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Bayelsa Election: Dickson’s Dream and the Journey So Far

dicksonWith the governorship election in Nigeria’s oil rich state of Bayelsa just around

the corner, it is the opinion of people in the state that incumbent governor, Seriake Dickson has performed creditably well, with the state having prospered under his reign of stewardship, and it is as such a widely held opinion in the state that he deserves a second term of office.

Fondly referred to as “Contriman” Governor by Bayelsans, the 49 year old former member of the House of Representatives and pioneer Publicity Secretary of the Nigeria Bar Association in Bayelsa State has created quite a huge impact on the socio-economic and political superstructure of this South-South state which happens to be the home state of immediate past Nigeria President, Goodluck Jonathan.

 In his own words, the past four years of his stewardship as governor have been “exciting, challenging, and a wonderful opportunity to be of service to my people. Because of my faith I believe that by serving men we are also serving God. I feel a certain sense of contentment and gratitude, both to God and to the people of Bayelsa State for finding me worthy of the mandates that have been given to me. Exciting, because I have had an opportunity to impact on the future of our people. Challenging, because getting an underdeveloped society to make the necessary transition from underdevelopment to development takes a lot of commitment and sacrifice.”

There is a palpable sense of agreement between the people of Bayelsa and their governor on the issue of his seeking a second term of office, to the extent that whereas he had run for the first term on promises, he has been able to translate those promises over the span of four years into a concrete track-record which now offers a credible platform for his second term bid. 

Gov. Dickson himself said, “I ran on a promise in 2012, now I will be running on concrete achievement. My signature projects are everywhere. In fact, if I decided not to run again, I would say I have already put my footprint on the sands of time here. Whoever comes after me, chances are that the person’s performance would be measured against mine. I have already met my campaign promises.”

“In every community, I can point at schools I have built, hospitals, roads. There is peace. I will be running on concrete achievement. Whereas whoever is fortunate or unfortunate to be the candidate of the opposition party will have to tell us about himself or herself and the record of service and performance or the lack of it. For those jobs that are on-going, I will be telling the people to support me so that I can complete them.”

Or course, there have been challenges since naturally no success story could be one without the surmounting of obstacles, and the governor himself succinctly captured this when he stressed that “The first challenge is getting the people to buy into the vision of restoration, which involves a paradigm shift. I promised it in the course of my campaign and I elaborated more during my inauguration. But I don’t think most of them understood the magnitude of change that was coming their way. Change not in terms of changing the landscape of the state, building roads, bridges, schools, and hospitals. Those are visible. But change in terms of the culture of governance, the attitude of those in power, and the cooperation that is expected from the citizenry.”

“We have the challenge of development, with a very hostile terrain, difficult to develop. You really need a lot of will, even if you had all the money, to dream that a road can be constructed, a bridge can spring up to connect the people that are split in the various rivers, rivulets, and creeks that crisscross everywhere. You have the challenge of the terrain, culture, and mind-set, and the challenge of funding.”

Politically though, Bayelsa has witnessed some upheavals lately, particularly within the fold of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which is the governor’s sponsoring party, and this could be traceable to dissent amongst party members. This gave rise to a wave of defections of leaders and members of the party to the rival All Progressives Congress (APC). But it is also instructive to note that the state has a history of such upheavals whenever elections are at hand.

But on a comparative note, it is easy to see that Dickson has succeeded in exerting a more skillful and firmer control over the political situation in the state than any of his predecessors, and this is evident in the fact that there has been quite a calm atmosphere for the past three years plus running, with crisis rearing up only now at the approaches to the elections. This is a fact that would not be lost on echo considering the history of the state as having produced the highest turn-over of governors, deputy-governors, speakers and deputy-speakers of the state legislature in the entire South-South geo-political region, despite being the youngest state there.

A major plank of Gov. Dickson’s re-election bid is the fact that in these times of states owing backlog of wages to workers across the country, Bayelsa is one of the few states in the country that do not owe workers’ salaries and pensions. This is quite striking, and the governor himself explains it thus,

“That has been because of our carefully laid out plans in terms of management of public resources. From day one, we made payment of salaries a priority. We first reduced the wage bill from N6 billion to about N4 billion now, not by sacking anybody, but by simply identifying the loopholes and blocking them. We have done a lot of things that have changed the culture, even the work ethics have changed. Initially, it was difficult, and I spent a great deal of political capital. Getting even civil servants to go to work was difficult. Now they are keying in and they are going to work.

 To emphasise his electoral strength and that of his party, Dickson said, “There is no APC presence in Bayelsa. Ask them, how many votes did they get for President Buhari from Bayelsa, with all these names? PDP won three senators out of three, five Reps, 21 out of 23 House of Assembly seats so far declared. And the Assembly election even came after the presidential poll. This is a PDP state with a PDP government that is adjudged to be trying its best. PDP will win. The name of our game is engagement, even with people you disagree. We will continue to engage them, believing that they would see reason to be back. Our confidence is based on performance and the popular support that I enjoy as the leader of the party and as a governor who has performed. Of course, you know that the message of PDP has been very well received.

“To be specific, until recently, we had a president from PDP from Bayelsa. That point is not lost on Bayelsans; that point is not lost on the Ijaw nation. We feel that PDP has done us a great honour and we need to stand by PDP at its moment of trial. 

As INEC prepares to conduct elections in the PDP controlled states of Kogi and Bayelsa, many across the country are of the view that this may well be a test case for the Buhari administration, and with a trail of controversy surrounding the new boss of the electoral umpire, Amina Zakari, it is imperative that those elections be free, fair and acceptably credible.

Sunday Attah is a public affairs commentator based in Abuja.

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