Elder Asu Beks, president, Ijaw Media Forum is a journalist’s journalist. The Niger-Delta activist and publisher of Shipping World has been passionate and involved in the struggle for the emancipation of the Niger Delta region. He has gone through the thick and thin of the struggle told Sunday Sun that there is need for a new narrative in the region.
He spoke on the nullification of the election of Bayelsa governor, Douye Diri by an election tribunal, what Bayelsa state needs, assessment of President Mohammadu Buhari’s leadership, 2023, and its strategies by different regions and the need for a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction in 2023, among other issues. Excerpt:
The election tribunal gave a verdict during the week, nullifying the election of your state (Bayelsa) Governor Douye Diri while calling for another election within 90 days. What is your reaction to this?
You see, with the verdict from that tribunal which nullified the election of Governor Douye Diri as governor, one would wish to ask if the judiciary still remains the last hope of the common man because how do you reconcile this kind of judgment with a situation where the court of competent jurisdiction will come out with such a declaration. The only hope one has is that the governor has a right of appeal, he has filed an appeal and so we want to see how the appeal will go. But even from the lay man’s point of view the 1999 constitution as amended is very clear on the minimum age requirement, let’s forget about other requirements for you to qualify to vie as a governor or a deputy, the minimum age requirement as stipulated in section 177/D is 35 years, and that is clear. Unfortunately, the candidate ( the deputy governor candidate) that was presented was not up to that age. The electoral body (INEC) informed the party, Advanced National Democratic Party (ANDP), and said: look this candidate has k-leg, he has issues that will disqualify him, that they still have a window within the period of substitution. They asked the party, can you substitute? Unfortunately for them, they didn’t meet the window opened for substitution of candidate and INEC said: well as it stands you don’t have a candidate because it is a joint ticket. The governorship nominee didn’t have any problem, it was the issue of the deputy governor like what happened in the case of the APC. So, that was it, but then trust our lawyers, there have been several legal interpretations of whether it was the INEC duty to disqualify him or not, but I now ask, who is the umpire? It is the INEC and then the issue we are talking about is even a constitutional matter, so when you are a political party, you know you have an election, the first thing to do is to sit down with your lawyers, look at the guidelines, read it, understand the guidelines if there are questions you don’t understand you ask the lawyers to explain to you before you begin to file nomination. Some people are now saying that INEC should have gone to court. So, in a situation like in a general election when you have, for instance, if all the 36 governors were going to go for election, and then the president, state assemblies, national assembly, so for all these, if there is a case or a K-leg somewhere INEC will be going to court? So how many court cases will they be involved in? So, the whole money for the election would be deployed into pursuing court cases? Whereas the facts are there as stated in the constitution. It is like you have sought admission in a university, the cut-off mark is 200 for a particular course and then you scored 150, you are now telling JAMB that because you have applied, it is automatic, you have to be admitted? That JAMB will have to go to court to stop you, I mean it lacks even common logic, it is so funny. And I think that our lawyers are also not helping matters because certain cases are so clear. This is clearly a pre-election matter, the issues that we are talking about happened before the November 16 elections. There is also another issue I want to ask; the tribunal themselves don’t they have a time frame? Or once you are set up as a tribunal you can go on and on and on even when the incumbent has been in office for years. Luckily Justice Ibrahim Sirajo even though he is the chairman of the tribunal came with a dissenting judgment which to me is unique. He said the petition should be dismissed since the party fielded an illegible candidate. His position is that the governor was duly elected. So, let’s see what comes out of the Court of Appeal, of course, we have to cross that hurdle before the governor will think of going to the Supreme Court, but I do not think there is anything to worry about because everybody is optimistic of victory at last.
But some groups, for instance, the Buhari Media Organisation (BMO) are commending the pronouncement?
Different people looked at that verdict of the tribunal from different angles. I think people who didn’t properly understand it felt that the governor has been sacked and that the road was open for fresh elections for all. So, some are bound to react out of ignorance. Some don’t know that the governor has a right to appeal up to the Supreme Court. Even if, let’s say there is going to be an election APC was not in the ballot in November 16 election, and I doubt if they will benefit from this.
There was this press statement by the acting Chief Press Secretary (CPS), Dan Alabra where the governor said he is optimistic and confident in the judiciary. What if the courts uphold the tribunal’s verdict?
That will be a total summersault, of course, don’t forget that we had a similar case with the deputy governorship candidate of the All Progressives Party (APC), which had a K-leg, and for which the Supreme Court gave judgment. So, I don’t think such can happen and I pray it doesn’t because that will be another serious question mark in our justice system because the APC candidate was disqualified based on the illegibility of his deputy and so if this matter gets to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court upholds the verdict of the lower court that will be another test for the justice system. But looking at the merit of the case, looking at antecedents of such cases there is no way the apex court will succumb to such knowing the implication to our justice system.
Let’s shift attention from Bayelsa State and its development and looking at the scandal rocking the NDDC …?
