The Bayelsa Social Media scene has been buzzing with the reports from the Government’s Social Media players that Ex U.S. President, Bill Clinton is billed to deliver the keynote address titled “unlocking Bayelsa State’s economic potential: Opportunities and challenges,” on July 16, 2014, at the state's two-day maiden Investment and Economic Forum, which will hold from the 16th - 18th of July, 2014 in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State of Nigeria.
According to the programme of event:
“The three-day interactive forum will culminate in a dinner consisting of Bayelsan delicacies cooked by renowned celebrity chef Ian Mancias. Mancias has previously worked and cooked for the Royal Family of England and the ruler of Dubai and was recently nominated in the world’s best hotel and restaurant chef’s category by the Culinary Beard Foundation of New York. Chef Ian also created the concept for the worlds first under sea restaurant “Ithaa” on Rangali Island in the Maldives.
Entertainment to be provided by Nigeria’s own Asa, Timi Dakolo, Timaya and Ice Prince, winner of BET award for best African international act.
Proposed International Speakers: Mr. Bill Clinton (Former President, United States) …”
Some have enthused that Mr Clinton’s coming is an indication of the recognition that the State has been getting from the International Economic community following the formal opening of the London Office of its Investment vehicle, the Bayelsa Development and Investment Corporation, which is located in 13 Charles II Street Piccadilly SW1Y 4QU a highbrow area of London that is familiar to those who play the game of Monopoly.
On its face value, the visit of a former US President, especially one as popular as Clinton, to a backward society like Bayelsa State should be a cause for celebration. This is because it is not always that we have VIPs like him coming to grace public events in our state. Thus, his high profile will be used as SoundBits in the days to come.
However, to discerning SAYELBANS, this is another moment to mourn the pitiable and abject conditions of our dearly beloved state.
We mourn because we know that there is absolutely nothing to be gained from Mr Clinton’s visit to this impoverished state apart from the photos that will be taken with him and the speech he will deliver.
We mourn because from the programme of event, it is clear that the Main Street Bayelsan is not invited to this event that boasts of top class entertainment and feasting, even though he will be the one to bear the entire cost of the event via heavy taxation.
We mourn because we know that there will be no difference between Former President Clinton’s visit to Bayelsa and Kim Kardeshian’s appearance in Lagos for a Valentines’s Day show.
We mourn because we know that rather than contribute to our economy, President Clinton’s visit will take Bayelsa State -a state that has not been able to provide drinking water for its citizen’s after over 17 years of existence and receiving Billions of Dollars as Federal Statutory Allocations from Oil and Gas sales – aback by some huge sums that could have been used to enhance the quality of life of the citizenry of the state.
Our objection to Clinton’s visit for this event stems from our knowledge that Clinton’s speeches are not delivered free of charge. According to CNN, he earned the sum of $700,000 for a March (2011) speech delivered to a local newspaper publishing company in Lagos, Nigeria. He ended up raking in $13.4 million from speeches that year and exceeded his previous record by 25%. (See http://edition.cnn.com/2012/07/03/politics/clinton-speaking-fees/)
Washington Post also reported in 2013 that “In the past 11 years since his presidency, he (Clinton) has earned $89 million from paid speeches averaging $189,000 per event.”
We do not think that the same Mr Clinton who charged a mere Local Newspaper Publishing Company the sum of $700,000 will be coming Bayelsa State, one of the states that receive the highest share of the Federally distributed Oil revenues without charging the State government a huge fee.
Giving the closeness of our Public information systems, we may never get our state Government to tell us how much Mr Clinton’s visit will cost our state which incidentally has one of the highest poverty rates in Nigeria. But God Bless America, just as we get to know today how much a Nigeria Local newspaper paid him in 2011 to bless them with his presidential presence, we shall one day get the figures for our state.
At this juncture, it is pertinent to note that we are aware that some may wonder why we have decided to focus on Bill Clinton even though he is not the only guest. Well, to such folks, we say wonder no more. We focus on Clinton because we believe that being a former President of the greatest nation on Earth he should know better than show up in circus like this event that will not add anything meaningful to the qualitative cum quantitative improvement of the standard of living of the citizens of the State whose government had invited him. We believe that in all of Clinton’s years as Governor and President, he could never have sponsored an event like this with public funds. Americans won’t take that.
Going further, even if we decide to take out the cost, there is still the question of the relevance of his Speech to the development of the State. What does Clinton know about Bayelsa State in general and its economy in particular that he will be coming to speak on unlocking its economic potentials?
I know some may say having ran a successful American economy; he has the competence to speak about the Bayelsan Economy and to share his success recipe with the managers on this economy. However, the flaw inherent in that line of thought is that the existential realities of today’s Bayelsa State are very different from those of his Arkansas, when he was Governor and the USA of 1993 t0 2001, he served as President.
Also, Clinton has not been to Bayelsa State in his entire life and may very well not understand the state enough to speak about its economy.
Bayelsa State is a Third World State in a Third World country that has not been able to provide any of the catalysts of economic growth. It is a state without drinking water, stable electricity, a good road network, an entrepreneurial class (everyone depend on the Government for survival), a good educational system to create quality manpower, etc.
Thus, even though, I am an unrepentant Capitalist, I still find it difficult to stomach the exploitation of Bayelsans by the former US President. Clinton should have summoned the moral courage to tell the rulers of the state that will be his chief hosts to do right by their people rather than join them in yet another jamboree aimed at wasting the scarce resources of this already impoverished Land.
The state Government has been hosting one wasteful event after the other with the claim that they are aimed at attracting Tourists and Investors. However, discerning citizens know that if a state sets its affairs in order it does not need to spend millions to host events and bring in Clinton or anyone to woo investors. Investors will go to places they consider lucrative to invest without any wooing.
Bayelsans do not want this event and we certainly do not want any paid speaker here. We are yet to reap any benefits from the many other events such as the Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA), Nigerian Broadcasters Award (NIBRA), Africa Fashion Reception, International SME Conference, Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria (MBGN) etc, that our state government has been spending our scare resources to sponsor or host.
The AMAA for instance has been a huge drain pipe on the State’s finances. The State caters for all the invited guests. This means the celebrities that attend AMAA do not spend any money for their Feeding, Transportation and accommodations in Bayelsa State for the duration of the Awards. In other words, AMAA is an all-expense paid vacation for the invited guests. They do not have to spend a single dime in the Bayelsa State economy. In fact, the artists that are paid to perform receive their pay even before they set foot on Bayelsa soil. So in terms of the economic benefits of AMAA to the traders in Yenagoa and environs, you the readers, should be the judge.
In the 10 years that the state has hosted the awards, no one (not even the State Government or the organizers of the Award) can name 2 Blockbuster Nollywood Movies that have been shot on locations in Bayelsa State. In fact no one can point to any Big budget Nollywood Movie that has been shot in Bayelsa. But then, would you blame movie Producers? Where are the beautiful sights and sinews to attract them to make movies in Yenagoa? Where are the internal roads they are to drive through? Unless a producer/Director wants to make a movie/documentary about long Monkey Bridges and bad internal roads, I doubt if he will shoot in Yenagoa.
It is with the foregoing in mind that we at SAYELBA are against this jamboree that Clinton is billed to grace tomorrow. A government that is crying about scarcity of funds to meet its developmental needs and is currently on the verge of obtaining a N40 Billion loans from commercial banks cannot be encouraged to engage in this level of frivolities. And this is the home truth we expected Bill Clinton to tell the State Government, rather than join in the orgy of wastage.
Fortune God’sSon Alfred is a Public Policy Analyst and an Executive Member of the College of Administrators of SAYELBA.