Nine months after assumption of office as governor of Bayelsa State, Hon Seriake Dickson has assumed all the trappings of unfettered power.
Governor Dickson’s maiden interactive session with civil servants was the opening salvo in what may prove to be a big battle for not only the state workforce but also for the public.
This was however, not a different Dickson I had known in the past and it was not his new position as governor that had changed him said a civil servant ho witnessed the said event.
Arriving three hours behind schedule to the interactive session, which has become characteristic of him at public engagements, the governor knew why he was there. He had the stage, he had the setting to make whatever pronouncement he wished that day.
Using the session as a smokescreen for his 2-point agenda, he proceeded to inform the workers of his government’s decision to introduce a new Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE) tax regime, arguing that civil servants in the state that produces over 38 percent of the nations revenue were being grossly under-taxed.
Giving himself sweeping powers, he also said that he had ordered the immediate suspension from service of four civil servants, Mr John Appah, Surv. Kopul Ngibina, Ransome Temerigha and Akpoebi Ifidi.
According to Governor Dickson, Appah was involved in employment racketeering while serving at the State Environmental Sanitation Authority. Ngibina of the Capital City Development Authority he said, was involved in illegal allotment and allocation of lands at Ox-Bow Lake area of the state. Thus working against the Yenagoa City Masterplan. Hence the need to have him fired.
Temerigha, an accountant in the Office of Secretary to State Government was said to have engaged in making careless statements about government officials, while the hammer also fell on Ifidi, a staff of Banquet Hall, Government House for alleged damaging dissemination of rumour and propaganda about the present state government, which according to Dickson was in gross violation of the Civil Service Rules.
The public announcement of the order suspending the four persons was a blatant violation of all established rules and procedure for staff discipline in the civil service.
While the disciplinary action metted out to Appah and Ngibina may be justified in his view, Temerigha and Ifidi were unjustly sanctioned for expressing their constitutional right of freedom of expression, which may have been merely based on hearsay evidence.
The suspension of the ‘Civil Service 5’ has brought a sense of uncertainty to the civil service community. There was good reason for the disillusionment in the service - the governor was meeting them for the first time and had brought with him, a message of terror instead of hope.
Dickson’s announcement of proposals for a tax increase for the workers was more of a phantom project which sounded at that point outrageous to many workers in the state. Most of his speech was marked with laughter and greeted with loud boos, but the mention of tax increase saw the workers boo the governor endlessly.
The question and answer session at the interaction afforded the civil servants the opportunity to develop fresh discontent for the Dickson administration when the governor expressed doubt over the identity of a staff who had asked a question.
The staff who had earlier identified himself as Asuene Okolovie of the Capital City Development Authority began with reference to the Bible, quoting from 1 Kings 12:14-16, and wanted to know if the mission of Dickson as the state governor was intended to bring succor or to increase the suffering of the people.
He gave a damning indictment of the governor’s proposed new tax regime which according to Okolovie, would apparently result in inflicting more pains on the poor worker whose take home pay at the end of every month, is hardly able to meet the needs of their families.
“My Excellency, I don’t know who you consulted. You want to add to our burden?
“I want to say desirous as the increase may be in tax, Bayelsans deserve a lighter burden”.
He concluded, saying that he would not want the governor to experience what King Rehoboam suffered when the whole of Israel stoned him to death.
A furious Governor Dickson responded, by saying that Okolovie ‘spoke like a rabble-rouser, and student union activist’ adding that he did not display acts expected of a civil servant.
Dickson further said of the questioner whom he may have previously known as a dominant opposition civil servant, “I don’t know when and how you got in here. I intend to get some reflex in that respect, particularly your copious way of referring to the Bible which was not necessary.
“When I get my briefing, I will know exactly who you are”, he said. Okolovie may now have realized at that point he had quoted a Bible passage which was ‘unquotable’ and that Governor Dickson had gone nuts over it.
For Dickson, there was absolutely nothing more the civil servants would say that could not be attributed to the opposition. A large part of this phenomenon is that the governor only wants the workers to say what his government wants to hear and this has exacerbated a wave of resentment.
