By Nwokedi Nworisara
I have been working and living in Bayelsa for a while helping to actual the famed Restoration Agenda of Governor Henry Seriake Dickson aimed at diversifying the Economy of this oil rich Riverine State to position her for life without oil. To this end I have been helping to push forward the Ijaw cause that agrees with the Bayelsa cause. Earlier, I had been committed to the Niger Delta question. The Niger Delta deserves Preferential treatment not just as the goose that lay the golden egg but because of the difficult terrain. This cause has progressed through the establishment of the NDDC as an offshoot of the Willink’s Commission of the 50s set up by the Colonial powers to decide how best to develop the Niger Delta Region. The commission had recommended that a preferential treatment be meted to the Region going by its difficult terrain as the only way to produce positive developmental impacts. In my own little way,as a writer,working with NGOs in the Niger Delta,I reasoned once that the Region deserved a more realistic Masterplan from NDDC because the one released by the Commission appears to stand on a Wooden legs or rather hanging in the air and so it was not sustainable from the start. It did not include social justice for the people of the area in terms of oil production and the environment and so the body could not really make any “difference”.NDDC appeared concerned only with Physical “transformation” of already negatively transformed environment. It never really thought of solving the inherent injustice of the old to annul its spiritual effect on the present.It preferred to resettle the people in a different home so as not to tamper with their original degraded home to protect oil production. In order words it could only help them as refugees! After the commission itself failed to mobilize part of its promised funding from States,it was reduced to just a political platform for distribution of political privilege to chosen few. For instance if you are well placed you could literally get the NDDC to tar the side road into your private house!
I was closely associated with an advocacy group the NIGER DELTA INTEGRITY GROUP and we kept our pens active in the media. When it was clear that the NDDC experiment was not really what could further true development of the Region and taking cognizance of a seeming lack of interest from other zones,we began to push for short term solutions. Studies were ongoing and many pointed to the direction of social justice for the people even if symbolically.The problem was how to concretely transfer theory into practice. The same question always reoccurs : How do we allow help to trickle down directly to the people without the danger of its being cut short at elite levels to the detriment of the masses. The grassroots approach or the bottom up began to make some sense. Organizing the bottom to deal with the top posed its own problems as the gap remained up filled by many emergent theorems. Of course the politicians also understood it their own way,their own crash programs were being put forward. They call it “empowerment”,whatever that means.As if tired of such crash programs,the Presidency of President Obasanjo commissioned a landmark study, the “Community committees” emerged from recommendations of the committee headed by then Bayelsa State Deputy Governor,Goodluck Jonathan about 2005/6 . This was a grassroots study aimed at bringing peace and stability. The Study may have brought into legal existence the now pervasive Community Development Committees (CDCs )in the Niger Delta. It was to be the basic unit at the ward level democratic and autonomous enough to deal with other tiers of government and it was thought seriously this will help trickle down help to the grassroots and bring needed peace to the most troubled. The Niger Delta Presidency Project. Remember that already background events that heightened tension in the region had come to pass. The Ogoni debacle climaxing to the execution of Late Ken Saro Wiwa by the Abacha regime may have brought so much pressure on his successors to find a solution. It may also be that the Ogoni grassroots solidarity and organization had posed a problem of control for the Military and pseudo military regimes of those days that the need to replicate it all over the Region was already determined but this time under the firm control of the powers that be. What it means is that the new attempt soon began to degenerate to political patronage and lost much of its attraction at the level of theory.
Anyway the whole detail became necessary to properly position the event in a historical perspective that helps us understand what follows. We began to agitate for a South South Presidency in our little way knowing that perhaps only a son of the soil can appreciate the need for urgent attention to the challenges of the Region. Maybe President Obasanjo was thinking in the same direction but how to realize it in a democracy was still seen as “crazy”. It may be that a vice Presidency would assuage them,it may be many other thought forms all leading to the selection of Then Governor Jonathan. I can vividly remember when this draft plot was brewing. We were consulting for the state on the Masterplan by 2006- 2007 when a conference on Democracy was held in Yenagoa. It seemed strange to us that time that such an important national event was to hold in Bayelsa and transmitted live to the Federation. I could almost see the many OB Vans outside the Women’s centre which was decorated to make it come to some standard and Governor Jonathan delivering a keynote address. It was clear to us this was a dress rehearsal but we couldn’t place our mind on anything until the announcement came later on that the governor was to be running mate to then Governor Yar Adua in the forth coming Presidential Elections to pick President Obasanjo’s successor. There was indeed to be no third term for him.
