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Dickson: Rivers Cannot Pose Big Challenge To President’s Re-election

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• PDP Remains Strongest, Most National And Time tested Platform For 2015 

Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State shared his thoughts on the 2015 elections and other issues with the media in Lagos last Sunday. The Guardian reports excerpts of the conversation.

Being the governor of a state where the president comes from should have its own challenges. What are these challenges?

BEING the governor of any state comes with its own challenges. I will describe it in three words: exciting, challenging and fulfilling.

   It is exciting because it is an opportunity to directly impact on the people. With God being on my side, it also gives the opportunity to leave lasting legacies. I believe in impact. I believe that it is not really a question of how long you serve or how long you occupy a particular office, but the degree to which you impacted your society positively. When you do so, then it becomes exciting.  For me, any time I go round Yenagoa and I see the life-changing projects that I initiated and have come on board, a number of them completed, when I see the impacts of our programmes on young people, prospects for families, children going to school abroad on scholarships, the hospitals and schools we built, I feel excited by that opportunity. 

   It is fulfilling because once all of that is done, you feel accomplished in a way, at least in that specific aspect to yourself and to your God. 

  It is challenging, as I said because being a governor of any state at all comes with its own challenges. Challenges arising from expectations, challenges arising from the politics of the job, the managing all of it, the interplay of politics and the society comes with its own challenges.

Coming from the same state with the president comes with its peculiar challenges. If things are not going so well at home, people will tell Mr. President that things are not going well in your home state. Looking at the situation in Niger Delta and the situation in Rivers State, the home front ought to be well secured. From your point of view, what are these obvious challenges towards the elections?

  Well, Bayelsa cannot pose any challenge to the President. It is safe for the president. I don’t think there is any rational person in Bayelsa who will not support the President for a second term, who will not do his utmost to support his reelection bid. I interact with everybody. That is my duty, to mobilize the home front and keep it safe as it is today. I can report that Bayelsa is safe for the PDP. Bayelsa is safe for the President. I am aware that there are some distractions here and there, mine is to stay the course, not to be distracted, in order not to give in to those distractions and temptations. We are bent on keeping the family safe, making the state a secure PDP base. I know that our former governor, my immediate predecessor, is in APC. He is more or less a leader in APC. But the APC does not have any following that could threaten us in all our elections, particularly, Mr. President’s reelection.

  You talked about Rivers State. Yes, the situation in Rivers State is not ideal. It is not what we would have wished for, wanted or even prayed for. But it is a political reality we are managing and we must deal with. Even in that, we are very confident that Rivers State would not pose a big challenge to the President’s reelection, I don’t think so. Yes, we are actually likely to do as well as we did last time. People understand the issues at stake. They understand that the stakes are very high, as far as the presidential poll is concerned. And coming from where we are coming from as a people, as Ijaw people, as Niger Delta people, I know that in the Niger Delta area, people are likely to look beyond personal grievances and things like that and focus on fundamental issues, as to why President Jonathan should be reelected. Talking about Bayelsa, talking about the entire Niger Delta, for the presidential poll, it is going to be Jonathan all the way. It is going to be PDP all the way. Maybe as you go down to the local elections, where the stakes are much lower and far more localized, you could have some divergent views one way or the other. As far as the presidential poll is concerned, Bayelsa, no shaking, particularly with me there. We are working, we have worked. We have performed; we are still performing. And our people believe we are doing our best. Few distractions here and here, but you would expect that those distractions would come. Of course, in politics, people want to exploit situations; people want to take advantage of developments to further their own interests, ambitions and so on.  We are managing all of them, particularly the working relationship, the political relationship I have had over the years with the president. We are both determined not to be distracted. It is my duty to keep the home safe and to work with other friends and brother governors, who, by the way, are doing so well. We know that Cross River is safe. We know that Akwa Ibom is safe. We know that Delta is safe. I am talking of the presidential poll and to a large extent also the gubernatorial. The PDP is still very strong in Niger Delta states.

What is the nature of your relationship now with the First Lady and we hear your state chairman of PDP has just been sacked. What exactly is going on in Bayelsa, which according to you remains safe for President Jonathan?

