By Wilfred Frank Ogbotobo
Perhaps the saying “when one door closes, another opens” by Alexander Graham Bell didn’t ring a bell in the hearts of the then President Goodluck Jonathan and his club of political elites, traditional rulers and ordinary Bayelsans when they stoned, humiliated and chased then governor Timipre Marlin Sylva out of the PDP, to deny him his constitutional second term.
They actually thought that they could blow his entire political career to smithereens with their persistent persecutions that followed thereafter.
But the judgement of man is not the judgement of GOD Almighty. And so, today, Timipre Marlin Sylva has not only become the “cornerstone” which Bayelsans, under Jonathan’s promptings, rejected, but has actually become the “Joseph” of the Ijaws in Nigeria’s nascent progressive politics as the 2023 presidential election gears up.
And, just as metals acquire strength, not weakness, through the furnace, the experiences in the public humiliation, persecutions and vilifications rather enriched Sylva’s knowledge and strengthened his conviction.
The momentous declaration, “I am not contesting any Governorship Elections again in Bayelsa until I leave planet Earth …” by Sylva a few weeks ago seems to be a bold indication of a higher aim.
A few months ago, I had the premonition, while reflecting on the socioeconomics of Bayelsa state and its political direction, that at some point in the near future this would come to pass.
Such declarations, most times, are not ordinary – they are grave decisions resulting from a deep coming-to-terms with the reality of human nature. In this case, it’s a well-crafted outcome of a thorough experience in the politics of Bayelsa state as a reflection of the Nigerian condition.
I’ve observed quite a few opinions on social media struggle to explode this solemn declaration as Sylva’s recognition of imminent defeat and, therefore, acceptance of the futility of any future guber venture. I don’t think so.
In my humble perspective, I see it as a loaded display of strength and mastery of political strategy and tactics. I’d rather take it as a closure of a particular phase, an indication to engage politics on a new level and with a different approach for higher and more meaningful outcomes.
Sylva’s entire political career has been one of hard work and conviction, not one birthed with a silver spoon. It has a history replete with bumps and tempests. He remains the only Bayelsa politician to have taken the most bashing from the very people he sought to serve and uplift as governor.
Sylva’s main albatross in Bayelsa politics largely remains the “core Ijaw” sentiment that infested the movements leading to the creation of the state. This, in a very short period, crystallized as the philosophy and ultimate governance principle of political elites from particular sections of the state, at the commencement of democratic rule in 1999 – a state that was presumed to provide a homeland for all Ijaws on the face of the earth. The same way Israel serves the Jews!
I believe, this sentiment first confronted Sylva’s politics when Goodluck Jonathan was elevated to be a vice presidential candidate of the PDP. Despite the incontrovertible fact that Sylva was the runner-up in the governorship primaries, deliberate attempts were actually made to deny and replace him with an aspirant who came a distant third. It didn’t succeed!
Not contented with this failure, the gang-up resorted to much more sinister and brazen dimensions. “Statesmen,” who, ordinarily, should have contributed their wealth of experience to support the Ijaw homeland project rather chose to become willing accomplices in the schemes and anti-Sylva campaigns of the “core Ijaw” hegemony.
Unfortunate for them, Sylva, undeterred, marched on with unbelievable focus and sense of responsibility, even as this gang up did everything they could persistently to not only intimidate but also distract the entire life of his administration.
Despite being the worst hit with severe financial constraints from the economic distress precipitated by the militancy that overtook the Niger Delta, Sylva didn’t take his sights off the compass. He displayed a spectacular understanding of what Bayelsa faced and a mastery of what needed to be done. Out of the chaos and destruction of oil infrastructure, Sylva came up with the amnesty proposal as the panacea for this huge threat to national security.
In the area of infrastructure, Sylva is on record as constructing more internal link roads than any other governor. He remains the first and only governor to embark on comprehensive beautification and upgrading of Yenagoa to a befitting state capital.
Also, Sylva remains the first and only governor to frontally tackle and resolve the shameful and unacceptable lack of safe drinking water in the Bayelsa state capital, Yenagoa, and some other major communities. He spent hundreds of millions to construct the Yenagoa Water Reticulation project. And Yenagoa, for the first time, had portable drinking water.
His administration was the first and only, to embark on decisive practical steps to diversify the economic base of the state through industrialization and job creation. The Bayelsa Plastic Industry was established.
Two modern fishing trawlers were acquired to jump-start a thriving fishing industrial base in the state.
This was a practical demonstration of seriousness and commitment – proof that signals investors to an economic ecosystem – not embezzlement of billions of naira for photo-ops with Gordon Brown in London, in the guise of wooing investors in the UK!
Furthermore, his administration’s novel staff biometric verification initiative was instituted to imbue the civil service system with transparency and discipline in line with best practices; plug leakages and free funds for effective service delivery in governance.
In fact, Sylva’s maturity, knowledge and commitment to the Bayelsa Project became clear in his very first steps as governor. This was a governor that practically chased contractors on project sites in order to meet deadlines for the completion of projects he inherited. The State Secretariat Annex was one such project.
