As Senator Douye Diri marks his 100 days in office today as the governor of Bayelsa state, Joy Emmanuel examines the pillars of his administration’s continuity, consolidation and prosperity project.
Soon after he was entrusted with the responsibility of steering the ship of Bayelsa state by the Supreme Court barely 24 hours to the swearing in of the All Progressives Congress candidate that was declared winner of the November 2019 gubernatorial poll, Senator Douye Diri was confronted by the COVID 19 global pandemic. And he had sworn into action to ensure that Bayelsans were not caught unaware.
“We cannot sleep or rest while we have an enemy we cannot see. COVID-19 is an enemy that we must fight till it is completely defeated.” Accordingly, the governor took steps to safeguard the people. But unlike other states which approaches were reproached by the people because it was harsh, Governor Diri adopted a lockdown strategy that, according to him, had human face.
And so the global pandemic of COVID 19 that hit Nigeria shortly after Senator Douye Diri was inaugurated as the forth executive governor of Bayelsa state on the 14th February neither rattled the former upper legislative member nor in any prevented him from taking steps to ensure the new government took shape.
The governor wasted no time to jump his administration’s operation with focus on infrastructural development. No wonder shortly after visiting some projects sites, he charged the contractors to work round the clock and promised to give necessary financial and moral the support to facilitate the completion of the projects.
It was obvious he had benefited from the solid foundation laid by former governor Seriake Dickson, and therefore took over the reins as quickly and seamlessly as possible.
Governor Diri reiterated his administration’s commitment on the construction of the Tombia-Etegwe flyover certain in this year’s budget. He had given the commitment earlier shortly after an inspection tour of the project site alongside his deputy, Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpor, and other government officials.
He noted that the project was conceptualized by his predecessor, but could not be executed due to the economic downturn in the country.
The Governor said his administration is already abreast of the developmental challenges of the state and would strive within available resources to tackle them.
On the health sector, especially following speculations and anxiety over his health status, Senator Douye Diri, was the first in the state that avail himself for a test at the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and (NCDC) accredited laboratory at Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital in Edo state, and the result put ended the suspicion as it was negative.
According to the Chief Press Secretary, Mr Daniel Alabrah, he had been inundated with phone calls and messages following speculations on the social media that he might have been infected. The report had fuelled by his sitting next to Bauchi state governor, who later tested positive for the virus, during the last National Economic Council (NEC) meeting at the state House, Abuja on March 19.
Subsequently, Diri appealed to the people to adhere strictly by the safety measures initiated by the NCDC and therefore discouraged people from overcrowded areas, encouraged social distancing in market areas and observe other preventative ways meant to curtail the spread of the deadly virus. Further, he demolished illegal structures in the crowded stalls in the popular Swali Market in Yenagoa, the state capital, to enforce the compliance of social distance.
Although the action was criticized my many Bayelsans who felt that the demolition exercise was not the best approach at the time it was done, but other people thought otherwise.
A former special assistant to the immediate past governor, Hon Bibi Oweifa, commended the state government for adopting proactive measures taken toward the fight against the spread of the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic.
Further, he said demolition of illegal structures was not new and cited the one done by the present Minister of Transport, Chief Rotimi Amaechi, who as the then Governor of Rivers state, had demolished illegal structure at the popular Mile1 Market in Port Harcourt and later replaced it with modern structures. “Today Mile 1 Market is one of the most beautiful ultra modern markets in the country.”
Later, Senator Diri turned attention to work on the first phase of the Yenagoa Ring-Road project connecting Igbogene to Onopa and an international shipping mall conceptualized by his predecessor, Hon Seriake Dickson. He assured both will be ready for commissioning when he celebrates his first 100 days in office.
Prompt payment of salary
One of the major achievements of the Diri’s government that is laudable is prompt payment of salaries and pension of retirees’ welfare. Labour leaders and pensioners in the state have given thumbs up to the governor for prioritizing the welfare of pensioners and retirees in the state.
State chairmen of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade John Ndiomu, and that of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP), Comrade Renner Hobobo, as well as the secretary, Comrade T.D. Eselomo, in a joint statement in Yenagoa, expressed gratitude to the governor for fulfilling his campaign promises to retirees.
The labour leaders said the Diri administration had been consistent in payment of their monthly pension, implementation of the approved 33% pension harmonization from January 2020 as well as released for payment of gratuity and death benefits to pensioners.
“The Nigeria Union of Pensioners, Bayelsa State Council, and the Nigeria Labour Congress on behalf of our esteemed pensioners in the state wish to express our profound gratitude to Senator Douye Diri and his deputy, Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, for consistently paying our monthly pension, 33 percent pension harmonization approval and implementation from January 2020 and to have released funds for the payment of gratuity and death benefits to pensioners in the state.
“We are very grateful that you have started fulfilling your campaign promises to pensioners as your miraculous emergence is for the good of all Bayelsans,” the labor leaders said.
The chief press secretary Daniel Alabrah also reiterated the government commitment to the people he said.
“The governor while he was campaigning had promised to prioritize the welfare of workers in this state. Whether retirees or those currently working, he had vowed to meet them at every point of their needs and ensure that they were efficient and productive. Without mincing words, he is fulfilling those promises and even much more for the people.
“The payment of pensioners is actually one thing he has not failed to do since he came into office. It is gratifying, it is a good thing. It is really a good thing that the government prioritized the welfare of workers and the payment of gratuities of retirees. It wasn’t that the last government was not paying pension, don’t get me wrong.”
The N2.9bn loan
One major controversy that rocked his administration and continues as Bayelsans still question is the issue of the loan Governor Diri took barely a month in office: A loan of N2.9 billion taken ostensibly to buy cars for his officials. Many had questioned the decision wondering if as the governor said the state in dire need of funds for his administration to run- even meets basic routine needs, how was he able to raise the money to fund the flyover and the construction of the ring road?
However, the chief press secretary, Mr Alabrah, in his statements argued that the fact that somebody takes a loan doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have money for future projects. He insisted loans are taken as alternative sources of revenue, to tackle urgent needs, adding that the loans to execute projects was one of the tonics needed to spur a government or individual to work harder to generate needed money to repay the loan. He said the government would be compelled to step up to up its internally generated revenue.
“This pandemic has virtually slows down everything. For instance, the government would have started the Ring-road project connecting Igbogene to Elebele roads and terminate at Bayelsa Palm road. But at the moment, there is nowhere in Nigeria that contractors are mobilized to work because of the lockdown and restrictions on social gatherings imposed by the federal and state governments to curtail the spread of COVID 19.
On the loan, it was necessary because the money was needed to meet basic needs which allow the government to function. It was neither taken for frivolous reasons nor without plans to meet its obligatory repayment.
“Well, Covid-19 has taken virtually everything that we expected to achieve within the 100 days but I want to see it as a temporary setback,” Alabrah said in defence of the administration.