CHIEF TIMIPRE SYLVA AND THE THRUST OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT OF BAYELSA STATE: AN EARLY SCORECARD BY AMB. BOLADEI IGALI, OON, PHD
Lately, public commentaries within Bayelsa State and the Niger Delta region in general have turned focus on the rather swift and focused deft manner of the Nigerian Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, (Opu Abadi, Chief Sam of Opu Nembe) in deploying his office to join efforts at developing the homeland. Like other senior public office holders, federal ministers and top officials are charged with high responsibilities of seeing the entire country as a single constituency. To have made his impact felt nationwide and standing tall, in terms of performance and implementation of the programmes of President Muhammadu Buhari, and equally making the desired impact at home, deserves needed notice. More so, for a subject matter that media reports indicate that the Bayelsa State Governor, Senator Douye Diri has also averred opinion, it will be apposite to take a deeper and dispassionate look. It would appear that that his efforts have been at three levels, Socio-Economic Development, Political Engagement and Politics of Accommodation.
1. SOCIO-ECONOMIC GROWTH
i. OIL AND GAS PARK
Since becoming Minister, he has been able to further the much-awaited Oil and Gas Free Zone and Museum to Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom. It is recalled that since January 15 1956 when the first commercial quantity of Crude Oil was discovered in Oloibiri and the first export took place two years later, the idea of having such a hub and museum had been in discussion. But this time, the good news is that Federal Executive Council (FEC) has since June 2019, given approval to a memo presented by Sylva to enable the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB) under him to commence phase 2 of the construction of the Nigerian Oil and Gas Parks Scheme (NOGAPS) in Emeyal-1, Ogbialand in Bayelsa State. So beyond sand-filling and fencing being part of phase one, actual work and construction are to begin.
This is a major step in the sustained development of the Niger Delta region, especially Bayelsa State. Clearly, this will spur the incubation of manufacturing of oil equipment in-country to generate employment for young people. With FEC’s approval to award the contract for the construction of roads and a drainage system in furtherance of the development plan of the industrial park, the project will now move to construction of pavements, walkways, parking lots, concrete-lined drainages, service ducts and related infrastructure.
Realizing that the hub lies in an area of nearly 25 hectares, the enduring construction of warehouses, manufacturing facilities, logistics bases, human capacity centres focused on oil and gas, will change the narrative of the much-tongued but seemingly evasive industrialization of Bayelsa. Added to this, the park will also provide the state and potential industries with uninterrupted power supply.
Gladly, it is located around the same area where Oil Well One lies like a forgotten used jewel. It is hoped therefore, that the Oil & Gas Museum, similar to what Norway’s Statoil has in Stavanger, will improve both the social and economic wellbeing of the people of the state and the region.
ii. RE-ENLIVENING THE GBARAIN-EKPETIAMA AXIS
Nigeria has over 186 billion standard cubic feet of gas in place. This potentially makes it the future energy hub of Africa, gas being the next energy frontier. Fortunately, a good amount of this gas is in Bayelsa. This is why the Gbaran-Ekpetiama Axis has already been positioned to play a major role. Besides the main Shell Gas Power Plant, in Ubie-Gbarain, during my service while in Federal Ministry of Power, we added the 220 MW Power Plant and step down for the needs of adjoining communities. We also triple the electricity transmission upgrade of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) Station at Polaku, from 30 MVA to 90 MVA in order for the state to intake more power from the greed, without depending on the Ahoada substation.
Since assuming office, Opu Abadi, through the NCMDB has taken the gas-based industrial revolution of the area to new pedestals. Although, the Azikel Refinery in the area is a noble initiative of a proud Bayelsa son, Dr. Azibapu Iruani, the local content board has joined hands with him as a major institutional partner to ensure its timely completion. In addition, Sylva as Chairman of the Board of NCDMB has approved a multi-purpose Gas City at Polaku to start with a domestic gas processing and production complex. Interesting enough, even the gas cylinders will be fabricated in Bayelsa. Much lately, the NCMDB in public private partnership (PPP) with other institutions have engendered several projects and programmes that are at hitherto gestation stages.
Very recent reports have also mentioned another critical investment in the same Gbarain axis by way of a PPP between the NCMDB and some private entities to build a Lubricating Oils Blending plant for all manners of oils, such as engine oil, transmission fluid, grease, etc. At an initial planned output of 45,000 litres a day, this will be a catalyst for industrial leap-frog in Bayelsa and have a spread effect to other sectors.