  First of all, before I talk about the state PDP chairman’s response to the problems he is having with members of his own executive, let me say that when I say PDP is safe, what I mean is concerning the presidential election. There is nobody in Bayelsa, except very few people, who will not willingly come to vote for the President, majority, 98 per cent will vote for him.

Even with the crowd we saw at the APC rally?

   No, that was rented crowd, more or less. That was rented crowd and that was why I instructed the security to provide protection for the APC people. And I also directed my team to get a safe venue for them to campaign. I knew that APC does not have a large membership that can fill a stadium for example. They applied for a small venue. But it was a primary school field and schools were in session and I knew that they would bring in cult elements, young boys and so on, unruly, unmanageable crowd. What you saw was just people picked along the streets and very few committed party men. I don’t even know the leadership of APC beyond the fact that my predecessor is there and he is running an election and two former local government chairmen under his tenure, who I sacked. They are the only members of APC in the state that I know. Beyond that, I do not know any other prominent politician that was in the APC rally. That rally, they just picked about 1000 to 2000 young boys from the streets, markets and fixed their camera there to give an impression of a sizeable rally. Rallies are not very often, as all politicians know, a good indication of how well a party can do. So, APC has no presence at all.

     It is to that extent that I am saying that Bayelsa is not a problem as far as presidential poll is concerned.

   Now coming to your specific question on my political relationship with the First Lady, you know we are Africans and African values that we espouse, to me, do not allow me to discuss my boss’ wife particularly, publicly on the pages of newspapers. No, I won’t do that. I have resisted the temptation to do so. If I were to do so, there would be no difference between me and maybe, some other people. I won’t do that. What I can say is that she is our wife, she is our sister and she is a mother. I play politics with her husband. For me, the political relationship that I have with my boss and my elder brother, the President, is excellent. I am doing my best to advance and protect his interest and advance the course and development of our dear state, a state I know he also dearly loves. Remember, when he was the governor, I was in his cabinet. I know the passion he also has for the development of our state. And as President, he has always given me support on any issue that has to do with the development of our state. So, I am concerned about that and happy that whatever reports that are going round, despite what the propagandists are doing, it is not affecting our relationship. I am okay with that. I will work hard by the grace of God to keep it so.

  Talking about the PDP state chairman, I don’t believe the reports credited to him.  Those reports are not true, they are not correct. That is all I can say about that.

For the first time in this democratic dispensation, we are going into an election where the incumbent does not appear too sure of victory despite that he had massive goodwill when he came on board. What do you think is responsible for this?

  Well, I don’t agree with you that the President is not sure of victory. The President is very confident that he will win. We in the PDP are very confident that we will win. And the reason is simple. We have been in the trenches for sometime. For a politician contesting an election, there are three elements that are critical: the party, which is the platform, you talk of the candidate and the policies and programmes out there. 

  Of all of these, the candidate is important and the party is also important. The candidate’s party is the warhorse. If the horse is strong, anybody can ride it to victory. But if the platform is weak, no matter how good a candidate is, it would collapse, just like a good warrior can ride on a sick horse and lose the battle. That is the way it is. Our platform is strong; our platform is tested. Are we as strong as we were in the last general election? Probably slightly weakened. But there is no argument that our platform is strongest, our platform is more national, and is tested. The other platform hasn’t got our resilience, hasn’t got our real battle experience. I am talking of APC. It is an amalgamation of several tendencies. That’s commendable anyway; I give them credit for coming together. Without positive legislation, we now have two strong parties. We should give them credit. They have done a lot of good work, which is good for our democracy.  But then, we must also accept that it is largely an untested warhorse on the national stage. 

  We can point at 1999 where even a candidate didn’t even have support from his ward, his local government, his state and even his entire zone. His entire zone voted against him in 1999 but PDP still got the president elected. I believe that the PDP was weakest at that moment, not now. So, we are very confident that our platform still remains the platform of choice and the platform to beat. So we cannot be despondent, we cannot be afraid as some people may expect. 

