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The champion of champions

 

DSP Alamieyeseigha, the former governor of Bayelsa State who died last October, was a powerful politician caught up in the intrigues of the Nigerian political theatre. Moffat Ekoriko pens his portrait

TWO INCIDENTS best epitomise the per­sonality of Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha, the former governor of Bayelsa State, Nigeria, who is being laid to rest this month. In 2003, he faced a gruelling fight for the gubernatorial ticket of the then ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). So intense was the fight that he was the last sitting PDP governor to be handed a ticket by the party. His opponent was Ndutimi Alaibe, a young professional banker. To contest alongside him, Alaibe had to resign from his post as the executive director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).

Alaibe did not get the ticket and needed to go back to his post. There was a snag: He could only do this if the governor of his home state (Alamieyeseigha) recommended him to the president. Alamieyeseigha asked that the letter be prepared. Before appending his signature, he called his closest political aides. Every man in the room, still smarting from a near loss to the young ambitious Alaibe, advised him not to sign the recom­mendation. Alamieyeseigha, with his char­acteristic sage mien, asked: “Who would we send there that would serve the interest of this state like him? This is not about me, it is about the Ijaw nation. I am signing it.”  With that, he appended his long flowing sig­nature to the document. Alaibe not only returned to NDDC, he later became the managing director of the intervention agency.

In 2005, Alamieyeseigha was arrested in London on his way back from surgery in the Germany. The case against him was charged to court and he could not return to work in Nigeria. Because he did not expect to be away, he did not send a letter to the state House of Assembly to make his deputy, a certain Goodluck Jonathan, the acting gov­ernor pending his return.

The House of Assembly could pass a res­olution to that effect but there was a snag.

Some members of his camp were not too sure of the loyalty of the deputy. They sus­pected (rightly or wrongly) that he was undermining their resolute support for the governor. They came up with a smart idea: to impeach the deputy governor so the speaker could take over as acting governor and hold forte till Alamieyeseigha returns. They called him in London to intimate him of the plans. Alamieyeseigha said, no. In his words, “It would deepen the political crisis in the state. Bayelsa is bigger than me.” The Assembly had no option but to appoint Jonathan the acting governor. Jonathan went on to become the governor of Bayelsa State, the vice president ofNigeria and for more than five years, the president ofNigeria, the first person from the minority groups in Nigeria to hold such a position.

These incidents paint the picture of a man who saw his mission in life as that of service to his people. The personal interests of Alamieyeseigha did not matter. What counted was the interest of the Ijaw nation and by extension, the people of the Niger Delta. This is not surprising given his early experience. He was a teenager when Isaac Adaka Boro, the Ijaw freedom fighter, joined the Nigerian Army to fight against the Biafran secessionists. His closeness to him influenced his passion and willingness to die for his people’s freedom.

His foray into politics was defined and driven by that passion. Immediately he won the governorship, he set about creating a political construct of a pan-Ijaw nation.

At the time Alamieyeseigha took over as the first civilian governor of Bayelsa State in 1999, he met a state high on expectation but short on development. There was only one road, a single lane 20km stretch linking Yenagoa, the state capital, to Rivers State. It had no hospital, hotel or water supply service.

Alamieyeseigha went to work and by the time he finished his first term in 2003, there was a dual carriageway, main roads, gov­ernment offices, a modem water transport system and state-owned enterprises.

Alamieyesiegha was not done. He con­tested for a second term. A grateful popu­lation did not hesitate in returning him to office for he was more than a politician.

In politics, he demonstrated enormous courage. He was never afraid to speak his mind or stand up for the rights of his people. He was one of the known apostles of resource control (the political fight for more economic rights for the oil-producing Niger Delta).

His fight for more rights for the oil pro­ducing Niger Delta, earned him the wrath of the powers that be in Abuja. That wrath saw him removed from office in an orches­trated plot where he was arrested in London on charges of corruption despite his diplo­matic immunity. On return to Nigeria, he was later forced out of office through an induced impeachment. He was to spend three years in detention before pleading guilty to charges of corruption. The then government of Musa Yar’Adua released him from detention as part of the deal for him to plead guilty.

Despite his travails, Alamieyeseigha, a former high-flying member of the Nigerian Air Force, bore no ill will against his foes. When he was released from prison, he risked his life to tour the then violent creeks of the Niger Delta to convince the militants to lay down their arms and accept the amnesty offered by the Federal Government. As a result of his services to his fatherland, he was granted state pardon in 2013.

Diepreye Solomon Peter (DSP) Alamieyeseigha was born November 16, 1952 in Amassoma. He was the former governor of Bayelsa State, Nigeria. He died on October 10, 2015

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