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Sylva boasts of return as Okara touts fairness, equity

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Kamela Okara


There are indications that the search for Governor Henry Seriake Dickson’s successor would pose a serious challenge to Bayelsans during the forthcoming November 16, 2019, gubernatorial election. Already, former governor Timipre Sylva, who contested against the outgoing governor in the tension-soaked 2015 edition, is boasting that the November 16 poll is his to lose. He has therefore urged Bayelsa youths to stand with him as he makes his way back to Government House in February 2020.

Watchers of Bayelsa politics conclude that the November 16 election would afford the two major political parties, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and it’s a federal ruling rival, All Progressives Congress (APC), another opportunity to renew their supremacy battle.

But while Sylva believes that his second coming “is to prepare the ground for the younger people to take over the realm of leadership in the state,” promising to serve for only one term, the current Secretary to Bayelsa State Government (SSG), Mr. Kemela Okara, thinks otherwise. Okara contends that fairness and equity are crucial guiding lights for voters in the choice of Dickson’s successor, stressing that 2020 is for Bayelsa Central to produce whoever would occupy Government House in Yenagoa.

Okara, who spoke to The Guardian in Abuja, said it is on the basis of equity and fairness that he has accepted calls by Bayelsans to vie for the exalted seat on the platform of PDP. Moreover, the SSG argues that it would amount to setting the state back from the tempo of development, peace, and stability already established by the Restoration Government of Dickson for anyone outside the group to become a governor at this crucial point in the state’s history.

Apart from being a technocrat and pastor, Okara said he is better placed to build on the Countryman’s legacies, remarking that he has all it takes to improve the state’s fortunes if given the mandate. His words: “The Restoration Government, which I am part of, controls over 80 percent of PDP in Bayelsa State. From a membership of the House of Assembly through the National Assembly to the governor, deputy governor, political appointees, special advisers, commissioners, councilors, and officers in the local government. 

“These people make up the delegates. In order to build consensus, the governor has done something brilliant; he has laid out two criteria for the person he will support to succeed him. One, the person must have the fear of God; secondly, he must have a passion for development. 

“Currently, three persons from the Restoration Movement have indicated interest in the governorship. The governor said anyone can go ahead to indicate interest, pick up the form and talk to the state and to the delegates and we will support the most successful person.

“I am part of the restoration team and I come from Bayelsa Central. By the zoning system in the state, Bayelsa Central produced the first Governor, D.S.P. Alamieyeseigha. Central has three local governments, Southern Ijaw, Yenagoa and Kolokuma/Opokuma. Alamieyeseigha was from Southern Ijaw. After him, it moved to Bayelsa East with our former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as the governor. Ogbia, Brass and Nembe make up Bayelsa East. After him it remained in Bayelsa East with Timipre Sylva, who was at the time the PDP governor from Brass. Then it moved to Bayelsa West, where our current governor, Seriake Dickson is from. And he has been the first governor to complete two terms successfully.”

Okara argued further that going by the history of Bayelsa after its creation, it could be seen that “we are in the middle of the first proper transition,” explaining that out of the three persons that have indicated interest, he remains the only one from Yenagoa, which is Bayelsa Central.

“Also as at today, Yenagoa has the highest number of votes across the entire state,” he continued. “Therefore, we are of the view that if we talk about politics of fairness, equity and inclusion then it should come to my local government area. I am the only member of the restoration team aspiring from my local government area. The delegates know this well; we are not taking anyone for granted.” 

Okra said he recognized the imperatives of democracy, saying, “My fervent belief is that at the end of the day, the delegates recognize that there is need to maintain continuity, to fortify and to consolidate on what we have achieved for our common good.”

Crucial milestones for continuity
ON the legacies of Governor Dickson which he deems himself worthy of continuity, Okara said: “I have had the privilege of a front-row seat because I have served twice as Commissioner for Trade and Investment and currently as SSG. In the close to six years, I have been in the middle of a lot of the policy initiatives.

“Governor Dickson’s world-view is anchored on changing the narrative for Bayelsa and the Niger Delta in fundamental areas, particularly security. He invested massively in security infrastructure. He built a very sophisticated command and control center to track criminal activities across the state.”

