By: Abraham Apereseimokomo Alfred
It is interesting to note that if not because of the hydra headed monster called Coronavirus (COVID-I9, which has unfortunately plagued the entire globe, consequently occasioning a sudden shut down of the world economies and has momentarily necessitated a lock down of governmental functions and duties, no doubt either the Abuja or Yenagoa abode of the globally acclaimed humanist and astute parliamentarian, Prof. Steve Azaiki would have been agog with celebrations on June 2,2020 on the occasion of his birthday.
The date would have afforded him another opportunity to play host to an array of friends, party stalwarts, serving and former National Assembly members across the length and breadth of Nigeria, top government functionaries, the academia, business associates, the Bayelsa caucus of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ably led by His Excellency, Senator Douye Diri and a retinue of family members and relations. Azaiki, who by the grace of God Almighty is the celebrant, is the member representing the fabulous characters of Yenagoa/Kolokuma-Opokuma Federal Constituency of Bayelsa State in the 9th Nigeria’s bicameral legislature (National Assembly).
The visionary leader, humanitarian, pathfinder and distinguished technocrat was the pioneer Commissioner of Agriculture and Natural Resources, former Secretary to the Bayelsa State Government (BSG), former National Coordinator Nigeria National Think Tank, President World Environmental Foundation for Africa , the immediate past Pro Chancellor and Chairman of Council of the Niger Delta University, Wilberforce Island, Bayelsa State and a serving President Global Fight Against Corruption, Nigeria.
The celebrant, who is fondly called the “Yenagoa boy” by associates, had served as member of several university governing councils, one of which was the governing council of the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA). Prof Azaiki has made positive contributions to his community and society by building primary schools, church, Niger Delta Museum and erecting one of the architecture masterpiece – public libraries called the Azaiki Public Library domiciled in the city of Yenagoa. Owing to his love and passion for education, the vibrant administrator has created employment and scholarship opportunities for over one thousand indigenes within and in the diaspora through the initiative of the Bayelsa State government while holding sway as Secretary to the State government and also via the philanthropic initiative of the Azaiki Foundation.
By any large, this highly respected figure and intellectual as far as the academic world is concerned had authored several books, some of which are Oil, Politics and blood (2006); Oil, Gas and Life in Nigeria (2007); The Evil of Oil (2009); Thoughts on Nigeria (2015); Inequalities in Nigerian Politics (2003); Oil, Democracy and the Promise of True Federalism in Nigeria (2008 )etc.
As a matter of fact, and in all sincerity, the celebrant had given over six hundred copies of these aforementioned books to his constituents and also persons from other senatorial districts to rejuvenate the reading culture in the youth. Arrangement was also made to convey copies of these books to Lagos and Abuja to willing constituents residing outside the state for onward delivery. The book gift programme is still on as the lawmaker is yet to hit his benchmark of the number targeted to be given out as gifts. What a benevolence from a deserving son of the soil!
The gesture is selfless and having underscored education as the bedrock of development, he believes no doubt that the reading culture if cultivated and imbibed will equip the youth with desired knowledge. It is also going to motivate the youth to task themselves to be serious for the task ahead and also assist to re-mould and reshape their thinking and orientation to shun vices like cultism, militancy and kidnapping, which are reportedly rife in the region. By not mincing words, the underlying reason for giving out some of his books as gift is predicated on his saying, “by educating one youth, you are educating a nation”. Azaiki is undoubtedly a nation builder. Permit me to say that he also has to his credit countless number of published articles in both local and international journals, too numerous to mention.
Former President of South Africa, Mr. Thambo Mbeki, wrote in his foreword to Azaiki’s authorised biography some time ago. In his words, “Steve Azaiki, The Yenagoa Boy: I have met resourceful persons; yet I cannot but note this young Nigerian is an asset to our continent”. In view of the foregoing, it is not farfetched that today we are not only celebrating a nationalist but also celebrating a pan African in view of his continental spread and input as a seasoned educationist, an iconic technocrat, a thorough bred personality, historian, an excellent administrator and an advocate of good governance with requisite pedigree, to mention just a few. The world, as a whole, is celebrating him today with a standing ovation via social media being a detrabalised personality and an urbane mind, a selfless leader, patriot ,a true democrat and an intellectual colossus.
Azaik, a robust scholar and cerebral thinker, has over the years been a vibrant voice agitating for the Niger Delta in scholarship. He had demonstrated in several fora while presenting papers both in Nigeria and abroad on the unfair treatment of the Nigeria state and multinationals in respect of the neglect of the Niger Delta in development, leaving it in its worst state. In the words of Azaiki, “crude was first discovered in Olobiri in commercial quantity in 1956 and since then the present day Bayelsa State then in the old Rivers State and other states alike in the Niger Delta known as “oil bearing” had been the main stay and live wire of the nation.”
