Bayelsa State Commissioner for Information and Strategy Jonathan Obuebite spoke with EMMANUEL OLADESU in Lagos on the first year anniversary of Governor Seriake Dickson’s second term, the security agenda of the state, the management of government/labour relations and how the state is coping with the economic recession.
It is a year into Governor Seriake Dickson’s second term. How far has it been?
One year, how far? Ordinarily, because of the recession that we are into, governments across the states have been affected. But, in Bayelsa State, we have fared well. Within the one year, we have been able to complete so many projects. The good thing about the governor’s style of administration is that we made provisions for project funding and also for recurrent expenditure. Government decided that, based on the current realities, we had to cut our emoluments as government appointees. What we are getting now is half of what the commissioners used to get. That cut across all political appointees. Through that, we have been able to save some money which should have been used for personnel cost for political appointees and we channeled the money into project funding. That has reduced the recurrent expenditure.
That’s a drop in the ocean. How much has the government been able to save through that?
I think we have not saved enough from that. But, the number of political appointees has drastically reduced. That is the beauty of it. When you know you don’t have, you have to cut your coat according to your size. Now, we cut our coat according to the material available. So, in the last one year, we have been battling with a lot of issues and we are able to get it right in the sense that we were able to complete important projects. We were able to complete the new Governor’s Office, a multi-billion naira project. Also, we have been able to complete the Government House Hospital Complex this year. It has both the private and the public wing. It can be accessed from two frontiers. Also, we have been able to complete the House Officers’ Quarters, and the Federal Medical Centre, which is not a state project, but a Federal Government Hospital. But, since it is Bayelsa State and there is the need for that accommodation, we had to build it for them. We were able to complete the Diagnostic Centre; furnished and functional. We also have the forensic equipment within the same complex.
What is unique about the Forensic Centre?
It is unique. It is about the sixth we are going to have all over the country. Nigerians don’t need o travel out again for it. It is even good for security. It helps in curbing fraud and perjury. The centre can uncover the cause of the death of a person, if someone wants to attribute it to another cause. It is highly needed. The police work with it. It is very helpful to society. It is very important. It helps the society.
What are other projects?
Within the one year, we have been able to build the Civil Servants’ Hospital. We call it a clinic designated for civil servants. All civil servants go there and get treated. Where they are to pay N10 outside, they just pay three naira because they are civil servants. What they need is to show their identity that they are civil servants. Then, we have also completed the Cultural Boulevard. It has four different structures standing on their own. We have the Gabriel Okara Cultural Centre, the school of language studies. We have also completed the Osborn Lake Pavilion. It is a place that will house about 3,000 persons at a go; with a VIP stand. It is a place of cultural activities. We want tourism to thrive in the state. We have competed the five hundred pounds acqua far. Each has a size of 50 by 70 metres. That is to tell you how big that place will be. It will take you three hours to go round. It has a processing factory, a conference hall, a restaurant. It is a village of its own. It was started and completed within the one year. The AIT/Sani Abacha Road was completed. It has two bridges. It is a dual carriage road, not a single lane road. We completed the Igbogini by-pass, linking the New Gate Road. We have done electrification in 50 communities across the three senatorial districts; in Sagbama, in Amasoma, where we have the Niger Delta University. The university now has a good power supply. The university cannot run with a generator alone. We now separate the school from Amasoma community. We have completed the Ijaw National Academy. It is going to be one of the best schools in Nigeria built by a state government. One thousand students will be in the boarding house. Al the beds and hostel facilities are provided for. We have completed the 11 boarding schools that the government has initiated. We have one in each of the eight local governments. For Southern Ijaw; Yenegoa and Sagbama, we have more than one because of the population. Then, we have completed the Tourism Institute. It has started functioning with students already admitted.
How many projects are you commissioning during the one year anniversary?
We are commissioning 34 projects. I don’t think you find that anywhere now in this period because of the recession. That is a cumulative of projects done from the beginning of his tenure from 2012. Some should have been commissioned. Most of the projects have a life span in terms of completion.
What’s the cost of these projects?
It is more expensive to construct roads in the coastal areas. In Lagos and the East, if you use N300 million to build a road, you will need almost N1 billion to build the same road. The studies have shown this. The oil companies will tell you because they also do social responsibility. Bayelsa State is more riverine than Rivers State. It is more delta than Delta State. That is why Bayelsa is the epic centre of the entire Niger Delta crisis. Bayelsa is the headquarter of the Ijaw Nation. Every Ijaw man has a root in Bayelsa. We have Ijaw in Ondo State, Edo, Delta, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross River. That is the fusion. If you look at the map of Nigeria, you will see what Bayelsa is carrying. Because the majority of the oil is found in the Niger Delta and the Ijaw area of the Niger Delta, the agitation is high among our people. They feel that the resources is taken from their area are used to develop other areas.
Could you shed light on the security agenda of the administration?
Bayelsa was adjudged the safest state in Nigeria. But, before the election, it became the worst state in terms of security because of the inflow of hooligans and thugs imported into the state. They were there before while the former governor was in the saddle. But, when Dickson came, he granted amnesty to the cultists. Then, the anti-cult law was passed. From that point, it means nobody will entertain cultism and crime from anybody. Moving forward, we now have the status of the most peaceful state in the country. But, that we lost within the spate of six or seven months. After the election, it became a major problem because they came and they did not succeed in winning the election. They left, but they left these criminals behind. It became a major problem for the Bayelsa State government. We had three-minute response rate before from Operation DOO-AKPO. Now, working with the security agencies, the governor was able to curtail those criminal activities. As I speak, all of them have left the state. There was an issue outside the state capital; the vandalisation of pipelines. Most of them were politically motivated before the Avengers came. You know Avengers declared me a persona non grata and threatened to kill me. They gave an ultimatum that they will kill me because of my openness and because of the government’s stand on their activities. It was published in most of the national dailies. I was the person they said they were going to kill. If his commissioner for information could be threatened, that is to tell you government’s non-tolerance for crime and criminality. So, we fought seriously. Today, I must tell you, we have got it right again. Our crime rate response is three minutes. Some few days ago, the Assistant Inspector General of Police visited Bayelsa State and said Bayelsa State is now the most peaceful state in the Niger Delta and he also wished that other states should toe the line of Bayelsa State. Also, few days ago, the military intelligent officers that came to Bayelsa State and visited the Security Command Centre in Bayelsa State. Indeed, they also affirmed that it was a good thing that those facilities could be found here and that they can only be found in advanced countries.
But, should there be no security in a state ruled by a governor who is a former police officer and a deputy governor who is a retired naval officer? How does that combination translate into security effectiveness?
That is the beauty of it. The governor is a former police officer. The deputy governor is a retired Real Admiral. You can see the packaging. Because of whom they are, they enjoy a smooth relationship with the security agencies. Because of that, they have been able to provide what they need to do their job successfully. And that synergy between the governor, and the deputy governor and the serving security chiefs in the state has been helpful. We owe this to them because they are able to key in the state’s dream of making sure that there is no crime and criminality. When a security chief is posted to the state, the governor will tell him to deal with the criminal according to the law, irrespective of the person’s political tendency or leaning, and without political bias. It means if you are a member of the ruling party in the state, the PDP, you will be dealt with if you are found wanting. There is no alternative to that. He sings it like a song. Every member of the Restoration Government is guided by that. In everything in life, you need leadership. We have the right leadership when it comes to security and infrastructural development. The governor does not play with it. There are pockets of thieves. Even, in America, you find them, They are isolated cases. During that period of election, the governor’s younger sister was kidnapped for six months. He refused to pay ransom.Source: The Nation