It is no longer news that, as fallout of the November 16, 2019, Gubernatorial Election in Bayelsa State, the Supreme Court, on February 13, 2020, pronounced Senator Douye Diri and Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, as Governor and Deputy Governor, respectively, of Bayelsa State. And on Friday, February 14, 2020, the duo was inaugurated as such. With this, the Bayelsa Central and Bayelsa West Senatorial District, hitherto occupied by Governor Douye Diri and his Deputy, Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, were declared vacant. In accordance with extant laws, these vacant positions will be filled anytime soon.
As applicable with every electoral season, it is not out of place to see plethora of aspirants expressing their rights by putting themselves forward to occupy electoral positions and canvassing for support, to represent our people at the red Chamber of Nigeria’s National Assembly.
Watching and observing from my privileged vantage position as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), the apex socio-cultural organisation of the Ijaw race, and as a veteran politician, with many years at the top echelon of political leadership in this country, I know the true meaning of political representation, as it affects our people.
It is a known fact that Bayelsa State is the epicenter of the Ijaw nation, at home and abroad. The State represents the collective aspirations of the Ijaw people, irrespective of politics or religious persuasions or leanings and geographical locations.
It is necessary to note in retrospect, the vivacity, patriotic and purposeful representation of our people – the Ijaw people at our different levels of political government, particularly at the National Assembly.
At this juncture, let me go down memory lane to call to mind what obtained when we were young men. Then, we witnessed the vibrancy, patriotism and political sagacity of Ijaw nationalists who had the opportunity to occupy representative seats in the parliament. I can recall the political exploits of the likes of late Hon. Nantry Ezonbodo, Chief J.O. Ariweriyai, Chief Alexander Atie and Hon. Harris Ozeke, who shook the various Houses and defended the Ijaw interest creditably. Even though, some of them were not as educated as we have now, but they stood firmly for the Ijaw nation.
I was in the Senate during His Excellency, Alhaji Shehu Shagari’s presidency. I represented the Delta Senatorial Zone which has now become part of Bayelsa State since 1996. I am very familiar with all the communities in the Sagbama Senatorial Zone stretching from Peteorugbene, Amabilo, Ayama Fortorugbene, Ekeremo, all in Oporomo Clan, while Sampou is in Tereakiri, and Aleibiri in Oyeakiri. Ayamasa, Ofoni. Toru-Orua, Angalabiri, Bolorua, Tereakiri, Ebedebiri in old Tereakiri Clan. While Owonbiri (Angeama) in old Kunbo Clan. Otorofani, Asamabiri, Elemebiri and Ekperiwari in old Kabowei Clan; while in Nun River area are Agbere, Tereakiri and Odoni in Oyeakiri. In the Sagbama Creek are Okunbiri in old Ogobiri Mein Clan, amongst others. Today, these are the areas that constitute Sagbama Senatorial Zone.
I have visited all these communities both as a Community Development Officer and as a Senatorial Candidate during my campaign and during the 1991 census.
The Ijaw nation, which dovetailed in Bayelsa State is in a serious situation where choice of leadership at the various levels, particularly at the forthcoming National Assembly by-election, forms a critical paradigm in the development of the Ijaw nation. This is where men of character, passion for Ijaw nation, developmental antecedents, courage to speak for the Ijaws when others merely murmur. Men of knowledge, exposure and integrity, broad horizon with national outlook to unite all Ijaws, irrespective of where they are politically and geographically domiciled, commitment and determination to lend full weight to the call for restructuring of this country along the lines of true federalism and devolution of powers, on the platform of justice, equity and fair play, are needed.
I make bold to say that His Excellency, Hon Barrister Henry Seriake Dickson, former Governor of Bayelsa State, I am convinced, fit into these qualities.
During the period of Hon. Seriake’s administration as Governor of Bayelsa State which began in 2012, I followed closely, and I am convinced of his impeccable performance, for a number of reasons, which I have had the cause to address at several fora.
BASIS FOR MY SUPPORT FOR HON. HENRY SERIAKE DICKSON.
I conform to the view expressed by strategic segments of the stakeholders across religious and party leanings in support of the call to enable him offer further service to the Ijaw nation. I honestly hope my decision to support the senatorial candidature of His Excellency, Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson, for the Bayelsa West Senatorial District will not come as a surprise to patriotic and dedicated Ijaws.
I am not unaware of the feelings, and disappointments of many Bayelsans as a result of his (Hon. Dickson’s) last minute open support for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) candidate to succeed him. But while I appreciate such feelings from these eminent sons and daughters, I wish to appeal to them, that in the interest of the Ijaw nation, let bygones be bygones.
