By Chidi Obineche
Elder Asu Beks is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), in Bayelsa State and the President- General of the Ijaw Media Forum. He speaks on developments in the state chapter of the party and on other contemporary political issues in the state and the nation.
You are very conversant with the political climate in the country now; restructuring, face-off with one another, hate speeches. Where do you think this country is going?
We are derailing at a very fast pace and something has to be done now, some are saying between now and October 1, but I think that whatever we want to do, let us take time and do it and we know that it is properly done. I look at the situation where we should go and I believe we should visit our 1963 Republican constitution, because if you look at the various opinions in the public domain now, people are talking about politics, the 1963 constitution is the peoples constitution, 1979 and 1999 are not peoples constitution .For instance, we don’t need a House of Representatives and the Senate. It’s a serious waste; we should merge them to get three representatives per state, that’s okay. Give local governments autonomy, devolution of power, I stand for it. Every state in Nigeria should have its power to tap from its own resources and bring to the center. What is the federal government doing with Apapa port and Tin Can Island port? That Tin Can Island port should be under the control of Apapa Local Government. The same thing with Murtala Mohammed International Airport, cede it to Ikeja Local Government. I can give you so many examples.
So there is too much concentration at the center of power, which is why we are having this issue of corruption. If you make the center less attractive, I think 75percent of our problems in this country is solved. Let the center be less attractive.
What do you think is responsible for the resistance in this urge for restructuring?
It is the fear of the unknown, especially from our brothers from the north. I think if you ask me, Nigeria is the only country where governors of states would go cap in hand and convene at the federal capital every month to collect allocation. It is not done anywhere. What should be the proper thing in the 36 states; it’s like what you have as Osusu, at the end of the month, every state would bring what it has and the center would then say ‘okay Jigawa, Rivers, Kwara, this is what you have, take this and this goes to the center, use the rest to run your state,’ but in a situation where some parts of the country contribute nothing to the center, and see the money from oil as free money, is not good for the country.
Secondly, there are also some thoughts of our northern brothers that ‘oh let us allow the oil in the Niger Delta dry up before we begin to go into this devolution of power issue.’ I am one of those few Nigerians who think that our brothers from the north should try and be more reasonable because, what we are doing now and what people are saying now is for the interest of this country. All these agitations from IPOB are because people are not taken along. You see a situation where people that are born as Nigerians are seen as strangers. If you look at federal appointment now, it is changing towards one region. For me, our brothers in the East have a genuine reason to agitate. They also have a genuine reason to say they want Biafra, but where I quarrel with them is, when they include Rivers and Bayelsa. You are free to go, but please don’t count me in.
Let me also add that a lot of dialogues are ongoing. I don’t see any major threat to the peace and unity of this country coming between now and October 1. I know that a lot of opinion leaders, political leaders, are engaged in dousing the fire. I don’t see any serious problem with that. I’m sure that at the right time these things would melt. But, what we need to do is to ensure that whatever restructuring we do; we need to do it before the next election.
Bayelsa was controlled by the PDP, and there were fears that you have a very strong opposition in the APC, because the former governor is now leading a team that is ready to send the PDP government in Bayelsa packing. How would you assess the government of Dickson and the aspiration of APC to take over the state?
The greatest mistake in the history of Bayelsa State is the indiscretion of the emergence of Seriake Dickson as the governor and of course we are all aware of the injustice that was done to Timipre Sylva, the incumbent at the time. It was the first time in this country that an incumbent governor would not be allowed to take part in the primaries. It has never happened and those things were done by former President Jonathan, and of course, I’m sure that you are aware that not too long ago the same Dickson that was a beneficiary of Jonathan’s presidency was telling the world that Jonathan’s six and half years was a waste. For me, it serves him right, because for those of us who know Dickson, he is one man that cannot be trusted, he cannot be trusted with power and it is sad that a state with just eight local government areas cannot pay salaries. You saw the last 10billion Naira that just came, it has vanished, so to speak. The highest that was paid in this last tranch was just one and half month, some got one month, some got half a month salary and this is a state that has just eight local government areas. Dickson has no reason whatsoever to owe salary, he has no right.
The work force is trim?
Yes it’s trim. Come to think of it, Bayelsa is all about Yenagoa. To talk about the other big communities we have besides Yenagoa, Ogbia or Opokuma, all the rest are just like rural communities. That is not the issue though; the most annoying issue now that I am hearing is that Dickson is making serious efforts to decamp from PDP to APC. Yes I’m a strong member of the APC in Bayelsa, so I want the APC to be very careful in granting his request. He should be given a condition. Firstly, at least the APC is a party, if an incumbent governor wants to cross over, yes that’s okay, but we need to be careful.
But in PDP, they’ve resolved their issues, so why is he moving on to another party?
He is afraid about what will happen after he leaves office. He needs shelter, and he thinks that he needs some kind of protection.
What if PDP regains power, what would the shelter be?
We are not looking at that now. If the man was so sure of his PDP, of course he knows what he did with Ali Modu Sheriff and all that, and he knows too well that in the new PDP, he would not have a say and a way under Ahmed Makarfi. So he is looking for a place to go and hibernate when he leaves office and he thinks that the APC is a place for him to come and hide. But I can tell you categorically that he would be disappointed. But before he does that, the first thing I would ask him to do is for him to pay pensioners, workers in Bayelsa. I am not talking about the tenure; I’m talking about the time the elections would come up, because it’s just about two to three months difference. So why go and spend money only for Bayelsa election alone when we can conduct Bayelsa election with others so that anybody that is sponsored by Dickson, that person would not get the support of Bayelsans.
But I have one issue in the South -South, I am not so comfortable with the problem we have between Timipre Sylva and Rotimi Amaechi. Early last year, I made some moves with some party leaders in the state. I said, ‘look, I don’t like what is going on, let it not be a replay or repeat of what happened between Jonathan and Amaechi.’ Amaechi is a very credible son of the South- South, Timipre Sylva is also a very credible son of the South -South, so we are seeing a situation where both of them are in APC, they should work together so that those of us from the region can benefit from this administration. But if the two of them are working at cross- purposes, one is going east and the other is going west, we would not achieve our desired result. What I wanted to do was a situation where the likes of Ahmad El-Rufai, Danjuma Goje, Speaker Yakubu Dogara, would arrange a meeting to bring them together, for them to mend fences and I’m sure that that arrangement is not lost. I want a situation where we can try to settle differences, because I want everything to be put aside before the election of 2019.
I want to also use this opportunity to call the former APC chairman in Bayelsa to order. When he was the former local government chairman for Southern Ijaw, Timipre Sylva gave him all the support that he needed. At a point, in fact under Sylva, Tiwei was like a deputy governor of Bayelsa State and then when this election came, he wanted to be deputy governor to Sylva. I think that was when the problem started. If you go to all the states in the country, even in the PDP; when you are a party chairman, you are a party chairman. You want to transform to be the deputy governor? It makes no sense. For you to be picked as the chairman of the party means so much of responsibility and for me, chairman of the party is more than the deputy governor for crying out loud. It would not do him any good to continue to cause crisis in the party, he is a young man just growing up