Hon. Bello Bina, is the Chairman of Brass Local Government Area of Bayelsa State. In this chat with Osa Okhomina in Yenagoa, Hon. Bina explained why the State Governor, Hon. Seriake Dickson has refused to engage illegal deductions from Local Government councils’ allocation, the reasons why APC is no longer a threat in the State and the reasons why the Federal Government should complete the Brass LNG project in the state.
Bayelsa State just celebrated its 20th anniversary, how will you describe the rate of development when the state started and under the present administration of Seriake Dickson?
Since, the creation of Bayelsa State is twenty years ago, we have had only two elected governors, Chief D.S.P. Alamieyeseigha and Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson. Others were in circumstantial manner. We have witnessed rapid development during Chief D.S.P Alamieyeseigha and the present administration of Henry Seriake Dickson. Within Dickson’s administration, the state has been turned into a construction site. Due to drop in allocation, the pace of construction work reduced. However, up to date ,we are still witnessing the handling some jobs and works are going on.
Categorically, I can tell you that we are where we are for the good leadership qualities of Chief D.S.P. Alamieyeseigha and Hon. Seriake Dickson. I commend them. They have done well. If other persons that held the office of Governor of Bayelsa State had done what Chief Alamieyeseigha had done, and what Gov. Dickson is currently doing, Bayelsa State would have gone above this level. Anyhow, in 20 years, we are doing well.
But many people are saying that if the APC had won during the Governorship poll, the party alliance with the centre would have brought accelerated development. Is the APC a threat in Bayelsa?
Stop listening to stories, the APC can never be a threat. Even before the election, when they entered the State with their force and claimed they had the Federal backing, we were not afraid and did not panic. Nobody is a threat to PDP in Bayelsa State. When they came claiming they had the result and will just declare it, we were ready and the people spoke where their heart belongs. We, Bayelsa people, no our right and that is what we gave to them. I was so sure of the PDP victory that i made a media statement, published in the national dailies, that i will go into exile if the APC won. I meant it and i would have gone to exile. I was so sure of the position of the people on matter of governance in the State. And with the Election Petition Tribunal, Appeal and Supreme, victory is for the PDP. It is the mandate of the people. And the people know what they want.
Are you aware that the open critism of the present Government have increased? They claimed he has not performed. What do you think?
Those are mere rumours. Governor Seriake Dickson has performed beyond reasonable doubt. Nobody can come to say that Governor Dickson is not performing. If not for Governor Dickson, we would have been where we are. If not for his prudence in this time of recession, the state would have gone down the drain. The people of the State should know that we were put up for sale by those his predecessors through loans and bonds. We were used as collateral for loans and bonds. We should be thankful to Governor Dickson. If not,one day7,we would be sleeping and some federal people will knock on our door and ask us to vacate the seat of governance due to debts (laugh).
We would have been turned into slavery before Dickson’s administration took over. It is because Dickson is prudent that made the payment of salaries possible unlike some states. If it were to be another Governor, salaries issue would have been big crises. He has not embezzled money and it is because he is a man that can take us to the promise land. Nobody can manage the state as Governor Dickson. He is a God fearing man. We know that critism is allowed and it would deter him from impacting on the lives of the people.
With these belief in the State Governor, Hon. Seriake Dickson and the PDP, why are you being accused of romancing with the APC?
The PDP is in charge of the State and the local Government council. I have taken charge of Brass local government as a PDP Council Chairman and the achievement made was with the exemplary support of the State Governor. Maybe some of the anti-PDP forces linking me with APC are expecting me to kill the opposition before they will confirm my loyalty.
As a council Chairman, I am their father in Brass local Government. These people don’t like the present peace I have brought to reign in Brass local Government. I keep saying it that the PDP have brought development into Brass. These politicians, involved in campaign of calumny, stay in Government House and spread false rumor. It is because I was not nominated by them and Governor in his wisdom found me worthy with my hard work and appointed me. I am just like a single stick standing in the forest. If anyone has anything to say against me, they should come to Brass local Government they should come to Brass Local Government and show their popularity.
Many of those involved in the rumor peddling against the council expect me to bring the Workers payroll to them before I can pay salary. They expect me to consult them before I develop the council. They want me to share the salary of the council. For them, they should be aware that those days the APC is making noise are over. I have over powered the APC and the members of the PDP should come to Brass and give me support to make the PDP stronger.
