Ahead of November 16 governorship poll in Bayelsa State, former Executive Secretary/Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board, Amagbe Denzil Kentebe has called for a non-violence, fair and credible governorship exercise in the state. In this interview, he speaks on the sustained peace initiative by the Ijaw Elders’ Forum (IEF) to ensure that the process is free and fair.
Bayelsa is often perceived as a violence-prone state, which is one of the reasons the Ijaw Elders’ Forum has been in a sustained peace campaign to change the narrative. What in your opinion is the genesis of this trend?
That is a question I don’t know how to answer. What we found is that every time there are elections in Bayelsa, there is always one form of violence or the other. How it came about, I cannot say. But as you have rightly said, what we are trying to do is to change the narrative. Because it is in Niger Delta, people think there must always be violence in Bayelsa State during election. At the back of everybody’s minds, there is always this perception that going to the Niger Delta, you must be ready for war. We have to try to change that narrative. And that is why we have been involved in a continued sensitization of our people. We have to understand that whoever becomes governor of Bayelsa State is a Bayelsan. He is an Ijaw man or woman. So, there is no reason for us to be violent with one another to the extent of even killing one another. Even if it happens in other places, we don’t care. Bayelsans don’t want that. The second part of our message is to tell the people who are coming to conduct election as well as the media that they should not have it at the back of their minds that there will always be violence in Bayelsa. Often times, instead of looking for good things to write and the good way to conduct elections, they are always looking for violence. The same thing applies to the security agents who are supposed to protect our people and ensure that the process is free, fair and credible. They also come in as if they are at war with us. So, when they are coming, they come with everything. And when they do the slightest thing, it triggers a chain of reactions. We need to change that. Bayelsa people are peace- loving people and Ijaw people are peace-loving people. It is not every time election is taking place in Bayelsa that you must declare it a war zone. That is what we are trying to change.
Would you subscribe to the theory blaming the scenario on the desperation by the so-called Abuja politicians who are always inclined to deliver a sizeable portion of votes to the centre at all cost?
You are right in a sense. But if you look at the period between 1999 and 2015, Bayelsa was led by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the state level. All the governors have been PDP. At the centre, we had PDP. Since 2015 till date, we have had the APC at the centre but PDP at the state level. So, if you are saying some of the APC members want to deliver the state to the APC at the centre, I don’t think so because it is the same players. The leader of APC in the state today was the leader of the PDP in the state eight years ago. So, I don’t want to look at it as something that has to do with party politics itself. I think it just has to do with attitude. In my opinion, it has to do with perception. Even when we don’t have elections, you are made to believe that you are going to the den of kidnappers, the den of militants. We are ordinary Nigerians. What led to militancy was because people felt they have not been treated fairly by the Nigerian state. And where ever you go in the world, when people feel cheated and marginalised, they always react. That is a normal reaction. It is not because we are Bayelsans. If they do the same thing to the Yoruba people, Yoruba people will react. If they do the same thing to the Hausa, Hausa people will react. So, we are only reacting naturally to what is perceived as state oppression of our people.
If there is no violence, whoever wants to lead the state will have to come out and explain his or her policies and people will listen. At the end of the day, you get someone who can deliver the dividends of democracy because the process is transparent and credible.
The affirmation of peace process by political aspirants during your last conference in Yenagoa was a major achievement towards ensuring a credible process. But beyond that, what are you doing to carry this message of peace to the ordinary people who are also critical in leadership selection process?
I can tell you that the ordinary man in Bayelsa is peaceful. So, it is easier to talk to those stakeholders because already, they are peace-loving people. Already, we have been having radio programmes where we are talking directly to the Bayelsans. Everybody in one way or the other is trying to disseminate this information. This agitation for violence is coming from the top. And that is why we are targeting political actors to make them agree to a peaceful process. The good thing about getting the politicians, who are always the culprits, together is to make them affirm that they will not be violent prone. Violence comes in when someone doesn’t have something to offer. It is a very expensive programme that we have. And don’t forget we are doing it from our own personal contributions because we believe that if there is no violence during election in Bayelsa State, we will have the best of leadership. And the best of leadership will always ensure great development.
Are you also interfacing with the police and other security agencies to ensure that this narrative about violence is completely ruled out in this coming election?
They were all invited to the first stakeholders’ meeting we held in May. But some of them didn’t show up whether because they did not believe in what we are doing or they did not see the need for it. However, we are not going to give up whether they show up or not. We will continue to try to engage them. In this last conference, about 6 aspirants out of 23 or 24 in the state showed up. But since then, many of them have been sending their apologies. For example, former governor Timipre Sylva, who is now a ministerial nominee, thought they were going to be sworn-in on that day. Since he cannot be in two places at the same time, he has called to declare his support for what we are doing. He also promised to sign the affirmation and send to us. But signing the affirmation alone is not enough. We have other ways of engaging them. We have done one-on-one engagement with most of them on the positive of having a violence-free election in their own interest. From the good work we are doing, we hope other people will join us to sustain the peace process. What we should be discussing now is what these aspirants have to offer.
How are you going to sustain the peace initiative beyond the election period?
The initiative will be sustained because we have got a very good feeler from not only the citizens of Bayelsa State, but also from international community. That encourages us the more. And we cannot go back. This has come to stay. When elections are over, we are going to have a systemic approach to dealing with this violence thing. We will approach primary and secondary schools to engage the youths so that this culture of non-violence is embedded in them. We will also go to communities to discuss with parents why they shouldn’t be a bad example to their children. We will partner with civil society organizations, organize seminars that will encourage good, credible, transparent and non-violence election. We are not the only ones that are stakeholders. Other stakeholders must also key into what we are doing because it is in the best interest of all of us. Violence does not know colour, it doesn’t know tribe, it doesn’t know religion.
In the light of all you have done so far, what then is your expectation of the coming primaries of the various political parties?
What we have done has helped to sensitise the people as to the negatives of having violence in an election. And like I said, we have been getting good reports. I wish we could do more. The time and resources we are putting into this could have been better put into use in other things that can develop the state. However, we have to do that. I believe that we have started well and we haven’t seen any kind of opposition to what we are doing as stakeholders. We just pray that when the time comes, what we’ve been preaching will be adhered to. We are also monitoring people either through body language, action or inaction, and we will document and call out anyone that promotes violence in the slightest possible way. We will do a name and shame. Since 1999, I have not seen anyone who has been convicted for participating in electoral violence. What’s been happening to those people? We will, as a group, take it up from now on. If we have to be the one to sue, we will find resources to do it. All we need to do is making an example of one person. By then, the rest will sit up. We will continue to try to get people to key in so that at the end of the day we will minimize what could have been the norm in our state.
Quote:”What we found is that every time there are elections in Bayelsa, there is always one form of violence or the other. How it came about, I cannot say. But as you have rightly said, what we are trying to do is to change the narrative. Because it is in Niger Delta, people think there must always be violence in Bayelsa State during election. At the back of everybody’s minds, there is always this perception that going to the Niger Delta, you must be ready for war. We have to try to change that narrative. And that is why we have been involved in a continued sensitization of our people.”