BAYELSA is a place of great puzzle and intrigue for me. I find this state and its people rather exotic. Any time I have an opportunity to be in Bayelsa State I never pass it up.
If you ask the Correspondent of Vanguard newspapers in Yenagoa, Sam Oyadongha, who is a full-blooded Ijaw man but hails from Patani in Delta State, he’ll tell you it is because of the rich banga soup which I have found nowhere else.
Before 1996 when the late General Sani Abacha created the state, that part of Ijaw land was hopelessly lost to “civilisation”. But the creation of the state and the concomitant approval of 13 per cent derivation from oil resources by Abacha, which eventually found its way into the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, brought what was once known as Poto-poto (muddy) State onto the centre-stage of Nigerian politics and power.
Today, one of its illustrious sons, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, is the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Indeed, Abacha is a hero of Bayelsa as he is of other states he created in 1996, such as Ebonyi, Ekiti, Gombe, Nasarawa and Zamfara. Each of these states was the most backward in their respective six geopolitical zones.
But today, Bayelsa is economically the richest (being one of the nation’s “oil majors”) and politically the most powerful(being the home state of the incumbent President of Nigeria).
So, when President Jonathan extended a state pardon to his predecessor, DSP Alamieyeseigha, the entire country and the world out there were indignant. But in BayelsaState, the very opposite of an outrage took place. The streets of Yenagoa, the state capital, were jammed with jubilant Bayelsans. Alamieyeseigha reportedly stole their money when he was the governor.
He was caught in London and detained for money laundering. He jumped bail, disguised as a woman and returned to his gubernatorial seat in Yenagoa. The then President Olusegun Obasanjo, who had been looking for his head over his fraternisation with his sworn enemy, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, unleashed the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, attack dogs on Alams. He was impeached, arrested, tried, convicted and jailed.
But for Bayelsans, all this did not matter. Alamieyeseigha is their hero; the “Governor General of Ijaw Nation”. When he was in power, he did not “chop alone”. He allowed his commissioners, top officials and civil servants to help themselves. In fact, he was in the habit of telling off appointees who failed “do well for themselves”.
Hotels and big mansions sprang up all over Yenagoa, and most of them belonged to Bayelsans in public or political offices. Alamieyeseigha “empowered” them and supported the “boys” fighting the country and the foreign oil companies in the creeks.
This was the man whose pardon they were celebrating. Truly, a Bayelsa son was President of Nigeria! The world out there just did not understand it. Abacha is Bayelsa’s hero for granting them “independence”, while Alamieyeseigha is their hero for plugging the Bayelsa elite into the benefits of their oil resources for the first time in their difficult history.
They see this man as the person who, basically, helped in creating the Goodluck Jonathan Presidency. The President himself also sees him in the same light. The world is free to see Alamieyeseigha in any other light. That is their problem.
Another thing I found very intriguing in my many visits to BayelsaState was the identity of our President, a man who is gradually becoming more of an enigma rather than being better understood after nearly three years of his ascent to our presidential throne. As you may remember, I covered the presidential election in Otuoke, the President’s hometown in BayelsaState.
Due to strenuous efforts in several quarters (including the President’s) to make it clear that he was not an Igbo man as his middle name, “Ebele”, seemed to suggest, I wanted to find out the Ijaw meaning of “Ebele”, especially as it is the only native name in the President’s nomenclature: Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. I scoured the length and breadth of Otuoke, interviewed President Jonathan’s kinsmen and elders. I came out basically drawing blank.
Most people said they did not know the meaning of “Ebele”. While some suggested that it meant “fire”, a respondent even opined it meant “musical instrument”. One of the President’s kinsmen, after initially saying he was not sure what it meant, concluded that the name “must have come from Ibo people”. Mind you, even if the name had come from “Ibo people” that does not necessarily mean such a person is of Igbo ancestry or roots.
I consider my search for “Ebele” inconclusive, and I will continue it at the earliest opportunity until I get convincing answers.
Now (at long last) let me address the main subject of this article: Governor Seriake Dickson’s threat to declare war against rumours, WAR, in his state. He had served notice that come the last week of March, he would set up a high powered committee to “deal with” the damaging effects of rumour mongering in Bayelsa. Due to space constraints, we will devote the whole of the next edition of this column to that subject, God willing.