A Governor As A Wire-Tapper: How An Executive Pervert Wrecked His State
For a state governor ever vociferous and self-assured – sometimes thoughtlessly so – in the murky terrain of Nigerian politics, Henry Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State could not have had anything short of the awesome high-tech capabilities described in a detailed 9 June, 2016 report by Premium Times. Entitled “How Governors Dickson, Okowa Spend Billions on High-Tech Spying of Opponents, Others,” the report shows a Bayelsa State chief executive, obsessive about intelligence on political opponents, expending billions of naira to acquire the latest equipment for surveillance and communication interception.
With the tracking and decrypting technology afforded him by Circles 3 G of Bulgaria, Governor Dickson and his strategists have at fingertip the secrets and plans of his political opponents and key functionaries of security agencies and institutions like the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Routine decryption of text messages and phone calls furnish him with facts about the inclinations and vulnerability of opponents and targeted individuals, including his own political appointees, so he could act pre-emptively to safeguard his narrow political interests.
In the said Premium Times report, instances of particular individuals tracked within Nigeria and abroad were given. Let it be known that the often frowsty relationship between the governor and his erstwhile political godfather, ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, and wife, Patience, had to do with unrelenting espionage directed at the First Family and the fact that the governor knew enough to be wary of them. That Jonathan has chosen to live outside the country is not just out of fear for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) but a feeling of insecurity and of being unwanted even at his hometown, Otuoke, in the domain of Seriake Dickson, who is unpredictable.
At the level of law enforcement and national security, it is most disappointing that the governor could unlawfully acquire and operate international defence tools for mass surveillance without appropriate legal action and/ or sanctions from the authorities. If the immediate past National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd), was too far gone in disorientation, mindlessly squandering Defence/anti-terrorism funds, what has stopped his successor, General Mohammed Monguno (retd), from taking necessary action to dismantle the criminal infrastructure and, possibly, prosecute its operators who definitely are not covered by the immunity their demented employer enjoys?
That Governor Dickson first engaged Italy’s Hacking Team to which he had paid hundreds of millions of naira in 2012 and then switched to Bulgaria’s Circles 3 G, paying a fresh N1.7 billion and “an extra annual maintenance fee of N39.9 million,” shows the inane priorities and preoccupations of this office-holder – how disconnected he is from the people he was elected in 2012 to serve.
Today in oil-rich Bayelsa State, in the fifth year of the ultra-corrupt and directionless administration of Governor Dickson, the machinery of government has virtually ground to a halt as famished civil servants and teachers in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions, unpaid for five months, have abandoned their workplaces. Local government employees, too, are being owed for upwards of 12 months and the governor has refused to pay to them the N1.28 billion Central Bank bailout released to the state government since last February. The case of retirees is as bad, having been without their monthly pensions for nine consecutive months, just as gratuities from 2009 to date remain unpaid.
In his characteristic gaucherie, he recently directed the state Accountant-General to pay 50 per cent of salaries and then caused it to be announced that salaries for May, 2016 have been paid, promising to pay the backlog whenever the state’s finances improve. Workers are not fooled and public schools remain open without teachers, same as most ministries, departments and agencies, where civil servants sign attendance registers in the morning and disappear.
The state of affairs is alarming because this is a small state that often receives a lion’s share of the 13 per cent Derivation Fund in addition to monthly statutory allocations from the Federation Account. Its internally generated revenue (IGR), as high as N1.38 billion in April, 2013; N1.74 billion in August, 2014, and N1.1 billion in May, 2015, averaged N780 million per month between January, 2013 and January, 2016.
Withholding the N1.28 billion bailout for local council workers is only one of several acts of perfidy by Governor Dickson. Back in 2012, he withheld the over N5 billion Flood Relief Fund for victims of the flood disaster of September-November, when thousands of distressed citizens took refuge in school premises and received nothing beyond food rations, satchet water and mattresses which were generously donated by corporate organizations, charities and public-spirited individuals. He has not released that Fund nor account for it to date.
Bayelsa State indigenes sent with fanfare in 2013 to Songhai Farms, Benin Republic, by the state government for training in modern agricultural techniques, found themselves stranded in that country as their fees and allowances were never remitted for an entire year.
Expelled by the Institute, their parents/relatives in Bayelsa State had to send money for their transport back home. That was also the experience of Bayelsa students who travelled to the United States, United Kingdom, and elsewhere in Europe in 2012/2013 on state government scholarship. For most, no fees was remitted. And, presently, his own political appointees disengaged unceremoniously last February after laboring for his re-election, are in anguish as Governor Dickson has refused to pay their salaries for January and February.
That is the profile of Governor Dickson: a man for whom public service means self-service. His preoccupation is with self-preservation as evidenced by his private mass surveillance scheme, and his widely condemned imposition of candidates for the State House of Assembly elections in 2015. That was at enormous financial cost to the public treasury as many candidates had to step down after succumbing to inducement. By the time he began his own re-election bid in the third quarter of 2015 and followed through the processes to the December 5 election, characterised by massive voter inducement, Bayelsa State became literally insolvent. Sadly, the state has become a reference point for political brigandage, given the track record of its governors, from Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha to date.
Peresuo D. Fubara is a Port Harcourt-based public affairs analyst.