The trip to Bayelsa State for the 10th edition of the African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) was with an initial mixed feelings. I have never been to the state and this presented some reservations about what to expect. Yet I was elated in a way since I felt it was an opportunity to see some of what I have read and heard about where President Goodluck Jonathan hails from. Indeed, I had planned to visit Otueke and observe a few things about the humble background of the president and hopefully do a story. How would the state capital, Yenagoa, look like and how memorable would the first time visit be? Of course, the main object of the trip which was a special edition of the awards, I thought, should provide some form of excitement and opportunity to further appreciate the quality and scope of the event.
So off I went to Bayelsa State. I arrived Lagos aboard South African Airways and was warmly received by a staff from the South African High Commission who was my contact person and link between the Bayelsa State Government and AMAA, organizers of the movie award. The trip was hitch-free from Lagos the next morning down to Port Harcourt via a flight and then boarded a taxi to Yenagoa. In spite of the measures to minimize traffic hassles, the East-West road currently under construction ensured the latter part of the journey to Yenagoa lasted over two hours due to traffic jam.
On getting to Yenagoa, hotel accommodation was a bit of a challenge as many of the available hotels had been booked, requiring moving from one hotel to the other until I was able to lodge at Ayyala Hotels. After some hours of rest, it was time to attend the awards ceremony which took place at the Dr. Gabriel Okara Cultural Centre. Largely, this year’s AMAA awards was scintillating with glitz and glamour. The array of local and international guests and visitors added colour, panache and of course the razzmatazz at the various stages culminating in the awards proper lived up to the billing of a splendid showpiece. The organization was well put together and it was interesting to see a wide range of awards going to different individuals who through their exceptional works and professional excellence were adjudged to have won on merit across the African continent. I was particularly proud of the winning streak of the South African entries at this year’s AMAA.
AMAA has now come a long way having hit the 10-year mark of existence and garnering such clout and acceptance as Africa’s Oscar but there is still more to be done by really internationalizing the awards and infusing greater involvement of the private sector to meet the high expectations of the arts and entertainment community not only in Nigeria but also within the African continent and indeed across the world. This is why AMAA needs a broader thematic theme in a more imaginative branding and making the entries bigger and more competitive. AMAA, based on what we saw in Yenagoa this year, has recorded a milestone especially in pedigree with a bright prospect of adding significant value to the Nigerian fledging entertainment industry.
All said and done, it was a memorable experience for me attending the awards ceremony and looking forward to be part of the subsequent ones.
Now, what was my fond memory of Yenagoa and Bayelsa State? Candidly, I must say that the state capital is still begging for true development as it is yet to be fully developed to maximize its potentials. Moving around the capital though suggests that urbanization is gradually taking shape and we can see the efforts of the successive governments to make the capital worth its status. At least, the current level of development, I was told by the Governor’s spokesman whom I interacted with, was a far cry from what the situation was some years ago. It was, however, easy for the observer to relate the challenge of development to the geography of the city, bounded by water. Also contrary to my initial skepticism informed by the ugly story of crime and criminality we read about in the newspapers, Yenagoa was peaceful throughout my two-day stay in the capital. The people who are mostly Ijaws were also accommodating and were willing to help to sort out your issues asking you if you will be back to Yenagoa once more in the future. Regrettably, my desire to visit President Goodluck Jonathan’s village in Otueke was aborted due to time constraint and logistics.
But just as I was making efforts to return to Lagos, an invitation came from the office of the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor to join a team for an inspection of the state government projects in the state capital. The inspection, jointly conducted by the state’s Ministry of Works represented by Arch. Ere Afeke, a deputy director, and an officer in the office of the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr. Godwin Doufa, also comprised of local journalists and those from outside the state.
The inspection which lasted over four hours was a way of letting outsiders in particular have a feel of the modest efforts of the Seriake Dickson-led administration in repositioning the state with emphasis on infrastructural development as a foundation for jumpstarting the economic base of the state. Interestingly, a cardinal interest of the government is in the area of tourism and from the information made available to the press, a lot has been done in this regard, which indeed recommends AMAA as a veritable platform to promote tourism in the state. While other facilities are being put in place, there is the understanding to open up the state and this desire is gaining momentum in road construction. This was evident during the inspection which was mainly on on-going road construction projects or those already completed.
