Governor Seriake Henry Dickson of Bayelsa State recently played host to some senior Journalists from Lagos and Abuja. The occasion afforded him the opportunity to showcase some of the revolutionary steps he has so far taken, especially in the education and health sectors, to change the Bayelsa narratives. At the end of the visit, he explained the rationale behind some of his actions at an interactive session, held in Yenogoa, the state capital, where he also declared that only an educated population could create a vibrant economy . Ismail Omipidan was there.
Government comes and go, if another party takes over tomorrow in Bayelsa, is there any mechanism to ensure all projects embarked upon by your administration are sustained?
There is no doubt that the work I and my team have been doing in the past six years has changed this state. We have introduced a number of policies and legislations. Take for instance, the revolution in education and healthcare. After building the schools and the hospitals, we have come up with the compulsory health insurance in this state. By law, we have created the health insurance scheme into which deductions from civil servants and those who subscribe to it are made, and then the state government also supports it by putting five percent of the state’s monthly Internally Generated Revenue into it.
So, with a board of very competent professionals managing the fund, with the hospitals built and equipped and the law creating it, it is sustainable.
Same thing for the education sector, having built the schools and equipping them with over N100million, we have developed the Educational Development Trust Fund by law and we have also appointed a board with Professor Ison chairing it. With the law establishing this and the funding mechanisms in place, I believe that, to a large extent, these institutions would be supported. With about five to ten thousand young pupils trained in these specially equipped schools, it means that you have fewer militants to deal with and that is why we are making all of these investments. I believe that these programmes are largely sustainable and like I have always said, nothing human is perfect, nothing human is absolute.
What exactly do you mean, when you say Nigeria’s unity is desirable?
For me, a large nation like Nigeria is a big advantage. There are enormous resources embedded in every state in this country. This country has no reason to be poor. I am not even talking of what is under the soil; but our rich human base. I have always made this case even to my people, in spite of the anger, in spite of the marginalisation that they justly feel, I have continued to make the case as I try to do before the young children, that there is an advantage in staying in a big and diverse family.
Quite frankly, the greatness of Nigeria does not only derive from oil and mineral resources, the greatness of our country are a combination of all of it including its diversity and complexity. That is part of the greatness of Nigeria but we must create a stable and fair country. Nigeria must be founded on fairness, equity and justice; we must build a nation of compassion, a nation of love and a nation of truth. It should not be a nation of oppression, not a nation of deceit, not a nation where people thrive on deceit and fraud.
Right now, the foundation is fraudulent and we should not shy away from saying it as it is. Really, it does not do anybody any good to perpetuate this unworkable structure. So, those of us who are in support of restructuring, are making a case for a sustainable and fair Nigeria that can endure over 400 years going forward, a Nigeria where every day, you don’t have to hear about agitations. We should be talking about things that will help us achieve the manifest destiny of this country as the greatest black nation. Anybody who says that the existence of Nigeria is not negotiable is not telling you the truth. As I keep saying, the existence of a big, strong, diverse nation called Nigeria is desirable but like anything human, its terms and conditions cannot be perfect, therefore, nation building is a work in progress. We must continually examine the basis upon which we are going to have this big nation but with a mindset to making it perfect, more equitably and not to disintegrate it.
So, I want fairness for everybody, I want fairness for my people and for myself. I don’t see why this state should have eight local government areas when it takes me three days to go to one local government area and you make that a basis for distributing the wealth that I produce. You take away the resources by expropriatory legislations, using military process into which our people never made any input and you put that as constitutional provisions knowing that we do not have the numbers in the parliament to effect a change. Nigeria is actually playing with fire, but those of us, who love Nigeria, want a new Nigeria, we want to tinker with the old Nigeria, sit down, reason together as brothers, members of the same Nigerian family, not with a mindset of those who want to benefit and those who will lose. Based on our common Nigerianess, we can craft the basis of a new Nigeria, which is my belief.
When will the Brass liquified natural gas and others going to bring money to the state so that there can be alternative sources of revenue to execute some of the projects?
We are very sad that the Brass LNG, the Brass fertilizer and all the big ticket investments have not really taken off in this state. If those projects had taken off, the IGR of this state will have been expanded. Having said that, we are working with all the partners concerned, in the next couple of weeks, I will be handing over formally the Certificate of Occupancy to the company. I am also in touch with the Brass LNG group; we have been working to see how we can support them. One of the greatest misfortunes that befell this state in the recent couple of years has been the inability to conclude these key initiatives. But we are almost concluding with Brass fertilizer, the state has to take equity to fast track and to build confidence. We are also talking to the investors in NLG. Unfortunately, even though the money was there, there was no sufficient government will political will and attention. Investors have more or less divested and gone to Mozambique and other countries. Those LNGs are now working, that is very sad but there is a renewed zeal especially driven by us in this state; we are creating investment areas just to enable us attract industries, manufacturing, corporate players to our state so that the IGR base can go up.
What about the airport?
You were there, you saw it, the 3.5 km runway is almost completed, the whole idea is not for luxury, it is cargo; it is meant for businessmen to use it as a hub so that the IGR base can go up. Right now, Bayelsa State is cut off from the world, no seaport, no airport. What is helping us is focus and prudence and that is why because of the investments, a lot of the projects are being completed. We are making these foundational investments in airports, polo clubs, expanding infrastructure to attract people to come to set up businesses here. We are promoting the industrial park, the power hub so that businesses can come. It is when businesses come and they manufacture, that the IGR will come. The situation is very bad. If you don’t have development, you will not have social security and stability. If you don’t have social security and stability, the investment and development cannot come. Only an educated population can create a vibrant economy that can pay tax. Some of the states were fortunate, they started early. It is very challenging, and I believe we are on course; this state will not be the same by the time we complete our tenure.
In view of the dwindling resources, we cannot run away from the PP projects. We are already in touch with a number of people concerning the seaport, concerning the industrial park and also on the power hub. I just want to make the case that Bayelsa is safe and people know the vision and the focus of our government. There is a lot of goodwill and confidence out there and we are deploying that to get people to work with us.
As one who headed the PDP reconciliatory committee, what is your response to the Supreme Court judgment?
First, it is unfortunate that the dispute lasted as long as it did. Second, it is unfortunate that it had to take a judicial intervention for us to know who the leaders of our party are. Again, I consider that, as I have said, a failure of politics, not really blaming any of the sides, but generally speaking, it is a failure of leadership and politics. It is not just about the PDP, it is also about the other party. To that extent, it is very sad.
Now, the Supreme Court has decided and one of the reasons I didn’t think the judicial option was the best was because after the judicial intervention, judges don’t reconcile, they adjudicate and so, you are back to square one. You are back to the court of reconciliation. I have read the statements made by Senator Ahmed Makarfi, who is a very experienced stable hand and I agree with that approach that we have to go back to reconciliation. So, that is where I have always stood, reconciliation is the key and not litigation. Now that litigation has ended, we have to come back to square one to promote reconciliation and then, you move to a convention, which was what I proposed we should have done. We are still back to reconciliation, we are still back to holding an acceptable unity convention. So, good luck to our party, I will join hands with other leaders of our party to ensure that these key objectives are achieved – that is reconciliation in the party – with a view to having an all-inclusive unity, acceptable convention.