OPINION: Two Years After, It’s Dancing Time In Diri’s Bayelsa.
By Mike Ebonugwo
Thursday, February 10, 2022 was a day of joy for the people of the Igbedi community in Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area of Bayelsa State.
And to demonstrate their feeling in this regard they had put on their dancing shoes and trooped to the venue of the inauguration of the newly constructed 4.5km Igbedi community road.
Before this time, Igbedi shared with Angiama, a riverine community in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area, the misfortune of being inaccessible by road. Before help came their way, residents of the ancient community relied mainly on the only available earth road that even the ubiquitous motorbikes found very difficult to ply, especially during the rainy season.
So, to celebrate their liberation from this long-term suffering, they came out on D-Day in their numbers, all beautifully attired: women, men, youths, children. And waxing lyrical, they sang and danced with joyful abandon while chanting praises for the man they called their Miracle and Prosperity Governor, Senator Douye Diri and waving placards in his support and honour. For them, he is the modern day Moses who God had sent to deliver them from their predicament and suffering of many years.
Indeed, when on February 14, 2021, Governor Diri flagged off construction of the Igbedi road, many of them thought that the day of its completion and commissioning would never come. But to their great delight, the day finally came. So, as Governor Diri and his special guest, Seyi Makinde, governor of Oyo State who did the honour of cutting the tape, took turns to speak on the significance of the moment there were resounding cheers from an elated and grateful gathering made up of different women and youth groups.
Among the most conspicuous of these were the Miracle Boys and Miracle Girls, obviously so-named in honour of Governor Diri. According to Sylvia Atikpa, a member of the Miracle Girls: “We are here today to express appreciation to our Miracle Governor for this road that has been commissioned today. We the people of Kolokuma/Opokuma and all Bayelsans are happy today because for years there was no road to this community. It has been like that even before I was born. Before this road was constructed we could only travel by boat. There was no other way to come to Yenagoa. But now thanks to our miracle governor our travelling problem is now over”.
Douye Josephine Yalah, spokesperson of a women group that sang and danced all through the event had this to say: “It is a thing of joy to witness the commissioning of this road. This is a special day for us. Before the governor constructed this road we could only come here after crossing the water by boat which is very expensive as it may cost you at least N2000. But now it’s safer, cheaper and faster. Before the road we usually would spend two to three hours travelling from Igbedi to Yenagoa. Now, it takes 20 minutes to make the same journey and it may cost you less than N500. So, people can now come and go without stress.”
For those who don’t know, the commissioning of the Igbedi community road was one of several activities marking the second year anniversary of the Diri administration. Other projects completed by the administration and inaugurated were the Bayelsa Mega Media Complex housing the state radio and television stations as well as the newspaper corporation; the Bayelsa Health Insurance Scheme complex; lecture halls and laboratories at the Bayelsa Medical University; the Igbogene-Okarki road; transport terminal building, the New Yenagoa City link bridge and access roads; Elebele Bridge and the Nembe Unity Bridge which collapsed during the crisis between the Ogulamanbiri and Basambiri communities.
Other activities included groundbreaking ceremonies of the Smart Learning Centre housing the Diri Industrial Skill and Entrepreneurial Training Centre and that of the new commissioners’ quarters as well as flag-off of the dry season farming in the state and a made-in-Bayelsa agric expo.
Prominent personalities who graced the anniversary celebrations and projects inauguration included former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, the Peoples Democratic, PDP, chairman Iyorchia Ayu; Governor Makinde and his PDP counterparts: Udom Emmanuel (Akwa Ibom), Chief Nyesom Wike (Rivers), Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta); Senator Bala Mohammed (Bauchi) and chairman of the PDP Governors Forum, Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto) as well as Diri’s immediate predecessor, Senator Seriake Dickson.
Two years ago, precisely on February 14, 2020, Senator Douye Diri was sworn in as the Bayelsa State governor. Remarkably the signifance of this day, much like his miraculous emergence as governor, was not lost on the people of the state as they soon began to see him as their Valentine governor who has come to usher joy and love in the state. And two years after, the people and government of Bayelsa State have cause to roll out the drums to celebrate the significant accomplishments of an administration ably steered by Diri whom they proudly describe as a Miracle and Prosperity Governor.