Sounding as if he intends to run on Dickson’s achievements, the SSG noted that Dickson sees education as the key emancipator for human resources, adding that the state has currently 10 special boarding schools at secondary level espousing free tuition and free feeding. 

According to Okara, five more of such institutions are in the pipeline to ensure that every local government has one, while the state capital has two. According to him, “We also started two new universities from scratch – the University of Africa, Toru-Orua and Bayelsa State Medical University, Yenagoa. This is in addition to major rehabilitation of schools and teacher training and certification programs to ensure that we have teachers qualitatively prepared to teach.”

The SSG pointed out that healthcare and infrastructure are two other crucial areas where continuity would be to the benefit of the state, adding, for instance, that in the past it used to require a three-hour boat journey to get to Ekeremor, “but now you can get there within one hour by road.”

Okara expressed the view that the November 16 poll would be fought on the basis of ability to expand Bayelsa economy, stressing that “what is most important for our people is to be able to leave their homes in the morning, be engaged productively and to know that there is some reward for what they are doing. We have a lot of natural advantages in agriculture: in palm production, cassava production, fish farming and rice production. We are in the Delta where rice can grow all year round.

“Bayelsa State is also blessed with abundant gas and we will leverage on that. So for me the next thing is to expand the economy in such a way that we will create more wealth and pull more people out of poverty.”He said his most important achievement, as commissioner was the development of the state’s industrial policy in partnership with UNIDO, saying that it helped in producing the blueprint for industrial takeoff on a massive scale.

“One other very important project we successfully ran,” he said, “was the Bayelsa State Investment and Economic Forum, which was a platform for attracting investors and also for teaching Bayelsans the importance of private enterprise, starting a small or micro-level business and being able to grow from there.”

It’s youth inclusion, stupid
Despite the optimism by Dickson’s SSG, former governor Timipre Sylva says his second coming as governor is to lay the necessary foundation for youth inclusion in decision-making, regretting that since 2012 when he left office, successive administrations squandered the opportunity to prepare Bayelsa youths for the future.

Sylva, who governed the state from 2007 to 2012, used the occasion of his 55th birthday celebration in Yenagoa to declare his intention to seek re-election. It made him the second aspirant on the platform of APC after his former campaign director and immediate past Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Heineken Lokpobiri, was endorsed by Audu Ogbeh.

The former governor maintains that preparing the ground for the younger people to take over the realm of leadership in the state is very crucial, adding: “I always tell you, young people, that the future belongs to you. If I become governor again, I will be governor for four years. After that, they will still call me a former governor. I am already a former governor, so there’s nothing new for me to achieve. And by the time I finish as governor, I will almost be sixty; so, retirement is near.

“I will not be staying and be struggling with you people. When my time to retire comes, I’ll just quietly leave for the younger people, but you people must make sure that you are also responsible enough to take over leadership.

“Since I joined politics, a lot of things have happened. I entered politics as a very young man in Rivers State. Then Bayelsa was part of Rivers State. I became a member of the House of Assembly in 1992. Then I was in my 20s and Rivers State was a great state, but we fought to have our own state called Bayelsa. At that time, Bayelsa was just part of a senatorial district in Rivers and in 1996 Bayelsa was created. And we all came here with great hopes that finally we have a state, a state that will provide us prosperity and development speedily.”

Sylva recalled that when he came in as governor in 2007, he made several efforts to develop the state and empowering the people, stressing, “Bayelsa State is made up of the people not the houses, not the grasses, not the trees. I want to see our young people to be very decisive, to be very forthright and know exactly where they are going; that way it will be a very peaceful time, a very happy time to hand over the baton to you.

“Bayelsa State today is in dare need; this is not how a state capital should be. Everywhere is dirty; everywhere is flooded, and everywhere there is darkness. Yes, our outgoing governor has built an airport at the cost of about N100 billion; he told us it cost us N80 billion during his monthly transparency briefing. When I took him on, he quickly reversed the figures and said it cost sixty-something billion.

“But my challenge to the governor is that he should be landing in Yenagoa instead of Port Harcourt when he is traveling. After all the airport was commissioned last year.”


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