Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
Keniebi Okoko’s first attempt at elective position was to contest the state aassembly election on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2007. But he was edged out based on the harmonisation of positions between the Goodluck Jonathan and Ndutimi Alaibe’ camp. He took the party’s decision in good faith and headed to the business world where he has made a huge mark and he is back to the political turf, this time gunning for the governorship. He speaks on his aspiration.
Why do you want to be the next Bayelsa State governor and what do you think sets you apart from the rest of the crowd?
I want to be governor because I want a massive change in Bayelsa and among our people in terms of education, healthcare, economy and in fact in all spheres of their lives. I am not trying to evaluate my fellow contestants. I am not too concerned about them. I am more concerned about my own blueprint which will enable our people take a decision soon. But just for starters, if you look at my educational background, I started school here in Nigeria at Uniport (University of Port Harcourt) then proceeded to Carlton University in Canada. I also attended Wharton business school for short courses, before proceeding to Harvard where I did two short courses and finally a three year programme at the Harvard business school which makes me an alumnus of the Harvard business school and several other colleges. Educationally, you can see I am very qualified. I am not from the regular political class. Everyone else who is interested has held one political post or another. Bayelsa people want to know what achievements those who have held these positions had when they held those positions. I am not bothered by my fellow contestants. The people know what is good for them at this point in time.
Being a coastal area, what would you do to ensure that Bayelsa takes full advantage of its peculiar environment for the good of its people?
Industrialisation! The same environment is pretty much what they have in Singapore. The government should stop being a company, it should not own companies. It should create a decent environment for business to thrive. It should be looking for Foreign Direct Investment, inviting companies that have been tested and trusted.
Today, Nigeria is branded as a corrupt destination. Most of these companies are afraid. But that is not the case. So, I will be an ambassador for the state. Going into contractual agreements and sticking to these agreements. Because many foreign investors think we don’t follow through signed agreements. In Vietnam for example, you talk about rice, in Singapore, you talk about fishing. Not long ago, these countries were tagged underdeveloped. Have agreements with these countries, ensure they come and transfer this knowledge which is very important. Our people have to understand this, that government cannot provide everything, but provide opportunities.
I have always been a strong advocate of knowledge transfer, educating the mind to greater things that we can achieve. The Ijaw man is not lazy, there is nothing you give an Ijaw man to do that he cannot accomplish, given the right circumstances. We are a determined and dogged people.
The late Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha was known for resource control; Governor Dickson is talking about restructuring. What’s your take on restructuring?
It is obvious that this country needs to be restructured. I have always been a strong advocate of this. We need to use every channel as far as it is violence-free. It has to be more intellectually driven now. I do not subscribe to making inflammatory statements from whichever side of the divide. We need to talk about it because it is inevitable.
Closely linked to restructuring is the call for state Police like what obtains in so many parts of the developed world. Do you think this call is justified, especially given the recent trend in crime in the state?
First of all, when you say Bayelsa has serious security challenges, I will tell you that Zamfara has been in the news recently, that the Kaduna/ Abuja axis is also a sore point, that there is a lot of kidnapping recently in Lagos. So, it’s not a situation that is peculiar to Bayelsa. But the framework is very important. How are they going to be funded? What are the reporting channels, because there has been a lot of abuse of power in this country? You spoke about developed nations. There are rules about their kind of policing and these rules are strictly obeyed. That framework is important. We must have the enabling environment. We must continue to discuss it, but for now, let’s build on what we have. There has to be a transition period. We should be able to say that in the next four years, we are moving from point A to point B.
Unemployment is a big issue in Nigeria, and in Bayelsa too, majority of the youths are not gainfully employed. When you become governor, how do you intend to tackle this menace?
I will take it from the point of Donald Trump. I have not seen the media bash any other president in recent times, than the American President. But everything that Trump says he will do, he is doing for America. He said he will provide more jobs, he has done it. He has simply taken away the things that stifle investment, made the big companies invest more in the factories and insisting that if they build companies outside America and try to bring goods in, they will be heavily taxed. By doing that, he has increased job creation and the salary strength of American workers. Now if you come down to Bayelsa and Nigeria at large, Bayelsa is largely dependent on government and probably a few companies. There are no industries and no matter how the government shouts about job creation, without industries, we are going nowhere. You cannot continue to employ people into the civil service who do not have anything to do. It’s not about taking people and giving them empty offices. They are not being allowed to task their brains. Industries in every local government will be encouraged. The middle class is already gone. We need to look for factories for the low and middle class. Let’s look for the model that works for the low and middle classes. You can see the phones that we are selling to the upper and lower classes. If you have a factory that produces those kinds of phones in Nembe Local Government or Sagbama, Aba, Enugu, Onitsha, there will be knowledge transfer, and then you create a business ecosystem that works. India is not better than Nigeria. We have the same opportunities. My friend has a $3 billion company in India called micromax, why can’t we bring him to replicate that here. Let’s not continue to look at the problems, but for solutions. We need to develop our land. Mind transformation is important. Give Bayelsa four years and you will see transformation