How Dickson Became The Special One In Bayelsa
For a casual onlooker the issue of investment drive by Governors of Bayelsa State has been a recouring decimal in the history of the state. Some say it has become the problem rather than the solution and of course those who do not believe any thing works insist that it is a way of wasting scarce resources. Well this article has traced this strategy of development into its historical origins to prove that it remains one of the most viable avenue to develop the state and therefore reverse the present capital flight from this area. But to get there there are narrow bridges to cross. It takes a brave heart to attempt the crossover and Bayelsa has been seeking for this special one for over a decade.
Going by her peculiar circumstance,Bayelsa State has up to 40% of the Oil and gas reserves of Nigeria and produces as much but the oil is drawn away to be refined or sold somewhere else so that the state cannot fully receive a commensurate inflow from her outflows. It resembles an economic hemorrhage.The reason adduced has always been that the state does not have an enabling environment to make these profit seeking oil explorers to invest here.But if you can bridge the gulf with your own capital inputs in order to provide basic amenities ,then investors will ensure that you recoup what you spent and more via increased inflow of investments ;this will likely trigger off latent activities of wealth creation which on its own is expected to check her growing poverty index. This may seem too long an winding an approach but studies and conferences in the past go to support that it is the only way out for sustainable development. However,there is a snag: to start the process there must be a lot of capital funding as well as the political will at both the state and the centre. These conditions were met with the then Governor Goodluck Jonathan ,a foremost proponent of this approach was sent to the Centre as President who is aware of the challenges posed.With other elders in agreement,they chose Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson then a successful lawmaker at the Federal House of Representatives who represented Sagbama constituency.He was picked following his glowing track records in the pursuit of these same ideals in the past. So he became the special one. Please follow me down history lane to appreciate the unfolding of this challenge.
In 2007 just before handing over to the incoming Governor of Bayelsa state Nigeria,the then Vice President -elect Dr. Goodluck Jonathan in the course of his last extended Executive Council meeting extracted a public assurance from Governor Timipre Sylva that the Yenagoa City Masterplan which was the key element in his investment/tourism focused agenda would not be abandoned. In line with Dr Jonathan's transparent conduct of government during his eventful one year tenure as Governor having spent the last three years as deputy to Governor Alamieyeseigha,the session was open to us who then were consultants to the newly created Capital City Development authority( CCDA). However things did not work out as planned and so the CCDA experienced reversals and delays in the implementation of the Masterplan under his nearly 5 year long tenure. His focus appear to have changed to attracting small businesses directly rather than as a fall out to increasing external investment activity as specified in the Masterplan strategy and so he tinkered with it to give priority to the Central Business District(CBD)which he ordered to be cleared.
I have brought out the above to show that the focus of Restoration government of Governor Henry Seriake Dickson on Foreign investments and tourism is indeed only a continuation of what the three Governments as well as the founding fathers wanted done as an integral part of a sustainable development strategy dating back even before the 2004 Masterplan process. There were many studies pointing to the chosen direction.Before 2007,the then Bayelsa State Governor Goodluck Jonathan had once literally relocated his entire cabinet in a retreat to understudy the Cross River Miracle under then Governor Duke .One can recollect the prophesy of Governor Duke about the humility of the Bayelsa state governor. He pointed out in his speech,that the Bayelsa State Chief Executive attended all sessions and had sleepless nights with everyone else to complete the retreat which to him pointed to a certain future of greatness for the governor who had invited top lecturers and government ministers to help Bayelsa State put forward a sustainable development approach. The outcome of retreat was the clarion call to open the state for investors and develop her tourism potentials as a vehicle for poverty reduction and wealth creation.
There were beside these efforts other studies pointing to the same outcome.During the time of then Governor Sylva,the Sustainable Development retreat was held at Brass 13-16 March 2008 to produce a blueprint for sustainable development of the state and I remember the memorable paper on how to end Youth Militancy delivered by Cannon Dr Stephen Davis a Presidential adviser on the Niger Delta situation. He warned that delivering money to militants alone will only make them regroup on a higher scale at a later date as he had watched the process since 2004. In a budget retreat later on Nov. 2008 at the Hotel Presidential Port Harcourt,Cannon Davis insisted: "it is now up to this government to deliver sustainable development to share the claims of the militia for existence". But his call was not given the required timely attention. It was probably too costly. It was clear to participants that wealth creation in a massive scale must move hand in hand with pacifying the militants and restoring security of life and property to enable inflow of investments from both local and foreign sources which would then improve IGR and sustain high employment in the State. But who would bell the cat? Who would risk the fluid political and security situation to start anything sustainable?
We know today that the last Bayelsa State government may have pacified militants,but did not seem to have made anything out of the stringent calls for a sustainable development . Even when the Retreats recommended policy options such as these: that government should institute an investor friendly environment to boost business and raise tax revenues. Government was also advices to create tax heavens and give them preference for legislation with policy option to position the state as heaven for investors. That good governance be instituted by encouraging and publishing adequate up to date statistical data to help meaningful planning,that the state needs at least a local Airport to make this happen.That security should be made a primary concern to help the State attract non oil revenue. That the State needs to improve on her educational sector adding that then the ratio of pupil to teachers was too high making the educational system ineffective and that infrastructure in this sector needed to be addressed. As at then these objectives appeared lofty and far fetched to us.
We never knew that people would want to come to Bayelsa in the way of tourism not to talk of investing. At that time passing a weekend was celebrated and articles written that one could be outside by 12 midnight without being mugged. Then came the era of Restoration Agenda articulated by Governor Henry Seriake Dickson who while campaigning promised to achieve all that the state had been dreaming about for more than a decade in just few years. It had indeed become a challenge which led the elders to seek out a special one to do the trick. The special one happens to be the same long term advocate of these changes. Was it not just election promises? No the elders assured that this one is different. This one "na talk na do".and true to type. His promises were picturistic. That was the first thing that stood out.
