POLITICS AND DEVELOPMENT OF BAYELSA STATE — THE PAST, PRESENT AND THE FUTURE By Godfrey Pondei
Created by the late General Sanni Abacha’s military government on Tuesday 1stOctober 1996, Bayelsa State is agreeably the capital and home of Nigeria’s fourth largest tribe – the Ijaws – also known sometimes as Izons. Due to its linguistic homogeneity, Ijaws who spread across Bayelsa, Rivers, Delta, Edo,Cross River, Akwa Ibom, and Ondo States consider the creation of Bayelsa State a dream come true as it was expected to be the fulcrum of socio-cultural activities spanning the entire Ijaw tribe. More importantly, the Ijaw people, three of whom had been chief executives of the old Rivers State – King DietteSpiff, late Chief Melford Okilo and Chief Rufus Ada George – considered the creation of Bayelsa State as an opportunity to correct infrastructural defects and deficiencies which they had witnessed in Rivers State, one in which they were previously domiciled. This makes the development of Bayelsa State of paramount importance to the people.
True as the foregoing portends, not only the Ijaw people, but the generality of the Nigerian populace have expressed concerns about the volatility that had characterized the political climate in Bayelsa State vis-à-vis the short duration in office of chief executives of the state. While other states in the south southgeopolitical zone like Edo and Rivers have had three (3) governors each; Delta, Cross River and Akwa Ibom have had only two (2) governors respectively between 1999 and date. It is sad to note that the Bayelsa State experience is rather different and worrisome. Within the period under review, the state has had a whooping total of six (6) governors. It is consequent upon this fact that seeking solution in checking the trend becomes inevitable.
From an historical perspective, the Chief D.S.P Alamieyeseigha-led administration which began on 29 May 1999 got shortcircuited on 9 December 2005 during its second term and was succeeded same day by the then Deputy Governor – Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. This administration which spanned through 29th May 2007 was similarly truncated by Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s nomination as running mate to the late President Umaru Shehu Ya’araduaduring the elections that led to the federal administration that began 29 May 2007. His ascension to the position of the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria created a vacuum in Bayelsa State which needed to be filled. As such, Chief Timipre Sylva who had been a member of the Rivers State House of Assembly in the 1990s, and a candidate of the People’s Democratic Party, emerged winner of the Bayelsan gubernatorial election on May 29, 2007 and therefore succeeded Goodluck Jonathan. It is on record how Sylva’s major opponent in the 2007 election, Ebitimi Amgbare of the Action Congress, legally challenged his victory. Although the Bayelsa State Election Petitions Tribunal upheld Sylva’s election, Amgbare took the matter to the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt which overturned the Tribunal’s decision and nullified Sylva’s election on April 15, 2008. Then, the Court of Appeal’s five justices were unanimous in their decision and ordered that Speaker Werinipre Seibarogu be sworn in to replace Sylva as acting Governor, with a directive to hold a fresh election within three months. The new election held on May 24, 2008 as originally scheduled and Timipre Sylva, again running as the PDP candidate, won overwhelmingly. He was sworn in again on 27 May 2008. On 27 January 2012, his tenure wasterminated by an order of the Supreme Court with Nestor K. Binabo appointed as an acting governor to oversee the state until February 2012 when the winner of an election that will have held will be sworn in. As scheduled, on 14 February 2012, Honourable Henry Seriake Dickson who won over 90% of the votes as reported by the Independent National Electoral Commission, was sworn in and as such, took over the mantle of leadership from 14 February 2012 till date.
The foregoing experiences have either premeditatedly or inadvertently characterized the political landscape of Bayelsa State thus culminating in a whooping total of six (6) different chief executives, being the highest across the South-South geopolitical zone within the period under consideration to have administered the affairs of the oil-rich state.
It is thought-provoking that this political precariousness in Bayelsa State is not unique to the sixteen year-old democratic dispensation. Similarly, during the military era, for instance, Bayelsa State had four military administrators from its creation in 1996 through 1999. This is relative to the three administrators for Edo, Delta and Akwa Ibom; and two for Rivers and Cross River States respectively within the same period.
The political volatility in Bayelsa State, as opined by a thought school is largelydue to the fact that Bayelsans are quick to complain just about every regime, a few months into it, until there is a basis for comparison with another. Could this be a characteristic feature of Bayelsans, believed to be endemic in the people of the state? Could this be said to be partly responsible for the volatility of the state’s political system, even during the military era? Or could complaints against Bayelsan administrations be truly due to inability of the political system to provide for its members? More often than not, administrations in Bayelsa are perceived to have failed to meet the expectations and aspirations of the people, thereby creating a feeling among citizens that the government is corrupt, amongst other associated negative vises. As a consequence of such undesirableimpressions, Bayelsan regimes are often known by one cliché or the other before it is eventually crumbled. It may amuse one to note that the name of an ex-military administrator is used as a common slang to denote the locally brewed gin also known as ogogoro, as he was rumoured to have delighted himself in taking a lot of it while he served in the state.
Indeed, the Bayelsa experience is akin to the instability of the political systems in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and others that have created numerous challenges for their people – insecurity and underdevelopment, amongst others.
Believably, political elites and other political actors, by their actions or inactions, are capable of subjecting a system to stress which has the potentials of making it fickle. Could this be true for the Bayelsa experience? Could this be an explanation for the relative underdevelopment Bayelsa State has suffered ab initio? Proffering solutions to these hitherto rhetorical questions could put one on a good pedestal to solving the problems of the state.
