Recently Governor Henry Seriake Dickson fielded a wide range of questions from the media and members of the public in a live interview programme.
[Image: Governor Henry Seriake Dickson]
QUESTION: Your administration has initiated a number of programs for women empowerment in the state as demonstrated by the recent presentation of grants to market women. But what about youth empowerment?
Answer: We have much in terms of youth empowerment. I do not think any other government has had this number of youth appointed into offices, by way of direct appointments where they earn N150,000 and above. We have several schemes and have employed many youths directly into public service just like the 200 youths employed into forestry protection scheme. We have also employed a number of engineers, doctors and medical staff. And as I speak more youths will be engaged. Yesterday I was at the volunteer office to flag off the volunteer scheme by which we took in at one fell swoop 3000 people, 600 graduates who are going to earn N20,000 per month and 2400 non -graduates who will earn N10,000.
Question: Your administration has embarked on a lot of projects which are yet to be commissioned. Why is this so?
Answer: Here we believe in the judicious use of public funds. Commissioning entails expenditure which we will rather deploy on more projects. The Governor is there to build roads and all these things I am doing. When the Tombia-Amassoma road was completed I didn’t see any reason why I should gather the whole of Nigeria and spend public money to do a ceremony before people use a road that they are waiting to use and are entitled to. It is partly a mindset problem. Many are not used to this high level performance they are seeing now that is why they expect commissioning. But I have heard so much talk about commissioning and I have decided we will commission them so Bayelsans should be ready to come out and join us but we will be very frugal in the commissioning.
We have finished the Transparency Plaza, many schools and teachers training academy and so many others but I do not believe that a government has to go out commissioning a project before you know that the project has been executed. But I have gotten the message and the end of this month will be commissioning all the way. The list is out. Now we have a permanent Governor’s office for the first time, today the deputy Governor has a befitting residence. All these are lasting legacy projects that we have put on ground. Since our inception in office we have paid WAEC and NECO fees for our students who are children of Bayelsa people. We have a lot of projects but it is my simple style to let the jobs be done for the people to use without commissioning but now we will go commissioning all the way.
Question: Another election is around the corner and in the past we saw our youths fall prey to the antics of politicians and the political class. They were used as thugs and played negative roles. What have the Government done for a mindset change to enable our youths be wise and stay alive?
Answer: Yesterday in the course of inaugurating the volunteers I made some comments I would like to repeat because it is important that the youths of this state get it right. Any politician/leader that is inciting you to violence does not love you and does not love the state because a leader should support peace and stability, unity and development. If you are a Bayelsan holding any office, elective or appointed, you should support the government. Your duty is to attract development to the state. But what they do is to stay far away and incite youths but I want to thank the youths of Bayelsa because that is changing. A number of us do not know that the state has moved forward. Young people should guard against incitement from politicians because if you know what some of them have been doing and represent you will be shocked, so do not follow them. You have your right to vote any candidate of your choice when elections come but they should be talking to you about your future, the development of our state.
I want to thank the youths of Bayelsa for working with the security agents we have put in place to ensure that our state continues to be peaceful. In this one small state we have had four Governors and two acting Governors and all these characters that are creating this confusion is for their own ego and then because they do not know anything to do than seek to prey on the public treasury, your own money. We are not owing salaries, we are not owing pensions, we are only owing gratuity which accumulated for almost 10 years and we are battling to settle that one. A number of these characters know nothing when it comes to discipline, when it comes to managing public resources and they will take even the money for your salaries now and they will send their thugs and hired assassins after you and you will not be able to talk. That is the sort of future you have to decide against for our state and I know you people know what is wrong and right.
Question: December 5 is around the corner and the PDP is not having the best of times as many loyalists are defecting to APC and the argument is that they are clamouring for change. Is this healthy for Bayelsa politics?