They should doing big man in Yenagoa and stop peddling rumor. When the Federal Minister came and she breached protocol without informing the State Governor, I cautioned her. If I could do all that, I should have been commended by the members of PDP in Brass instead of claiming I am romancing with APC. i remain a PDP man and will always be a PDP man.
Your local Government, the Brass LGA, used to be the hub of crime and criminalities inspite of the existence of rich resources. As a chairman, what have you done to stem the tide?
I have taken Brass to the next phase. The next phase, because people know Brass as a radical place, where there is no peace but the press, the security agencies and other well meaning individuals can attest to the fact from the date of my swearing-in till this day, you will find out Brass has been under my absolute control as chairman. Brass is a place where there is no fighting or shooting. Brass is one today. I have handled the insecurity issue of Twon Brass, it is not just me but will the help of God and support of members of my team, we have calm Brass.
Brass, as some people will say is the APC stronghold because Chief Timipre Sylva is from this local government area. It is described as a troublesome and violent place but I can assure that Brass is calm, everybody is relaxed and everything is going well because of my kind leadership. Today, everybody lives in peace in Brass. Security is every man’s problem as the security agencies are trying their best; as chairman and Chief Security Officer of the place, I try my best to work around the security agencies, CDCs, traditional rulers, youth leaders etc to incorporate them into plans for peace in Brass today.
For over twenty years, Brass Local Government Area has not mark the Independence Day celebration, where a Chairman will mount a podium and take salute from children. But as I took over office, I thought it wise, it is necessary to put that in place. So, when I got to Brass on Independence to take salute, everybody, both Chiefs and elders are happy. It was during the military government over twenty years they last saw this performance. Everybody was happy, because these are official things, that a chairman use to do during independence, take salute and tell the people the level of job done; how far you are operating in your office. These are compulsory things.
How true is it that the State Government engage in illegal deductions of Council monies?
The state government is not taking a dime from any council allocation. I am the chairman. So, I am not saying any sort of thing. Before now, allocation was coming and salaries were not paid. The governor, as a prudent man, insisted on proper monitoring and accountability. The governor said ‘No, if allocations are coming and the chairmen owed up to 5 months salaries, there is the need to look into the system for the good of the state. The governor, in his wisdom, has made it possible that we are on this platform. If the governor had not monitored the system of payment and insist on accountability, we would have been in a very big crisis and disaster. That is why, the talk about local government autonomy and money released directly to council is rubbish. We get our allocation as at when due from the federation account. The Bayelsa State government is not taking any dime from it. I am speaking here on behalf of all the local government chairmen in Bayelsa State. Nobody can make such frivolous allegation. I am the chairman of Brass Local Government, so I know. Likewise other Local Government Council Chairmen in the State. These monies are controlled and given to chairman to use at their discretion. If you aim is to develop the people, pay salaries and do the right thing, you convince the people. Nobody is taking anybody money from us. The allegation is not correct and it is unfounded.
Teachers in your LGA are so calm, their salaries been paid, what is the magic did you perform?
Leadership is about your personal lifestyle. I have my personal lifestyle and way of carrying out my operations. It is a simple thing. If you adopt your personality to the system, it makes it work better. I have a system of making friends with people around me. When I came into council, one strange thing the people are seeing is, I can sit down with different manner of person’s whether civil servant or a teacher and talk to you as a brother. You know, chairmen are usually seen as ‘Jesus Christ’ but I don’t want people to see me like that, so, I sit down with them. I feel their pain. I look at it that the people need XY thing but I put it to them what we have and what we can provide for them. At the end, everybody at the end of the day is smiling home.
How have you been able to adjust with the drop of revenue from the federal allocation?
The administration of local government is not a child’s play. With a very low allocation, as local government authorities, we had to be prudent because it is not a situation of Father Christmas. When you are called for service, you dedicate yourself and put in al efforts to get the job done. So, with the allocation, we still try to manage the council. When the funds come, we don’t do flamboyant, excessive or too many project. Our first priority is the workers’ salaries; that is why we pay 50% salaries. What is coming, as allocation, cannot accommodate the staff strength that we have. Especially, now that we pay teachers’ salaries. You know before now, the state government pays 60% of the salary while the 40% is paid by council. Since, the state couldn’t handle it; we took over the 100% of the payment. But we are paying 50% of the teacher’s salary for now with the present allocation. We have been sustaining like that rather keeping salaries for three to four months and pay one month. We looked at our principal, at the state level and follow suit and adopt the same pattern. We are paying 50% both for civil servants and teachers; it has been helpful and working for us. Before now, Brass use to get close to N350, 000,000.00 but it is fluctuating between N70m and N50m. If these methods were not applied, it means that you can’t do anything. My teacher’s salary is taking me close to N47m while civil servants take up to N72m and you can an allocation of N50m, there is no magic to perform to meet the civil servant salary and not to talk about the politicians. So, we applied our principal’s method to pay 50% and it has work for us.
