opinionBy Francis Agbo
On Thursday, February 14, 2013, the become will come to become as the man of timbre and caliber (apologies to the late Dr. Ozumba Mbadiwe), Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson, will be one year in office as the 4th executive governor of Bayelsa State. Dickson's journey to Creek Haven was rough and tortuous. He had an intolerant incumbent to contend with.
First, the then governor, Chief Timipre Sylva in 2008 set up a kangaroo commission of enquiry to indict him with the aim of making him unelectable and a warrant of arrest was subsequently issued on him. When Sylva failed to cage Dickson, he moved to stop his re-election to the House of Representatives by sponsoring another candidate, Williams Ofoni but Dickson prevailed against all odds. And then came the main battle to unseat Sylva after his five years of misrule.
And like the young David in the bible who led the Israelites to a battle against the Philistines, and used a mere sling to defeat Goliath of Gath, the dreaded warrior whose height was six cubits and a span, Dickson fired by the conviction to deliver Bayelsans from the shackles of underdevelopment and oppression, went into a political war with a bare hand against the tyrannical Sylva. And despite Sylva's deployment of the state resources, repressive and ideological state apparatuses to sit tight, the cop-turned lawyer floored Sylva from the very blast of whistle, and even at the Supreme Court and the rest, as they say, is history. Barely one year into his administration, the former law maker representing Sagbama/ Ekeremor Federal Constituency has redesigned the architecture of governance in the only Ijaw homogenous state. The testimonies of Bayelsans especially from the masses show clearly that they couldn't have fared better. Yet the governor in his usual element is not keen at rolling out the red carpet.
Like the former leader of Singapore, Mr. Lee Kwan Yew, who turned around the fortunes of his country by leap-frogging Singapore from third world to first world, Dickson used the last one year to plan and hit the ground running, laying a solid foundation for the rapid development of Bayelsa State. Though his predecessor collected over N650billion in federal allocations (IGR and other grants not inclusive), Dickson inherited a hugely indebted state running into over N66 billion with a bloated monthly salary wage bill of over N6billion with staff morale at the lowest ebb. Staff audit conducted by government showed that the bulk of the money went to ghost workers and ghost institutions and the Governor Dickson has since brought sanity to public service by stopping the fraud as well as prosecuting culprits.
While taking his oath of office on February 14 last year, Dickson, popularly known as Contriman because of his manifest connect with the grassroots and Ijaw cause, proclaimed free and compulsory education in the state. He promised to drastically trim the cost of governance, deliver developmental deliverables to the people and change the governance culture in the state through the enthronement of purposeful leadership that is anchored on justice, fairness, transparency and accountability.
So far, the governor has walked the talk so much so that ordinary Bayelsans now call him the "talk na do governor." The Dickson's administration has already constructed 41 roads, erected 18 buildings which include schools and a multi-million naira world class diagnostic centre as well as a door court house which are to be commissioned on February 14. The administration built an ultra- modern prison, completed and furnished the national headquarters of the Ijaw National Council, both of which have been put to use. There are other ongoing projects in the state such as the Deep Sea Port in Agger, Yenagoa Airport, the three senatorial roads, to mention but a few. The governor has promised to complete the Tower Hotel, Yenagoa and any viable projects inherited from past administrations. And above all, there is peace, security and social justice in the once restive state. Thanks to the huge investments in security and the financial autonomy granted the state judiciary by the Dickson's administration.
The governor showed leadership by starting his reform with his office. His predecessor spent about N1.685 billion monthly to run the Government House, Yenagoa, otherwise known as Creek Haven. But the Contriman has shown clearly that he is a leader of conviction and not convenience when he denied himself the luxury of living like a king kong. He cut government house expenses to about N657,460,000 million, thereby saving over N1 billion for the hugely indebted state while pensioners are smiling to the bank with over N500 million paid to them as gratuity.
He has turned a hitherto recluse Bayelsa to a tourism and investment destination. The question those who may not have keenly followed his government may ask is, how did he achieve this feat? First, Governor Dickson invested heavily in security, outlawed kidnapping, secret cultism and all forms of criminalities hitherto used by politicians especially incumbents to oppress their opponents and drive away contractors from sites. And recently, Dickson prescribed death penalty for kidnappers. The governor also enacted the Compulsory SavingsLaw, Transparency and Accountability Law which made it mandatory for him to be prudent and accountable to the people. And with the savings regime, the state is fully prepared for the rainy day. This also implies that it will neither be indebted to businessmen nor be broke and investors are assured of great returns for their investments.
Indeed these measures coupled with the governor's integrity and track record of service, helped to restore investors' confidence in the state and that was the magic wand that made them to scramble for investment opportunities in Bayelsa.
As Governor Dickson turns one year in office, he exudes six cardinal qualities which make him stand tall in the comity of governors: integrity, uncommon courage, vision, conviction, service to mankind and fear of God. Indeed, it takes a man with the fear of God and audacity to sacrifice his comfort by cutting Creek Haven allocation, banned cultism and made it punishable by death with no option of fine.
