Hon. Jonathan Obuebite is current Bayelsa State Commissioner for Information and Orientation. Ahead of the 20 years anniversary of the state’s creation, in an interview with Akam James, he x-rayed the politics, physical and infrastructural development efforts of successive administrations in the state with a special focus on the development policies of Governor Seriake Dickson inspite of criticisms from the opposition.
How far has the state gone in terms of development since its creation in 1996 till date?
As a youth, when Bayelsa was created in 1996, we all took the creation with great hope and joy that a state has been created for us as people. For me as a person, I must say that for the creation, many of us would not have been where we are today. And that is the reason, we can say as a people this is the best that has happened to Bayelsa State. It has brought governance closer to the people. Before now, most of our communities were nothing to write home about. Whatever you see in our community are all individual efforts where people try to break up many homes and communities.
In the past, people have their properties located in Port Harcourt, Rivers State and never thought of coming home. Coming to Bayelsa in 1996, after creation, was an eye opener to do what we needed to do and correct mistakes our elders made when we were in old Rivers State. When we came to Bayelsa State from Rivers, it was just a glorified local government. Bayelsa was having one narrow road from Mbiama to Yenagoa. That is where all our people commuted to various local governments.
Looking at where we are coming from and now, we can all attest to the fact that Bayelsa has changed. Today, we can boast of other roads created. Today we boast of capital city emerging from other parts of the state. Before and after Bayelsa was created, you can stand on Mbiama-Yenagoa road and count number of vehicles moving in and moving out. Most of the state work force come from Port Harcourt. For now, all that has changed. All state workers now reside here in Yenagoa. It is a reason to celebrate 20 years.
Today we can also be counted among the comity of state as a people. The creation of Bayelsa has given us better identity as a people. Today, we have an identity. That is why, when Governor Dickson introduced the coat of Arm and Flag, we all embraced it. When you hear the 4th largest tribe in Nigeria, it is the Ijaw nation. But there was no loyalty. The identity we had that was the Ijaw National Congress (INC), later The Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) emerged. But today, wherever you go to and when you mention you are from Bayelsa State, they immediately affirm you are from Ijaw Land.
Governor Dickson with the Flag and Coat of Arms has given us a better identity in every modern society. If you want to be recognised, you must have an identity. That is why the Governor that we have today has done it for us. Lagos has their identity long ago with it being a local point for western region. Here, as Bayelsa, we are known for who we are. Bayelsa has become the rallying point for Ijaw people. Ijaws in
Ondo, Edo and other parts see Bayelsa as ancestral home and state of origin. The creation of Bayelsa has, not only given identity, placed the Ijaw nation to have a proper sense of belonging in Nigeria. The creation has given us the strength to protect Bayelsa at any cost and has given us a position to bargain. When you go to the table to bargain, we are not seen as a minority tribe in another state but as a state to bargain.
But looking at Bayelsa, the growth has been faced with challenges. Can you highlight some?
Yes, as a 20-year-old state, we have had our share of challenges. One of the saddest is the issue of the Odi, in Kolokuma/Opokuma local Government council area of the state, and that of Odioma, in Brass Local Government Area. Because of the carnage in Odi, it became a national issue.
Of course, you are also aware of the era of Militancy. We have had our fair share of problems and challenges. We can also talk about the Niger Delta struggle. The struggle based on Resource control. The struggle that is embedded in self-autonomy and if you look at it, it has a history with the Kaiama declaration. All these were done because of the identity that we were given.
Now, ask the Bayelsa people, the greatest challenge is internal war to fight. According to the Governor, the greatest battle to be fought is that of development. The battle will be to open our hinterland and linking up with coastal communities.
And that is why if there is any project that is dear to Governor Dickson, it is the three senatorial roads that will take us to our creeks and coastal communities. And because of the position of Bayelsa and if you must develop Nigeria, as a nation, we must refocus our development and bring them close here. When you have a sea port in Bayelsa, ships of any size must berth here.
That is what we consider the Nigeria nation must do. They are saddled with the need to develop Bayelsa and bring it to the lane needed to contribute to the nation. And that is one thing this government is laying a strong foundation on.
But many said in spite of funds that accrued to Bayelsa since 1999, the state is still considered a glorified village and under developed?
