Bayelsa:The Contriman Governor in a hurry to make up for the lost years
By Ono Kevin Akpe
“For some of us, it’s time to own up, step up and do what success
requires. It’s that complex and that simple. We’ve read enough. Thought
enough. Talked enough. Planned enough. Avoided enough. Hoped enough.Intendedenough.Waited enough. Now it’s time to do enough” – Craig Harper
Hon. Seriake Dickson, former cop, lawyer, ex-Attorney General and member of the Federal House of Representatives, who has finally made it to the coveted and highly-contested hot seat in Creek Haven, Yenegoa must have been inspired partly by the quote above. He has braced up and is taking the bulls of governance in Bayelsa state by the horns.
He has a date with History and is acutely aware of this, as evident in his Valentine’s Day Inaugural Speech to the audience at his swearing-in ceremony, transmitted live on national TV networks and beamed to the world to Bayelsans and friends of the Ijaw nation at home and in the Diaspora. That speech was a presentation, in executive summary, of his blueprint for the rapid development of the long-suffering Niger-Delta state.
Looking back, it is like only a few months ago since this gentleman went public with his political dream of running the affairs of Bayelsa state, and yet so much has already happened the people of the state can hardly believe what they are hearing and seeing.
By his maiden parley with the Press barely a month after the inaugural speech, even the most cynical of reporters were amazed to hear what the new governor pulled through. This goes to show one thing, that every idea has a gestation period, every vision, the chosen day it germinates.
For some, it is when fiery speeches are made on the soap box, when manifestoes are sold to the expectations of the braying motley crowd. For others, it is the sophistry of political jingles and advertising campaigns, while yet for others, inspiration is fired up when the all-conquering allure of the greatest persuader of men and indeed women: money, lavishly deployed to dull the senses and brow-beat even the most principled person into hapless submission.
For yours truly, recalling the beginnings, I was conquered by the simple reasoning and resolute stand of the man who would ascend the office of Governor of one of the youngest and smallest states in the country. The venue was somewhere in the quiet hills of Maitama where leaders and elites of this promising state had converted to their own parliament, as the Government of the day in their state had labeled them enemies of state, to be hounded, harassed and brutalized by the security goons using state resources and apparatus, barring their preying fangs.
The occasion was the drafting of the gubernatorial candidate’s manifesto and the topic was education. The candidate had proposed to have ‘free and compulsory education for secondary and primary schools’ in the state. As we drafted that section of the document, we wanted clarification on that momentous statement as a result of the huge financial outlay its implementation would entail.
“Tarry a little,” some elders and experienced bureaucrats in our midst had cautiously advised. After the 5-year plunder of the state, they reminded him that when he wins he would obviously would inherit an empty treasury and huge debts. So, to put such weighty words in print therefore, they advised, would be disastrous if it turns out you are unable to deliver.”Offer only tuition-free scholarships, until you can afford to go the whole mile.”
Wait for a year in government,” another group advised. The minority group, to which I happened to belong, insisted that all Niger Delta States could afford free education for her citizens, no matter the challenge. The debate got more strident, data and statistics were bandied and just as it appeared that the experienced bureaucrats in our midst were having the upper hand with their pragmatic reasoning, the Gubernatorial candidate stood up and passionately insisted that even it is the only thing achieved in his tenure, education must be free and compulsory in both primary and secondary schools, complete with free model boarding schools set up in every local government of the state. He insisted that if he had to cut allowances, expenses and even his own security vote, that policy must be enforced. For a second there was pin-drop silence and reluctantly the debate wound down with our team retreating to continue with the job of drafting of the manifesto.
The sown seed had germinated.
At that point, I knew my determination to play a major role in the Movement would be unshaken and unmoved even by the threats to my person, family and general wellbeing. I knew that I was irredeemably sold on the restoration idea.
After a breathtaking suspense filled campaign the people spoke with one voice proclaiming their support and voting for change and for restoration.
As I watched him read his inaugural speech which we had laboured to harmonize, my greatest joy was listening to the portion on free and compulsory education as well as free boarding, which he had personally inserted in the final draft before we left for the inauguration venue. The tiny seed had sprouted!
“The taste of the pudding is in the eating” and thus as the wheels of government turned, the obvious challenges of a pillaged treasury and huge loans and debts stared us in the face. It became obvious that the situation was not as bad as we expected. It was WORSE! Thirty days later as we put down the Governors thoughts for the Transperancy Initiative speech in furtherance of the maiden press conference of the new governor, a wistful smile lit my face. The Countryman, who had campaigned keme-2-keme (person-to-person) was truly walking the talk!
In his inaugural speech, he had promised a paradigm shift in the governance culture of Bayelsa state. In fulfillment of this promise, the BAYELSA STATE TRANSPARENCY BILL 2012 which he has sent to the State House of Assembly, has already passed 1st reading and is receiving expeditious consideration. The purpose of the crucial bill is to make it obligatory for the state government and the local government councils to publicly declare to Bayelsans, all revenues that accrue to the state at the various levels.
