Timipre Sylva: A Governor, His State and His People

The Ijaw ethnic group can be found in seven federating states in Nigeria: Ondo, Lagos, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Rivers, Bayelsa and Edo state. Except perhaps in Lagos State, where migratory history is slightly unclear, the Ijaw are indigenous to all these communities. Ethnographically for instance, we have the Kalabari, the Okrika, the Opobo and the Nembe Ijaw; we also have the Arogbo, the Apoi and the Andoni Ijaw. In terms of demography, Ijaw are minorities in those states — except in Rivers and Bayelsa State. In Bayelsa, they constitute the absolute majority and consider the state the Mecca for all Ijaw at home and abroad.

It is generally assumed that however goes Bayelsa, so goes events in most other Ijaw communities and commune across the country. Because of this and other factors, the state has been under political and security microscope since its beginning in 1996. In very recent times, when people think of Bayelsa State, they invariably think of ex-Governor Alamieyeseigha and his deputy (who is now the nation’s vice president). The man currently at the helm of state affairs is Timipre Sam Sylva. Governor Sylva, by all accounts and available evidence, is unlike any governor the state has ever seen. And in fact, of all the sitting governors, one can hardly think of another quite like him in terms of profligacy, perfidiousness, aloofness, and incompetence.

Bayelsa State, as with other states in the Nigerian Niger Delta, receives handsome monthly allocation from the federal government. Now, whether the percentage is fair — considering that the state is one of the nation’s major breadbaskets — is an argument for another time. What is irrefutable, here and now, is that Yenagoa receives large monthly allocations. That being the case, the argument becomes: what does the state do with its allocation and its internally generated revenue? Where does the money go? What has the Sylva government done with the millions of dollars it has received in the last two or so years?

We have asked the same and/or similar questions of Alamieyeseigha and Goodluck Jonathan. And in fact, these questions have been asked of all governors and governments in the Niger Delta since 1999. No answers were ever given, none forthcoming. Governors and governments in the region have acted and continue to act as if they are beyond reproach, beyond accountability, and beyond the people’s scrutiny. In every single instance, these governors behave in manner that indicate they do not care about legitimacy, about accountability, and about good governance and whatever else traditional and western-style democracy calls for. Except in two or three states, what we have in the Niger Delta is indicative of the rot, the indifference, and the callousness that dominates our nation’s political space.

As a Nigerian and as one who has resided in all the regions of the country, one very much care about what is going on in our country. We have a diminishing and an ineffective presidency; a country with weak and failing institutions; a mostly fatalistic and fearful populace; and a political class that takes pleasure in raping and exploiting its peoples. In addition to caring about Nigeria, I also care about what is happening in my home state, Bayelsa. I am alarmed by what has happened and continue to happen in my state. But really, nothing meaningful is happening in terms of development; but a lot is happening in terms of theft, maladministration, apathy, dishonesty, and indolence on the part of the governor, the commissioners and most members of the economic and political class.

All over the state, especially in Yenagoa, people seem to have given up. There is hopelessness in the air. They seem to have accepted failure; and boldly accepting of the nothingness Governor Timipre Sylva unquestionably embodies. Majority of the people and majority of the elites know that the governor is a non-performer, still, no one seem to have the courage to challenge him. Those whose duty it is to call the governor to order seem to have lost their moral authority. They have, for too long and on many occasions, compromised their integrity. Others seem to have lost their voices and their cojones as a result of their overreliance and dependence on political favors, appointments and contracts, and on Sylva’s stingy goodwill.

And so it is that in spite of the governor’s incompetence and unenlightened state, the vast majority of the people just sits still and sits pitifully. Most people, it appears, are not bold enough to take the governor on. History shows that a leader — any leader — who is not answerable to his people is likely to act like an unhinged deity. We saw what Governor Alamieyeseigha did and also saw what became of him and the state after his abridged tenure. We also cannot forget what became of the state when Governor Goodluck Jonathan was in office. Unlike his predecessors, however, this governor is monumentally inept, and in the process driving the state into utter ruin and damnation.

We have a governor who, in two or so years, has signed ridiculous amount of Memorandum of Understanding. He is alleged to have signed an agreement with an Israeli enterprise to “make Bayelsa the fruit and vegetable basket of the nation.” In 2008, he rave was partnering with George Soros “to help the government of Bayelsa to strengthen institutions in the state that promote good governance and community development projects…was particularly interested in the welfare of the youths…especially those who recently gave up militancy and proposed schemes that would help to build capacity and give them life changing skills.”

When this and several other money gulping schemes didn’t pan out, Timipre Sylva took to wasting millions of dollars on publicity and propaganda campaigns and on consultancy works, i.e. how to “establish and operate fish ponds in the state.” Bayelsans have been fishermen since the beginning of time. How and why in heaven’s name would the governor pay millions of dollars to Americans to teach the Ijaw how to fish? Even if fish farms are of higher technology, are there no Nigerians with the technical knowhow?

And just recently, “Governor Timipre Sylva made available to the Government of the United States of America, acting through the U.S. Agency for International Development/ Nigeria (USAID/Nigeria) in Abuja, Nigeria, $994,509 to implement the legislative strengthening activity entitled, ‘Strengthening Transparency, Research, Independence and Development’ (STRIDE) Project . The State provided the Contribution to the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) for the first phase of the STRIDE project to strengthen the capacity of key officials within the executive and legislative branches of the Government of the State of Bayelsa on fiscal, legislative, and transparency reforms.”

As with several other projects, the STRIDE Project is simply another avenue for the governor and his posse to steal and steal some more. Members of the executive and legislative body may even find it necessary to take fact-finding trips to the US. On their way in, and out of the US, they will stop in London, Paris, Johannesburg and wherever else catches their fancy. In the process, millions of dollars will be stolen and wasted. But of course, that is the way of this governor and the Bayelsa State Assembly — a good for nothing assembly!

Bayelsans in general and the Ijaw in particular, do complain about and against the federal government. That’s fine. They have every right to do so. Nonetheless, they must also pay attention to their own leaders: governors, commissioners, federal ministers, special advisers, civil servants, contractors and many others who have been committing atrocities against them. Frankly, the Ijaw cannot continue to blame the federal government and the oil companies, yet tolerate the stupidity, the c

ruelty, the lawlessness and the perfidy of their own elites. Most of all, they must not tolerate leaders who steal and mismanage their treasury and other resources. A thief is a thief is a thief whether that thief is a member of the family or not.

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