He held the view that many big cities in Nigeria outside the region were developed with the resources accrued from the Niger Delta. That it is pitiable there is no good road, health care delivery system inter alia and that most communities in the region have not witnessed electricity let alone having it. The condition, in these oil-bearing communities in the region, is precarious, as endemic poverty is rife. The people have no arable land to farm, no river to go fishing,as the land and river have been completely polluted. This is a condition that is still staring them on their faces!
Azaiki averred in some of his books that, you can’t rob Peter to pay Paul. By this, he meant that you can’t be using the revenue accrued from oil in the Niger Delta to be developing other parts of Nigeria at the expense and peril of the owners of this oil. Ipso facto and by this shameful singular act, the state and the multinationals have failed the integrity test. The state and multinationals have both subjected the region to an age long emotional slavery and torture. What a sad reality! Azaiki got dismayed and saddened by this unfair treatment that had taken its toll on the environmental outlook of the region, and thereby condemning the people to untold hardship and despondency.
In order to salvage the beleaguered region from the age long neglect, Azaiki, a renowned environmentalist rose to the occasion by throwing his hat in the ring ,in the last National Assembly elections, having contested to represent the people of Yenagoa/ Kolokuma-Opokuma Federal Constituency in the Green Chamber. He emerged victorious in a landslide victory, and it is on record that nobody has ever won in such keen contest with such an unprecedented wide margin in the history of the state. The analogy here is that the people are not oblivious of his indelible footprints in his people-centred leadership and service in his previously held appointment.
He opines that there is need for a paradigm shift and that the Federal Government must change the narrative of the age long disconnect of his people from the centre in development. He was of the school of thought that the National Assembly is a broad spectrum through which critical matters of urgent public importance like the 13% principle of derivation /resource control ,true federalism/restructuring and the Niger Delta Question among others, which are age long existential problems that have plagued the region for decades since the discovery of the black gold in Olobiri now in the present day Bayelsa State will be discussed and debated.
It is no doubt that in the National Assembly such sensitive and burning issues will be brought to the front burner of discourse. And that such issues if judiciously addressed will help stem the menace of militancy and other associated agitations in the region. Although amnesty has been granted to ex agitators having surrendered their arms and denounced hostilities in the creeks ,culminating in the establishment of the Presidential Amnesty office to assuage the feelings of the region by the Yaradua administration .The stance of the brilliant lawmaker is that we must right the wrongs always while ensuring justice, equity and fair play in the equitable distribution of resources for development both as a nation and people.
Having become a member of the House of Representatives, in the 9th Assembly, the federal lawmaker whose party, the PDP is of the minority at the National Assembly was able to defy all odds in view of his brilliant curriculum vitae, vast experience, exposure both locally and internationally, tact, resourcefulness, and acumen, successfully became a member of several sensitive standing committees, upon the inauguration of the 9th Assembly.
It interests us to know that before his historic entry into the legislative business, the versatile lawmaker had already been armed and equipped with several life changing bills that would be initiated and canvassed for upon his inauguration in the House that will in return bring the dividends of democracy to the people. This goes a long way to attest to his rare ingenuity, readiness and preparedness for legislative stewardship and quality representation. In other to address the disconnect between his people and the federal government, the honourable member in his one-year legislative stewardship had brought a sigh of relief in many ways.
He initiated an empowerment programme for two hundred of his constituents in skills acquisition, cutting across women and youth. This was intended to further advance his cause of human capital development, self-sufficiency and sustainability of his constituents. Provision of musical instruments to encourage entrepreneurship among constituents in the music industry, distribution of electricity generating sets to functional health centres to boost health care delivery. He had massively given palliatives both in cash and food items to his constituents as a result of the lockdown caused by the dreaded COVID-I9 pandemic.
In other to cushion the effect of lack of electricity /epileptic supply of power, he brought succour to constituents at Ikarama and Gbarama communities while mounting functional solar panels with specification of 200bulbs 150watts and such development is intended to be in phases across the federal constituency, in line with need assessment. On the basis of showing transparency in representation, recently he displayed on his official Facebook page, “2020 Constituency Projects” traversing some communities in the Yelga/Kolga Federal Constituency, being the first batch of such constituency projects with a view to bringing government closer to the people.
Before the approval of these projects, need assessment was carried out in these communities by the concerned approving federal agencies, who would be directly responsible in the funding of the projects. The displayed constituency projects are namely one hundred million naira for supply, training and capacity building equipment for women and youth in Yenagoa/Kolokuma-Opokuma; sixty three million naira for surface dressing, construction and rehabilitation of Yenaka and Yenebebeli communities link roads, Yenagoa and fifty million naira renovation of schools in Ikolo, Ogbogoro, Swali and Akaba communities, Yenagoa.
During the earliest period of the outbreak of the COVID-I9 pandemic in Lagos where the first index case was recorded, the erudite lawmaker wrote two elaborate letters to President Mohammed Buhari, on the need to shut down all borders with a view to flattening the curve of coronavirus. The spirited efforts of the federal legislator paid off as the subsequent decision of the Secretary to the Federal Government, who doubles as the Chairman Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 reflected the swift adherence and compliance of the federal government to the given advice by the lawmaker, as all borders were subsequently shut down.
