SYLVA'S STRIDES: FACT OR FICTION

By NBF News
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The first time I visited Bayelsa, I was worried. That was five years ago. Then, militancy and kidnapping of (expatriate) oil workers were a given. Before setting out, my colleagues in the office warned me: 'Pray you are not mistaken for a white man and kidnapped for ransom, because we don't have the millions to pay ransom.' It was a time of gloom and doom in Bayelsa; youth restiveness was a big menace.

Recently, I visited Bayelsa again, and there was a manifest paradigm shift. I, together with a colleague from another national paper, had gone to interview Governor Timipre Sylva at the Creek Haven. In the course of the interview, His Excellency painted a paradisiacal picture of developmental transformations in the state.

But, not wishing to sound compromising, I honestly asked the governor for empirical evidence. I was astounded by what happened next. Without any security escort accompanying him with a blaze of sirens, he asked us to go on a ride with him across the state capital, Yenagoa, in a non-tinted SUV, to see things for ourselves.

Having heard much about security menace in the state, I gasped, livid with fear, thinking, what if any assailant pop on the road and do something crazy? I was imagining what would be the headline the next day. But His Excellency wasn't thinking in that direction: 'They say I can't move about freely in the state; I want to show you that I can move about freely like any other person.'

His words did little to quell my fears. For more than an hour, the governor drove us round Yenagoa, with people recognizing and hailing him as he drove past! What I saw convinced me that there are still some politicians in the country who deliver what they promise during campaigns and never keep their heads in the cloud. The first place we visited was the magnificent Glory Land Castle inherited from previous state governments but completed by his government. Located within the Creek Haven, it is an architectural masterpiece with Venetian terrace and most modern décor, where important visitors and meetings are hosted. Comparing it with what obtains in other government houses, the Glory Land Castle is many steps ahead.

As we were about driving outside the Creek Haven, some security details joined us, but, surprisingly, the governor waved them back, which they did. Seeing the confidence exuded by the governor, who was driving us, I, therefore, rested my fears and listened to the boom of 2Face Idibia's music playing in the stereo, marvelling at the state of the roads and the beauty of the environment. I had passed those places before, but this time, I was made to look like a first-time visitor, because everywhere had changed.

In his first four years in office, the governor has completed more than fifty link roads across the state, and, taking into consideration the coastal topography of the state, the Sylvarian magic cannot be begrudged of definite hyperboles. We briefly stopped at the 500-bed Yenagoa General Hospital before heading down to the wonderful Diete Koki Memorial Hospital at Opolo that you can hardly find elsewhere in the country.

A tour of the hospital facilities showed the abundance of most modern medical equipments, from neuro surgery suite to haemodialysis machines, which goes to show the governor's commitment in healthcare delivery to the citizens. We also saw the five-star Tower Hotels and International Conference Centre at Yenagoa. This is an eye-popping architectural edifice raised to the eighteenth floor by Governor Sylva, which, on completion, would boast tourism in the state. The Plastic Industry at Elebele is one enduring and job creation institution completed also by this government.

In this season of anomie in our national life, where civil society is being boko-haramed on-end, perhaps we should understudy Sylva's 'Triple E Initiative', which has worked in Bayelsa, in conflict resolution, to see how Nigeria can benefit from it. To address youth restiveness and kidnapping in the state, the governor came up with the 'Triple E Initiative', that is, Engagement, Education/ Empowerment and Enforcement.

The Slyvarian approach to conflict resolution stemmed from the realization that, facing violence headlong, without addressing its roots, is an open sesame to Armageddon; thus his resort to engagement and subsequent empowerment. Since 2007, when he brokered an agreement with armed groups in the state, incidents of armed rebellions among militant groups have drastically reduced. Interestingly, his Demobilization and Re-integration Strategy, which was forwarded to the former President Umaru Yar'Adua for review, was later adopted as a blueprint for the Federal Government's Amnesty programme.

Subsequently, his 'Triple E Initiative' yielded another bountiful result when, on August 22, 2009, militants in the state surrendered a huge cache of arms and over 95, 970 rounds of ammunitions with other assorted weapons at the Isaac Boro Peace Park in Yenagoa. In recognition of his pacification strategies, Governor Sylva was awarded the 2008 Best Governor on Conflict Resolution and on Security Matters by Security Watch Africa in London.

A visit to the Niger Delta University, Amasioma, will show the enormous financial commitment put in place, which led to the sudden accreditation of the College of Medicine, Department of Pharmacy, Faculty of Law, and the Department of Electrical, Electronics Department programmes when he came to power. Also, the location of the Law School at Agudama-Epie, which he made possible, is another boost for education in the state.

Besides, the installation of the new gas turbine at Imiringi has since enhanced power supply in the state. Perhaps it is only in Bayelsa that many residential areas and several business premises enjoy free electricity supply as a result of the gas turbine.

It was a long walk to stability before Governor Sylva eventually began to make significant breakthrough in governance. His predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, didn't have an easy time in office. A case in point was the bombing of his residence by militants. But, through the policy of appeasement, Governor Sylva has led the foundation for economic investment, which dwindled during the era of militancy and kidnapping.

Back to the Creek Haven after the almost two-hour ride with the governor, his security aides were amazed at the risk taken by the governor. Turning to us, he said, 'You can now see for yourself some of the things I have achieved, which they say don't exist.'The Sylvarian strides go beyond political grandstanding. No wonder he is very confident of a second term

Henry Akubuiro is on the staff of The Sun