Dickson’s politics and Bayelsa’s development (1)
There is enough in the world for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed.’’ —-Mohandas Gandhi Governor Henry Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State is a leader, who defies the familiar categorisations and typologies of Nigerian public service.
Since his swearing-in on February 14, 2012, he has always been at home with the values and sensibilities of the creeks and Bayelsa’s rural communities. But he is also comfortable in the world of wonky policymaking and urbane governance. The governor is thus as close as it gets to the archetypal twenty first century public servant.
These attributes, in conjunction with his organic involvement in the Ijaw struggle, have earned him the adulatory name of the Countryman Governor.
It is precisely this facility with the lexicons of both the haves and the have-nots, this intimate familiarity with the problems and anxieties of the diverse demographics of his state that has paradoxically become a minor political irritant for the governor; for the exhibition of such an elevated governing temperament in a political milieu of crass opportunism and party-hopping is bound to be misunderstood by those beholden to old templates of political mobilisation and governance.
Such a comprehensive political resume is unintelligible to those invested in stifling the masses and facilitating the aggrandizement of parasitic preservers of unearned privileges.
It is in the tradition of governance in Bayelsa State and in Nigeria as a whole for political elites to stake their claims on the incumbent leader and proceed to take ownership over him and his agenda, to the exclusion of the already excluded and disenfranchised, and to the detriment of the common good.
Governor Dickson’s refusal to conform to this tradition of politics and governance has endeared him to the regular citizens of Bayelsa and incurred for him the seething frustration of those who had sought and failed to own him.
This divergence of political temperament and commitment explains why some politicians in Dickson’s party, the PDP, would shamelessly dump the party that gave them relevance and visibility for the APC, which wrested power from their hero and benefactor, former President Goodluck Jonathan. In this political climate of conflicting priorities, it is understandable that the governor has become a magnet for both mass adulation and the isolated animus of a few self-interested politicians.
This has been the supreme paradox at the heart of the Dickson factor in Bayelsa, the glory of all lands. His insistence on a different kind of politics has produced a new paradigm of governance.
His desire to chart a new trajectory of probity and accountability in the governance of the state, take Bayelsa to the world and the world to Bayelsa through tourism and good governance, fortify the Ijaw nation, particularly Bayelsans, through free and compulsory education, deliver concrete developmental goods to his people through critical infrastructure, map a post-oil future for the oil-rich state through strategic investment in agriculture, wrest control from those who had stagnated the state and plunged it into insecurity for over four years, as well as his zero tolerance for corruption, crime and criminality have been the defining characters of the Dickson administration.
It is in the manner of revolutions and iconoclastic movements to generate reaction and contrapuntal narratives. Governor Dickson has faced his fair share of reactionary outbursts.
It comes with the territory of insurgent and populist approaches to exercising power, a political tendency that the governor personifies. Simply put, Dickson’s insistence on a radical, tenacious developmental strategy has pitted him against a small, convulsive political old guard, who desire a less altruistic, more elitist governing apparatus that is focused on propitiating their whims.
Faced with elite reaction on the one hand and enthusiastic reception from the masses on the other, the dilemma of offending a self-absorbed and privileged few while empowering the less privileged masses quickly dissolved. It was an easy choice for Dickson to make.
This, in a nutshell, is the story of how Governor Dickson came to simultaneously embody the developmental aspirations of the people of Bayelsa and the Ijaw nation and the reactionary impulses that such aspirations tend to elicit from people accustomed to deploying power for narrow personal and group interests.
If the governor has risked the discontent of a small section of the state’s political elite to pitch his political tent with those in acute need of opportunity, access, and social infrastructure, it is because of the push and pull of his own biography.
This biographical impulse pivots on one word: compassion. It was against this background of compassionate governance that at a time when neighbouring oil-producing states with high revenue receivables and lower wage bills could not pay salaries, the Countryman Governor reasoned beyond the box and sacrificed his security vote and allowances to pay salaries and pensions of workers at every month’s end without taking a loan for salary payment! Bayelsa being a civil service state for now, the governor reckoned that the economy would collapse if workers do not get their salaries and entitlements on time.
Dickson’s touching story of not having money to pay school fees, his chilling storyline of not sighting a vehicle until he was 18, his familiar story of joining the Nigerian police as a constable after his secondary education and his subsequent educational pursuits in the force, which propelled him to successful careers as a lawyer, activist, political mobiliser, and two-time member of the House of Representatives have fired his impatient determination to avail the youths of Bayelsa the opportunities and privileges he never had so that they would fulfill their full potential.
The story of Dickson’s rise bespeaks the possibilities that can emerge when responsible governance lends a catalytic hand to those without access to the traditional levers of privilege and power.
Like the overwhelming majority of the state’s indigenes who identify with Dickson’s governing philosophy, the governor’s appreciation for modest beginnings and the transformative power of opportunity is experiential, not theoretical.
Governor Dickson’s life story is a compelling illustration of how opportunity, when combined with hard work and tenacity, can propel one from obscurity to a place of fulfillment.
This inspirational personal story and the leadership training and mentorship he has received have become the fulcrums of his politics, the organising principle of his governing technique.
The problem is that those unable to relate to the nuances of this story because of their own personal histories, circumstances, and choices have struggled to understand what motivates the governor and what informs his philosophy of having the needs and voices of regular citizens drive the process of governance.
The question is: should the governor apologize to those with elitist pedigrees for translating the story of his personal ascendance into a coherent ideology of governance?
TO BE CONTINUED •Agbo, a journalist and public affairs analyst, lives in Yenagoa and wrote via firstname.lastname@example.org