As a council, you have taken up share projection meant for NDDC, Federal Government and the Brass LNG is located in your council, what are you doing to improve the lot of Brass people?
It is unfortunate when you mention, the Brass LNG. It is a sad story. A fertilizer company has taken over 70% of the Brass LNG. It is not known to the public, but as indigenes and stakeholder, we know what is happening. The Federal Government is not serious with the Brass LNG project. This is a project that will benefit a lot of Bayelsa indigenes and Nigeria as a nation. The LNG project is an abandoned project. I have met with the top management staff to see if we can revive it. It is not in their power to do. It is left for the Federal Government to give them the go ahead to make it work. It is not in hands of the state government but the federal government. Our Gas resources in Brass is being wasted..
But we heard the Minister of Environment was in Brass recently and that the visit provoked anger in the council area? What happened?
On the environmental challenges confronting the Brass people, it is sad that a local government council area that produces over thirty-Five per cent of oil resources from Bayelsa State is left to suffer. When the Minister of Environment came visiting the Brass local Government Council, it was a funny story. I was not aware of her plan to visit. But when i heard from the Agip management, I called my principal, His Excellency, Governor Seriake Dickson, that this is the information received, the governor told me that he was not aware that the Minister will be visiting the state. I also inquired from the deputy governor, Rear Admiral John Jonah, he also was not aware. So, I doubted the authenticity of the information from Agip, that the lady will be visiting Brass, and my governor is not aware?
Take the party difference away, for a minister to visit a state; there is the need for you to write officially to the governor of that state. And the governor, will inform the local government chairman. Anyway, we were on ground to receive whoever that is coming from the federal level. We are ready to work with everybody but we were not informed. Because i was on ground, I was at the meeting with stakeholders at the Twon Brass King Palace.
If you see me in the state capital, Yenagoa, I am here for salary issues for my workers and other state matters. Yenagoa is like the Abuja to Brass local council. It is like the State Governor travelling to Abuja to discuss issues affecting the state. So also I come to Yenagoa to discuss issues affecting Brass LGA and the welfare of workers etc. So, I was in Brass, when she flew in and when straight into His Majesty’s palace, King Alfred Diette-Spiff, where I met her and her team. As the Chairman of the local government, i automatically took charge of the meeting knowing very well that the APC State Assembly member was trying to control proceedings. In my usual way, I will not allow that to happen. This is a PDP state and I am the Chairman of the local government. Both to the APC people and PDP people as well as being the Chief Security officer of the local government. I had to take quick charge of the visit of the Minister of Environment; I pointed it out to her that as the Hon. Minister of Environment, she shouldn’t have come by air with helicopter. For her to fly into Brass with a helicopter, she has made the first mistake because her coming was to see the environmental impacts of oil exploration in the area. Based on her job as a minister of Environment, she should have come by boat. I pleaded with her that I would have provided the security and boat to take her on a ride on water from Yenagoa, and then she will understand the environment challenges and the impact of the oil spillages in the State. We told her that she would not understand the impact with her movement of helicopter into Brass local Government council. Maybe after one or two visits to selected places, she may hold a contrary view on the damage and problems facing the people. So, I also quickly told her things she had not done right. I informed her that it was wrong for her to come to Brass local Government without informing the Bayelsa state government and she apologised. She said some letters were sent to the government through email. Was that right? She said it was the same email she sent to the Rivers State Government. We pointed it out that, as a council, we are doing a massive project in Brass. I live in Brass and I know what the people are going through. The lives of people in Brass concern me, and as the Chief Security officer, I will not let my people down. Erosion is one of our challenges. This is a project, NDDC, Shell and Federal Government needs to partner with the State and Local Government to carry-out a shore protection.
