Let me do what I am doing for the very first time in my brief sojourn on mother Earth. And, that is to say Happy New Year to the Governor of the state I share with millions of others. I wish Your Excellency, Hon Henry Seriake Dickson and your family; even members of your Executive Council and entire members of the RESTORATION team, Happy New Year. May the RESTORATION team score more positive goals this New Year to the glory of God and for the common good of Bayelsans in particular and, to all strangers/ visitors in the State in general.
This missive is an important task to me; in service to the People of the State; especially the rural dwellers who are yet to witness the dividends of democracy and victims of Environmental/Human Rights violations and abuses; as most of our community folks still drink from polluted Creeks and Rivers within our environment and; living in pristine glory.
From the Book, Land and People of Bayelsa State: Central Niger Delta, a scholarly work put together by experts in their various specialties and, edited by the emeritus Professor of history, E.J. Alagoa; Bayelsa state is dissected centrally by longitude 6 degrees East, and Latitude 4 degrees 30 minutes North and the state covers over a land area of 12,000 square kilometers, most of which is in fact, water or wetland. Its only definitive border is the 185 kilometers of coastline through which many rivers issue into the Atlantic, namely, the Ramos, Dodo, Pennington, Digatoru, Middleton, Koluama, Sangana, the Nun, Brass, St. Nicholas and St. Barbara. And, although the total area of Bayelsa State may be large, the state has one of the lowest populations in the country. But in terms of revenue accruals from the Federation Account, it receives relatively large chunk of funds; including the 13 per cent due to oil producing states; as the state is richly endowed with the black gold.
Since the creation of the State, you are privileged to become the fourth Civilian Governor and, more importantly; son of the soil. And, whether we like it or not; all the administrations before your Restoration government have been keenly observed and scored by Bayelsans either individually or by groups. There was a song in English by a Bayelsan during the immediate past state administration. That song which was in circulated before your administration sailed in; tried to do justice to the issue of governance, especially taking into context; how each of the governors fared. It started by asking whether Bayelsa was under a curse/spell as treasury looting and borrowing was observed. Talking about the military administrators, the musician said, Ayini left because of ill-health, Olubolade tried and is given a pass mark; Obi just came to eat [as nothing positive happened during his administration]. Then, talking about the Sons of the Soil [the Civilian governors]; the observation was that: Alamco was like an emperor, Governor-General, Oweifa.
It was also alluded that Alamco had the key of Bayelsa in his pocket, traveling with the key too when he made travels and hence nothing happened in the state until he returns. Alamco was also cited as what led Bayelsans into what the musician referred to as a Sylva mistake; the coming on board of the Sylva’s administration, because if Alamco had governed the state well, Baylesa wouldn’t have made that Sylva mistake. Goodluck came and they took him away, he would have tried. They took Goodluck to Aso Rock. Then the biggest mistake happened in Bayelsa state; when the leadership of the past administration came on board. And, that administration started to dream of building underground tunnels, construction of cargo airport, that Bayelsa would be transformed into the paradise of Africa. Even after four years in office, the Sylva dream was still on; without realizing any of the dreams. That was seen as the biggest mistake that happened to Bayelsa. That song is still in circulation. Who knows what Bayelsans would say about you now and later? For sure, you cannot stop people from observing, thinking and expressing themselves.
Now, let me add to what the musician observed above. Bayelsans were made to believe that the State government would also engage in deep sea fishing and that, we were to supply sea food not only to other parts of Nigeria, but the West African sub-region too within a matter of time. Two trawlers were procured with state funds and named: Patience Jonathan and Margaret Alamieyeseigha. Most unfortunately, the trawlers were berthed and wasting at the Ogbia waterfront relatively long before Sylva vacated Creek Haven, the seat of political power in the state. The marine vessels are just wasting away like that, of no material benefits to Bayelsans up till date. Nothing, practically nothing also came from the experimentation of rice farm at Igbogene. The only signs of the rice farm at Igbogene still very visible are the dead palm trees by the roadside as weaver birds attracted to that environment by the rice farm destroyed the palm trees which once added to the aesthetics of that environment. The aqua-culture project too never saw the light of day. Another failed project remains the Bayelsa Expenditure and Income Transparency Initiative [BEITI], a smoke screen to hoodwink Bayelsans as if Transparency and Accountability were in practice. The only major thing one could observe during the Sylva’s five years administration was, the construction of some internal roads in Yenagoa.
