Dickson: The metaphorical historian
Mr Seriake Dickson, the giant-sized Governor of Bayelsa State, is about to become the historian of the hunt, not only of his State but indeed of the Niger Delta region.
Recently, he marked the sixth anniversary of his administration and put on display the accomplishments chalked up during the period. I had seen Bayelsa when it was a one-road-one-petrol station state when it was created in October 1996.
It was not different from many Niger Delta States. Most, infact all of them, bore the unenviable trademarks of paradox, of grinding poverty in the midst of vulgar opulence, of a man who lives on the farm and dies of famine, of a woman who lives on the banks of a river and washes her hands with spittle.
In the Newswatch issue of October 18, 2004 I had said: “The Niger Delta, the drab, damp oil-rich region of Nigeria wears a perpetual sulk. It is a dismal soul-stifling entity with its face puffed up by the assault of the many fingered swirl of soot which has darkened its skies and poisoned its air.
The people wear a sad, mournful look that disguises the deep-buried fire of anger that has been part of the region’s psyche for half a century.” The anger is still there because the injustices that gave birth to the anger are still there.
But from his own little corner, Mr. Dickson is doing his best to reverse the unhappy circumstances of his Bayelsa people. By his deeds in Bayelsa and his pronouncements on the Niger Delta condition he is steadily painting an image of himself as an uncrowned spokesman of the Niger Delta people.
Bayelsa, also called the Glory of All Lands, is a developer’s nightmare. Three quarters of the place is below sea level. As you walk on the streets your feet or your shoes are caressed by water seeping out of the soil.
That is evidence that the terrain is, in fact, very treacherous. This unwholesome terrain is evidence of the advantage of disadvantage for it is in this state, in Oloibiri, that crude oil was first discovered in 1956.
The interesting story started from there but the narrative has changed because the environment has, since then, been blighted by oil exploration and exploitation. This blight has made the transition to modernity menacing.
As Dickson showcased his achievements in infrastructure, health and education it became clear that the narrative is beginning to change. We witnessed the commissioning of roads and bridges, health and educational facilities. Dr. Olusegun Obasanjo, former president, was so impressed with the world class diagnostic centre that he promised to come there often for his medical check-up.
It is perhaps in the education sector that Mr. Dickson’s vision has been most obvious. By declaring an emergency on education he struck a blow for the liberation of his people from the pangs of illiteracy, poverty and inferiority complex. He made education free and compulsory and on August 10, 2017 he signed into law the Education Development Trust Fund Bill.
The law provides that 10% of the internally generated revenue will be committed to education. Also 1% of all contract funds will also be sunk into improving the mindscape of Bayelsans. At the last count, about N70 billion had been ploughed into the education sector. Twenty five compulsory free boarding secondary schools and 15 model secondary schools including the special all-expenses paid Ijaw National Academy, have been built.
Mr. Dickson not only shows a clear vision about the possibilities of education but also about the repercussions of its neglect. He says: “There are two clear options.
It is either we build prisons or remand homes everywhere to prepare for the consequence of the inadequate investment in education or we build schools.” He elaborates further by explaining the all-encompassing virtues of education.
“Not only is education the means by which we can bring about a better and prosperous tomorrow but it is the way we can guarantee and safeguard it.” By his strong emphasis on education and health care he shows a clear understanding that both of them are mutually reinforcing and that one without the other is insufficient.
Dr. Obasanjo described Mr. Dickson as a transformational leader at the ground-breaking ceremony of the privately owned Azikel Refinery at Obunagha in Yenagoa Local Government.
Obasanjo said that Dickson “had not only transformed the landscape of the State but has made the once volatile State relatively secure, stable and peaceful.” And Obasanjo is a man who is famous for being stingy with praise.
What stands in favour of Dickson is that he has the uncommon ability to dream positive dreams, articulate them convincingly and translate them into reality.
He believes like the British Statesman, Benjamin Disraeli, that “with words we govern men.” Dreams, even good dreams, can die without the dreamer’s ability to make a strong and convincing articulation of it so that the footsoldiers can translate them into reality.
Dickson articulates his vision with the ferocious force of facts well assembled, in words well arranged and in logic well calibrated. He is the king of extempore speech-making.
He speaks from the heart, from the foundation of conviction, he is not grandstanding. What he says sounds truthful either because or even inspite of his gift of oratory.
When he arrived in Bayelsa from the House of Representatives where he was a member he noticed the malevolent state that Nigeria’s partisan politics had inflicted on Bayelsa and the Niger Delta. He decided he would confront that fate with the weapons of words and wheels.
When he saw that the future qualities of the Niger Delta people were compromised by the withering injustice and deprivation inflicted on them he decided he would be a forensic warrior for the cause of his people. Eventhough his people had taken up arms to fight their cause from creek to creek he was ready to join the fray with forensic warfare.
With forensic warfare he sought to win the minds and hearts of the Pharaohs that were keeping his people in economic subjugation. He was not fazed by the magnitude and multitude of the problems.
In the full tide of the massive investment in education he will reap the bountiful harvest of a population that will be able to engage sensibly in the national conversation. That awareness will also contribute sensibly to the task of state building and peace building.
He speaks forcefully but not rashly on resource control, the siting of a refinery in Niger Republic instead of the Niger Delta, the necessity for restructuring, the relocation of oil majors to the Niger Delta, instead of their descending on the territory as vultures, scooping their loot and flying away.
The following oil producing states have no refineries; Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Edo, Ondo, Imo, Abia and Cross River state, so what is the logic of siting a refinery in Niger Republic with funds from the Niger Delta.
A refinery is an amenity that can convey immense employment and developmental benefits to the communities where they are sited. In saner climes, and in submission to sensible economics, industries are sited at areas of close proximity to raw materials.
At the Azikel Refinery ground, Dickson called for a fairer sharing of the oil blocks with the Niger Delta people as major beneficiaries since they bear the brunt and bruises of oil exploitation.
He put it succinctly: “what you call an oil block is a piece of our ancestral property carved out by our surveyors that you are giving away at our expense.” Will this logic sink into the skulls of the Pharaohs? Or will it be dismissed as hate speech, the new label for contrary opinion?
In the Niger Delta struggle, Bayelsa stands tall. It produced the first oil well at Oloibiri; it produced the first warrior for the Niger Delta cause, Isaac Adaka Boro. It hosted the famous Kaiama Declaration that produced the major roadmap for the struggle of the Niger Delta people. It paid a heavy price at Odi when that town was reduced to rubble by the irascible Obasanjo government.
The struggle has produced many other heroes: Ken Saro Wiwa, Asari Dokubo, some state Governors, civil society groups, opinion leaders and journalists but the end is not yet in sight.
A lot still remains to be achieved to bring the Niger Delta region into modernity and make its people, the happy beneficiaries of their ancestral inheritance.
Dickson does not want his Bayelsa people to continue to wallow in the valley of poverty and despair. That is why he is embarking on a massive investment in infrastructural development, health and education. He is also making pronouncements on the necessity for equity and justice to the Niger Delta people.
By his development initiatives and his homily on equity and justice he is building, block by block, the peace architecture. Without development and justice there can be no peace. That seems to be the defining message of this forensic warrior.
If history decides to be fair to him it will say emphatically that he was one of the valiant warriors of the Niger Delta cause.
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