As a part of a consulting team,(that worked not directly though )with then Governor Jonathan in both the preparation of the CDCs document and his own practical translation in Bayelsa of the immediate post Alamieyeseigha era,in terms of the Yenagoa city Masterplan,I found myself wanting to see how my own theories would be concretely implemented and I think that this may have bound me to a certain degree to Bayelsa State.I have been searching too to see the fulfillment of my own theories in concrete form here. I suppose I got into trouble when a consulting Firm to NDDC in Port Harcourt in 2005 threw the bulky Niger Delta Masterplan final draft on my laps and challenged me to do a critic in one week. To join them,I had no choice but to do this. So I did a critique that may have merited my absorption but it had also opened a pandora’s box so to speak. It literally made nonsense of this document by removing the rug of its feet. Identifying the missing link to sustainability of the plan and the NDDC charter. The absence of social justice to the people that owns the land or settled there first.So until I moved on from there,the question was what do you think should be done? How should it be done? But each time I answered these questions the sooner these answers were rejected as too utopian. I found myself getting gradually into positions to help prove it can be done and so it became a personal challenge and I had no choice but to live it out. That is how I saw myself tied had and feet to these developments up to the formation of the political structures and processes especially in the emergent states. When Governor Amaechi came on board,we thought he would be the springboard for the emergence of an alternative capital for Nigeria in the Newport Harcourt and we (PROJECT CONCEPT ASSOCIATES) helped the think thank during his sectorial study conferences. The same way we worked with all the Bayelsa governments and can actually say without fear of contradiction that Restoration encompasses the dreams we have been nursing. So I am also trying my best to add value to the wonderful vision of Governor Henry Seriake Dickson particularly through the social Media.
Why am I tracing these roots? In the course of my work here I have often had to grapple with constantly explaining to myself and others why I am here.I have not been able to satisfy even myself not to talk of others as to why I have to live and work in Bayelsa. Sometimes it seems like a very grave sin. But I cannot seem to help myself . It is like I owe much to the people and yes maybe my writings and theories have bound me like a tether. Only the success of these theories,these people seem to assuage it a bit and until more success is indicated. But there has been of recent increasing clamour that the neighboring South East region has fallen much more into neglect each day and some schools of thought opine that I should see the entire region South South and South East as belonging to one vital whole. We must now help the entire East if the progress made by the Niger Delta is to endure because the two are just like different faces of just one coin. This realization hit home on me last week when I visited Uzuakoli my place of birth after a long while. I was warned it would not be rosy,never to drive,nor take my car along. It amused me at first. So that day,I took off from Port Harcourt early on public transportation and was still unable to cross Oyigbo bridge the very suburbs of same Port Harcourt bounding Abia State,3 hours later ! I could not go back to mainland Port Harcourt nor continue with the journey. The Expressway to the East had cut into two impassable joints so bush parts into Oyigbo the other epitome of neglect ,became THE ONLY OPTION, and brought us into swamps and make shift pass ways with many having to trek much of the way because even the cars and buses often needed more help than the people. This must be the hell ,I told myself. What is the essence of developing only a part when the whole will make nonsense of you efforts in the long run. We saw the same thing in Port Harcourt. When Okada was to be replaced by Taxis,we warned that the situation of the traffic would be worse despite the numerous roads built,the dual carriage ways. It happened in our very eyes. The more the roads built,the more cars poured into the city from other less endowed states from the hinterland. Also more of the Okada drivers converted to taxi drivers returning with their vehicles. There was need to implement a low class transport system and we suggested the Keke Napep to fill into a small part of the gap. In the same way perhaps in another facet of it,the Bayelsa development will only be sustained if similar visions are driving the South East in tandem so that Bayelsa or Rivers do not just become a migrants paradise with its attendant problems. So it is important that we shed borders as much as possible and carry every ones problems as if it is our own. There is nothing wrong in the Bayelsa state governor suggesting some directions to his Abia State counterpart in this area. If the Contriman Governor can sandfill a swamp to build an International airport,what stops the Abia state counterpart from doing so with so many level lands in the state? We need to help each other at this time if our development will endure. As for me I will use my writing to help promote the development of the South East as well as the South South ,indeed all Nigeria in need because it makes common sense. I appeal to those who see development from the perspective of separation recheck their theory,and stop aggravating the situation because Nigeria is a house not many houses. For a room to separate from the house it implies a damage to the building and this will be resisted by occupants of the other rooms. So advocates of separation must know that they are actually responsible for creating spiritually the physical potholes separating the south east roads from the rest of the country. The right direction is to contribute to further up building of the Nigerian house so that more decks are added and everyone can have enough space to do his thing.