The Race To Creek Haven: Who Will Be The Next Bayelsa State Governor? By Benjamin E. Nenge

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As the tenure of the current administration of Hon. Seriake Dickson gradually winds to an end in February 2020, so many Bayelsans have indicated interest in taking over the most revered and highest political office in the state and the seat of power popularly referred to as the Creek Haven. Bayelsa State was created on 1st October, 1996, and is located in the Southern part of Nigeria in the core of the Niger Delta. It is occupying an area of about 11,007 km2 with a population of 2,277,961 according to the 2017 estimate. The state has a difficult terrain and the most deltaic among all the states in the Niger Delta region, but blessed with one of the largest deposits of crude oil and natural gas.

Due to the difficult terrain associated with all the eight Local Government Areas in the state, infrastructural development posed a major challenge over the years because of the enormous cost involved in putting up basic infrastructures like roads, bridges, etc. when compared to other states of the federation. No wonder, meaningful infrastructural development eluded the state for so long despite the efforts of previous administrations, until the current administration of His Excellency, Hon. Seriake Dickson efforts to break the jinx of infrastructural hiatus. This has manifested in the linkage of two out of the three Senatorial Districts with roads and the construction of a world class International Cargo Airport that boasts of the longest runway in West Africa. The infrastructural development efforts of the current administration is commendable, but more need to be done to sustain and meet the insatiable quest of Bayelsans in this aspect and other areas of socio-economic development, like human capital development, expansion of the economic base and others that will bring about meaningful and sustainable livelihood to the people of the state, thereby moving the state to an unprecedented level of economic development. For these to be achieved, the state needs a leader that will operate an open door policy, who will not shut his eyes and block his ears to viable ideas that will contribute to the socio-economic development of the state. Bayelsa State needs a man with an accomplished track record of service to the country, state and humanity at large; who is not just interested in personal aggrandizement but in the interest and collective well-being of the people of the state through the initiation of sound and viable policies and projects to the benefit of all.

A large number of people from the ruling and opposition parties have indicated interest in riding to the most exalted seat of power in Bayelsa State in the next election which is schedule to hold in the last on the 2nd of November, 2019. However, after critical evaluation, and x-raying the track records of some of the interested personalities, one person of impeccable track record in the public service and other areas of human endeavour actually stands tall among them. The person is no other than His Excellency, Amb. (Dr.) Godknows Boladei Igali, OON, FNAH.

Godknows Igali is a man of humble disposition, a seasoned diplomat, technocrat and administrator with over thirty three years working experience in the public service. He holds a Ph.D in Political and International Studies from University of Venezuela, Masters in International Law and Diplomacy from University of Lagos, and B.A. (Hons) in History from University of Port Harcourt. He also obtained a Post Graduate Diploma from the Diplomatic Academy, Islamabad, Pakistan and studied at the Foreign Service Academy, as well as Bible Faith Training Centre both in Lagos. He is a man of sterling qualities with highly held esteem in the diplomatic circle, the public service and other areas of endeavour owing to his enormous contribution in propagating the advancement of the common good for all. He is a man of so many attributes – kindness, versatility, intelligence, philanthropist, voice for the voiceless and the downtrodden, reformist, bridge builder, etc. It is imperative to have a look at the various offices he occupied and some of the contributions and reforms he brought and the impacts felt by the people.

DIPLOMATIC CAREER
He started his working career as a Foreign Affairs Officer with the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1982 and rose to the level of an Ambassador. He had served in different parts of the world as a Diplomat where he exhibited exemplary commitment, creativity and selflessness in achieving targeted goals in the Nigeria’s foreign policy objectives. His hard work went unnoticed as he was appointed to serve as secretary to several committees of the Federal Government. He was later appointed as the Consul General of Nigeria to Cameroon between 1999 to 2005 where he played a major role in the peace effort between Nigeria and Cameroon on the disputed Bakassi Peninsula. He also organised and carried out the return of over 100,000 Nigerians who were displaced as a result of crisis in the North-East/North-Central Cameroon, and Bakassi. It is important to note that many of those returnees were people of Ijaw extraction, mostly from Bayelsa State. His appointment as Secretary to Bayelsa State Government coincided with the arrival of the refugees from Cameroon, and he made use of his office to comfortably resettle them in the state. During his days in Cameroon as Consul General, he also embarked on human capital development drive by working in collaboration with the then governor, Chief D.S.P Alamieyeseigha of blessed memory by training several Bayelsa indigenes in different vocational skills; most of the beneficiaries are gainfully self-employed and also providing training for other Bayelsa youths.

