Though this could come at a political price, some even with huge loss of political capital and, in revolutionary cases, lives, this is how serious leaders lead and how they entrench enduring legacies.
In the recent history of governance in Bayelsa State, I think the dramatic shift in leadership style, vision and achievements, speak eloquently of how incumbent Governor Henry Seriake Dickson came armed with a mission and was resolved never to betray it. His resolve to question the status quo since 2012 when he first came into office is translating to a re-validation of the proper ethos of public service.
Now in his second term, the first year of which will be celebrated on February 14 and would also come barely days after his 51st birthday anniversary today, evokes the kind of extraordinary story genuine leaders can create in the development narrative of their people. Specifically, the socio-economic and political re-engineering birthing such remarkable developments in the last five years of his leadership in Bayelsa State, underscore the fact that Governor Dickson is a driver of change, a reformer driven by big ideas. Not surprisingly he ran into spirited resistance by forces of the status quo who were comfortable with depressing indices of societal development so long as their own narrow interests were taken care of.
For us to properly appreciate the import of this reflection is to compare the situation the Restoration Government inherited in 2012 and what obtains today in the various sectors of the state’s economy which will show clearly the huge transformation that has taken place among our people and why the future beckons with such exciting possibilities. One does not have to look far for the evidence of the imprint Dickson has left on the Bayelsa landscape. The evidence is everywhere.
His leadership goals were founded upon a deep understanding of the challenges he met and a realisation that he would literally have to drag much of the society to attain noble goals of development and progress. There was the high security challenge of 2012 as a result of wrongheaded militancy and when criminals of various stripes ruled the roost. He took on the challenge head on, employing modern crime fighting techniques and technology to tame crime and criminality. Then there was the challenge of education. What has been achieved has been adjudged a revolution given the achievements in infrastructure and human development. The declaration of emergency in the sector which made education totally free was the impetus which enabled those who might have been unable to go to school due to financial constraints to now do so and with rare scholarships to boot in some of the best schools at home and abroad. There is the re-introduction of boarding schools in all the senatorial districts and with adequate classrooms and teachers provided. The nobility of the teaching profession is now marked not only in words but in deed.
In terms of visible impact no sector has received as much attention and reflected obvious progress as infrastructure. Governor Dickson met an abysmal state of infrastructure compounded no doubt by a forbidding terrain that gulps huge expenditure. Bayelsa is largely riverine and linking the various towns and communities is a huge and expensive task. This obviously has had consequence for trade and commercial activities. But today, the story is different as we have modern roads and bridges linking up the entire state in a strategic manner and properly designed to connect people and communities to facilitate commerce and social relations. From the first flyover bridge in the state capital, Yenagoa, to the various senatorial roads and bridges to the fact that people can now drive straight to Nembe by road recently facilitated by the Governor Dickson-led Restoration administration, a project first mooted in the 1950s by Shell and later jointly executed by NDDC, we have seen true leadership, focused, determined and sincere, tackling the challenge of development and putting the welfare of the people first.
That the welfare of the people is the primary purpose of government has informed the attention to manpower development which has enabled many youths to be trained and empowered and helped women entrepreneurs get financial support either through the Izon Microfinance Bank or special grants facilitated by the government. Promoting economic independence has seen the emphasis placed on modern agriculture which utilizes the geographical comparative advantage of the state to grow rice and cassava and to boost fisheries, a traditional occupation of our people but now developed not only for local consumption but for sale farther afield.
Far-sighted leadership is also evident in the massive investment in the international airport at Amassoma, a strategic step which will further help to open up the state for major development as business entities in the south east and south -south regions will prefer to land straight in Bayelsa and go onward to their destinations in, or around, the state.
Thinking big and working doubly hard to actualize the dreams is indeed the Governor Henry Seriake Dickson story. He has been animated by the goal of moving the state from over-dependence on oil and gas to becoming an industrialized entity. To him, nothing is impossible especially going by his understanding of the Dubai story of sheer enterprise that has also catapulted a landlocked country to such a highly diversified economy that has become a huge attraction to the whole world. It was such thinking on mastering the art of what ordinarily is the impossible which informed the determined efforts at economic diversification long before it became a sing song elsewhere. Hence the bold exploration of tourism potentials with five star hotels, golf links and all other infrastructure to develop the tourist attractions which abound in the state in the pipeline. A better tomorrow is also heralded by plans for a light industrial park in the state, the Agge Deep Seaport and the LNG project in Brass. What is needed is just the support from the federal government not only because of the constitutional/ legal structures of such complex establishments but also the huge capital involved. But what is not in doubt is the viability of these projects. For instance, Agge has the deepest coastline in the country, a strategic gateway, looking at its proximity to the Gulf of Guinea and Governor Dickson sees it as a national endowment which will naturally help to decongest the Lagos Port and boost trade and commerce in the eastern half of the country and farther to the north east.
Transformation of a society entails the people knowing that part of their civic responsibility is paying tax and the government demonstrating by its own example that accountability is an indispensable trait for any human institution or government.
Overall, we have witnessed stability in recent years and this speaks volumes about what a serious leadership which inherited a situation of anomie could bring to bear in the lives of the people. No wonder the fond reference to Dickson in popular parlance as the “talk and do governor” or “countryman governor.”
Our reflection on Dickson as he clocks 51 won’t be complete without talking about his politics and the philosophy driving it. As he is wont to say, he is a politician of conviction, meaning that his participation in politics is driven by his desire to leave society much better than he found it. Every other thing follows from this. He believes in the utilization of state resources to develop the state instead of pillaging such resources as a personal estate. Which is why he has had fierce running battles with many members of the elite formation in the state, battles which he has largely won and which framed the cut-throat contest for the last governorship election in the state. As the public would soon read from a book written on the controversial election, the foreword of which is written by Ekiti State governor, Ayodele Fayose, what made the election a mortal combat warfare as it were, was the desperation to control state resources for personal aggrandizement but which Dickson abhors. Interestingly, the good people of Bayelsa whom the Ofurumapepe (the great white shark that braves the ocean when the tempest is fiercest) has served in truth and in deed rallied round him by voting en-masse for his re-election, some even throwing their bare bodies forward to challenge armoured tanks to safeguard democracy.
The rest as they say is now history but the lesson here is the need for dedication and determined leadership if society must move forward. This is also what Governor Dickson’s 51st birthday means to the good people of Bayelsa State. He only challenged the status quo for the sake of the people, to create a new direction that has now led us out of Egypt. But his work is not yet done. Nigeria beckons for the enthronement of a new leadership paradigm so that this long suffering land will at last enjoy the benefits of the resources Almighty God so generously bestowed upon her. It is a call which with other like minds would leave him no other choice but to answer. Happy 51st year of your sojourn, Ofurumapepe, in this our God-given earth!
***Iworiso-Markson is the Chief Press Secretary to the Bayelsa State Governor