  Look at the second factor – the candidate. If you put our incumbent president, with the resilience he has shown, the democratic temperance that he has exhibited because that is critical, we are running a democracy. A president under a democracy, there is a whole lot of difference between him and some guy who runs a military junta and whose word is law. Here, you have got to navigate your way, negotiate with stakeholders, interact with the National Assembly and other institutions. Your views, opinions and actions would be challenged and tested. That is the democratic furnace through which every politician must pass. So, in the face of unprecedented terror in our country and the distractions arising from that, our President has kept focused. Are things ideal? We will also admit they are not. But none of us imagined in 2011 that we were going to deal with an unprecedented terror situation in our country. But it is a reality we must live with and deal with also. So, our president, the candidate, is also several times better, far more reassuring, far more suitable in a democracy. And you cannot compare. It is like analogue and a digital product. 

  Talking of youthfulness, talking of educational background, talking of democratic temper and capacity to meander and then interact with the democratic stakeholders to achieve results. And then talk of the policies and programmes. We believe that the message of transformation, in all sectors, has delivered. Again, we also admit that in the last five years, he has not been able to solve all the problems. We also accept that. We realise we must deal with corruption. We realise that we must intensify the war against terror. We also admit that we are all Nigerians. We must improve the economy. Yes, but is the answer with the opposing party and its candidate? Do they have a magic wand to stop terrorism, to turn around the economy?

No. So, that’s why we are not afraid. The president is not afraid. We in the PDP are rather very confident that we will deliver because we exist in every polling unit. We exist in every ward. We have candidates fielded in all these elections. And if we could elect a president who lost his ward, his local government, his state and his zone, you should know that that kind of party, even with the loss of some governors, that kind of party will always have the capacity to win a free and fair general election. After all, we are a party of free elections.

But do you agree your party is not as strong as it was in 2011?

   A lot of people are carried away by huge rallies in the opposition stronghold and so on. We sometimes, don’t remember that PDP has never won, for example, in Kano, from 1999 till date. We have never won presidential polls, not even when Yar’Adua from a neighbouring state was flag bearer in 2007. So, this is the situation. Therefore, would we have wanted a situation where a sitting governor, like my respected elder brother, Kwakwanso does not leave the party, that’s not an ideal situation, but it has happened. In spite of that, don’t forget that in most of these states, all our supporters and stakeholders are on ground. Shekarau for exampleis there. Twenty five percent, that is what the constitution says we should have or more. So, we are not in these states struggling to win 90 per cent for you to use that to determine the outcome of presidential polls. No. I am telling you that Yar’Adua who got elected as our president in 2007, from the neighbouring state of Katsina, did not win Kano. And yet he became president. The PDP is safe and secure in our strongholds. We are safe and secure in the South-south. We are safe and secure in the Southeast. We are safe and secure largely in the North-central. We are safe and secure also in a number of states in the Northeast and also in a number of states in the Northwest. Yes, are we as strong as we were in 2011? Clearly, we are the first to concede that it is not so. But don’t forget, as I said that we elected a president from the Southwest, who didn’t have the Southwest. Now, our candidate will even win more in the Southwest. Yes, already we have two governors in the Southwest and we have a good candidate in Lagos.

   Between President Jonathan and General Buhari in Lagos, our expectation is that majority of Lagos voters will vote Jonathan. They will vote for continuity; they won’t vote for uncertainty. They won’t vote for a continuation of the system they know in Lagos that has not served their best interest maximum. So, we are very confident that all said and done, we will win. After all, the constitutional formula is to win majority of votes, one quarter of votes in two thirds of states.

Still on PDP, the very simple question is, didn’t you see this coming? You were in charge of a reconciliation committee. People were wondering how governors walked out and the body language suggested, let them go. The leadership of your party and the president, as the leader of the party, has not shown sufficient leadership to put the party together. Should Rivers be a problem to Mr. President at this time?

  I have earlier said that Rivers is not a problem, as far as the election of the president is concerned. We expect an overwhelming victory in Rivers State, just as we do in most states ultimately.

