Diri: Diary of a democrat

Governor Douye Diri of Bayelsa State

By Ken Ogbechie


Genuine democrats are not noisy; never showy. They are tolerant, they respect societal pluralism. When they are in power, they still allow the opposition a space in the ecosystem. Douye Diri, the Governor of Bayelsa State, a major oil-producing state in Nigeria, is in this class. Diri is a democrat of the finest hue.

As governor, he has allowed the opposition a free reign in his state. Barely six weeks to the governorship election in Bayelsa, Diri, the incumbent, the man others want to unseat, has allowed a mushrooming of opposition billboards in every space in the state. This is the ideal in a democratic setting. The concept of the majority having their way while letting the minority have their say. Unfortunately, this is not the story in many parts of Nigeria.

Some governors, having tasted power and the perks that come with such power, have emasculated every ounce of opposition in their states. It’s even worse in states where the governors always mount the soapbox to advertise themselves as democrats, defenders of democracy and in some cases as those who fought the military in a bruising power tango and forced them out of office just so Nigerians could enjoy the whiff and warmth of democratic rule.

But democracy is not in the sophistry of language. It’s not in puffy polemics on the podium or the ability to rouse the crowd with fibs and oratorical whims; it’s in your ability to submit yourself to the rule of law, your capacity to welcome constructive censure and respect other persons’ opinion. Democracy thrives where one and all are allowed free speech, the liberty of association, the right to life and the space to practise one’s trade, all within the confines of the law. This is where Diri towers far above others.

Barely six weeks to the November 11, 2023 governorship election in Bayelsa, Diri has shown high level tolerance, not common in most states, by allowing the opposition the amplitude of space and voice to sell their ‘wares’, in this case, to woo the electorate.

Curiously, some of the opposition politicians who enjoy the limitless tolerance of Diri to feed the people with their spurious claims and bogus promises of a better Bayelsa if they win, were the same people who while in office in the same state and even at the Federal level, morphed into dreaded emperors who brooked no opposition.

They were the same mob who in concert with their hell-cloned hirelings pulled down opposition billboards, muzzled every dissenting voice in the state and trampled on the people’s psyche with their Hitlerish manifestations.

Little wonder Bayelsans, young and old, royal fathers and the clergy, students and the academia, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, traders and artisans and indeed the good people of the state across the riverine and upland communities, have endorsed Diri for a second term.

The people say they don’t want to go back to Egypt. They liken the 5 years rule of Timipre Sylva, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state to the horror days of the Israelites in the cruel hand of Pharaoh in Egypt. They remember those years with prickly pangs of pain.

Mama Inuesi, a septuagenarian petty trader at Kpansia Market in Yenagoa, who looked very fit and strong for her age, summed up the street credibility and massive public acceptance of Diri thusly: “I don tey for this state, Na here dem born me, na here I grow up, I never see any governor wey be like Douye. Na our pikin and we go vote for am again. E dey do us well. You no see as everywhere fine, na so dis place be before? Make you sef judge am now,” she gushed as our conversation drifted in and out of politics. Mama looks so strong at 72.

I asked her how she has been able to keep fit these past years. She said the secret is living a Godly life, not staying idle, counselling that most people who stay idle attract sickness to themselves.

At her age, Mama still looks beautiful, her voice firm and well-toned. She paced up and down around her corner shop and seemed very popular as she acknowledged cheers and greetings from clients and passers-by.

With election fixed for November 11 by INEC, the dashboard is all green for Diri. His state-wide acceptance finds a fitting expression in the Latin phrase, res ipsa loquitur (the fact speaks for itself).

Diri’s performance these past three years and some months has earned him bragging rights. He needs not beat any gong. He does not need to sound the bugle. His achievements speak for him. They have earned him mass appeal.

The energy in the marketplaces, the streets and everywhere attest to Diri’s popularity among his people. They point to his bullish commitment to building transportation infrastructure, promotion of SMEs, enhancement of human capital through training and prompt payment of public servants, improved security, promotion of both cognitive and technical education, unparalleled healthcare delivery in the history of the state, youth empowerment and aggressive sports development that has shot the state to the top bracket of high-performing states in Nigeria sports, among others as reasons they want to return him to Creek House, the highest office in the Glory of all Lands.

If winning elections in Nigeria is based on performance in office expressed in how the leader has impacted positively on the lives of the people, then the re-election of Diri is a mere walk in the park. It’s an election too easy to call because, from all indications, Diri is the only contestant among the horde of politicians angling to take up tenancy in Creek House, who commands unforced mass followership and affection from the people.

Unfortunately, in Nigeria, other extraneous foul and obnoxious factors are introduced into the election matrix, including unwholesome conduct from some crooked officials, bonafide and ad hoc, of the electoral umpire. This is the reason INEC must not only be fair to all, but must be seen to be fair, in the conduct of the November 11 election.

The people of Bayelsa deserve nothing but a free, fair and credible election. The security apparatchik should also ensure that the pervading peace in the state is not ruptured on the excuse that it’s election time.

Courtesy of Diri’s peaceful disposition, active engagement with the different stakeholders in the state, including the militants of yesteryears, Bayelsa has known peace these recent years. Let this peace be sustained before, during and after the election.

That way, voter oppression, intimidation, ballot manipulation and other vices that define elections in Nigeria would be banished from the Bayelsa election and it would be a landslide victory for the man who has re-defined governance in Bayelsa, and has raised the bar of tolerance in the nation’s democratic space.

Culled from GONGBEAT, a Column in THE SUN.