Excerpts from the governor’s interview with Abuja Bureau Chiefs of media houses
Question: You have faced a lot of challenges; recession, tribunal etc. Now how have you been able to manage the salary issues of workers in Bayelsa State? Did you get any refunds recently made to some states?
Secondly you just presented the formal documents for the provision of water to communities in your state in partnership with some development agencies.. The state government counterpart funding is about N423 million. What is the total package because providing water for 200 communities is not a joke. What is your own contribution?
(Answer) Governor Dickson:
They have selected 200 communities in Bayelsa principally in two local government areas to provide a lot of things. The EU, UNICEF and World Bank are contributing about N700 million and the state government is putting in N422 million. In other words we are actually bearing the cost of about 35% of the project but the key is not what they are providing, I am more interested in the technical expertise that they are bringing to the table. I have also emphasized that they need to expand it because I want more communities to benefit. The problem with Bayelsa is that while we have water everywhere, we rarely have water to drink and some of the water is in salt water area and we need to desalinate. So out of a number of communities that really have that challenge, government selected some landlocked ones to provide water. I think this effort will go a long way and that is why I have proposed for another counterpart funding for even this year. I know that states are finding it difficult to meet the contributions but in Bayelsa we are willing because of the cause we are pursuing, we are willing to look for money to start another one so that a minimum of 200 or 250 more communities again can benefit. My goal is that within the next three years, every community no matter how small should have access to some safe drinking water even if it is just one tap running because sometimes the situation they manage is very bad: drinking water from stagnant pools which are of course infected and so we have perennial cases of cholera and drainages with pollution along water ways. There are a lot of things going on and that is why we are very committed to that programme and appreciate the partnership.
Talking about how we have been managing the recession, it has been very rough. 2015/2016 have been very trying years. You can imagine for states that were receiving 17 billion or16 billion naira there were months that we could hardly get even 1.5 billion. I remember specifically January 2016 what we had was one point something billion after servicing the bond obligations that my predecessor incurred which we are still servicing and the other facilities so we couldn’t pay salaries. For the first four years we never owed salaries for a month but from 2015 the problems started and when you combine recession with a highly contested election with litigation all the way from the lowest tribunal to the highest court, then you can imagine how wonderful a period this has been for me, for the government and for the state but we thank God for the trials, for the tribulations but most importantly for the triumphs. Now we are managing salary issues for the state workers I must commend the public service for their understanding, my appointees for their understanding. A lot of critical jobs since 2016 have had to be on standby,unfortunately. Big ticket jobs, roads; you know constructing roads down there is not like what happens in most places some of you know there you have to first create the land. Sometimes 50, 60% of the cost istaken up by sand filling, you bring big dredgers before you create a land and so we really go through a lot. Some big ticket projects we have completed but a number of them are ongoing, some are completely stalled and we hope and pray that the economy picks up. It is showing some positive signs but we are still way behind looking at where we are coming from at a point when a barrel of crude oil was sold for $110 and we came down to as low as thirty something dollars. Now it is gradually rising to about 54 dollars. We don’t know how long that will last and we just have to pray for our country.2015 and 2016 were very tough for states and for the country as a whole.
Talking about whether we received any refund, our state because of the transparency regime that we have instituted, immediately we received the money we addressed the press telling the people what we have received. It was from that announcement that a lot of people even in other states got to know that kind of thing was happening. In Bayelsa such is the system we have instituted and such is the transparency that any kobo coming into the state has to be announced. We have kept faith with that law because the consequences are also very severe and include impeachment. We deliberately made consequences like that. We received 14.5 billion naira and part of it is for the local government. Our local government has about 1.3 billion naira from that sum so it was about 13.2 for the states and 1.3 for the local government. There is no secrecy in the management of public finances in our state. We are hoping to get more refunds and we have used, in line with understanding that was reached,almost 60% of what we received to pay salaries and pension liabilities. We actually used about N7.4 billion out of that to pay salary obligations and pension arrears especially because of the Christmas festivities when we decided to pay full salaries to encourage and to appreciate workers and their families and also make it easy for them to manage the Christmas period. We have no issues with anybody about that.