Yes, Byelsans are also observing your RESTORATION government and, keenly too. And, I have been interviewing fellow Bayelsans each time I have the rare opportunity to so do. Somehow, your administration has been scored above average by some of our people. And, that is in the area of infrastructural development in the state, especially from what they can see in the State capital and environs. It is worthy of note that the State capital has changed greatly from the rural status it once assumed when the state was newly created. Yes, however, what the people commonly own are not many; apart from the few roads and some public buildings; most of the structures that have transformed Yenagoa are private properties, owned by Bayelsans and few strangers. Commonly owned property are very negligible; most public office holders are more seem to be more interested in building and expanding their private estates and empires.
Going straight to the crux of this letter; I would like to say a few things about your administration; looking at it from the same distance I observed past ones in the state. And, I would like to make some very important observations first. Some of the Executive bills sent to the Bayelsa State House of Assembly shortly after you took over the mantle of leadership are quite commendable. The one that deals with Transparency and Accountability stands out in the lot, even though others are also germane. Another related matter, is your regular transparency briefings, in line with the law. This is most significant because Bayelsans were yearning for such during past administrations and, it had never been near what we have in place now. The civil servants audit is also commendable; as it is said now that most absentee civil servants now report to their duty posts; even in the rural areas.
Compared to past administrations; the security arrangement currently in place is better, even though there may be room for improvement. Apart from direct observations; from the pulse of fellow Bayelsans, information about the exploits of Operation Doo Akpo is felt; especially in the areas of swift response to distress calls and Human Rights related issues. And, although the current security outfit is a great improvement when compared to Operation Famou Tamgbe; that wicked, lawless and violent security outfit put in place by the immediate past administration. And, as a group; the Civil Liberties Organisation spoke out against the condemnable Human Rights violations committed by Operation Famou Tangbe. Operation Famou Tangbe had a torture chamber where cases of attempted rape of victims, torture, intimidation and extortion were perpetrated. This was beside the molestation of members of the public, jumping into minor family affairs and carrying out extra-judicial killings. I hope, even though little or no such complains have reached the Human Rights community; that such unlawful acts are not being perpetrated within the office area of Operation Doo Akpo, the new security outfit established by your administration.
Your Excellency should ensure that, not only the Rule of Law is upheld; the fundamental rights of citizens should be protected. In this connection, it would be pertinent not to keep accused in the custody of Operation Doo Akpo for more than the initial hours of arrest and documentation. All arrested persons should be handed over to the regular police stations after documentations for proper investigation of alleged offences/crimes and prosecute them in courts of competent jurisdiction. For, during the reign of Operation Famou Tamgbe, night life in Yenagoa was restricted and Bayelsans moved about with fear at all times of the day. I am happy that, even though I am not a night person, members of the public are enjoying night life in Yenagoa now without the usual molestation/harassment, arrest and detention associated with Operation Famou Tamgbe .
Your Excellency, I am very much aware that you are not unaware of the environmental challenges we face as a people; mostly from the oil industry operations around our communities. I wish to draw your attention to crude oil spills, gas flaring and indiscriminate sewage disposal. Oil spills have continued to occur in our environment. Sometimes the spills are spewed in gaseous form, sprayed into the air for days before the owners of the facility would mobilize to site and stop the spill; sometimes after environmental NGOs like the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria [ERA/FoEN] has visited the site and raised alarm via its website or conventional media: print or electronic media. The spills sometimes happen in the forest, away from the rivers and creeks; but sometimes they occur in the river/creek or swamps. In the light of the above, whole swamps are often impacted negatively. The same is the case when the crude oil flows into the rivers.
