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Nigeria: The Dream, The Drift In Bayelsa

Nigeria: The Dream, The Drift In Bayelsa


By Patterson Ogon

Bayelsa, one of the key oil-producing states in Nigeria, is in the news again. And again, it is for the bad reasons. The concerns are mixed and worrisome. About two weeks ago, the national media was agog with a news item about the return of one million pounds by the British authorities to the coffers of the State; funds recovered from Chief DSP Alamieyeseigha’s home in London. Just when the euphoria was yet to fade, another report in the national media stunned our collective psyche. This time, the haulage of $1.5 million was found with a certain Nancy, an in-law of Governor Goodluck Jonathan by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport. Lady Nancy was on her way to the United Kingdom, literally attempting to return what the British authorities had brought back, plus more. The report had it that the governor swung into action and secured the release of Lady Nancy even before the Chairman of the EFCC learnt about the development and ordered a re-arrest.

This story is perplexing and raises several questions. In the first instance, what kind of work does Nancy do? Why did she attempt to travel with so much cash and what was the money meant for? How did she get the money? Is she possibly one of the several channels of siphoning the States’ funds or was she probably going to the United Kingdom to do some shopping for ‘Her Excellency’? These questions shall continue to beg for answers. The clear indications from this story are essentially about the greed and selfishness of our leaders. Besides, it tells the outside world that the dishonesty, profiteering and perfidy in the business of government in our dear Bayelsa State have only taken a wilder and more bizarre dimension. Nancy’s story is certainly an emerging tale about the privatization of a States’ resources by occupants of Creek Haven and her arrest has dire implications for the image and integrity not just of this government but the Ijaw nation in its entirety.

In the past seven years, the concerns of Bayelsans were the high level of profligacy and the clear lack of focus and misplacement of priorities by the States’ administration. The hope of the people for improved livelihood became mere wishful thinking. We watched with consternation as even the capital city, Yenagoa, gradually grew to the status of a slum. That was before what we had expected to be the new broom took center stage on December 12, 2005. The new governor had himself stated in his swearing –in address thus “all I know is that a great challenge has been thrown on me. I have no choice in matter (sic). I must take charge of the affairs of Bayelsa State and remove the stain of shame and distress that has been stamped upon us. I consider this to be a sacred duty”.

Not many believed in the capacity of Dr Goodluck Jonathan to steer the Bayelsa dream to fruition. As is the case with all perceptions, the consolation remained that he had the opportunity to prove cynics wrong. His public utterances also indicated that may be, things can begin to change for the better. For instance he was quoted by a national daily of having accused his former boss of wasting four hundred billion naira within a period of seven years. A statement like this gave an indication that for once, we may see a prudent government with a knack for positive initiatives that is people-centred and result oriented.

How wrong can we ever be to judge a book by its cover? This is reminiscent of Shakespearean Macbeth when he said “there is no art to find the minds construction in the face”. I have heard people say that Dr Goodluck Jonathan is a simple and easy going person. Yes he could be but the responsibility of governance goes beyond being simple and easy. I have been touched by Dr Jonathan’s pitiable demeanor when in the heat against Chief DSP Alamieyeseigha, his former boss, he had sounded alarmist claiming his life was in danger. In not wanting to look and sound too ambitious to take over the job of his boss, Dr Jonathan disappeared from public glare. Some said he relocated to Abuja, far away from the cascading matrices of events. Many of those who bore the heat and carried mock coffins against the perfidy at that time have been shielded even from the physical confines of the seat of power. “Did our young men and women put their lives on the line, only for some pretending democrats to get to the top and turn round to behave like monarchs?”

For a government that had sworn to resign if it did not deliver democratic roses in 6 months, the challenges of leadership were essential. Vision and political will were also key. Unfortunately, no sooner than the government took off did the drift began. To set the drift further, the tenants of Creek Haven began with a jamboree and have only continued to advertise the vestiges of the former government, even if a continuation, as its achievements.

