Public office, especially in terms of political succession is, in civil discourse, regarded as a relay race where one takes the baton from a predecessor and hands over to a successor in an ever-revolving cycle.
Wherever you were in the race, if you ran hard and you did your best, and you were able to hand over the baton successfully, with the institution of that office better off than you met it, you could take some pride in having played your part well. I think that exactly is the narrative for the Bayelsa State Governor, Seriake Dickson, as he bows out on Valentine’s Day this Friday, after a meritorious eight years in office.
For me, it has been an enduring lesson, having seen and worked with him at close range as his spokesman and later that of the government, thinking hard on policy choices and taking crucial decisions and stamping his enduring values on what really constituted the “Restoration Government.” I beheld at very close quarters how he gave his all, vision, creativity, stamina and willpower, towards landmark accomplishments of his tenure. I saw how leadership is truly about the character you bring to office.
For people like me who worked closely with this man who history would yet credit with being a transformational figure, the memories will keep flooding back that this was a man who battled odds before which others would have folded in order to ensure a qualitatively better life for the people of Bayelsa, a landscape transformed by hope rather than hopelessness, work, order and civility, rather than banditry and chaos.
Hitherto, I have only been chronicling history in a hurry as my job dictates but, in the next couple of months, I would be provding a more studied chronicle of the era (February 4, 2012 to February 14, 2020) not just as a witness to history but as a participant, having been largely responsible for projecting the Restoration Government’s image to the world.
I intend in the process to reflect the dynamics of governance, the arduous process that attended the process of policymaking and execution.
No doubt, the role of the media in propagating the work of any government vis-a-vis key objectives and the interrelated dynamics has become even more important in contemporary times. Nothing can ever be taken for granted, particularly in an information age and with specific attention to the burgeoning power of the social media.
To really appreciate Dickson’s legacy, it is necessary to have a picture of the near state of anomie he met in 2012.
It has to be stated that, from the outset, Governor Dickson took into cognisance the burden and concerns of his predecessors and the founding fathers on the pitiable state of existence in Bayelsa State owing largely to the huge poverty and acute deprivation of the people even in the midst of the God-given oil and gas resources in the state and largely because of an inequitable federation.
The difference he brought into governance was his focus and courage to wade through the labyrinth of the challenges by taking bold but pragmatic decisions on how best the inherited challenges could be effectively tackled to meet the yearnings and aspirations of his people.
From being accountable to the people, especially in the financial affairs of the state, to strategic approach to development to ensure the people actually felt the impact of government in their daily lives, the Restoration Government left appropriate yardsticks to measure progress.
Dickson’s notable achievements in infrastructural development, building a network of roads and bridges that have opened up the state and in particular places that were previously isolated in the creeks are there for all to see. But I think the penetrating insights of the public intellectual, Dr. Chidi Amuta, in espousing the remarkable legacy of the Dickson era in education, is most worthy of note.
I agree totally that nothing showcases the Dickson brand better than his signature achievements in education development.
According to Amuta, the freshness of Dickson’s approach to governance is that he had a long-term vision for his people and developed a set of ideas and convictions about the relationship between governance and social change. For him, change does not come from mere infrastructure and landscape decoration, even as Dickson did better than most in this regard. It comes from changing the material living circumstances and overall mindset of the people.
In this regard, massive investment in education held the key to unlocking the potential of the people to develop the state. He saw the challenge of the Ijaw nation as that of urgently educating the younger generation to wean them away from a tradition of violence, criminality and unearned sense of entitlement. Dickson, therefore, had to tailor his educational investments to create incentives that would make education the attractive path for the youth of his state.
Amuta further noted that the logic of Dickson’s belief in education was that an educated citizenry would create its own employment opportunities and further transform their society through an application of the fruits of knowledge. In this thinking, Bayelsa’s most critical asset for the future is its enhanced human resources, its educated citizenry and skilled workforce produced by the schools, colleges and universities of today.
This logic has long stood the test of time, as the history of some of the most advanced countries in the world shows that dependence on minerals and natural resources does not necessarily lead to national development, rather, it is the human mind, through the fruits of science and technology, that creates industrial societies that lead the rest of humanity.
This thesis and its attendant logic, Amuta posited, is the key to assessing and understanding the achievements and ultimate legacy of Governor Seriake Dickson in the history of Bayelsa State, especially in his chosen priority of education.