Not only has this affected the health of our people and livelihood, the environment is being killed gradually. The ecosystem, the rich biodiversity of our environment is gradually dying. This throws up the issue of environmental sustainability. A trip around the salt water axis of the state would revealed that the oysters that use to stick to the fibrous roots of the mangroves are all gone; even periwinkle. This is a huge loss to our people and, it no doubt contributes to poverty because most of our mothers depended on these to make ends meet.
No doubts, the activities of local refinery operators/ illegal bunkering have added to the pollution and destruction of the environment in the past few years [from 2009 or thereabout when amnesty was granted to former militants]; but there are genuine oil spills caused by operational and equipment failures; even though incidents of sabotage also happen. As an environmental field monitor, I have reported sabotage cases and sometimes with testimonies of community folks pointing to collaboration between oil company staff/contractors and some willing community youths. Our reports have always been made public; with recommendations for solutions; no matter the cause of spill. Your Excellency, you may not be aware that, most often; no matter the cause of spill; the impacted sites are not cleaned-up by the oil companies. And, this is so because the regulatory agencies are more interested in visiting the spill site in company of the oil company to carry out Joint Investigation Visit [JIV]; to ascertain cause of spill and that is all.
Even though the JIV stakeholders signs the JIV report and recommended clean-up; they hardly re-visit the impacted sites to know if their recommendation was executed by the oil company or not. The local communities are left helpless to suffer the negative impacts of the spill. I may need to remind you that Shell’s Bonga spill of December, 2011 was an operational failure incident spill. Chevron’s January 16th, 2012 North Apoi explosion falls within operational failure too. Only on 27th November, 2013 another major operational failure spill occurred from Agip’s Brass Terminal. The volume and kind of chemical released into the Atlantic Ocean from the Chevron gas explosion sites was not only high, but toxic too. Aquatic lives from crayfish to Dolphin and Whales were found dead. I saw them with my own eyes. On the 18th of December, 2013 another major oil spill from Agip’s Idu Well 3 occurred within Egbebiri community environment, in Biseni, Yenagoa local government area of Bayelsa State. It was also an incident relating to operational failure. Now, you need to know these because the oil companies are quick to attribute all spills to sabotage. I wish to remind Your Excellency, of your very positive remarks on the 27th of February, 2012 in Koluama 2.
I heard about the words ‘environmental terrorism’ for the first time. And, it was from you. You promised not only to deal with environmental terrorists; but to deal with local refinery operators whose actions further degrades our fragile ecosystem. You also promised to set up two committees to assist impacted communities: Legal and technical committees; to establish spread and impact and legal assistance. While it has been observed that the Joint Military Tast Force [JTF] has relatively wiped out local refining activities since then in the state; the environmental terrorists [oil companies] are still sailing with impunity; failing to clean spill sites. And, may be the State government has redeemed its promise of assisting the Chevron explosion impacted communities, not much is heard or seen after your pronouncement at Koluama 2, in the presence of Mr. President. I recorded it myself there.
Indiscriminate disposal of sewage:
Your Excellency, though you may not be aware; it is true that Bayelsa State has no adequate, officially approved sewage disposal site; not even within the State capital and environs. In 2005 the Chief D.S.P. Alamieyeseigha’s administration ordered all landlords in Yenagoa to provide Water Closet toilets in their buildings, with serious warning for defaulters. The upswing in sewage disposal truck sailing in the nooks and cranny of Yenagoa points to the fact that many landlords have complied with the State government’s order. Not only that, the population of Yenagoa is increasing by the day. And in such a scenario unless the government takes the lead to direct/control where sewage operators should dispose sewage; the operators will help themselves and indiscriminate disposal would be the painful result. It is important to note that presently raw sewage and other chemicals like drilling wastes from oil companies drilling sites are being discharged directly into moving bodies of water. The discharged contents of the vacuum truck spreads into swamps, lakes, rivers and streams within communities.
