NIGERIA – Is Change Coming For Bayelsa? By Tabia Princewill

When the King of Saudi Arabia passed away last year, what interested me most in the news reports were the images of Saudi streets, infrastructure and people. Saudi Arabia is not a democracy. In fact, many of the rights and freedoms the modern world has come to take for granted are not guaranteed in Saudi.



When the King of Saudi Arabia passed away last year, what interested me most in the news reports were the images of Saudi streets, infrastructure and people. Saudi Arabia is not a democracy. In fact, many of the rights and freedoms the modern world has come to take for granted are not guaranteed in Saudi. Yet, the country invests in its people and society.


Education is free and the basic health care needs of children are catered for. Here is a country that used its oil wealth creatively and audaciously to prepare its citizens to compete in the global economy. It is most ironic, and a keen example of what political scientists refer to as the “oil curse” that despite being rich in oil, the Niger Delta has not seen much development for its people. Is this the fault of the federal government or of state governments who have managed resources poorly? Based on your party affiliation, the answer would be different. Traditionally, the Niger Delta has been a grouping of PDP states, led by PDP governors (also, please note, from the Niger Delta). So the rhetoric (if we wish to call it so) once embraced by the Jonathans and their friends, whereby Hausa and Yoruba led federal governments did not allow the development of the Niger Delta by basically taking its oil and doing nothing for its people, forgets the fact that Niger Deltan governors also played a part in mismanaging and impoverishing their states. So now that Bayelsans prepare for another gubernatorial election, is change possibly upon us?


I wonder why more Niger Deltans, or Nigerians from all over this country who are watching as observers, are not asking candidates of either party to explain (and not just make vague commitments) exactly how they wish to achieve their state’s developmental goals. One of the APC candidates during the recently concluded primary was Timi Alaibe, the former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Corporation (NDDC). Based on this agency’s poor performance over the years and the lack of any real progress or noticeable development in many states of the Niger Delta, despite, in fact, one of its own “sons” attaining the Presidency, one must really ask and wonder how change can come to this region if its best are not allowed to compete and contest for its top offices.


The name Timi Alaibe is one which comes with multiple allegations of corruption. The NDDC itself is an agency foreign partners are reluctant to work with due to its murky dealings, so one wonders on what record Mr Alaibe’s decision to run for governor, came. As for the candidate who claims he was chosen during an all but clear cut primary, marred in violence and shady dealings, he is a former governor of the state, Timipreye Sylva. Encouraged by our very Nigerian forgetfulness, it is possible that like much of the political elite (think of an IBB who once thought he could come back as a democratically elected president), he believes no one truly remembers the allegations and rumors surrounding his time in office, which ultimately led to his impeachment. Much like in Rivers state, where Nyesom Wike reportedly used brute force and the history of violent electoral outings within the state (dating from the days of Peter Odili) to emerge victorious, Sylva encouraged by his ex fellow PDP party man, Ayo Fayose, probably believes that a win for him is a sure thing. After all, if the people of Ekiti could forget what prompted Fayose’s impeachment, the people of Bayelsa can probably forget what led to Sylva’s ousting from office. Except that there’s a new sheriff in town and this time, things must be different.


I once attended a party meeting at which party delegates were present and it was truly, sadly, nothing to write home about. Instead of discussions on the candidate’s programme, he was there, after all, to convince delegates to vote for him, we ate and sang a lot. Did delegates from both APC and PDP involved in their party’s primaries, ask candidates about their plans for security in the state? Kidnapping seems to be back with a bang virtually all over the country with Vanguard columnist Donu Kogbara and former presidential candidate Olu Falae being snatched with ease. Can Bayelsa become a hub for education, agriculture (or fishing) or even financial activity? What exactly are Sylva, Alaibe or Dickson’s plans for the state? What are their plans to tackle corruption within the state? Or perhaps some might find this last question laughable.


In 2012 Singapore was named the world’s fifth least corrupt country according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI). “Corruption [in Singapore] is a fact of life rather than a way of life. Put differently, corruption exists in Singapore, but Singapore is not a corrupt society” (Professor John S.T. Quah, expert on Asian corruption and governance issues). How do we achieve this in not just Nigeria, but particularly, the Niger Delta? How would the Niger Delta rank if it were to be considered a small country? Environmental degradation and corruption go hand in hand in the Niger Delta, fueling conflict by robbing people of legitimate opportunities to earn a livelihood. Beyond the primaries marred in violence, what about the deeper structural issues keeping Bayelsa, Rivers etc. impoverished? When do we get to analyze those? The polity is rich in politicians and poor in policy makers who have actually studied how countries (or states) work and how other nations were able to fix certain problems.


I’m not currently in Bayelsa but I doubt, because I’ve seen elections in other parts of the country, that state lawmakers will campaign based on their ideas for the fresh set of laws needed to protect Bayelsans. Everyone in the Niger Delta has also, seemingly, been very quiet about the amnesty programme. I suppose there are too many issues in our country today to keep up with each one on a weekly basis but it is still shocking that an election is scheduled to hold in a part of our country and no real discourse is being held to debate the issues at stake. On the subject of the amnesty programme, analysts say it has been wrecked by corruption: many of the militants who gave up their arms in exchange for training and employment assistance have still not received it. Government Ekpemupolo aka Tompolo and the Movement of the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) have worked hard to “emancipate” themselves from poverty by profiting from the amnesty deals but haven’t quite carried along the rest of the society with them. The Jonathans gave militants government contracts but failed to empower the ordinary man from the Niger Delta with the goods and services they deserve as Nigerian citizens. So, besides providing amnesty to cultists (which Dickson did in 2013) one wonders what is on the cards for the people of Bayelsa, in an election that is going widely unnoticed.


Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.







Sahara Reporters (Nigeria)