CHALLENGING SYLVA WAS A SUICIDE MISSION - DICKSON
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
It is barely 100 days that erstwhile member of the House of Representatives, former Commissioner for Justice and former policeman turned lawyer, Serikae Dickson, was inaugurated as governor of Bayelsa State. Dickson's path to the Government House was laced with intrigues, physical and mental combats among other challenges. Passing through Lagos last weekend, Dickson took out time to share his experiences in the political fray with a group of newsmen. Excerpts:
Sir, what was it like aspiring to be governor?
I fought using legitimate political means, I fought using the law all time. I am (now) even contemplating a bill on political violence because I want people to continue to maintain the peace and stability of Bayelsa. We had a system where a terror squad was put together and funded by government over the years. You may recall that the day preceding my declaration, five persons were gunned down just to scare me and my supporters from coming. But we dared them.
In fact, what we did was a suicide mission, the effort we made to take out that rotten decadent system, it was terrible. It was that time that they were receiving in some months, N30 plus billion, N20 plus billion and they were deploying it fully just to fight for survival. No development, not even one gravel would land Bayelsa.
As they get allocation they would stay in Abuja and distribute it and be funding propaganda and violence. Instead of giving the boys and girls education, instead of building infrastructure and investment. They were giving young people drugs, AK-47, they were giving them dynamite to explode and kill people so that there will be an impression any attempt to take anybody out will be resisted.
On being favoured by the system against Sylva?
There were a lot of misconceptions about a lot of things. In this country it is only when a governor fails to get ticket from his party that people talk about fairness, but when governors use their advantage to scheme out others and return less than 5% to the National Assembly or State House of Assembly or scheme out every other person from their party, nobody talks. It is normal. It is like a dog biting a man, it doesn't make news. But when it is the other way round it will be front page news.
Ex gov Timipre Sylva and Gov Seriake Dickson
When we were working very hard to serve our people and rescue our people from a system that was corrupt and decadent and evil, a lot of Nigerians didn't know what we were dealing with. But from snippets of reports that are now out it is now public knowledge that about N660 billion went into that state for about five years and what they did with it is common mystery.
We are now spending a lot of money building human capacity. In the next couple of days we are going to see massive construction. The whole of Bayelsa is going to be a massive construction yard. Construction of schools, primary, secondary, tertiary. We are establishing a sports academy it will take off in September or October, we are setting up a vocational skills acquisition training centre. We are building model schools which will mould up all these boys and train them, compulsory boarding facilities for all of them and give them knowledge they need to survive in an increasingly competitive economy.
We have a challenge of low IGR which again is one of the products of the contradictions of the Nigerian state. We have a situation where a state with the majority of oil production activities but not one oil company has its headquarters there, they don't have presence, so they are not there to pay tax, they are not there to contribute their quota as responsible corporate citizens. They stay in other places and pay even PAYE tax and other forms of levy to those states and leaving us only with the ruins of the devastated environment. That is the story, that is the reality we are dealing with.
Every month I declare earnings of the state. I have also pushed through a compulsory savings law and so every month Bayelsa State saves money. We have got to learn to save. We have got to treat the business of governance with even more care than we treat our own personal endeavours.
In this country the reverse has been the case, people treat government matters far less than they treat their own personal affairs. But we want to reverse that in Bayelsa and very soon the fruits of prudence will be very clear. In the next one year, Bayelsa will be the leading investment destination in this country, it will be the leading tourism hub, not just in Nigeria but in the sub-region.
On building unity in Bayelsa
I have been a consensus builder and that started from the moment I became flag bearer and I don't think that there has been any gubernatorial candidate that had the kind of support as my candidature engendered. Outsiders out of Bayelsa State didn't know what we went through. You saw from the time I became flag bearer you saw how people who had been pushed to the fringes of our party, Chief Alamaighesiya, and even Alaibe was almost out but had to come back and played a critical role. We built consensus first within the party. I am an issue politician, I am not a politician of convenience or comfort. If there have been any wounds, there are a lot of healing going on.
Amendment of the Constitution
I think that the amendment of the constitution should have been more robust, it should have been more all encompassing. You talked about immunity. Unfortunately and in spite of my liberal political views and by the way I was liberal icon in the House, I believe that as long as the control of the coercive forces rest in the federation, as long as you do not have a decentralisation of the enforcement of law and order, a removal of the immunity clause portends far more evil than it is intended to solve.
I do not want a governor who is doing well but is not liked by the centre to be at the mercy of any federal law enforcement officer. I am unable in spite of my liberal inclinations to support the removal of the immunity clause because it would mean that a governor would be at the mercy of a DPO or any Police constable from time to time and a governor who disagrees with the federal would not be able to do any work.
On insinuations that the Alaibe Committee was constituted to indict Sylva?
It is not true. The committee was made up of the best accounting and banking professionals that Bayelsa has. Alaibe was chairman and maybe you don't know the other members who are chief accountants, and indeed fellows of many years experience who have seen it all. Unknown to most of you, Bayelsans were crying in silence, we were just waiting for somebody to come as they say, come and bell the cat. They knew what was coming in but they were not seeing corresponding output.
For example, look at this clear case of the N50 billion bond. A state that was getting so much money went to the capital market against the protest of almost every stakeholder, got it through and in one week it was gone. For the past five years despite the huge allocations, after one week the Bayelsa State government would be broke, they will now run to the banks for temporary overdraft facilities.
But the last two months are the only months that Bayelsa State has not gone to any bank for any overdraft facility, rather we are saving money almost N24 billion. It is there, saved. I can give you the account numbers, I am not in this business to steal people's money.
So, we wanted to know what happened to the N50 billion because we are paying. Every month, we spend about close to N3 billion servicing all those 419 transactions. 419, because the bonds were tied to specific projects, but none of those projects was even started. Every month after allocation they would go to Abuja, not even Yenogoa, fly to Abuja and share the money.