In the rest of the Niger Delta, it is important to mention, that the Minister of Petroleum has seen to the long-awaited signing of Train Seven for LNG Bonny, investors in two other modular refineries in Ondo and Imo States, amongst many other projects. There is also a robust programme for training of youths on entrepreneurial development, especially on areas pertaining to the midstream and downstream of the oil industry. He has also given clear indications in a recent interview that the slippages which led to the delays with respect to Brass LNG and Brass Fertilizer would be addressed soon.
2. SOCIAL WELFARE INTERVENTION
As the COVID-19 pandemic raged on, Sylva visited Yenagoa to flag off the first of world-class 200 Infectious Diseases Hospital by Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and it’s joint ventures.
Added to that, the NCDMB management under the direction of Sylva as Board Chairman, were the single largest contributors of palliatives to Bayelsa at the height of the COVID-19 scourge. Accordingly on April 14, 2020, two 40-feet containers of food items arrived Yenagoa, followed by subsequent dispatches of ambulances and Personal Protection Equipment.
3. POLITICAL ENGAGEMENT AND EMPOWERMENT
In a plural and complex democracy such as Nigeria’s, the ability of any political leader to ensure the continued “carrying along” of his constituency in the center is a direct reflection of his worth and appreciation at the home front.
From President Buhari’s first tenure, Sylva was able to clinch a strategic ministerial slot, in charge of Agriculture and Rural Development which he passed on Sen. Heineken Lokpobiri (Ekeremor LGA), Executive Secretary, NCMDB, Eng Simbi Wabote, Director General, NAPTIP, Barr Julie Okay Donley, (Southern Ijaw, LGA), Commissioner, National Population Commission, Mrs Gloria Izonfuo (Kolokuma/Opokums, LGA).
Since after his appointment as Minister, Sylva has helped in securing several top federal jobs: Executive Director, NDDC, Maxwell Oko (Ogbia, LGA), Interim Managing Director, NDDC, Professor Pondei (Southern Ijaw LGA,), Commissioner, Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal Allocation Commission, Barr Alfred Egba (Yenagoa LGA), Commissioner, Federal Character Commission, Tonye Okio (Ogbia LGA), Member, Board of NCDMB, Barr Oyanbo Jackson (Ogbia LGA), Vice Chancellor, Maritime University, Professor, Emmanuel Adigio (Brass LGA), Non Career Ambassador, Philip Ikurusi, etc.
Amazingly, this is barely one year into the life of the Buhari-led administration in its second term, one that has recorded the most opportunities for Bayelsans. Never had it been this good for the Glory of All Lands!
4. POLITICS WITHOUT BITTERNESS
Sylva’s party, the APC which won the popular vote during the last governorship election on November 16, 2019, eventually lost to the incumbent PDP-ruled government under rather curious circumstances. However, in true spirit of sportsmanship and feeling of shared destiny, he has continued to relate warmly with the state government. He showed this robustly during his recent visit to Governor Diri in the peak of the Corona Virus pandemic.
Akin to what one-time national political leader of the defunct Great Nigeria People’s Party, Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim, posited, Sylva continues to practice “politics without bitterness” in reaching across the aisle. On July 3, he opened his doors to the entire Bayelsa Caucus of the House of Representatives in the ninth Assembly. This he did, irrespective of political colours to discuss matters pertaining to the welfare of the state, and how to maintain regular contact and interactions.
When the Kolokuma kings gathered in the palace of Ibenanaowei, King Mozi Agara to confer the title of Opu Abadi, meaning boundless oceans, it was prescient foretelling Sylva’s forthcoming grace, good fortune and unquantifiable blessings to Bayelsa State.
If one enters Yenagoa at night, the skyline is lit with the glittering 17-storey headquarters of NCMDB started and completed by the organization in the past year. Going by the reports, the body has opened discussions with the Bayelsa state government on completing the abandoned Tower Hotel and undertaking investment in some other oil servicing real estate projects. While the journey is still afoot, it is appropriate that cheers and applause, as is with all manner of good performances, be resounded. It is important that our son who continues to set new records be encouraged and saluted.
With this trend, Opu Abadi is setting a new paradigm which places physical, social and economic development of Bayelsa and inter-personal relationship above petty politicking. For all these, we say, Alabo nua!