Governor of Bayelsa State, Seriake Dickson, speaks on burning issues in his state as well as those on the national scene in this interview with select newsmen across the country. OSA OKHOMINA was there.
How has the six years of your administration been in Bayelsa?
Let me use this opportunity to welcome you all home. We say all good people are from Bayelsa State. Let me thank you for the efforts you have been making in the past few days; going around our state to have a real feel of the developments on ground. You saw and felt the silent revolution that has been going on in Bayelsa. Now you are in a position to compare with some of the stories and propaganda and rumour and blackmail that have tended to suffuse the atmosphere everywhere.
With regards to sustainability, there is no doubt that the work I and my team have been doing for the past six years has changed the state. That was what I promised the people on the first day of inauguration because I came into this job with a clear idea of what I wanted to do. I had made up my mind on these issues. I knew the challenges and I had my blue print right from when I was campaigning. I knew that education, health care, infrastructure development, expanding agriculture, promoting industrialisation and investing in peace, law and order and security will all be a priority and I laid all these out in my inaugural address. There is nothing I have done that is not contained in my inaugural speech. In any case, I am a politician of conviction so everything I had in mind to do is what I am doing.
But what happens when you are no longer in office?
I have more than two years left to do more and further consolidate on what we have started. We have also introduced a number of policies and legislations, for example, in the education and health care sectors. After building the schools and the hospitals, I have come up with the compulsory health insurance scheme in this state, created by law and a fund into which deductions from civil servants and others who subscribe to it are paid. The state government also supports it by putting up to five per cent of the state monthly internally generated revenue, IGR. With a board of very competent professionals, managing that fund and with the hospitals built and equipped and the law backing it, this is sustainable.
In education, we have built schools in every local government. There are 13 model compulsory boarding schools spread across the state, plus 25 constituency secondary schools which are equipped. We have selected good students and put them there. We spend almost N120,000,000 every month feeding these students. This is besides the fully equipped laboratories and library, the classrooms; the money used in buying books, provision of uniforms. After doing all of these, we have created the educational development trust fund by law and I have also appointed a board with Prof. Isoun to serve as chairman. With the law and the funding mechanism that I have put in place, I believe that to a large extent if these institutions are supported (and the good thing is that I still have over two years to nurture them), there is no fear as to sustainability. I, of course, want more support and encouragement. Already, I have formally announced the Nobel Laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka as the Honorary Educational Ambassador to the state. He has graciously offered to help me and my government and the state in this big, robust, ambitious educational intervention. He has given me the permission to go on with that and we are pleased to have him on board. I will make more of such appeals so that I can tell the Bayelsa story beyond the shores of Bayelsa. We have international organizations that can help us, the corporate players that have been drilling oil for 61 years here who do not even pay tax here or have offices here. They need to support this endeavor because they are all beneficiaries of the effect of this intervention because with the 5,000 to 10,000 graduates trained in this specially equipped schools, it means that we have fewer militants or disgruntled elements to deal with and that is why we are making all of these investments and I believe that these programmes are largely sustainable. I always say nothing human is perfect or absolute but largely with the measures we have taken, the policies would be sustained.
The enormity of projects and policies you put in place are unprecedented and one gets worried about their execution in the face of dwindling revenue?
