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OPINION: Seriake Dickson: The long knives defy Coronavirus

By Steve Nwosu

In this season of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is almost impossible to discuss anything else outside of Corona virus. It’s is either we’re talking about the health and demographic implications of how the virus is aggressively depleting the world’s human population, or we’re engrossed in the resultant economic cul de sac that has unleashed pandemic hunger. Or the socio-political standstill that is now threatening to spark off political upheavals.

Unfortunately, even in polities, like the United States of America, which has impending presidential election round the corner, and where it has become a most insensitive aberration to discuss anything else outside of Covid-19, politicians still find a way to throw politics into the mix.
That probably explains why everything President Donald Trump says and does on this Covid-19 challenge seems to be with an eye on how it affect his chances in the next presidential election.

As our people say, the person who is in tears still endeavours to keep one eye on the road along which he’s walking (person wey dey cry dey see road).
This, also, probably explains why, in spite of the coronavirus crisis, the people of Ondo, Edo and Bayelsa states, where governorship elections and national assembly bye elections are respectively scheduled to hold soon after the Covid-19 huddle, are presently keeping their eyes on two balls. But I’ll get to that later.

With nearly 30 years of journalism practice under my belt, I dare say, with every sense of modesty, that I have met quite a few politicians – many of them at close range. I’ve met a few saints, plenty sinners, and a handful of tax collectors – all posturing as political leaders.
I dare say that there are only a few I can stick out my neck to call my friends and/or role models. And this is not because they are perfect, but that on a scale, they tower above the rest in terms of shared passions – especially, love for country and humanity. One person that clearly fits into the last category is Rt. Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson, immediate past governor of Bayelsa State.

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Understandably, therefore, “The Seriake Dickson I know” was my original title for this piece. But I decided against it, on the ground that it could be mistaken for a biography, which it is not. Rather, it is a spontaneous reaction to the recent spike in the magnitude of seemingly deliberate efforts to stand truth on its head, in order to sustain a false narrative, for what is clearly a selfish political goal. A narrative originated, sponsored, and sustained by people who, ordinary, should (and do) know better.

These twisters of the truth are probably the people that Philip Delves Broughton, author of the bestselling ‘What They Teach You at Harvard’, had in mind in his other bestseller, ‘Life’s a Pitch’, when he wrote:
 “To excel at sales means you possess a power over people that can easily be misused. Put a formidable salesman together with a hateful idea, and you could end up with the Nuremberg rallies. Casanova turned his persuasive talents to deflowering nuns.

Mahatma Gandhi used his to argue for the principle of nonviolence. Bill Clinton sold his way into the White House and out of a sexual scandal that might have sunk a lesser persuader. The Dalai Lama is a highly conscious manipulator of his message and style, depending on which audience he wishes to win over”.

Though writing in another clime and time, Broughton succinctly captures the desperation of a certain political tendency in Bayelsa to rewrite the history of the state, and forcibly obliterate the indelible footprints of the last administration in the state, superintended over by Dickson. And they have been persistent.
Ahead of last November’s governorship election in the state, a false narrative  was smuggled into the national discourse as to what was happening in the politics of the oil-rich state, which, until that moment had had 20 unbroken years of PDP rule.

With the benefit of hindsight, it is now safe to conclude that the said narrative was deliberately concocted to create a justification for what was to come. And what was to come? The APC, having resolved to capture Bayelsa by all means possible, and working with an army of turncoats and fifth columnists within the PDP, needed to create the impression that the PDP in Bayelsa was divided; that the state was available for the taking; that APC was on ground; that many party leaders in the state were unhappy (actually, angry) with the outgoing Governor Dickson.

Their major grouse, it was bandied, was that Dickson imposed Senators  Duoye Diri and Lawrence Ewrujakpor as flag bearer  and running mate respectively. That Mr. Timi Alaibe, who returned to the party on the eve of party primaries, was rigged out of the ticket.
With these, and several other concocted tales, as well as the Abuja-induced decampments from the party, the plan was to create the impression that PDP was too divided to successfully prosecute the governorship election, and therefore, prepare the ground for the massive rigging out of the ruling party in the state, a plot which had seemingly been perfected from Abuja.

With a limitless flow of cash, backed by a full compliment of the federal-controlled  security forces, a generous supply of roughnecks from amongst  the deliberately re-empowered militants, and a malleable electoral umpire, the rampaging army had its way, completed the coup de grace, and seized power.
However, its celebrations were cut short by the proverbial death which kills a man on the day his life is sweetest to him, as the Supreme Court struck – with less than 24 hours to the inauguration of APC’s David Lyon as the new governor of Bayelsa.

The apex court ruled that the APC governorship ticket had an unacceptable K-leg. That there was a thick haze over the true identity of the man with whom Lyon prosecuted the election as Running Mate. And the APC house of cards suddenly collapsed.

By some divine intervention, Dickson and his Restoration Team retrieved the mandate which had literally been stolen from them.
But the fear of Dickson remains mortally engraved in the psyche of his political adversaries. The man they had hoped to consign to political oblivion has refused to so vanish – especially with the re-emergence of his PDP as the ruling party in Bayelsa.

Now, as the state awaits the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to kick-start the bye-election to fill the two senate seats vacated by Diri and Ewrudjakpor, the long knives have again come out of their sheath. Again, the target is Dickson, who is expected to run for one of the seats. The boost a senatorial seat could do to the already intimidating national profile of Dickson is what his opponents don’t even want to contemplate. So, they have gone back to the trenches to stop him.