"We shall construct roads and other infrastructure to link our people and fast track comprehensive development. The completion of the three senatorial roads will be given priority.But all these will not be possible without an atmosphere of peace and security.We must therefore strengthen our consensus as a community to have zero tolerance for criminality and insecurity. As a government we would make all the necessary investment to create and sustain a secure society governed by the rule of law.....we shall review and emplacement an institutional framework for promoting investment and the active collaboration of the private sector.so to the rest of the country and the world ,we declare that the new Bayelsa State is ready to welcome genuine investors and investments in an atmosphere so convivial,that beyond rhetoric,Bayelsa will be your home away from home. We are determined to make Bayelsa a foremost tourism and investment heaven"
Even though I was now directly part of this dream,I was a bit skeptical because he was actually painting a picture like he was already and despite its sweetness at first it worried me. Thinking I had become some kind of expert opinion on Bayelsa development I did not envisage how such a massive infrastructural development could occur in a clime of abandoned projects littering the streets. As if reading my thoughts another portion of the speech explains how it was to be done.
"We shall undertake fundamental reforms of the governance culture to emphasize transparency and accountability,due process and value reorientation by all institutions,and functionaries of government,beginning with my humble self." This was something else. A revolution in the offing for my experience through the years never had anything near these words. The difference is that I began to believe them from day one. It was not enough to deal with indiscipline arising from Militancy and still live as if nothing had changed. For the first time discipline was now really going to be extended to governance. Today Monthly accounts transparency briefings are statutory mandate to governments backed by law. Ministries are allowed to be also accountable directly to the people via social media presence while governance processes are open to the world as It happens.
Let us not deviate from the topic at hand. This article had set out to trace the linkages between past Bayelsa governments so as to draw out the concensus that diversifying the economy away from oil would be the ultimate strategy to alleviate poverty and create wealth in the State in a sustainable manner. It was clear that these governments were heading the same way as contained in the original idle of the founding fathers. That Bayelsa State Should diversify her economy using the oil money as leverage to open up the State and attract Investors,to urbanism the state capital and secure life and property in time before oil wealth dwindles. To reorient the people and governance machineries towards best practices and ultimately reduce poverty to the barest minimum through massive job creation and wealth creation for youths.
Each government differed in approach. The then Governor Jonathan's governorship organized more events and gatherings in one year of its tenure than arguably all other governments before him. He opened up the State and was interested in the tourism strategy similar to what Cross River under Donald Duke did. The then Governor Sylva wanted to boost commerce through developing the Central Business district but the question of security and relations with the centre was a minus.The downside of this strategy was that it appeared like jumping the gun. When Governor Dickson came he combined all these lessons into making Bayelsa the Dubai of Africa. If the then Governor Jonathan opened the State,the Governor Dickson Restoration Agenda went much farther under the same strategy to open up the state more than anyone could have dreamt of in history of the State. He literally turned the State to the entertainment capital of Nigeria making Tourism have a pride of place.The State successfully hosted such big events as the African Movie Academy Awards( AMAA),Bayelsa International Jazz Festival,Carribean African American Nations Music Awards,African Fashion Reception and the Most Beautiful Girl Pageant and is building a tourist island with a five star resort complete with an upcoming 18 hole gulf course plus a housing estate. Just a tip of the iceberg though.
On security,what more than to say that Yenagoa has become arguably the safest city in Nigeria. He came into office doing the "seemingly unnecessary"job of investing heavily on Updating the operations of Federal agencies like the Police,the Army, State Security and ended up digitalizing their operations.Today,with a high police incident response rate of less than 5 minutes garnering international awards,the security situation is such that Julius Berger the construction giant who once abandoned the region because of insecurity is not only working to widen Yenagoa and other state roads but is willing to invest in the state providing high rise accommodation. The crime rate has gone so low that even at turbulent election period as this it is still going down. Night life has bounced back and everywhere you go businesses are opening new shops. The Internally Generated Revenue has moved up from N50 million to N800 million monthly and at last the oil majors are coming here to stay.
With the present downturn in oil revenue which provides over 90 percent of the Bayelsa State revenue,with attendant cash squeeze nation wide arising also from the Central Banks Monetary policies ,for once skeptics are beginning to applaud the foresight of Governor Henry Seriake Dickson's diversification vision three years earlier which "forcibly" diversified the Bayelsa economy away from oil when it seemed there was really no need for it. Now while most States ( it was reported that 22 states could hardly pay salaries last December) are moving into austerity the opposite is the case here as Bayelsa appear to be only stepping out of its own internally arranged austerity into a bright future. Why not? All the basic infrastructure needed to attract investors are nearing completion and a new town has been carved out via the ubiquitous GIS infrastructure within the Yenagoa Masterplan area to provide investors all the incentives they would need to settle down to business.The State in conjunction with relevant Federal Ageny is building a cargo airport and already opening up the goldmine areas of the state economy through the long abandoned Ogboa- Nembe road which promises eventual access into the gas economy of Brass. Soon a deep sea port would become a reality at Agge. The idea is why produce Oil and gas here and worry yourself transporting or running a harzadous pipeline yo Port Harcourt when you can export directly from a deep sea port at Agge? Go out yourself and experience the new realism here ,the unprecedented private sector activity going on along the newly widened major highways of YENAGOA and you will begin to understand what is being said here. Without sounding too optimistic it is safe to say at this juncture that indeed while others groan,it may well mean that a massive economic explosion is unfolding in Bayelsa State and Nigeria from this axis. This is to say that the long delayed dream of the founders of Bayelsa State now being ably championed by Governor Henry Seriake Dickson would have been fully realized