Not long ago, you were re-elected for a second term; what do you consider the achievements and challenges?
Talking about achievements and challenges, let me say that it is a great honour to be found worthy by God and by the people of this state to be their servant which I have been for the past four years and in all of this, it’s been a great pleasure, honour, every day, rising up in the morning and gathering with my friends, clergy men and women, and others to pray for God’s guidance for the day. Coming to the office and working with my team; my team of very competent, committed Bayelsans, my colleagues in the restoration document, building bridges of understanding across the various strata of our society and seeing development come as a result of this collaboration, pursuing a clear vision of development of turning around the infrastructure of our state and the result is all there for us to see. Also embarking on very profound and robust reform of the governance culture and even of the political culture. For example, one of our greatest contribution and historians will write about this, scholars will review what we have done and what we have not done in due course and you see for example, our deliberate restraint in the use of power; deliberate restraint in the application of public authority and deliberate emphasis on prudence, deliberate effort at transparency. These are not roads, and bridges and buildings but the fact that we have not used states’ apparatus to harass opponents and I’m one of the most criticized governors this state has had, from within and from without, confronting challenges, going through electoral battles, the like of which this state has never seen and yet, not disrespecting, dishonouring the people, not intimidating and harassing and killing and maiming people, not raising militia, not carrying thugs, not sending people for example to stop an opposition gathering and killing and shooting to disperse rallies.
These are subtle contributions, deliberately turned over because in this state, we have to reform a lot of things including the political culture; the political culture is too delicate, too prone to violence, and the political culture is too acrimonious. You can see what is going on. People think that as a particular party at the centre, people take it as a license to undermine the security of our communities, to undermine the security of our state, and create crisis and aim towards even destabilizing our state. Now these are things that we need to change to move forward.
We are embarking on a government that focuses on development, on stability, on prosperity. This is a fundamental shift from what we used to know. So these are all there for historians to write and I am not the one to talk about this but all of this is there – the deliberate effort at transparency. Up till now, we are the only state that every month, by law we are mandated to announce what is coming into the state and how we are spending it. These are things people take for granted but these are foundations we believe we are laying for a more accountable, a more prosperous Bayelsa. The idea for example, that the governor and one person will just sit down and allocate state resources, that government can’t come again. It is a collective system where a number of people are involved.
People judge the record of achievements; they look at the roads and bridges and we have done that in every area, in every local government, in every community; you see physical development but the government is not just about things you see physically – it is beyond the schools we are building and they are all there for everybody to see. If you go to every local government headquarter, you will see the model schools we are building, boarding schools that were not in existence before in this state and this is twenty years of Bayelsa. But it is restoration government that is building school after school in all local government areas.. These are facts! You need to look at the airport; the airport is 80 per cent completed. Funded solely by the state government because of the emphasis on development and the spirit with which I and my team committed ourselves to turning around the infrastructure of the state. A lot of our people were overwhelmed because they are not used to this type of thing and they said no! no! no! This must be federal government project and I don’t blame them.
Nigeria just turned 56 years since its independence. What are your thoughts on the Nigerian project?
Well, Nigeria can do better. Nigeria should be a nation of fairness and justice. Nigeria should be a nation of equal citizenship. The idea of Nigeria should be supported as a nation of equal citizens and all leaders should bear this in mind and build consensus. I congratulate all Nigerians and urge us to show more understanding particularly in the light of the economic realities in the country. Leaders of Nigeria should endeavour to build bridges of understanding and work for unity, work for equality, work for inclusiveness.
Bayelsa also turned 20 years, how will you describe the Bayelsa of yesterday, today and what are your expectations for the future?
Bayelsa was founded on a vision of good development and prosperity; the idea of Bayelsa was to give the Ijaw people a voice and a face. Clearly, anyone who is conversant with this area will know that the area you call Bayelsa was the least developed part of old Rivers State. And most people don’t know that the challenges of development of Bayelsa and of the Ijaw nation are peculiar. That was why before Nigeria’s independence, Willinks Commission described this as a special area. Unfortunately, this area which has borne the bulk of producing the wealth of our country has been neglected for instance and most people talk more about the political Niger Delta which is synonymous sometimes with the oil producing states and all of that, forgetting the core developmental challenges in the riverine, coastal Ijaw areas. That being the idea, any governor of this state and particularly, governor of my pedigree, my record of association, with a legitimate struggle and aspirations of our people must be driven by a desire to bring about a reversal and that is what has driven us sometimes to work in a way that the people say, ah! government is doing too much. Because we know that we have to reverse the challenge of underdevelopment. It is an irony that today, all our areas whether in Rivers, in Delta, in Bayelsa, in Ondo, all of these are the areas that have no roads, and yet have all the terminals, have all the facilities. So, that is the understanding people need to have in serving this state, that is why we are more aggressive in trying to tackle the problems of development. Therefore, the Bayelsa of today is a Bayelsa where we are addressing these basic foundational problems. The issues of change in the governance culture; the issues of transparency in the management of resources; the issues of addressing education as a basis for the future of our state; the issues of investing in security; the issues of showing a paradigm shift; the issues of investing in infrastructure, modern infrastructure that will form a springboard for the industrialization of the state and for the diversification of the economy of the state. The future of Bayelsa therefore, is a diversified, robust, well developed educated manpower base, with a modern infrastructure and ultimately, a state that is at peace with itself and at peace with the rest of the country and the rest of the world.
