Governor Akinwumi Ambode of Lagos State is permanently in the news, either in coming up with one development agenda or another. His is enhanced by the locational advantage of Lagos as the commercial capital of Nigeria and the landlord of the media establishment in the country. Traditionally, media establishments indulge big places – London, New York, Paris, Beijing, etc. Governor Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi has joined that league in connection with what is generally regarded as a serious re-engagement with agriculture along with Lagos State. Gombe State has enjoyed certain reckoning on infrastructure provisioning although it is not clear who, between Danjuma Goje and his successor, Ibrahim Dankwambo, is entitled to the credit for that. Perhaps, it is a shared credit. Professor Ben Ayade, the governor of Cross Rivers State has an emerging image of a big thinker. Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State announced a Kaduna Infrastructure Master Plan yesterday that has an idea of the percentage of Nigerians that would be constituted by that state in 2050. That’s quite innovative if he would free such from the neoliberal concoction he privileges in governance. Although the quantitative approach to publicizing governments and governance in Nigeria is such that perceived performers are rarely located in any cognitive referent to which people could more easily relate, these governors have media image that suggests they are doing something out of the ordinary.
Surprisingly, Seriake Dickson, the governor of Bayelsa is not counted in this league of beneficiaries of rave rating as masterminds of something developmentally distinct or even unique in the past few years. In truth, however, something interesting is going on in Bayelsa State that endorses projectisation but also interrogates that approach to governance in Nigeria. Projectisation is a government of projects. To turn Bayelsa State of Nigeria into the Dubai of Nigeria might not have been what Seriake Dickson, the governor of the state, set out to do when he took over power in that state in 2012. After six years in office, that is almost exactly what he has done. The totality of his engagement with what he calls legacy projects has created what someone has aptly called a Nigerian version of Dubai: smaller in scope but sophisticated in design, ultra modern in finishing, numerous, diverse but inter-connected.
The list stretches from the star attraction called The Ox Bow Lake Pavilion to the quality control centre, a key input for quality structures and prevention of collapsed buildings now very common in Nigeria. Its soil and asphalt laboratories are particularly inviting. There is the Bayelsa Diagnostic Centre which might be the most impressive of the lot. Not only is it very modern, it is described as a one- stop center for all medical investigations. Listed services cover Mammogram, Digital x-ray, Echo cardiology, Digital forensics, DNA extraction, among others. While some of these are already available in some medical establishments in Nigeria, the centre itself is not only rated as second to none in Africa but also technologically linked to its counterparts in the US, China, India and Dubai.
This connects with the Toru Orua Specialist hospital with its own cluster of ultra-modernity in this realm. Then the religious dimension to all these in the Ecumenical Centre at Igbogene, the site of several other mega projects. The political dimension of turning Bayelsa into Dubai of Nigeria is to be found in the Boro Town project. Located in Kiama, the headquarters of Kolokuma Opokuma Local Government Council of the state, it memorialises Isaac Adaka Jasper Boro, the leader of the failed 12 day revolution against the Gowon regime. He somehow still enjoys a hero status in Ijo, (Ijaw) nationalism. Others include the upcoming International film village at Igbogene, the Gloryland Drive Phase 11, Igbogene bye-pass and the Golf Course.
There is equally the Heliport, reported to have the best as well as the longest runway in Nigeria. It is a regime of construction that is turning the place into the Dubai of Nigeria in an infrastructural and commercial sense, especially the links being forged with the oil companies through the provision of modern office blocks. That way, those that relocate or go to the area simply find ready-made offices. A strategy of making Dubai of Bayelsa can thus be inferred since the original Dubai itself is nothing but a celebration of development through infrastructure.
So, where is this coming from and what is it good for? Wherever they might be coming from, it is state governor who is in charge and his argument is this: “We want to leave behind legacy projects; projects that can stand the test of time, so that, succeeding governments can focus on other issues. That’s why every infrastructure we are putting down is of world class and we are using competent contractors for that purpose”. In other words, there is a polemical underlay for this approach to governance. It doesn’t have to be acceptable to everyone to count as a good argument. What is important or what the polemics indicate is that the governor has the philosophical justification for his choice of direction. The implication is that he is mindful of and has a defence for his exercise of power. In summary, he is conscious that developing the philosophical credo is where the challenge of leadership lies. That is where the debate is. Anybody can build structures but it is not everybody who can argue what the structures bring to the table or what they are good for.
Supposing Governor Dickson’s polemics is rationalization or even propaganda? Well, all polemics are propagandistic, discursive and about defence of power. That should not be a problem since the meaning of what a governor says does not depend on him or her but also on the meaning-making machinery of his audience. In this case, Dickson’s audience is Bayelsa State, the national community in Nigeria and the world at large. To make sense of what the governor is saying, these audiences would have to turn to Bayelsa in its context: one of the most recent states created in Nigeria, one of those with the most difficult terrain to put infrastructure, one of the states in the Niger Delta territory in Nigeria, etc. In this context, an argument for putting in place world class infrastructure such that certain services can be taken for granted in the state can hardly be faulted, irrespective of whatever other reasons might have actually shaped the governor’s preference to replicate Dubai in Bayelsa State. It can be a more difficult argument to reject if linked to the necessity for accomplishing that at this point in time when the advantage of oil revenue in general and the 13% derivation facility are still available.
This is more so that projectisation, where well handled, can also be a mode of redistribution because it involves a great deal of construction works that automatically engages a wide variety of labourers, specialists and service providers. Having been going on for six years, it would be interesting to see whether the incidence of poverty in Bayelsa today has risen or fallen and the role of the ‘Dubai’ strategy in that through income redistribution for the various stake holders.
It has not been just projects or structures. There is, for instance, an educational campaign to it towards “building a crop of highly skilled and educated Bayelsa youths to meet the challenge of a competitive and industrialised world now and in the future”. This is coming in through in two educational development institutions launched recently. These are the Educational Development Trust Fund to which about N200m will be paid every month and then the Higher Education Students Loan. These would take time to produce results but it is an example of the integration of the material and the non-material in making a ‘Dubai’ out of Bayelsa State. The governor is determined to see the completion of all the projects involved, “for the benefit of our people and to the glory of God”, admitting though that there were a lot more that could have been done but for funding constraints and distractions. For the much that have been accomplished, he is grateful to his bureaucrats, the contractors and the people for the communal support.
Isn’t there something of a paradox that ‘Dubai’ in Nigeria is not anywhere near Abuja or Lagos but far off in the Niger Delta? Could Dickson be showing a road map of how to move the entire region out of protest and violence to a business hub? With the ultramodern heliport, a rapid take off and quick rise might have been ignited. It is a place to keep an eye on with respect to maintenance and sustainability. That is, the Dubai of Nigeria would still remain sleek and alluring ten, twenty years from now, well maintained, whether Dickson is far away or nearby.