Six wasted years: Weep not for Jonathan (2)
By Waritobo Soweibo
Continued from Friday
IT is important for every Nigerian to understand that there should be adequate collaboration between the government of Bayelsa State and the Federal Government principally because the challenges posed by the environment cannot be surmounted by the state government alone.
The dip in revenues accruing to the states of the federation makes this doubly difficult. The failure of the former President to adequately take care of the Niger Delta has been seized upon by the Buhari administration to reject requests for collaboration from the Bayelsa State government.
The Buhari’s administration’s default question is: Why did such collaboration not take place when a Bayelsan was President?
While I am not an admirer of Governor Dickson, I am persuaded that his disappointment with the former President is well founded. I think this is the position of well-meaning Ijaw persons. It is a fact that oil exploration started in Ijawland, precisely in Oloibiri, Ogbia Local Government Area. Inspite of the prosperity the country has seen from oil, Ijawland remains grim and in the grip of poverty and environmental degradation.
It would have been amusing, were it not for its seriousness, that some people are making an issue of Governor Dickson’s observation, which Jonathan himself publicly admitted.
Even if Jonathan had not admitted, evidence would have declined to support any grand claim he would make. The failure of the Jonathan administration to build the East-West Road, the only highway linking the Niger Delta region with the East and West, and his neglect of the federal road to Bayelsa State and the one to his community in Otuoke would have punctured any confected narrative of good performance.
Dickson, it bears repeating, is not a man I admire. But his courage is an attribute I cannot dismiss. One of the first roads he constructed within his first year in office was the road from Sagbama to Toru-Orua, his community.
So, my advice to those who love Jonathan more than he loves himself is: If they must weep, they should weep for the grotesquely underdeveloped Ijaw nation, not for Jonathan, who frittered an opportunity to correct the wrongs of the past.
For those with little or no knowledge of the Ijaw, they remain one of the world’s most oppressed people. A little background could help put the Ijaw situation in sharper focus. Bayelsa is the only homogeneous Ijaw state. It is the hub of neglect and therefore, agitation in the Niger Delta region.
By nature, the Ijaws are activists, an attribute imposed on them by their challenging environment. It was this environment that gave rise to Major Jasper Isaac Adaka Boro, a native of Kaiama, Bayelsa State. Boro and his colleagues famously launched the 12-Day revolution against the Nigerian state, the foundation for the Niger Delta struggle.
The founding fathers of Bayelsa State wanted the state they were agitating for to be the Jerusalem of all Ijaws scattered across Nigeria. It was against this background that late Governor DSP Alamiesiegha, nicknamed “Governor – General of the Ijaw nation” gave appointments and scholarships to Ijaws irrespective of whether they were from Bayelsa or not. The pattern has continued under Dickson, who was famously described by Alamieyeseigha as his successor in the Ijaw struggle.
The implication is that a Bayelsa governor must attend to the needs of all Ijaw people, as he is viewed as a governor of the Ijaw nation. Bayelsa State was also conceived to only offer opportunities to only Ijaws.
It also explains why Bayelsans tend to see public funds as something to be shared among themselves. I can say with authority that before Dickson became governor, public servants in the state were not paying Personal Income Tax. Similarly, citizens were not paying electricity bills, as they were borne by government.
Bayelsa, as stated earlier, sits atop vast oil and gas deposits. Oloibiri in Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa State was where oil was first struck in commercial quantities in Nigeria. This has counted for nothing, with the treacherous terrain serving as impediments to wholesale development by successive state governments. This is made worse by inadequate or half-hearted interventions by the Federal Government, which has also continued to ignore agitation for more accruals. Successive state governments did their best and the current one is doing same, within the limits of its resources. Their efforts, however, have been like a drop in the ocean.
This is why it is important to have a State/Federal Government collaboration on projects such as the Brass LNG, construction of an airport, deep seaport, good road networks to the oil terminals. There is no doubt that these big-ticket projects are way beyond the financial capacity of state government, even if it does nothing else for 10 years.
One cheering news is that Dickson is building an international airport which, when completed, will transform the economy of the state but he must pay off salary arrears being owed public servants or else we boo him!
The Jonathan presidency raised hopes. Jonathan was expected to allot oil wells to interested Ijaw businessmen and hit the Atlantic, where Ijaw people’s wealth lies, on three fronts: Brass, Oporoma- Koluama and Ekeremor- Agger. These fronts host the oil terminals, but are inaccessible to motorists. The prevalent belief in Bayelsa is that the state cannot develop until it has access to the sea. Having access not only entails building roads, but also having a deep seaport and an airport to make the state play an active role in the Gulf of Guinea.
These, sadly, did not happen under Jonathan.
Mr. Soweibo, a Niger Delta activist, wrote from Yenagoa, Bayelsa State.