The burial ceremony of former Governor of Bayelsa State, Dieprieye Alamieyeseigha was a mix of the expected, the unexpected and even drama.
In most parts of Nigeria’s Niger Delta region, the demise of a kinsman who was below the age of 70 is hardly celebrated. In many communities, such burial rites are either abridged or observed with sobriety.
The burial of the first civilian governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Solomon Alamieyeseigha (aged 62) on Saturday April 9, was largely a somber affair. It was made more so by the rain which was a real drencher at Amassoma.
In attendance at the burial service were such personages like former President Goodluck Jonathan and his wife. Of course, there were incumbent Bayelsa State governor, Seriake Dickson and his wife. Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha and the Chairman of Peoples Democratic Party, Ali Modu Sherrif were among several other notables who attended. But, the pomp that should attend the burial of a man of Alamieyeseigha’s status was not so much there.
Ironically, the general air of sobriety that pervaded the burial ceremonies was what surprised many people. Apparently, many expected much more from the funeral of a man they fondly referred to as “Governor – General of the Ijaw nation”. “I expected Alamieyeseigha’s burial to be like a big festival”, said Dennis Ikogha, a Bayelsan who followed the events. “I can see prominent Nigerians from other parts of the country like Sule Lamido, Ibrahim Mantu and the rest. Our Bayelsa people are here. You can even see women dancing in the rain but I expected more”.
Another observer, Mrs. Ruth Idogu agrees with Ikogha that people expected so much more from the ceremonies. “Alamieyeseigha was our leader”, she said. “He did a lot of things for our people. If he was from another part of Nigeria, you would have seen what would have happened today. Every important Nigerian would have been in Amassoma struggling for where to sit. But you see, Alamieyeseigha was made to die before his time and the same forces that sent him to an early grave would not want him to be honoured”.
Even when many Bayelsans would say the burial did not meet their expectation, it was apparent that the state government did quite a lot to make it a stately event. The ceremonies began with – a Valedictory Executive Council Session at the Government House, Yenagoa. There was also a public lecture and then there was the elaborate open air church service which held at Amassoma. All the events drew attendance from notable Nigerian politicians and other leaders. Significantly, all the events were attended by former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan who deputised for Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha when he was Governor of Bayelsa. Incumbent Governor, Seriake Dickson was also in all the events. What was conspicuously absent all through was a formal Federal Government delegation.
A major surprise of the Almaieyeseigha burial was the absence of virtually all the governors of Niger Delta states. Anybody would have expected that the governors of those states would make the event a great priority. Even the governors of the immediate neigbours of Bayelsa like Rivers, Delta and Akwa Ibom were absent. Significantly, Chief Alamieyeseigha’s fame was largely on account of his leadership role in the struggle to ensure that Niger Delta states controlled their oil resources or got a reasonable percentage of the revenue accruing to Nigeria from oil. So, many Nigerians still see him as a hero of the Niger Delta region.
Of all the oil producing states, only Imo was represented by its governor, Rochas Okorocha. Even at that, Okorocha’s entry into the venue of the open–air church service proved to be another surprise since it was apparent that all the big wigs of the All Progressives Congress were absent. Former Governor of Bayelsa and leader of the APC in the state, Timipre Sylva did not attend the burial ceremonies. Okorocha was ushered into the venue by some youths who sang and drummed his praises. The youths did that apparently because they expected the governor to show “appreciation” at the end of the day. Inside the main arena of the ceremony however, anyone could cut through the curiosity and surprise on the faces of dignitaries. It was all as if the Imo governor was the last person they expected to attend the event.
Governor Dickson had just mounted the rostrum and was only beginning to speak after former President Jonathan did, when Okorocha’s arrival interrupted him. Surprisingly, the protocol arrangements and the ushers at the venue failed at that point. Obviously, they did not anticipate the arrival of the Imo governor and without a proper guide, Okorocha headed straight to the rostrum. Dickson had no choice but to hand the microphone over to his guest who had just arrived the venue to make his remarks.
For a brief moment, the Imo governor lit up the arena from its general air of grief and melancholy. For once, many mourners were forced to laugh. Even the officiating priests could not hold back laughter when Okorocha told the crowd what he thought Judgment Day which the Holy Bible talks about would look like. “The Bible says God’s judgment will begin from the House of God”, he said. “This means that it will begin with the priests. God may judge them for a whole week and then he would judge the governors for three days. The legislators may have one day and then the ordinary people, my people …. May be God would just look at them and say ‘Go, your sins are forgiven?” And he exclaimed, “My people, my people!” This sent a lot of people cracking with laughter and it was one joke the officiating Bishop had to refer to in his sermon.
But by far, what looked like the most dramatic and surprising moment of D.S.P Alamieyeseigha’s home-going was the reading of the tribute paid to the deceased by former governor of Delta State, James Onanefe Ibori who is serving a jail term in London. Of course, nobody expected that tribute from a man in jail. Ibori, obviously poured out his heart in recanting the role played by Alamieyeseigha in trying to defend or project the interests of the people of the Niger Delta. He wrote: “Even as I carry my own cross, I can never forget what you stood for. Those who knew the real you and the reason for your death will strive to wipe the dust of unsubstantiated blame off your gravestone and leave your name free from the undeserved dirt thrown by mudslingers, even as we wait in the unfailing hope that one day the truth about your travails would emerge”.
The full text of Ibori’s tribute is published elsewhere in this magazine. Click and read it.