RETURN OF TIMIPRE SYLVA
If it was a comely surprise to behold former Bayelsa State Governor Timipre Sylva emerge again in the limelight as the co-chairman of the 2015 Presidential Inauguration Planning Committee, Nigerians appear to be talking of even more auspicious times in the days ahead given the pedigree of the former governor as he represents President-Elect, General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd.), in the committee. Why are Nigerians so hopeful?
Most watchers are driven to expect some good times on account of a number of factors.
First, is the fact that the President-Elect and Sylva share a history of remarkable comebacks after seemingly irreversible political losses and defeats. The ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) threw out Sylva into the cold when it unjustifiably denied him a return ticket even as the incumbent in 2011. He took the matter calmly, refusing to dump the party. A notable Nigerian asked Sylva to dump PDP to save himself further embarrassment as a result of being excluded from nomination for re-election. One of them was the respected Former deputy Senate President Albert Legogie who pointedly advised Sylva to abandon PDP. Addressing newsmen in Abuja at that time, Legogie faulted the party's procedure that disqualified the Ijaw politician and declared: “…the process adopted by the PDP in disqualifying Sylva wasn't transparent.” Some celebrated names in the media also said the same thing.
Award-winning columnist of The Nation, Sam Omatseye, said in one of his columns that what transpired in the ouster of Sylva was the reign of impunity in PDP. He declared: “It was a primary of impunity, and that makes (Seriake) Dickson (PDP choice) a candidate of impunity. The Independent National Electoral Commission was not present. So how does PDP want to get away with the act of gangsters…? If they go ahead…will they do same in the election and make Dickson a governor by impunity, a chief executive by illegality, a chief law officer by fiat? This is not good for our democracy.”
Veteran journalist Duro Onabule also spoke on the issue saying “…it is unprecedented that the PDP from the beginning barred an aspirant, incumbent state governor at that, from contesting primary election for unstated reasons. The practice of the PDP in the past was for the party to follow their constitution by allowing the state concerned to conduct its primary elections…nobody should disregard the need for due process…neither the PDP nor any could just openly or secretly pile up allegations against a fellow citizen, proceed to prosecute and pass judgment as ineligible to vie for an elective office, more especially without telling him the reason(s).”
There is no record that the former governor resorted to the traditional acrimonious media war aggrieved politicians go for to settle scores. Calmly and gracefully he took the matter stoically, joining the All Progressive's Congress (APC) at the right time after the PDP had failed to reason with him.
Sylva, a literary-minded politician with an armoury of integrity and discipline like Buhari played the card of the patient dog. So this year he sought to serve his fatherland as a senator on the platform of the APC. But INEC declared the candidate of the PDP, Mr Ben Murray-Bruce, winner of the senatorial seat. In the same way the old army general was a victim of PDP's massive rigging in previous elections.
The former governor trudged on humbly in the background to offer support in the nationwide movement for change, which Nigeria witnessed after a salutary ballot on March 28 and April 11 2015. Auspiciously, the change has brought Sylva back as part of a body to midwife the birth of a new government to be headed by the ex-governor's kindred spirit: a tough minded born-again democrat brewed in the cauldron of doggedness.
The second and equally weighty consideration that would come to play in Sylva's role of assisting to work out a seamless transition is his skill at brokering peace and harmonious relationships after a fractious experience. At the height of the militants' war in the Niger Delta, Governor Sylva broke protocol by personally going into the creeks to negotiate for the release of two Indian hostages. Earlier even as governor-elect, Sylva was able to talk the warlords into releasing six of their captives. Indeed, what became the Federal Government's Amnesty Programme was conceived by Sylva. At the time he took over government in Bayelsa State, he envisioned a three-pronged strategy, named “the 3-Es”. The policy was to Educate those agitating, Empower them with jobs and Enforce law and order. The amnesty was a component of this strategy. The Federal Government under the leadership of President Umaru Yar' Adua saw the gains Bayelsa under Sylva made with the “3-Es”, and decided to introduce the amnesty programme at the federal level. With that, peace returned to the Niger Delta, and oil production was normalised leading to a major increase in public revenue.
At this stage of the Nigeria's development we do need men and women who would stand in the gap, as it were, for a nation whose soul appears to have been cut into two after a rancorous election.
And as Sylva surfaces again at this hour of the change movement, we must not forget what he bequeathed as governor with regard to changing from our dependence on oil for other means of revenue. Since Buhari is coming on the wings of change we must think of a sharp paradigm shift in revenue generation. A lever of Sylva's economic policy was the principle of doing without oil by proposing an Agric City. The first of its kind in the country, the agro city would have served as a centre to produce agricultural commodities and run agric commerce with commerce to support ideas on modern farming techniques.
The project would also undertake crop research and nursery development. In the addition, Sylva said, there would be buying halls, processing, packaging, exporting and agro-farming. It all translates into a one-stop affair.
Sylva studied events in the United States where America was injecting massive funds into researches that would push the black gold out of reckoning in some years to come. He also learnt about a prediction by the United Nations years ago that African nations south of the Sahel must double what they spent on food production if the region wanted to avert tragic food shortages in the foreseeable future.
These recollections of the legacy of Timipre Sylva make us evaluate them in the light of current developments and our need to accommodate his ideas and fit them into a change clamour. Many believe these ideas offer the country hope of a truly new beginning. It isn't an opportunity that comes without taking full advantage of it to improve the lot of our people who have yearned for change for decades.
Written by Ebitei Francis, former Commissioner for Works & Transport in Bayelsa State under Timipre Sylva.