Answer: Yes some leaders of our party are decamping but you have to understand the background. Almost all of them who are decamping want to be governors and these persons know that within PDP they have no way of becoming governorship flag bearers of the party. For them it means going to another platform to fight for Governorship ticket to contest the election. But APC in Bayelsa is not a party on ground and do not be deceived, even at national level they are crumbling. You will see PDP will rise again very soon. APC in Bayelsa is a political party that has no membership following but has only Governorship candidates; the members are only governorship aspirants. Where was APC when we conducted the House of Assembly election? How many APC legislators do we have in Bayelsa?
This is a PDP state, this is a PDP stronghold. Two factors come into play, ambition which is legitimate as long as they do not resort to violence for we are brothers and sisters and friends and I remain their governor. We are waiting to see who their candidate will be that can match’ the talk na do Governor’ project for project, vision for vision, ideas for ideas. We are waiting for a very robust campaign. Apart from those who are going in because of their ambition, we will see what happens after their primaries because I have not done anything bad to any of them, it is all politics and some are just calling a dog a bad name You are also aware that our party for the first time lost power at the centre and I think it is immoral for the people who have been nurtured by the PDP over the years to defect. Many decamp because of personal ambition and to be available for federal appointment.
Well, we can only wish them well. By the constitution you cannot stop anybody from changing his affiliation to a political party so a number of them say they are going or have gone. These same people before the cock crowed three times like Peter did in the bible, some of them were as close to Jesus like peter to the former president, decamped. All I know is that power comes from God but as leader of PDP in Bayelsa we remain open to all those members who for one reason or the other are thinking of crossing to the other side as it is a wrong move. I interact with all of them. With the way our president left office I believe the election is not about me because if I were to be contesting election in America with all I have achieved there will not even be a campaign. The way our former president left office, I believe the next election is not about me or PDP. It is about the dignity and pride of Ijaw nation, a people who have been humiliated at the federal level like this because they say we are few and our people who should hold the home base are the ones jumping ship.
I do not have any problems even with the leader of the opposition party in the state, the former Governor. He is my friend and brother but his politics is what I disagree with. But his own case is even understandable because he was there as part of the formation of the APC for whatever personal reasons. But people who stayed with us till we did elections should know APC does not need them. Where were they when APC was battling to get votes and register their party to secure votes for their president? They think because we have lost the Ijaw nation should be humiliated and they are not going quietly. They are the ones that are taking but the good news is that the ordinary people of Ijaw nation will rise up and say no to this display of greed of the highest order where people cannot subordinate their own personal greed for position at the federal level for the common good .
Question: When you inaugurated the volunteer scheme, you mentioned putting together a youth summit. What plans do you have to create jobs for the youths apart from the volunteer scheme?
Answer: We are talking to our youths on the various ways we can work with them for security, for wealth creation. You talked about job creation. In all these things we are doing, you must have two things in place. First security, before you can even think of creating jobs. Creation of jobs is not to tell the civil service commission to employ people because there is a limit to what the state can afford, and what the state government needs in terms of manpower. It is the private sector that can help us engage people and create jobs. That is why I keep talking of security and development and then prosperity. Then there is infrastructure. A company that wants to spend billions wants a road to where they can site their factory, they want to have power. Now we are working to build an airport. You can imagine the jobs that will be created as a result because business men will now be able to fly to Bayelsa and set up businesses. You must have security, stability in government, infrastructure. That is why we are building roads, the airport etc.
You can imagine what Lagos or Port-Harcourt would have been without the seaports and airports. Here we just had one rural place that became a state. I will see that we will get to Agge, now we are battling to get to Ekeremor. By November or December this year by the grace of God sand filling will be completed. Creating jobs is not about giving handouts to people who come to Government House. That is the mentality some of our people have and that is wrong. When the deep sea port is done, importers and exporters will be there, customs people and agencies will be there and land prices will go up. Infrastructural development fights poverty. Now prices of land have gone up on the road to Oporoma since we opened the road. That is the impact of development on the economy so job creation is a critical issue but you must first have security, the infrastructure to back it and government policies for partnership with the private sector. Agriculture is one clear way that we will use but you must have the infrastructure that will attract the business men that will come and put down their money who also have the skills to manage enterprises.
