The December 5 governorship poll in Bayelsa State will be a defining moment for the state whose mono-product economy has been a sore point for many residents and a touchy one for politicians.
Unfortunately, it is one area in which many of the candidates are not addressing in detail in their campaigns.
What Chief Timipre Sylva seeks to do with his bold campaign initiative, which seeks to lay the foundations for a Bayelsa State with a broadened economic base, is therefore commendable and worthy of a review.
First, the reality of Bayelsa’s economic position. Bayelsa State is one of the leading oil and gas producing states and, indeed, the foundation of Nigeria’s oil industry. Crude oil was first discovered in Oloibiri, Bayelsa State, and from then the foundations of Nigeria’s oil-driven economy took root.
Sadly though, despite Bayelsa’s place as the home of oil and gas in Nigeria, there is precious little, if any, of the derivative industries in that sector in the state.
There is no refinery or petrochemicals plant, no power plant, no manufacturing plant and the state’s economy is basically that of primary hydrocarbons.
If oil and gas exploration ceases, Bayelsa will face a grave problem of how to survive the fall in income.
The recent oil price slump that has affected the national economy has aptly exposed the problems with not properly articulating and growing a diversified economy.
It is one issue the campaign of Chief Sylva, the All Progressives Congress governorship candidate in the forthcoming election, is taking seriously.
At meetings with the business community and other stakeholders on the Bayelsa State economy Sylva lays out an ambitious plan to create the social and financial infrastructure to develop flourishing sectors out of agriculture, manufacturing and tourism to move Bayelsa away from a dependence on oil revenue.
What the APC and Chief Sylva plan is a silver- (Sylva-) lining for Bayelsa State, which if implemented diligently, will lay the foundation for tackling the mass unemployment that the Peoples Democratic Party has foisted on the state and the attendant criminality of kidnapping and illegal bunkering.
The state’s performance indices are not looking good. Out of 36 states in Nigeria, Bayelsa is ranked 27 on the Ease of Doing Business index.
It has an unemployment level of 36.6 per cent, a Human Poverty Index of 32.5 per cent, WASC pass rate of 3.4 per cent and grossly inadequate healthcare facilities with an access ratio of 8,447 persons to a health facility.
Knowing this terrible social statistics, the APC is in a robust engagement with the critical sectors that need addressing for Bayelsa to move forward.
The party calls this the transformation pillars. Sylva’s four-pillar agenda seeks to address critical infrastructure and social services sectors like education, health, infrastructure and public services. The aim is to retool the processes and institutions to make investment and inclusive growth achievable.
The first transformation pillar addresses infrastructure, agriculture and tourism; the second focuses on education, trade and services, and youth development; the third pillar addresses health, environment, peace and conflict; while the fourth pillar deals with reengineering an effective public service.
It is apposite to note that what the APC candidate is promising is not entirely new.
As governor from May 2007 to January 2012, Sylva had started the foundations of the ambitious infrastructural drive to reposition the state only to be short-circuited by the cobwebs in the then ruling party.
A mountain of debt left for him and the cosy criminality that made prosecution difficult in that federal regime meant the governor had to struggle to repay debt in his first term. And, just when he had done that and was looking forward to starting on a clean slate, the Jonathan Presidency frustrated him out of the race.
It is even interesting that at the time he held sway, the quantum of revenue receipts was nowhere compared to the huge revenues that came from high oil price between 2012 and mid-2014 (the Seriake Dickson years). So what happened to all that money such that Bayelsa State is again in debt? It is a question I want my fellow Bayelsans to consider.
What is interesting, however, is that Sylva’s agenda is one anchored on current economic realities. So it is like having a man who knows how to manage money to get the state not just out of the woods, but in developing the economic base to remain in good financial health in bad and good times.
The former governor maintains that the kind of vision to drive the new Bayelsa is missing in the PDP, and the signs are there for all to see.
Despite the stratospheric earnings under the last PDP regime at the centre, the level of squandering was so high that virtually all our multilateral development partners were either critical or dismissive of the government and the party and agreed with Nigerians that a change was inevitable.
With the coming of President Muhammadu Buhari a new template of accountability, probity and judicious use of resources has come into play in government and as a cardinal point of the APC of which Sylva is a founding stalwart.
Beyond that, Sylva is desirous of a legacy that sets Bayelsa on the path of sustainable development. His experience in governance, certainly, reinforces the support base that the APC has continued to enjoy ahead of the governorship poll.
Newman, a Public Affairs Analyst is based in Yenagoa