CHARLES OZOEMENA ON GOVERNOR DICKSON`S TRANSFORMATION OF BAYELSA STATE THROUGH TOURISM
Governor Dickson’s redefinition of Bayelsa through Tourism
By Charles Ozoemena
July, 18, 2013
Leaders that earn commanding places in history are not only visionary but are like marksmen who shoot on target. They provide roadmaps for achieving rapid advance in economic development of their people. Such leaders define the very essence of good governance. Good governance, by the way, manifests through improvement in the standard of living and general wellbeing of a people or in the coinage of English Philosopher, John Stuart Mills, through actions that “maximises pleasure and minimises pain”. According to him government actions should be judged morally right or wrong according to whether or not they tend to maximize pleasure and minimize pain among those affected by them.
As a matter of fact advocates of good governance believe that governments that succeed are largely built on the nucleus of a well-defined direction, a somewhat take-off point for building up the economy and developing both the human and material resources.
For Bayelsa State Governor, Seriaka Dickson , his passion for good governance is embedded in his vision for the people of the state. Dickson’s dream is to build an astounding Bayelsa that attracts the world through what I chose to call “economic and social tourisms”
Recently the Governor told his audience: “I am in a hurry to see this place become the Dubai of Africa and that is why we are working so hard. Very soon, you will see us unfold our tourism city master plan and very soon you too will see tourists and investors rushing into Bayelsa as they are already doing now. You will agree with me that we need companies and industries to come in and employ our numerous graduates. That also we are making the kind of investment to build the needed capacity in our youths”
Reiterating his commitment in this direction, the Governor on July 17, 2013, described Bayelsa as one of the most peaceful states in the country, noting that the state has a lot to offer beyond oil and gas. He reconfirmed his administration’s intention to transform Bayelsa into a tourism and entertainment hub in the near future. He spoke while hosting the 32 contestants of the 2013 Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria beauty pageant, organised by the Silverbird Group. Commending the organizers for promoting the MBGN event, Governor Dickson noted that the presence of the most beautiful girls in the state gives credence to the positive result of the investment being made in the area of security and tourism.
Dickson’s preference for tourism is driven by his craze to appropriately position Bayelsa given its varied natural attractions, create millions of jobs, diversify the economy of the state and like he said create alternative source of revenue generation. Bayelsa state sits at the foot of Atlantic Ocean and its tributaries which are fed by the waters of rivers that meander their way from other parts of the country. Its land and water belies billions of barrels of crude oil. Bayelsa is the source of 30-40% of Nigeria’s oil and gas production – in fact, the first oil struck in quantities sufficient for commercial production in Nigeria was found in 1956 in Oloibiri, now part of Bayelsa State.
Situated in the heart of the Niger Delta, Bayelsa State was created in 1996 after the split of old Rivers State. Bayelsa is home to a population of around 2 million people. Its capital is at Yenagoa, also known as the capital of the Ijaw nation. The state has an area of around 21’000 square km, and about three-quarters of its total area lies under water. In addition, its vegetation and coastal configuration provides major attractions that support tourism. The mangrove forests and swamps in the south of the country are home to rich vegetation and spectacular scenery, while the thick forest in the north has arable lands used for agriculture.
Bayelsa, the glory of all land, is richly endowed with beaches and can provide spaces for yachting, sport fishing, boating, and conferencing; just to mention a few, if the tourism roadmap is fully developed. Bayelsa has a variety of festivals ,music, arts, folklore, artefacts, museums and monuments. Some of her attractions include the White graveyard at Twon Brass LGA, the Efi Lake, the Slave tunnel at Akassa in Brass LGA, Olodi Museum at Ogbolomabiri, Mangrove Museum at Nembe, Ogidigan Deity of Bassambiri and King Ockiya’s Mausoleum at Ogbolomabiri all in Nembe LGA. Late Christopher Iwowaris’s monument, Isaac Boro’s memorial monument at Kaiama in Kolokuma/Opukuma LGA. Others are the Akassa Wildlife forest reserves for bird watching, Akassa slave transit camp at Ogbokiri, near Brass. The camp was the gateway for transporting slaves to the America and the Caribbean through the ocean. There is the Mongo Park residence that served as the divisional headquarters of the colonial rulers of brass division.
His (Dickson’s) idea of building Bayelsa as a world-class destination is realistic and deserves commendation. Full support of the entire people of Bayelsa is demanded considering that tourism is fast becoming a major source of income for several cities of the world. For instance, tourism is a significant source of income in Washington. The variety of her scenic areas, including parks, attracts increasing numbers of visitors to the state. Boating, hiking, skiing, sports events, and local festivals are other major tourist attractions.
In Amsterdam many visitors to the city come for business purposes or to attend conferences, particularly at the large RAI Exhibition and Congress Centre. In Grenadines, tourism is a major financial booster of the Island especially since it became accessible through the airports and the use of modern boats. Noted for their coral reefs and fine beaches, the Grenadines favours those interested in yachting and sport fishing and lend themselves to Caribbean tourism’s traditional emphasis on sun, sea, and sand.
