22 January 2013

Nigeria: Why Are They Afraid of Timipre Sylva?


The current preoccupation of officialdom and Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State to fight his predecessor Chief Timipre Sylva, even when the latter is a harmless private citizen, reminds me of the story of the corrupt king and his poor but reputable subject.

Each morning every inhabitant of the village would head for the ruler's palace to collect money and heap shallow flattering compliments on the man. The poor subject, despite his deprivation, would stay behind, content with his untainted integrity and meagre means that met his basic needs.

Although the wealthy king could boast of the "loyalty" of several members of the citizens on account of the largesse he doled out, still he complained that his happiness and security were not assured because the poor man did not number among the sycophants. It unsettled the fawning subjects to learn that the king was not satisfied with their homage without the poor man's. Nothing, he declared, would give him joy and rest until he dealt with the man who had refused to bow like others. But why would a king be afraid of a poor subject?

I discern a parallel morbidity in what is going on in the post-Sylva era in Bayelsa. It's quite a while since the departure of Timipre Sylva from the scene at Government House, Yenagoa. Sylva was qualified constitutionally to run for a second term as governor. But with the connivance of the forces in Abuja, he was excluded from the poll and Dickson was foisted on the people.

Practically then, Sylva is supposed to have become a forgotten or spent force in Bayelsa politics. But surprisingly that is not the case! He is still very much present, his name a thorn in the flesh of Dickson and officialdom. And so you have the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) operatives storming houses purportedly owned by Sylva in Abuja and claiming they have seized them as assets alleged to have been acquired through corrupt means.

Forty-eight such mansions are said to have been retrieved, with a touch of drama as the media and their klieg lights are alerted to cover the raid on the houses.

But Sylva has disputed these claims with certified documents ascertaining that EFCC's position is spurious. He says the houses in question don't belong to him. He insists that there is a subsisting court order that bars EFCC from confiscating his property.

His aide Doifie Ola declared: "Sylva's property are intact and fully covered by the order issued by the Abuja High Court on December 27. Sylva had applied to the court for an interim order of court to serve as a stay of all actions in respect of the property".

The Sylva phobia has lately shifted to Bayelsa with Governor Dickson claiming that his government inherited from Sylva a state treasury with N4, 451 (sic)! Now this is not only laughable but also calls into question the quality of governance and seriousness of the administration. For, this charge is the stuff of soap opera comedy. Yet governance is a far cry from the domain of humor merchants, even if in Nigeria we've had, tragically, some jesters in government.

Fair-minded critics and citizens of Bayelsa State would not take this claim seriously, given popular assessment of the Sylva era. His intervention in key sectors of the economy and social life introduced verifiable all-round development, leading to a general clamor that he should be allowed an encore at the February 2012 poll. At a point as he surveyed his achievements Sylva modestly exclaimed: "I don't need to point out anything to say this is what I have achieved. In fact when people come to Bayelsa these days, they are amazed at the development going on in the state. This alone will make them vote for me. There is the change in the electricity situation; the new Peace Park and the fact that I completed all the abandoned projects will speak for me; I believe that the new roads will say a lot; the lives we have touched will speak for me; the hundreds we have sent abroad on scholarship all will speak for me".

It is impossible to sweep those achievements under the carpet of calumny as we are witnessing in the furore between Dickson and official paraphernalia on the one hand and Citizen Sylva on the other hand. The latter may appear a helpless private man for now, but there is much strength in a man who has a formidable past of achievements, which a year after his exit, are still making his successors uncomfortable in their borrowed garments.

Ordinarily, Dickson, the incumbent governor, ought to be satisfied with his incumbency and of governing the people of Bayelsa without bothering about poor Citizen Sylva. But as with the story at the beginning of this piece, even a king must stand in fear of a man who does not depend on ephemeral power for survival!

-Oruh is a Lagos-based public affairs analyst

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