From the Ayama/Oporoma Road, covering a distance of about 10.2 km and handled by the Chinese firm, CECC, to the construction of a flyover bridge at the NNPC Filling Station being undertaken by Julius Berger, and a host of others, the state government is showing some determination to change the face of Yenagoa from a glorified town to a befitting state capital. Both projects above, we were told, were at 35 per cent and 65 per cent levels of completion respectively.
The next port of call was the five star hotel begun by President Goodluck Jonathan, then governor of Bayelsa State. The construction of the hotel has had some setbacks but now witnessing progress though it was observed that the pace of work here has been rather slow. The construction being handled by Sodoji Construction Company was said to be at 50 per cent level of completion. When completed and becomes functional, this hotel would be a major boost to the tourism industry in the state and its completion should be a priority.
From here, the inspection moved to the high profile 38/27 road linking the new Kpansia Market, which was seen to have been sand-filled preparatory to the next stages of construction. A representative of Trenur Nigeria Limited, the firm in charge of the construction of the 1.98 km road, Mr. Sunny Omekwe, however, told the inspection team that though work was progressing but that there were a few challenges from the residents which, he claimed, were also being resolved.
Similarly, construction of the dual carriage way from Igbogene to Bayelsa palm was inspected with steady progress in place at about 40 per cent job completion and is being undertaken by Okmas Nigeria Limited. This road is a strategic one going by its economic importance in driving traffic in and out of Bayelsa, among other roads linking the state capital.
Other road construction projects inspected included that of the Ecumenical Church Centre which has recorded an appreciable level of work put at 20 per cent and the NYSC Orientation Camp/Youth Development Centre. Arch. Eke Afeke, who disclosed that the Ecumenical Church was being constructed by the state’s Ministry of Works, however, expressed disappointment at the pace of work which, he said, was below expectation and urged the supervisor to speed up activities. On the NYSC Orientation Camp, it was observed that a number of structures were already completed. A storey building and two classroom blocks were also at different levels of completion at Kaima put at 70 per cent completion.
Our last inspection on that day was the Major Isaac Boro town project off Kaima where we saw a pavilion already completed and two of the four 5-bedroom blocks almost completed. Another one bedroom was also near completion while a four-bedroom block was under construction. Other construction projects slated for inspection said to located in Sagbama and Ekeremoh local governments were later shelved as the day was far spent and we had to return to Yenagoa.
On the whole, the inspection was an eye opener to the first time visitor to Bayelsa State, creating the awareness that though the state is relatively young but compared to other states created at the same time in 1996, it has tried to show an example among its peers in developmental strides.
In an interview, Arch. Afeke, while admitting the efforts of past governments in bringing development to the state, was particularly eager to talk about the vision and determination of the current government for the rapid infrastructural development in the state. According to him, the emphasis of Governor Seriake Dickson in mobilizing resources to build roads and bridges across the state was an expedient strategy to opening up the state for economic development. One major thing I took away from the project inspection was the systematic re-ordering of priorities by the Dickson government, which has road construction as a basic means to other developmental initiatives, be it in tourism which he is focusing on, small scale businesses, even in agriculture, oil and gas and other major infrastructure aimed at making Bayelsa a major industrial hub in the South-South region.
While the state government is abreast of the challenges of advancing the cause of development, what was clear during the inspection was the reality that Bayelsa State is still far from the expected level of anticipated development which, however, is getting the right attention.
On the whole, I enjoyed my time in Bayelsa State. The Governor’s spokesman was kind enough to avail me all the support to make my stay worthwhile. He assured me that on my next trip to the Glory of All Lands, to attend 11th edition of AMAA next year, quite a number of projects would have been completed and with a promise to arrange a breakfast meeting for me with the governor. Now, that’s one promise he will never get away with!
– Joseph Mulumba-Kato, is a Lesotho-based blogger and freelance journalist.