By Dan Agbese
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo helicoptered into Yenagoa on the morning of February 16 to participate in the events marking Governor Dickson’s sixth anniversary celebrations. His first official assignment at the Bayelsa Heliport was the unveiling of a plaque renaming it King Alfred Papapreye Diete-Spiff Heliport.
Diete-Spiff was the then 25-year-old lieutenant commander in the Nigerian Navy who became the first military governor of Rivers State on its creation by General Yakubu Gowon on May 27, 1967. He ruled the state from the day of his appointment on May 28, 1967, to July 29, 1975 when Gowon was overthrown in a palace coup. He is now the Amayanabo of Twon-Brass and chairman of the Bayelsa State Traditional Council of Chiefs. At 76, he still maintains his ram-rod military bearing and has lost nothing of his baritone voice.
There were a series of projects commissioning in the week by three prominent northern politicians. Alhaji Mukhtar Shagari, former deputy governor of Sokoto State and son of former President Shehu Shagari, commissioned the Bayelsa State Health Insurance Scheme; Alhaji Ibrahim Mantu, former deputy senate president, commissioned the state HIV, TB, Malaria Centre, and Professor Jerry Gana, former minister of information and national orientation commissioned the state Information Centre. Mr Labaran Maku, another former minister of information and national orientation, was there to bear witness.
We came to Yenagoa from different parts of the country. And we saw evidence of Dickson’s achievements in health, education, roads and aquaculture. Believe me, these achievements made some of us from older but sadly depressed and confused states in the country jealous. No, I am not weeping for my state; just whimpering.
Before Obasanjo, there was General Yakubu Gowon, former head of state, who commissioned the new, expansive governor’s office known as iconic office, as well as the Ijaw National Academy at Kaiama last year. Professor Wole Soyinka and Professor J.P. Clark led a literature and interaction session with the students at the Academy a month or two after its commissioning.
Obasanjo commissioned the Bayelsa Specialist Hospital, the Bayelsa Diagnostic Centre, the Bayelsa Drug Distribution Centre, also known as the drug mart, and the Glory Land Drive on the same day. The next day, he performed the ground breaking ceremony of Azikel Refinery Project, the first major industrial enterprise, public or private, in the state. He then capped his string of commissioning ceremonies with what clearly excited him as a fish farmer, the 500 Pond Yenegwe Fish Farm.
This reportage is less concerned with those ceremonies but more with Dickson’s strategic thinking and planning that infuses his philosophy of governance and development, drives his policy of comprehensive transformation of the state and transmutes into the anchor of his achievements. This may sound rhapsodic but it nevertheless speaks of what I saw and what I can make of them. The significance of naming the heliport after His Royal Majesty, Alfred Papapreye Diete-Spiff, is Dickson’s applied philosophy of governance. It can be summed up in two words: Dickson remembers.
He remembers those he believes should be honoured, if not by the Nigerian state, then by those who, like him, feel that ignoring people’s past contributions to the country is neither human nor humane. He knows he is today because people like his royal majesty were yesterday. And so, he remembers the living and he remembers the dead. He remembers the late head of state, General Sani Abacha, who created Bayelsa in 1996. A few years ago, he built and commissioned a housing estate in Yenagoa, the Sani Abacha Housing Estate, named after the late head of state. Dickson remembers.
I believe this philosophy, even if not formally articulated, must be part of the reason he renamed his administration Restoration Government. It speaks to a) the synergy he is forging between his administration and the people and b) his reconnection to the past in his state through a strategic development master plan. Were I to suggest a name that best captures the thrust of his governance, I would have preferred Transformative Administration. He is a transformative leader.