Senior Special Assistant to the governor on Research and Social Media, Comrade John Idumange, told reporters in Portharcourt recently that Dickson places high premium on tourism development hence the establishment of a separate Ministry for tourism development. “Tourism is one of the world’s largest industries. In Bayelsa State, ecotourism, marine tourism and heritage tourism will flourish. One of the most common types of tourism we can easily promote is coastal/marine tourism. This is based on a unique resource combination at the interface of land and sea offering amenities such as water, beaches, scenic beauty, rich terrestrial and marine biodiversity, diversified cultural and historic heritage, healthy food and, usually, good infrastructure. This is why Governor Henry Seriake Dickson has taken infrastructure as a priority of the Restoration Government”, he said.
Idumange who expressed optimism that with the Bayelsa State Museums and Monuments Board in place, heritage and cultural tourism will thrive, confirmed that Bayelsa State has many historical events: festivals, dances and cultural displays, sites and locations to package to attract tourists. By the grace of God, the prevailing peace and the legal regime the Restoration Administration has put in place will naturally attract tourists”, Idumange added.
Contained in the Tourism master plan are not only provisions for employment generation, training of locals in the hospitality business, boosting the local economy and the IGR profile of the State; but also developing small-and medium-scale ethno-tourism products; potential for smart partnerships with established entrepreneurs around the world.
Within Bayelsa’s tourism road map is to make Agge Community, off the Atlantic coast in Ekeremor Local Government Council, the tourism base of the state. Governor, Seriake Dickson disclosed this plan at a reception ceremony held in Aghoro Community for the Special Adviser to the Bayelsa Governor on Political Affairs, Fred Agbedi. Represented by the Deputy Governor, John Jonah, he said that Agge had been scheduled to be the tourism base of Bayelsa, adding that in its efforts at opening up the area for development, the state government had started a deep sea water port in the community.
“Above all, the Bayelsa West Senatorial District road will end up at Agge. We are hopeful that we will get the road there before the end of our four years. These are all that have been projected by this government for the area. It may not happen overnight, but there are definite plans that the government has drawn up for Bayelsa West Senatorial district,” he said, adding “We have already commissioned agents to carry out survey of the area and map out strategic points.”
The dream of the present administration is to create a Bayelsa state that is an ideal choice for a holiday both for local and international tourists. The creation of the Bayelsa State Tourism Development Agency by Governor Henry Seriaka Dickson on October 9, 2012 was in tandem with this dream. At the commanding seat of the Agency is Mrs Ebizi Brown, an expert and strategist in Tourism.
As a preliminary move to advertising the potentials of its tourism, the state government has been engaging in the sponsorship and promotions of the movie and beauty pageants. For nine years running Bayelsa has been home to the staging of the African Movie Academy Award (AMAA). Through this programme, movie stars from across Africa and beyond pour into the state capital, Yenagoa, annually to attend the ceremony. Only recently, the state Governor mobilised support, raising over N800, Million for AMAA through a fund raising dinner sponsored by the state government in Abuja.
In furtherance of his support for the movie industry, the state government is building a Film City. Governor Dickson has already performed the groundbreaking ceremony for the Film City at Igbogene, in Yenagoa, in fulfillment on an earlier pledge for the construction of the project. The proposed multifaceted Film City project, according to the Architect in charge of the project, Mr. Edogu Victor, is expected to accommodate facilities such as business district, relaxation centre, helipad, collapsible sets, Police and Fire Service stations, Inauguration Centre, night club, film village setting among others.
Similarly, the State Government has commenced the process of building a world-class Polo Club as part of its efforts to promote tourism and leisure in the State. Speaking at the ground-breaking ceremony near the Gloryland Castle in Government House, Yenagoa Governor Dickson noted that the project when completed will not only serve as a sporting facility but also help to drive the development of the tourism sub-sector. Governor Dickson reiterated that the present administration is among other means, poised to build a new Bayelsa through sports, tourism, peace, wealth and job creation. According to the Governor, his administration attaches great importance to sports and tourism because they have the capacity to create wealth, employ labour and strengthen bonds of friendship among individuals and groups from different parts of the world. Hon. Dickson, who disclosed government’s desire to convert the Gloryland Castle to a 6-star hotel, explained that the decision was borne out of the need to create a conducive environment for investors that will soon be trooping into the state for business as well as generate more revenue.
A fair dissection of the lofty dreams of the governor places him as a focused leader who is at home with his vision for the state. Creation of policies backed up with actions achieves results. For Bayelsa, the choice to redefine its glory by Dickson’s administration is one stretch of a mission to be accomplished. Gradually as the content of the Bayelsa Tourism master plan is being implemented Bayelsa would surely be transformed into a state of the rising sun, a visitors’ paradise and a destination for maximizing pleasure and minimising pain.
Writes from Abuja