Take-off point is Yenagoa. Driving through the East-West Road, you encounter a number of police check-points. It is a Friday. The road is busy. The policemen are having a field day collecting their meal ticket from drivers conveying traders to the Zarama market. They smile as they do the collections. They sight the vehicle in which you rode and apparently guessed that the vehicle is not one of those that will oil their palm. They look the other way while you wave at them and move on.
About 30 minutes after, you are on the road leading to a village that has produced the sitting governor. The road is not too busy. But you are told that the road could be very busy if the governor is to visit. In truth, there is nothing to give you an inkling that you are about to get into the village where Nigeria's contriman governor was born.
A few minutes later, you are face to face with the country home of the contriman governor. It does not look too fantastic though. From the main road, you can count the number of buildings there. There is nothing so special about the houses, except that the houses wear different looks from most other houses in the village.
A few more minutes drive from there takes you to the controversial university, the University of Africa, which sits on the Sagbama-Ekeremor Road and currently under construction. This is the home of Henry Seriake Dickson. And the university is just a shouting distance from his home. Welcome to Toru-Orua, the village waiting to give expression to hopes, dreams and expectations of the villagers whose calculation is that in the next three, four years, they would see transformation and a very vibrant economy, by reason of the location of the university.
A typical person from that village is excited. Those who have lands are looking for how to erect buildings there in anticipation of the boom that the village would experience when the University of Africa takes off. If you talk to anybody from that village, all you will hear would be song of praise for Dickson. They would tell you he is a son in whom they are well pleased. Not because he knows how to swim and fish, even as a sitting governor. Not because he talks with a frightening fiery force. Not because he walks as if he owns the land. Not because he knows how to dance to Owigiri tunes with dignified dexterity. No. They are excited because they believe he has done what his predecessors did for their own people when they were in power.
Take D.S.P Alamieyeseigha for example. When he was governor, he bulldozed the forests of Amassoma and sand-filled the rivers to establish the Niger Delta University. It is doubtful if Amassoma would have known or seen any form of development at the time it did, if Alamieyeseigha were not elected a governor. Today, the economy of Amassoma has grown in geometrical progression.
Dr Goodluck Jonathan as president of Nigeria did same thing for his people, with the establishment of the Federal Univeristy, Otuoke. That hitherto sleepy village has now seen light. That is what the Toru-Orua people believe will happen to their village in the next few years. And they have Dickson to thank for it.
TNN observed during the visit that work on the university project has been on the fast lane. Dickson seem to have paid much more attention to that school than any other project. And this makes the villagers happier, that even earlier than expected, Toru-Orua will see the expected light faster.
They are even happier that the Sagbama-Ekeremor road project which had been on the drawing board for about 40 years was being constructed by their son. And it raises their hopes that the road would boost commerce and trade in the area. Some of the villagers who spoke to TNN expressed satisfaction that when completed, traffic to and from the village would increase. One woman who sells snails, plantain and local gin in the village, who gave her name as Madam Laifa, told TNN that in the next five years, Toru-Orua will become a city. In fact, she said she was already developing her property in anticipation of the influx of students who may not be able to afford to live in the hotels being built in the university.
It was also observed that work on the hostels section was moving with the speed of light. Youths of the area were engaged in the building project, while many vendors were also sighted either selling food or provisions to the workers. Others who were benefitting from the construction works currently going on there are cement and building materials dealers. They must be smiling to the banks and praying for Dickson to embark on more of those projects so that they can continue to make money.
The belief is that the face of Toru-Orua will change, once the university takes off. And it looks like Dickson is learning fast and doing everything possible to erase negative impressions people had about his actual intentions for establishing the school. At first, the government had said the university was a public-private partnership project. But the full details of the partnership was not disclosed. To make matters worse, the state house of assembly was involved in the hide-and-seek game. They got a bill from the governor same day and before the people could shout Ah Izon, the bill had gone through the three legislative stages and was passed into law. Same day. The people wailed. They queried the hurry in the passage of the bill, without explanations to the people on who the partners were. Nothing happened at that time.
But TNN learnt that the law has since been amended to reflect the fact that the school is fully owned by the state government, but that it would be run by the private sector; with no subventions from the state government.
But there is still one question Dickson will need to answer about the school: if the school is to be run by the private sector purely as a business concern, to give the citizens more access to quality education, how come he is talking of giving scholarship to some exceptional students when normal academic work begins?
However, even if Dickson delays in coming up with an answer, the praises and encomiums being poured on him by his people for taking steps to give Toru-Orua a facelift are not likely to cease. They are happy that the man they call Ofrumapepe is helping them to, as the locals will say, show poverty pepper.