Urhobo Historical Society
As power brokers in Nigeria dilly-dally as to whether or not to let Vice President Goodluck Jonathan step into the shoes of his ailing boss, even if as Acting President, the land and people of Bayelsa remember their son and benefactor who stood in the gap at a critical point in the political calendar when the state floundered in the wild storm following Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha’s arrest in London. Nengi Josef Ilagha, speech writer to both men in times past, captures the high points of the good luck tenure in Bayelsa.
Goodluck to Bayelsa
By His Majesty Nengi
Mingi XII, Amanyanabo of Nembe
Bayelsa State, Nigeria
HE SUPERLATIVES WERE bound to roll in over time. The encomiums were sure to come, delayed though they may be. For, in the course of the eighteen months during which he served as Governor of Bayelsa State, Nigeria, he cut a distinctive image for himself as a performer bent on making a difference to the growth and development of his home state. He set his eyes on a clear agenda, and would not be distracted from it. He saw his new role as a special assignment from God, and he meant to leave an enduring legacy for one and all to see.
And so, when he came into office, he did not care for praise singers. He had very little time to listen to hypocrites and charlatans and rumour mongers. But that did not stop the political cocks from taking to the streets, strutting around with selfish ideas for sale, and their colourful feathers were to be seen all around Yenagoa, the state capital. Virtually everywhere you turned, there was something to crow about. In the end, the passion he brought to bear on his policies and programmes recommended only Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to higher quarters.
At the beginning, in point of fact, he was not altogether sure of himself. Greatness was suddenly thrust onto his lap, and he was understandably flustered. He couldn’t believe his good luck. His confidence only grew from day to day but, in all, his humility showed from day one. Dr Goodluck Jonathan was simply uncomfortable when anyone addressed him as Executive Governor of Bayelsa State. He seemed to wonder what was executive about being a governor. He simply did not care for extra appellations when there was work waiting to be done.
I suppose that goes to demonstrate the urgency with which he faced his assignment, and the message did not fail to sink in. Titles may sound well and good, but Goodluck would rather keep it short and terse: Governor of Bayelsa State. Don’t rule by fiat, he said often. Lead by consultation and personal example instead. No room for ceremonies. Get to the heart of the matter, and be done with it. That may explain why, like a short distance runner, he went about the business of governance with a great burst of energy and fervour.
And when you come to think of it, he had every reason to be in haste. Eighteen months was certainly not long enough to accomplish the grand dreams he harboured for the hapless young state, which wasn’t getting any younger by the day, and the agile new governor was all too aware of this. Bayelsa was fast approaching its tenth anniversary as a state at the time. In itself, that was enough cause for celebration. But what was there to celebrate when the noble aspirations of the founding fathers were still far from being realized? In quick time, he situated himself in the minds of the electorate as a governor who meant well, one who was out to expand the horizons of growth, and extend the frontiers for progress.
Before long, the Isaac Boro Expressway was no longer the bushy axis of the state capital that it used to be. The forest rapidly gave way under the grind of earth-moving machines and that vast expanse of land was soon dotted with housing estates for civil servants, their bright new roofs gleaming in the noon-day sun. In like manner, the majestic structure of the first five-star hotel was soon growing out of the marshy ground, sited at the head of the Julius Berger intersection on Boro Way, the very first of its kind to grace the humble Yenagoa skyline.
From day one, he told the electorate that government would open up the state with four new roads, three of them leading to the interior of the three senatorial districts, while the fourth would create the much-needed gateway into Yenagoa from the East-West Road. The idea was to make the Mbiama-Igbogene access into the state capital unfamiliar before long, and eliminate the scandal of trespassing into the state through another.
What’s more, the Goodluck Governor decided to make life less miserable for commuters. Residents of Yenagoa woke up one morning and saw a fleet of taxis in the open grounds of the Armed Forces Remembrance Arcade opposite Creek Haven, painted in royal blue colours with a yellow strip, just waiting for their owners to pick them up. The owners claimed them, in a very final sense, and the taxis were no longer to be seen on the roads forever.
Like a concerned father, Goodluck Jonathan equally turned attention to civil servants in the state, seeking to ameliorate their sorry circumstances. In one bound, the government released all of one-and-half-year arrears to civil servants. The governor was determined not to owe any worker in the state, in keeping with the wealth creation programme of the government, and the workers couldn’t believe their good luck. All this he did within a five-month space, from the day he was sworn-in to take charge of Bayelsa, to the next Democracy Day. It was the kind of sparkling record that readily made hypocrites chant a love song:
We Are Loyal, Sir!
But, then, Goodluck Jonathan promptly shut them up with a ready retort. Don’t tell me that. Show me how much you love Bayelsa!
Indeed the emergence of Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as Governor of Bayelsa State may well be described as an act of fate. As Deputy Governor, he showed himself to be an exemplary lieutenant, and a pillar of support to his boss. Providence played the impartial umpire when, on December 12, 2005, he mounted the lofty saddle of office, following the arrest in London and subsequent impeachment of Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, sixteen months to the expiration of their joint tenure.
From the onset, Jonathan did not leave anyone in doubt that he had to be taken seriously. His vision was to lift the land and people of Bayelsa State from the doldrums of poverty and underdevelopment, and place them on a higher pedestal of growth and progress. The policy thrust of his government was grounded on the solid resolve to create wealth and accelerate the pace of infrastructural development around the state, district by senatorial district.
A modest leader, not given to flambouyance or idle promises, he believed simply in work as a daily code of conduct. His resolve to be the yeoman at work showed in his readiness to appear in casual work clothes, rather than ceremonial wear. To be at the helm of affairs, for him, is to be entrusted with a sacred duty to lead his people into a new season of industry, with tangible results to show for it. As he put it, “the people of Bayelsa have come a long way from a past of pain and misery. It will be self defeatist on our part to return to those turbulent and unholy years, while the door of hope is still open to us.”
Only recently, governors of the various states rose from a common forum, having considered the fate of Nigeria in the absence of the incumbent President, Umar Musa Yar’Adua, and approached the Vice President with a word of encouragement and commendation. They did not express anything new. On March 2, 2002, at a public forum in Bayelsa, former Governor Alamieyeseigha had summed up the character of his deputy in the following words:
“Sometimes, I wonder what life inside Creek Haven would have been if Dr Jonathan were not by my side. Stories abound of repeated conflicts and crises of confidence erupting between some chief executives and their deputies in this nation. But I am glad to report that I never lost sleep over Goodluck Jonathan. He proved himself to be a level-headed deputy. He not only stood by me, but repeatedly stood in for me on several critical occasions. In trying moments, Dr Jonathan remained calm and consistent, performing his official duties with unflagging dedication and commitment to the compound interest of the government and people of Bayelsa State.”
That is a testimony worth giving deeper consideration.