NIGERIANS beyond Bayelsa State and the Ijaw Nation have continued to applaud the maturity and leadership of former Governor Henry Seriake Dickson, now a Senator, in managing the transitions in Bayelsa different from the tensions that they have raised between former Governors and their successors in other places. He has been exceptional and exemplary.
His distance and non-interference in the running the State’s affairs, makes Governor Douye Diri the freest Governor in Nigeria. His freedom to associate even with the political opponents of his benefactor is unusual in this clime. Against the machinations of those who do not mean well for the State, and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Sen Dickson mobilised his massive support that led to PDP’s landslide victory in the November 2023 governorship election.
Sen Dickson’s endorsement of Governor Diri at his country home prevented decamping and gave clear direction of where the people should vote. From that day the opposition knew that it had lost the election.
The victory confirmed Sen Dickson’s place in the people’s hearts and reaffirmed a more disturbing fact to those who oppose him – any party interested in taking Bayelsa State in an election, must resolve the Dickson question.
Four years after leaving office as Governor, Sen Dickson has remained the main issue in Bayelsa State politics with his inspirational influence anchored in the other five States where Ijaw communities benefitted from his initiatives that united the Ijaw Nation.
He has been one of the outstanding arrowheads of the Ijaw emancipation movement, following the footsteps of Chief Harold Dappa Biriye, Isaac Adaka Boro, Chief Melford Okilo, Pa Edwin Clark, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, the first civilian Governor of Bayelsa State, and others. Sen Dickson spent his eight-year tenure as the Governor in mobilising Ijaws in the six States that they are found to emphasise their issues, assert their place in Nigeria, and prepare them for leadership through education, dedication to promoting their identity with his leadership style that commanded attention and national respect.
He held the fort without compromising. Winning the elections in the State in 2015 and 2019 despite everything that the All Progressives Congress, APC, did, indicated his hold on Bayelsa State, really the people’s appreciation for his great performances in various areas that touched their lives. His strong followership testifies to the regard the people have for him. They fondly call him the Ofuruma Pepe, the Great White Shark.
Naturally, as one whose political views have decisive impact in the State, the Ijaw Nation and beyond, he has been a favourite target of those who feel he threatens their ambitions. Those who want a weakened and divided Ijaw Nation see him as a galvanizer of Ijaws, particularly now that Pa Clark is ageing. The purposes of the attacks are simple – demonise Senator Dickson, distract the Ijaws, destroy the unity that have.
No Governor of Bayelsa State has done as much as Senator Dickson did, and is still doing for the promotion of Ijaws as a people, no matter their State of origin. None has invested resources in raising the profile of Ijaws through education as he has. None has envisioned and executed the quantity and quality of programmes, policies, and projects that he established in Bayelsa State. They are still running after he left office.
Sen Dickson set Bayelsa State and Ijaws on a discernible path of self-discovery and development away from the lazy debates about which part of the Ijaw Nation one was from. He resolved that Bayelsa was the Ijaw homeland, including Ijaws in the other five States of Cross River, Edo, Delta, Ondo, and Rivers. He created the Ministry of Ijaw National Affairs. The first Commissioner of that Ministry was an Ijaw from Delta State.
Is Sen Dickson the one anyone would under any guise describe as dividing Ijaws? Did he do that by appointing more than 100 Ijaws from States outside Bayelsa into the Ministry of Ijaw National Affairs? Scholarships and employment opportunities in Bayelsa State were also available to Ijaws from those States.
The Bayelsa State flag, Coat of Arms and an anthem or state song were among Senator Dickson’s efforts at establishing the place of the Ijaws. Some States have since followed his leadership after the debates about the propriety of the flag, coat of arm, and state song.
Some of policies of the Dickson administration that lifted the Ijaw Nation were:
. The Bayelsa International Airport, the first in the Ijaw Nation which opened up the State for business.
. Ijaw National Academy, the flagship of his efforts on the intellectual front. Conceived as the premier secondary school in the Ijaw homeland, the standards were high. Excellence was a watchword and the facilities were top notch. It was aimed at breeding new Ijaw leadership by producing the next set of intellectuals under the highly competitive settings that global standards demand.
More than 1,500 students were on full scholarship. The beneficiaries were drawn from Ijaw communities of Rivers, Edo, Akwa Ibom, Ondo and Delta States. There was no discrimination against the students. They were Ijaws back to the homeland.
. He awarded thousands of scholarships at home and abroad to Ijaws to enhance their competitiveness for opportunities.
. The Ijaw National Heroes Memorial Park to honour Ijaws who have excelled in public service to Nigeria while advancing the Ijaw struggle was another of Senator Dickson’s signature projects. By May 2013, he brought back the remains of Major Isaac Adaka Boro to Bayelsa to be buried and a befitting mausoleum was built in his memory at the Park. Late General Owoye Andrew Azazi, Ijaw Nation’s first four-star military General who served Nigeria as one-time Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Defence Staff and National Security Adviser was also buried at the Park and has a mausoleum built in his memory. Other prominent Ijaw icons who have been laid to rest or have mausoleums built to honour them at the Ijaw National Heroes Park are Chief Melford Okilo, Harold Dappa Biriye, Gabriel Okara, Rex Jim Lawson, Rear Admiral Bossman Soroh, Ernest Okoli, Reverend Ockiya, the first man to translate the Bible into Nembe Language and other associates of Major Isaac Adaka Boro.
. Sen Dickson set up a historical committee for the Ijaw History project, co-ordinated by the State Historian to oversee and determine those eligible to be immortalised at the Ijaw National Heroes Memorial Park.
