On Friday, 14 February 2020, history was made in the oil-rich Bayelsa State, when Senator Douye Diri was sworn in as the fifth democratically elected governor of the state.
While the outgoing Governor Henry Seriake Dickson will enjoy the tag of being the longest serving governor under the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), who served eight years of two terms and handed over to his preferred candidate.
Diri’s emergence as governor, although shrouded in a controversial Supreme Court judgment, has opened a new vista for the state. The Supreme Court’s decision left many Bayelsans deflated and such that violent protests almost brought Yenagoa, the state capital, to a standstill.
A young state with enormous potential yet challenges due to maladministration and corruption, Diri has his task cut out for him on how to change the narrative of failure of past administrations. There are huge expectations from Bayelsans and other stakeholders given Diri’s antecedents as one of the founding fathers of one of the most vibrant youth organizations in Nigeria, Ijaw Youth Congress (IYC).
Bayelsa State has one of the lowest populations in the country. But in terms of revenue accruals from the Federation Account, it receives relatively large chunk of funds, including the 13 per cent due to its oil producing status. The state is richly endowed with the black gold. So, Diri will have no excuse if he failed to develop Bayelsa State.
One of the major challenges Diri would face and which he would need to tackle fast may come from his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state and the expected overbearing influence his predecessor, Mr. Henry Seriake Dickson, who foisted him on the people.
There is also the issue of settling the party’s faithful. Many will soon start jostling for the different positions and opportunities.
Bayelsa with eight local government areas, is perhaps the least developed among states created same year, economically and infrastructurally despite the huge accruals from the federal allocation. With high level of insecurity, epileptic power supply (even in the state capital in the last six years), hunger, poverty, cultism and other problems, Bayelsans first expectation from Diri, will be power supply. The lack of power supply has crippled the state’s economy as many businesses left the state in the last four years.
According to a human rights activist, Comrade Tabowei Oyintarila, the expectations from the incoming administration of Diri by Bayelsans are very high, “considering the huge gap between the needs of the people and what has been given to them so far”.
“There is no need crying over spilt milk, Diri should learn from the reactions of Bayelsans in the latter days of Dickson as governor. I have just gone to the Garrison Area of Port Harcourt to take a look at the flyover project ongoing there. Yesterday as I got into Port Harcourt, l saw same thing at Rumuokoro – a flyover. This is a testament to the fact that development is a continuum. In as much as Dickson has done his best, it isn’t good enough as the basic amenities such as light (power), water, functional health and educational facilities are still a far cry for Bayelsans”, Oyintarila said.
Re-echoing the advice of Oyintarila, a social commentator, Mr. Ernest Uzevie, said, “the expectations of Bayelsans from the incoming administration are very high. Let him fix electricity because light is life; let him tackle insecurity that has become a monster and a great source of worry to all. We want industrialization. Our great state needs to move away from her present civil service status”.
“Let him complete the 5-star hotel, which has become an embarrassment to the state. He should complete the Glory Drive from Igbogene down to Yenagoa, complete Bayelsa Palm Road, Isaac Boro Expressway, Opolo-Elebele Road, Yenagoa-Oporoma Road, and Sagbama-Ekeremor Road. Building of Agge Seaport, payment of student bursary, prompt payment of gratuity, development of the Bayelsa Palm that will generate billions of naira for the state, and provision of water and canalization of Epie Creek. These should also be some of his priorities if he must succeed and gain the people’s trust.”
Despite the huge investment in education by Dickson’s administration, the new governor still needs to do a lot more in this sector, especially as regards school enrollment in the rural communities. In most of the rural communities, school attendance in both primary and secondary schools ranks among the lowest in country as the previous government failed to do the needful.
Also, the quality of education needs improvement while school fees for higher education is beyond the reach of common Bayelsans. Diri needs to provide bursary for students in tertiary institutions and not the loan scheme Dickson introduced at the end of his tenure. Bayelsans are canvassing that this should be one of Diri’s priorities so as to help students who are not from rich homes acquire decent education.
Perhaps, one of the many “sins” of Dickson is his unfulfilled promise. He would be remembered as the governor with the highest number of initiated but unfinished infrastructural projects, including roads and many others.
Many businesses closed down in the state capital. As businesses closed for lack of patronage, families left the city with their businesses. Suddenly, houses became vacant leading to general inactivity in the economic sector.
In his second term, Dickson travelled around the world looking for foreign investors after shutting out local investors. Ironically, these investors came to a state capital that has no power supply with a high level of insecurity.
These investors simply left and never came back.
Dickson was a passionate governor who was desirous to work and provide basic infrastructure for the state. But he was consumed by his ambition, to be the ‘generalissimo’ of Bayelsa politics. Dickson and PDP nearly paid for this ambition but for the intervention of the Supreme Court.
Just like Oyintarila said, Diri should learn from the mistakes of Dickson and listen to the voice of the people and critical stakeholders and provide amenities for the state.
Notwithstanding the herculean task before him, Diri, the 60 years old Senator has rich credentials that put him in great stead to excel if political gladiators in the state allow him to work.
Before joining active politics, he taught in several government schools in the rural areas of old Rivers State and was the first National Organizing Secretary of Ijaw National Congress (INC). He was also the Executive Secretary, Centre for Youth Development in Bayelsa State between 2000 to 2002 and later Commissioner for Youth and Sports (2005-2006) before his appointment as Council member, University of Maiduguri (2008-2012).
He was also the Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) Disciplinary Council, Bayelsa State (2012). In 2012, when Dickson emerged as the governor of the state, he was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff, Government House in 2012, and then Principal Executive Secretary (2013-2014).
Diri won election to the House of Representatives to represent Kolokuma/Opokuma and Yenagoa Federal Constituency in 2015, and later a Senator representing Bayelsa West Senatorial District before he won the primaries of PDP, albeit in controversial circumstances. Besides all these, Diri has a good track record to his credit in terms administrative performance.
At his swearing-in ceremony, Diri was emphatic on the need for reconciliation and uniting all Bayelsans across political divides and called for calm and peace.
In an inauguration address, Diri declared that he would always work to achieve peace, love and prosperity for the people.
He described the swearing in day as “a day made by God and marvelous in the eye of the people of Bayelsa.
“I have been sworn in today as your new governor; my advice is that we have to be magnanimous in victory. We have to forget the bitterness, and the acrimony, because if we kill ourselves, who are we going to lead? Of course, we are not going to lead animals. I, therefore, bring to you message of love, hope and prosperity for Bayelsa. Let us eschew all the bitterness and acrimony and learn to love ourselves irrespective of political parties.”
Diri also declared that he would run an all-inclusive government, hence the need for the cooperation and support of all leaders of the state, including former President Goodluck Jonathan.
The new governor, urged the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, APC governorship candidate in the last election, Chief David Lyon, and other opposition parties to join hands with him in building the state.
He also reemphasized the need for peace and reconciliation.
With the Supreme Court finally bringing the anxious moments of the judicial review to an end, the time is now for Governor Douye Diri to hit the ground running for Bayelsa to see fruitful actions.