If purposeful leadership is about promoting the general good and wellbeing of citizens, Bayelsa State Governor, Douye Diri, might well have stamped an indelible imprint on his state, writes Daniel Alabrah, Chief Press Secretary to the state governor:
Within just two years of assuming the reins of governance of the state, Bayelsa State Governor, Senator Douye Diri, has remained stoic in his avowed commitment to changing the developmental landscape of the 25-year-old state.
From tangible and intangible 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 governor continues to etch his name in bold letters.
That Bayelsa today enjoys an endearing atmosphere of peace is not happenstance. On February 14, 2020, while taking the oath of office, the affable Diri gave inkling into how he would govern the state. The Valentine’s Day Governor began by preaching love, reconciliation and unity.
Two years after, he has kept faith with this creed and has engendered healing across the land.
Speaking during the 64th State Executive Council meeting on February 2, 2022, he said: “Bayelsa is one of the most peaceful and secure states in Nigeria, and everybody feels it.
“Our state is moving away from the old fashion of politics. Today, the two leading political parties in Bayelsa can wine and dine together. This administration has come up with policies that encourage political parties to be at peace with themselves.
“Most of what we do transcend political parties. Everybody has come to the realisation that politics or not, party or no party, we are first of all brothers and sisters, one and the same.
“So, I like to use this forum to commend politicians across the parties, particularly those of the APC (All Progressives Congress) and PDP extraction. I give thumbs up to both parties for the brotherliness and for exhibiting maturity in the politics of our dear state.”
The Bayelsa helmsnan’s calmness is easily noticeable. He is never rattled despite the governance challenges he confronts daily. But behind this evident calm disposition is the steeliness and inspiring confidence of a military General marshalling his troops in battle.
Not a man of many words, he is not given to loudness about his accomplishments. He spoke about a recent conversation he had with a friend, who said to him that he had done so much in such a short period but refuses to blow his trumpet. He said his response was: “Noise-making does not translate to impact.”
Often, when reminded that he had embarked on an infrastructure revolution that had turned the state into a construction site, he also unassumingly responds: “I prefer to be silent about it. At the appropriate time, my achievements will speak.” That time seems to be now!
Indeed, not many Bayelsans, within and outside, believed that Governor Diri could effect a radical change in the state’s developmental narrative. Assuming office at a time the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the world with its disruptive effect on governance, for some it was a fait accompli for him.
So, when the government announced that it would inaugurate up to 20 projects as well as flag-off some others to mark its second anniversary, the surprise, particularly from the opposition and cynics that never gave the governor a chance, was expected. Many wanted to know how this was accomplished in only one year, including those who had believed the mischievous tales of the opposition that the government had nothing to show after two years in office. When the reality dawned on them that this was real, the narrative changed to the governor was going to inaugurate uncompleted and substandard projects. However, for Governor Diri, the surprise element was a potent, well-aimed weapon to wrong-foot cynics and pessimists. And it perfectly hit the bull’s eye.
The governor has an ambitious developmental agenda for the state but does not engage in frivolity and wasteful spending. He is conservative when it comes to preserving the resources of the state. One of the areas he has ensured prudence in managing state funds is in infrastructure.
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 but also ensured work resumed. Now it is one of his administration’s big-ticket projects to be inaugurated before his first term ends.
Other big-ticket projects that the Diri government has ensured continuity from the immediate past administration include 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 for inauguration during the second anniversary.
One other 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.
Apart from the aforementioned, the newly constructed 4.5km Igbedi community road in Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area was built from the scratch and completed for inauguration on February 10.
Also, 18 out of 20 new internal roads in the capital city of Yenagoa have been constructed in the last one year while 51 other internal roads were rehabilitated during the period.
The ancient communities of Igbedi in Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area and Angiama in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area have something in common. Both riverine communities were not accessible by road till the coming of the Diri administration.
On February 14, 2021, Diri flagged off construction of the Igbedi road, opening up the rustic community that had only an earth road as its access. During the rainy season, the community folk are cut off as even motorbikes are unable to ply the road.
The other access point was by boat through Sabagreia community, also in Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area. But whether by motorbike or boat, the transport cost was a huge burden on the indigenes as it was high. It is even higher if your destination is Yenagoa, the state capital.
Igbedi bore the unpleasant tag of being the only community in Kolokuma/Opokuma that was inaccessible by road. That was the experience of the indigenes for decades till the Diri government put smile on their faces with the completion and inauguration of the 4.5km road project.
Angiama’s experience is similar. The community on the banks of the River Nun could only be accessed by boat until the Yenagoa-Oporoma road project got to it recently. Still under construction, the Bayelsa Central Senatorial District road project, which is a federal government project on the drawing board for over five decades, was inherited from the immediate past administration that began it in order to ease the suffering of the people of Southern Ijaw. Their headquarters, one of the oldest and largest in Nigeria, like many other communities in the council area, is only accessible by boat. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo will flag off the construction of a bridge to link the council headquarters, Oporoma, at Angiama as part of the second anniversary activities.
During an inspection of the project recently, the governor had a pleasant surprise when he made a brief stop at the entrance of the community. In spontaneous reaction, virtually every Angiama resident, young and old, trooped out to welcome him with singing, dancing and prayers for him and his administration.
Their joy is understandable. Before the project got there, they only saw vehicles perhaps either on television, in books or whenever they come out of their village.