Q. There have been reports of recent major soil degradation occurrences in Bayelsa. As someone who governs one of the Niger Delta states do you see a commitment from the federal government to want to answer the questions and agitations of the people in the Niger Delta with regard to the environment and other issues? You belong to the PDP and the party right now is not what it should be as an organization because of a lot of internal problems, what do you suggest to be the way forward?
(Answer) Gov. Dickson:
We have always been very concerned about the issues of protection of the environment especially the fragile environment, the ecosystem of the Niger Delta. I got the brief and I asked the deputy governor to go and assess the place personally. This is about the second time we are experiencing this within a few months so we are very concerned and we hope that the relevant agencies will work with us. I will write a formal letter to the appropriate agencies and the minister of environment so that appropriate studies can be carried out so that we know exactly where we are on environment.
The second question raised about the need for peace and stability in the Niger delta to enable oil production to be maximized and therefore increase the capacity of government to meet obligations. This is key because if you are talking of raising trillions to fund the federal budget and all state government budgets are also predicated on oil revenue then we must be concerned about what happens at the source of that money. It is an issue which everybody should be concerned about. We in the Niger Delta particularly my colleagues and I are all individually trying our best. Bayelsa is one of the safest states in the country, clearly one of the most stable states in the Niger Delta even though historically it is the epicenter of these crises but because of the efforts we have made and the collaborations we have forged and continued to service and encourage, there is no doubt Bayelsa is going to be safe. We will continue to double our efforts to invest more on security and peace building and consensus building but you see all this takes some level of partnership and collaboration. While we governors try our best, while elders like Edwin Clark and others are trying their best, security agencies are doing their best, community leaders are doing their best we also expect the political leadership at the center to appreciate these challenges, follow up and build understanding, promote dialogue and peace building. Unfortunately not much is happening from the federal side; I am not saying they are not concerned because they also know the implications. Part of the reason why our country went into recession was because of the crisis in the Niger Delta so I know they are all concerned and I am aware that the vice president will be visiting the region very soon too and we all support that endeavor for people to go and see the real issue of the Niger Delta. But we will like to see more commitment and more proactive engagements by the federal government and their various agencies because the issues in the Niger Delta revolve essentially around security and stability and development and the need to expand economic opportunities. For me we continue to keep Bayelsa safe and protect strategic assets to enable production take place and I know that my colleagues are doing the same. All we ask is that the federal agencies should be more sensitive, should show greater commitment and be more proactive and engage.
I can’t recount how many times President Obasanjo and his national security team led by Aliyu Gusau and others they convened different conferences and meetings at different levels. I remember immediately after his election, the first places Obasanjo went to were Warri, Port Harcourt and with every major development the president will be calling he governor directly, the national security team will be calling so even though there were challenges, there was a concerted meeting of minds by the leadership at various levels. We will continue to do our best as state chief executives but there has to be a corresponding partnership and support and more collaboration. In the end, we are going to work to address most of it but these are long standing challenges and issues; the issues of lack of development, the issues of environment, the issues of economic exclusion but the most important thing is confidence building and keeping hope alive and seeing and making concrete efforts.
