Driving around the city of Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, there is the conscious feeling of some bold steps by the state government to modernise the city. The once glorified state capital is gradually wearing a new look befitting its status and there is a buzz of activities, particularly in road construction shaping the beauty of the entire landscape.
From the dualisation of the 11-kilometre Isaac Boro Road, which almost cuts across half of the city of Yenagoa to the dualised Opolo Road, the AIT-Elebele Road to Igbogene by-pass down to Melford Okilo Road, infrastructural provision is defining development as a deliberate act of government. The quality of the jobs is also noticeable as they are being handled by the construction giant, Julius Berger.
It is also difficult not to see the first and only flyover in the city sitting pretty as a mark of good thinking. The various constructions are now either completed or nearing completion. The extent of urban renewal is impressive. Development from a comparative standpoint, is giving a new meaning to inter-related possibilities.
Yet the challenge of infrastructure is state-wide and the construction of roads and bridges is also affecting the three senatorial districts. The Toru-Ebeni Bridge has now crossed to link other communities in that axis, which was a project abandoned for a long time. With government’s intervention, people can now drive to Nembe. Similarly, the Yenagoa-Oporoma Road is recording impressive work rate just as the sand-filling of the other senatorial road has now gone beyond Ofori with high expectation that before April, sand-filling of the road up to Ekeremor would have been concluded.
But since development is all encompassing, this means that the other sectors would also have to be given due attention, even in relative terms, and consequently, the Restoration Government in the last three years has stretched the hand of development to security, education, job creation, human capital development, commerce and industry, transportation, health, sports, welfare and indeed agriculture and tourism as pillars of what is now referred to as the new economy by virtue of the pivotal roles of these two sectors in serous rejigging of the state economy through diversification.
Speaking with newsmen recently in Yenagoa on the score card of the Restoration Government as it inches to its third anniversary, Governor Seriake Dickson noted the significant strides already made and the determination to do more in fulfillment of his promises to the people. Even with oil selling at $54 per barrel, leading to huge shortfall in revenue accruable to the state from the Federation Account, the governor was optimistic that the basic objectives of government would still be met even as he asked the people to lower their expectations.
While many are happy today about the changes in the overall development of the state, the governor was quick to point out that such developments have taken place at a huge cost and quite inconvenient but were carried out as a necessity. Obviously there can’t be enough resources to match pressing needs and for this reason, Governor Dickson has again called on the people not only to continue to support the government but also to key into its vision and embrace government’s values on re-orientation to meet stated objectives.
According to him, the achievements so far recorded were made possible because of the combination of prudence and accountability, requiring judicious utilisation of state resources to serve the cause of development rather than serving private interests or the pervasive sense of entitlement as it was the case in the past where government made a few millionaires at the expense of development.
Dwelling on the dependency syndrome as it obtains in the state, a situation he frowns at, he insisted that it was not the right way to invest the state resources because it retards development.
Also while framing the challenge of development within the context of sliding revenue in the last lap of his administration, Governor Dickson was positive on the life-changing efforts of his administration and what can still be achieved. It is not all a gloomy affair but a realistic appreciation of the situation and challenges and how best it could be managed in the collective interest of the government and of course the people as focus of development.
“I think since April or thereabout, revenues have been nose-diving monthly and today let me say we are about 40 per cent of what should have been our budget. I call on all Bayelsans to bear with government as these are very lean times. We are managing because of the prudence and transparency level and the mechanism that we have instituted in this government that has made it possible for us to block wastage in the system. We are able to still meet recurrent obligations. We have never owed salary obligations in the state; we do not even delay in payment of salaries and other allowances. We are also meeting up with most of our welfare obligations like payment of N5, 000 to elderly persons in our communities. The programme alone is taking about N70 m every month. We are also carrying on with our other welfare policies. This is a government that is interested in the welfare of its people and at this point, that appears to be getting lost in the dust of politics,” he said.
He also touched on the government’s intervention in the payment of WAEC, NECO and JAMB fees for students in the state, the various scholarships locally and abroad, as well as buying and supplying books in all schools. They also do not pay tuition fees in these schools. “All these are very expensive programmes”, he said, adding that he was also intervening on medical emergencies on behalf of the people until time when the facilities the government is working on are ready.
