An Open Letter to the Incoming Occupant of Creek Haven

Dear “incoming occupant”,

By now it is no news that you may soon become the next governor of this state, after all bills carrying your face have graced our city and are amongst the many flooding our city with promises of a better Bayelsa and an even greater Niger Delta. If you are that person, you most certainly know how the game will be played, and I hope that the features of the game do not distract you from what it is, you will be elected for.

First, let me start by saying that I hope you have not joined the band wagon of actors with pre-election gimmicks, featured by campaigns and manifestos which will be a boring endeavor because we have seen so many actors, orators, preachers, and messiahs come and go. And you will not be the first with the catchy campaign slogan and hashtag. You must know that whichever part of the political divide you fall to that Bayelsans are the first of your conscience.

Fortunately, your conscience may exist somewhere in there, but subdued unfortunately by party supremacy and ideals. If that is who you are let me be frank with you, you have nothing to offer to Bayelsans and you will fail untimely. I understand that your standard for measuring success is a different one and it falls below the bar. In this dysfunctional bar of measurement that makes you assume office and believe that the way to score developmental points is first to pay homage to the gods that made you, fill your cabinet with loyalists as a show of appreciation for supporting you. I am sorry to disappoint you, those things do not count for much if you possess no roadmap to strategically build Bayelsa. If you look at the state, it is clear that what all the administrators have all lacked is a common blueprint guiding their administration and upon which they all worked towards achieving regardless of the year, administrator or party.

Now, talking about predecessors, let us x-ray in bits the administrations of your predecessors and to a large extent the leaders whose shoes you aspire to fill. Let us state first that they have achieved minimal success, and failed in many areas; permit me to outline a few discrepancies.

In 2009, salaries were paid on time, pensioners retired from active service and got their gratuities and benefits paid. Money flowed so much in Bayelsa that when a loved one joined his/her ancestors, families were very much concerned and invested in the firm chase of the payment of death benefits instead of mourning, which was paid as at when due. In the same 2009, Bayelsa was like a police state, it was possible to have your hair a little uncombed, have a certain gait and be automatically seized, beaten, arrested and thrown wherever it was deemed fit, and for the unlucky, killed in the process. We all were wailing, crime was on the increase and the solution became a state owned militia that moved when pockets spoke. I once heard of a story of a 200 level student, a boy who had gone just a few blocks after his home to purchase fufu, and met an unfortunate fate. His mother had prepared krigina and was waiting for his return, but she never again set eyes on her son till date.

In 2002, Bayelsa was booming in glory. It was barely some years after creation and our first executive governor was handling the affairs of the state. When you turn on the radio, songs about the number one man filled the air waves. I was just a child then, but I knew that our oil money was in circulation. At school, we sang to the glory of God and to the administrator because fees were never unpaid, food was not hard to get and when power was restored, we hailed the administrator even louder. It was rumored at beer parlors that, a complete nobody could be in a cheery mood and declare drinks for the entire parlor on credit because in 2002, businessmen and women gave out items on credit in the name of the administrator of creek haven. It was a trust on the government and not particularly on the individual, trust that the administrator truly loved his people and would pay salaries before the end of the month.

This trust and happiness extended to the premier university, the Niger Delta University, which saw a boom and an influx of students. All over Nigeria people wanted to attend the university and mingle with the children of people who had oil flowing in their backyards and money bags under their beds. Students could also concentrate on school work with their parent’s salaries hitting their accounts at the 24th /25th day of the month. During festivities, civil servants celebrated bonuses and arrears and generally all was well. The only problem, it seemed, was that Bayelsa state was continually short changed at the federal level and our brothers were still in arms and manning the creeks.

At the starting point of it all, the bar was actually higher, we wanted a new state, and we wanted to control our resources; but as it went all attempts at a stable trajectory of development hit a reverse – a government of sharing money and keeping the piece, cost us more than peace. Our overall growth as a state was minimal, nevertheless a hero emerged from creek haven because if we didn’t grow we at least ate garri when we were supposed to and slept under cooling fan, with the supply of power, at the time it was given.