No matter what the naysayers or future revisionists might say to the contrary, history has already been made, underscoring the success attained. Witness the courage that undergirded the declaration of free education in all primary schools and replicated in the 15 model boarding schools with modern facilities and incentives. Or the expansion of the frontiers of learning by establishing two additional universities (University of Africa, Bayelsa Medical University, Bayelsa Polytechnic at Aleibiri and several other institutions of learning) to complement the existing Niger Delta University, thereby paving the way for greater educational opportunities in the state.
As I reflect on the way forward in the post-Dickson era, it is useful to remark that such is the frailty of human consciousness that a prophet is often not heralded in his time and his immediate environment and underlined by the temptation of a successor regime to engage in an orgy of bad blood and recriminations.
I make bold to say that the true measure of Henry Seriake Dickson’s legacy will be driven home when he has departed from office and the honeymoon is over for the new kids on the block, unless, of course, they seek to build upon and consolidate the very remarkable progress that has been made.
Among those who will sorely miss him are the thousands of students of the model boarding schools, including the flagship Ijaw National Academy, and those proud beneficiaries of his government’s scholarship schemes. They also include the hundreds of overseas scholars like the Lincoln University scholars who are today making waves across the globe in various fields of human endeavour because they were given rare life-changing opportunities.
I also figure that the Ijaw nation as a whole will miss this Renaissance man because he raised their consciousness and their self-pride.
The traditional rulers who got a new sense of belonging and respect will miss him, just as the Penticostal family, the non-governmental organisations who reckoned with him as one of their own as an activist before his ascendancy to political power, various interest groups and the good people of Bayelsa State who without partisan leaning saw him as a true agent of change to enhance societal progress.
Now it is easy to take for granted the relative peace and tranquility enjoyed in Bayelsa without looking back to see the ugly security situation prevalent in the pre-Restoration era. But a lot of efforts went into that through a careful study and spirited action taken by investing heavily in security.
We cannot also overlook the economic significance of the Bayelsa International Airport in Ammasoma to be inaugurated today, which in fullness of time will create so many multiplier opportunities for economic development. The airport’s strategic value will be better appreciated in future when, for instance, the Brass LNG and the Agge Deep Seaport are established and operational. Governor Dickson has already launched and handed over the Forward Operation Base and jetty to the military at the Agge Deep Seaport built by the Nigerian Army Engineering Corps, a contract awarded by the Restoration Government to jump-start the drive towards bringing the seaport to life. Agge deep seaport remains a strategic gateway to the outside world via the equally strategic Gulf of Guinea and of greater proximity to the eastern axis of the country. This holds enormous promise for business and development. It is a product of a well-conceived vision of the future. These two major projects were listed as priorities by the Restoration Administration but could not be realised due to the obvious financial limitations of the state government.
With a modernising economy, burgeoning socio-economic activities, expanded access to modern healthcare, a raft of anti-poverty projects and incentives for self-actualisation, especially for women as the most vulnerable population segment, with a reformed bureaucracy and engendered political stability, Bayelsa State, under Governor Seriake Dickson, has come a long way. Hope has been restored by the imperishable imprints of a leader who is leaving the state far better than he met it.
The challenge before the people and succeeding leaders is to ensure that the enviable foundations of Dickson’s legacy are kept and built upon so that the state does not suffer a regression.
Said Dickson: “In the last eight years, we have advanced the development of my state in all critical sectors…we are over 20 years ahead.”
This is the realty for those who can think beyond the prism of politics as we know it in our clime (yes, the bread and butter fixation) to connect with the overall development strides of the Restoration Government in Bayelsa State.
Dr. Chidi Amuta captures it all when he writes: “After eight action-packed years in office, Seriake Dickson may have ended up more as a transformational governor with ‘revolutionary’ impact than as a mere restorer of some classic hope for his people. Through a fundamental rethinking of the Bayelsa dream, it can safely be said that the sum total of all the programmes and projects that Dickson has embarked upon during his tenure amount to a transformation not only of the landscape but also, most crucially, of the mindset of his people as well as their prospects for a more prosperous future.”
There is no beating quality leadership. Ofurumapepe (the Great White Shark) has done his bit and now it is time to move on and undoubtedly face a greater national challenge.
God bless Bayelsa State. Let us keep the fire burning in the Glory of All Lands.
•Iworiso-Markson, Commissioner for Information and Orientation sent this piece from Yenagoa