Bayelsa State Governor, Douye Diri, in this interview with some journalists in Lagos, relieves his experience after the Supreme Court verdict of February 13 which paved the way for him to emerge as the Chief Executive of the oil-rich state. He spoke on various issues but concluded that only God made his emergence as Bayelsa governor possible.
What was your mood and what was going through your mind, when the Supreme Court judgement of February 13, which declared you governor of Bayelsa State and you were to be sworn-in the next day?
I have always believed in God and if you were in Bayelsa during the campaigns, on all my billboards and poster, the last phrase you will see is: ‘In God we trust.’ So, what was going through my mind was that at last, God came down from heaven to be in the Supreme Court to decide on my matter. Of a truth, the first people that heard the motions were led by Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour, so we had the belief that they will be the same people to hear the substantive matter, but the day the court reconvened, we were shocked to see a new panel. Because we are not in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC); we didn’t even know that they were going to change members of the panel and our thought was that these people have dealt with us again.
It was the Rhodes-Vivour’s panel that took the date of hearing before Justice Mary Peter-Odili and others came. We had no access to anyone of them and we were not in a position to influence any of them. For your information, throughout that period of three weeks, my deputy and I as well as one other person were on fasting from 6.am to 6.pm, calling on God to come and take control because His power is more than that of the Federal Government. That is why whatever obligation I owe to God as result of the election, I must fulfill it.
What was going through my mind then was: Is God this real? I have a background of the Anglican Church; my father was a lay reader and a headmaster in the primary school, so we grew up, not believing in the Pentecostal way of miracle. But when I became an adult, I moved over to the Pentecostal, but even at that, what I believed before was still influencing me. But I think to cure the unbelief; God did what He did for me.
Bayelsa is known for its peculiar challenges; issues of militancy, youth restiveness, kidnapping and illegal oil bunkering, among others. How will your administration tackle all these?
You know of a truth that I am not going to reveal my security measures for now, but we have something on ground and we assure that the security of Bayelsa will be tight. I won’t expose them, but let me use this opportunity to appeal to my brothers and sisters to eschew violence. When the Supreme Court judgement came, some people said they were protesting, but rather than a protest, it became a criminal affair. But we saw what happened in Imo State, when the Supreme Court ruled on the state’s governorship appeal. We saw days of protest, but not a single property was torched; not a single car was burnt; that was a civilized protest.
But when you attach criminality, it is no longer a protest. They torched my house, torched the former governor’s house and key government institutions including the court, library and Radio Bayelsa. Those who took that action are common criminals, but we must separate criminality from protest. You will recall that the security agents had to declare a curfew that lasted for three days and even when I took over, I extended the curfew. So, my government will have zero tolerance for criminality. Yes, you are allowed to ventilate your anger on issues, but where your right stops, another person’s right begins. So, you cannot usurp the right of others.
When some people say that we are an illegitimate government, they should realize that what we had in Bayelsa was not an election, but a coup d’etat. The so-called 320,000 votes were voodoo votes; those were not Bayelsa votes. You cannot say that about a local government like Nembe, where over 22 people were killed three days to the election, when I led my campaign team to the area, returning over 90,000 votes, when all members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were barred from going to polling booths. In Southern Ijaw, where my opponent hails from, most of our members were arrested and detained. Some of them were even taken to Benin, Edo State for no reason.
What we faced in Bayelsa was coup d’etat that was planned in Abuja to take-over Bayelsa State by all means necessary. So, when they talk about legitimacy, I am more of a legitimate governor. You will recall that I promptly rejected those voodoo results the day they announced them because the true results were clean and clear. Of course, we went to tribunal and we were asked to go and inspect the ballot papers and we had our forensic experts. But it will shock you that in areas like Southern Ijaw, where they said they had more than 120,000 votes, we discovered that total votes cast were not more than 35,000.
When they saw the way we were coming and sensed that if we removed all the fictitious votes, PDP won, the APC that was the defendant overnight became the complainant. They said that they wanted to inspect ballot papers from my local government and that of the former governor, Seriake Dickson. I heard that the former governor of Bayelsa State, who is now the Minister of State for Petroleum, Chief Timpre Sylva, said that I am an illegitimate governor; I don’t want to join words with him, but that is how they have continued to hype the narrative about Bayelsa, creating tension in the state.
My party and my people are calm; the other side is made up of people who are very rough and believe in the gun, but we believe that by no strength shall no man prevail. We believe in using our brains and working with the people to develop our state. So, I am a legitimate governor, who was robbed illegitimately, but God in His infinite mercies restored it through the Supreme Court.
So, we are looking at various security options, including technology for us to be precise in what we do. That was why we agreed at the recent meeting of South-South governors to set-up a regional security outfit and we have asked the BRACED Commission to work out the details. We are sure that by the time the security outfit comes on board, a lot of these issues would be nipped in the bud.
