He is one of the core supporters of the Seriake Dickson administration, and as the Commissioner of Information and Orientation, Jonathan Obuebite, is eminently positioned to speak on the strides and vision of the government. AKAM JAMES met him.
It’s been six years of the Seriake Dickson administration of which you are a part. What can Bayelsa people say that they have benefited so far?
I always love to talk about the achievements of the Restoration Government, whenever this question is asked. When the Governor was sworn into office, during his oath of office, he told the people that he had come as a Governor to concentrate on some certain areas, prominent of which was the issue of education in which we are aware that the governor declared a state of emergency. Moving forward, he introduced a bill that he said he wanted to embark on the rehabilitation of all educational infrastructure in the state.
He immediately matched his words with action with the process of renovation and construction of several projects in the primary and secondary schools where so many headmaster’s quarters, classrooms, laboratories, principals’ quarters were built. That was how it all started and today I am proud to say that the government has just not fulfilled its promises but has taken it beyond the expectations of Bayelsans.
Today, we have modern day and functional boarding schools in all the eight Local government areas of the state. The Ijaw National Academy has started with over 1000 students: no tuition fee; books and uniforms are given with free feeding to make it a comfortable learning environment. The governor also knew that there was need to establish tertiary institution to take up the students who would want to further their education, he started the foundation class with over 500 students in the University of Africa, which is not like other public universities. It is operated as a private-driven institution.
The school will sustain itself and will not affiliate with unions in order to avoid disrupting the academic calendar, and also will be affiliated with other universities around the world. Lecturers will also come from all parts of the world to run the school so that it will not be controlled by industrial dictate that is witnessed in universities in Nigeria.
We want a situation where when you are admitted on a four-year programme, you’ll use the four years except for students who can’t meet up. I must say from the point he made those declaration to date we have achieved a lot.
The governor in his wisdom also felt it would be better to bring sport into the education system, that was the reason for the sport Academy at Asuzuama and by the end of this month over 400 students would have been registered, which is a major feat in the education and sport sector of the state which is first of kind, it will also be on record that after 20 years of creation of the state government is building boarding schools for the people. Another aspect is the issue where the governor said it would not be business as usual concerning the fund management, where funds come into the state and the people don’t know what the monies are used for, that was why he promised a transparent government under his watch.
In furtherance to that he initiated a bill and sent to the state House of Assembly titled “Transparency briefing bill” which was passed within two months and signed into law with the clause stating that after three months if the transparency briefing is not done the governor should be impeached, and the government since then has been informing the people every month on the income and expenditure of the state and that is the trust we owe the people.
The governor didn’t stop at that but he also initiated the compulsory saving bill for the state to save for the rainy day. The government has institutionalised transparency in the running of government; we are accountable and open to the people, that is why the Federal government institutions like ICPC and EFCC have always recognised our government for being one of the most financially prudent and transparent government of the people.
We have also ensured that people who hold government positions do not abuse their offices. We set up a mechanism for everyone to see that prudence and accountability are the watchwords. We have also closed almost all the loopholes so people don’t divert public funds for their personal use as it used to be. Every kobo now counts in governance because monies are given to the people through due process, where we have checks and balances for monies to be released. The evidence is everywhere with the achievements of what the government has done.
The governor also promised to put a stop to capital fiat where people travel abroad for medical attention with the process of building medical facilities. We built and have put to use the first diagnosis and forensic centre here in Bayelsa State. People are now travelling from Lagos, Abuja and other cities to have good medical services in the state, and we didn’t stop at that, we have also renovated the general hospitals in all the local government areas, built five referral hospitals in five LGAs, 60 bed hospital initiated, conceived and built by the government.
We also built a drug mart so that pharmacies and hospitals can go and buy good drugs because we discovered that most of our people are given fake and adulterated drugs. The government also built government specialist hospital well equipped for both public and private use which is functional, with a theatre that is one of the best in the country.
The government also feels if the people can’t access it the gains won’t be felt so he initiated the health scheme for civil servants, political and all other Bayelsans can key into and benefits from it and have the best medical attention. Today Bayelsa has become a state where people travel for the best medical attention which is part of the cardinal promises he made.
He also said we’ll change the infrastructure of our state and make Bayelsa the Dubai of Nigeria. Now, people are saying Dubai is a fat dream but Dubai is a process and the most important thing is to lay the foundation and start the process of building. The quality of road infrastructure in the state can’t be compared with the road in other states or what we had in the past administrations. We have built so many road infrastructure with drainage facilities, dualised the Isaac Boro road, road safety Road completed and in use, hospital, stadium, Ekeki-Azikoro, hospital bye pass all completed.
The people can now drive to Ofoni because the government is building road from Sagbama to Ekeremor because sand filling is almost at Ekeremor. For the first time this government built and put to use a Flyover. The flood of 2012 in the state opened our eyes to see that the state is locked out because it was impossible for us to moved to Rivers State or Delta State, and that made the governor to set motion process to build an airport which is currently 80% completed, while the terminal building which would have been built by the Federal Government is abandoned.
The airport will be a major exit point into the state which is called the Bayelsa State International Airport because of the cargo elements in it, Bayelsa is the hub of gas and oil Industry and we want the oil companies to ship their equipment direct without landing in Lagos. We are also building warehouses around the place for purpose of stocking equipment before moving to construction sites.
