Bayelsa Rural Dev: Focus on Nembe LGA

I was inspired to write this article because of thee misconceptions bandied about by those who deride good governance. Firstly, there is a wrong perception that the Sylva administration has concentrated development projects in and around in Yenagoa alone to the exclusion of the rural areas. Secondly, most critics of the administration are of the view that there is a disconnect because of the use of Caretaker Committees before the entrenchment of democratically elected Chairman. Thirdly, there has been the misconception that following the pendency of the election of Executive Chairmen, grassroots development witnessed a lag in terms of development.

The Local Government became an autonomous third tier of government since the Reforms of 1976. LGAs are veritable catalysts that facilitate grassroots participation in politics and accelerate rapid socio-economic development. However, the significance attached to the third-tier of local government is a function of its ability to promote rural development. As the closest tier of government, LGAs provide a veritable ground for pilot-testing some policies and programmes. This is the conventional practice in societies where the bottom-up approach to development is popularized. Basically, LGAs bring government closer to the People and enhances the people's ownership of development projects.

It is stating the obvious that LGAs in Nigeria lack financial autonomy - which underscores the basis of true federalism. Although LGAs draw allocations from the federation account, the States have preponderant powers over the monies allocated to them in terms of imposition of levies, statutory and non-statutory deduction. Essentially too, the conduct of council election is at the behest of State Chief Executives. The Law Making powers of Councils are subservient to the State Assemblies.

In Bayelsa State, the eight Council Chairmen who started work barely 9 month ago have set the pace for aggressive rural development. In Nembe Local Government Council, Hon. Waribugo Sylva has practically demonstrated that a leader can make a difference in the lives of a people with pragmatic initiatives and dogged commitment.

In Bayelsa State, Government has identified the need to bridge its existing infrastructure gap as one of the key elements required to jump-start its economic development by enabling the growth of sectors in which it has identified a comparative advantage e.g. tourism and agriculture, and also to position the State as one of the preferred destinations for private sector investment in the country. Consistent with this objective is the obligation of the State to direct its policy towards ensuring the promotion of a planned and balance economic development and that material resources are harnessed and distributed as best as possible to serve the common good.

In pursuance of grassroots development in Bayelsa State, government is making concerted efforts to ensure the completion of the 32 Secretariat complexes to improve governance at the grassroots In order to improve the expeditious completion of projects; government has pledged to provide matching grants for self-help in all rural development projects embarked upon by Community-Based Organizations and other Non-Governmental Organizations.

At the State level Plans have reached an advanced stage to strengthen the industrial base of the State through the establishment of markets in Nembe, Kpansia and Otuoke in addition to a shopping mall in Yenagoa. A modern Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Centre will be established in Yenagoa. Similarly, a ceramic industry has been earmarked for Yenagoa through counterpart funding by the State and Federal Government. The industrial policy also supports the establishment of a Vehicle Assembly plant and the building of modern ware houses in all the three Senatorial Districts of the State.

Before he plunged into the murky waters of politics, he had envisioned to provide the type of leadership capable of transforming society. In this onerous enterprise and worthy journey of self-actualization he considered the dictum that “charity begins at home”. As a transformational leader, he keyed into the vision of Aristotle who convinced his kinsmen in Athens that “It is better for a city to be governed by a good man than by good laws. As a man who places premium on the provision of physical infrastructure, human capital development and efficient delivery of social services to enhance the living standards of the people, he did not tarry to take three critical steps to kick-start his administration.

The chairman embarked on meet-the-people tour of the LGA with a view to identifying development gaps and priorities of the various communities. Secondly, the chairman conducted a needs Assessment survey to be able to feel the pulse of the people concerning government polices at the grassroots. This was done in order to prioritize development polices and programmer within the limits of available resources. Thirdly, he consulted with traditional rulers, community Development communities CDC, Chairmen, opinion leaders, youth groups and women Associations. The culmination was a condensation of the needs of the various communities comprising the LGA. These needs have been aggregated to provide a basis for policy formulation and implementation.

Having assessed the needs of the people, he set about the macabre task of providing the very basis needs. To provide Nembe with a facelift, he awarded contract for the clearing of bushes and waterfronts at Ogbolomabiri and Bassambiri. Prior to his assumption of office, the water schemes in Nembe were utterly broken down. He resuscitated these dilapidated water schemes and completed the reticulation work that was abandoned by the previous administration. The administration of Waribugo Sylva immediately started the reconstruction of modern toilet facilities in Nembe while simultaneously renovating broken down toilets. The provision of these facilities has positive implications for the hygiene and well being of the people.

