By Ochereome Nnanna
LAST week Wednesday by dusk time, Governor Timipre Sylva of Bayelsa State took a group of senior journalists from Lagos on a guided tour of a controversial project within the bowels of the Government House.
It is a group of buildings and their peripherals standing on a 130 hectare expanse of land which, altogether, has gulped over N20Â billion!
â€œThis is the most beautiful house in Nigeriaâ€, he announced, pointing at the central mansion; a two-storey, eight bedroom castle which opulence is better seen than discussed on a page with limited space such as this.
He threw a challenge to anyone who had seen a more beautiful house anywhere in Nigeria. I had not, though I have seen quite a few, starting from my own hometown, Abiriba where, despite slowdown in business, people still build to outclass one another.
It is the kind of building you see among multi-billionaires in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Monaco, complete with a Rock House, and an amphitheatre with an arena in its centre marked with the Star of David. Beside the main castle is a series of flushing fountains.
Finishing touches were being put to work in the compound in preparation for the working visit of President Umaru Yarâ€™ Adua which, everything going as planned, will start today.
The President will have the honour of being the first person to sleep in this magnificent edifice, unless, as a ‘Servant Leader’, he declines and opts for something more sedate.
This castleâ€™s splendour is so intimidating that Governor Sylva himself has decided not to move into it. He will instead hold certain classes of state functions in it and permit the top executives of blue chip companies willing to pay the costs to nest there from time to time.
By all standards, the mansion named Gloryland Castle (after the government house itself which did away with its old name of Creek Haven for obvious connotative reasons), is a white elephant; costly to build and equally costly to maintain.
Why did the Governor consider this a priority in a new state still hungry for development and where the poverty rate is so high? Was this not a justification of the opinion of critics of Niger Delta governors and leaders who say that funds that should have been spent to spread development are being put in wrong ventures?
Sylva agreed. â€œWhen we came in and I saw this project, I went to former Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha who started it and asked him why he went into it. He simply told me that he started the project ‘to show that it could be done’.
I looked at the amount already spent before the contractors abandoned the site and I decided to make the best of the situation by completing it. The state will gain more by completing and putting it to use than allowing the money already spent to be wastedâ€.
He likened this project built by Nigerian architects to the Taj Mahal of India, a magnificent mosque-like structure, which was completed in 1648 by Emperor Shah Jahan.
He built it to express his love for his late wife, Mumtaz Mahal, at Agra. Jahanâ€™s son was so incensed at this proverbial white elephant that he overthrew his father. At his fatherâ€™s request, he kept the former emperor in a house from where he could admire the Taj Mahal for the rest of his life.
â€œTaj Mahal remains one of the wonders of the worldâ€, Sylva explained. â€œIt is one of the greatest tourism sites in the world and earns India millions of dollars every year.
Our plan is to dove-tail the Gloryland Castle into the wider vision of Yenagoa of the immediate future, which will be a showpiece city for all Nigerians and the rest of the world to come and enjoy life with a lot to see,â€ he explained.
Perhaps in the next four years, Yenagoa will become one of the most beautiful cities in Nigeria if plans afoot are anything to go by. An international airport is being constructed, specifically for cargo operations because Bayelsa is aiming to become the largest producer of paddy rice in Africa in partnership with Thai and Vietnamese experts. It also wants to become the largest producer of fish, in league with Israeli experts.
The airport will serve as a major import and export route when plans to redesign the stateâ€™s economy from oil and gas to agriculture, commerce and tourism come to fruition.
The state is also constructing a 32-kilometre dual express from the airport into the rear of the city where the new Yenagoa is springing up. The stateâ€™s 110 kilowatt electricity supply project is expected to switch on fully next year, making it more than self-sufficient in power supply.
Right now, Bayelsans do not pay for publicly supplied electricity. That will likely change when uninterrupted power supply becomes possible from some time next year. Already, the stateâ€™s Millennium/Peace Park is alight with thousands of bulbs at night.
Another ambitious project is the 800-bed hospital which, officials say, will make Yenagoa a destination of medical tourists. Nigerians will no longer need to go abroad for any form of medical treatment.
All that Bayelsans have to do is to contribute one thousand naira per month and the contributor and four members of his family will enjoy the full services of the hospital, irrespective of the ailment they are suffering. The state plans to support every contributor with an additional 15,000 to ensure the scheme runs smoothly.
When all these plans are brought to fruition and the Federal Government completes the East/West Highway, Bayelsa will permanently leave the status of poto-poto state (muddy state) for good. It will enter the Nigerian economic and social mainstream. The opportunities for employment are being prepared for militants and other jobless youths when conflict is over.
But when will that be? That is the question.