By Victor Graham
On February 13, 2020, a landmark judgment by the Supreme Court of Nigeria sacked Chief David Lyon as the governor-elect of Bayelsa State. The five-man panel of the apex court led by Justice Mary Odili ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to withdraw the Certificate of Return issued to Lyon and present a fresh one to Senator Douye Diri as the validly elected governor of the state.
Justice Ejembi Eko, who read the lead judgment made the order to INEC after disqualifying Chief Lyon’s running mate, Senator Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo. The court upheld the November 12, 2019 judgment of the Federal High Court Abuja which disqualified Degi-Eremienyo for submitting forged certificates to INEC.
The court ruled that since Lyon and Degi-Eremienyo were on a joint ticket the disqualification of the latter had affected the ticket which they were tied to on account of winning the November 16, 2019 governorship election. Justice Eko stated that based on the issue, the All Progressive Congress (APC), which both men belonged to ought not to have participated in the governorship poll.
Just before the judgment, Chief Lyon was sighted at the Sampson Siasia Stadium having a rehearsal. His handlers had to take him to the stadium to carry out a mock parade. At intervals they were heard saying “Your Excellency smile like this, Your Excellency do like this, Your Excellency wave at us”, but it all ended in shame as he was later informed of the ugly development that has befallen him. It was a sad day for Lyon and his army of supporters, some of whom had already sewed “Asoebi” for the main day.
By that decision of the Supreme Court, Senator Diri was sworn in as the fifth democratically elected governor of Bayelsa State alongside his deputy, Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo. In his inaugural speech, Diri sued for peace, calling on all political actors in the state to put the past behind them and work for the good of the state. He said his administration will work for all irrespective of political party affiliations and interests.
“Let us eschew bitterness and acrimony, and learn to love ourselves. Whether of the same party or different parties, primarily we are brothers and sisters from Bayelsa State. If we kill ourselves who are we going to lead?
“For us, we will be magnanimous in victory. As a valentine governor and deputy, we bring you a message of love to Bayelsa State. We bring the message of hope to Bayelsa State and we bring to you all, the message of prosperity” he said.
Diri’s assurances were greeted with applause. Many believed that with his wealth of experience as a former Commissioner, Principal Executive Secretary to his predecessor, member of both the House of Representatives and Senate, he will take governance a notch higher. So much was thus expected of him, especially by those who see him as the right successor to Senator Henry Seriake Dickson. They could bet that because of his deep understanding of public service and the challenges of the Ijaw people, he will effortlessly deliver the goods.
However, there were others who held the opinion that he will be swallowed by the big shoes he was stepping into. More so, they expressed concern that Diri will be too much under the influence of Dickson, his political benefactor. Their argument again was that Diri was not prepared for the job. To them, he was foisted on the people because of the insistence of Dickson, who was more at home with him, among the other aspirants that contested for the ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), on September 3, 2019.
One year down the line, Diri has walked the talk by providing a clear-headed leadership that has endeared him to many. He has effectively mobilized the state to take a new path of peace and love. Knowing how he emerged, the governor was quick to douse the intense political tension in the state by embarking on healing and reconciliation across the eight local government areas. For instance, it is to his credit that some members of the PDP who were hitherto seen as renegades in Nembe local government and outlawed from the area due to political reasons have now had their “sins” forgiven.
Through his all-inclusive approach to governance, there are series of ongoing collaborations between his government and notable opposition leaders in the state like the Minister for State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva that has seen some federal presence in the state.
To buttress this point, in June last year, Diri led his government to the ground-breaking of a permanent 200-bed Emergency and Infectious Diseases Hospital for the South-South located in Yenagoa. The facility when completed will offer general medical services to the public as well as a disease control center and a diagnostic laboratory.
Shortly after that in August, Diri and Sylva at a virtual event kick-started the longtime dream of the people of Oloibiri, the historic community where oil was first discovered in 1956 with the plan to establish an Oil and Gas Museum and Research Center there. The symbolic project was launched with the inauguration of key project committees and the setting up of delivery timelines. Sylva said the project is a unique opportunity to correct a historical oversight, while Diri assured that his government will provide the enabling environment for its success and sustenance.
The existing cordial relationship between Sylva and Diri which has trickled down to their supporters came as a surprise to many. Diri’s predecessor and Sylva were sworn enemies. They seized every opportunity to attack each other in the media and their feud was usually heightened during elections. It was natural to think that Diri will continue in that trajectory but he has chosen to be his own man.
In fact, whenever necessary Diri showers encomium on Sylva. At a recent grand reception for Sylva by his kinsmen in Okpoama, Brass local government, Diri who spoke through his Chief of Staff, Chief Benson Agadaga described the minister as a blessing to Bayelsa state and the Niger Delta.
Such mutual conviviality has brought about political stability in the state and has attracted more politicians who had left the PDP in the wake of the 2019 governorship election to return. Only recently, a former Nigerian Ambassador to Venezuela, Senator Felix Oboro led his supporters and other stalwarts of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Young Democratic Party (YDP), back to the PDP.
As a deliberate plan, the governor has invested heavily in infrastructure to stimulate the state’s economy and boost its revenue. Aside from the award of contracts for the rehabilitation of internal roads in the state capital, which he released the sum of N1 billion, work is ongoing on the Yenagoa/Oporoma road, Sagbama/Ekeremor road, the Igbogene/AIT ring road, phase 2 of the Gloryland drive road, the Immiringi and Elebele bridge, etc. These critical investments will further open the state and make it more accessible.
