DSP Alamieyesiegha: A made-in-Nigeria tragedy, By ‘Tope Oriola

Diepreye-AlamieyeseighaThe death of DSP Alamieyesiegha has certainly stunned Nigerians. I have been reflecting on the broad implications of the life and death of Alams, as he was popularly known. The transience and futility of life stare everyone in the face at moments like this. Nonetheless, there are other salient issues that Alams’ death throws up beyond metaphysical concerns.

Alamieyesiegha was a beloved political leader among the Izons despite all the corruption allegations — proven and unproven — against him. I interviewed a peace activist in the Niger Delta during my research exercise in 2009. The comment by the activist who was working to prevent kidnapping reflected a widespread opinion about Alams in the Delta region: “Alams was tricked into this so called arresting (sic) because he was a threat for them in the election that was to return Obasanjo for the third term or to make the plan for them to remain in power for ever. They felt Alam’s freedom as an Ijaw man who governs his people well will be a threat if they’re thinking about who comes to the presidency or VP position. Alams was set up just to make sure people like him will not have a voice in making decisions for this country ….They decided to silence him. So, he was set up. They designed a woman, put his face there and said he escaped as a woman. It was a computer job… The government purposely rubbished him. He wanted transparency and good governance and he was elected by the people. They said this is dangerous, this is the people’s choice and we must deal with him.”

People’s perception is their reality. Of course, Bayelsans were not oblivious of Alams’ corruption. Many would rather have “a son of the soil” embezzle their money rather than an “outsider”. Alams represented access to state resources for a highly marginalized region. Alams served as first civilian governor of Bayelsa state and established the Niger Delta University among other landmarks. He was widely believed to have done more with oil revenue than his successors although contracts were notoriously over-inflated during his tenure. Alameiyesiegha also helped to directly or indirectly mentor the likes of President Goodluck Jonathan and several political leaders of the latter’s generation. Alams enjoyed a level of popularity unmatched by President Jonathan or any other Ijaw leader in recent memory. Therefore, he returned to a hero’s welcome after his escape from England in 2005. Oronto Douglas, then commissioner for Information and Strategy reportedly declared that Alams’ escape from the English criminal justice system was “a triumph for the people of Bayelsa”. Oronto would go on to literally become the brain behind the Jonathan presidency as Special Adviser on Research, Documentation and Strategy. Oronto died on 9th April 2015.

It is fitting that Alams was at home — in his beloved Amassoma — when death came knocking. I have had the opportunity to visit Amassoma in the course of several years of research in the Niger Delta. Anyone who has been to Amassoma will definitely feel concerned that anyone, rich or poor, had to be transported from Amassoma to Port Harcourt for medical treatment. It is an unfitting tribute that there was no hospital with capacity to treat Alams in Amassoma. I wonder if Alams was driven through the East-West road, one of the longest and most expensive never-ending construction sites in Nigeria. Several parts of the East West road are borderline impassable. The arduous journey would have wasted invaluable time as Alams presumably clung to life. Was there no hospital with capacity to treat Alams in Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa state? It is an unpleasant insignia of oil inebriation and concomitant waste that the first executive governor of Bayelsa and others after him never utilized oil proceeds for purposes of world-class health infrastructure. Therefore, Alams had to be transported to Port Harcourt, where interestingly the people are daily embarrassed by the inability of the government to master the science of garbage collection.

Alams’ death reminds us of our lack of genuine heroes. Houses in Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa state, were never numbered during Alams’ tenure and up to this moment. Governors such as his former deputy and former president, Goodluck Jonathan, Timipre Silva and Seriake Dickson never addressed this basic issue and miscellaneous developmental concerns of a young oil-rich federating unit. Alams’ death should therefore spur more concerted civil society action in the Niger Delta to demand more from not just the federal government but also political leaders in the region.

Alams’ exit from the theatre of life demonstrates that everyone ends up paying a price for bad governance. The poor pay a huge cost vis-à-vis absent social services, death traps masquerading as roads, poor facilities at schools, destruction of our value system (aka Buruji Kashamu’s award from the once reputable NANS), etc. The rich also feel the pangs of insecurity and are let down at critical moments such as Alams’.

Alams’ death is a sad commentary on our national life and how low our country has sunk. Alamieyesiegha embodies the contradiction and conundrum of what passes as leadership in Nigeria: An extremely popular and yet patently corrupt politician. No one should gloat over anybody’s death. This is a tragedy in many ways. Alams’ family has lost its bread winner; the Ijaws have lost a controversial yet beloved son and the legal system has lost a person whose tendrils might have led to recovery of a lot of money.

It is worthy of note that as unfortunate as the death of Alameiyeseigha must feel at a humane level, Alams did not die young by Nigerian standards. Life expectancy to which government at all levels — past and present — contribute through an intricate web of interconnected socio-political, cultural and economic factors stood at 53.02 years for the general population and 52 years for males the day Alams died. Therefore, it is pathetic that an individual who died at a mere 62 years actually lived roughly a decade longer than the average Nigerian. What is the hope of the common woman or man under such circumstances?