By Samuel Peres
It was 7 o’clock on Saturday morning, October 1, 1996. Nigerians had sat glued to their television and radio sets to listen to the Independence Day broadcast by their Head of State, General Sani Abacha.
All ears stood at attention to hear firsthand the plans for the country as she turned 36, when the great news hit the nation in the course of the broadcast.
Alas! It was the pronouncement of six additional States bringing the total number of States in Nigeria to 36.
One of these new States was in the oil rich region of the country, the Niger Delta, which happened to be the only homogenous Ijaw State, carved out of old Rivers State. She is Bayelsa State, christened the GLORY OF ALL LANDS.
With only 8 local government areas, she had just her oil, land, water and people; but more to these was the zeal of the people to nurse the young State to grow into its full potential in the far future.
The hope that their new State would like a seed buried in fertile soil grow into a productive tree, comprising smart, strong and amazing individuals who would set groundbreaking records was enough motivation from the get-go.
From Philip Ayeni, the first military administrator, followed by Habu Daura, Omoniyi Caleb Olubolade, and Paul Obi, to D.S.P Alamieyeseigha, the first civilian governor, followed by Goodluck Jonathan, Timipre Sylva, Henry Seriake Dickson and to the incumbent, Douye Diri, she has steadily grown and taken progressive steps and leaps, conquered challenges and headed the direction of excellence.
At 25, one may query: has Bayelsa State truly manifested its ‘Glory of all Lands’ designation? Is this gift of silver commensurate with the condition of the State as it stands today? Is there anything to celebrate at this new age? While answers may vary across different schools of thought, there are uncontestable evidences to the fact that the State has certainly made tremendous progress.
As is the tradition, every anniversary offers a good time to look back at the distance covered and engage in reasonable and rational self appraisal. Thus, Bayelsa to a large extent has not failed in its bid to grow, develop and reach its potentialities, albeit the pace may not meet general expectations. The story and journey to this point may be different for each individual; however, there is much to be grateful for.
But truly, the journey of Bayelsa from October 1, 1996 to October 1, 2021 means an upgrade from a State with sheer pedestrian value to a destination of choice for knowledge seekers; a home to all peoples of diverse tribes and ethnicities; a place of beautiful and hospitable people that are industrious and optimistic.
This journey also means a lovely trip to the runway and terminals of the well treasured Bayelsa Airport. It is smooth sail on the River Nun to lovely sandy beaches of Akassa and Okpoama by the Atlantic Ocean. It is a visit to Wilberforce Island, Amasoma to behold the first tertiary institution in the state, the Niger Delta University. It is the lovely ambience of Yenagoa, an emerging city of glory in Nigeria.
Indeed, the celebration of this silvery age calls for some reflection on the significance and contribution of the State to the Nigerian state even before its creation in 1996. Bayelsa State would ever be proud of the fact that its land at Otuabagi in present day Ogbia local government area ushered in a new dawn of economic progress to the Nigerian state as her black gold (crude oil) was discovered and first exported in commercial quantity.
However, in spite of the fact that oil sits at the front seat of the economic vehicle, there is no denying the fact that there exist viable alternatives which Bayelsa State had long signed up to. As a growing State with endless possibilities and opportunities, Bayelsa has the wherewithal to upgrade in many ways.
Agriculture, tourism and importantly, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise (MSME) development, among other sectors, are alternative areas that if invested in prudently would bring economic prosperity, which is already a vision of the Senator Douye Diri-led administration, and has been putting in place investment measures in agriculture to boost the economic status of the state
Suffice you to note that one State that has taken progressive leaps with regard to food production in the South-South is Bayelsa. And this could be seen in her effort in developing and increasing her rice production capacity; commercial agriculture is, indeed, gradually finding its footing in Bayelsa. Moreover, aside from her arable land that is suitable for agriculture, she is blessed with many other natural resources such as sand, timber, ceramic clay, just to mention a few, which no doubt when properly managed would increase the economic lifeline of the state. This is the new Bayelsa at 25 and beyond.
As for tourism, though yet to be explored to its fullest, it is said to be the next tourists’ destination and delight in Nigeria when harnessed. To this end, progressives believe this silver jubilee celebrations will usher in a new thinking into exploring the opportunities therein so as to position her as the State to beat in tourism in Nigeria. The question of why our God-given potential is underutilized despite our conducive and clement environment would be a thing of the past. This, again, would be a gift of silver to Bayelsans at 25, and going forward.
Fascinatingly, as she marks this new age of 25, she equally celebrates her sons and daughters who were/are/have been gifts to the world. Talking of gifts, it is the gift of an icon of democracy, former President Goodluck Jonathan; of the duo of Sampson Siasia and Finidi George to Nigerian football; of Nigeria’s music sensations, Timaya and Timi Dakolo; of the celebrated freedom fighter, Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro; of the literary icon, Gabriel Okara. And more recently, it is the gift of Deborah Quickpen, a nine year old girl and African Junior Chess Champion; of Blessing Oborodudu, a silver medalist in wrestling at Tokyo 2020 Olympics games; of Kingdom Kroseide, winner of Nigerian Idol music competition; of Team Bayelsa at the Edo 2020 National Sports Festival; of her male and female football clubs, Bayelsa United and Bayelsa Queens who both won the men and women categories of the Aiteo FA Cup; and many more worthy sons and daughters who have shown the world that she is a force to be reckoned with in the community of States.
Without debate, it is obvious to progressive minds that at 25, Bayelsa, in the hands of her amiable governor, Douye Diri is performing at optimal levels in spite of the lean resources it receives from the proceeds of her wealth, which has been negatively affected by the economic hardship brought to it by COVID-19. Nevertheless, it is slowly but surely climbing the hill of prosperity as her incumbent governor embarks on massive infrastructural and human capacity development in the state. Thank goodness the State is gradually taking shape with her three gateways—land, air and water. The commencement of daily commercial flight operations from the State-owned International Airport, is most cheering.
Frankly, 25 connotes a gift of renewed energy. Take it or leave it, Bayelsa at 25 is headed for accelerated success. It is a time when communality would become the order of the day and productive virtues reign among her people. It is a time where the youth would deploy their strengths into ventures that would be for the common good of their respective communities, thereby signing up for collective progress; a time when opportunities in Amassoma and Akassa would attract partnership from faraway lands; when innovators at Kongho and Aghoro would be sought after by factories abroad through the recommendations of their brothers at Kaiama and Angalabiri; a time when an Ogbia man’s moment of grief concerns the Opokuma man; a time when Bayelsa would regenerate into the destination for the tourist, estate developer, investor, agropreneur, scientist, creative artist, and what have you.
Bayelsans are grateful to God for this new age and like a springboard, this silver jubilee would catapult Bayelsa State to heights unimaginable under the innovative leadership of His Excellency, Senator Douye Diri. It would become a silver door that opens up uncountable opportunities and presents a chance to make due amends where necessary. This silver jubilee anniversary is one that would usher us into the Bayelsa of our dreams.
As long as it is a tunnel, there must be light at the end; for there to be dusk, there must be dawn; and no matter the stormy weather, there surely lies ahead a silver lining in the sky after the storm.
Regardless of the 25 years of ups and downs, mistakes and amends, falling and rising, these are certain about Bayelsa: she will glow, flourish and be fruitful like the seeds that fall on fertile soil.
In the meantime, her existence must be celebrated with the hope that the future would be better than today so long as every hand would be on deck.
Happy 25th anniversary Bayelsa!