In Governor Dickson and Prof. Azaiki, the NDU has an arsenal that can only pivot it into the league of world class institutions of learning if the people allow the transformation agenda to advance smoothly. Commitment to service is a rare trait in Nigerian leaders and administrators and the Amassoma people and all of Bayelsa are fortunate for the calibre of people that are charged with taking their beloved NDU to greater heights.
The Amassoma community in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State is home to the Niger Delta University (NDU). The state-owned institution has charted a new course for the people of Bayelsa State since its establishment in the year 2000. In recent weeks, the institution has been caught in the middle of tensions between its host community and the government of Bayelsa State. The ensuing crisis unfortunately turned violent, and it has put a cog in the wheel of the institution that has been on a steady course of positive transformation in recent years.
Trouble first began in March when the institution was closed down because of incessant protests by the students of the university over a hike in fees occasioned by the tireless transformation agenda for the institution by the state government. As is often the case with progressive transitions in any public service or utility, especially when it affects costs to the public, the student body did not immediately appreciate the necessity of the development and therefore resisted the moves by the government. Just as resolutions were reached and the institution was preparing to resume normal activities, more trouble emerged.
Members of the community who had been on the payroll of the institution in one way or another, became aggrieved after they were affected by house cleaning measures launched in public services by the Bayelsa State government. The measures are aimed at shedding extraneous running costs that have been weighing down the public purse. Particularly, in the case of the Amassoma community and the NDU, many of the indigenes of the community were rightly employed by the institution as part of the benefits to the host community. However, over the years, more and more indigenes were brought onto the payroll of the university in mostly duplicitous roles because of the government’s desire to accommodate the community.
With the current economic situation in the country and many on-going essential projects in Bayelsa, including transformation of the university, it became impractical for the government to maintain the largesse of a bloated payroll for the sake of placating the sense of entitlement of members of the community. In the end, it was doing more harm than good to the university and the wider public service. Furthermore, a lot of the beneficiaries were ghost or shadow workers who were simply enjoying financial benefits without actually contributing to the institution.
As was the case with the student body, members of the community and affected staff caught up in the resulting job cuts were unwilling to accept the measure and therefore took to the streets, closing down roads and going as far as welding the gates of the institution to force the university to shut down completely. Soon, the protests were hijacked by hoodlums and political opportunists that engineered clashes with the policemen sent to contain the situation. Sadly, last week, the violence led to loss of lives and many injuries on all sides.
The negative exposure that this development draws to the university and the community threatens to overshadow the excellent work of the Bayelsa State government led by Governor Seriake Dickson in the community and beyond. Governor Dickson has worked tirelessly for the benefit of NDU and the people of Amassoma and his commitment is reflected in the quality of his appointees into the management of the institution.
As part of his on-going transformation of NDU, Governor Dickson in 2017 appointed Professor Stephen Azaiki (OON), as pro-chancellor and chairman of the Governing Council of the University. The appointment of Prof. Azaiki into this role already provides an insight into the governor’s vision for the university and his commitment to excellence in its management. Prof. Azaiki was duly acknowledged by the governor, after his appointment, as one of the founding fathers of the institution, who has been invested in the success of the university from the onset.
Prof. Azaiki has made wide contributions to academia and is a staunch advocate for the people of the Niger Delta. A major strength of the pro-chancellor is his international appeal and global acceptability and recognition as a reformer – qualities also acknowledged by the governor. He is a visiting professor/fellow to a number of institutions in Nigeria and abroad and serves as professor of Conflict, Crisis Management and International Relations at the Ukrainian Academy of Personnel Management and also as president of World Environment Foundation for Africa (WEFFA).
Prof. Azaiki’s competence to chair the university’s governing council is a mark of the governor’s commitment to reforming the institution. He is sown into the fibre of Bayelsa State, the Niger Delta and Nigeria as a whole. Apart from his years of service as commissioner for Agriculture upon the creation of Bayelsa State and later as two-term secretary to the state government under Governor DSP Alameiyesigha, he is the national coordinator of the National Think-Tank. The foundation he chairs, Azaiki Foundation and Public Library, sited in Yenagoa, houses the most modern museum in the Niger Delta and the Institute of Science and Technology, which hosted the first International Conference of Science, Technology and Education in Nigeria in December 2014.
Governor Dickson’s eye for talent and excellence is matched by his commitment to service, a trait he looks for in those that he invites to serve the people of Bayelsa. He demonstrated his commitment to true service by becoming the first chief executive of a State to mandate, through law, the rendering to the people of all accounts of monies accruing to the State. He also aggressively pursued legacy projects that witnessed wide sweeping education reforms that introduced free and compulsory education at primary and secondary levels and the development of 30 model secondary schools and 400 primary schools all over the state. His healthcare reforms have touched every local government in Bayelsa and infrastructure development, generally, has been unprecedented.
The governor has shown passion and dedication to all quarters in the State. This is the reason why claims that his government is negatively targeting the people of Amassoma community are absurd. It is in the same Amassoma that the Bayelsa State government’s single biggest investment, the N80 billion Bayelsa International Airport project, is located.
In the wake of the violence, the governor met with stakeholders from the Amassoma community at the government house, reiterating his commitment to the people and reminding them of the government’s particular efforts to create opportunities for Amassoma community through investments like the airport project. In his usual manner of calm diplomacy, even in the face of violent dissention, the governor promised that the government would foot the burial expenses of those who lost their lives and take responsibility for the care of the injured.
In Governor Dickson and Prof. Azaiki, the NDU has an arsenal that can only pivot it into the league of world class institutions of learning if the people allow the transformation agenda to advance smoothly. Commitment to service is a rare trait in Nigerian leaders and administrators and the Amassoma people and all of Bayelsa are fortunate for the calibre of people that are charged with taking their beloved NDU to greater heights. The people of Amassoma need to look beyond quick cash-outs for hosting an institution in the community and focus on the big picture of the benefits of having a world-class university in the community when the current transformations bear fruit. It will be sad to derail the transformation of the university over an unsustainable appetite for reckless demands on the government and the institution.
It is a Nigerian problem, this propensity for unjustifiable claims of entitlement. The governor has proven his commitment to the community in so many ways, but some elements within the state are employing cheap political opportunism to cause harm to the community for their own selfish interests. In the end, the needs of the university as an institution of learning for the people of Bayelsa and beyond trumps the need to placate the Amassoma community’s sense of entitlement.
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