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Task before Diri, Bayelsans’ expectations as a new dawn beckons

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Diri, making his first speech to the people


On Friday, 14 February 2020, history was made in the oil-rich Bayelsa State, when Senator Douye Diri was sworn in as the fifth democratically elected governor of the state. Historic also because it is the first time Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area is producing a governor. It’s also the first time a democratically elected governor is taking office in a smooth transition since 1999.

While the outgoing Governor Henry Seriake Dickson will enjoy the tag of being the longest serving governor under the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), who also successfully served eight years of two terms and handed over to his preferred candidate.

Douye Diri’s emergence as governor, although shrouded in a controversial Supreme Court judgment, has opened up a new vista for the state. The Supreme Court’s decision making Diri governor left many Bayelsans deflated and angry, so much so that the opposition attempted to scuttle it with violent protests that almost brought Yenagoa, the state capital, to a standstill.

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A young state (created on October 1, 1996) with enormous potential yet challenges due to maladministration and large scale looting and corruption by past administration, Diri has his task well cut out for him on how to change the narrative of failure of past administrations. There are therefore huge expectations from Bayelsans and other stakeholders given Diri’s antecedents and pedigree as one of the founding fathers of one of the most vibrant youth organizations in Nigeria, Ijaw Youth Congress (IYC).

Although the total area of Bayelsa State may be large, the state has one of the lowest populations in the country. But in terms of revenue accruals from the Federation Account, it receives relatively large chunk of funds, including the 13 per cent due to its oil producing status. The state is richly endowed with the black gold. So, Douye Diri will have no excuse if he failed to develop Bayelsa.

One of the first major challenges Diri would face and which he would need to tackle fast may come from his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chapter in the state and the expected overbearing influence his predecessor, Mr. Henry Seriake Dickson, who singlehandedly foisted him on the people, may want to exert on him.

There is also the issue of settling the party’s faithful, which were to the primary election a divided house. Many will soon start jostling for the different positions and opportunities his government will offer. Presently, there are growing dissatisfaction among many of them who feel Dickson would dictate the direction of Diri’s government and corner all the juice portfolios for those who stuck with him and his cronies. 

Bayelsa State, with eight local government areas, is perhaps the least developed state among states created the same year, both economically and infrastructurally despite the huge accruals from the federal allocation. With high level of insecurity, epileptic power supply (even in the state capital in the last six years), hunger, poverty, cultism and other problem, Bayelsans first expectation from Diri, will be the power supply. The lack of power supply has crippled the state economic as many businesses left the state in droves in the last four years. 

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According to a human and environmental rights activist, Comrade Morris Alagoa, the expectations from the incoming administration of Lyon by Bayelsans are very high, noting, “The expectations are quite high understandably considering the huge gap between the needs of the people and what has been given to them so far. 

“Even the Gas Turbine that the people were managing before Dickson took over as governor has been left ‘dead’ (unattended to) by Dickson. There is no need crying over spilt milk, but Diri should learn from the reactions of Bayelsans in the latter days of Dickson as governor.“I have just gone to the Garrison Area of Port Harcourt to take a look at the flyover project ongoing there. Yesterday as I got into Port Harcourt, l saw same thing at Rumuokoro – a flyover. This is a testament to the fact that development is a continuum. 

“In as much as Dickson has done his best, that best isn’t good enough as the basic amenities such as light (power), water, functional health and educational facilities are still a far cry for Bayelsans.

While re-echoing the advice of Alagoa, a social commentator, Mr. Wisdom Ikuli, said, “The expectations of Bayelsans from the incoming administration are very high. Let him fix electricity because light is life; let him tackle insecurity that has become a monster and a great source of worry to all. We want industrialisation. Our great state needs to move away from her present civil service status. 

“Let him complete the 5-star hotel, which has become an embarrassment in the state. He should complete the Glory Drive from Igbogene down Yenagoa, complete Bayelsa Palm Road, Isaac Boro Expressway, Opolo-Elebele Road, Yenagoa-Oporoma Road, and Sagbama-Ekeremor Road.

“Building of Agge Seaport, payment of student bursary, prompt payment of gratuity, development of the Bayelsa Palm that will generate billions of naira for the state, and provision of water and canalization of Epie Creek. These should also be some of his priorities if he must succeed and gain the people’s trust.”

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Despite the huge investment in education by Dickson’s administration, the new governor still needs to do a lot more in this sector, especially as regards school enrollment in the rural communities. In most of the rural communities, school attendance in both primary and secondary schools ranks among the lowest in country as the previous government failed to do the needful. Also, the quality of education being offered needs improvement while school fees for higher education is beyond the reach of common Bayelsans. Diri needs to provide educational bursary for students in tertiary institutions and not the loan scheme Dickson introduced at the tail end of his tenure. The previous government refused to pay bursary to indigent students in tertiary institutions. Bayelsans are canvassing that this should be one of Diri’s priorities so as to help students who are not from rich homes acquire decent education.

Perhaps, one of the many sins of Dickson is his unfulfilled promise. He would be remembered as the governor with the highest number of initiated but unfinished infrastructural projects, including roads and many others. Dickson refused to provide basic amenities for the people, such as water, electricity, internal roads in Yenagoa township. The state water board has long been overgrown with weeds despite the huge money spent by his predecessors, especially late DSP Alamieyeseigha. Residents of Yenagoa buy water from vendors with questionable sources that are hardly healthy for consumption.