The people of Ogboloma community in Gbaran Kingdom of Yenagoa local government area are not happy about the situation; as sewage and other chemicals so disposed around Opolo-Epie [off Tombia –Amassoma Road] flows down to their river. Already experts have indicated that life expectancy is lowest in the Niger Delta region than other regions of Nigeria. Now, if that is attributed to pollution associated with oil exploration/exploitation; it would be inappropriate to allow other sources that expose our people to illness and avoidable death. This is so because sanitation alone has helped reduce death rate in the developed countries; especially effective management of human waste. I will therefore, to save our environment and people; suggest that the State Government consider the construction of good sewage treatment and disposal sites where sewage operators would pay daily or monthly rates and continue to dispose at such approved disposal sites. Sewage should be treated before being discharged in harmless form into the environment. This is really important considering the health concerns and the fact that, Bayelsa State is the most typical of a deltaic environment. Our land is not only low; bodies of water are largely linked to each other due to the topography of our environment.
Need to spread development:
It is gratifying to observe the level of development going on in and around the State capital; especially the expansion and completion of some major roads; even the Tombia-Amassoma road [with bridges]. The on-going construction of flyover in Yenagoa is also very commendable; especially as the immediate past administration mockingly insinuated that Bayelsans may ask for the construction of a fly over because Bayelsans can ask for everything. Today, we can see that your administration is demonstrating the political will to develop the state seeing what is on ground within a short space of two years. I am not sure you are doing what you are doing to avoid being pelted with sachet water and shoes by angry Bayelsans, but display of genuine desire to develop the State. So much work is on-going around Yenagoa. As good and commendable as the on-going development in the state capital is; permit to urge the state government to also look at communities in the three Senatorial zones of the state. This is very important because Yenagoa cannot be the only major town in Bayelsa State. For instance, in Delta State, besides Asaba [the state capital], there are other towns like Sapele, Ughara, Warri, Ughelli, Ogbor, Abraka, etc, etc where you may find banks and other commercial ventures like engineering and law firms, private and public health institutions. The developmental drive of the state at the rural areas should spread; not lopsided too to favour one Senatorial zone. Yes, so because the entire state is your constituency. This was made manifest during you recent statewide tour; and you received several chieftaincy titles from all the zones.
It is gratifying to observe that You, Your Excellency embarked on a statewide tour recently. For me, it is one of the most significant things you have done, because those who failed to do so only succeeded in alienating the very people who voted them into office. Yes, whether elections are rigged or not; no political office holder will come to the public and tell the people that ‘You Didn’t Vote Me, I Rigged Myself Into Office’. I had advocated for such visits by our governors, to meet the rural dwellers and feel each other’s pulse, since 2006; but it only happened recently and I am delighted. Some of the benefits of such statewide visits are: Local government chairmen would sit up and ensure they have projects for the governor’s commissioning during such visits by the governor, it will allow for some flow of cash as some tidying up jobs would be giving to people within the locality [like painting and decoration jobs], it would encourage the Council persons to also tour communities within their council areas, etc, etc and, eventually lead to delivering democracy’s dividend to the grassroots. I urge you to use your good offices to ensure that local government administrators are performing in line with their statutory functions. They should also prepare annual budgets and be seen to implementing their council budgets. And, your statewide visit should continue, even unscheduled visits.
Need to establish the Bayelsa State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission [BASOPADEC]:
Your Excellency, although I didn’t hear it directly from you, but I was told that the establishment of BASOPADEC was part of your campaign promises to the people of the state. It would interest you to note that some individuals and groups have been advocating for this commission since 2006; during the brief administration of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and also during the immediate past administration in the state. A Bayelsa based civil society group called The Eagle’s Eye of Bayelsa [TEEB] sent a private bill to the Bayelsa State House of Assembly in 2006; handed it over to the Clerk of the House. Another group, an umbrella body of NGO/CSOs in the State, the Bayelsa Non-Governmental Organisations Forum [BANGOF] also visited the Bayelsa State House of Assembly in 2010 and presented a private bill on the same subject matter directly to the Speaker of the House, in the presence of some of his colleagues and the media. After all the sweet response to BANGOF, the House never considered the bill until that Speaker was made a Deputy Governor. It would also be recalled that some women staged a peaceful protest in favour of the establishment of BASOPADEC, but rather that listen to the women, the immediate past governor ordered for the arrest and detention of the women leaders. As would be expected, the Civil Liberties Organisation condemned the arrest and detention of the women.
