Francis Ottah Agbo
On Sunday, Valentine day, precisely February 14, all roads in Nigeria lead to Yenagoa, the state capital of Bayelsa State for the swearing–in of Governor Seriake Dickson for a second term. The Toru-Urua-born governor will be officially inaugurated to complete his good work and consolidate the gains of the restoration he started four years ago, following his inauguration on February 14, 2012. It has been a long and tortuous political journey for the police man-turned politician. Governor Dickson’s victory in the recent gubernatorial elections was a culmination of a dogged struggle against a coalition determined to stop his return to Creek Haven, the seat of government.
Dickson will be making history for the second time as the only governor ever sworn-in on valentine day across the world. Expectedly, love will fill the air. There will be a thanksgiving service shortly after the inauguration at the Samson Siasia Stadium in Yenagoa, the venue of the event. In consonance with his person and the spirit of the season, the Talk Na Do governor has once more, extended the olive branch to the opposition.
According to a government house press statement, all governors elected on the platform of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), National leadership of the PDP, National Assembly leadership of PDP affiliation, and members as well as speakers and leadership of the State Houses of Assembly controlled by the party will grace the occasion. Other personalities expected at the event include eminent Nigerians, opinion leaders and former governors of Bayelsa State, Traditional rulers, Ijaw National Congress, Ijaw Youth Congress, organized labour, faith-based organizations, and women and youth based organizations.
It will be a happy occasion, a time to celebrate the path-breaking achievements of the governor’s first term and to look expectantly to his second. It will also be a time to reflect on a hard won victory. Hard won because the countryman governor faced and defeated an unusually formidable opposition from a cast of internal and external opportunists who vowed to punish the governor for displacing them from their perch atop the state’s commonwealth where they had enjoyed unearned largesse to the detriment of the pauperized ordinary citizens of the state.
Without sounding repetitive, Dickson’s against-all-odds re-election victory was divine. It was also a well-deserved reward for years of unbroken service to the people and God. In victory, the governor reaped the bounty of a long period of amassing goodwill with Bayalsans and the Ijaw nation. While the governor and his party, PDP, banked on God and the electorate for votes which they got overwhelmingly, the All Progressive Party (APC) and its governorship candidate, Chief Timipre Sylva in the recently concluded polls relied on their horses and chariots in the battle field, and yet kissed the ground!
As Bayelsans celebrate their governor’s re-election, however let’s be clear about how this joyous event almost never happened, how the people of Bayalsa were almost prevented from exercising their free democratic franchise. Given the ruthless aggression of the adversarial forces pitted against Governor Dickson and the Ijaw nation, pundits who were not abreast with the popularity of the governor had thought that he would be crushed! The reason? Typically, candidates outside the ruling federal party in a gubernatorial election face daunting odds in Nigeria’s peculiar reality of tyrannical federal might which, in the case of the current ruling APC government, manifests in the desire to institute a one-party state. This reality has increased under the watch of the leviathan that President Muhammadu Buhari is fast becoming. Curiously, the president and his party, APC are still bent on achieving that sinister goal at any cost. Many politicians of convenience in the PDP have already surrendered to the ruling party’s blackmail. They have jumped ship, eager to insulate themselves from the onslaught of a rampaging ruling party, which, like all paranoid newcomers to power, is desperate to crush the opposition.
February 14 is an occasion to celebrate the defeat of this scheme in Bayelsa, the glory of all lands. Furthermore, it is the crystallization of the governor’s effort to better the lives of the common man in the heartbeat of the Ijaw nation. Governor Dickson is not given to ostentatious display, elaborate celebration, or boastful self-congratulation, and we are sure that his swearing in ceremony will be a sober event, just like the low-key way he marked his re-election victory.
For the sake of posterity, however, we will depart slightly from the governor’s example in order to highlight the historical significance of this political victory, for it is by proclaiming this significance that we reaffirm the ideals for which Bayalsans who were killed while defending their votes lost their lives. The ultimate honor to these martyrs is to reiterate that they did not die in vain but that their sacrifice has written a new chapter in the story of Nigeria’s ongoing democratic evolution. Their blood has helped to save the country from drifting into barefaced dictatorship, for if Bayelsa had fallen to the APC, it would have changed the equation in favour of the ruling party in the entire Niger Delta.
