By Prof. Joseph Miebi Ebiware and Dr. Matthew Oruowei Sikpi
As citizens of Nigeria from Bayelsa State, we are concerned enough to put out this note to remind both the electorate and the two gubernatorial candidates of their material responsibility for a peaceful and fair election in November. This election is precedent-setting because the two candidates, like some in the past, are formidable in that they both prevailed over other contestants in their respective party primaries even though concerns were raised about the process. At the same time, most politicians are fickle and often disregard the peoples’ will with contempt. Bayelsa State already have quite a number of leadership-misfortune experience which are firmly anchored in people’s psyche. Hoping that there is no chaos where a peaceful democratic process is enabled, you, the electorate, are much empowered to determine your fate by voting for the candidate with evident appealing fundamental leadership attributes. It’s been twenty years since election of the first State civilian governor was conducted. Yet, elections for governors in the State still seem like “experiments” because of the lack-of-interest to explore different modalities of electioneering that might possibly reduce some of the perennial challenges. The stakes are too high. Therefore, before you cast your ballot, why not ask yourself some questions like the following four?
- Who among the two candidates, is concerned enough to sincerely acknowledge the mass poverty and privation that pervade the State and honestly prepared to present a convincing master plan that would alleviate this existential State malady during his campaign rallies?
- Perhaps, due to a lack of interest or heartless corrupt intent by both Federal and/or State governments, pensioners have suffered all sorts of indignities including physical pain, anxiety, stress, trauma, to the extent that some have even collapsed and died while waiting in line to collect their meagre entitlements. Unbelievable as it is, this seems to be the norm not only in Bayelsa State, but the country in general. Who among the two contestants, is concerned enough and would engage in a sincere and sober discussion about specific plans that would mitigate the endless suffering of these men and women or, at best, take a drastic action that would finally eradicate this glaring cruelty within the State Civil Service system?
- By their callings, both the professional politicians and professional businesspersons often leave a trail of “bread crumbs” behind with which voters can have a fairly good insight into their track records as a politician or businessperson. As far as some of the duties and basic expectations are concerned, the Senator is (a) not expected to be a “bench warmer” in the House. (b) The Senator is expected to be Bayelsa State’s mouth-piece who will always articulate the “wants” and “empowerment needs” of the State and also oppose and boldly vote against Bills that are not in the State’s best interest. (c) Besides, a Senator is expected to introduce Bills for Senate approval; whether the Bill(s) will be approved or fail to get approval by the House is beside the point. (d) What is noteworthy is the fact that initiating a Bill or a number of Bills during a Senator’s tenure is a remarkable evidence of aptitude, courage and sagacity which are among the necessary qualities a leader might need to govern a State productively and progressively. The businessperson on the other hand, (a) is often the sole owner of the enterprise whose decision is final in all aspects of the venture. (b) The businessperson has the discretionary power to hire and fire at his/her pleasure. (c) S/he have the prerogative to hire only clan’s men and women or diverse Bayelsa State LGA peoples. (d) With the hundreds of millions of dollars earned from the business, the person can be self-absorbed and limit development projects specifically to his/her community or decide to help improve other areas outside the community as well. (e) The businessperson has a choice to create jobs and opportunities to empower Bayelsans and others or just family members alone. The above musings on the two candidates’ vocation are for you to consider and decide which candidate’s overall job profile, including achievements, meets or fail to meet the people’s expected threshold?
- Humility is another important prerequisite for leadership, especially for a position like State governor. With all the trappings, an unwitting transformation from being the supposed people’s servant to an imperial overlord with prima donna complex and becomes the pivot on which everything in the State revolves, including all government functionaries grinding to a halt when he is away has been an unpleasant experience of most Bayelsa citizens in the past. Having a humble disposition also guides both intuition and instinct to be acutely aware of consensus politics and believe the proverbial “wisdom of the crowd” and timely response to situations that might create an atmosphere of discontent and general inertia.
So, the question is: How much does the candidates weigh on the “humility” scale?
Many of us are aware that humility has always been among the fundamental cultural ethos of the Ijaw because most had very humble beginnings and always remember their hitherto underprivileged backgrounds when good fortune later comes their way through hard work or by providence. This awareness in turn, shapes the degree of instinctive empathy for others and also the weight index on the “humility scale”. Unfortunately, the stench of self-glorification, bogus, bombastic prefixes and honorific titles, vanity, greed, graft, decadence and hedonism that permeates the State enterprise becomes people’s raison d’etre. As a result, a cherished, noble, Ijaw culture that was once admired has sadly fizzled out.
It is true that a governor does not take the oath of office with the Bible in one hand and a magic wand in the other with which to transform Bayelsa State overnight to become the imaginary Utopia where everything is possible and perfect throughout his tenure. We know that this is not possible.
A governor however, does not need the power of alchemy to effect a paradigm shift where the human condition in the State is no longer where many are still trapped in a hopeless life of poverty, pipe dreams and endless anticipation for a better tomorrow.
A governor does not need a magic wand to know that education is the master key to whatever Bayelsa State can achieve just like other States in the country, and admit that the State public school system is seriously in need of a life-line to resuscitate it. When teachers are not valued, not paid regularly and when classrooms are also less than conducive environments for effective learning, it is self-evident for most teachers to seek value elsewhere at the expense of the kids who unwitting become victims of a severely crippled school system.