In spite of the challenges in Africa’s largest party, the other party is not yet a party. They are learning to be one. Let us pray for strong parties to evolve. We need a strong party in government, cohesive party in government and we also need a strong cohesive party in opposition. It is not in the interest of the party in government for the PDP to disintegrate or be in perpetual crisis. That realization should be there that it is in the interest of the country, it is also in the enlightened self-interest of the APC and its leaders that the PDP does not die or does not implode. You hear all kinds of talks about new parties, mega parties and we know the direction most of the noise is coming from. I just want to say that we are concerned about developments in the party and personally, as chairman of the reconciliation committee and someone who interacts with the wide spectrum of leadership of our party from across this country there are indications that very soon with the efforts of top leaders of the party that we will have a way forward. These are all part of normal challenges. It is a process of self-discovery the PDP is going through, finding its feet and identity because all along it has be seen as the party of government and now suddenly we are learning to be in the cold and playing to be the opposition. We are gradually adjusting.Unfortunately more of it is even happening in the party in government so we wish the standing government well, I personally do. A lot of leaders in the APC are people that I have known and interacted with and I have a lot of respect for a lot of them, they have made a lot of sacrifice for the democratic development of this country by working to even bring up the APC in the first place, a lot of sacrifices. People like us who have been in the opposition appreciate that, it takes a lot of hard work and sacrifice on their part to bring up the APC and it is a good development for our country even though my party lost power. I wish the APC to remain united, strong, cohesive but also to allow the PDP to remain united, strong and cohesive and we shouldn’t use state institutions in the political process because once that happens, we politicize everything and the next thing is an indication of a failing state. We hope that doesn’t happen in Nigeria But I assure you the PDP will soon find its way.
Apart from what Edwin Clark said about the Niger Delta, there were critical stakeholders who also expressed concern that the federal government is not sufficiently engaged in dialogue in the niger delta.
Are you concerned for instance that the former president is being persecuted?
(Answer) Gov. Dickson:
I am not a spokesman for former President Jonathan. I am the governor of Bayelsa state. President Jonathan is from my state and no doubt an elder brother. Someone we regard as a leader and former president of our country deserves every respect and to be given a fair treatment even as the private citizen that he has now become. As President Jonathan said, we need to be careful about commenting on some of these processes because a number of them are just unfolding, a number of them have not really been taken to their logical conclusion for things to be proven in one way or the other so we should be very careful about that. Talking generally now not just about President Jonathan and his family, I feel that the perception that some of the policies of the present government are selective or are targeted at some persons or some sections is inimical to a number of reforms that the federal government is pursuing and that is not helpful;that perception should be addressed. It may just be a perception and probably it is not real but perceptions are also as important as realities. That should be addressed. Like every leader, he and his family should be treated with decorum and respect that he rightly deserves. Let us see how things play out, there should be less sensationalism.
This country with time will appreciate the kind of sacrifice and service that Jonathan’s presidency gave. Jonathan as a person tried his best and particularly in the area of the use of power.authority. He never used his public authority to harm anybody and the democratic process. You can see what is happening in Gambia now, Gambia is in crisis and for some of us when with time our memoires come out people will know some of the difficult decisions that people had to take in the national interest. I am somebody who believes that leaders should be respected generally. We can disagree, in fact we need to disagree more and agome of the difficult decisions that people had to take in the national interest. I am somebody who believes that leaders should be respected generally. We can disagree, in fact we need to disagree more and agree in the common national interest but in doing so, we treat each other with respect, treat even citizens with respect, people in opposition parties with respect, people who do not share your political views with respect, people with a different ideology with respect, people who do not belong to your religious denomination or faith with respect. In the end what should matter to us, and I think that is why we miss it in this country, is our common humanity first and then our shared heritage as Nigerians if we are indeed a nation because that is what creates a nation. Nation building is not something that comes overnight, we need to all make sacrifices, learn from our mistakes and leaders are not perfect. What is important is underline the ideals of respect for one another, tolerance and if there are issues those issues need to be handled by the appropriate institutions. That way we address those perceptions.
I don’t think we have an alternative, I continue to do so much to maintain peace, stability and order in Bayelsa even though some people at the federal level prefer to see me as a PDP governor. After elections party platforms take the backseat. After elections we should be talking about service delivery, we should be talking about the people, we should be talking about the country, that is the right attitude. You don’t carry partisan divides forward after election because after elections we should be governing and we have shared responsibility for law and order, we have shared responsibilities for impossibilities to work for the stability of this country and Nigeria cannot be stable until every state in Nigeria is safe and stable. No state can be safe and stable until every community, local government or ward is safe. A governor’s first duty is law, order and security;that means sometimes overlooking a lot of things, that means doing things differently, even playing politics differently to create that atmosphere of stability. It is incumbent on those in charge of the federal government to know that when elections are over party differences dies and we all support the peace,security and development of the country.