In my own little way, I informed her that i have informed the Bayelsa Governor that Brass communities are facing threats of extinction. That because we are directly facing the Atlantic Ocean, erosion is a great challenge. The State Governor in his wisdom had warned us not to go near a project as huge as shore protection. Because we must not start what we cannot finish. It is not a project for local government councils. Shore protection is a massive project that the Federal Government needs to come in.’ But the governor is not there, I am there, I am with my people, though, he is our father, I pleaded with him that something need to be done and all the needed support was given to me to carry out the pilling (shore protection). In the history of local government in Nigeria, no local government council has embarked on shore protection project. Brass is the first that that has done it. We are not just saying it, we are doing it.
Brass in Bayelsa, Bayelsans should go to Brass and see what we are doing. We pointed out all these to the Minister of Environment because it is the Federal Government duties and she accepted it. She promised to take my messages back to the Federal government.
Due to our occupation in Brass as fishermen, our soil doesn’t encourage farming, as professional fishermen. People from Ghana, Malaysia, India and other places come to fish in our territory. In Brass, the deep sea is been used by foreigners because our local people don’t have what it takes to go into trawler fishing. Some with finances buy engine boat to go into the deep sea, the trawlers will destroy their net. Those who fish in the creeks, the oil is the challenge because the fish cannot survive where this oil spillage exist. While the Minister of Environment is promising to clean the oil in Brass, Bayelsa State, she also promised to clean Ogoni, she made the statement in Rivers State but up till now, the Ogoni land has not been cleaned. But coming to Brass to make the same promise, the people are waiting. We are waiting for Federal Government to know if the promises will be kept. She made a statement that five years of the nation’s wealth was wasted and that the spillage sites in the state were not cleaned.And that her coming will lead to the cleaning of Brass, and Bayelsa State in general. She alerted us that those who blow oil pipelines will be arrested, and I said, Yes!, the security agencies should go into action and any suspect should be arrested, nobody is above the law.
Yes, they must apprehend those that are blowing the pipelines but the federal government promises must be done. If our governor makes a promise, he makes sure that promise is fulfilled.So, we are waiting. This is a PDP state, we are waiting. People should not just fly into Bayelsa State and fly into Brass and make all sorts of promises and at the end, we don’t see result. We are saying, we will not take that.
What are your plans to boost IGR in your council?
You can carry out your investigations, Bayelsa State used to have a place called Lobia market. Lobia is a community in Southern Ijaw local government councils while there is another market in Sangana, where people from Onitsha, Sapele, Warri and Benin come to trade on different kind of wares. Today, those markets have been washed off by erosion. They were among the largest markets where people come to buy and sell. So, when I got into office, I thought it wise that that market need to come back to boost our IGR. I quickly put up stores to bring back the Sanagana market, history have it that it is one of the largest market and have sustained the people in Sanagana – we started with 54 stores – so it can be in existence, so people from all over the world can come as well as people from Ogbia, (they are into plantain farming), Southern Ijaw (they are into cassava farming) and at the end of the day, the people from Brass that are fishermen, will come to the market. When you take your cassava and plantain to Sanagana market, you find that they will do trade by barter, under the sun and rain but today, we have structures at the market.
When these places are put into use, we collect 2,000 per store, these 54 will give us 108,000 per day for 30 days in a month, we have some month to finance other council business that is the wisdom and idea to boost our IGR. As I speak, the market is 99% complete and we are going to put it in use within the festive period. It will be officially be in use in December. We have six blocks that make up the 54 rooms. Since Restoration Agenda has supported this project each of the blocks will be named after strong people in the state. These people are men with good intention for Bayelsa State. People like the First Executive Governor, Chief D.S.P. Alamieyeseigha, must be named after a block, Henry Seriake Dickson, Gboribiogha John Jonah, the deputy governor, as well as my humble self as chairman because we have the intention to move Bayelsa State forward. So, when you in the market, locating people will be easy for visitors –customers-. It will help to segment the market, where a block will be designated to rice, another to fish, another to plantain. You can trace anybody with the naming of the block. It named after heroes like us, so when the young ones grow up, and ask why did they name this block after this person? History will have it that these people who have the good will and intention for the development of Bayelsa State. You know names don’t die. In Port Harcourt, you will see ‘Isaac Boro’ Park and in Bayelsa, we have D.S.P. Alamieyeseigha Street, as well as Sani Abacha Road’ because these are people who have the good intention and goodwill to move the state and nation forward. The governor of Bayelsa State has the people at heart and we are willing to follow that same steps to ensure that our local government are following same steps.