Question: The federal ministry of environment has said that Bayelsa is one of the states that should expect flooding owing to rising tide and sea levels. What are you doing to meet the challenge? Secondly, the issue of primary health care facilities. What are you doing to make healthcare accessible and affordable for the people especially for common ailments like malaria and typhoid. Finally the Niger Delta Teaching Hospital is having issues with funding.
Answer: We are trying our best not just for Okolobiri but to revamp the health sector in the state. It is actually a sector that has received much support and funding from government before we had this terrible down turn in revenue. We want to restart most of those health facilities. You are aware of the referral hospitals we have going on in Ekeremor, Sagbama, Oporoma, Ogbia and so on and the ones we refurbished in Brass, and we also supported in Nembe. There is the diagnostics centre going on which is world class. It will be wrong to say that I am not aware that Okolobiri has issues about funding. Because of the economic down turn, all public institutions are just managing to keep afloat, but it won’t be forever.
People need to be patient because the rot in all sectors in this state was terrible so that we had to virtually operate from ground zero. That is why I appreciate somebody like DSP who in spite of it all did his best, you can see so many things standing to his name, you can see the earnest effort that was made at that time. On flooding we know the challenges we faced. I will send a team that will go round to ensure that channels are opened up, drainages are not blocked. I am only aware of the N500m that our good friend Chief Adenuga donated to the Government of Bayelsa State, and I received the cheque and handed it over to the flood management committee and I directed them to open the account and hand the forms and manage it to fight the flood and the disaster. I am not aware of any other fund that came in. I handed over the draft to Late Gen. Azazi, and after his demise I appointed Chief Doukpola to lead that committee and they did a great job. The flood is serious so people should prepare for it.
Question: In 2012 you constituted a committee to review the chieftaincy stools of our state. What has happened to that committee’s report, and are you aware of the problems between the third class, second class and first class traditional rulers?
Answer: I am not aware of any serious problems in the chieftaincy institution as I hold regular interactions with the first class kings. Those chiefs and kings are our fathers and leaders of the communities and state so their issues are not things I will like to talk about publicly. We are also studying the Chieftaincy committee report in order to take necessary action.
Question: Your Excellency, something seems to be wrong with the security situation in the state despite what you are doing in terms of huge investment in security. There have been complaints of slow response even by security agencies and many are worried especially with the election coming.
Answer: Well , I can speak for the work of the security agencies particularly the one my government established which has become synonymous with law and order at least in the state capital,the operation Doo Akpo. And if you look at the one the APC leaders created when they were in government it was called ‘beat and possibly kill and throw away’ ,the party of Famutangbe. Doo Akpo is operation peace. I know that the Doo Akpo elements are very hard working and committed , patriotic officers and men. I can assure our people that Doo Apko and all the security agencies will continue to be alive to their responsibilities even as we go through this electioneering period. This electioneering period is actually not as challenging as the situation that we managed about two months ago. This is just one election. We even dealt with the House of Assembly which was the most contentious election. And I want to praise the work of the security people and also to commend the maturity of the people of our state for the peaceful way that all elections came and went.
Since I have been governor all elections that we have had including party primaries there has been no single death,no single fatality as opposed to the previous regime when you had to keep counting the number of the dead. People were slaughtered in their houses ,people were shot in boats ,people were attacked everywhere. So ‘operation peace’is working. It is not just for the men and women in uniform. Operation peace is for all of us. I want to thank all Bayelsans for the cooperation that they are giving to the security agencies. And things will actually get better even as we move on. Because we have a single election, the governorship. For the very trying house of assembly election circle for every constituency you had three,four, five contestants. And constituencies are smaller and you multiply all that by 24. And yet the security forces here and the good people were able to get through that without major challenges.