The way you speak gives the impression that perhaps, there are no federal projects/programmes completed or ongoing in Bayelsa. Is this true?
I cannot say there are no ongoing federal projects. I’m aware that the federal secretariat project is going. I don’t know if the Central Bank project is still going on but I believe it’s going on. I know that the local content building secretariat was also awarded and we are very grateful. Of course, there is federal university in the state which we are very happy about. But if you ask me, the federal government support that this state needs is more robust than that. This state needs federal government support in accessing the sea because the challenge of development of this area is the challenge of access and it’s very expensive. Most of these, they’re not roads; they’re actually bridges because of the terrain. We gave support to NDDC-Shell in their collaboration to get to Nembe. Let me call on NDDC and Shell to expedite action in finishing that road properly so that our people can drive on a good road to Nembe. We put there N3million to support them. Now, that is only phase one of that project. Phase two is to link Nembe to Brass. We need federal support that has been absent. We need the Federal Government to reactivate and revisit without further delay, the Brass energy project. That is one project, which if they start, will turn around the economy, not just of Bayelsa but of the entire Niger Delta region. So if we are talking of the issue of youth restiveness and all those issues, those are the projects to start. People refer to our NLNG as the Nigeria biggest cash cow. So why don’t you have more cash cow? And by so doing also open up the place, also create jobs and bring in critical private sector presence in the state’s economy. We’re running on a partnership on the Brass fertilizer. So Brass is so important; that’s why I keep telling security people not to allow anybody to play politics with security and Bayelsans, anyone who is playing with security, he is an enemy of this state. Anyone in Abuja who is encouraging blame politics, talking to party people, talking to people to undermine security because they think they’re fighting us; they’re actually enemies of this state. In the Niger Delta, we shouldn’t allow any gun to go off. No shot should be fired. No kidnapping should take place because once these things happen, all investors run away and the economy of the Niger Delta is collapsing. But unfortunately, there are political leaders whose understanding of politics is violence, and unfortunately in the present federal government, those are the people they encourage; those are the people they protect; those are the people they elevate and they play politics with security. They change security people anyhow they want. They take instructions from criminals. Top security commanders would be sharing information with criminals not with a legitimate government instead of partnering in terms of security because they’re constantly in a political mode. So, this is the challenge. All I’m saying is that this state needs, the Niger Delta as a whole, needs more federal, robust intervention and investment. You can’t drive to Forcados; no road. You have a terminal there. You can’t drive to Ogula, you have a terminal there. We can’t drive to Okoroma. You can’t drive to Kolo. And people are playing politics with security instead of working with their government to support our efforts at advancing development in our own little way.
Does the government here have a target on achieving Bayelsa without oil?
If there is one state that has been working quietly, repositioning the state for diversification, it is Bayelsa. And in our style, we don’t make too much noise. We do the work and let our work speak for us. So in this state, we have already prepared the ground to be number one in agriculture – poultry, big time commercial poultry farms are established. We don’t talk much but I am sure when we are commissioning, you guys could be invited and you’ll see major fish farms that don’t exist in any state working on them. You see big cassava starch processing plant; probably the biggest owned by any state government. It is here in Bayelsa. This state is not just aquaculture, this state is also agrarian – this state has arable land for farming. So, we are into big time aquaculture, big time farming, we can do rice a lot, we can do plantain, banana and as I’m speaking, all those are going on. So we are preparing Bayelsa to be number one in agriculture and tourism. This is why security is important. This is why the only thing I want from the federal government, the only thing, even if they don’t build the roads, even if they don’t come and build the bridges, if they don’t help us in any of these, let them work with us on law and order and security and I believe that is a shared responsibility under the constitution and the law so that we can now maximize our potential. So, Bayelsa is ready for an economy beyond oil because this state knows more than every other state that oil wells do dry up. But for us to lay the foundation for a new Bayelsa that we all desire and yell for, most of those things have to stop.