This is where bringing to bear Almond and Powell’s structural functional analysis becomes needful, understanding that functionalism is a framework for building theory that sees society as a complex system whose parts work together to promote solidarity and stability. In this regard, it becomesimperative, therefore, for both government and the governed to see the development of Bayelsa State as a collective responsibility of all.
Using Empirical data, Dr. Godfrey Pondei, in his publication entitled “Development in Third World Countries – A Case Study of Tenure Longevity” hypothesized that the number of projects and programmes a regime could ever successfully midwife is directly proportional to how long the regime in question lasts. Understandably, this postulation may have to hold certain variables constant such as population growth, and economic indices, amongst others. But for a few exceptions, applying this theory to Bayelsa State has rather proven it right. Agreeably, it has become common knowledge that the longer an administration lasts, the greater potentials it has to deliver on its mandate, by way of consolidating on already initiated programmes and projects; which may be discontinued or worse still relocated in the event that there is a change of government.
The latter scenario has played out in many instances in Bayelsa State to the detriment of the rapid development that had eluded the state. For instance, the Chief D.S.P. Alamieyeseigha-led administration began the construction of the Bayelsa Airport which was relocated from Amassoma to the Zarama axis of the East West road by another regime. After having borne enormous costs at the Zarama site, the current administration considered it cost-effective to continue the project at the original site in Amassoma, and as such further relocated it there. This provides a brief background for the much progress the said project has recorded thus far. What a waste of scarce resources that could have done so much, if well directed without a change in government as it has been in other states in the South South geopolitical zone! In addition to such actions being tantamount to waste of resources that could have been better channelled, there is also the possibility of causing disaffection amongst people. Worse still, it has tendencies of giving birth to an inequality in the development equation of the state.
Observing from a nonpartisan standpoint, the Governor Dickson-led administration has to its credit the ongoing construction of the Bayelsa State Cargo Airport in Amassoma, construction of a deep Seaport at Age, and a consortium of roads under construction amongst which are the three senatorial roads all of which have attained appreciable levels of completion, and as such being used by a host of communities through which the said roads have passed.It is on record, how that less than midway into the current administration,stories of corruption and non-performance amongst others began to bedevil it. As part of efforts in checking such rumours, the administration appointed aSpecial Adviser on Rumour Mongering. Sadly, however, this seems not to have yielded much obvious fruits, as many more rumours have been hatched thenafter.
It is in a bid to troubleshoot the Bayelsa challenges that, just recently, a non-governmental organization concluded a two-month referendum carried out across ten selected communities in each of the eight local government areas of the state with a view to ascertaining their acceptance or otherwise of government policies and programmes such as the monthly Transparency Briefing by the Chief Executive of the State and those of the Local GovernmentCouncils. An analysis of the data collected from the said referendum speaks eloquently of the people’s unawareness of government programmes and policies. Specifically, only fifteen percent of the state are abreast with happenings in public domain. Out of this subset, there are yet others that are politically docile and as such indifferent about politics and development.
As part of recommendations intended to check the ugly, volatile and embarrassing political climate that has become rather characteristic of BayelsaState, the NGO proposed a Bayelsa State Conference where concrete development plans which, when marshalled out, will outlive any single dispensation. Such a conference becomes inevitable as it will avail people of the state an opportunity to draw from lessons learnt from the National Conference 2014. With participants to be drawn from all strata of the state – students, civil servants, professionals, businessmen, farmers, fishermen, women, men, youths, the organized private sector, etc – this could lead to the conceptualization, and subsequent execution of projects and programmes that have the potentials of positively turning around the fortunes of the state for posterity. The product of such a conference would be a holistic twenty to forty years development plan across all sectors that will be owned by Bayelsans both within and those in the diaspora. This will, in no little way, guide subsequent chief executives in determining projects and programmes of paramount relevance to the people.Convincingly, such a step will truly make everyone a stakeholder in the Bayelsa project.
The proposed Bayelsa Conference, when successfully held, will then define development of the state in its entirety. At that point, it will behove on the state government to sponsor an executive bill for its passage into law. The content of the said document must then be treated sacrosanct, of course, with the possibility of proposing amendments as occasion demands in order to reflect realities of the dynamics of society. Here, members of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly has their own role to play both as a part of the proposed conference and as well to ensure the speedy passage into law of the proposed Bayelsa State Development Plan that will have been a by-product of such a conference.
On their part, governors, and even local government chairmen, will already have a predetermined work plan to follow before assuming office. They will therefore have no reason for non-performance within the limits of available resources. Interestingly, also, the people will have a defined yardstick to monitor and evaluate performance strictly based on facts. More interestingly, these recommendations, if adhered to, will check politicians’ crave and desperation for power as there will be no likelihood of a chief executive skewing development in favour of a preferred part of the state to the detriment of others. In part, it will check election-related violence as there will be no need for that since ascension to the office of a governor will be for the purpose of service to the people.
Believably, therefore, the latent divide existing between government and the governed will be eroded. This way, bickerings, accusations and counter-accusations, will be reduced to the barest minimum even though such may not be completely eliminated in the democracy as practised in Nigeria. As such, Bayelsa State will witness enduring administrations that will culminate in utilizing resources for the execution of projects and programmes that will be efficiently managed to bring about sustainable development for the people of the state.
Godfrey Pondei, Ph.D