What will you say is the main challenge of your administration?
(Answer) Gov. Dickson:
Challenges remain funds, funds, funds. I have just talked about major projects being stalled and delayed.The second one is federal collaboration for security and development. That means if some guy misbehaves and he is misguided and is misleading people to be violent it means taking care of that according to the laws without saying this is my party man. Otherwise it means that the country is failing. Any country where people have to survive just because their party man is holding a security position is a failed state. What we are then saying is that the other people should go and arm themselves and non-state actors should take over the state. These are the things that really bothers one. I have said this to everybody that the support I need is stability, security. Don’t play politics with security, law and order at least in my state. I don’t do that neither will I allow it. If you don’t apprehend criminals, I may get to a stage where I will mobilize the citizens to apprehend them but I won’t tolerate any unlawful, illegal behavior. That is what is affecting the overall security stability in Bayelsa because they know this governor does not condone lawlessness; criminals know it , anybody they post here know it.Opposition politicians are free, they hold meetings, they criticize me. It is their right, that is democracy we are practicing. You hold a rally against me I will give you a stadium to go and do it. When then President Buhari came to campaign as candidate for president I deployed adequate resources and security to protect him. Some people were blackmailing me because they expected that I should have made the state uncomfortable for him and for him to be pelted with stones as happened under my predecessor in 2011.I don’t do things like that. When APC came I gave them the same stadium to receive all the decampees.They used it for convention: I said pay and use it. When the vice president came to lead the campaign of the APC,,I was there to receive him.hat is the kind of attitude political leaders in the country must have, that is the attitude even the president himself must have. Don’t allow state institutions to be used to undermine openness. Does the EFCC have to be part of APC in his country? Or SSS has to be an arm of APC or the military has to be part of the APC? Do you want to destroy the country? I am not saying that is what is happening. All I am saying is that should not happen. I believe that after elections, we should allow people to perform. When time for campaign comes we start all over. We are all Nigerians. Nobody can intimidate anybody in our own country and we won’t allow that.
What are your major achievements as governor?
(Answer) Gov. Dickson:
I believe that ultimately history and posterity will judge but what I know is that we have made it a priority to invest in education and for now over N40 billion has been spent on physical infrastructure and on policy measures and the results are there. The schools are there, the improved performance of our students is evident. We must learn appropriate lessons in Nigeria.Succeeding governments at different levels and at the federal level abandon education, i.e investing meaningfully in human capital and we are surprised that young ones are sprouting up holding AK47 rifles, kidnapping people all over. What options have we given them in an increasingly competitive world where these days if they are applying for jobs they have to possess certajn basic skills in IT and other fields. In my state for example, I met young people holding AK47 rifles and looking up to people who are local war lords as their role models. When you talk about crisis in the Niger delta these are the things so we have to intervene by revolutionary programmes of empowerment and education. Not empowerment in giving money to people but empowering with skills and knowledge. Unfortunately for a politician that is not very rewarding. You see massive investments in the schools I am building and you won’t see people talk about that. If they want to be mischievous they will say yes I spent so so so but you see there is one primary school where children don’t have good seats! Since I became governor we have been paying WAEC fees, we have been paying NECO, we have been paying JAMB fees. We sew school uniforms, supply books, offer basically free education because if you don’t build schools and invest in education you have to build prisons and maybe create more cemeteries because people are going to get killed. In healthcare we have massive investment. Bayelsa has one of the best healthcare facilities in this country. You don’t need to go to the US, Germany or India. Those investments are there already and more healthcare facilities are being built.