The Bayelsa State House of Assembly recently approved a N2.9 billion request by your administration to buy operational vehicles for the governor, deputy governor and other top government functionaries. Why the option of loan, when you would have taken the amount from the state’s fund?
Everybody believes that Bayelsa is a rich state and I don’t blame anybody who believes so because our country runs on oil and the oil reservoir is in Bayelsa. We are like a people taking our bath in a river, but soap is entering our eyes and we are looking for water from a bucket to wash off the soap from our eyes. That is what has led to the issue of militancy, kidnapping and others. Don’t forget that I was the pioneer National Organising Secretary of Ijaw National Congress and we tried to bring activism to make our people realize what we are, what we have and to stand for it.
So, I am not surprised when people say we are rich. Yes, we are rich, but like I keep saying even when I was in the National Assembly, I have this friend from Adamawa State, who will always call me: ‘Hon. Diri, Resource Control’ and I will respond: ‘Resources Expropriated.’ He will say: ‘You are a bad boy, who expropriated your resources?’ I will say: ‘You are the one because you people expropriated our resources, so rather than we using our resources to develop our place, you took it 100 per cent, while giving us just 13 per cent. Even the 13 per cent, we don’t know 13 per cent of what.’
So, I will urge my brother governors to look at it. Part of my mission in the Senate would have been to present a bill on the 13 per cent Derivation. The minimum should be 13 per cent, but we have been running on that minimum since inception till today. Why have we not been able to review the 13 per cent Derivation the way we have reviewed the National Minimum Wage? Before now, it was 100 per cent, then later 50 per cent from where it came down to the present 13 per cent. So, we are not rich as people think that we are. Yes, we are rich in mineral resources and even human capital, but our resources have been expropriated,
The headquarters of the various oil companies are not in Bayelsa, but in Lagos, so we are not benefiting from taxes which they pay. All their facilities that are taxable are in Lagos, not in Bayelsa, where the oil they are getting is from. Of course, you will recall that the Land Use Act states that the surface belongs to you but anything deep down belongs to the Federal Government. That explains my position on how wealthy Bayelsa is. For instance, the allocation that came to Bayelsa State last month was short of almost N2 billion from the previous allocation. And so we were saying, let’s benchmark what we had previous, so that this one, even if it was N2 billion, we can run on N2 billion. But when the allocation came, the shortfall was about N2 billion. That explains why people are taking loans.
I was part of the immediate past administration before I left for the National Assembly. When we came in, the wage bill was over N6 billion and we felt that it was too high for a small state like Bayelsa. Our wage bill was higher than that of states that have been there for ages; some of them had wage bills of between N2 billion and N3 billion. So, we asked: How come our own is double compared to that of other states? That was one of the reasons that unfortunately earned former Governor Seriake Dickson a bad name. A lot of things were wrong, but he fought them and was able to bring the wage bill down to a little above N3 billion.
Lately, the issue of new National Minimum Wage came. As we speak today, our wage bill is back to close to N6 billion and we have not even had political appointees. By the time we add that, the wage will further go up. Then you look at what is left of the allocation because government must run. That is where the issue of loans comes in, we have roads the former governor was doing; a lot of them were completed on loans. There was a Capital Market loan that was taken by the Timipre Sylva administration. The loan was N50 billion, but with computation of interest, it now stands at N100 billion.
That was why I said that if we go back, you will find out that some of those who are talking today are behind the beginning of the wreckage of our state. When you go back to what they did, you will find out that the billions of naira loans they took were for no development and all that are on our neck because when you take-over, you take over both assets and liabilities. Bayelsa’s allocation hovers around N10 and N12 billion, but by the time you remove deductions at source, you are left with nothing to run your government.
So, don’t be surprised if you hear that we took loan again if our situation does not improve. We must work because that was why we were elected. That is why we are begging the Federal Government that it was time for us to review the 13 per cent Derivation. What we have is not enough for us to do anything. I am one person who believes in a true federal set-up; we are running this country as a unitary system in the name of a federal system of government.
In a federal system of government, the units, which in our own case, is called states, approximate the same powers as the Federal Government, while certain things like currency, security and immigration are run by the Federal Government. Every other thing is done in the states, which pay tax to the Federal Government. May be, because of long years of military incursion into governance, we have come to see a unitary system of government as a federal system.
So, we are not as rich as people think we are; we are also trying to make ends meet like most states that are not even oil producing. Because of the 13 per cent Derivation that is given to oil producing states, people tend to think we are rich. Even in terms of Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), Bayelsa is one of the least. Most of the oil companies operating in Bayelsa are not paying tax to the state government and the former governor tried to do something in this regard, but some of them took the state to court and the matters are still pending.
However, I intend meeting with the oil companies to know what they want to do with us; if they are ready to pay tax like they do in other places, we will withdraw the matters from the courts, so that we can improve on our IGR. Besides that, we are also looking at other sources of revenue, so that we can actually diversify and not depend on federal allocation.