Infrastructure upgrading in terms of offices has also been great, this office today is also part of the achievement of the current government, four new secretariat annex buildings added to the old one which are all functional and I hear people say all these projects are not commissioned and I say they should wait because we are going into the era of festivals of commissioning, we already started with the commissioning of the best government office in Nigeria which was done by Gen Gowon recently.
The ox-bow pavilion was initiated and built by the government, which is a centre where tourism activities will take place every time to keep our people and investors busy when they visit the state. We also have a tourism institute to train our people on tourism and hospitality to develop and equip them because they will be the first contact that tourists meet when they visit, and we have commended the governor for the vision of building that institution. In addition the government driving school with simulating machines to train people that will drive tourist around when they visit the state.
As a government we have decided to diversify our economy using agriculture and tourism with the building and completion of the largest aqua farm in Nigeria and Africa, which is a village with its own with restaurant, packaging factory and the feed processing section with capacity to employ about 1000 youths and as we speak those qualified are ready for training. We are building about 100 ponds in each local government and our general target is to get 1,500 functional fish farms because we want to be major exporter of fish product taking advantage of the airport which is a futuristic development plan.
We didn’t stop at that, we are cultivating about 200 hectares of cassava farm, the factory for the milling is ready and we are also working to be major exporter of starch to earn foreign exchange. We also have functional 15,000 poultry birds. Before now, you would see trucks from other states coming into the state to sell poultry eggs but we have taken charge of that market by producing 8000-10,000 eggs to the market.
We will partner with the Federal Government to invest in the anchor borrowers’ project that is on; where plantain and other products are the key area we want to invest in. We are also working on reviving the rice farm, resuscitate to also employ a greater number of youths, with all this I can say the government has surpassed the bench mark the people gave. It’s good to have a leader that is committed, visionary, purposeful and has financial discipline to the people. The deliberate steps the governor has taken is making us think of a Bayelsa State beyond oil and gas, a state that will depend solely on IGR, tourism, agriculture and not going every month begging for allocation in Abuja.
Local government workers have been on strike for over a month, what is the government doing about it?
Since the inception of this government, Dickson made it clear that he would never interfere into the affairs of the finances of the LGA, yet the law allows the Joint local government account which is a federal law. Outside that, we don’t get involved in their finances but rather we assist by intervention in terms of paying teachers salaries.
I heard they said Nigeria is out of recession and the dollar rate is still high compared to our naira. The rice we used to buy at N7,000 is still for N21,000 which means we are not out of recession because our people are dying. The truth must be told, if as a government we deceive ourselves it is bad, we have to accept the problem and face it to solve it and not media gimmick. Our people are suffering, we must not be deceived.
I still say as a government we don’t interfere with the operation of the LGA. We have been calling on them to go and clean up their records by way of staff verification before now because the burden was much on the state government and that the intervention might not be there forever and they thought we were joking but now the obvious has happened.
The governor called on the stakeholders to help see that the LG is sanitised so that the ghost workers and duplication of workforce can be addressed. Today now we have an issue but I will rather advise that the union partner with the local government administrators to weed out the baggage of ghost workers and streamline the workforce to sizeable number that they maintain and also play the constitutional role they are expected to play. It’s something we must do together, so as a government we are trying to see how to bring all the stakeholders together and lay the issue to rest but the truth must be told. They must do the needful, they can’t carry on like this because the worst is yet to come and except we look inward and call a spade a spade. Like last month we intervened and added monies for they to pay salaries, also when the bailout issue came the state took bailout of 1.3 billion which we still paying, we got the Paris/ London refund and gave to them to off set outstanding bills. Whenever the monies are not enough we has a government add up to augment their payment.
The issue of electricity in the state has become worrisome, what is government doing on the new tariff billing?
On the issue of electricity tariff, you know the PHEDC is a private company working directly with FG because of the law backing it we don’t have direct supervision over them but what we do is to interface with them, as a government we issued a statement condemning the increment and the Commissioner for power also interacted with them. We know that there is a court order and a superior court hasn’t over ruled the order, so anything about the new tariff is illegal and Bayelsans should know that it’s illegal, when they bring the bill nobody should pay. As a government we are duty bound to protect our people, if that judgement was put aside it would have been a different case but coming from the back door to increase tariff by 200 % is bad and unacceptable, we also support the peaceful protest by the consumers.
What’s your view on Federal Government intervention in the Niger-delta region in terms of development, have they been fair to the people?
The issue of whether the FG has been fair with the Niger Delta region is not an issue that we hold this current government responsible, it is something that has been there for a long time. The federal government since inception has never been fair to us, with the resources coming out from here we expect that FG would have declared this area a special development area, which is what is done all over the world.
Look at what is happening to the east West Road, 2 years of this current government nothing, but will I blame them no because there was a government before now. That road is a major point from the South- south to other parts of the world but today the road is impassable and our people are dying on that road on daily basis. The large number of goods and properties that is lost on that road everyday because if the bad road shows the FG is not fair at all. We need development, we want to have a road from Yenagoa to Brass and the government should do that because of their terminal. The FG has a terminal in Bonny and Delta State but you can’t even drive to that point, the government has been truly unfair to our people. Niger-delta is the goose that lays the golden egg and should be treated at such in order to maintain the needed peace so that the oil companies can strive. If you look at the agitations is as a result of the neglect, 2 years after the government took over no project in Bayelsa, 2 Federal budgets has passed but not a single project is in the state.