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Governor  Dickson's  Maiden Monthly Transparency Briefing in 2018: A Policy Rendezvous 

By Director-General , Policy & Programmes, Bayelsa State
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Some may traditionally call it the usual nomenclature, monthly transparency Briefing, but wearing the binoculars of a policy maker, the ritual was much more than that. It was a well thought-out policy roundabout to set the tone for governance, political tutelage and setting out areas of priority for the year. It is not a misnomer to say it was one of one of the greatest Monthly Transparency Briefing since the inception of the Restoration Administration. Not only did Governor Seriake Dickson deal with financial accountability, he laid out a scintillating policy thrust of government for the year 2018.

It was one event that was loaded with policies and programmes designed to drive governance for a year. What was most intriguing were the policy pronouncements and their implications.

Firstly, the briefing discusses the Empowerment Drive of the Restoration Administration in 2018. This bit took care of the administration's enthusiasm to invest in capital projects, with huge spillover benefits on wealth creation, employment generation and poverty reduction. This was well captured in the Appropriation Bill His Excellency, the Governor laid before the House of Assembly. The empowerment drive touched on direct labour and the public service reforms, which will free-up spaces for graduate employment. Two Ministries those of Works &Infrastructure in addition to Tourism will flagship this endeavour and constitute the solar-plexus of the economy.

Secondly, industrialization and Entrepreneurship will take the centre-stage of economic development, playing a dual role of training youths in skills on ICT and other critical techno-vocational areas to feed the industrial sector and to create jobs for people with skills. Accordingly, the Bayelsa State College of Arts and Science, (BYCAS) has been converted to an Entrepreneurship Centre to train lower level and intermediate level manpower. This will service the industrial sector. The State's industrialization aspirations will be realized in partnership with the organized Private Sector. To this end, government has started to receive private sector investors who are willing and able to invest.

Thirdly, the need to empower youths and women was underscored. Pursuant to this aspiration, government has set aside the sum of N2billion for Women and Youth empowerment. The mode of empowerment will be in tandem with the skills acquired so beneficiaries will optimize resources for efficiency and for profit maximization. Now, government has created a new Ministry: Ministry of Employment, Labour and Productivity to coordinate job-related issues for greater efficiency.

Fourthly, is the critical issue of Housing deficit in Bayelsa State. To address this problem, government has acquired land for building massive housing infrastructure both for the senior worker and low income workers. This arrangement is borne out of the fact that Yenagoa has to be a planned city. Since creation, we have seen the Yenagoa City Master plan and no serious action has been taken to plan the city. Although, planning the city just existed in the books but real planning of housing estates has been the missing link. In the new Yenagoa City, allocation letters will be given out house owners and Certificates of Occupancy will be issues timeously.

Fifthly, Medium and Small Scale Houses will be constructed at Agbura. The construction of mass housing will also follow the public-private-partnership model. Bayelsans of all income brackets stand to benefit from the mass housing scheme. The Restoration Administration has never relented in pursuit of a commodious life for Bayelsans because of her penchant to increase the wellbeing index of the people. Naturally, housing attracts investment, especially Small and Medium Scale Enterprises, SMEs with their attendant spillover benefits.

Sixtly, the indispensable role of Agriculture was underscored. Efforts were being intensified to commence commercial rice farming, cassava cultivation, and the completion of the 500 fish ponds at Igbogene are priorities. These initiatives will create up to one thousand jobs for Bayelsans.

Finally, arising from the briefing is the fact that concerted efforts will be made to develop the communities in Bayelsa State. Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State made an avowed commitment to take community development as one of the priorities of the Restoration Administration during his Second Tenure. This policy pronouncement was borne out of the extensive campaigns embarked upon by the PDP before the governorship election in 2015. Never in the history of Bayelsa politics has an incumbent Governor campaigned so vigorously, so purposefully and so tenaciously to sell his ideologies like a marketing scion – who solicited the electorate to look at the product (the Governor) and the price, in almost an endless, tortuous and nerve-wracking Community-to Community Campaign.

The initiative of the Restoration Administration to embark on Community-to-Community Campaign was to have a first-hand knowledge of the conditions of livelihood among the rural folks. The campaign was an eye opener in more ways than one. Governor Seriake Dickson beheld the peculiar developmental challenges of his people and saw the compelling need to address them. Community after Community, leaders and youths reeled out their genuine development priorities and almost all of them demanded immediate attention as soon as yesterday.

There is little need to recall that the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria presents a troubling paradox of poverty amidst plenty. The region is Nigeria’s main source of public revenue because it holds some of the largest oil and gas reserves in the country. Yet, States located along the Niger Delta suffer from higher rates of poverty compared to states in the southern part of the country. We have a gory picture of a region which suffers unimaginable environmental injustice and economic deprivation from a conspiracy of the oil multinationals and the Nigerian State.

In contemporary development discourses, Community Development is advocated as a basic development strategy for attracting growth to the community. Earlier approaches at developing the Region were tokenistic, reactionary and did not include major stakeholders. MNCs practiced the flip-side of Corporate Social Responsibility; development Commissions/Agencies set up to mitigate the sufferings of the people were not holistic and ultimately these agencies were used to create internal strife and disharmony to stifle development. Communities, especially oil producing communities were deposited into the backwaters of modernity.

The traditional paradigm of community development was for a government agency to site projects with the exclusion of the stakeholders. The aim was to assume that the Community would buy-in to such projects without a pragmatic consideration for the skills of beneficiary communities to sustain such projects. Community persons were not trained to take charge of projects and absence of sustainability criterion made such projects to collapse into obsolescence.

Ultimately, the so called development projects alienated the potential beneficiaries. They became a liability to such communities and were abandoned. This is why you can see five water schemes in a community without anyone being functional. This is because there is a disconnect between the agencies that sited the projects and the end user communities. Lack of Community ownership has been a major obstacle in most community development projects.

The implementation of all these life-touching projects depends on revenue in-flow from the Federation Account.

The year 2018 is starting on a brighter not and the price of crude oil is looking up. We can only hope that this could gather momentum to enable Bayelsa State implement her projects to transform the State of our dream.