UNWAVERING PATRIOTISM TO IJAW INTEREST:
It is a clearly known fact that Hon. Dickson has an unwavering and inherently patriotic zeal for the sustenance and enhancement of Ijaw interest, irrespective of whose horse is gored. He has sufficiently cut his leadership teeth at the various levels within the hierarchy of Ijaw National Congress (INC), and the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), providing leadership and giving sense of belonging to every Ijaw man, in Bayelsa State, irrespective of the State in which they are domiciled.
For instance, in his 8-Year regime as Governor of Bayelsa State, he ensured that Ijaws from other States were brought into his government, either as Commissioners, Special Advisers, Special Assistants and other senior government positions. He has the history, as Governor in Bayelsa State who has met critical needs of Ijaws in other States, and in the Diaspora.
UNDERSTANDING CRITICAL NEEDS OF IJAW NATION AND THE NIGER DELTA REGION.
He is well versed on issues of Restructuring, True Federalism, Devolution of Power and Resource Control. He has the right language to deploy, the charisma, the right commitment and determination to achieving these objective. As a former member of the House of Representatives, he has a hands-on experience on legislative procedures and workings, the leadership acumen to weather through murky waters of parliamentary democracy and gymnastics. Governor Dickson has been a leading voice in the call for restructuring of this country. He makes no pretention about it.
INFRASTRUCTURAL REVOLUTION IN BAYELSA STATE.
The eight years of Governor Dickson’s administration as Governor of Bayelsa State was that of infrastructural revolution in the State. The developmental strides are evident in every sector – from Education, Roads, Water, Agriculture, Housing, Health, repositioning of the Civil Service, Social infrastructure, to Aviation, etc.
It is to his credit that he literarily declared emergency in the education, road, health and other sectors in Bayelsa State. For instance, the education sector saw the establishment of two full-fledged universities – the University of Africa, Toru-Orua, and the Bayelsa Medical University, Yenagoa; the Ijaw National College, Kaiama, complete with full scholarship for every child in the College, first of its kind not only in the Ijaw Nation, but even in Niger Delta, is quite commendable.
There is also the landmark Bayelsa International Airport, hitherto, thought impossible. I had the honour of being invited to Chair the occasion for the Commissioning Ceremony of so many of these and other projects, where Gen. Yakubu Gowon, rtd., former Military Head of State, was Special Guest of Honour.
I also watched with delight, the discussion between Prof. Wole Soyinka and Prof. John Pepper Clark, when they visited the Ijaw National College, Kaiama, immediately after the commissioning of the school.
The success of the Sagbama–Ekeremor Road is one huge achievement the Governor Dickson administration has actually brought to demonstrate that the Ijaw nation can indeed be linked and opened up by road networks.
ACCEPTABILITY AND ACCESSIBILITY
Governor Dickson possess a personality that is accessible and acceptable, not just by his immediate environment, but across the wide spectrum of political divides. He has the ability and charisma to network and build strategic bridges and forge alliances across regional enclaves, towards achieving overall objectives. These are qualities that are required of true representatives of their people
I have been privilege to be in the red Chamber. As Senator in the Second Republic, I know the dynamism that is brought to bear in parliamentary procedures.
To refresh the memory of some persons, I have worked and merited the leadership of my dear people, the Ijaws, for over 70 years. I was the Head Master of N.A. School, Okrika (Ofonibegha), and later became the first Head Master of Ofoni N.A. School in 1954.
Today, I am proud to say that some of my pupils in that School are Commissioners, Senators and imminent persons who have held high offices; the father of the present Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State was a senior monitor in my school in 1954. I was later appointed Head Master of the Central Native Authority School, Bomadi, in 1955, and later, as Head Master of the only Modern School in Western Ijaw at the time.
I later became Community Development Officer, and I was in charge of the whole Delta Province. I left in 1961 to the United Kingdom to study Law. I registered as a member of the Honourable Society of Inner Temple.
I returned to Nigeria in 1965. I was thereafter, appointed Commissioner for Education by Col. S.O. Ogbemudia (as he then was), the Military Governor of Midwest State. During my tenure, I increased the number of Secondary Schools in Western Ijaw Division from just one Secondary School to ten. The only Grammar School at that time was the St. Brendan College, Bomadi, owned by the Catholic Mission.
It was at my time as Commissioner of Education, that the Government of Midwest State took it over and renamed it Government College, Bomadi. The school was commissioned by Brig. Mobolaji Johnson, then Military Governor of Lagos State at a ceremony.
