I woke up last Friday morning knowing I would be spending the better part of the day in bed, binge-watching my favorite TV shows and generally taking it easy so I could recover fast from the exhaustion of   traversing the length and breadth of Bayelsa State as part of the campaign train for the PDP gubernatorial candidate and incumbent governor of Bayelsa State, Henry Seriake Dickson.

When I discovered sometime in October that I would be on the campaign trail, I did not exactly realise what lay ahead and how grueling every single day in the next couple of weeks would be. I did not realise I would be visiting almost every community in the state and connecting with people and issues I never in a million years thought I would, but every single minute of it was worth it.

I learnt to jump deftly in and out of boats after suffering a bad fall from the pier on my first week. But my confidence grew by the day, especially from watching the Governor not just endure every single experience with us, but defy the scorching heat and pouring rain to lead the charge like a five-star general. We all drew strength from him.

I witnessed sights and sounds that will stay with me for the rest of my life and heard stories I would share with my grandchildren when they come. Women in Ikolo literally removed the wrappers on their backs and trunk boxes and had them laid on the ground through the winding foot path linking the jetty and the town hall   in appreciation of a governor that had done so much for their community. Men, women and youths of Okumbiri jumped into the river with glee in their hearts and a glint in their eyes as they swam a good 50 metres to welcome their “contriman” governor and his entourage.

I saw women tie their wrappers across their chest in a way symbolic of nurturing and care that it left us all in awe. I looked on in amazement as community leaders and paramount rulers gave their blessings and prepared the Governor for the coming polls with symbolic gifts of wrappers, Bibles and lanterns.

From Oluasiri where we lost our way several times navigating through the rivers and creeks because even the boat drivers were not sure of the route, to the great Nembe city where we were drenched in the rain, Governor Dickson demonstrated why the people wanted him to lead them in 2012 and why they overwhelmingly want him to continue until 2020.

He empathized with the people when sympathy was needed and even though he towered above everyone in height and stature he was quick to remind the crowd that the forth coming election was about peace and not war. He cautioned that restraint was an imperative no matter the level of provocation every time concerns about violence and the use of Federal might to intimidate voters were raised.

If the campaign took a toll on the Governor which I figure it must have at times, it did not show because he spoke eloquently everywhere we went  (in fact I have never seen anyone do extempore better).   And when he had to tie those heavy wrappers that must have weighed a ton and then some, he did not miss a beat as he danced with his legions of supporters or slow down his pace as he walked from jetty to palace to town hall completely surrounded by a sea of people so much so that photographers and cameramen had to climb on tree stumps and tall buildings to get a good shot.

Henry Seriake Dickson has set a new standard in electioneering campaigns in Nigeria. He has raised the bar so high it would never be the same again.

The extent of outreach and depth of discourse in his rallies have made it easy to separate the wheat from the chaff and the contenders from the pretenders and in this race there is only one contender.   My many years of learning has taught me that elections are won by credible candidates who vigorously canvass for support and votes. This Henry Seriake has done excellently well.

Any thing short of this would be taking us back to the dark days of ballot box snatching and declaration of false results. Any thing short of this would be making a mockery of the sacrifice Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, another proud son of Niger Delta, made to advance his laudable agenda for electoral reforms in Nigeria by refusing to manipulate the institutions of state to his advantage in the 2015 Presidential election.

Even though I remember the frenzy and the carnival like atmosphere that welcomed HSD throughout the tour, what caught my attention the most was his message and the things he spoke about. I appreciated his admonition to pursue peace and why it was important for Bayelsans to come out and vote for a party and a governor that had worked so hard to obliterate from their memories an era when they did not feel safe and secure as they do today.

Dickson reminded his supporters of the infrastructural developments the state had witnessed in the last three and the half years of his administration. The road linking Nembe to the state capital and the other senatorial roads that are all in advance stages of completion will make agriculture and commerce more profitable for the people. These roads will bring investments, tourists and investors to faraway communities and places in Ekeremor, Southern Ijaw, Ogbia, Brass and Kolokuma that were only once imagined, never visited.

I also appreciated his concern that this election be used to make a statement.   A strong and irrefutable statement about their  Ijawness  and why they should not allow themselves to be misled into willingly surrendering the governance of their state and its finances to forces and influences in Lagos and Abuja, by desperate politicians who care only about their personal interest and momentary gains. Politicians that would do anything, including the betrayal of the very people that entrusted them with leadership in the first place, just to stay relevant.

Bayelsans vote wisely.

What HSD accomplished in the last four weeks has redefined what grass-root campaigning is about. In deed he has set the bar so high, it would never be the same again. HSD connected with the people he serves. In some places he slept over so he could lengthen his conversation with them and where it was not possible he partook of their bread and water and whatever else they offered from the kindness of their hearts.

He smiled and shook hands with school children. Young boys and girls who in spite of their ineligibility to vote came out in their numbers to show appreciation for the positive transformation in their fortunes. As governor, Dickson declared a state of emergency in the educational sector and made education a top priority issue for his administration recording visible and verifiable outcomes.

HSD was always the first to come out of the boat or car. He reached out extensively. He defied protocol, making unscheduled stops to meet and greet   mechanics and artisans, market women and youth groups, farmers and fishermen, Bayelsans and non-Bayelsans and as many people as wanted audience with him.

He had a chance to explain first hand, issues about salaries and the financial position of the state. Communities expressed their problems to him and they got immediate solutions and where that was not possible the channels were created for further discussions.

Dickson has done everything a good man ought to do to ensure victory at the polls. He has played his part. His score card has high grades in performance and campaigning. All that is left is for INEC and the security agencies to be allowed to do theirs without interference.

Like they say in situations like this, let the best man win and in my books the best man is the one who worked the hardest and who has God on his side. In this contest, Dickson stands head and shoulders above his co-competitors. He certainly deserves all the goodwill he received along way.

Bayelsans vote wisely.

Mr Michael Afenfia, a political analyst, wrote from Yenagoa, Bayelsa State

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