The governor has built solid bridges that have endeared him to the people. The Unity Bridge (as it is called) connects the Nembe people of Ogbolomabiri and Bassambiri in Nembe Local Government Area of the state. It got damaged several years ago at the height of a protracted dispute between both communities. The rift was so deep that the communities could not even agree on rebuilding the strategic route that bonded them.
On February 12, 2021 during his first anniversary, the governor equally inaugurated a new bridge constructed by the administration in Imiringi community, also in Ogbia council.
Focus on Education, Vocational and Technical Skills
The Diri administration is shifting focus from certificate education and paper qualifications to development of vocational and technical skills as well as science education. It believes in adequately empowering its young population with the required skills either in Information Communication Technology (ICT) or vocational skills with the aim of making them ‘techpreneurs’ or self-reliant entrepreneurs.
To this end, the Ministry of Communication, Science and Technology initiated the Diri Digital Entrepreneurship Empowerment Programme (DDEEP) under which 8,000 persons from the eight local government areas of the state would be trained to acquire ICT skills. Out of the initial 4,700 applicants, 50 of them, also from the eight councils, were selected for a three-month pilot scheme that commenced in November last year.
Another area the Diri administration has made remarkable impact is in the education sector. As a former school teacher, the governor is clear-headed about the direction he wants the state’s educational sector to go. His administration is steering the state on this path through some radical policy changes in the school system.
One of the major noticeable changes is a new focus on vocational, technical and science education. Apart from establishing technical and vocational colleges in all the local government areas of the state, it is vigorously pursuing the introduction of S.T.E.M (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) literacy in schools. This requires the building of the infrastructure and training and engaging of the personnel to bring the state in line with the new global trend in education.
In the health sector, Diri’s imprints are also deep. His administration ensured the effective management of the COVID-19 pandemic. Importantly, it set up a fully equipped molecular laboratory in Yenagoa for improved testing of cases. This played a major role in lowering cases of infection recorded in the state.
During its first anniversary in 2021, the administration completed and commissioned the Kaiama Referral Hospital, which it inherited from the previous government. It is replicating similar health facilities in the other seven council areas.
One of the key touchstones of healthcare delivery in the state is the health insurance scheme.
Commitment to Security
The administration has ensured the lives and property of people of the state were secure. Its avowed commitment to this has resulted in the strengthening of the security architecture of the state with provision of operational vehicles to all the security and para-military agencies. The governor also regularly interfaces with heads of the security agencies in the state.
Importantly, the government has rejigged and relaunched the special security outfit, Operation Doo-Akpo, to make it more for effective. To a great extent, there is significant reduction in crime and criminality in Yenagoa and environs.
In December 2021, the administration provided 50 patrol vehicles, 40 motorbikes and communication gadgets to the special police outfit. It also strengthened the state’s complementary security outfits – Bayelsa Volunteers and Bayelsa Vigilante – by harmonising their operations with the Operation Doo-Akpo after the Bayelsa Community Safety Corps Law came into force.
Diri is turning the state into a top agriculture hub with massive investment in the sector. In collaboration with the Central Bank of Nigeria, land was allocated and seedlings provided for 3,500 farmers in the eight local government areas.
The administration also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a consortium, Africa Atlantic Gulf of Guinea Fisheries, to generate 4,000 jobs, train 2,500 in fish farming as well as set up a boat building yard and fish processing plants of over 20,000-metric tonnes capacity.
It is also developing the state-owned farms to grow, mill and bag rice. Last Christmas, the pilot scheme produced about 600 bags of wholly Made-in-Bayelsa Rice from planting to the milling stage all done in the state. Already, the government set up two rice processing mills with plans to increase as output increases.
Another outstanding project inherited from the Dickson government that the Diri administration has shown strong commitment to is the 60-metric tonnes per day cassava processing factory at Ebedebiri in Sagbama Local Government Area. The plant, also to be inaugurated soon, would produce industrial starch for commercial use and export just as it would generate alternative revenue for the state.
One of the major legacy projects of the Diri administration is the construction of a Mega Media Complex. Built to accommodate all the state-owned media outfits – Radio Bayelsa, Niger Delta Television and the Bayelsa State Newspaper Corporation – the imposing edifice has 340 offices, 107 restrooms, two restaurants and other facilities.
The gigantic structure, which is ready for inauguration, will be fully equipped with state-of-the-art broadcast equipment and printing machines.
Governor Diri, who has motivated the state media personnel by providing a conducive work environment for them, has also assured that the outfits will be invigorated to compete with other media outlets in the country and globally.
The Governor Diri administration’s scorecard on sports in the last two years has been quite remarkable. The administration has created an enabling environment for its sportsmen and women to excel as well as a motivating reward system.
From coming third for the first time at the Edo 2020 National Sports Festival, the state-sponsored football teams, Bayelsa United and Bayelsa Queens, went on to win the 2021 Federation/AITEO Cup for both the male and female categories. No other state in the country has achieved such feat in their football history.
“Bayelsa is one of the most peaceful and secure states in Nigeria, and everybody feels it… This administration has come up with policies that encourage political parties to be at peace with themselves. Most of what we do transcend political parties”
“Noise-making does not translate to impact. Often, when reminded that he had embarked on an infrastructure revolution that had turned the state into a construction site, he also unassumingly responds: “I prefer to be silent about it. At the appropriate time, my achievements will speak”