Of a truth, the establishment of this important Commission to take care of part of the 13 per cent derivation accruing to the state is predicated on the need for justice. If the 13 per cent derivation from the Federation Account is meant to address the developmental challenges of communities in oil bearing states; it is only proper that the funds trickles down to the communities; those who bears the negative consequences of oil exploitation. In this connection, I hail the Federal Government of Nigeria for seeing to that need. Bayelsans are demanding the establishment of BASOPADEC. Please establish it for the people. Presently, it is very sad and unfortunate that the giant generators, water projects, concrete internal road projects, health centers and more in some of our communities are products of oil companies’ Corporate Social Responsibility [which is part of their operational costs]. There is no single Federal, State or local government projects in some communities and, this is unthinkable.
Even some that you may find are non-functional; like most NDDC water projects. The establishment of BASOPADEC would assist in bridging the developmental lacuna. This does not mean the State and local government would then concentrate only on the State capital and local government Headquarters. While the State government may decide not to establish the proposed state interventionist agency, some are of the view that looting the treasury is one reason why the authorities may have decided to ignore the call; because less funds would be left for those with the tendency to loot the treasury; the commonwealth of the people. And, it sounds very logical too. In my candid view, the establishment of BASOPADEC will assist our communities to get some basic amenities and address some of their social needs like scholarship to deserving students, support agriculture: fishing/farming, local crafts, contracts to local contractors and boosting local economy. This is not Resource Control we should be asking from the Federal Government; it is something within the purview of State governments to grant via legislation as was the case in Ondo, Edo and Delta states. Consider our communities suffering the negative impacts of crude oil exploration/exploitation. They are still waiting for Justice, the expected good life from the black gold sourced from under their soil.
It was Abraham Lincoln who said during the Emancipation Proclamation to secure the freedom of over 3 million people living in slavery on 1st January, 1863 that: Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves. Both national and international instruments captured the essence of preserving the Fundamental Human Rights of the human person. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are a few such documents to mention.
Whilst individuals have been known to abusing and infringing on the rights of their fellow beings in society, we are aware of the fact that society also made provisions to deal decisively with those who infringe on the rights of others. Government is charged with that responsibility. However, it is sad and unfortunate to observe that, the very governments which ought to protect the rights of individuals sometimes turn around to perpetrate the violation of Human Rights of citizens. This takes the form of government agents molesting, arresting/ detaining, torturing, extorting and sometimes carrying out extra-judicial killings as against the Rule of Law. It is pertinent to clearly state here that, every human being is entitled to the fundamental human rights; even those in the corridors of power; the public office holders. However, those occupying public offices should be magnanimous enough to exercise restraint in the use of political power and be ready to make sacrifices while in office.
There is no government, whether military or civilian that is completely free from criticism. And, although every democracy deserves a strong opposition to remain effective in service delivery; not all critics are from the opposition. And, although I must not fail to condemn those who criticize irresponsibly and without existing facts; most critics are only contributing their quota to good governance and development.
I am dwelling more on violations relating to those who criticize the system because; it is believed that; that is the area that government is often interested too. On your arrival from your visit to the United States of America not long ago; I watched the warm reception accorded you by Bayelsans at the Igbogene axis of the state capital. And, you made a statement relating to some enemies of the state who, couldn’t do better when they had the opportunity and were now trying to discourage development in the state by resorting to peddling rumour. Shortly after that, a Bayelsan residing in Abuja was arrested by the police [from Yenagoa], detained for some days and later taken to court after some concerned persons; including myself raised questions as to why he should be presented in court. And, because I am somehow addicted to the social media called Facebook; I had no trouble coming to terms with the reasons behind the arrest of Mr. Tonye Okio. And, I was provoked to respond to someone on Facebook in connection with the continued detention of Tonye Okio when the fellow said few days ago: shame to the people of Bayelsa State for keeping quite over Tonye Okio’s ordeal. I wanted to say some negative words to that fellow, from the fullness of the anger his statement stirred inside me. But, I held my peace.