Dickson, however, looked back to note that as a result of a lot of combination of factors over the years – under-development, illiteracy level, lack of a strong industrial base, the absence of a strong private sector as well as the foundation that was laid in the state, which encourages dependency syndrome – make it difficult for most people to appreciate these welfare policies that government had outlined and implementing.
The Governor further used the parley to re-assure Bayelsans of his government’s determination and commitment to the diversification of the state economy, stating that agriculture and tourism development would continue to be developed to create jobs and enhance the economic and financial position of the state.
Still on job creation, the state government, Dickson informed, was at the verge of establishing a security company which though will be owned by the state government but will operate like any other security outfits out there with a potential to employ about 20, 000 young people after the relevant enlightenment about the dictates of their jobs.
He said that he had appointed someone who had the capacity to run the company and that a board will be inaugurated this January. Already, he explained, there is the understanding that most of the oil companies will give their consultancies and surveillance jobs to the company.
Besides development of aquaculture and other crops like rice and cassava on a large scale, palm plantation is also a major item on the government’s efforts at boosting agricultural production. It is key to the diversification agenda of the government. The snag, however, is finance which requires a core investor. Nonetheless, the governor said discussions were on-going on the possibility of getting a suitable investor to inject the right funding, skill and management, and carry the people along, noting that it is not the kind of undertaken government can handle directly because of corruption which would render the whole enterprise a waste.
He also assured the people that the other critical infrastructure to position tourism as a viable investment in the state will continue to get the government’s attention, stressing that the outlay of the 18-hole golf course as well as the polo field are ready. Indeed, that the New Yenagoa City envisioned to be a hub of entertainment, tourism, hospitality and high class real estate has been surveyed at about 20,000 hectares from Ikibiri in Ikoli creek area and that the designs are currently being finalised.
The project which he said would be launched early this year, would have the mapped plots offered to Bayesians and other interested buyers. The New Yenagoa City, he further said, would be private sector driven in line with modern best practices.
The recent upsurge of criminal activities along the waterways and creeks and the resultant challenge of sea piracy also featured during the media parley. Governor Dickson, who gave insights into the various efforts of his administration, was confident that the situation was under control. He credited the Restoration Government to have taken the issue of security in the state seriously with fortune already spent in running the state security outfit, Operation Doo Akpor and its allied financial obligations.
The governor observed though that the difficult terrain was an issue just as he called on the people, particularly the maritime workers, to collaborate with security agencies and bodies to tackle the menace. He noted that though security was expensive, government would continue to secure lives and property in the state, as he disclosed that 25 gunboats had earlier been provided to support efforts at ridding the waterways of piracy and related crimes.
Of course, being an election year, the basic interests and dynamics shaping the contest in which President Goodluck Jonathan is a key player was of major concern to Governor Dickson, who, however, was optimistic that the president will be re-elected and urged the people of Bayelsa State, the president’s homestead, to rally massive support for their son.
He harped on the need for them to obtain their PVCs as the basis for voting and eschew divisive tendencies. On the chances of the president’s re-election, he opined that the Peoples Democratic Party, on which platform the president is running is a strong party and that the achievements of his administration via the Transformation Agenda constitute a powerful message for continuity, as compared to the criticisms of the opposition. In addition, he was convinced that President Jonathan, whom he regarded as a statesman, is a good product to sell to the electorate.
While reiterating that there is no division in the Bayelsa State chapter of the PDP, the governor appealed to those who might have lost out in the last primaries to keep the peace.
On next year’s governorship election in the state in which he is a factor, Dickson’s words for the people were that those engaging in it now were dancing too early and he asked that such should be rested for now.
“Let us for now sink all those ambitions. When the time comes, you put yourself up for nominations. Let us gather and support the President’s re-election and deliver Bayelsa. Let’s join our leaders and friends across the country to work for the emergence of President Jonathan for him to continue with the business of transformation”, he said.
–– Iworiso-Markson is the Chief Press Secretary to Bayelsa State Governor