Daniel Iworiso-Markson, the state commissioner for information and orientation, describes Dickson as “a detribalised leader.” The phrase usually describes men to whom tribes matter less than their humanity. Of course, tribe matters. In truth no one is detribalised just as no one is de-racialised. After all, the Ijaw National Academy with more than 1,000 students drawn from Ijaw-speaking areas in Rivers, Ondo, Edo, Akwa Ibom, Delta states and Bayelsa itself, is about tribal interests. But Dickson has what seems to me like a superior sense of inter-tribal relationship or what I call detribalisation, that draws people within and outside his tribe into his social and political orbit. He has a superb political networking skill. Country Man talks his philosophy; he walks his philosophy.
Dickson sited the Ijaw National Academy at Kaiama, the home town of Isaac Adaka Boro, who dropped out of the university in 1966 to lead an armed rebellion against the Nigerian state. The Ironsi regime quickly put an end to his misadventure. Dickson remembers.
The anniversary celebrations were as much about Dickson’s achievements as they were about his honouring Obasanjo. Dickson most prbably celebrated him as the architect of Ijaw political ascendancy as per former President Goodluck Jonathan. Dickson renamed a newly-constructed road, Gloryland Drive, after him. I can think of no other Nigerian politician who is so positively driven by this applied philosophy of strategic governance. Little wonder Obasanjo, a man not easy to impress, was very impressed. Pity he does not have a good singing voice to wax a record to Dickson.
The governor’s strategic objective is to open up the state to the nation and the world at large. Bayelsa is a civil service state. It beggars belief that the state that gave the country its first barrel of crude oil at Olobiri in 1956 has no oil-related industries. The oil majors do not even have offices in the state. Dickson embraces Azikel Oil Refinery because it, more than anything else, would be the catalyst to the future industrial development of the state.
The Bayelsa State Special Hospital, an imposing edifice, rose from the ashes of the three or four room bungalow government house clinic. There are four separate but synergetic components to this impressive modern health care facility that can rival any in the developed countries. The other three components in the paradigm shift in Dickson’s health care delivery system are the Diagnostic Centre, the drug mart and the state health insurance scheme. The Diagnostic Centre was part of the original 500-bed new government hospital dreamed up by the then governor of the state, Sylva. It has been scaled down to a more modest 350-bed health facility.
The late Professor Dora Akunyili, former director-general of NAFDAC as well as former minister of information and national orientation suggested the drug mart idea to the governor. That he bought it, actualised it and gave credit to Akunyili, shows his willingness to tap from the best brains to deliver uncommon services to his people. Akunyili is not alive to witness what Country Man has made of her brilliant idea. But on February 16, her widower, Professor Akunyili, and their son witnessed the unveiling of a plaque in the building in honour of the brave woman who bravely fought and put fake drug manufacturers in India and their evil death merchants in Nigeria out of business. Another plaque in the building also honours the first pharmacist in the state, Mr Lambert Eradiri. Dickson remembers.
The state health insurance scheme is the most successful in the country so far. It has registered 70,000 people. Dickson expects the figure to go as high as 300,000 by the end of the year. Taken together, the Specialist Hospital, the Drug Mart, the Diagnostic Centre and the Health Insurance Scheme, make the state health care delivery system the best and the most comprehensive in the country. Dickson’s larger plan is to make Yenagoa a viable alternative to India’s medical tourism to which there is a steady flow of ailing Nigerians. Empty beds in Indian hospitals? Got it.
A government publication talks of Dickson’s silent revolution in education in the state. It is, by no means silent. Revolution aptly captures Country Man’s concept of education and human capital development. Education in the state is totally free from the primary to secondary schools. The Ijaw National Academy, the jewel in his crown of educational development, is a unique secondary school headed by a British educationist. The students receive British-type quality education. Everything there is free for the students. Dickson’s educational revolution has seen the state rise from the bottom of educationally backward states to fifth and third places in WAEC and NECO examinations respectively. And rising.
By the way, in the first part of this two-part column, I mentioned that in 2011, Dickson contested the governorship election against Sylva. I was wrong. They fought it out in 2012 and 2016. Despite the APC juggernaut that rolled into town against Dickson in 2016, he was the rock they could not move or crush.
I salute you, country man.