. He extended developments to several Ijaw communities outside Bayelsa, like a hospital in Arogbo, an Ijaw community in Ondo State, and rewarded others with appointments, scholarships, land allocations, in keeping with his inaugural address promise of making Bayelsa homeland of all Ijaws.
. Sen Dickson resolved problems and differences that cropped up in the Ijaw National Congress and Ijaw Youth Congress, some of which preceded his tenure as Governor.
. He completed and commissioned the Ijaw National Congress House that Governor Alamieyeseigha started.
. He commissioned the Ijaw History Project for books on key Ijaw leaders among them Chief Edwin Clark, and President Jonathan.
The choice of his Deputy Governor, Attorney-General, Commissioner for Finance from Nembe, and Secretary to the State Government from Ogbia, later Nembe, would not count for they would tell a different story. His choice and support of the current Governor and his Deputy to succeed, one of his reasons being inclusiveness, so that parts of the State that were deemed “too small” for those offices would get them, are not considered when he is accused of splitting Ijaws.
His was not a Sagbama government or one run by a Sagbama clique. Sen Dickson fought for Ijaws and treated them as the same. One more example is Chief Harold Dappa Biriye after whom the modern conference centre in Yenagoa is named. He was an Ijaw from Bonny in Rivers State.
Sen Dickson has resisted provocations to join issues with his successor. Rather, his maintenance of a strategic distance and non-interference in the State’s affairs, though available for consultation and advice, has been recommended to States blighted by governorship transition challenges.
The disappointed enemies of Bayelsa State and Ijaw Nation having failed with their baits and temptations to draw Sen Dickson to plunge Bayelsa State into a crisis elevated their propaganda to an article by Fred Itua in The Sun of 4 December 2023 to make unfounded allegations of godfatherism against Sen Dickson, whose mature, and exemplary management of his relationship with his successor has been applauded by Nigerians within and beyond Bayelsa State.
Ironically, those pretending to be friends of the current Governor are the same people who fought him politically and legally up to the Supreme Court. They did not want him to succeed Sen. Dickson.
Many recall with admiration how Sen Dickson through his temperament and political management, engagement with the youth, and legislations that empowered the enforcement of law and order restored stability to Bayelsa, and most of the Niger Delta. Operation Doo-Akpo (Peaceful Life), the State’s security outfit, and the Bayelsa State Community Safety Corps had sophisticated equipment and operational facilities for security operations all over the State. They worked with national security agencies to secure the State. Before his administration, cultism, political restiveness, violence, communal clashes, banishments, militancy and insecurity were central to life and politics in Bayelsa State.
Political instability in Bayelsa was well-known. There was turmoil in the State House of Assembly where Speakers were changed constantly, a practice that spread to the leadership of the ruling PDP. Governor Dickson worked out stability that has outlived his tenure.
As Governor, Sen Dickson used his powers for peace and to protect the people, including opposition parties for their political campaigns. His deft management of the power play from Abuja and in Bayelsa doused tensions, while President Goodluck Jonathan was in power, and rallying the people for Jonathan after he lost power, were outcomes even outsiders noticed.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo during a 2016 visit to Bayelsa State wondered how Governor Dickson was able to end the militancy that made the State the epicentre of the unrest in the Niger Delta and caused losses worth billions of Naira to the national economy.
This ideological politician held his ground without compromising or negotiating away his party as many Governors do these days. His 2015 re-election was tough, the first election that PDP won after losing power at the centre. He has won several other battles by mobilising his political base in a non-violent manner and sticking to his ideological principles. People know him as a politician you can be sure of his stand.
His steadfastness and loyalty to friendship has won him friends across political lines all over Nigeria. His simple lifestyle, sincere and genuine friendship has earned him the admiration and respect of associates. His legendary capacity for managing people is only matched by his knack for picking out talents and mentoring them to super stars. He disagrees with people’s ideas without disagreeing with the owners of the ideas.
His political philosophy steadfastness, and loyaty to the party, issues and people saw him resist the pressures to leave the PDP at a time the party lost power at the centre. He places service for the common good, loyalty, and issues of the environment, Ijaw Nation, Niger Delta, and Nigeria above personal comfort and aggrandizement. His politics is about service, higher values, and commitment to the people and their welfare. He attends to countless number of people daily at his residences in Abuja and Bayelsa.
With a profile that reflects the depth of his political roots, Sen Dickson was State Chairman of the Alliance for Democracy, AD in 1999, and face of the opposition in Bayelsa, National Legal Adviser of Ijaw National Congress, and National Legal Adviser of AD, concurrently in 2000, appointed Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice 2005, elected Member, House of Representatives in 2007, re-elected in 2011, elected Governor in 2012, re-elected in 2015, first Governor to complete eight years in the history of Bayelsa State, and handed over to a successor his team selected. He was elected to the Senate in a 2020 bye-election for Bayelsa West and re-elected for a full term in 2023.
His record as the one who laid the foundation for the new Bayelsa with legacies in every sphere is evident. The Governor and his team, who were members of the Dickson’s Restoration Administration continue to enjoy the benefits of Sen Dickson’s pioneering and visionary leadership.
Sen Dickson through mega projects, programmes, and policies gave the Ijaw Nation a new reason to be better people. In his entire political life, he has given his best to Bayelsa, the Ijaw Nation, the Niger Delta and Nigeria. His comportment and temperament invite people to aspire to a new paradigm of selfless and visionary service in politics. It is time Sen Dickson told the story.