Bayelsa state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Jonathan Obuebite , in this interview spoke about Governor Seriake Dickson’s second term, the security agenda of the state and how the state is coping with the economic recession.
It is a year into Governor Seriake Dickson’s second term. How far has it been?
The good thing about the governor’s style of administration is that we made provisions for project funding and also for recurrent expenditure. Government decided that, based on the current realities, we had to cut our emoluments as government appointees. What we are getting now is half of what the commissioners used to get. And it cut across all political appointees. Through the savings, we were able to complete the new Governor’s Office, a multi-billion naira project. Also, we have been able to complete the Government House Hospital Complex this year. It has both the private and the public wing. It can be accessed from two frontiers. Also, we have been able to complete the House Officers’ Quarters, and the Federal Medical Centre, which is not a state project, but a Federal Government Hospital. But, since it is Bayelsa state and there is the need for that accommodation, we had to build it for them. We were able to complete the Diagnostic Centre; furnished and functional. We also have the forensic equipment within the same complex.
What is unique about the Forensic Centre?
It is about the sixth we are going to have all over the country. Nigerians don’t need o travel out again for it. It is even good for security. It helps in curbing fraud and perjury. The centre can uncover the cause of the death of a person, if someone wants to attribute it to another cause. The police work with it. It is very helpful to society. It is very important. It helps the society. In all, to mark the first year anniversary in this second term, we are commissioning 34 projects. I don’t think you find that anywhere now in this period because of the recession. That is a cumulative of projects done from the beginning of his tenure, in 2012.
Tell us more about the security agenda of the administration?
Bayelsa was adjudged the safest state in Nigeria. But, before the election, it became the worst state in terms of security because of the inflow of hooligans and thugs imported into the state. They were there before while the former governor was in the saddle. But, when Dickson came, he granted amnesty to the cultists. Then, the anti-cult law was passed. From that point, it means nobody will entertain cultism and crime from anybody. Moving forward, we now have the status of the most peaceful state in the country. But, that we lost within the spate of six or seven months. After the election, it became a major problem because they came and they did not succeed in winning the election. They left, but they left these criminals behind. It became a major problem for the Bayelsa state government. We had three-minute response rate before from Operation DOO-AKPO. Now, working with the security agencies, the governor was able to curtail those criminal activities. As I speak, all of them have left the state. There was an issue outside the state capital; the vandalisation of pipelines. Most of them were politically motivated before the Avengers came. You know Avengers declared me a persona non grata and threatened to kill me. They gave an ultimatum that they will kill me because of my openness and because of the government’s stand on their activities. It was published in most of the national dailies. I was the person they said they were going to kill. If his commissioner for information could be threatened, that is to tell you government’s non-tolerance for crime and criminality. So, we fought seriously. Today, I must tell you, we have got it right again. Our crime rate response is three minutes. Some few days ago, the Assistant Inspector General of Police visited Bayelsa state and said Bayelsa state is now the most peaceful state in the Niger Delta and he also wished that other states should toe the line of Bayelsa state. Also, few days ago, the military intelligent officers came to Bayelsa state and visited the Security Command Centre, and indeed, they also affirmed that it was a good thing that those facilities could be found here and that they could only be found in advanced countries.
Why is your government, owing workers their salaries?
When you talk about salaries, indeed, it was sad that it happened. We had challenges paying our salaries. We had to work with labour leaders in the state. As at 2015, between October and December, our allocation dropped to N2 billion, from January 2016, it dropped to N1.7 billion. We had to resort to the payment of half salary. We negotiated with labour unions. Outside January, from February, we were paying half salary to our workforce. We actually paid only October, November, December when we had this issue of Paris and London Club Fund. In January, we started paying full salaries and paying the outstanding half salaries. We have reversed back to the payment of full salaries. That reversion was because the governor committed himself, irrespective of the condition of the economy. Within six months, we will clear the remaining outstanding half salaries. Because of the openness in our financial transactions, the Transparency Briefing that the governor initiated, the Bayelsa Watch Website dedicated to that, our people are aware of our income and expenditure. It was easy for us to negotiate with labour. The labour leaders are aware of what the government was doing. Our books are open. We are always engaging the labour leaders. The governor has not made any policy decision without involving the labour leaders. That’s one thing I want to commend him for. It makes my job very easier as commissioner for information.
What are the challenges facing the Dickson administration now?
Basically, we have the challenges of resources; the challenges of fund. As a government, we need money. We have a war to fight; the war of infrastructural development. If we are able to defeat the war of infrastructural development, then, there will be peace in the Niger Delta. So, we need a lot of resources. Bayelsa is a virgin state. Yenegoa was a glorified local government without a tarred road before the state was created. When the first governor, your brother, came to Bayelsa state, it was a school compound and the local government that was converted to the Governor’s Office and Governor’s Lodge. Workers were coming from Port-Harcourt, and had to sleep in their vehicles.