Kudos to you Sir in your avowed dedication as a nationalist per excellence! It never ended there as the celebrant took proactive steps sponsoring an awareness/enlightenment programme to keep his constituents on guard in defeat of the invisible enemy called COVID-19. The said awareness programme spanned for weeks with special emphasis on the elderly, uneducated and children who are the vulnerable, in view of the pandemic. Medical consumables like facemasks, gloves, posters and flyers were distributed also to frontline health workers across the space of the legislative representation.
To buttress further the accomplishment of the congressman in compliance with the health tips as espoused by WHO and the NCDC, Azaiki demonstrated again capacity in selfless service by ensuring the delivery of a COVID-19 modernised hand washing machines for constant washing of hands. One of the automatic machines was mounted at the constituency office while the other at the Bayelsa State Secretariat. Besides, it is worthy of mentioning that Azaiki is a phenomenon in view of his outstanding feats in legislative saddle.
Having been typified in some circles as a repository of knowledge, and one who would give his last breath to advance the cause of the ivory towers, another constituency where he belongs as an academician while pursuing legislative framework for funding that will engender the growth and betterment of the Nigerian universities. Suffice to say no wonder on May19,2020, he moved a motion on the floor of the Green Chamber alongside his colleagues to seek the Federal Government intervention on the need to set up a fifteen billion emergency fund for the Nigerian Universities to research for a cure for coronavirus.
The target is geared towards putting our own in the front seat instead of empowering foreign countries when our universities have the intellectual capacity but lacking in financial muscle. This initiative, if vigorously pursued and sustained by government and the concerned academic institutions will in no small measure increase life expectancy of the citizens and non-citizens alike residing in the Nigeria. In the words of the renowned professor, “as a nation, we must look beyond colonial prism while dealing with national issues like searching for a cure for the coronavirus infectious disease.”
The content of the motion moved was also meant to advise the federal government to establish six COVID-I9 testing centres in six universities, in accordance with the geographical spread of the geopolitical zones of the nation. There is no gain say that the motion of the astute lawmaker yielded a landmark success as President Buhari implemented in full this national request expeditiously and will be funded by the Tertiary Education Trust Fund, an agency under the Federal Ministry of Education. The historic approval yet again made the “birthday boy” to be a cynosure of the public, attracting encomium both in very reputable national dailies and on the social media in view of his uncommon drive for development.
Azaiki’s footprints are everywhere, as his selfless service to both God and humanity will remain evergreen in our minds in his undying quest of building a productive and virile nation, Nigeria that will in no distance future become the pride of the world. This is no doubt, what Azaiki truly represents! While awaiting your soon to be launched book in a proposed public lecture, (Alamieyeseigha and the Ijaw’s pregnant dream of Nationhood) at the presentation of your book entitled, “My Journey In Politics” (The Price Of Loyalty).
At this juncture, I want to give very reassuring remarks that you have over the years raised the bar in service both as a veteran politician and technocrat. We celebrate you for how far the price of loyalty, humility and pedigree has taken you in your very exemplary odyssey of life. Your constituents unequivocally have felt the warm embrace of governance in quality representation, upon your triumphant entry into the legislative business of the National Assembly. I wish to say that your legendary achievements will continue to resonate in our minds in your concerted efforts in moulding us to be exemplary future leaders worthy of emulation. You are truly a round peg in a round hole!
That is why I celebrate Prof. (Hon) Steve Azaiki, OON a statesman, patriot, true democrat, an outstanding quintessential nation builder, a detribalised Nigerian, philanthropist who gives without expecting anything in return, boardroom guru, one of Nigeria’s first eleven and undoubtedly the nation’s pride, an astute researcher, a philosopher-king, an innovative scientist. I wish to make bold very profoundly that it is my greatest delight and also the joy of my family to have you as a father, companion , mentor and role model and as the best any child will pray for, but such feat is very rare to come by but only by the grace of God Almighty.
I feel very privileged to be counted among your proteges you took under your wings like a mother hen and taught humility, perseverance, diligence, dedication and above all the art of service to humanity. On behalf of myself, my beautiful family, your delectably beautiful wife and lovely children, who are undoubtedly your pillars in this tasking enterprise, the Azaiki Political dynasty, the Azaiki Foundation, the Azaiki Campaign Organisation, members and staff of the Azaiki Public Library, members and staff of Niger Delta Museum, World Council of Comparative Education Societies, International Society of Comparative Education, Science and Technology, His Excellency Senator Douye Diri and last but not the least the good people of Yenagoa/Kolokuma-Opokuma Federal Constituency, I bring you very heartwarming felicitations on the occasion of your historic birthday anniversary. We wish you ever flourishing health in your political trajectory in service to God and humanity.
*Apereseimokomo Alfred, from Bayelsa State is a University of Lagos trained philosopher and socio-political analyst (Mobile: 08037115473. Email: email@example.com)
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