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This renewed Stop-Dickson campaign is best captured in a recent article on OPERA NEWS authored by the respected Ikeddy Isiguzo. With a rather suggestive caption, CORONA VIRUS DELAYS CORONATION OF SERIAKE DICKSON AS NEW OWNER OF BAYELSA, the article is an unmasked effort to project Dickson as the puppeteer of the new regime in Yenagoa.

It seems ultimately aimed at not only ensuring the immediate past governor enjoys no leverage from the fact that members of his Restoration team are still holding the levers of power in Bayelsa, but to also as a power mongering autocrat who should be banished from the state. That should be enough to rile every self-respecting, freedom-loving Bayelsan to ensure Dickson is stopped.
Incidentally, OPERA NEWS piece is a classic case of what Shakespeare’s Macbeth dismissed as “a tale told by an idiot… full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

At best, what the article does is to pick up all the pieces of falsehood bandied about by the opposition, in the run-up to the November gubernatorial election, and assembe them into a very beautiful prose. Either by commission or omission, there was no effort to verify any of the allegations therein.
The slim possibility that solicitous article was not a paid-for hatchet job, and that the writer might have naively believed his ‘facts’ to be true, forms the basis for this response. For, as the sages say, a lie told over and over, without a counter narrative, soon adorns the garb of truth.

While it is practically pointless re-educating author on all his faulty assumptions and off-the-mark conclusions, addressing one or two of the issues raised therein will suffice, especially as they pertain to the ridiculous assertion that there’s nothing on ground to show for Dickson’s eight years as governor.
When Dickson took over the steering wheels of the Bayelsa ship of state in 2012, the whole of Bayelsa had no secondary school with boarding facilities. By the time he was leaving office, eight years after, there were 15 model boarding schools, some 400 primary and secondary schools had been rehabilitated – several of them, with new structures and staff quarters added. Primary and secondary education had become free, with uniforms, textbooks, notebooks and stationery provided by government.

he exiting tertiary education scholarship regime, especially for Masters and Doctoral programmes was sustained and expanded, an education trust fund and loan scheme was put in place. A medical university came on stream, alongside the University of Africa, Toru-Orua and the Adaka Boro College of Education.

dd all that to the novel health insurance scheme, the construction and equipping of Specialist Hospital in Yenagoa and the rehabilitation of the Niger Delta University Teaching Hospital and the primary health centres sited in virtually all communities, and you have probably the most deliberate and articulated human capital development initiative in contemporary Nigeria.

The result, therefore, is that Dickson could have left office with his head held high, on that score alone.
But that is only a tip of the iceberg of legacy that eight years of the Countryman Governor bequeathed toBayelsa – in two terms that were as transformational as they were phenomenal. Eight years which set the standards in accountability and prudent management of resources, in infrastructure development, massive road construction, ideological focus and restoration of the pride and culture of the Izon nation.

There is hardly enough space, in one article, to fully capture such landmarks as the Multi-door Court House in Yenagoa, the internal roads, the Ijaw Heroes Park, the implementation of the Yenagoa City Masterplan (a plan which had been in the cooler since 2007), the massive infrastructure development in Greater Yenagoa, the bridges, the flyovers, the road dualization projects, the ecumenical centre, the erosion control projects, the restoration of peace, taming of militancy and crime, as well as the opening up of Bayelsa for investments.

As for politicking, the story of Jonathan and Dickson, and who has helped the other’s political ascendancy more would be better told by both men, and not by fair-weather political opportunists. But it would be expedient to note that many of those who turned round to accuse Dickson of denying Alaibe the ticket not only voted against the former NDDC boss at the primaries, but also threatened to work against Dickson and the party if he gave the ticket to Alaibe.

For many of them therefore, their eventual decampment might have been fueled more by pecuniary expediency than principle.
Yes, Dickson is the first governor to complete two terms in Bayelsa, but his legacy projects are also a testimony to unparalleled development, of which the cargo airport is a stand-out. The airport project was such a huge success that the APC was said to be uncomfortable with its completion just before the guber poll, that it pulled every string to ensure that President Buhari did not commission it as planned.

That was when all the strange tales about flooded runway, security, fencing were thrown into the mix. Needless to say, however, that even as the federal government was making a huge fuss over the uncompleted airport fence in Yenagoa, the international airport in nearby Port Harcourt, Rivers State, had operated for about 30 years, as an international airport, without a fence. Furthermore, Nigerian aviation authorities were all involved in, and certifying every stage of work of, the airport construction, until it suddenly got to the commissioning stage. Curious!

Of course, there is no point going into other ground-breaking projects in infrastructure, agriculture, health and education, where the Ijaw National Academy stands out for posterity. Yours sincerely had the privilege of attending an even at the school, when the trio of Prof. Wole Soyinka, Prof. Alagoa, and John Pepper Clark interacted with the students. I recall goose pimples pouring out on my skin as I listened to one of the female students sing Whitney Houston’s Greatest Love of All.

The only thing Dickson didn’t do was probably to invest in violence, and that was what gave those who sought to oust his tendency from Creek Haven the edge. His other shortcoming is his tight-fistedness, and refusal to share money, which earned him quite a few enemies in high places. Yes, my friend Dickson is ‘stingy’, which explains why many of us his friends are still scraping for a living, despite having our friend in government house for eight years. But that does not change the fact that he remains the best governor Bayelsa has had so far – and the evidence is there, both in concrete tangibles and the intangibles.

As for those seeking to distort history and secure power through the back door, I urge them go face Dickson in a free and fair election, and see why he’s called Ofurumapepe (the great white shark that dominates its environment).