Why has a country richly blessed in resources, human and material, been lagging in nearly all development indices? This is the stark reality that has confronted succeeding generations of Nigerians increasingly driven by forlorn hopes that their country would ever make it.
But it is definitely not all doom and gloom. Driving on the entourage of Bayelsa State governor, Henry Seriake Dickson, from Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, to far-flung Ayamasa and Aleibiri, in Ekeremor Local Government Area on October 14, 2017, my thoughts inevitably turned to what might have happened if our country had consistently witnessed the vision and spirited efforts, which could restore a marshy wilderness into a place of renewed hope and possibilities. As Governor Dickson, accompanied by his deputy and other top government functionaries, made the historic journey to inspect this major developmental breakthrough of his administration, it was the grim truth that, for the first time, the people of the area were seeing vehicles in their domain. Sadly, the critical road project was initiated and designed in 1979 by the Federal Government but was abandoned almost immediately.
A celebration of the state’s achievements and the governor’s socio-economic and development trajectory was heralded, fittingly by a visit in July of Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, and other eminent scholars to interface with students of Ijaw National Academy, Kaiama. The school, purposed to be a citadel of academic excellence, provided a forum where a scintillating performance record in education development in the state was well appraised and renewed.
A week ago, Governor Dickson was a guest of the Minister of Transportation, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, in Abuja, to seek definite collaboration on the Agge Deep Seaport, the Bayelsa International Airport and the Coastal Railway in the state.
Clearly, Bayelsa represents a new metaphor of restored hopes and expectations in the country, a restatement of purposeful governance and commitment to public service. The scourge of violence and criminality has no place in this era of restoration in the affairs of the state.
Leadership is key, as a propelling force of action. From the unwholesome public image of terror and kidnapping in 2011, Bayelsa has now become a reference point in major development indices, including designing and operationalising a functioning security architecture.
As we were returning from the mission of service to Aleibiri that day, breaking what clearly was a 40-year jinx, my thinking zeroed in on the crucial nexus between leadership and development. I wondered why some nations are poor while others are prosperous. Clearly, it all has to do with leadership, and Governor Dickson’s style makes a bold statement here. When he mounted the saddle six years ago, he could have continued with the prevalent elite political code of self-gratification and enjoyment of the perks and perquisites of office – a sybaritic lifestyle, which says to the masses: be damned. Instead, he opted to make a statement of sacrifice. He took on vested interests and saw his mission as a treasured opportunity to make a difference in his generation.
Effective leadership has helped to make a huge difference: replacing crime and criminality with free and qualitative education. This has also ensured that Bayelsa consistently ranks a top performer in both WAEC and NECO in the last five years. From zero, the state now has 15 model boarding schools, as a fallout of the governor’s declaration of emergency in the education sector. In addition, some students were sent abroad to get the best training in education as shown by Perewari Pere, who made the headlines for bagging first class at Lincoln University, among over 500 beneficiaries in this category. Suffice it to say now the future is assured for the state in terms of qualitative and skilled manpower in a competitive, knowledge-driven economy.
Bayelsa is now the best destination for medical tourism for those who desire the most modern diagnostics and care for ailments. The state boasts of one of the best diagnostic facilities, the Bayelsa Diagnostic Centre, in Yenagoa.
Necessary attention is being given to rice, cassava cultivation and aquaculture, which are intrinsic to the state’s economic turnaround, as a bold response to look beyond the regime of oil. Efforts are also gathering momentum in the area of industrialisation, with the establishment of an industrial park designed to be provided with 24-hour, interrupted power supply through harnessing the state’s abundant gas resources.
The 60,000- barrels-per-day modular refinery is yet another good investment, even as the LNG in Brass remains a major interest to the state government. However, the Federal Government is expected to play its part and take a positive decision in its proper implementation, a process that has, regrettably, been stalled by bureaucracy. On November 1, 2017, the Dickson administration signed the certificate of occupancy for the property to be used for the construction of the largest fertilizer plant in Africa, the Brass Fertilizer Company Limited. The $3.6 billion plant is expected to create about 20,000 jobs in the state, aside from its economic benefits.
By far, infrastructure in roads and bridges, despite the tough terrain, has been the hallmark of Dickson’s legacy, a well-conceived approach to open up the state for rapid development. Interestingly, we also have an array of what government calls public buildings: various masterpieces, which house socio-cultural and economic interests and other key office complexes dotting the landscape in the capital city, and adding major value in aesthetics and functionality. Things can never be the same again in Bayelsa, especially as future leaders would be measured by such a stunning performance by Governor Dickson, who is committed to effective utilisation of every day in office in the service of the people and has shown an ambitious will to finish strong.
The international cargo airport and the coastal railway as well as those already itemised economic projects (ongoing and planned) can only be the icing on the economic cake for the Glory of all Land. Tourism will also flourish in spite of the doubting Thomases (Dubai was seriously doubted a tourism destination) as government is going ahead with the golf courses and modern hotels in the New Yenagoa City. The various historical sites of attraction are being further developed. New ones will be created. Leisure is the foundation of tourism and its development is ongoing. It is definitely not an overnight affair as the state has deliberately been organising shows and welcoming many local and foreign dignitaries in recent years.
Entertainment, religious and tourism-related programmes in the city of Yenagoa have also been on the upward swing, especially with the inauguration of the Bayelsa State Ecumenical Centre. The 10,000 seating capacity auditorium built by the Dickson-led Restoration Government is designed to host major crusades and other religious events. Also, Ox-Bow Lake Pavilion, a state-of-the-art facility overlooking the picturesque lake, awaiting commissioning, is set to host major cultural events in the state as well as serve as the venue for the state’s boat club.
The leadership paradigm bears restating. From the outset, the Restoration Government was founded on a big vision of a paradigm shift, a shift, which has shaped the course of governance for good in the state. It is a desirable model, which essentially changed the attitude of how government business is conducted in deft appreciation of not only the people’s mandate for renewal but also the acute sense of urgency of Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson to develop the state.
The template has worked to a remarkable degree, buoyed by very hard work and sacrifices. This was backed by a critical political will without which nothing much could have been achieved because of the brutal challenge from the entrenched elite formation in the state. It was really tough at the beginning but, with openness and sincerity of purpose, the people themselves realised that this governor was driven solely by the public interest and the greater good of the people. The rest is now history.
Suffice it to say that the paradigm shift in question encompasses reforms being a key part for the development and strengthening of institutions and the conduct of government business. Accordingly, the Restoration Government is anchored on prudence, transparency and accountability. It worked so dramatically in spite of the initial criticisms as expected in any reform process. I think this is the basis by which we could rightly say that Bayelsa State is a model in performance leadership in the country. I also understand that, to get to this position, there were changes in how political power was exercised: bold, courageous and fearless. Economic opportunities were also widely open to the generality of the populace, which enhances social progress.
Issuing from the above is the characterisation of Governor Dickson’s leadership qualities and style, which, in essence, mark him out as a leader of conviction. This leadership attribute is one of deepening the roots of progress and development recorded in the state to a point of irreversibility. It is a narrative, which transcends the usual platitude by politicians about fulfilling campaign promises. It is the same attribute, which inspires his uncommon capacity, work ethics and commitment to worthy causes as we see across the state in his legacy projects.
The takeaway here in the context of our national conversation on effective leadership is that ‘performance leadership’ is a function of the individual leader and is essentially located in the leader’s DNA, as reflected in his character and capacity developed over time. This is the legacy for the new Bayelsa and it behoves on the heirs and legatees of this vision, including products of the education revolution, to take Bayelsa to even greater heights, building on the robust foundations Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson has so admirably laid.