In 2011, it was amnesty and extreme poverty. The extravagance of the creek haven occupants we had heard, had created a hell on earth. The debt crisis had rattled the economy and we experienced what became a rapid decline of the state economy and environment. This downward spiral cost us everything, but it was hard to tell because the administrator had a way of making things appear unreal. When seen in public, the administrator would applaud himself on projects that he made relevant and say that the new policies were to sculpt a new state character and that people should learn to adapt.

Our boys had dropped their guns and for once Bayelsa and her sister states would enjoy the dividends of the long agitated resource control. But amnesty was made for a select few, if you did not carry guns you had no need for amnesty. Of the boys that carried arms, a huge percentage studied in schools either within or outside the state. Another percentage were already graduates seeking employment. But it was not a problem because we had gotten an administrator that would make the younger generation a priority. Well, believe me, amnesty succeeded in bringing our boys out of the creeks to the city, some flown abroad, some made millionaires, alongside our chiefs and elder statesmen, and yes a few ex militants got themselves palaces. Now, graduates and soon to be graduates had no investments for them, were left to be employed 8 or 9 years after this so called amnesty. In fact some still roam the streets, without a hope of a better initiative to absorb this population.

As if it was not enough, then came the ghost workers saga. We had heard that the civil service needed reforms and reevaluation, but nothing prepared us for the week in, week out verification exercises to ascertain the living and the dead. I heard that you only need to have grey hair and you would be declared dead or unfit to work. By the administrator’s standard, my own mother became a ghost, and had already been declared dead. It was clear to me ghosts would never leave the city, we were a confirmed city of ghosts.

By then poverty wasn’t only in its wake, it had eaten deep and fast because workers, the ones without grey hair, were heavily owed, salaries slashed into two, while prices of goods hit the sky as much as the dollar. The premier university had gotten a sister university with the intention of putting an emergency on education. So, while the sister university needed funding, the premier university was made to become independent and needed to fend for itself, not long fees were increased and retrenched and unpaid parents would become helpless.

While, I do not intend to bore you “Mr Occupant”, you must remember all of these so that you learn from them. Now, the final thing I will bring to your notice is what I call the plague of the common man. And to illustrate that I will recount a story my father told me, and which I have had the rare privilege of hearing a king, leader and father, HRM King Alfred Diete Spiff recount. It is a story associated with and in fact preceded the French revolution, the bread riots as they were called. In short, France had suffered bad winters and harvests and the result was that bread- the staple of French diet was in short supply and since there were more people in cities and less food to go round, this became a problem. Now, the average French worker spent half of his daily wages on bread, but this rose to a crippling 88%, so the citizens marched down to Bastille to lodge their complaints, when the queen Marie Antoinette came out and in response to a scarcity on bread said, “If there is no bread, then eat cake”. Certainly, there is no way bread and cake would become scarce at the same time.

Mr occupant, I hope you understand this partial blindness steeped in irony; certainly if workers cannot afford bread, perhaps they could afford cake which was more expensive than bread. What you see in that palace of yours is unreal, and what your butlers and cabinet members say is very much unreal, they speak as inspired by their pay roles. You need to get a closer look to understand the plague of the common man. The common man is plagued by the fact that you become partially blind to the practical workings of the state you would soon govern. And it is by no magic, that things will work, you have to be intentional with your investments, with the solutions you proffer, because you know that the ultimate aim of government is to put into use our commonwealth to improve the living conditions of the people. And if, in a year or two, the living conditions of the common man has not improved, you have already begun to fail.

Mr incoming occupant, once you get there, do not allow the banana peels on the throne distract you and become your downfall, the peels signify a challenge that you would have to overcome if you hope to stand firm on taking a turn to build a viable Bayelsa. I cannot leave out the fact that the job of reviving Bayelsa will not only be in your hands, but the team of experts that you would assemble into your cabinet. I urge you to get the very best, devoid of tribal or party sentiments, who are going to make Bayelsa a top priority in four or eight years if you plan to run for office again.

Lastly, even though you may not count it as much, I will be praying for you, that you succeed, because when you succeed, we all succeed. And remember that the youths, women, men and children are watching. I am watching.

Inetsol Eyal OruThe storyteller

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