In Nembe Bassambiri, he refurbished the existing power plants that were in not operation. Today, the two power plants are in full operation. In order to complement the State government efforts at peace-building, the Council embarked on the building of a new Divisional Police Headquarters in Nembe- Bassambiri.

While these laudable programmes were being executed, Hon. Sylva cleared a backlog of salaries and allowances owe to staff of the Council, which he inherited from the previous administration. This is an uncommon feat achieved by the Chairman within the period. The Chairman has done well in other philanthropic gestures such as payment of school fees for indigent students, underwriting the medical expenses of the elderly and other forms of assistance to the vulnerable.

Wendell Phillips said some time ago that 'Governments exist to protect the rights of minorities. The loved and the rich need no protection: they have many friends and few enemies'. It was the same spirit of altruism that propelled him to initiate a welfare programme christened “Let the Elders Smile” – a programme in which cash and food items are distributed to 150 elders on a monthly basis. The programme is being coordinated by the office of the wife of the Chairman of the LGA. The programme was designed to put smiles on the faces of the elders and it has achieved that purpose.

One multi-million programme the administration initiated and completed is the building and furnishing of the Chairman's lodge including perimeter fencing. Hitherto, it was a standard practice for the Chairman to spend huge sums of money on hotel bills when top government functionaries and Heads of Government Agencies, Parastatals paid official visit to the Council. The completion of the lodge has distinguished Nembe LGA as one of the first LGAs to have such a befitting edifice in Bayelsa State. In the light of the magnitude of the project, the edifice was commissioned by the Executive Governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Timipre Sylva.

NELGA collaborated with an Oil servicing Company in the area to engage in a multi-million Naira dredging and land reclamation project. Today, the dredging of 50,000cm of sand has been successfully completed. The reclaimed land has already been earmarked for the building of an ultra-modern recreation centre – the first of its kind ever to be embarked upon by any LGA in Bayelsa State. Part of the sand has been used to sand fill and reclaim State School 1 field, in Nembe-Bassambiri. Prospective estate developers in the community will tap from the sand for building and construction work.

The Chairman of Nembe LGA has rare leadership qualities: emotionally mature, courageous, and vision and altruism. He is considerate of the persona-social need, listens to all viewpoints to develop an enduring spirit of cooperation. He has demonstrable ability to manage conflict in addition to dealing with complexity policy issues. It is on record that he is the only Chairman in Bayelsa State that has been to initiate, see through and pass two fundamental bye-laws – all geared towards boosting internally generated revenue.

In the first quarter of 2011, the Waribugo administration will focus on improving the quality of education because literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. The Chairman recognizes education as a tool for daily life in modern society, the bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development. This phase will focus on the rehabilitation of schools, the provision of much-needed infrastructure and capacity building of teachers who administer education. Recognizing the burden of graduate unemployment. This will compliment government efforts on youth empowerment through Skills Acquisition Centres to complement the State Governments' efforts in imparting skills that would make recipients to be self-employed.

Recognizing the fact that literacy is a platform for democratization, and a vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity, Hon Waribugo has laid out a plan for the sensitization of the people on their civic rights and obligations. The Council has kick-started the process of capacity-building of boat drivers on the maintenance of safety standards. The practitioners of other vocations and pseudo-professions will equally benefit from such capacity building gestures.

At the LGA level, accountability should take place at three stages. First is the bottom-up typology, which involves the local government to local citizens. The secondly, there is horizontal accountability in which case the local government authority opens her records to the to various public institutions of accountability. The last is Vertical accountability in which the local government gives account to the State Government either through the executive organ of government or the State House of Assembly.

Recently, NELGA has installed a state-of –the –art water treatment plant and improved on reticulation work in Nembe Bassambiri in the first phase. Now, there is potable water in the area, which will not only be a source of domestic use but reduce the outbreak of water borne diseases. Plans are underway to replicate the project in Nembe-Ogbolomabiri sooner than later. The policy thrust is that no community will be left behind in terms of project allocation.

More than ever, NELGA has the responsibility to ensure that policy implementation met their stated objectives. There is also the need to explore other sources of Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) to expand the scope of project execution. The LGA should equitably allocate projects to all communities depending on areas of need. The administration has a responsibility to work in synergy with development partners to solve the peculiar challenges facing the area. Local government administrations must enhance the transparency and participation in public decision making. The Nembe LGA has already created public awareness of the government's commitment to improving performance and enhancing accountability. The Wari-Sylva administration has set the pace for others to follow. Within a short span of 9 months, NELGA has been given a facelift. In the months ahead, things can only get better.

Ebi Bomo-Ene, wrote from Nembe-Bassambiri

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