The two major camps justling for Bayelsa Governorship have irreconciliable developmental strategy differences that belie their political positioning. If you fail to understand this ideological difference, then you are likely to miss the gist.The two camps-Green Movement and the Sylva camp( now that he is cleared to participate in the primaries) have contradicting visions for Development. The Green Movement as the name implies focuses on tourism while Sylva sees commerce as his own developmental paradym. In the course of his one year as Governor of Bayelsa State Goodluck Jonathan laid the foundation for a strategic tourism programme. Incoming Governor Sylva promised to follow the footsteps already made easy in a masterplan. Unfortunately, his own input prioritising development of the Central Business District literally abandoned the development strategy as put forward by experts.
What informed the Tourism approach was the consideration that Bayelsa State is mainly below sea level with a difficult terrain for basic Agriculture. It is costly to build a commercial centre here by the mere fact of its proximity to highly commercial Port Harcourt.Commerce was to arise as adjoint to the tourism business developing here,it was planned.This was the laid down structure for Bayelsa State development which cannot be turned aside having been properly reseached and adopted by the founding fathers. The tourism approach to Bayelsa State development commenced formally in 2004 with the completion of the Yenagoa city Masterplan by Herbert Aduke and climaxed in 2006 with a revision led by the German firm of Albert Spears. The later consultants commissioned by the then Governor Goodluck Jonathan produced the Development Strategy for a new skyscraper capital city with tourism as trust for development. Unfortunately, for this plan he had to go to become Vice President while his successor made changes to the directtion thereby distorting the entire concept leading to abandonment. Now the Green Movement, the political party platform within PDP that sponsored the President when he was governor,is sponsoring a governorship aspirant Hon Henry Dickson who has promised to restore this vision.
To achieve this objective, Dickson has promised to go back to the original development paradym via tourism already made into a masterplan, which has been tried and tested in Cross River State under Donald Duke. The idea was to attrack foreign investors to finance the model city of Yenagoa utilising public private partnerships amongst other avenues. Now that Bayelsa State has risen in global rating as Presidents home State, one cannot but marvel at a vision which by now, if left undistorted,would have built a globally recorgnised tourism city to house today’s willing tourists and business ventures. Unfortunately the State instead desended into infamy frightening away even foreign contractors handling vital projects thereby abandoning many projects especially within the pivotal Ox Bow lake Resort.As soon as the original strategy was subverted,those who were trained for the job were sacked, planning ceased, opening the way to wrongly designated settlements on floodplains and green belts. The result was evident in time in the massive flooding witnessed in Yenagoa recently. Now talk about the years the locust ate in Bayelsa and you begin to understand what Hon. Dickson was talking about.
There are areas in the life a State or people you can play politics with and get away with it not masterplans laid down using the taxpayer’s money. Today the uncompleted upwardly winding conference centre in Yenagoa is a tourist attraction for the wrong reasons. The Newswatch Magazine has recorgnised it as a landmark to illustrate this “locust years” in Bayelsa State by taking its picture in bushes. There is the Hospital project in Bushes. These projects are now dislocated; not meant to serve only a new Business District trying to compete with a cheaper overhead nearby Port Harcourt city. Instead, it was for a bugeoning tourist heaven and free open society akin to Calabar, Cross River State where Federal, State and International events would hold. Painfully however, nobody predicted that Bayelsa state would become lately a city where foreign contractors cannot just pass the night for fear of violence. Owing to inadequate political will, or rather lack of appreciation of the basic structures and functions of development agenda in the state as laid down at the inception of the present government in the State. This departure has cost the State dearly in terms of dislocated development. Yet there is no question as to why the original vision will under go a restoration in order to develop the State. Hon Seriake Dickson, one of the leading Governorship Aspirant of the PDP recorgnised this task and made it the cadinal point of his administration in the State.
Now the Green Movement within the PDP and a coalition of elders have chosen Hon Dickson Seriake,the former Attorney General of Banyelsa State now Chairman of the Special Duties committee of the Federal House Of Representatives to run a well structured restoration agenda to realign Bayelsa with the plan of its founding fathers. One of the elders happens to be the last but one Chairman of the Bayelsa Capital City Development Authority BCCDA. H.R.M. Chief Turner. He watched helplessly as then incoming incumbent Governor Chief Timipre Sylva cut down to the bone the once generous budget of the BCCDA,and later making it almost impossible to continue the visions of the Masterplan. He resigned from his position later on. After he left the centre could no longer hold in BCCDA for there was an altercation between the MDAs and the Authority over whose authority it was to award what contract and when or how. The Ministry of works loomed large while Housing as well as related Ministries often-duplicated projects thereby completely boxing away the power of regulatory authority. It all went on well for a while.
Unfortunately, the rains of this year with rising flood levels in Yenagoa exposed violation of the Masterplan in terms of illegal allocation of land for building on green areas and flood channels as growing population created many slumps during the 4years of this administration. Since BCCDA was often merely percieved as just the political legacy of opposing camp, funding had gone so low that some of the trained experts prefered to return to their respective MDAs from where they received their secondment into the authority. Now there was panic. Newly appointed was a helmsman to oversee that things did not get out of hand. Mr George Fente who doubles as the political campaign director of the Governor became Chairman of BCCDA.Since we were earlier consultants, we received another invite to help reposition the Authority. We advised improved funding and about three Billion naira released. This enabled the authority to commence belated demolitions. It also enabled us to understand the level of rot that had set into the affairs of the authority and therefore the State since 2006.
It is not as if Bayelsa State is unique in these matters but it is particularly painful that so much has been lost in terms of time and resources to get the State where it should not be. I remember the logistic nightmare faced by the Presidents entourage during the innauguration of the Federal University at Otueke, the Presidents village, a few kilometers away.Some of the invited digniitaries were advised to stay back in their Hotels and watch on television the ceremony because there wasn’t enough space or infrastructure to accommodate them at the venue. You may surmise; not a big deal that such a thing occurred. Yet for the Presidents home State, arrangements could have been differently and properly. These issues continue to linger. The general feeling within is that the State would do better with a change. There was need to vote in a government that could take full advantage of the momentous occasion of Bayelsa as President’s home State. There was need for full cooperation between the centre and the State in terms of development. The State yearned for a visionary who could stand in the gap to marry the vision with the new vista open to the State. Without a forward-looking Bayelsan state, the President can hardly command the respect that he deserves in national and international affairs. For four years, Bayelsans watched to see if the policies of Chief Timipre Sylva as Governor of Bayelsa State would turn out better than the one set out by his predecessor. Alas, they were disappointed because instead of sustaining progress achieved in his own first term it seems as if the flame was extinguished .Major projects like the Airport, senatorial roads, Major bridges and other critical infrastructure needed to make Yenagoa habitable and attractive to foreign investors for which a Fifty billion naira bond was obtained has literally been abandoned. Insecurity and cultism had returned to continue where militancy left off. A David had to come to overcome this Golliath. David knows his task. Hon Seriake Dickson said he was not seeking power for vain purposes; only to serve the yearnings of his people.
Mr Nworisara a media consultant and policy analyst writes from Port Harcourt Nigeria