He attained the highest level in the diplomatic career when he was appointed as an ambassador to the Nordic countries of Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland where he showed an exemplary style of leadership to the admiration of the host countries and Nigerians resident in them. Most of his years in the Nordic countries were dedicated to the issues of bringing foreign direct investment to Nigeria, the protection of the environment and climate change. He has been highly eulogized at different fora by well-respected diplomats among which are the former Ambassadors of Germany and France to Nigeria (Dorothee Janetzte-Wenzel and Jacques Champagne de Labriolle) as one of the rare-breed Public Servants in Nigeria by extolling his sterling qualities and wished Nigeria had more of his type.

SECRETARY TO BAYELSA STATE GOVERNMENT/PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER ON NIGER DELTA
Igali was appointed as Secretary to Bayelsa State Government in February 2006 under the administration of His Excellency, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. He also combined this appointed with the Honorary Adviser and Chief Negotiator to President Olusegun on Niger Delta Matters. As Secretary to Bayelsa State Government, his office was beehive of activities been the engine room for the formulation of government policies. He brought issues of governance to an unprecedented level that was never seen in the history of Bayelsa State through the formulation of viable policies that set the state on the pedestal of economic development. Though, he served under this capacity for only one year and four months, his impact was felt all over the state. He championed the interest of the Ijaw Nation and its people in all his programmes and policies by propagating harmonious relationship among all the Ijaws not minding the Ijaw speaking state one is from. He has always exhibited himself as a true and illustrious Ijaw son wherever he finds himself by not hiding his ethnic identity – this he has done by speaking Ijaw to anyone that introduces himself as an Ijaw person and quick to offer assistance that is within his limit. He played an invaluable role during the period of the incarceration of Chief D.S.P Alamieyeseigha by appealing to his boss to plead on behalf of Bayelsans and the Ijaw nation to President Olusegun Obasanjo to release D.S.P for medical treatment in Dubai to save his life. The appeal was followed up with a letter which he did for his boss to sign for delivery to the then President. The request was finally granted by President Obasanjo which ultimately led to the release of D.S.P. for medical treatment in Dubai. This was an important feat that prolonged the life of Alamieyeseigha until his demise in 2015. He has continued to play a significant role in the affairs of the Ijaw Nation through the Ijaw National Congress (INC) and Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) by championing the cause for restructuring in Nigeria.

As an Honorary Adviser and Chief negotiator to President Olusegun Obasanjo on Niger Delta Matters, Igali played several roles in dousing the volatility of the Niger Delta. It was at this time the Niger Delta experienced the upsurge in militancy with the formation of so many militant camps in Ondo, Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, and Akwa Ibom States under an umbrella body known as the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND). He was the first son of Ijaw and Niger Delta extraction to visit all the major camps in the different states including the most dreaded Camp Five operated by Tompolo, not minding the risk involved to negotiate with them and sell the idea of the Presidential Amnesty programme to the militants and the government of the day. He however, formulated so many policies that later culminated in the formation of the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme but was unfortunately not physically in charge of the office at the time of the implementation of these laudable policies. He has continued to play this pivotal role in the Niger Delta as one of the leaders of Pan Niger Delta Forum that held several discussions with Niger Delta Avengers that crippled oil production to less than 1.5 million barrels per from a high of 2.2 million barrels. The discussions eventually led to cessation of hostilities by the Niger Delta Avengers that restored the peak production of crude oil in the Niger Delta.

AS FEDERAL PERMANENT SECRETARY
Amb. Igali was appointed Federal Permanent Secretary to Federal Ministry of Water Resources in May 2010 where he embarked on water sector reform policies in Nigeria. He was redeployed to Federal Ministry of Power in March, 2013. During his tenure as a Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Water Resources, he undertook the most comprehensive water sector reform policy including the introduction of Public Private Partnership (PPP) in water supply which has become a reference point in the Nigeria water sector today. He also played a major role in bringing the nexus between water, energy and agriculture through the construction of multipurpose dams in Nigeria. These dams include Gurara (which provide portable water, 30 megawatts of power and 3,000 hectares of farmland irrigation) and Kashimbila (which provides portable water, 40 megawatts of power and 4,000 hectares of farmland irrigation) that have been completed.

