John ODHE, Yenagoa
Positioned at the heart of Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital is the autonomous community called Swali in Yenagoa local government area of the state. It is a household name in Bayelsa State. The community has become so popular, not only in Yenagoa and Bayelsa State in particular, but also among neighbouring states.
As a visitor coming to Bayelsa state for the first time, the moment you step into Yenagoa, the capital city, the name, Swali, will begin to resonate. Taxi drivers as well as tricycle riders keep singing ‘Swali, Swali’ just as most of the commuters chorus same in response. You wouldn’t mind if you are the adventurous type, to take a trip straight to Swali in order to catch a glimpse of the popular community.
Swali is popular for many good reasons. The ancient community plays host to many state and federal government establishments from which she earns her popularity. For instance, the community hosts the popular Swali Ultra Modern Market built by late Chief Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha, the first civilian governor of Bayelsa State. The market is the largest in the state and draws traders from far and wide.
The community also hosts the corporate office of the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB) with the tallest building in the Niger Delta region at the moment which was commissioned by President Muhammadu Buhari, through a former governor of Bayelsa state and now Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, penultimate week.
Moreover, Swali is the host community to Many other key establishments such as the Bayelsa state branch of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the popular Oxbow Lake resort and event centre, the Bayelsa state Central Business District, the Federal Secretariat which is still under construction as well as one television and two private radio stations, Silverbird Television, Rhythm 94.7 FM and People’s 93.1 FM.
Despite sacrificing their lands in a show of patriotism to fatherland, Swali community remains in a sorry state, superficially lacking every basic amenity. The condition of the Swali community can only be on the same scale with the proverbial paradoxical tale of a man who builds his house atop the river but is permanently thirsty for water. If you get to Swali, you will find it difficult to believe that there is no presence of government there. The only social amenity one can point to at Swali main town is a mini-townhall built by a contracting firm, Megastar, in collaboration with NCDMB.
Her generosity notwithstanding, the original Swali community does not have an access road till this moment. Residents of the community have to trek on a dusty and muddy soil to get to their homes during dry and rainy seasons. In the same vein, the town has no potable water and there is no electricity. When TNN metro visited Swali, the only government owned community health centre which looks obscure was under lock and key. One of the residents simply said “those health workers don’t have our time, so, we too don’t have their time”.
Due to absence of access and internal road network which makes it difficult for the police to carry out proper community policing in the area, Swali has often become a safe haven for criminals who take advantage of the inaccessibility of the area to terrorize the residents.
Speaking to TNN metro, the Paramount Ruler of Swali community, HRH Wilcox Seyefa said the main reason they gave out their lands for government establishments was for the development of the state and Swali in particular. On the newly commissioned NCDMB national headquarters, the paramount ruler said “we thank God that this big project is sited on our land. We thank the initiators. We hope that this will bring development to Bayelsa and Swali community and provide employment for our youths. We donated those lands so that development will come to us. I am appealing to the state government, the government of Nigeria and the companies to come and open up the road and give employment to our youths most of whom are graduates but have no jobs.”
Also speaking, the Community Development Committee (CDC) chairman of Swali community, Mr Jimmy-Cliff Agada, a lawyer, lamented the lack of basic social amenities despite the community’s sacrificial release of vast area of land to the state and federal governments for various establishments.
He reiterated the call on NCDMB, the state and federal governments as well as other establishments occupying their land to engage youths of Swali community in meaningful ventures.
In like manner, the General Secretary of the community, Mr. Jerry Moses said “as the goose that lays the golden egg, we are supposed to be partakers of good things too. You can see that we are surrounded by good thing but you will not believe that the same Swali you hear about is without road, without water, without light and we are the ones hosting all these facilities. So, we are looking forward to those things so that as a community, we can be appreciative of the state government. With our contributions to the state, we are not too happy with the level of development. We have good internal road network even before the creation of Bayelsa state but none has been developed till day. We want our youths to be employed because that will curb a lot of youth restiveness.”
It could be recalled that the last time the people of Swali had some glimmers of hope concerning the construction of their access road was in 2015 when the then governor of Bayelsa state, Mr. Seriake Dickson went to the community to campaign for a second term in office. During that occasion, Dickson gave the people strong hope when he assured that the people of Swali community would witness the completion of their access road before the governorship election. Little did they know that the governor’s promise was only as good as one of those political campaign rhetorics that politicians make during electioneering periods. So, Swali remains the way it has been: a community that has been milked dry but neglected by the government.