Similarly, it takes a man of conviction to honour late General Sani Abacha for creating Bayelsa State. Like the living legend, Chief Dan Agbese posited in his column, the award came at a period in Nigerian history when identifying with the late general was like committing political hara-kiri. But Governor Dickson reputed for working according to his conscience immortalized the late General by naming an estate in the state capital after him and conferred Ijaw name on his first son, Mohammed.
It takes a man with these qualities to declare a functional free and compulsory education in Bayelsa State. Before Dickson came to judgement in Creek Haven, no governor dared to implement free and compulsory education. The thinking especially during the immediate past administration was that if education was free, there may not be enough money for the power elites to share.
Today, the entire education sector has changed for the better. Government provides the following items free to pupils and students: textbooks, uniforms, sandals, bags, and writing materials. Government is also responsible for the payment of WAEC, NECO, and JAMB forms fees for students. Already 400 primary schools and staff quarters for headmasters and principals are under construction across the state. Similarly, Dickson has spent over N3.1 billion, the first of its kind, on the education of indigent students of Ijaw nationality who are covered by the Bayelsa State Scholarship Scheme.
Born on the 28th January, 1966 in the rustic riverine Toru- Orua in Sagbama Local Government Area of Bayelsa State to the family of Mr. and Mrs. Nanaye Dickson of Orua, a descendant of the famous King Kpadia Royal House of Tarakiri Kingdom, Dickson is also a descendant of the renowned Obu warrior family of Orua whose trademark is valour, bravery and honour Dickson attended Kolobiriowei Primary School, Toru-Orua from 1972 to 1978 where he got his First School Leaving Certificate and proceeded to Government Secondary School, Toru-Ebeni between 1978 to 1983 and obtained his West African School Certificate (WASC/GCE).
Dickson joined the Nigeria Police Force in 1986 to raise money to further his education, because his parents could no longer cater for his schooling. He gained admission in 1988 to the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Port Harcourt to study Law from where he graduated with LL.B (HONS.) in 1992. He then proceeded in 1993, to earn his Bachelors of Law (B.L.HONS) from the Nigeria Law School, Lagos and was called to the Nigeria Bar the same year.
He was Cadet Assistant Superintendent of Police in 1994 but withdrew his service to start legal practice in Port Harcourt where he worked with SERENA DAVID DOKUBO & CO. He was an associate solicitor from 1994 to 1995 and moved to ALUKO & OYEBODE, a prominent Law firm in Lagos, in a similar position.
In 1996, he founded SERIAKE DICKSON & CO, a law firm in Port Harcourt and later Yenagoa. He was elected Pioneer Publicity Secretary, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) Bayelsa State Chapter, a position he held from 1996 to 1998.
In 1998 when all the bigwigs in Bayelsa were either in PDP or APP (now ANPP), Dickson chose to pitch tent with the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and was elected its chairman between 1998 to 2000 and led the party to winning all the elections in Bayelsa West Senatorial District. Indeed, Bayelsa State was the only state the party recorded such victory outside the core Yoruba speaking states. The party apparatchik rewarded him by elevating him to the post of National Legal Adviser between 2000 and 2002.
He was equally elected National Legal Adviser of the foremost Pan-Ijaw Socio-Cultural and Political group, the Ijaw National Congress (INC) from 2001 to 2003. He became a Member of the National Executive Committee (NEC), Nigeria Bar Association between 2004 and 2006.
The crisis in the defunct AD coupled with his desire to help President Goodluck Jonathan who was deputy governor at the time to succeed the incumbent governor, Chief DSP Alamiesiegha forced Dickson to join PDP in 2005 and became the founding Secretary of Jonathan's political group,
Green Movement in 2006. Dickson was appointed the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of Bayelsa State in 2006 by then governor, Dr. Jonathan, following the exit of Alamiesiegha.
Poised to play national politics, he was elected member, representing Sagbama/Ekeremor Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives. Dickson served as the Chairman, House Committee on Justice. He was re-elected in 2011 but resigned after he was elected governor. In appreciation of his service to his community, Dickson was conferred with the prestigious title: Olokodau of Orua Kingdom.
As a lawmaker, he sponsored so many critical bills which have been passed into law and played a key role in the successes recorded by the sixth National Assembly. But what is not often remembered about Dickson and for which he has not received sufficient encomium was his role in the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill at the National Assembly where he served as Vice Chairman of the FOIB harmonization committee and his delivery of an entire senatorial district to AD in 1998 and 1999 as well as his amendment of the evidence Act, the first ever since 1954. The lesson from Dickson's story is if this man who did not see a moving vehicle until he was 18 years could work so hard to be governor, then there are limitless opportunities for all Bayelsan youths if they take advantage of the enabling environment created by this government. If Dickson sustains the tempo, Bayelsa will be one of the centres of attraction in Nigeria!
•Francis Agbo, a journalist and Public Affairs analyst based in Yenagoa.