So for the governorship polls security is not a major concern. There will be peace, there will be law and order. I just want to call on all parties and even aspirants to play the game according to the rules. I am not known for political violence. You can see how opposition political meetings are held every day in Bayelsa. And as chief security officer I know where those meetings are held, I know who and who attend, you have not heard of any incident, of anybody being manhandled. If it were before you would have seen dynamites. You would have heard of people going to shoot people. That is brigandage, that is animal behavior and that is one of the things that I am changing deliberately. I heard that the APC is planning what they call a mega rally. I have directed that if they apply the relevant officials of this state should on my instructions make the stadium available for their use. Because we must show a difference.
This is what they did not do when they were in power. Even people coming to declare their ambition they would go and shoot them and throw dynamites, even at a man who had physical challenges! We enjoin them to now play by the rules. But we will not be intimidated by any rascality. The government of this state will stand up and bring any body no matter how highly placed to book for any infraction. I don’t envisage any security challenges but am watchful, knowing the antecedents of the characters now in APC which is transforming into an Angry People’s Congress particularly in Bayelsa. Let it not be a congregation of people who will work against our security but every Bayelsan should be watchful about what goes on in APC, not in the general elections alone but what goes on as they start their internal processes of selecting their flag bearers. That is the major challenge. So how they will select their flag bearers without killing one another and without harming the good people of this state is a challenge that I as chief security officer, working with my security team will handle but I need the cooperation of citizens. Watch out for these characters. But we would not allow them to disturb the peace of the state.
Question: Why is it that teachers of Secondary and primary schools are always paid last as at today 60 percent are yet to be paid June Salary.
Another question: the people of Okoroba in Ogbia are faced with the challenge of a bad road. Are you going to do something about it? Finally, you are commended for dispatching your commissioner for works and infrastructure to inspect the government primary school road at Akempai Yenagoa and hope action will follow.
Answer: That’s why we have this forum so if you raise any issue of concern it can be looked into just as my commissioner for health will go to Okolobiri arising from the question that has been asked her. But you know government has its own processes. If it is something that has to be done I want to know how much it will cost so I can source the funds. People say “ah, no money, governor no dey spend money “,nobody asks: is the money there? Is the money there for the man to spend or give? There is the assumption that every month this government is filled with billions and billions; it is not so. Now working with available resources we would look at it when the commissioner for works returns.
Same for Okolobiri when the Commissioner for Health assesses and comes back. Then teachers. We are very passionate about teachers Even though we have funding challenges but you are doing a great job, the teachers all of you. We are all produced by you the teachers. I will have an interaction with you very soon. I didn’t know that you are paid last. But I don’t think teachers should be paid last. Because I release the money at the same time. I sign the releases at the same time for all workers in the public service. Then Okoroba, I am aware of the challenges. I know that that area needs the road , I will tell my team to go and find out what is going on there.
Question: RATTAWU, Radio and theater workers union and the NUJ are also threatening to down tools over some outstanding issues. They are talking about weigh-in allowance. Let us add this one so that you can take it along. We have about two three private media houses in the State and we believe that with our stay in the state here we are contributing to its socio economic development because we employ and also give service to the government and the people. We wonder if the goodness of the administration will also flow towards us.
Answer: Let me appreciate the good work that the private media houses are doing in the state. You are actually contributing in more ways than you can even imagine. I want to also thank their proprietors for the decision to establish those businesses in Yenagoa. I appreciate the work they are all doing and it is my prayer that the goodness of our government shall not pass you by in Jesus name. On RATTAWU and the NUJ. I have heard a lot as I said about weighed in allowances. The Head of Service is actually heading a committee to look into this issue of weighed -in. We don’t need to employ strike as a means of solving disputes. That’s a very serious measure that should be used as a last resort because you have a willing government, you have a government that is willing to engage and to listen and solve problems and I also expect understanding particularly in these lean times. And I’m sure that if we interact we can sort the issues.
Question: There is the issue of bursary payments for students which has become a headache.
