Daniel Iworiso-Markson is the Chief Press Secretary to the Bayelsa state governor, Seriake Dickson. In this interview he speaks on the two years of the Dickson administration. He also explained why the Restoration Agenda of the Bayelsa state government has education, security, infrastructural development and economic diversification as its main focus.
Soon the Dickson administration will mark its second year in office. What does the governor have to show for his time in office?
Governor Dickson has a lot to show for his developmental programs and policies. I dare say that majority of Bayelsans align with my position. This is because the Restoration Agenda declared by the governor has affected lives positively. In a couple of months, people from Oporoma and environs will be able to get to their communities by road in 30mins. This road has 7 bridges to make it up to standards. Soon the Ekeremor people who complain about traveling all the way to Bomadi and Tuomo in Delta before moving by boat to Bayelsa will also drive down to their communities through Amassoma via Toru Beni or sagbama. Government is building eight new referral hospitals. There will also be a specialist hospital in Sagbama for treating cancer and for fertility treatment. The same thing for new model (boarding schools) in each of the eight LGAs. Government is also constructing a standard diagnostic centre at Imgbi, a new civil service quarters, first of its kind flyover, both on d express, a 27km road from Igbogene to Bayelsa Palms, an expanded Elebele-Opolo road and three new secretariat annexes, to mention a few. Another important issue, the people are commending Governor Dickson on is the reduction in crime. The high level of insecurity before the current administration came in led the people to ask Governor Dickson to restore peace to the state. Hence, the first thing the governor did was to develop a holistic solution to the many security challenges which emanated mainly from past leadership failure, especially from a regime whose stock in trade was state sponsored violence, arson, cultism and all forms of brigandage. In tackling the security challenges, what government did was to create a comprehensive security strategy known as the Bayelsa Integrated Security Strategy (BISS) which re-engineered policing and law enforcement to emphasize intelligence based pro-active interdiction. It is a measure leveraged on massive community and public participation. Of course, government invested heavily in security technology as it could have in any modern society and the strategy has been very successful. Bayelsa State is now one of the most peaceful states in Nigeria. Having achieved security stability and restoring people’s confidence to go about their businesses, Governor Dickson moved swiftly to address the critical challenge of economic diversification through tourism and agriculture.
You said the diversification of the state’s economy is being carried out through tourism and agriculture. But the general impression is that tourism is getting more attention than agriculture.
By its nature, tourism gets more media attention than agriculture. This doesn’t change the fact that government has moved the state forward in terms of agriculture. In Bayelsa the focus is on mechanized farming to facilitate massive cultivation and yield not only to feed our population but to export. We have been concentrating on the production of cassava, rice, fish, banana and plantain in commercial quantities. Government is building processing factories to develop the export content for our agriculture produce. An MOU with a Danish company has since been signed to process cassava on 359 hectares. So far, we have trained and still training thousands of our young people at the famous Songhai Farms in Porto Novo, Benin Republic. Gov. Dickson’s goal is to create a wide pool of young people with skills in modern agriculture practices which would be taken back home to further develop the state. While some would be deployed to different farms in the state, others will form the nucleus of our Agricultural Training Institute and others assisted to manage their own farms.
Other states have invested heavily in tourism, yet there aren’t reaping much benefit. How is your state going to make sure it has returns on investment?
In Bayelsa government took major interest in tourism because of its potentials in our state. Due diligence carried out by experts indicated that with proper management, we can make millions annually from tourism even more than what we could ever derive from oil and gas. This is in line with global trend where even America, the UAE and Europe are still racking -in billions of dollars through tourism. This thinking is driving the New Yenagoa City, carved out of the state capital, which has a location advantage. We also have the longest coastline in Nigeria with some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. We want to further develop our historical heritage and the many tourist attractions in the state to welcome tourists into the state. We are getting international recognition that can only be given to a viable sector. A few months ago, UNESCO designated Bayelsa State as host of the maiden edition of the organization’s under water committee’s conference and it was held successfully. The challenge we have in Bayelsa is that of infrastructure but with our passion, continued massive investment and collaboration with other investors, government will turn the state to a tourism haven that can effectively make it the Dubai of Africa.
What is Governor Dickson doing about improving the reputation of Yenagoa as a state capital?
