As he marks his first 100 days in office, some people say Governor Henry Dickson of Bayelsa State is yet to match words with action
He has spent 100 days in office, and for that period of time he has a list of achievements to showcase. But that has not saved Governor Henry Dickson of Bayelsa State from being hit by critics who claim that he has been very slow. At his declaration rally last year, Dickson had promised Bayelsans that “I am in the race to restore the lost glory and the dashed hopes of our people. I am going to restore Bayelsa State to its true glory as the Jerusalem of Ijaw nation.”
He reiterated that at his inauguration on Tuesday, February 14, when he promised to use the wealth saved from hitherto corrupt avenues to generate employment for the teeming youths of the state and to expand its economy. He posited “to do nothing now about a corrupt and decadent system poses a clear and present danger to the very existence of our state”, stressing that “it will be a great disservice to the Ijaw nation and this will not happen under my watch.”
His first move was to cut the allowances of public officers by 15 per cent and reduce the overhead of the office of the state deputy governor from N100 million under Sylva to N30 million. He also expelled from the Government House all ex-militants and their cohorts harboured by his predecessor and stopped the monthly largesse they were enjoying. On his part, he did away with all the retinue of personal aides that used to form a governor’s entourage while on official trip and has since been travelling with just his security aides thereby cutting costs on hotel bills and sundry allowances. A probe into the operations of the former administration through the Financial Review Management Committee headed by Timi Alaibe, former managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, and governorship aspirant, did not only expose some imperfections of the past but also shows that the governor may have served notice that he would run a transparent administration.
Dickson’s greatest headache was however the crushing wage bill of over N6 billion he inherited from Sylva. Twenty-five civil servants serving in the treasury department and the State Universal Basic Education Board have so far been arrested in connection with the salary scam. Twelve out of the 25 have been suspended from service following their arraignment at the federal high court, Yenagoa, on a two-count charge of conspiracy and stealing. The 13 others are still being quizzed following their indictment by a verification panel, which found that they had padded the payroll with fictitious names and under-aged persons. A staff audit of the civil servants in the state is still ongoing.
As far as the governor is concerned, a monthly wage bill of over N6 billion in a state with a population of just about 1.7 million is inexplicable. “There is no way this state will have the highest wage bill in the country. The state is unarguably the smallest with the smallest population. We can’t sustain the workforce that is bigger than any other state. We can’t continue every month spending N6 billion to service the workforce. We know that this bloated wage bill has constituted a major impediment to our capacity to deliver service”, he said. From the stringent measures and tough actions already taken, the wage bill has come down to N3.7 billion. It is expected to come down further by the time the verification exercise is concluded.
Another conduit pipe the governor has blocked is the N300 million monthly deductions being made from the state’s Consolidated Revenue Fund Account domiciled in First Bank and remitted to one SNECOU Group of Companies Limited. It was an irrevocable standing payment order by Sylva for unclear services rendered to the state government. The payment which started in June 2007 was done till February 2012, when the governor assumed office.
Contrary to criticism that he has fallen short of expectation, the governor believes that his government deserved some commendation for what had been achieved so far. He said “We have been able to save a sum of N23.2 billion in two months and concretised arrangements are on to shore up the internally generated revenue profile which was N520 million as at the end of March.” Dickson said the saved amount had been deposited in two special accounts namely Bayelsa State Strategic Development Project Account and Strategic Savings Account. However, not many Bayelsans are impressed. They believed that rather than keep money in the banks, there are a thousand and one things begging for attention.
Daniel Iworiso-Markson, senior special assistant to the governor on media and publicity, took exception to the perception of the Dickson administration as slow especially “for a government that is less than four months old and with the budget just passed only two weeks back.” While cataloguing the governments efforts in instituting a regime of probity, transparency and accountability in governance which is now backed by law, Iworiso-Markson stated that the savings of N24.5 billion in less than four months, was the first by any government in the history of Nigeria. “On security, you are aware of the efforts of this government in this regard”, he submitted.
Now that the Restoration Appropriation Bill has been passed, and the Augean stable is being cleared, Bayelsans are eager to see the governor unleash massive development on the state in line with his promise to redesign the master plan of the state and provide critical infrastructure in critical sectors of the economy.