Rome was not built in a day. Even New York you see now was like a village before. It is good because the present administration is comparing the state with developed nation. And with the speed it is going, we will get there. In other states like the Yoruba Land, they have great grand fathers that were educated and with professorship degrees. And in Bayelsa, we can count how many of our fore fathers were
educated early. But when you compare this with the western world, you will see where we are coming from. It is the samething you can apply when it comes to development. You can see other places develop and you can say 20 years is not just yesterday. But first, when you talk about this 20 years
compared with resource available and application, I want us to remove the past three years under military when the state was created. That was to stabilize the system. The first attempt to develop Bayelsa should be traced to DSP Alamieseigha. And that is why the Alamieseigha administration
started the state Master Plan. Yes, we can ask ourselves that where the plan is. Yes, we can ask ourselves if we are following the Plan. Yes, we can ask if we can achieve the plan. Those are secondary issues. But as a state, it is obvious we started from somewhere. If we just suppose that with funds that have come in, we will realize that physical and infrastructural development alone is not development.
Especially for a people that have been neglected for all those years from independence. And let me ask you this, are you not surprised that the only land suitable for state capital for Bayelsa had only one road? It means when Nigeria will be 56 years by October 1st and Bayelsa, 20 years. It
means 32 years after Nigeria, there was no development in Bayelsa. It means the Ijaw Nation was abandoned for 32 years. Now, how do you develop our people? You have to develop, not just the people, but develop the state.
That is, why the state governor always says that the most important development is educational development. If our people are properly educated, it will affect our reasoning, perception, and our way of life. If our people are properly educated, it will lessen violent militancy and make the struggle a constructive one.
When you look at development, you will be able to break it with infrastructural unit and human capital development, the first thing to do is education. With education, you can create wealth. Are you not surprised that is still a civil service state.
If the people are well educated, they can attract development into the state and assist the state government. And with successive state government, and the Nigerian nation doing the needful, the Ijaw Nation would have grown. Unlike Lagos and Rivers which were developed by the Federal Government when you come to, the governors we have tried to build the Bayelsa State we need.
And I must say that every one of these governors have contributed their quota in the development of Bayelsa. And that is why we are here today. But one of them stood out and has made the most difference. And that person is Hon. Seriake Dickson. If you look at projects embarked upon, they are projects made, not for today, but projects that can stand the test of time.
That is why all the roads embarked upon are dualised. 90 per cent of them meet international standard. This is what Governor Dickson is bringing to bear on the state. Are you surprised that after years of creation, Bayelsa have series of dualised roads? If you go to Bayelsa Palms, New Virgin road was torn open and dualised. It is like a new city being built in line with master plan.
The governor is trying to open up the state and you cannot develop a state with the economy, that is why the governor has embarked on the Airport Project. It is the Flagship of the administration. The Airport we are building is 20 meters from the city center. There is one thing the governor is planning that will blow the mind of the people. Governor Dickson will dualise the road to the Airport. He is a visionary Leader, and by that, investors will come, No investor will like to land in Port Harcourt before driving to Bayelsa with the security problems.
The Airport we are building is a 25minutes drive from the City centre. It would be dualised from the heart of the city to the Airport. Governor Dickson has said he is not only building Airport but a free trade zone. For the first time, there is a governor building a new Bayelsa.
So that 20 years again, we can relax. The second phase of opening up is the Agge Deep Sea port the state he is planning to build. And the Naval Dockyard has been engaged to prepare a feasibility study. And if the Port is built and since we are the gateway to the gulf of Guinea, you will see the free flow of trade with vessels coming and going to and from the state.
The Governor has also said he is not just building a sea port but it will be a free trade zone with lots of tax relief to investors. You can see that 20years after, we have gotten a government that is getting it right. The resources that have come into the state, as you asked, all the governors have tried their bits. I would not sit here and condemn anybody. Development is a process. It is like block building.
One puts a block and other put theirs, but it depends on the number of blocks you put in the building process that determines the difference. And I must say, in all these, all these governors have tried their best in both infrastructural development and human capital development.
We also learnt the state government is building a series of boarding schools to solve educational development issues?
Yes, that is what I have said that the greatest part of human capital development is education. And the government has declared a state of emergency in the sector with the building of mass boarding schools. Today, we can proudly say Bayelsa is returning to public boarding schools in the state for the first time with all structures completed.