A governor does not need a magic wand to recognize and discontinue or rescind snub-appeal projects because they are always costly undertakings with no apparent socioeconomic value other than to make a good impression on others. Bayelsa State’s dire priority needs are not only limited to providing quality, all-season access roads and bridges throughout the State and functional well-equipped hospitals alone, but also include factories and industries that would provide income for the mass unemployed Bayelsa citizens. Faced with such a unique set of challenges, projects like gulf course and the like may be necessary in the future but not before many in the State could afford basic survival needs like enough food to eat and clean water to drink before the luxury of playing gulf. The pretext that such projects will attract foreigners and investors to the State is yet to persuade most Bayelsa State citizens. Until we have standard, sophisticated security system where safety is no longer a primary national concern, such white elephant projects could be kept at the back burner for now.
Most of you the electorate, toil night and day. With faces etched with signs of hunger, many of you queue by the hazardous roadsides and motor parks often perilously hawking a few items that could provide the next day’s meal. Many young men and women are unemployed even ten years after graduating from the university. Haba! Bayelsans deserve better!
SO, YOU, THE BAYELSA STATE VOTERS have a pivotal role to play in this crucial election. Voting out of frustration and/or without some knowledge of the contestants’ track record is like rolling the dice or shooting dart while being blindfolded. Just as important is the fact that you will live with eternal guilty conscience when you vote for an evidently less qualified candidate primarily because someone bribed you with money and/or a bag of rice on the candidate’s behalf. Your votes should not be for sale. You have a civic and moral obligation to exercise your franchise smartly and vote for the candidate who would further stretch the boundaries of opportunity and achievement in the great State of Bayelsa. Do some serious homework before determining your preferred candidate because, as they say, elections have consequences and in this case, very serious consequences. In other words, whomever you elect as the next occupant of “Creek Haven” will impact your life and the lives of your children and grandchildren in many ways.
TO YOU, SENATOR DOUYE DIRI & DAVID LYON: it is a heinous crime if both of you fail to work hard in unison to provide an atmosphere for a peaceful, free and fair election where voters are safe to cast their ballots. Your evidence-based culpability for any loss of life or limb will forever be in the deep recesses of Bayelsans’ mind. To instigate fellow Bayelsa citizens to combat and kill one another as sacrificial lambs to ascend the Governor’s Seat of State is the very antithesis of what the masses want insofar as Ijaw cultural beliefs and tradition are concerned. When you are directly or indirectly complicit in causing someone’s death, the indelible blood stains in your hands will always remind you with constant nightmares instead of a peaceful nightly sleep in “Creek Haven”. The unfortunate uncontrolled sporadic killings during some previous elections should not be taken as the norm in Bayelsa State. So, you are not relieved of the paramount burden and responsibility to do everything possible to prevent chaos and mayhem in the State.
ALSO TO YOU, THE TWO CANDIDATES: A suffocating environment besieged with all types of players and hangers-on now surround you; those adroit at fulsome praise-singing; those with gratuitous offer to help your campaign; the jobless; the “leeches” whose primary expertise has always been to cleverly warm their way in and have access to you with feigned low profile demeanor and eventually become a parasite who always wants to volunteer to take care of any task, no matter what it is, in hopes of receiving some sort of favor in return. With such a mix of personalities, the initial true test of your insightful leadership quality is by carefully winnowing the legion of supporters that surround you and painstakingly picking out the best who would be capable and also able to help you sustain a scandal-free administration. Be aware that you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t because of the understandable feelings of disappointment by those who were expecting “pay-back” appointment(s) that never happened.
Disheartening enough, politics and the associated emoluments, frills and trappings are the only sources of subsistence income for a majority. Due mostly to no fault of theirs because of the extremely limited employment opportunities for both eligible professionals with skill-set and blue-collar job-seekers, it becomes very appealing to join the political fray which has enviable prospects to amass wealth and fortune quickly without any tangible, realistic socioeconomic service in return to develop or add value to the State enterprise. As a result, impulse-induced resolve to amass wealth quickly to be stash away just as quickly; the uncertain job-security situation; the unthinkable absence of even marginal financial security at any time, especially at old age, collectively instigate the desire to embezzle. These are among the economic fall-out that have converted politics into a preeminent choice vocation.
Consoling though, that there are still quite a number of principled, seasoned and patriotic politicians who regard politics as a divine-calling-of-sorts and strive to be righteous without being self-righteous and do what is right for the people’s general welfare. We hope ONE OF YOU WHO ULTIMATELY BECOMES BAYELSA STATE GOVERNOR will also aspire to leave behind, fitting memories that would forever be stored in the mind folders of the poor and hungry; those without god father but need jobs; the sick who cannot afford hospital bills. Above all, the school children, who are the future generation apparently trapped in a web of officialdom and ill-suited managers and administrators. These people will forever remember you when you roll up your sleeves, work tirelessly to create jobs and make life worth living for them and other Bayelsa State citizens.
Finally, we truly count on the Bayelsa electorate not to allow being used as political pawns or stooges and implore all voters to do what is right. Similarly, we appeal to the two contestants to do what is morally, ethically and culturally right for the sake of lasting peace, enlightened development ventures and opportunities for all in the journey to reach the “promised land” that “Glory of All Lands” is destined to be.
Prof. Joseph Miebi Ebiware, Dr. Matthew Oruowei Sikpi
Naples, Florida, U.S.A. Old Saybrook, Connecticut, U.S.A.