Talking about the physical infrastructure itself, to upgrade the living conditions of the people building roads and bridges, I have built more roads than any other government before me and we are still doing that even in spite of the recession. We have done so much not to talk about investing in peace, law and order without which you can’t do anything.
What is the relationship between the governor of Bayelsa state and President Muhammadu Buhari?
(Answer) Gov. Dickson:
I am a governor. The relationship is that Muhammadu Buhari is the president of the federal republic of Nigeria and our relationship is defined. The president is the father of the nation, commander in chief of the armed forces and ultimate custodian of forces of cohesion. I am head of a federating unit with my own clearly defined areas of authority and influence. My political belief is that the president or whoever is leader of this country should be respected and supported especially in the critical areas of security and economy. There should be constructive engagements at all levels in these areas, not partisan politics . The relationship between the president, myself or any other governor should be one of collaboration and partnership for the good of the country including the good of my people. I don’t think there is any doubt in that.
Governor Wike of Rivers state said the other time that he always does not have access to the president, if he calls him or to see him on serious issues of state and security matters he will not allow him in. Have you at any point in time had such challenges?
(Answer) Gov. Dickson:
First of all I don’t like to comment on a views expressed by a colleague. What I know is that more partnership and collaboration in our setting is helpful to our country, it is helpful to our states and my state is open for partnership. I don’t have to be in APC to partner with federal agencies. In fact today I am going to meet three ministers, other federal officials with regards to issues germane to Bayelsa’s development. That should be the spirit; it should be one of collaboration and I have had meetings with the president and his key officials and I hope to have more to explore and discuss common areas of concern and attention; security moves in the Niger Delta, issues of handling economy and so on and so forth. I believe essentially that difference in party should not affect governance and there should be respect for leadership at all levels. Nigerian leaders should respect each other, those in government and those out of government because in the end, everybody has made contributions. Even people who served before have all made their little contributions to national development which should be acknowledged, which should be respected and people who are serving should be respected; whoever is serving as president of this country should be respected although the APC didn’t accord the former president that respect when he was in office, APC played politics when they were the opposition with anything and everything. They played politics with Boko Haram, played politics with the economy, played politics with fuel subsidy but now came and reversed fuel subsidy. I don’t think that to be in the opposition I need to be abusing the president, I have to be attacking his wife, I think that certain things should be off limit but that does not mean we shouldn’t disagree and that is why I said we should carry out our politics in this country with respect for one another knowing that whether we agree or disagree we are Nigerians and we have our country to work for ourselves.
On the 14th of February you will clock one year in your second term. Given what happened during the election what is the relationship between you and your opponent, Timipre Sylva?
(Answer) Gov. Dickson:
During elections we are fighting for hearts and minds and we do everything legitimate within ethical boundaries to win. I think the APC thought they were going to run roughshod over us but in Bayelsa, I think they met their match. They met a rock; me and the people of Bayelsa, God was on our side. For me elections are over. Unfortunately he went to tribunal which I thought was another misguided move and this is why I want to appreciate the political leaders in Ondo state, to, particularly appreciate my friend Jegede and appreciate Mimiko and all the leaders, their maturity in saying no we will not challenge this elections. Even with what he (Sylva) did I won seven local governments out of eight and yet I went through all the whole gamut of the court process; tribunal, court of appeal, Supreme Court. People were trying to play a fast one, trying to politicize everything and intimidate people but it didn’t work. By the Grace of God I won.
I made a statement soon after the elections and particularly after the Supreme Court verdict that my hands were open for collaboration. I have APC members appointed into my government, I don’t know of any PDP member appointed in the federal government. I have several APC members in the government of Bayelsa state in one form or the other because after elections we should be talking about the state. I am asking Sylva my friend, former governor – he knows what it means to be a governor of the state, he knows the challenges particularly the economic challenges – to join us using his own party connections and contacts positively to work for development, for security, for peace because in the end that is what our people want. For me I was elected to serve the people so I am open for partnership, collaboration and cooperation. I want him to work with us and with his support we can jointly move our state forward.