Answer: It all has to do with funding and these are the challenges. But by the end of the month we should be able to do something and the scholarship board will get back to you. We have challenges even in respect of our scholars who we sent to schools in good faith. You know but we are not alone in this. All states, even the federal government has the same problem. So you students don’t allow any body to come and incite you people .I have reorganized the scholarship board and will ask for a representative of the student body to also part of it.
Question: Is it true you said that there will be no promotion in the civil service in this state?
Answer: There is no such directive and that kind of directive, will strictly speaking be illegal. That said, in view of the lean times, we expect understanding but that does not mean that people should not be promoted. Three things I’m sure the head of service will not tell you so. That is not the position of government . Those who are entitled to their promotions should run their normal promotions. If there are other things that should follow that and it means that government would now spend more money then I’ll like to discuss with the people who are heading the civil service as to what We should do about that. But you can get your promotions if you work hard and you earn it and you merit it.
Question: Electioneering campaigns are underway in the state. Do you have any message for the people at this time?
Answer: My dear people of Bayelsa. We have all embarked on a journey, a life changing journey. For the past three years we have moved into a very crucial phase a phase where the fate of the future and the destiny of our people will be decided. Not by anybody in Lagos, not by any body in Abuja but by you the people. You are aware of what we’ve been doing. I am not saying that we have been able to take our state to where we want it to be. No. That is not something you can do in 3 years or even in 4 years or even in 8 years. Building of a State just like nation building is work in progress. What we owe you is a clear vision and we have demonstrated that. What we owe you is commitment and courage to do what is right for our people. We have demonstrated that. Now we need your support. We need your understanding as you have always displayed.
We have made our state to be one of the safest. I need to work with you and urge you again to continue to collaborate with the security agencies to ensure that even the recent cases of breaches of peace that is kidnapping and so on will be no more associated with our dear state. That’s not good for our image, is not good for our economy, is not good moving forward. You have seen the massive developments that we have been able to bring even in spite of the high wage bill, in spite of the debt burden that we inherited. From inheriting a state that was heavily indebted, it has become one of the least indebted. Our state does not owe salaries, does not owe pensions. But the recent downturn in the economy has slowed us down in the execution of some of our life changing projects. But these projects must continue and that means that we need support from you. For stability and to consolidate what we started.
I have been consulting. I want to thank all NGOs for all their support across the length and breadth of our state. I want to thank youth groups and women groups, thank the elders. When the campaign starts, youth groups and women groups, elders, leaders of communities, and all of you, I want to again utilize that opportunity to be with you all. I call for understanding and support. I want to also talk to those who feel that things should be done differently. I will look forward to a debate with them. Those who are in the other party, I urge to play the game according to the rules. Let’s not slander one another, let’s not malign one another, let’s not propagate falsehood and blackmail propaganda. We are brothers whether we are contestants against one another or not. We must work together to develop and build a better and prosperous Bayelsa. I enjoin you all to even within your own parties try your best to make the contest peaceful as I have within the past three years or so never molested anybody who disagreed with me.
With enormous powers of government, we have never harassed anybody for holding a contrary view or for saying something that my government or I disagree with. You have seen the barrage of criticism most if it for me unwarranted, unjustified, most of it unfair but as political leaders you must develop thick skin even to those who disagree with us and those who oppose us. That someone is not agreeing with me or not supporting me does not make him my enemy. I like decent arguments. I like to engage with whoever will emerge, whoever will have an aspiration to be governor on what you think you would have done differently. That is a conversation that I will like to have. And I look forward to when the campaign starts, an issue -based peaceful and robust, engaging intellectual conversation, debates and campaigns. I enjoin all of you who believe in the Restoration, the changes that we have brought about physically, and in terms of the culture of the place, to turn out en masse when the time comes to give your support. But thank you very much and in your own homes continue to pray for us.
Thank you and God bless you all.
Submitted for publication by Nwokedi Nworisara