Diri’s first 100 days as Bayelsa helmsman – By Michael Jegede

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On Sunday, May 24, 2020, Senator Douye Diri, clocked 100 days in office as the governor of Bayelsa State. Diri, a member of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, emerged Bayelsa’s number-one citizen on February 14, a day after the Supreme Court quashed the election of David Lyon of All Progressives Congress (APC), the initial winner of the last guber poll in the state.

The idea of first 100 days in office has been used over time to describe the early phase of a new leadership role and gauge the success or otherwise of a new government based on the strategies, action plans, programmes and policies put in place within the period.

The concept was pioneered by the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), who came into office on March 4, 1933 amid the Great Depression, the worst economic predicament in the history of America. Since Roosevelt coined the term, the period has become a benchmark for measuring the early success of a new leader or government.

In his new role then as American President, Roosevelt, in the first 100 days, successfully rolled out series of programmes, financial and regulatory reforms as well as pieces of legislations that instituted the New Deal which led the US to the path of recovery from the Great Depression.

A former president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, Kenneth T. Walsh, believes that the 100-day concept may not be a perfect measure, the renowned American journalist, author and speaker, nevertheless, considers it a useful standard for gauging effectiveness.

In the words of Niamh O’Keeffe, the founder/CEO of First100 Ltd, a London-based leadership development and performance acceleration consultancy firm, “The primary task for the executive targeting first 100 days success is to set out the right strategic priorities and stay focused on them.”

Despite coming into office at a time COVID-19 had started threatening the world and forcing most countries including Nigeria to lock down, Gov. Diri is believed to have taken some highly commendable steps within the 100-day mark of his administration to reposition and rebuild Bayelsa State. Many observers are of the view that, in 100 days, amidst COVID-19, the erstwhile parliamentarian known as “The Miracle Governor”, left no stone unturned in demonstrating his unmitigated determination and zeal to significantly impact on the lives of Bayelsans.

In an interview with journalists, Daniel Alabrah, Acting Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the Bayelsa helmsman, maintained that his boss was determined to make a difference in governance.  Alabrah, who served as special adviser on Public Affairs in the immediate past administration of Hon. Seriake Dickson, noted that in 100 days Diri has worked tirelessly round the clock to put smiles on the faces of the people against all odds.

 His words: “The Governor Douye Diri administration came in at a time that COVID-19 had just started ravaging our country. Nigeria had the index case on February 27 just two weeks after the Senator Diri government was sworn in on February 14. As it was beginning to settle down after inauguration, the issues with COVID-19 came up and we started hearing about lockdown, shut down your state and that people should stay at home.

“Regardless of these early COVID-19 warning signs, the government was determined to kick-start its urban renewal programme. So, one of the first things the governor alongside his deputy did was to visit the Edepie/Etegwe axis where you have the popular ‘Tombia’ roundabout. That area had been earmarked by the immediate past administration for another flyover in Yenagoa, the state capital. During that visit, the governor, based on the already prepared construction designs, saw the need for the roundabout to be expanded. He also said that an alternative route would be opened through restarting of the work on the AIT/Elebele road that leads to Igbogene in order to decongest and reduce the traffic bottleneck at the Edepie/Etegwe roundabout.

“The governor equally visited the Bayelsa Mall project site at Okaka, which he said he would try to complete even within the first hundred days. Unfortunately, COVID-19 slowed him down. As you are aware, there is hardly any state (maybe one or two) in Nigeria today where serious construction work is going on. It is a huge challenge to mobilise contractors to site.

“There are however things that have happened that have made people to begin to see the government in a different light. For instance, before now public power supply was a big problem in our state, particularly in Yenagoa. But now most areas of the state capital enjoy better power supply than before. This was not by happenstance. Immediately the governor assumed office, he held several meetings with the management of the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company just to underscore the importance he attached to provision of electricity to Bayelsans. He has consequently taken measures to ensure that whatever it was that made us have that parlous power situation in the past was corrected.”

Continuing, the acting CPS, said: “Previously, in a whole week, the area I live got public power supply for not more than maybe two hours. But now, we have power supply for three or four days consecutively for about 18-20 hours a day. These days whatever you have in the refrigerator all get frozen. This had not happened in the last two or more years. And that is the testimony from across different parts of the state capital. So, the Diri government has been able to address that issue and still addressing it.