He initiated several water and irrigation projects in the Niger Delta through the Ministry and Niger Delta River Basin Authority. He also commenced a massive water project in Bayelsa known as the Ogbia Central Water Project which was at 80% level of completion before his redeployment to Federal Ministry of Power in March, 2013. This has project has since been completed and commissioned. He also initiated several other small scale water projects across different parts of Bayelsa State as his primary constituency. Due to his enormous contributions to the water sector in Nigeria, he was singled out as the only invited guest from Nigeria by His Holiness, Pope Francis among select world experts in water from different faiths and regions to discuss the importance of water in human existence at the Sacred St. Augustine Hall in the Vatican on 21 March, 2017.

Igali’s deployment to Federal Ministry of Power in March, 2013 coincided with the period of the privatization of the power sector. As Chairman of the Technical Implementation Committee on the privatization, he supervised one of the most ambitious projects that had never been undertaken by any government world over to a successful conclusion with the handing over of the power sector assets to the new private owners in November, 2013. This is aside from carrying out series of negotiations with electricity workers union that led to the payment of terminal benefits to over 48,000 workers to allow the smooth sail of the privatization process. Several other policies and projects initiated under his watch include: commencement of construction of the 700MW Zungeru Hydro Power Plant; completion of design of the 3,030MW Mambilla Hydro Power Plant; creation of an enabling environment for the injection of private sector capital in the power sector; diversification of Nigeria energy mix to exploit the abundant natural resources in the country; training of 3,600 youths in different skills in the power sector under the National Power Sector Apprenticeship Scheme (NAPSAS), and several others. Seven National Integrated Power Plants were also completed under his stewardship in Alaoji (961MW), Olorunsogo II (675MW), Omotosho II (450MW), Geregu II (434.1MW), Ihovbor (450MW), Ogorode (450MW), and Calabar (562.5);

As someone who is always keen about his primary constituency, he initiated several power projects in Bayelsa State popularly referred to as the Bayelsa State Power improvement projects. Some of these projects include the award of contract for the 90MVA Bayelsa Transmission Substation at Gbaraintoru to boost power supply in the state; 2 X 60MVA, 132/33KV substation at Oporoma & 2 x 132kv line extension at Yenagoa and several other rural electrification projects in different parts of the state.

Amb. Igali also served in several other capacities as a Federal Permanent Secretary, which include: Co- Chairman, Nigeria – German Energy Partnership; Chairman, Energy Working Group under the Nigeria – United States Binational Commission, Member of the Gulf of Guinea Commission, Chairman of the Sub-Committee on Flood Preparedness and Rehabilitation. He was at the verge of resuscitating the Nigeria – Nordic Energy Partnership before his sudden retirement from service in November, 2015.

CONTRIBUTION TO ACADEMICS
Igali is a well published author of several books and has contributed to many other areas of academic scholarship. Some of his published books include: Global Trends in State Formation: An Enquiry Into the Origin, Survival and Demise of States; Perspectives on Nation-State Formation in Contemporary Africa; The Truth of God’s Blessings; and Signposts to Success. His book; Perspectives on Nation-State Formation in Contemporary Africa was bestowed the Gold Seal Award of Literary Excellence in the United States under the US Review of Books. In 2012, he was honoured by the University of Port Harcourt as the eminent lecturer at its 1st Founders Day Lectures and is the Chairman, Governing Board of the University’s Institute of Natural Resources, Environment and Sustainable Development (INRES) of the University of Port Harcourt. He also chaired the first International Conference on Deltas in Africa which held at the University of Port Harcourt between 14 – 16 October, 2015. Critical issues relating to sustainability of deltas, climate change, environmental pollution, natural resources management, and security, especially in the Niger Delta and Gulf of Guinea were discussed in this conference. He has presented countless number of public lectures at different fora.

He was awarded Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) by President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2006, and was also inducted as Fellow of the Nigerian Association of Hydrogeologists, Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Administrators and Researchers of Nigeria, and Fellow of the Historical Society of Nigeria.

CONCLUSION
With all this rich credentials, Bayelsa State cannot afford to see such an illustrious son who has contributed so much to several areas of human endeavour lost out of Creek Haven. This is a clarion call for all Bayelsans across party lines that are interested in the accelerated development of the state to rally round him to clinch this exalted position where he will bring all his experience in moving the state to an unprecedented level of Socio-economic development.

Benjamin Ebikabowei Nenge is a concerned Bayelsan, writing from Abuja.

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