The chief reason the people of Bayelsa State would anxiously wait for the second coming of their former governor is the same reason why most Nigerians would await a national leader determined to think out of the box and revive the country’s economic fortunes with less emphasis on oil through a policy of economic diversification. The cry all over the land is for the leadership to prepare us for a future where we shall no longer be tied to the frustrating fluctuations of the so-called global oil basket.
And nothing profiles Sylva better than the radical moves he took in his goal to wean Bayelsa from resting solely on oil for sustenance. Having seen what a non-oil economy did for Obafemi Awolowo’s Western Region in the 50s and early 60s, Sylva decided in 2008 and 2009 to start a programme that would relegate oil and bring to the fore the activation of agrarian industries.
Indeed, in the Western Region of Nigeria governed by Obafemi Awolowo and a faithful handful of like-minded men and women, a plan was initiated to achieve standards that are still a benchmark today, some six decades after. We had the Cocoa House, for a long time the tallest building in Africa. It got its name from the product that produced the revenue that funded the structure. Agricultural produce also built the Western Nigerian Television Station (WNBS-WNTV), again the first TV in Black Africa. The Western Region also blazed the trail in free primary education in Nigeria. The area has also boasted the first industrial estate in the country. All these feats were achieved without oil wealth.
I believe that as a politician and student of contemporary history, Sylva peeped into the past and discovered that to get a secure future, we must learn from that past which gave us much without oil. Why not learn a few lessons from history in the face of dwindling revenue from oil? When this non-renewable source of budget funding diminishes, as it is threatening to, what would happen? The real point is, should we wait until it loses its allure? A prudent man does not wait to receive a deadly blow when he sees it coming. Once he sights it afar, he runs for cover.
In the case of Nigeria, running for a shelter means leaving the beaten path of policing our development with oil money. It means coming out from under the weather-battered umbrella that sentenced us to a lifestyle of idle worship of oil and extravagant living. For how long are we to do this when non-oil producing countries, like Israel, have transformed themselves into super powers in their own right while applying creative ideas in agriculture, technology and human capital development?
With a barrel of crude down to less than 60 dollars in the world market, Nigeria is also down to its base economically. We must, therefore, begin to look away from this mono-product culture. Even if we were to discover more oil in every household in Nigeria it would not improve our fortunes, whether in the long run or in the short run.
The leader who would be of use to us now is the one who would show us the way to an agrarian revolution and the development of our solid mineral resources. It is our only hope, given the country’s vast unexplored arable land and water expanse comprising rivers, lakes and sea. That leader must tie these resources to growing and empowering the human capacity as well as building a scientific and technological base.
Bayelsans witnessed the early stirrings of all these during the days of Timipre Sylva as the governor of the state. A major pronouncement the ex-governor made was that his administration would construct what he called Agricultural City in Sagbama Local Government Area of the state. It would have been the first of its type in Nigeria. He said large-scale and scientific crop research and seed nursery development would take place. There would also be extended buying and selling halls for processing, packaging and export business. The plan was also to have modern agro-farming enterprise there.
With fish farming as part of the vision because of the aquaculture of Bayelsa, we would have had a full-orbed picture of a state and its people left to develop its potential to the highest point. This strategic policy of economic diversification and radicalising of the template of development would curb unemployment, crime, anti-social activities, rural depopulation, drift to the urban centres and put a halt to the centripetal ideology of locating economic prosperity and power only in politics. Our do-or-die politics stems from the fact that we put all our eggs in one basket: oil money and power and influence flowing from it.
Unfortunately, Sylva was stopped in this noble attempt for a paradigm shift in 2012. He had outlined his programme and presented his plan of implementing it when the dream was cut short, leading to his painful exit.
Bayelsans may yet recover what they lost as the next poll for a new helmsman approaches. On December 5, Sylva of All Progressives Congress (APC) will be contesting the governorship ticket with Governor Seriake Dickson of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Many say it is a battle between an experienced Sylva and a conservative Dickson. They insist it is a contest between a change agent (Sylva) and a representative of the old order (Dickson). Others have classed it as a rivalry between two equally endowed titans.
For me, it could be any of those references. But the one that best captures what is on the ground is the one that sees the race as an anxious wait to give an opportunity to the people to bring back the man who gave them hope that there is a life, a better life, an abundant life beyond the one tethered to the agony of oil, the man who first broached the idea of an agric city as a way of diversifying the economy.
Dr. Alata is a Governance and Development expert based in Abuja. She can be reached on: firstname.lastname@example.org