Despite the unique topography of Bayesla state (Yenagoa inclusive) which increases the cost of infrastructural development and makes construction work difficult, the Dickson administration has a lot to show case after two years. Over 350 kilometres of roads across the state have been completed. Government has also constructed 15 bridges, 50 public buildings and 2 flyovers. The dualisation of 18 roads and 2 outer ring roads are in progress while the secretariat for the Traditional Rulers Council inYenagoa has been also completed. The road linking the old and new campuses of the Niger Delta University Amassoma is also completed. The governor is set to award contracts for the construction of 15 internal roads in Yenagoa. This will be replicated in all the 8 local government headquarters in the first phase of total rehabilitation and transformation of roads in the state for easy accessibility. The expansion and upgrading of many of the roads particularly in Yenagoa would, however, inevitably lead to demolition of some houses, not because they offended any town planning regulation but as necessary price to pay for the greater good of a modern city. The expansion of the Opolo-Imiringi road, for instance, necessitated the demolition of Governor Dickson’s personal house which is a demonstration of commitment to this cause. Among other on-going projects is the construction of the state archive, museum, language centre, new secretariat annexes, governor and deputy governors’ office complexes, modern police mess, rehabilitation of the Gloryland Cultural Centre and construction of the Government House Clinic, now close to completion. And of course, work is ongoing at the pharmaceutical storage and distribution centre, which when completed will be the first of its kind in Africa. To bring the quality of roads in the state to international standard, strategically located bridges will be built in the three senatorial districts in addition to the equally strategic construction of the Bayelsa airport and the Agge Deep Seaport. For Gov. Dickson, the successful completion of these two projects will make economic diversification a reality.
Bayelsa like other oil producing states struggle with the reputation of poor management of government money. Has Governor Dickson properly utilised the monies allocated to the state in the last two years?
Nigerians know that Gov. Dickson hosts the monthly transparency briefing where he accounts for monies allocated to the state. It is a novel idea some said he wouldn’t be able to sustain and he has surprised them. Moving from accountability to proper management of funds, let me start with manpower development through agriculture, education and tourism. Proper utilization of our oil money has found remarkable expression in the education sector. With all the gigantic investments government is making towards economic diversification, there is the need for a concomitant availability of the requisite manpower to run these sectors especially in the future. A highly educated citizenry is also an important part of development. The state government has made education free for primary and secondary schools in the state. Because of our level of development, we need to encourage mass education which must also have the right quality. Government is improving the quality of public schools in terms of infrastructure, teachers (their training and general welfare). We are about to complete the construction of 40 very modern secondary schools with boarding facilities across the state. Now, we have 140 PhD students and 300 Masters degree students on scholarship across the world and 250 in topnotch private secondary schools in Nigeria. All these Governor Dickson has done in less than two years of coming into government.
Youth unemployment and subsequent youth restiveness are major issues in your state. What is the governor doing to change the situation?
Gov Dickson recently disclosed that government along with the organised private sector will create 30 thousand jobs and he is working towards this promise. Already, the state government has signed an MOU with a Chinese firm to construct rail lines from Yenagoa to Brass and from Yenagoa to Agge. The rail transport would be great in the envisaged boom in agro-business, trade and other commercial activities. Bayelsa State is relating and interacting with the global economy through the instrumentality of the Bayelsa Development and Investment Corporation (BDIC) which was established as a strategic enabler of market driven high impact business initiatives that would engender rapid development of state’s economy. Be that as it may, this government has done a lot to engage our youths. For instance, the governor directed that about 200 young women and men be employed to be part of the preservation of our forestry heritage. Similarly, he also directed that all medical doctors and healthcare personnel be employed because we have a shortage of healthcare manpower as we are building healthcare facilities across the state. Again, given the magnitude of construction work going on in the state, the governor equally mandated the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure to engage the services of all qualified engineers, architects, quantity surveyors and technical staff to strengthen the human capacity of the ministry in the area of supervision. Government has employed more teachers, about 300 science teachers included. Unemployment is a monumental problem. No one state government can solve it overnight. We need to create the awareness that, not all youths need to be in government employment. That notwithstanding, what about the several appointments that this administration have given to youths in this state? I dare say that no government has involved the young people of Bayelsa in the running of the affairs of the state more than what Gov. Dickson has done with the appointment of young people. Also Governor Dickson has approved the payment of N150 million to repair our gas turbines that was left to rot before he came into office. It is hoped that by Christmas power supply will improve and this will help SMEs thrive and youths will benefit from this. Also women have been given N500 million to be allocated as grants to start their businesses.
But would you say these interventions have really gotten to everyday people in the state?
Gov. Dickson has been on his Thank You tour to the LGAS and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Both respected royal fathers and the regular people have given the current administration kudos for directly impacting on the lives of the people.