WHY I WON'T PROBE SYLVA -DICKSON
Bayelsa State Governor, Henry Seriake Dickson, has a reputation for speaking his mind on any issue. If there is anything that his former colleagues in the House of Representatives will miss him for, it is in this area.
In this chat with some newsmen, he speaks on a number of touchy issues, including calls to probe his predecessor, Timipre Sylva, rumour over disagreement with President Goodluck Jonathan over appointments, why the Speaker of the state assembly was replaced and how he intends to rule Bayelsa.
How has it been like moving from lawmaking to governorship?
When I entered into this race a lot of people were skeptical and even now are still asking if it is real. We went through very challenging times. You know we were confronting a sitting governor, who was entrenched in the system and we were operating from outside, that is from Abuja. It was a big battle.
The media were very helpful, they helped to spread our message, which was message of change, message of restoration.
We give God the glory that the election has come and gone. When you look at, yes, I emerged winner but the truth is that Bayelsa has won. Now, the state has a new lease of life, a breath of fresh air. We now have a wonderful opportunity to build a new Bayelsa from the ashes and ruins of the immediate past system.
What area precisely is your administration going to give priority now?
Since the SSG is coming from the education background, he will help to provide information on the real problem of the sector, especially the real challenges, facing Niger Delta University and other tertiary institutions. We need someone like him to help drive revolutionary programmes that will centre on turning around the education sector. As you may recall I declared a state of emergency in education during my inaugural address. I did that because I think that the greatest challenge is that of knowledge. I want a Bayelsa that is knowledge driven, our most important resource should be that of human capital.
That will be the foundation for a great Bayelsa State. We are fully committed to it. A number of people have asked me how I am going to fund free education in Bayelsa and I have told them that it is a question of cutting cost, it is a question of blocking all leakages and wastages, it is a question of adjusting our lifestyle, it is a question of priority. Since we have made education our main priority, we must do those things that will guide us to realise our dream.
We must also invest massively in the health sector. In the next couple of weeks we will unfold a programme that will help in taking health services to the grassroots because that is where majority of our people reside. Some work has been done in terms of infrastructure; for tertiary health services we will strengthen that.
Our goal is to ensure that Bayelsa becomes a place people go to seek medical services and treatment.
I have used every opportunity to emphasise that this government will not give any room for criminality and violence. We are committed to ensuring that peaceful atmosphere reigns in every part of the state to help businesses to thrive, tourism to flourish and to allow investors come to the state.
We also have a revolutionary programme-infrastructural turn around. We have major roads that have been abandoned, contracts awarded but no execution of the projects. We have a terrible situation at hand. We have to focus on the economy of the state. We need to create jobs, I do know that government alone cannot provide all the jobs, that is why we will encourage and partner the private sector by way of concessions.
We have to quickly provide a good frame work to aid the private sector to create jobs in such a way that our youths will be meaningfully engaged .We will not hesitate in developing the agricultural sector.
These are some of the areas for now we will focus on. What I am certain I will do is to lead a government that over time every Nigerian will agree that it is being run transparently.
So far, have you stumbled on any shocking thing regarding how the state was being run?
It is important I hint at the warning I gave during my inauguration. I did say that difficult and tough decisions lie ahead. We have to do that because the economy of the state has been so badly mismanaged in such a way that the state spends over 80 per cent of its income on recurrent. The state has the highest wage bill in this country.
It is the smallest state in terms of land mass, population but ironically has the highest wage bill every months. That kind of situation is not sustainable. What accounts for this kind of situation I do not know.
No one can say that every indigene of the state is a civil servant, this is not in any way true. We will find out what is going on, we know that there is something fishy going on. These are some of the tough decisions that could have been taken before now, why they were left till date I do not know. I will confront the problem though I know I will be misunderstood but if I am misunderstood, let it be. I will be happy being misunderstood while doing what is right and fair. The duty I owe the people of Bayelsa is to do that which is right and which will help in growing the state.
Whatever we get from the leakages would be taken to some sectors. Some may misunderstand me today but tomorrow if they see . Most states don't even get the amount that is used to pay salary in Bayelsa. It is a tough decision that I must make, those who are benefitting from the current situation will complain but that will not deter us.
What I want every Bayelsan to know is that there is a change now, the state under a different atmosphere, one that is congenial to investment, tourism etc. I will leave no stone unturned to create a new atmosphere that will bring about development and transformation.