Government business is the collective concern of the people. Much as government is about people, good governance is about meeting the needs and social expectations of the people. In Bayelsa State, these needs centre on the essentials of life: water, electricity, good roads, quality education, affordable housing and access to good health. If we may ask, how long would it take a State like ours to provide potable water for its citizens? Essential as water is, the government has over the past 7 years consigned the generality of the people to the fate of truck pushing water vendors even along the only major Yenagoa – Mbiama road. You may say we are blessed that we have never had the misfortune of a possible strike by these service providers as we recall a similar fate in the famous novel, ‘The Beggars Strike’. It is rather unfortunate however that this ‘regime’ has engaged us in the art of public deception. Deception about our finances, our developmental priorities - education, health, rural development, poverty eradication and so on.

One of the misplaced priorities of the government at the moment appears to be the sole financing of a five star hotel at the tune of 9 billion naira. I’m however not certain that such a plan was part of the 2006 budget. We are not also aware that a supplementary Appropriation Bill was passed by the State House of Assembly to give legality to the disbursement of this fund. Revelations as to this emerged when the Bayelsa State Government hosted an Investment Showcase in London a couple of weeks ago. At the event, one of the governors’ aides had revealed that even though building of the Five Star hotel and the Bayelsa Gateway road fell under his jurisdiction, he was not aware of the billions already paid out to the company handling the project and that the Governor must have used his position to make direct payment without recourse to his ministry. The aide however added that governors do this a lot. The allocation of 9 billion naira to the building of a five star hotel without the necessary legislative appropriation makes such an expense illegitimate because due process was not followed. Unfortunately, there is nothing at the site of the Five Star hotel in Yenagoa to indicate the 3 billion naira already paid as mobilization to the contractor has not gone down the drain several months after as the site appears abandoned.

Almost every move by this government furthers the drift and attempts to stall the Bayelsa dream. Sadly, the clear lapses, ineffective and inefficient conduct of the government is been heaped on others. From hostage taking, considered big business in the Niger Delta because of the ransom it attracts from government and oil corporations, to the slow pace of work and inability of its contractors to deliver, people with alternate opinion on how public enterprises should be administered are been accused of responsibility. I’m aware of the age old African saying that a lazy man quarrels with his tools. This certainly is one such scenario. Even the case of Nancy and the report in the media has been given all kinds of colourations other than what it is: that itchy fingers are having a field day on the coffers of Bayelsa State.

Bayelsa needs social re-engineering to harness the potentials and creativities of its people. It requires a vision that can adapt the collective experiences of its history to build massive economic empowerment and rapid societal development for the people. Where we expected prudence, we are seeing profligacy and waste. We have expected a prudent governor and one who will set things right. Events have proved otherwise. Putting this in perspective reminds me of Jonathan’s own quote in his swearing-in address when in sounding religious, he told the audience thus: “The Bible says that there are many plans in a man’s heart, but it is the counsel of the Lord that shall stand”. Now we can reflect and be certain of what he meant.

Public communications is serious business. This is made more so if the essence is driven by a governments’ desire to articulate its policies, programmes and plans of action. In doing this, the import of collective thought and diverse views are necessary as a government without necessary checks quite often listens and believes in its propaganda. In Bayelsa, this is the quicksand on which we presently stand. This government lacks accuracy of thought and insight on what the dream of the average Bayelsan is.

Few months to the expiration of a largely misused, abused and wasteful mandate, bereft of ideas, vision and originality, spin doctors are working hard to make people see mirages where there is nothing. The import of government must be felt by people. It is only them that can say how much grounds have been covered. If in less than a year, a government can lose coordination of its activities and behave adhoc, in another four years the destruction on our heritage shall be unimaginable. I overheard a distraught friend the other day saying that if this is how dreams are born, he’d better stay awake. With this government, the Bayelsa dream certainly is disfigured.

Bayelsa is drifting further. Nancy’s case is one sour point of that drift. The moorings of Dr Goodluck Jonathan’s ship have slipped. There is no indication that he will leave Bayelsa saner than he met it. Bayelsa, cry our beloved State.

*************

*Mr. Ogon, Founding Director of the Ijaw Council for Human Rights wrote from Yenagoa, for Journalists for Niger Delta (JODEL), a media group concerned with the affairs of Nigeria's oil and gas region.

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