“There is also the issue of street light in Yenagoa, especially along the major roads. The moment the governor came in, he decided that we needed to light up the whole of Yenagoa city. He started by providing a new generator to power the lights on the Sani Abacha road, which was usually very dark at night. The solar-powered lights on the Mbiama-Yenagoa expressway, which takes you into the state capital, are now on at night. As we speak, the installation of poles on the yet to be completed Isaac Boro expressway is ongoing. At night, some of the lights are on along some portions of this major road.

“People are beginning to see a different approach to some of these issues. And it is based on the feedback process that has been put in place. The governor listens to Bayelsans and responds to whatever it is they are asking him to do.”

Alabrah, one-time of Head of Media and Communications, Presidential Amnesty Office, stated that “The issues of pension and gratuity are areas that the Senator Diri administration deserves thumbs up for, particularly in its handling of the gratuity of retirees. The gratuity backlog dates back to 2008, about 12 years. The last government was actually paying the pension of retirees monthly but there were issues with their gratuity. So, what this new government is doing differently is that it sets aside about N200 million monthly to take care of the backlog of gratuity.”

A public affairs commentator, Benjamin Forge, opined that “Governor Diri, in the last 100 days, has demonstrated leadership with the effective manner that the issue of COVID-19 has been handled, making the state one of the least impacted by the pandemic. In spite of the low instance of the pandemic, the administration has made critical preventive measures and in compliance made available palliatives to the downtrodden in the state.”

Forge said: “Security of life and property is another focus area of the (Diri) administration. This will find more expression in months ahead. Police report has shown decline in criminal activities in the state.” He added that “Diri has also indicated that he will run a slim, smart and cost effective government in the face of dwindling economy, inherited liabilities and several sectors of the economy yearning for attention. This informed the merging of government ministries and departments that have overlapping responsibilities to promote efficient service delivery. Accordingly, this policy direction will cut down the overhead cost ministries which have been reduced to 21 (from 32).”

The commentator described Diri as “an honest man committed to transparency and accountability in government.”

According to him, “Openness in government as far as the governor is concerned will promote public understanding and participation. Signing into law of three different pieces of legislation: Public Procurement Amendment 2020, Fiscal Responsibility Amendment Bill 2020 and Debt Management Amendment Bill 2020, is indicative of the core values of honesty, transparency and accountability that will pervade the administration. The amendments were at the instance of the Executive, thus giving out the Governor as a man of honour whose only goal in government is to use public resources for the public good.”

There are, however, those who believe Diri has done nothing in his first 100 days to show that he was prepared for the onerous task of governing the state.

For instance, a civil rights activist, David West, questioned Diri’s delay in appointing commissioners to head the different government ministries. He sees the governor’s inability to appoint commissioners within his first hundred days as a sign that he was not fully prepared to occupy the exalted seat. 

 An APC chieftain in Bayelsa and Coordinator of South-South Legacy Forum, Comrade Wilfred Frank Ogbotobo, equally argued that “Diri wasn’t prepared for the office of Governor. He (Diri) knew, from day one, that he wouldn’t win the election, and he ended up losing it. He never expected that the Supreme Court would hand over David Lyon’s electoral victory to him on that platter of gold. Hence, he doesn’t have any discernible plan of action to attest otherwise.”

A pro-democracy advocate, Wisdom Ikuli, countered West and Ogbotobo’s position, insisting that the governor needed to take his time, to assemble the best brains in the state to form his cabinet. Ikuli reminded Diri’s critics of the fact that the Coronavirus pandemic has slowed down activities worldwide.

Hear him: “100 days in office is just a period for window dressing. What do you expect the government that has four years tenure to do within three months, especially with this period of (global) health crisis? The governor has started well. We have seen his actions on the demolition of illegal structures in markets and city centres for developmental purposes. For the fact that he has not picked his cabinet within this period does not show that he was not prepared for governance. We must understand the particular period we are in, the COVID-19 crisis has affected governance everywhere.”

Michael Jegede, a media professional writes from Abuja

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