Bayelsa has become a beehive of construction activities. Last Thursday the governor performed series of groundbreaking events which included the multi-billion naira Bayelsa Media House located along Azikoro road. The over N1.8 billion naira project will house the state’s media outfits like the Niger Delta Television, Glory FM (Radio Bayelsa), and the newspaper corporation. The media house when completed will make for easy access and administration of the three media organizations.
Diri’s giant strides in the last one year can be better appreciated when viewed from an unbiased lens. For ten months the governor was faced with series of litigations aimed at distracting him from delivering on his mandate. Several court cases were instituted by sponsored politicians who were bent on removing him from office but at the end he triumphed, affirming his sobriquet, ”Miracle Governor”.
It is also a good point to note that less than two months after he took over, the novel coronavirus hit the country, and Bayelsa was not spared. However, the governor’s commitment has so far made the state to be among the least impacted, and one of the states in the country with the best innovations and control over the pandemic.
Despite those daunting challenges which include a depleted purse caused mainly by an unstable economy, Diri has managed to navigate his way, providing the right leadership that has also brought hope of a secured future for Bayelsa state. For those who disagree with some of the loans he has obtained, the governor had clearly stated that the loans are with minimal interests and meant for the development of Agriculture which his government is investing massively so as to diversify the state’s mono-economy.
Governor Diri’s prosperity agenda has also been greatly felt by retirees. With the prompt payment of what is due them, he has renewed hope that those who serve the state will not go sorrowing. Since he assumed office, he placed the payment of pensions and gratuities as a top priority and till date he has met that obligation.
In a joint statement by the state chapter of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Nigeria Union of Pensioners, the labour unions said “Since the current administration came on board, we have experienced consistency in the payment of the monthly pension, implementation of the approved 33% pension harmonization from January 2020 as well as the release of payment for gratuity and death benefits to pensioners. We wish to express our profound gratitude to Governor Douye Diri and his deputy, Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo”.
Regardless of the achievements of Diri, some of his critics believe that he could have done better. They are not convinced that the governor has met the expectations of the people. To them, the much talked about miracle and prosperity has not been felt. Some of them believe that Diri’s slow start showed that he was never prepared. They recalled that it took him about six months to set up his cabinet and yet most of those appointed were recycled hands. The governor’s critics believe that some commissioners in the cabinet have no business there. They are of the view that to make his administration stand out, he would have opted for technocrats rather than the selective appointment that was clearly done to patronize his predecessor. Part of their grouse is that youth and women representation is grossly inadequate in the state executive council.
Diri has also come under attack for his handling of the Tombia roundabout project. The governor had announced last year that a flyover will be constructed to ease the congestion there and allow for free flow of traffic but made a u-turn and opted for just an expansion of that axis of the state capital. Even though the ongoing remodelling has given the place a facelift, the question many are asking is what happened to the proposed flyover?
A public affairs commentator, Dr. Conrad Ekiyor Welson on a recent radio programme monitored in Yenagoa said the much talked about prosperity only exists in the imagination of the government. He lamented that one year after, Bayelsans have not prospered in any way and it is visible across the eight local government areas of the state. He said what is obvious is the level of monumental poverty that is biting hard on the people.
Dr. Conrad Welson also expressed worry over the level of insecurity in the state. He said the people live in fear because of the activities of cultists and other criminal elements that are on a rampage on a daily basis. He blamed the situation on the government’s lack of preparedness to tackle the issue, which ordinarily is their primary responsibility. He noted that at 8 pm, most of the streets are empty because of the nefarious activities of petty thieves.
According to him
“Bayelsa state is still very backward in terms of governance. This present government has not lived up to expectations despite the huge allocations it has received since it came on board. The talk that covid-19 affected its take-off plans is not acceptable. There is no time government anywhere does not have money to work with but the problem is how those funds are channeled. So, where is the money the government has been receiving, and what have they been using it for”?
Human rights activist and member of the Civil Liberty Organization (CLO), Comrade David West, said Diri like his predecessor has surrounded himself with sycophants and praise singers who are not telling him the truth. He explained that it is shameful that the governor’s aides will count the rehabilitation of internal roads as his achievements. He said by such evaluation they have reduced governance to nothing.
“Douye Diri has performed abysmally in the last one year. I score him very low and it is sad that they are celebrating one year anniversary. There is actually nothing to celebrate. People should tell him the truth and not lying to him all the time. Look at the internal roads they are counting as an achievement, it’s all substandard. Go to Saptex road, Okaka road, and the others you will see the terrible work going on. This is the same internal roads that the sum of N1 billion was said to have been earmarked for. It’s just a joke”, he said.
A resident of Yenagoa, Mr. Ebi Waribo said Diri has spent half of his one year in office moving from one church to the other. He said he has allowed the name “miracle governor” to overwhelm him. While accepting that it is important to offer thanks to God in everything, he said the governor has been drowned with that spiritual supplication.
“The man is using church, church to cover his lapses. At the last count he has gone to about 20 different churches in the last one year. We are not saying don’t give thanks, we all do as Christians but it is not at the expense of other things and God knows too. Every time him and his deputy will be jumping and dancing as if they are doing acrobatics. All that should stop. We need serious development not what we are seeing”.