Unlike previous administrations where monies flowed through the ministries, parastatals, and agencies to the local government areas, Dickson blocked all the leakages but somehow failed to block other alleged leakages linked with him, especially through his kith and kin. His failure to allow cash flow in the system inevitably slowed down economic activities which later snowballed into criminal activities such as armed robbery, kidnapping, cult-related killings, and general insecurity in Yenagoa metropolis and the state’s many waterways.

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Many businesses closed down in the state capital. As businesses closed for lack of patronage, families left the city with their businesses. Suddenly, houses became vacant leading to general inactivity in the economic sector.

In his second term, Dickson became ‘ajala’, as he travelled all over the world looking for external investors after wshutting out local investors with his lack of policy direction. Ironically, these investors came to a state capital that has no power supply with a high level of insecurity. These investors simply left and never came back, as the least indices that determine investment are non-existent in the state. Dickson’s quest for investors turned out a mere jamboree. In fact, it was a mere excuse to fritter away state funds in overseas trips. He must have known he could not invest his own money in an undeveloped place like Bayelsa.

In fairness to Dickson, he started the most projects in the state than any other governor in the past in his first tenure, but failed to complete them, no thanks to the recession that crept in at the middle of his administration. Political watchers, however, believe he did all that just to endear the people to him for his re-election bid for a second term. In his first term, Dickson was a passionate governor who was desirous to work and provide basic infrastructure for the state. But he was consumed by his own political ambition, an ambition to be the ‘generalissimo’ of Bayelsa politics. Dickson and PDP nearly paid for this ambition but for the intervention of the Supreme Court.

In his ambition to enthrone himself as the ‘generalissimo,’ the first sin Dickson committed was when he picked PDP’s candidate, Diri, without consultation with former President Goodluck Jonathan, the man who made him governor. Not only that, Dickson also snubbed the former president when he single-handedly chose his close friend and ally, Lawrence Ehwrujakpor, as the deputy governorship candidate.

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Just like Alagoa said, Diri should learn from the mistakes of Dickson and listen to the voice of the people and critical stakeholders and provide lacking amenities for the state. 

Notwithstanding the herculean task before him, Diri, the 60 years old Senator has rich credentials that put him in great stead to excel if political gladiators in the state allow him to work. Before joining active politics, he taught in several government schools in the rural areas of old Rivers State and was the first National Organising Secretary of Ijaw National Congress (INC. He was also the Executive Secretary, Centre for Youth Development in Bayelsa State between 2000 to 2002 and later Commissioner for Youth and Sports (2005-2006) before his appointment as Council member, University of Maiduguri (2008-2012).  

He was also the Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) Disciplinary Council, Bayelsa State (2012). In 2012, when Dickson emerged as the governor of the state, he was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff, Government House in 2012, and then Principal Executive Secretary (2013-2014). 

Diri won election to the House of Representatives to represent Kolokuma/Opokuma and Yenagoa Federal Constituency in 2015, and later a Senator representing Bayelsa West Senatorial District before he won the primaries of PDP, albeit in controversial circumstances. Besides all these, Diri has a good track record to his credit in terms administrative performance.

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In his swearing-in last Friday, Diri was emphatic on the need for reconciliation and uniting all Bayelsans across all political divide and called for calm and peace. In an inauguration address, Diri declared that he would always work to achieve peace, love and prosperity for the people. He described the swearing in day as “a day made by God and marvelous in the eye of the people of Bayelsa.

“I have been sworn in today as your new governor; my advice is that we have to be magnanimous in victory. We have to forget the bitterness, and the acrimony, because if we kill ourselves, who are we going to lead? Of course, we are not going to lead animals.“I, therefore, bring to you message of love, hope and prosperity for Bayelsa. Let us eschew all the bitterness and acrimony and learn to love ourselves irrespective of political parties.”

The newly sworn-in governor also declared that he would run an all-inclusive government, hence the need for the cooperation and support of all leaders of the state, including former President Goodluck Jonathan.The new governor, in an effort to reconcile all Bayelsans, urged the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, APC governorship candidate in the last election, Chief David Lyon, and other opposition parties to join hands with him in building the state. He also reemphasised the need for peace and reconciliation during his thanksgiving service last Sunday at Gloryland Chapel, Government House.

Diri, who spent his first day in office in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, attending the burial of the state governor, Emmanuel Idom father’s burial, thanked God for giving him the mandate, and urged his supporters to be magnanimous in victory.“I will be governor of all, be it PDP, APC, and others,” he said. “We must remain united and ensure peace in our land. That is the only time we can be talking of development. Let us work together.”He also said his priority would be to bring development to every part of Bayelsa State and that he was willing to consider even members of the opposition parties for appointments.

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“Our administration will not condone crimes and criminalities,” he noted. “No development can take place in an atmosphere devoid of peace.”In his sermon, the guest preacher, Apostle Zilly Aggrey of Royal House of Grace International, said no man should take the glory for the declaration of Governor Diri by the Supreme Court. While giving his candid advice to the new governor, Apostle Aggrey warned against frivolities in governance, saying that the governor should be wary of bootlickers, sycophants and praise-singers, who would run down other people for personal gains.

The man of God noted that Bayelsa is too rich in resources for the people to be poor and urged the governor to initiate projects that would have direct bearing on the people.

According to Aggrey, “Every community in Bayelsa should have good water to drink. You should work with the Koreans, Chinese, Germans and other good nations to bring development. Our youths need jobs.”Apostle Aggrey called on the people of Bayelsa to continue to pray for the governor and deputy to provide them effective leadership.

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