(Cuts in) It’s a sad narrative so far. As a Bayesian, I am very disturbed by the kind of things that are coming out. I didn’t grow up in Bayelsa, I lived the better part of my life in the city, but when you come to Bayelsa and you go to other cities and you see how the states are being run you will know that Bayelsa is not making the expected progress, we are lagging behind. I am in Lagos, for instance, and you look at how Lagos is run, of course, Lagos has been a very fortunate state in terms of its leadership, you will be happy on the level of developments going on. Right from Tinubu, Fashola, Ambode to this present governor ( Sanwo-Olu, even Pa Jakande did very well, you can see progress made from one to the other. Maybe, it is the processes through which they emerge, so you can’t fail to deliver. They have always come with the finest no matter how you will condemn them they still do things that you will still give them credit. Look at what the current Lagos State governor is doing, you saw the speed with which he responded to this COVID-19 pandemic that he became the talking point. But you then go back to your state where you have a dedicated 13 per cent derivative that is coming to the state regularly and then you look round and you see nothing. I am so worried, very worried because we are in a hurry in Bayelsa to catch up with the rest of the world not just the rest of Nigeria. Look if you go to some countries like Holland we have the same peculiar riverine nature, but you will see how developed those areas are, but we are not making genuine progress on our own. Bayelsa was created at the same time with states like Ebonyi, Jigawa, Gombe, Ekiti, all created in October 1996 by the late General Sani Abacha, they have all gone far ahead of Bayelsa, even when these states are not getting the 13 pe rcent that we are getting. If I take you to Bayelsa, you will be ashamed of what you will see. Yenegoa, the state capital, is like a glorified local government headquarters. We need to do more and luckily for the incumbent governor ( Douye Diri), he has a fantastic partnership with the likes of the Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipriye Sylva, who in the last couple of months has shown that Bayelsa is dear to him in spite of what happened to him, denying him a second term. Look at the local content building, look at the Oloibiri museum, and other things that he is bringing in. so when we have such kind of synergy, the state will move forward. People should drop these party sentiments that are bringing division and enmity. The concern of all of us should be the development and growth of Bayelsa. Let’s play down this politics of bitterness. Now, for instance, one of those things that Mr. President commissioned recently at that local content was 10 KVA power, so why will a state like Bayelsa not be in the fore-front, we have all the resources, gas, oil, etc to drive it? When you have things like power, every other thing will fall in place. We need youth empowerment, good roads, bridges that will connect us; we need industrialisation and then don’t forget our natural habitat that can be developed into a deep seaport. Bayelsa should be noted for one major thing either cash crop or one little project for good identification. I understand that in Ebonyi State, for instance, each of the senatorial zones has big plantations for rice production. What can we boast off in Bayelsa? I understand that there is also going to be a building yard, somewhere in Brass. Before the former governor (Dickson) left he earmarked Agee as a deep-sea project, he didn’t start early enough. If the speed with which he worked on the Airport project he deployed that same speed to it, maybe the deep seaport would have been nearing completion. So, we have the potentials to be one of the greatest states in Nigeria, but this spirit of infighting, bitterness, bickering is not helping us at all. First and foremost, we are all Bayesians and we need to work together for the state to move. There is a need to create an enabling environment. The former governor did not play with the issue of education, he ensured we had or he created two universities, so what we should be talking about is education, youth empowerment and then power. Once we do that the issue of industrialisation and the development of the state will come in. We are just not doing enough as expected. The present governor’s diary seems to be that of a miracle worker, I hope and pray he translates and sustains his dreams for the development of the state.
Some impression that people have is that perhaps the youths of the region, the ex-agitators are getting what they want easily and so it has made them to be lazy?
No, that is a wrong impression, it is not true, there is abject poverty in Bayelsa, don’t forget that it is a civil service state, the only industry in the state is the Bayelsa State Government House and so there are no industries. There is nothing there, the reason we have this level of restiveness is because the idle mind they say is the devil’s workshop. The youths of Bayelsa want action, but there are no opportunities in Bayelsa, which I think should form part of the focus of Governor Diri’s agenda.
How do you see the security challenge in the country and your other random thought?
I really don’t understand this attachment that Mr. President has with the Service Chiefs and it is becoming increasingly embarrassing. People are conjuring so many things together and are asking, what is it in these Security Chiefs that Mr. President is finding it difficult to fire them? If you give somebody an assignment and the person has failed for five years, what are you still keeping them for? The president has said on several occasions that their best is not good enough, but you keep them. And we are degenerating into a failed state because of the level of insecurity in the country. Life has become so meaningless, so cheap; it has never been this bad. And to make matters worse we are talking of a president that is a retired General who should take security as a matter of utmost priority. There is so much discontent in the military now, the juniors are leaving, retiring and the seniors are staying. I think that Mr. President should act fast. Also, there is this sensitive issue I have to raise here. There is this Amnesty office which was created by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua and since last year its coordinator Prof Charles Dokubo was put on suspension, I understand that the office is about to be scrapped, I just hope that Mr. President will not succumb to that because the kind of reaction that will come from the Niger Delta is something he cannot imagine and cannot contain. On the issue of NDDC, the president should ask the Interim Management Committee (IMC) to just go and let him swear in those members that he sent to the Senate that have been cleared. The IMC is alien to the NDDC Act. It is like they were asked to come and chop. You see, the NDDC is an interventionist agency just like the Ministry of the Niger Delta, so you don’t ask one interventionist agency to superintend over the other, they should be independent. Another critical issue I will like to raise is that the president should listen more to the people, he should allow people to speak up because we are in a democracy. This issue of clamping people down, anybody who criticises the government is invited by the DSS or other security agents is wrong. We are tired of this scenario, there are serious issues that are confronting this country, and the earlier he addresses it the better. The president himself has lead a lot of protests in the past, nobody harassed him, DSS never invited him, so he should respect freedom of speech of other individuals.
Different regions are strategizing for the presidency in 2023, where do you stand?
Politics is a game of number they say and I know that the North is already making their political calculations for 2023, but any right-thinking Nigerian will wish that the presidency goes to the Southeast for equity and fair play. Don’t forget that since the end of the civil war the Southeast has not been fully integrated and so that bitterness is still there. So, we need to now make sure that whichever party fielding a candidate should consider Southeast. My heart goes to the people of the Southeast, they deserve a shot at the presidency for 2023. If we do that this continuous cry of marginalisation of the Southeast will be laid to rest.