Before Governor Henry Seriake Dickson was born some 51 years ago, Sarki, a Kano-born itinerant trado-medicine practitioner, had foretold the greatness of this emerging statesman and consummate master strategist. But Sarki didn’t imagine that the boy who was eventually named after him would be governor. But by dint of hard work, support of Bayelsans and God’s grace, he would later surmount the challenges of life to be overwhelmingly elected Governor of Bayelsa State for two consecutive terms.
To many observers, having a 51st birthday anniversary shortly after the Supreme Court affirmed his election is a fitting coincidence that calls for clinking of glasses, but the Countryman Governor is not given to celebrating birthdays. For the governor, the celebration will, essentially, be a toast to the good governance he has enthroned in the state, the resilience and utmost fidelity to his social contract with Bayelsans.
Upon his inauguration as the third elected governor of the littoral state, he declared that his government would usher in development, security, peace and prosperity in all sectors, such that after him, Bayelsa and, indeed, the Ijaw nation will never be the same again! Five years down the line, Governor Dickson, who is now a Tarakiri High Chief, is not only walking the talk, the regular Bayelsans see him as a sun shining on a cloudless morning!
There has never been the question of abdication of that obligation. The scrupulous observance of the imperatives inherent in the social contract naturally endeared him to the masses. It was this, coupled with an unforced bonhomie, which earned him the sobriquet, Countryman Governor.
But significant triumphs and a successful life sometimes tend to create an illusion of an easy ride. Governor Dickson’s rise to political fame has been anything but rosy. The road to re-election was a particularly tortuous one, characterised by landmines created by the notorious federal might, carpet baggers and the merchants of violence whose ambitions were swamped by Dickson’s grassroots appeal and charisma.
Bookmakers are, however, disappointed that the Countryman is not rolling out the drums to celebrate the convergence of the sweet election victory and his 51st birthday, especially in a volatile country where life expectancy is pegged at 50. The two events are intertwined and are two sides of a life predicated on putting people first, as constant variable, as well as a life of selfless service rendered great and meaningful by the Karmic rewards of altruistic commitments. Governor Dickson exemplifies this paradigm of good rewards for good deeds; of sowing and reaping. It is a law embedded in the theological canons and philosophical corpuses of major religions. The governor has reaped a deserved reputation, as a man of unflinching humanistic convictions and consensus builder, yet does not compromise his stubborn commitment to democratic principles. The celebration of a birthday in the shadow of a historic electoral victory bears out this axiom.
Indeed, Governor Dickson has courageously sown well and he is reaping well. As Chairman of the National Peace/Reconciliation Committee of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), he has reaped goodwill in return: a pan-Nigerian network of trusted friends, admirers, and allies. He has reaped opportunities that some only dream of. For nothing epitomises the enduring quality of the law of sowing and reaping than a political triumph, thought impossible by the federal might but made possible by a formidable cache of goodwill banked with voters and compatriots over a long period of unbroken grassroots service.
The enemies of democracy said the Ofurumapepe, meaning the Great White Shark, as Dickson is fondly called, was not supposed to win. He was not expected to win, and, given the ruthless aggression of the adversarial forces pitted against him, should not have won! So, the electorate was intimidated and the governor’s security guards were withdrawn to probably pave way for their sinister plan. But Bayelsans formed an impregnable ‘Wall of Jerico’ around the Countryman. Governor Dickson not only won but also he made history as the first opposition politician to win election under President Muhammadu Buhari’s Presidency.
As Chinua Achebe wrote in his best seller, Things Fall Apart, “Looking at a king’s mouth, one would think he never sucked at his mother’s breast.” This pithy saying reflects in Dickson’s life. Born on January 28, 1966, in the riverine community of Toru-Orua, in Sagbama Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, Dickson did not sight a vehicle not to talk of experiencing a ride until he was 18 years and in far-away Patani. And at a point, his parents’ business nosedived and they could not afford his school fees anymore, forcing the young Seriake to drop out of secondary school to join his mum do menial jobs in search of fees, before returning to school and, therefore, making him to miss some terms. Such very modest beginnings could not have presaged a successful future, but it’s yet another proof that one’s circumstances at birth are merely accidental and may be overcome by dint of hard work and conviction in the strength of the human spirit.
From that humble background, Dickson enlisted in the Nigerian Police in 1986 after completing his secondary education through the skin of his teeth! Buoyed by the dream for knowledge, he applied and gained admission in 1988 into the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Port Harcourt, to read Law. Graduating with a degree in law in 1992, he would later earn his Bachelors in Law from the Nigeria Law School, Lagos, in 1993, and earned his call to the bar the same year.
Upon graduation in 1993, he was appointed a cadet Assistant Superintendent of Police in 1994, which necessitated training at the Nigeria Police Academy in Kano. But in the course of the training, he soon took a decision that baffled family members, who had long dreamed of seeing their son decorated an officer – he voluntarily withdrew his service after close to a decade, to practise law.
At a period when it was not fashionable to join the Alliance for Democracy (AD), he was elected its Bayelsa State Chairman between 1990 and 2000 and led the party to a resounding victory in the 1999 general elections, producing the senator and member of House of Representatives, representing Bayelsa West and two members of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly, representing Brass. These victories were so profound because aside from the South West, Bayelsa was the only state where the AD cruised home to such big victory. It was in recognition of Governor Dickson’s feat that he was elected National Legal Adviser of the AD and held the position between 2000 and 2002. But Dickson, who at this juncture, was deeply rooted in the Ijaw struggle, dumped the AD and defected to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) when the former backed the Onshore/Offshore dichotomy suite instituted by the late Chief Bola Ige, an AD leader and then Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice in the Olusegun Obasanjo administration. The suit was believed to be antithetical to resource control and the Ijaw national interest.
Governor Dickson was appointed the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of Bayelsa State from 2006 to 2007 by Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and was later elected the member, representing Sagbama/Ekeremor Federal Constituency of Bayelsa State in the House of Representatives where he made his mark in the sands of time, sponsoring many bills, which have since been passed into law, chief of which was the amendment of the Evidence Act, the first since 1954. He was re-elected in 2011 but resigned to stand election for governor, was overwhelmingly elected and sworn in on February 14, 2012.
The rise and rise story of this philosopher-king is the stuff of legends and could, indeed, be a source of inspiration for all Bayelsans to rise above the limiting circumstances of their environment and birth to accomplish their dreams. So there is no doubt that Governor Dickson has earned his stripes. And as he turns 51 tomorrow, it’s safe to say that it’s morning yet on creation day.
• Agbo, Special Adviser to Governor Dickson on Media Relations, wrote in from Yenagoa via [email protected]