Thanksgiving Day every November 2, featuring fasting and prayer.
No state chief executive with a Father Christmas disposition could have achieved the milestones now rightfully credited to Gov. Dickson. He made accountability a legal imperative and walked the talk. Under the Bayelsa State Income and Expenditure Transparency Law, which was legislation in fulfillment of one of the pledges in his inaugural address in 2012, the governor is under a duty to publicly render an account of the state’s monthly income and expenditure.
Failure to render the account in two consecutive months is an impeachable offense. Bayelsans are now accustomed to the monthly briefings known as Transparency Briefing.
This has engendered trust by the people, and therefore canvassing their support for just causes has become relatively easier.
Allied to accountability, the framework for managing the state’s resources also incorporates the legal compulsion to save for the rainy day. This is through the Bayelsa State Government and Local Government Compulsory Savings Law, which provides among others, that the state government save at least five per cent of income accruing to it, and a similar saving of not less than five per cent by all eight local governments in the state. How valuable Dickson’s prudent management of resources has been—with positive development outcomes—is better appreciated against the background of his many ambitious projects and programmes that he was not discouraged despite the state’s finances being heavily impacted by the national economic recession of 2016 – 2018 and the sluggish recovery thereafter.
Long before the current national campaign for full autonomy for local governments, and to make truly meaningful autonomy for state judiciary and state Houses of Assembly, Gov. Dickson was a pacesetter.
As far back as 2012, early in Dickson’s tenure, Bayelsa passed the Judiciary (Financial Autonomy) Law, which makes mandatory the prompt release every month of funds duly appropriated to the judicial branch, through the Chief Judge and the President of the Customary Court of Appeal of the state.
Through the autonomy device, Dickson has also maintained a healthy relationship with the state legislature, thereby giving meaning to the checks and balances inherent in the doctrine of separation of powers.
With his landmark achievements, Governor Dickson’s place in Bayelsa’s history is assured. The shoes he is leaving behind are big. Yet, notwithstanding his success story, there is the very important issue of the future of governance after he leaves office in February 2020. Politicians, in particular, are wont to say that success without a successor is not quite a success story. In response to that aphorism, Nigeria’s Fourth Republic has witnessed, especially since 2007, the imposition of a successor, regardless of the popularity and competence deficits of such a person.
Happily, Gov. Dickson has demonstrated fair-mindedness and a preference for competence, loyalty, and dedication to the Bayelsa and Izon cause. The expectation is that, through wide consultations and massive support mobilization, the best will emerge from among the multitude now aspiring to call the shots from Creek Haven, after Dickson makes his exit.
Prof Azaiki, a member of the House of Representatives, is a former Secretary to the Bayelsa State Government.