AS YENAGOA BLOSSOMS INTO A CITY OF PEACE
The last time I had the privilege of some nights stay in Yenagoa was in 2008 when my team of consultants undertook a study tour of Abuja capital territory with the staff of the Bayelsa Capital City Development Authority [BCCDA]. Earlier a similar study tour was undertaken to Calabar. At Abuja, we studied the FCT Master plan and compared it with the Yenagoa master plan with a view to adopting a watertight Implementation strategy. It was under the auspices of the then out going Governor, and Vice Presidents elect Gooduck Jonathan. Our study tour to Calabar was to study how they keep their capital so neat. The A.J. Turner led BCCDA introduced innovation into the task of concretizing the master plan and received help to do so from the then Governor. Today, I am back to spend one week in Yenagoa city and the transformation is breathtaking.
In two year Governor Timipre Sylva has quitely turned this once sprawling bush into serene boulevards and driveways. If I did not often take a 3 dimensional tour of the planned development, I would have thought that these beautiful forms were out of the blues but they were all foreseen by the German firm Albert Spears. Let me confide in you I never really gave much thought that these plans would turn into a reality too soon. You can imagine my surprise when I spent my first night and stayed up browsing the streets until 12 midnight. The streets were fabulously straight just as we envisaged, it was no longer a few street town and many hotels have sprung up to give accommodation to the numerous visitors. The city surprises me with a better night life than Port Harcourt where I live and this is contrary to earlier reports of continuing militancy and violence.
The Yenagoa City Master plan has the mission “to transform Yenagoa City into a globally recognized City with modern infrastructure and appreciable aesthetic beauty comparable to other model cities in the world”. The keywords are modern infrastructure. Thus, when Governor Timipre Sylva took the mantle of leadership, the thrust of his administration has been to create wealth and this is encapsulated in the Bayelsa State Sustainable Development Strategy document (BSSDS), which seeks to build a united, secure and prosperous Bayelsa State, his long term vision. He wanted urban renewal strategy as distinct from the Abuja master plan strategy of building completely anew from the ground up. This is perfectly aligned with goals of the Master Plan itself which was flexible. Here the governor wanted business growth and development to supersede tourism as strategic priority. Realizing that when an enabling environment is created, naturally, investment would be attracted and ecotourism would flourish, the governor made far reaching inputs in reshaping the strategy direction to enable indigenous entrepreneurship flourish, and promote inflow of Foreign Direct Investments (FDI).This was why initial priority projects like the Ox-bow Lake resort was stood down for the building of the business district and investment in Hotels and accommodation. Also the Airport project was expedited and bridges and access roads completed.
The Yenagoa City Master plan covers 15 kilometers radius from the city centre bothering on Ogobiri in the West, Oloibiri in the North, Otuogiri in the South, and Otuasega in the East. The Authority has completed road expansion schemes cumulating in the advanced level of work on the Central Business District .As we drove round the city centre; I was impressed with the landscaping flowers, as well as the street lighting. Many companies had moved in within the period and were conducting business as if they had always been there. The entire environment exuded an uncommon peace similar to only what I saw in the hey days of Donald Dukes Cross River State.
Among the infrastructural projects critical to the success of the first phase of the Master plan include the Musa Yar’ Adua International Cargo Airport, Glory Drive East-West Igbogene Road, Oxbow Lake Resort’s four Star Hotel, Ekoli Bridge, Swali ,Theme Park, The Galleria, Tower Hotel and International Conference Centre, Central business District (CBD), Glory land Castle-Government House, Melford Okilo Memorial Hospital, Kolo Creek Gas Turbine, the Yenagoa Zoo and Conservatory. Today most of these projects have been commissioned with the help of the bond issue tied to the projects. Governor Sylva had assured in a recent interview that the international airport would be completed next year.
I am here to see things for my self to ascertain how true are these optimistic media reports. I have established this uncommon bond with Bayelsa State over the years that I wanted to see everything and touch every point to see how real they are. So this day I made my tour into the joints listening with discussants, sympathizing with losers and rejoicing with winners. Absent here was that old sinking feeling that got me sleepless in Yenagoa. This time I had a good night sleep and I could see that the spiritual horison of this state has improved tremendously from my last visit.
My visit coincided with the campaign for the April elections in Nigeria and Bayelsa parades many governorship candidates. The incumbent governor is seeking reelection, challenged by other aspirants. Today the debate can be seen in the poster war going on. At this stage, the billboards scream their messages on the candidates. At Tombia Round-About there are two imposing billboards proclaiming their legends. One screamed “Take over Mission” and showed the face of Labour Party candidate. The other seemed to counter “Still on Duty” with the faces of Governor Sylva and deputy smiling out. The following day I was at Tombia but the two billboards had been vandalized. It was then I thought deeply and queried just what motivation or provocation the billboards displayed to warrant this breech of peace. A colleague of mine reminded me that using the words “Take over” was more connotative of military coup than democratic peaceful and orderly hand over of power expected after the elections. He reminded me that power could only be handed over by the incumbent but not taken over. I dismissed his perspective of this incident as irrelevant but I kept thinking about it. Then what was it that led to the vandalization of the governor’s billboard? Was it retaliation or was “Still on Duty” also inappropriate or was it misunderstood?
I decided I needed to remove my mind from this thought. I went for a sumptuous meal of Banga soup with shrimps in a nearby fast food joint. The business booms, together with hotels. Compared to Port Harcourt the food here is more expensive. With two thousand naira you can get yourself a plate of choice native or continental food here. However you may decide to do it at the Mama Put corner with far less. The average hotel room is N 7,500 but it may go up to as much as N35, 000 and more for higher brow hotels. The town sits below sea level and every building is a serious investment because you have to sand fill the river bank first before you start building up. So the average building here consumes about three times the normal building erected in Port Harcourt or elsewhere. Going by the above most times what we regard as exhaubitant contracts in Bayelsa State comparative to other States may be just frugal. Consider that Bayelsa has the highest per capita income calculated by dividing the total income annually with population; yet the state has one of the highest poverty indexes amongst Nigerian States. So where went all the money? Sand filling! When then a beautiful city emerges out of this intense effort it appears almost always surreal to the beholder. So I stood there transfixed watching the emergent skyline reminded that indeed as Governor Sylva has claimed, a silent revolution is going on in Bayelsa state capable of sweeping Nigeria in the very near future.
Mr. Nworisara, a policy consultant was part of the consulting team for BCCDA in 2008.