Activities for the two-week anniversary celebration began on February 7, climaxing on February 19 when Vice President Yemi Osinbajo performed the historic flag-off of the bridge constructed to link Oporoma headquarters of the Southern Ijaw Local Government Area from Angiama Community on the Yenagoa-Oporoma road. Indeed, a visit to Yenagoa, the state capital, tells the story. The story line is that of a governor who had for the past two years been quietly but steadfastly working to change the development narrative of the 25-year-old Bayelsa State.
And after taking stock of the various sectors such as infrastructure to education, health, sports, youth and women empowerment, human capacity development, urban renewal, promotion of peace, reconciliation and unity as well as worker-friendly policies, the verdict in many quarters is that the governor has so far largely succeeded in etching his name in bold letters of a miracle achiever. Indeed at the various events during the celebrations, the governor received loud votes of confidence for his performance so far. This was particularly the case during the thanksgiving service at the Bayelsa State Ecumenical Centre on Monday February 14, where Dr. Jonathan, Ayu, Diri’s fellow PDP governors and other prominent personalities present took turns to shower praises on him for a job well done in governing the state.
But given the many challenges that dogged his state during the period, how was he able to achieve all that were credited to him? Speaking during an interview he had modestly submitted thus: “In spite of the odds that we faced occasioned by the COVID-19 and down turn of the economy, the little that we have achieved have been a source of joy to the people. I think to a large extent God has been faithful to us because we have done something reasonable and I think we should be proud of what we have been able to achieve so far.”
But to do this, he had to first unite his people. “When I came in, my immediate challenge was to first unite the people by preaching peace, by offering the olive branch because… there was too much of bitterness in the political system of the state; there was too much of hatred. My immediate concern was peace. I don’t know who was APC and who was PDP. I was prepared to work with all manner of people and political parties provided it’s for the security and stability of our state. I was also determined to continue with the projects I met on ground. So some of the projects we have done were initiated by the previous government. We have completed some of them, not all of them, and also adding some new ones,” he informed.
But for many who visited the state during the celebrations, it was indeed surprising that within two years the Diri administration had 20 projects to showcase by way of commissioning apart from those for flag-off. Among the ones visited by Vanguard are the Isaac Boro Road (second phase), the 89km Sagbama-Ekeremor Road, the 38km Yenagoa-Oporoma Road and the 22km Elebele-Igbogene Ring Road, which first phase from Igbogene-Okarki is ready has since been inaugurated.
According to his Chief Press Secretary, Dan Alabrah: “The governor inherited uncompleted key projects from past administrations. In his wisdom, he reasoned that state resources had been spent on such projects and that it was proper not to abandon them to immediately begin new projects. For instance, phase two of the Glory Drive Road from Igbogene to Onopa, where the Government House is located, was started during the Timipre Sylva administration.
Very little was done on the road before he left office in 2012 after five years.
“When former Governor Seriake Dickson took over in 2012, the administration could not continue the project due to litigation issues arising from disagreements with the contractor. So, for another eight years, the project was stalled.
But upon entering the saddle, Governor Diri not only succeeded in clearing the litigation bottleneck he also ensured work resumed. Now it is one of his administration’s big-ticket projects to be inaugurated before his first term ends.”
There were also other big-ticket projects from the immediate past administration which the Diri government is continuing.
Another standout project that the Diri administration inherited and has also put in huge funds as part of its continuity policy is the Bayelsa International Airport. The facility was constructed and inaugurated by the Dickson administration before it left office in February 2020. However, it was under the new administration that the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, certified the airport and granted the operational licence in April 2021. Courtesy of the Diri administration, flight operations commenced with an inaugural flight of the United Nigeria Airline touching down at the airport on August 11 last year. On February 8, 2022, Ibom Air became the second airline to commence commercial operations with its inaugural flight landing at the airport.
To enable night-time flights at the airport, the Diri administration has procured Instrument Landing System, ILS, and other required equipment. It had earlier undertaken the construction of the airport’s perimeter fencing, a condition that the NCAA insisted upon even though there were other considerations for delaying the operational licence.