There was a report that you were summoned by the President over some appointments you have made so far, how true is this?
There is no misunderstanding with Mr. President, I don't know where the rumour came from. Mr. President is my leader, my boss and elder brother. I 'm at his service. That is the way it should be, I don't have any regret for that. I will continue to be by him. You see, the president has no time for what these rumour mongers are talking about. Don't forget that Mr. President is a stakeholder in Bayelsa, I 'm his field commander.
There is no truth in the report. I don't know the basis for the report, those behind it just wanted to look for trouble where there is none. The President's style is not interference, he allows you freedom to do whatever you are doing, he only insists on doing it right.
Again I want say categorically that there is no disagreement between me and Mr. President over appointment; it is a mischievous report intended to achieve a stupid goal.
Why did you freeze the account of the state upon assuming office?
In the circumstances under which we came where there was no planned transition so that proper handing over note is done, you know what I am talking about. The former governor left office following the Supreme Court ruling, the acting governor took over but he was there for about two weeks.
We needed to start on a clean slate. The state is terribly indebted, how well the loans procured were utilised is a story for another day. I felt that as a government we needed to stop further financial transaction until few things are put right. The moment I was sworn in, I became the chief executive of the state and I needed to ensure that things are properly done.
Given the fact that your nomination polarised the state and created tension in the state how soon do you intend to begin the process of reconciliation among political stakeholders in Bayelsa to help restore peace there?
I am a consensus builder, soon after I became the flag bearer of PDP we started re-organising and rebuilding the party. Don't forget that there some aggrieved members of the party who left for long because they did not like what was going on then. We had to bring them back.
That was how someone like the former governor, Alameisegha became the chairman of the elders caucus. We formed an elders committee that was not there before or was technically disbanded. Even the campaign caucus Chief Timi Alaibe chaired it, people like Cshief Doukpola all came back.
I am a team player, a consensus leader, I hope to use those political skills to further the ends of reconciliation. I agree that we can do better, but i must tell you that we have gone far in reconciling all aggrieved persons. I am sure that with the processes we have laid out we all will soon come together. I put the issue of restoring peace in Yenogoa and the entire Bayelsa state on the front burner. In all my life I have condemned cultism, crime and violence. I have made it clear that there will be no compromise on these issues.
Do you have plans to probe the past administration?
No, no. But I am interested in knowing what has gone wrong to enable me understand the past and develop the baseline from where I am taking off. For anyone to take off effectively he or she must know where he is coming from. It is like embarking on a journey or building a house you must have a foundation. So, it is not a probe, this is not the time to talk about probe. This is time to understand what exactly went wrong? What happened that roads awarded were not completed? What happened to the abandoned hotel project?
Those are legitimate enquiry, to me that is the focus. In the next couple of days people will see government's action in these areas. It is all aimed at understanding what had happened not so much to criminalise anybody. What we do with the facts at the end of the day is another matter. My focus and the focus of any reasonable person in my position will be to understand what the real issues are.
There are insinuations that you instigated the removal of the speaker of the state assembly because he was loyal to the former governor and that your camp is working to recall some House of Representatives members from the state who refused to back you when the battle was on, what is your response to this?
It is not the business of governor to recall National Assembly members, I have a lot of issues to focus on. I don't want to be distracted. There is no talk about that, I 'm not aware and we cannot be party to that. Whatever position anybody took is entirely within his right. All the members of the National Assembly are working cordially with us. We are talking, we don't have any score to settle by way of recall. It is the prerogative of the electorate to recall elected lawmaker, not the business of a governor.
On the House of Assembly issue, sometimes when things happen, some people will call journalists and give them wrong information just to know what the reaction of their opponent will be. I don't want to be distracted, my vision is very clear. We should be commended on the way the House issue was handled. Unlike some states where some people will say this is the person to elect speaker, this is the person not to elect, we didn't do that. Members of the assembly are very happy, they have been calling and thanking.
What happened was that the former speaker is from my local government, it has nothing to do with me wanting or not wanting him. When the former government left as a result of the Supreme Court judgment he became the governor and midwifed the process of the election. But with my swearing in as governor, it became untenable for him from my local government to retain his office as speaker. There is nowhere one local government will have governor and speaker. He voluntarily resigned; he is there to confirm or disprove what I said. On the floor of the House his letter of resignation was read. I will never do anything that will undermine the legislative arm of government because I am part of.