By middle of October, we will have at least one boarding school in all local governments. The design is that we will use the school to unify the people of the state. A child from Sagbama will be in a boarding school in Southern Ijaw. The child in Nembe will be in Ekeremor boarding school. It is to build a proper unified Bayelsa for tomorrow. We came from different places and with
different nationality as Ijaw people. This effort will further unify us. That is why you can see how much this government have spent. When you put everything together, you can appreciate what the governor has done. That is also why the governor is doing well with the three senatorial roads.
Today, as I speak, sand filling has hit Ekeremor. Of course, we have to assist the NDDC, we can now drive to Nembe and the design for Brass is ready. You can now drive close to Oporoma. Now, the people in the villages can bring their produce to the city and contribute to wealth creation and the economy.
Are the founding fathers and political leaders in Bayelsa satisfied with the performance of Governor Dickson so far?
Every sincere Bayelsans, made up of political leaders, youths, women and the founding fathers, are satisfied with the performance of Governor Dickson. How do you measure satisfaction? In a political system, just like in United Kingdom and many other progressive states, it is only through election that you can measure the performance of a sitting governor.
And of course, if out of eight local governments, the Restoration Government led by Governor Dickson went for a test and out of eight we scored eight and half. In Brass, out of eleven wards, we won six. That is the measure of acceptance used in measuring any government.
I must say it categorically that the people of the state and friends of Bayelsa are happy with this administration. And they rated us ninety per cent. For somebody who wrote exam and passed seven subjects with distinction and credits in the other subjects, is that not ninety per cent? In terms of projects, and am sorry to say this, it is time of Governor Dickson with 20 years of creation that we are having the first fly over. Is it believable?
Is it also believable that it is in the time of Governor Dickson, 20 years after, that we are having a airport that is almost completed. We have had all these because of the pragmatic effort of a man known as Governor Dickson. The Bayelsa Airport is more that others because a Boeing 747 will land in the airport.
Is it not surprising that it is under the present administration that we have all these. All these cannot be achieved without prudence and Governor Dickson initiated a transparency briefing with openness, accountability and transparency.
In the Nigerian nation, it is incomparable. We have done all others have not done. In infrastructure, we have done things others cannot do? We are trail blazers in Governance. Because, the essence of governance is opening the book for the people to see. And that is what we have done. It takes a government that is visionary to do what this administration is doing.
How would you describe the politics and policies of Governor Seriake Dickson? Many have given names?
I think he is a man with a large heart. The so called stakeholders that depend on government for survival made the previous administration spend recklessly. The first thing Governor Dickson did was to tell them that there is no free money to be shared for political godfathers and political jobbers. And that is why they fight back with the level of criticism against the government. These people are used to handouts where they do nothing and money is handed to them. And the same manner they criticised the same governor that shared money with them in the past is the same they criticise this administration.
Governor Dickson came and said: Let development get 80 per cent and we can only play politics with 20 per cent. Before, it was the other way round and you think they will be quiet? But I want to believe that God prepared him for the job. He gave him a large heart to accommodate the worst of his critics. That is why today, you can see opposition party members holding sensitive offices in the present administration. This is a governor that because he is doing the right thing, people fought him.
Haven’t you seen where officials of government resigned to fight him because he is doing the right thing? Why do you think they did that? They came because they thought it will be business as usual. The change of equation does not favour them. When you look at his style of governance, you can now see why he is achieving results.
But what about the New Yenagoa city being proposed by government?
Yes, the governor decided that we can move forward with development. A city which will be totally private sector driven. The government will provide the land. The governor will buy from it. The people are going to buy. A virgin land in which all Bayelsans will have a stake.
Not a land where you buy and the community people will come years later to argue with you. In it, if you look at the vision of the governor, he is building a foundation for tomorrow. He is building a state for a better tomorrow. The building blocks are being put in place by this governor.
He has started it with a new reasoning a new infrastructure and development. And I think Bayelsa people should thank God for having this man as a governor. I have seen a man scared of resources and he sees government money as one needed to fund development. He does not see Government money as his own personal money as we have seen in the past. But he sees the fund as a property of the people that he hold in trust.