Now, let me say this; no civilian administration in Bayelsa State received as much criticism like that of the very first, of Chief D.S.P. Alamieyeseigha. And, I stand to be corrected. And, the critics of that administration were very strong critics indeed; knowledgeable ones too. Notable amongst those very fine critics then are: Hon. Oronto Natei Douglas [OND], Dr. Youpele Banigo, Chief [Comrade] Jason Ebiserikumo Gbassa, Patterson Ogon, Von Kemedi, John Idumange, Adaka Inemo, Werinipre Noel Digifa, etc. And, even though I cannot say there were no human rights violation/abuse during the administration of Chief D.S.P. Alamieyeseigha; these critics mentioned above never suffered any form of arrest or detention. The only person that was kidnapped and taken to Creek Haven [Government House], was Chief Jason E. Gbassa; not even on the orders of the Governor too. One Ijaw musician popularly called Banner Man was also taken to Creek Haven in similar manner and, like Chief Jason Gbassa; roughly manhandled by some aides to Alamieyeseigha. The above actions of the aides to Chief Alamieyeseigha reeked of impunity and abuse of public office. Yes, it is now part of our human rights annals in the state; how some governors tolerated their own critics while in office. You are being watched right now too. History is being made even when those making it are unaware of same. I pray that we write and say positive things about your administration in the area of human rights after you leave Creek Haven.
Sailing from the above premise, I wish to strongly appeal to Your Excellency, to deal diligently with those perceived enemies of your administration; your critics, because cases of Human Rights violation and impunity are two things standing against military regimes. And, democracy is the PEOPLE’s government which gives those not holding public office the leeway to also contribute to governance. One way the people gets involved in democracy is to freely analyze government policies and actions and also express themselves for the common good. This should not also prevent the government of the day to call citizens to order or to explain reasons behind their actions. I could recall that the Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s brief state administration had to question one strong critic and newspaper publisher who is now one of your Senior Special Assistants; Comrade Alfred Egbegi; in connection with a publication.
On my part, because I was a major critic of the immediate past state administration; I have some bias in favour of your administration; especially with on-going infrastructural development in the State capital and relative peace the people now enjoy. I see a relatively sharp departure from our immediate past. And, hence, even though I am outside government; I see the current government in good faith. This has prompted my open letter to you. And it is for the common good; no other personal strings attached.
I wish to suggest too that the government takes a neutral position on issues relating to community leadership elections and others; including labour unions and others like the Ijaw National Congress [INC] and Ijaw Youths Council [IYC]. When I was a Union Chairman of the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, Bayelsa State, some of my colleagues and I worked out of the election venue of the Nigeria Labour Congress [NLC] Bayelsa State branch, because it was obvious that the then governor had influenced the situation to favour his approved candidate. We should expect the highest moral standards from public office holders; as examples for the followers.
Finally, I wish to urge that your RESTORATION government extends the security arrangement to the Creeks. Commuters who ply the waterways regularly and whose work, business and livelihood depend on the Creeks/ Rivers are in constant fear now owing to the activities of Sea pirates. Just as the Special State Security outfit code-named Operation Doo Akpoo is strategically position on land within the State capital and other communities; a marine division should also be created to adequately patrol and be strategically positioned to contain the menace of armed robbers in the rivers and creeks. This would also assist in reducing the criminal act of kidnapping in the state.
In good faith, I wish Your Excellency and the Restoration team good luck.
Comrade Alagoa Morris
An indigene of Bayelsa State.
Koko House,Opolo-Epie, Yenagoa,Bayelsa State
Date: 3rd January, 2014.