   Let me assure you that PDP will not go down. We are the party that is for all Nigerians. We are the party for the small, as well as for the big. We are the party for the rich, as well as for the poor. We are the party of the minority, as well as of the majority. We are the only party since politics started in Nigeria till date that has given some thoughts, apart from the actuality of doing it, that has given some thoughts to the idea for someone from my place, our side of the country, being a presidential candidate. And not just that, producing the person as a winning candidate, which the party did in 2011. We didn’t do it alone. All Nigerians did it and we are eternally grateful to them. But that tells you about the nature and character of our party. What we did in 2011 is akin, as I always say, to what the Democratic Party in the US did with the election of Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States. That’s exactly the same thing the PDP did with the election of Dr. Jonathan as the first South-south minority president of our country, democratically elected, not emerging through a military dictatorship or a coup. 

  Now, that gave this country the opportunity to renew and reinvent itself and for us, it is only the PDP that can continue with that vision of an inclusive Nigeria, that vision of a Nigeria where as we move forward as a leading nation, it doesn’t matter which state you come from. It doesn’t matter what ethnic group you belong to. It doesn’t even matter the God you chose to worship and how you chose to worship that God. That is the future of our country. The other party is looking for states with bulk votes. Now, that doesn’t equate our umbrella party, which is for all Nigerians. In our party, the winning formula is one vote from a good Nigerian of a state, plus another vote from a good Nigerian from another state, plus another, plus another, plus another.

   What we need are votes of good Nigerians, not states with big voting population, zones with big voting population and then you do an arithmetic, equals Presidency. No, that is not the Nigeria of our dream. That is not a sustainable Nigeria. PDP is still strong. It wasn’t an ideal situation that some of our governors, respected leaders of our party left, but this is politics. Even when you had done with all the idealism of keeping the party together, in the end, it is about interest and that is the only permanent thing they say. And don’t be surprised that today’s foes may be tomorrow’s friends. So, if certain things happen the way they did, that’s too bad. It is unfortunate but are we still confident, even in spite of that? Yes. 

What actually happened at that meeting in Government House where you were present with Asari Dokubo, Government Ekpomupolo and a couple of others. The message that resonated from that meeting was that if Jonathan doesn’t win, there would be war?

   First, you need to know certain things about Bayelsa State and the Ijaw people, the Ijaw nation, whose elected leader I am. Bayelsa is the Jerusalem of Ijaw nation; that is what we say.  The Governor of Bayelsa has a duty to our country, a duty to Nigeria, a duty to Ijaw nation and a duty to Bayelsa people. Remember two things informed that interaction. First, it is my duty to interact with all my citizens, whether you call them former militant leaders or not. In fact, for those kinds of people we call freedom fighters you need to interact with them as often as you can, as part of the peace building initiative. 

  But something happened. There was a report about Buhari’s endorsement by MEND and opposition media propaganda system played it up. That created a major problem for us in the Niger Delta. And when you talk of the Niger Delta, Bayelsa is the epicenter; it is the centre of gravity around which these issues revolve in the Niger Delta. Once Bayelsa is safe, secured and stable, it permeates around others. Insecurity or instability in Bayelsa will inexorably affect the security situation in the Niger Delta states. I have always been conscious of that, particularly with my background as a product of Ijaw Movement myself. 

  So, when the issue of MEND’s endorsement of Buhari, or let us say a section of the militant group endorsing Buhari was reported, it created divisions. It raised tension and there was almost crisis in my hand. 

  Secondly, when the president went around campaigning, and some people were hostile and attacked him, particularly in the Northern states, not the leadership but people on the streets, when the reports came, not in all the states but in one, two or three places, and it was continuing, it again inflamed passion in the Niger Delta. As a governor, when you have the reports and you read the security barometer, then there was need for me to step in to perform my duty to our country, which was to interact with the stakeholders, get their views and assure them. If there are messages, pass on and if there are steps to be taken regarding security, do so. But at all times, you must engage. Lack of engagement is not an option at all. So, part of the duty the governor of Bayelsa owes our country is to use his leverage, his good office from time to time to ensure that the security situation in the Niger Delta does not get out of control.  