The attitude of government was clearly demonstrated at that meeting and workers are terrified at the recent development as it suggested a move towards a massive spying juggernaut on the citizens.
With a combination of ruthlessness, Governor Dickson displayed like a bully acting a cheap script from a sordid film as he told the gathering, “Civil servants are to be seen, not heard”. A prescribed civil servant, limited in what he says and where he says it, and that represents Dickson’s vision of a civil servant - a new status has been down-graded for them.
The situation was becoming fluid at that moment. It was unfolding and it became evident that the session must end even though there were still a couple of obvious questions every civil servant wanted to ask: “when would government pay the arrears of the 18percent new minimum wage?” Dickson felt quite uncomfortable as the atmosphere was highly charged and things seemed on a knife edge.
For the civil servants, asking the governor probing questions ‘the wrongs’ are a taboo, the ‘rights’ like not expressing any opinion about government are part of what is to be a civil servant.
Dickson requires civil servants to remain in the shadows, denied a real life, despite having given him their sovereignty at the last governorship election in the state. This amounts to making them live and work in circumstances under duress and they are beginning to hold the governor in low esteem. The workers are wondering how helpful government really is and would be in addressing their plight.
The silence of labour over the governor’s indication of tax increase and his bullying attitude was not because of his logical argument but because of self -interest. The issues have received no labour attention and the governor’s action that day, seem to be under tacit approval from the labour leadership.
The civil servants who during the five-year tenure of Chief Sylva were complacent about the level of bad governance appear to be terrified at the development as they are now in clear and present danger that the governor is determined to crush any element of opposition within or outside the service, who might cross his path. Pressure is building in that direction.
There are also indications that the same things and types of actions which ex-governor Sylva took are gradually being institutionalised by Governor Dickson and the people of the state are beginning to see a tendency where there will be more disregard for the rule of law in the months ahead.
The Dickson-led administration has failed to take confidence-building measures which the people are likely to reciprocate, and the shadows of the immediate past PDP-led administration now seems set to become the framework of the present government in the state.
One civil servant who does not want his name published for fear of victimization said: “Dickson’s utterance is an attempt to gag civil servants. What transpired that day was indeed a running gag.
“It simply amounts to an act of terror”, he added.
Another civil servant said: “Dickson has commenced a campaign of terror, intimidation and victimization. If he is not ready to listen, he cannot address the needs of the people”.
Dickson’s next action gave the civil servants a second shock of the week. The executive sanctions imposed on them at the interactive session and thereafter are certainly aimed at relieving them of their appointment as civil servants - they are intended to do so, as Kpolovie has also since been issued with a letter of indefinite suspension from work.
The deadly clampdown on Kpolovie, a civil service hardliner was not a good start. Dickson probably did that for fear of Kpolovie’s action likely to set his government popularity rating on its downward spiral of resentment.
Many civil servants feel that any stake they had in the present administration’s restoration agenda has being snatched away by Dickson’s threatening remarks and suspension of the five persons.
Governor Dickson has set precedence with his coercive nature and extremist Bayelsa elements may be set to dig their heels in even further into the activities of the present administration.
The governor will have to come up with some form of u-turn to some imaginative policies, or it may well signal the day when like Governor Sylva,Bayelsans will resort to pelting him this time around, probably not with water satchets but with stones. Only then would Kpolovie’s advice to Dickson have made some sense. Dickson surely would not like being stoned to ‘death’.
Bayelsans are absolutely irrepressible, that they can only be silent for a while but react at the right time. The likes of ex-governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha and Timipre Sylva were kicked out when they became arrogant and stopped listening to Bayelsans.
Dickson has started imposing just as much as people would soon be unable to bear, and without a sure sense of when and how to stop. Bayelsa is a state which has formulated its own unique way of political protest against autocratic rulers. Precedence has been set.
Like every governor or administrator who has ruled the state, change will catch up with Dickson, suddenly in a day, changing every Bayelsa political equation, and throwing all the cards up into the air to land where they may.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters