By NBF News

As calls for the convocation of the Sovereign National Conference gather steam, one major issue on the card is the nation's revenue sharing formula. In this interview, former Secretary General of Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) and Labour Party's candidate for the Yenagoa-Kolokuma-Opokuma Federal Constituency in the 2011 elections, Mr. Udengs Eradiri speaks on the need for a return to true federalism among other issues.

How do you see the emergence of Hon. Seriake Dickson as Bayelsa State governor?

First of all, we are happy that there is a change in Bayelsa State because for the past five years, Bayelsans were oppressed and suppressed by the Timipre Sylva-led government in terms of siphoning of funds meant for infrastructural development for personal gains. In fact, young people who were supposed to be given training, who were supposed to be encouraged and empowered and educated for tomorrow were recruited as thugs for the purpose of elections in which, of course, God today has proven otherwise.

They say the youths are the bedrock of the society but unfortunately in Bayelsa, crime, cultism, wickedness is what government at that level has imbibed in young people. This is why you see the level of criminality, for those of you on the outside, you won't understand. If you were in Bayelsa, you will understand what I am talking about. You cannot sleep with both eyes closed; the younger generation feels that if you are violent in the society, if you can shoot and kill people publicly, you will be recognized by the government.

This is a very wrong precedent and we thank God that Seriake Dickson won this election. Even if it was not Dickson, we thank God that there is a change. Now, we can begin to fashion a way forward for the state. Dickson has said he is not going to pay any militant or group of persons monies from the state coffers. This is very welcome because when we were young, we got to know that when you read your books and study hard, you come out and work. Gradually, you will begin to drive cars and build houses and pay your children's school fees. Today, the trend in Bayelsa is that, if you can shoot a gun, if you can intimidate people, if you can snatch ballot boxes, then you will drive a Jeep in the nearest future.

And the young ones that are growing up think that is the way forward. Go to the schools, they are all deserted. Young people no longer want to go to school. Monies meant for critical infrastructure in the state are in the pockets of these people. Look at the schools in Bayelsa, funds for those schools are in their pockets. There is no drinkable water in Yenagoa, as small as it is. When we talk about these things, some people call us trouble-makers.

The task before Dickson seems Herculean, how do you think he should approach it?

The task before Dickson is not going to be easy because the state has been borrowing all these years, so whatever money that comes into the state is like falling into a pit. Therefore, for him to succeed, I think that this is the time for Bayelsans to fasten their belts. If it is for six months, Bayelsans should be prepared to sacrifice for a better tomorrow. We owe too much.

We heard the other day that if the government needs to survive, it should look at how to borrow money. I say no to that. Money that is coming in should be used in paying back the debts that have been incurred and then he should try and generate funds internally to begin to move the state forward. Bayelsa civil service is filled with ghost workers. I say this from a position as a one-time Secretary-General of the Ijaw Youth Council.

I worked with Sylva at a point when he decided to embark on biometric verification of workers. We supported him but when these people started their pressure, he couldn't take it because he wasn't ready to govern. He chickened out. Even that initial period when he started the biometric verification, he was able to recover huge sums of money for the state. Therefore, if Dickson wants to succeed, he must block all loop-holes that funds meant for development are siphoned.

Dickson must be prepared to face the heat. Anybody who wants to cause trouble, he should just chase him or her out of the town. Some of these people are evil. Go to other states. At least, we are enjoying here in Lagos. Is it not people that put up these things? If they were putting all the money in their pockets, would it be like this? I'm saying that verification should be the first thing he should do in order to block any loop-hole so that he can quickly settle those debts and build confidence in investors, so that people can say that things are beginning to happen, let's go and see how we can put in our money otherwise it will be difficult for him. We pray that he has the courage and we will support him to do that.

You talked about Dickson saying that he would no longer pay militants. Are we not preparing for a resurgence of militancy?

There are over 10 million young people who went to universities but don't have jobs and they are civil in the society. It does not mean that they cannot shoot guns. If we continue this trend, it will get to a point where you will not be able to sleep in your house. He will not pay them and nothing will happen. It is our state and that is why we are saying that Dickson should begin with consultations with the people by holding town hall meetings. How many are these militants? They are not up to 2,000 people. So, why will you pay this particular group of people? Don't you think that I have the capacity, with the knowledge I have to also shoot guns and be paid money? It is not accepted and will not be accepted.

Some people believe that the governor was hand-picked by the President; don't you think he would be under undue pressure as a result of this?

He is from the President's party and if the President wants someone from his party, of course, he would have a say but he didn't hand-pick Dickson. I say this on good authority. I am a member of the Labour Party but I will tell you that Dickson started fighting Sylva from the first year of his government. In fact, Dickson had to conduct his own primary before in the election that took him to the House of Representatives because the law says the election should be held in the local government but Sylva went to conduct it in Yenagoa.

Dickson also mobilised for his own election and they went to court but he fought them to a standstill. When the President said they should go and harmonise with the governor, he did not. He declared his interest from day one that he was going to contest, so at what point was he hand-picked? If the President was to hand-pick candidates, would he have left Ben Bruce who comes with a more polished and organized face? Would he have left his friend, Ambassador Igali? These are people that the President would have hand-picked but you see that almost all his friends contested the elections. So, who would he have picked and not have picked? It's only the man who was ready for the election that won the elections. He was ready for the challenge and he faced the challenges squarely.

Dickson has extended the olive branch to his fellow contestants. What does this portend for Bayelsa politics?

For me, I feel certain persons that he has given opportunities, should be watched. Any man who has an ambition to be governor of Bayelsa State will not make his government succeed. It is as simple as that because he will do something that will make the new administration to fail for people to see the reason for him to be there. Dickson needs to be careful with the people he is bringing into his government b]ecause they have the ambition for that seat and any man who has that ambition will capitalize on your weak points, build on it so that you will fail and for him to be seen as an alternative. Therefore, I am not comfortable with certain persons that he has appointed. I won't mention names. He knows what I am talking about.

Bayelsa has earned so much in the past from the Federation Account with little to show for it. Who takes the blame for this?

Everyone is to be blamed. One, we talk about true federalism. Until the people are allowed to choose their leaders, we will continue in this quagmire. Don't forget that the PDP as the ruling party funds fraudulent election activities in this country from the money that comes from the Niger Delta states. They cannot go to the North and ask for extra money. It's only in the South that you will hear that the President is coming and they are spending billions for the President's visit. These states are key to the funding of their activities. These states are the states that donate billions to the PDP; therefore, they will always want to dictate who become the governors of these states. I have said that we will continue going round in a circle until people re-write these processes that lead to governance in this country. They have injected poverty in the land so that when they throw the naira, people will rush and say, this is who they want us to vote for.

Recently, there was a report released by the National Bureau of Statistics which stated that over 100 million Nigerians live below the poverty line. What do you make of this, vis-a-vis the abundant natural resources that we have in this country?

Not natural resources but abundant oil wealth that they are stealing from. The fact is that despite all these statistics, there is no day they will sit down and say: what do we do? You don't need the Bureau of Statistics to come out with these figures before you know that there is poverty in the land. We have gone beyond statistics. What we are saying now is the solution to the problem and the solution is only when we sit down to rewrite the constitution of this country.

There is a document that is going round that has shown that virtually all our oil wealth is in the hands of northern retired generals. They have shared all the lucrative oil wells among themselves. Allocating oil wells to himself is against the oath that he took. President Goodluck Jonathan should revoke these oil licenses because they were criminally acquired.

How do you place this side-by-side with the on-going probe of the oil sector?

The probe is only a mirage; nothing is going to happen. They will soon start sharing money among themselves. It's not going to change what is happening in this country. In fact, it is only exposing to Nigerians what these people were actually doing to us and then preparing our minds for the day when we will rise up and say we will no longer eat sand because they have been putting sand in the food we have been eating in the past.

It is giving us the courage and strength to say, 'this food, we no go chop am again.' Just look at the oil wells. All the Northern leaders have negotiated licenses to themselves and there is no Niger Deltan. I don't want to be emotional on this matter. Let me tell you. These oil well licenses, we will revoke them by any means necessary.

Recently, there was a call by the Niger State governor for a review of the revenue sharing formula. He claimed that the South-South is getting more than the North. What is your take on that?

Governors in this country are too lazy but there is no problem about reviewing it. I hope that when we are reviewing it, they will bring something to the table for us to review. For me, true federalism is where I stand. Look at the whole of this country, any infrastructure that is standing the test of time today was built by the then regional government. Just show me one infrastructure that democracy has built. Nothing!

True federalism, how do we get there when the government is rejecting calls for a Sovereign National Conference?

Peace is not the absence of conflicts or wars but the presence of justice. No Federal Government will sit down and just accept hook, line and sinker your call for a Sovereign National Conference. My proposal is that all ethnic groups should go and meet, bring out their proposal and drop it on the table.