  When Alamieyesiegha was in the office, he did that. President Obasanjo was always calling him to address and solve most of these problems. When Dr. Jonathan became governor, the same Obasanjo, if there were crisis situations, kidnapping, hostage taking and others, would always call him midnight and so on. And they will sometimes move into the creeks to ensure that people were released, platforms were opened and so on. Sylva was also actively involved in amnesty activities. Yar’Adua knew that. And now, especially with my background as a product of the Ijaw Movement, it is incumbent on me, as part of my duty to my people, the Niger Delta region and my duty to our country, to ensure that I maintain that effective channel of communication, such that we will be at every time available to moderate, to guide and then to take steps that are necessary to ensure the safety and security of our region and the strategic assets that are there. All these assets, most of them, are there in Bayelsa. If Bayelsa boils, the whole region, the whole Niger Delta region and therefore our country will be in crisis. That is what I did. They came and we interacted. It was unfortunate that the media, particularly the opposition propaganda, took up comments from participants, instead of taking the conclusions of the meeting, which were an affirmation of the peace process and the need to maintain law and order. I am very strong on law and order, on crime, criminality and violence. Everybody knows that, which I reinforced and told them; I would not allow anybody to disturb the peace of the state, the region or our country. Instead of the opposition media to focus on those conclusions, they now took individual contributions of the people in attendance. With what is going on, what they needed was assurances that people in right places will know what to do. Those assurances we gave needed to be given but opposition media focused on their individual contributions and the comments they made, instead of the rationale or the outcome of the meeting.

   Moving forward, let me assure you all that we, our people, believe in a strong, democratic, united Nigeria. But the Nigeria we believe in is also the Nigeria of equal citizenship, a Nigeria that will be democratic, a Nigeria that would the peaceful, secure and prosperous. All of us have a duty to bring that about. We have to create and rediscover that Nigeria. It is my duty to continue to work with agencies, stakeholders and players, whatever their descriptions are, whatever their past may be, to interact and network to ensure that the fundamental objectives of law and order and preservation of security are maintained.

Let’s talk about development in Bayelsa; how far have you gone?

   Going round Bayelsa and even at my quiet time thinking about some of the things we were able to put in place, I feel very fulfilled.  

   Now, we are not where we want the state to be, but there is no doubt, if you go to Bayelsa, there is no doubt at all that we have made a lot of achievements, in the area of infrastructure, which you can see. There are some investments in government that are intangible. Nobody sees what you do. But if you go to Bayelsa and you see the roads and bridges that have come up, it is not story. You just go there and see it. If you call people there, they will tell you. In fact, the story is that we are over working. This governor self, na roads and bridges we go chop? But that is good. 

   That is complement for a politician, who is attacking frontally the issues of development because for you to move the state to where I want it to be, that is the Dubai of Africa, you have got to think of world-class infrastructure. You have got to think of security. You have got to think of health care. You have got to think of education and investment in education as we are doing. Now, we have delivered on that. Roads and bridges connecting communities that nobody thought it would be possible or people to be connected.  A lot of you who live in the urban areas take a lot of things for granted. But when you go to the heart of the Niger Delta, particularly Bayelsa, which was the least developed part of old Rivers State that was carved out, with the most difficult terrain, the least developed; no educational facilities there, people are poor and the whole places are rural; they don’t feel government presence; there is no electricity. Now, I am addressing those basic problems of connecting roads to all these communities and the cost of construction is 20 times what you have here. It is like building Third Mainland Bridge. That’s what I am doing. 

  What you call roads there are actually bridges. And yet, those are the things that we must do. Otherwise, we can’t have development. So, we have done a number of them, completed so many. A number are ongoing. With the shortfall in oil prices and so on, it is having a direct hit because we don’t have industries that are paying internally generated revenue. For example, in Lagos, you don’t care because of the investments here. The private sector is strong. The tax can run this state. But do you know that when I took over as governor, the IGR of my state was N50 million. We don’t have industries, so only the civil servants will pay tax. 

What is your IGR now?

  The IGR now is between N700 and N800m.

What was the magic you used?

   Discipline, focus and an insistence that the right thing must be done. We spend political capital but that is what leadership is all about. You don’t shy away from doing what is right because it may sound unpopular. I told civil servants, sorry, no governor has the right to waive paying tax; that’s a federal legislation. There is this culture of free, free, free. The government must do everything free. People don’t pay electricity bill. Government pays. Now, that is primitive. 

 

 



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