Still on legislation to entrench good governance, the governor has also sent to the State House of Assembly four (4) other bills also receiving due consideration:
1. BAYELSA STATE COMPULSORY SAVINGS BILL 2012,
2. BAYELSA STATE COLLEGE OF ARTS AND SCIENCE (RE-ESTABLISHMENT) BILL 2012,
3. BAYELSA STATE SECRET CULT AND KIDNAPPING AND SIMILAR OFFENCES
(PROHIBITION) BILL 2012 and
4. BAYELSA STATE THANKSGIVING DAY BILL 2012.
As a lawmaker at the federal level, Governor Dickson had taken active part in the long-drawn battle to pass the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) , which included serving as the Chairman of the Committee of Chairmen on the FOI Bill and Vice Chairman of the National Assembly Harmonization Committee on same, in his belief that the people have a right to know.
This principle is being applied practically today in Bayelsa state on his watch, as he states: “We believe that it is the right of the people of the state, to know what funds accrue to the coffers of the state and the various local government councils and how they are utilized. This is the only way to secure the trust and confidence of the people in whom sovereignty lies.”
As at the March 15 date of his maiden Press Briefing, Governor Dickson who has pruned down spending at every point even where it hurts, to make savings for tomorrow and for more people-oriented schemes, presented a balance of N5, 901, 168, 231.81 to the media representatives, complete with details such as the banks and account numbers for verification.
Hear him: “From this balance, I have directed the opening of two special accounts. The first is the Bayelsa State Strategic Development Project account with United Bank for Africa (UBA) domiciled in Yenegoa with Account Number 1016076344. This account is dedicated to funding strategic investments in infrastructural development, agriculture, tourism, education, health and security. Our target is to build up these reserves to enable the award of contracts in compliance with applicable statutes on fiscal responsibility which require that contractual commitments by government should have adequate funding provided.”
The second state government bank account, he disclosed, is the Bayelsa State Strategic Reserve & Savings Account with First City Monument Bank (FCMB) domiciled in Yenegoa, with Account Number: 0281206040. The account as the name implies, he added, “is a an interest-yielding account dedicated to providing savings for the rainy day as a stabilization for our economy in the event of any unforeseen shock. Today, the account has a balance of Two Billion Naira (N2b).”
Speaking on the Bayelsa State Compulsory Savings Bill 2012, the Governor explained that it makes it mandatory for the state to make savings there in.“By the provisions of the proposed bill,” he went on, “funds in the account cannot be accessed by anybody, except for specific purposes and only with 2/3rd approval of the State House of Assembly.” That is not all. There is also proposed, a State Reserves Funds Management Council, to be composed of persons of proven integrity, and their role will be to advise government on the utilization of this fund. Within 30 days of assuming office, Governor Dickson has implemented a new régime of prudence in public expenditure, a cardinal principle of his financial management.
Since his inauguration, Hon. Dickson has consistently expressed concern about the high costs of running governance, particularly the high cost of the state’s monthly wage bill, which stood at N5.7b. For the month of March, he authorized only the sum of N4.1b as salaries. Other salary-based benefits are currently under review and therefore suspended, but would be paid as soon as they are verified. In addition, over N1b due for pensions and gratuities is being verified. A total of N684,960, 000 went for overhead and running costs after the governor had slashed it down by N1b instead of the N1.7b previously expended every month by the previous administration.
Governor Seriake Dickson reminds all and sundry that he and his team promised the good people Bayelsa State, to deliver on the restoration agenda which is firmly rooted in probity, transparency, accountability, and value re-orientation, and adds: “As a man of honour serving with other persons of integrity, we will not let you down.” Undoubtedly the road to full restoration would be rough and full of trials and tribulations but Governor Dickson has to remain steadfast and focused as he tackles various challenges that come his way. He must not be swayed by the standing ovation rendering the air on his early steps but remain as focused and resolute to ensure the paradigm shift promised Bayelsa would be delivered intact. One can only join him in appealing to members of his team to embrace the dream wholeheartedly and the citizens of the state and friends of Bayelsa state to give the Transparency Initiative drive full support on what the Governor calls “the journey of openness and accountability.”
This is because the governor seems to believe, like football coach Vince Lombardi, that: “Some of us will do our jobs well and some will not, but we will be judged by only one thing: the result.” And in Seriake Dickson’s case, the result has been fast in coming, even as the best is yet to come. The Contriman Governor is in a great hurry to make up for the lost years and to launch Bayelsa State into an even greater future as the real glory of all lands.
Ono Kevin Akpe is a Public Relations and Media Consultant and Project Coordinator “Wind of Hope” Foundation. He is based in Abuja and in Bayelsa State.His piece was originally titled The Bayelsa State Of Governor Henry Seriake
Dickson’s Dream: A Time To Be Steadfast