The Niger Delta contains the last contiguous protective wall against the one-party ambitions of the APC. It has emerged as the most resilient block of opposition politics in the country. It is the site where the various efforts to hold the ruling APC accountable and nurture a viable alternative have converged. Indeed Governor Dickson’s leadership as the oldest PDP governor in the South South has been instrumental in giving the region this image and stature. It is in this political context that both Governor Dickson’s victory and the ruthless opposition he and the resilient Bayelsans defeated must be understood. It was not a personal political victory, although it was a sweet climax to a difficult personal political journey of the master strategist that Dickson is. Rather, it was a people’s victory, a victory of light over darkness! It was a triumph of popular will and the principles of democratic franchise over the conspiracy of a cabal of rapacious and parasitic elite. Dickson’s re-election was a triumph of people’s will and aspiration over a destructive federal might! The victory has moved the state decisively towards a democratic culture woven around transparency, accountability and selfless service to the masses.
It is no exaggeration, to say that Dickson’s uncommon courage may have saved Nigeria’s fledgling democracy from a well-calculated ridicule. It is not for nothing that Governor Dickson is called the Afurumapepe: the great white shark that braves the ocean even when the tempest is highest. That he wriggled out of the APC’s rigging ocean to emerge victorious in an election the APC had code-named operation take over Bayelsa, speaks volume of the strength and dexterity of Dickson in surviving the highest tempest in his political life!
Consequently, Governor Dickson is being posited as the preeminent factor in the effort to protect the Niger Delta from the political schemes of the ruling party as well as the embodiment of a political courage that was thought extinct in Nigeria’s notoriously opportunistic political arena. Dickson, it is now widely acknowledged by his friends and foes alike, has shown other opposition governors an example of how to mount an effective challenge against the ruling APC. Finally, PDP’s victory in Bayelsa has exposed the APC for what it is: an incoherent political assemblage that appeals to one less as one becomes more familiar with what it stands for.
Significant as Governor Dickson’s victory was, it is important to enter an important caveat, namely, that it would not have been possible without two things — the unprecedented program of holistic infrastructural and human development accomplished by the governor in the last four years, and the extensive grassroots mobilizations that the governor embarked upon as part of his electoral campaign.
Dickson’s scorecard has both breadth and depth: the transformation of the Isaac Adaka Boro Road into a six-lane highway in Yenagoa, the state capital, the construction of over 450 kilometers of roads, 18 bridges and general hospitals across the eight local government areas of the state, the introduction and funding of free and compulsory education from primary to secondary schools as well as scholarships for the Ijaws, a World Class Diagnostic Centre and Drug Mart, first ever flyover in Yenagoa, ultra-modern stadium in Nembe, five secretariat annexes, governor’s office, Traditional rulers secretariat, Police Officers Mess, Culture/ language boulevard, ecumenical centre, all in the state capital, and a cargo airport in Wilberforce Island that will make Bayelsa a major player in the Gulf of Guinea. Others are the building, from scratch, of a world class tourism and hospitality sector; an unprecedented program of youth/women empowerment; the development of large scale agriculture and the establishment of plants for processing cassava into commercial starch, among many other achievements in several other sectors. The governing philosophy of the restoration government of Dickson is targeted at preparing the state beyond crude oil as well as rebranding Bayelsa State. This deliberate reclamation and rebranding of the state by the restoration government has led to a major breakthrough – bringing the world to Bayelsa and taking Bayelsa to the world. Today, the heartland of the Ijaw nation has become a case study in restorative and transformative governance in Nigeria. It is this iron-clad record of selfless service of the Countryman governor that made him invincible in the war masterminded by the federal security agencies and APC during and after the hotly contested governorship election between December 5 and January 9, 2016!
It was this groundwork that propelled Dickson to victory. It was also this grassroots outreach that emboldened Bayelsans to resist the intrusions of the APC thugs and rogue elements of the military deployed in Bayelsa to capture the state. The people repaid their governor for his demonstrated commitment to their communities by joining him on the streets of Yenagoa on December 6 to protest a brazen attempt to foist concocted results from Southern Ijaw on INEC. That Dickson-led act of courage sealed the compact between the governor and his people and truncated what was shaping up to be an electoral heist.
Knowing Dickson’s antecedents, it is safe to categorically state that he will use the next four years to complete the ongoing legacy projects, initiate new ones, turn around the rural communities if funds permit, and coherently consolidate on peace, security, development, and the prosperity of the proud people of Bayelsa State and the Ijaw nation. It is by so doing that the martyrs will rest in peace. It is by so doing that all the lost glory of the glory of all lands will be restored. So, let the development continue! Let the transformation not cease!
Agbo is a journalist/ public affairs analyst based in Yenagoa, wrote in via email@example.com
Return of The Valentine Governor
Francis Ottah Agbo