With regards to the Brass LNG, the Brass Fertilizer, and all the big tickets investment that have not really taken off in this state, we are very sad that that is the case and you are right because if those projects had taken off, the IGR base of the state would largely have been expanded and today we would have had more money by way of IGR to put into these investments. But having said that, we are working with the partners concerned and in the next couple of weeks I would be handing over formally the certificate of occupancy of the Brass Fertilizer to the company. Our teams are working, I am also in regular touch with the Brass LNG group and we are working to see how we can provide support. I have been making the case that it is unfortunate, in fact, one of the greatest misfortunes that befell this state in recent couple of years has been the inability to conclude this key investment initiative. But we are almost concluding Brass fertilizer aspect. The state had to take an equity of 10 per cent to fast track it and to create confidence. We are also talking to the investors in LNG. Unfortunately even though the money was there for a number of years, there wasn’t sufficient will and attention so the investors have more or less diverted and gone to Mozambique and some other countries but there is a renewed zeal, especially driven by us in this state. We are creating industrial areas, power hubs, just to enable us attract industries, manufacturers and corporate players to our state so that the IGR base can go up. I do not know if you found time to visit the airport, it is almost completed. The whole idea is not for luxury, but for cargo, for business men to use it as a hub so that the IGR base can go up. Right now, Bayelsa is cut off from the rest of the world. No sea port, no airport. So even when the revenue is going down, because of the enormity of the challenges, I am here to address challenges. So we are not scared of challenges. When I started all these projects, about five years back, everybody was saying “he is doing too much”. They never said I am not doing enough. What is helping us is focus and prudence and that is why with this investment, little by little a lot of projects are being completed.
What is your take on all manners of agitations that can lead to a breakup of the country?
Well for me, having a large nation like Nigeria is an advantage. Large population in size and enormous resources that are really embedded in each and every state in this country. Look at the farming belt, everywhere is green. So between one state and another you can actually have massive mechanized farms. This country has no reason to be poor. It is a blessed country. I am not even talking about what is under the soil, and our rich human resource base and I have always made this case even to my people in spite of the anger, the sense of marginalization that they justly feel. I have continued to make a case, as I do to our youths, that there is an advantage in staying in a large and diverse family. Quite frankly, the greatness of Nigeria does not only derive from oil and mineral resources. The greatness of our country is a combination of all of it including its diversity and complexity. But we must create a stable and fair country. Nigeria must be founded on fairness and justice and equity. We must build a nation of compassion and a nation of love and truth, not a nation of oppression or deceit. Right now the foundation of this country is fraudulent and we should not run away from saying it as it is. Really it does not do anybody any good to perpetuate this unworkable structure.
Therefore, those of us who are in support of restructuring are making the case for a sustainable and stable and fair Nigeria that can endure for the next 400 years and going forward. Few years from now, we will be one of the most populous countries in the world and only God knows what is possible if only we can have a stable Nigeria where citizens are not at each other’s throat for the right or wrong reasons. In this state or region, anybody who says that the existence of Nigeria is not negotiable is not telling you the truth. But as I keep saying, the existence of a big and strong diverse nation called Nigeria is desirable. But like anything human, its terms and conditions cannot be absolute and cannot be perfect. Therefore, nation building is a work in progress and so we must continually examine the basis upon which we are going to have this big beautiful nation but with a mindset to making it more perfect.
I want fairness for everybody; for my people and myself. I do not see why this state will have eight local government areas when it takes me three days to go round a local government area and you make the number of local governments a basis for distributing the wealth that I produce; you take away the resources by legislations using military decrees to which our people never made input.
What is your reaction to the Supreme Court judgment on the PDP crisis?
First of all it is unfortunate that the dispute lasted for as long as it did. Secondly, it is also unfortunate that it had to take a judicial intervention, which is the decision of the Supreme Court for us to know who our chairman and other officers of our party are. Again I consider that as a failure of politics; not really blaming one side or the other. It’s not just about PDP but the other parties. To that extent, it is very sad. Now the Supreme Court has decided. One of the reasons I did not think the judicial option was the best is that after judicial interventions- judges do not reconcile they adjudicate – you are back to square one, back to the court of reconciliation. I have read the statement of Sen. Makarfi. He is a very stable man and I agree with that approach, that we have to go back to reconciliation. That is where I have always stood. Reconciliation is key not litigation. Now we have to come back to square one to promote internal reconciliation and then to move for a convention which was what I proposed we should have done. So we are still back to holding an acceptable unity convention. So good luck to our party. I will join hands with other leaders of our party to ensure that this key objective is achieved, that is, reconciliation of the party with a view to having all-inclusive unity, an acceptable convention.