It may be necessary to mention here, some of the Grammar Schools I established: Gbesa Grammar School, Ozobo; Oporoza Grammar School, Patani; Mein Grammar School, Kaigbodo; Akugbene Grammar School, Akugbene; Nun Grammar School, Agbere/Odoni in Nun River; Torubeni Grammar School, Torubeni in Sagbama Creek; Ayakromo Grammar School, Ayakromo; Burutu Grammar School, Burutu, amongst others.
In addition to the establishment of Grammar Schools, I initiated a Scholarship scheme for all Ijaw female students who gained admission into tertiary institutions. Majority of the students in the various Universities in Nigeria got scholarships and bursaries. I am responsible for the establishment of the University of Benin, where I was Pro-Chancellor for 5 (five) years. Today, the Faculty of Management Sciences of that University is named after me. Having regard to the size of our towns then, I appealed to the Governor to develop three urban towns including Bomadi, Ojobo and Patani.
By the time I left as Commissioner of Finance between 1972 and 1974, I saw to it that the government was able to build a Hospital, Police Station and Catering Rest House in these three communities. It was while I was serving as Commissioner of Finance in 1974, that General Yakubu Gowon appointed me Federal Commissioner (Minister) of Information to take over from our beloved leader Chief Anthony Enahoro, a veteran politician.
Hither to my appointment into the Midwest Government as Commissioner for Education, and later Finance, there was nowhere in Western Ijaw that cars can be driven to, and that was why Governor S. O. Ogbemudia, under whom I served, established the Delta Boat Yard Company to carry people and goods to all parts of Ijaw.
I was the first Chairman of that company which had its headquarters in Warri. Later, I discovered that contrary to the wrong assertion of Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the Action Group political party, that no road could be constructed to any part of Ijaw because we were living under water, I thought that was a wrong assertion; and to prove my position, the Midwest State Government under which I served as Commissioner, built a road from Ughelli to Patani, and this was followed by the Rivers State Government under Military Governor Alfred Diette-Spiff, and Professor Lawrence Ekpebu as Commissioner of Finance, which built a road from Port Harcourt to Kaiama. The contractor was Dumez under the leadership of one Mr. Kamel. This is the precursor to the now known East-West Road.
Also, we awarded a road contract to a Greek Company called Edok Mandillas, to construct a road from Bomadi to Ojobo and from Bomadi to Gbekebo. But the Governor that succeeded Ogbemudia repeated the Awolowo theory that there was no way a road could be built to Ijaw land. At that point, work was started with late Engr. Ebikpolade Stow, as Resident Engineer in Bomadi.
Today, I am a happy man that my desire to construct roads in Western Ijaw is accomplished. One can drive from Bomadi to other parts of Ijaw. Work on the Bomadi-Ojobo Road is on-going, and very soon, by God’s grace, the road will reach Ojobo. Meanwhile cars can be driven from Bomadi to Isama. The Bomadi-Ojobo Road was later taken over by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
I am informed that one can now drive to Tuomo and beyond, while the road to Ojobo is under construction. The Ohoro-Bomadi Road from the East-West Road was also started but could not be completed before I left to become Federal Commissioner (Minister).
Today, at my old age, one can drive a car from Warri to Bomadi, and from there drive towards Isama, and to the Ojobo side. One can, therefore, imagine my joy and appreciation for the construction of the road from Sagbama-Ekeremor by Governor Henry Seriake Dickson.
It is in recognition of my service to the Ijaw nation that the Ijaws gathered together in Bomadi to confer on me a chieftaincy title by nine Ijaw Traditional Rulers led by the Pere of Kunbowei Clan, His Royal Highness, Pere Cole. I was made the Ebizonkereowei of Ijaw land. In all my services to our dear Ijaw nation, I did not seek or crave for material benefits.
I have enumerated all of the above to show that any group that do not have strong personality to represent their affairs, will be almost left out in the scheme of things.
The Ijaw nation today, more than ever before, needs people with strong character, to run for the Senate, to tackle the lingering issues, and the interest of the Ijaw nation, the Niger Delta; such issues as Restructuring, True Federalism, Resource Control, and other pertinent matters in the defense of the Ijaw interest, the South-South and indeed the country.
I make bold to declare that His Excellency, Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson, the immediate past Governor of Bayelsa State, has displayed the quintessential Ijaw virtues of honour, courage and integrity, and has never succumbed to intimidation. I believe that he would advance our cause and join other compatriots to work for a better and greater Nigeria.
As the fourth largest ethnic nationality in Nigeria, we stand to gain more by working together than by singing discordant tunes. We must, therefore, settle for the best to represent our interest at the national level.