He upgraded infrastructure in schools and hospitals across the state including building the brand new Diete-Koki Memorial Specialist Hospital.
Facilities were also put in place for the accreditation of numerous programmes at the state-owned Niger Delta University. The Nigerian Law School was also established in Yenagoa.
However, despite these and countless other stellar landmarks – a greater percentage of which was novel initiatives, what Sylva got by way of reward was not commendation but opprobrium and public humiliation.
As compensation for his spectacular achievements, which have not been surpassed to date, Bayelsans, in their ignorance and gullibility, allowed themselves to be hoodwinked and mobilized to publicly stone Sylva while then President Goodluck Jonathan watched in grandeur.
Jonathan and his finish-Sylva-at-all-cost agenda, acting in cahoots with the core-Ijaw hegemony as infantry, went further to deploy the entire federal power and might to chase Sylva out of the governorship primaries and eventually denied him the constitutional right of seeking the second tenure.
The subsequent emergence of Dickson as a replacement for Sylva was not a decision based on concern for the progress and development of Bayelsa state. It was purely the result of the bonding of shared hatred, and the ultimate intent of these malicious forces to totally pulverize Sylva’s entire political career.
Hence, Dickson wasted no time in confirming his character and administration as a perfect stereotype for the mission that prompted his emergence and ascendancy to the governorship.
Dickson’s first duty as governor of Bayelsa state was to destroy all the imprints of Sylva in every facet of governance in Bayelsa State.
The way and manner Dickson destroyed the Yenagoa Water Reticulation project disgusted even the most Bayelsans who offered themselves as minions and foot soldiers to attack Sylva. Even a mad bull wouldn’t have executed such malicious clinical destruction in an enemy’s china shop.
Earlier, he had relocated the State’s College of Education from Sylva’s hometown, Okpoama to his own village, as his first official act.
Dickson, in his actions, became an embodiment of the vicious hatred and malice they wanted to institutionalize against Sylva’s person and politics in Bayelsa state.
However, in two uninterrupted tenures lasting eight years, Jonathan’s man, Seriake Dickson, couldn’t add one single storey on the Tower Hotel which Jonathan, during campaign tours, pinpointed to demonize Sylva while canonizing his latter-day saint Dickson – the “bushman” who destroyed all traits of civilization in Yenagoa and happily proclaimed it as a “forest capital”. Yet, Bayelsans remained mute, Jonathan lost his presidential voice!
Virtually all the leading lights in Bayelsa politics were called into action and assigned key roles in the massive persecution aimed at destroying Sylva’s political career. Timi Alaibe headed a kangaroo panel that found Sylva culpable of “embezzling” tens of billions of state funds. Alaibe later came knocking for a governorship ticket in the APC!
This deep-seated sentiment still pervades Bayelsa politics to date.
However, the persecutions and other travails succeeded not in cowing Sylva but rather enriched his knowledge and, also, sharpened his capacities and foresight.
This declaration, in my humble opinion, is not an ultimate valediction. Rather, I sense an indication of a work in progress on another level and direction.
I observe a firm resolve to articulate a fresh core of political structure and beliefs that would bring together a new coalition adapted to the practical realities – one that would be capable of confronting the divergent challenges of the Bayelsa state and, by extension, the Ijaw Ethnic Nationality.
Moreover, a new thinking has become imperative given the current happenings in the Bayelsa state chapter of the APC. The party, which grew to its enviable height solely on the strength of Sylva’s political relevance, has gradually morphed into a habitat where lizards now parade as if they were crocodiles.
As Providence beckons and destiny pushes him upwards, Sylva, naturally, has acquired an elevated vision to more precisely identify the sore points, and to make the right decisions for Bayelsa’s governance.
And, as the clock ticks for the closing of the PMB administration, and the search for a successor in 2023 gains steam, the topmost key areas on which competence will be prioritized include the economy and security.
These were the same key areas on which Sylva made great strides that not only impacted Bayelsa state and the Niger Delta but also restored Nigeria’s economy to life.
Having had the wisdom to initiate Bayelsa state on the path of industrialization, I strongly believe that a federal government under Sylva’s leadership will definitely muster the political will to not only pull the Ajaokuta Steel; Aladja Steel as well as the Aluminium Smelter Company back on track, but also work with state governments to resuscitate moribund state-owned industries such as the famous Arewa Textiles; Bendel Glass; Oluwa Glass, etc.
On security, the boldness of the Niger Delta militancy, arguably, was the precursor to the proliferation of the current security situation in the country. Sylva will not be a novice with regard to national security issues. The wisdom and knowledge garnered from managing the militancy that severely threatened the national economy and security will serve well to bolster his capacity to frontally tackle the national challenge.
Timipre Marlin Sylva is a candidate among candidates!
Wilfred Frank Ogbotobo is the Coordinator of the South-South Legacy Forum and he writes from Abuja.