By Emma Ujah, Abuja Bureau Chief
Gov Seriake Dickson was in Abuja, last weekend to pay his state’s N422 million water project counterpart fund. At that event, he spoke to journalists on a wide range of national issues, including why it is not in the interests of APC for PDP to be destroyed and cautioned that the federal government must guide against turning security agencies into organs of APC. Excerpts:
The environmental situation in the Niger Delta remains a challenge. How are you handling this at a time the nation needs to boost oil production?
We have always been very concerned about the issues of protection of the environment particularly the fragile eco-system of the Niger Delta. I got a brief about the recent landslides and I asked the deputy governor to go and assess the place personally. This is the second time we are experiencing this within a few months.We are very concerned and hope that the relevant agencies will work with us. I will write a formal letter to the appropriate agency and the Minister of Environment so that appropriate studies can be carried out so that we will know exactly where we are on environment.
The second issue is about the need for peace and stability in the Niger Delta to enable oil production to be maximized and therefore increase the capacity of governments to meet their obligations. This is key because if you are talking about raising several trillions of Naira to fund the federal budget and the state budgets are also predicated on oil revenue, then we must be concerned about what happens at the source of that money. So it is an issue that everybody must be concerned. We in the Niger Delta, my colleagues and I, are trying our best.
Security and peace-building
As you know, Bayelsa is the safest state in this country, clearly one of the most stable states in the Niger Delta even though historically it is the epicentre of this crisis but because of the efforts we have made and the collaborations we have forged and continue to establish and encourage, there is no doubt Bayelsa will continue to be safe. We will continue to double our efforts and invest more in security and peace-building.
•Gov Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa
But all of these take some level of partnership and collaboration; while we, governors, try our best and while leaders like Edwin Clark and others are trying their best and security agents are doing their best, community leaders are doing their best, we also expect the political leadership at the centre to also appreciate these challenges and then follow up, encourage and build understanding, promote dialogue and peace-building.
Unfortunately, like chief Edwin Clark said, not much is happening from the federal side. I am not saying that they are not concerned they are because they also know the implications. Part of the reasons our country went into recession is because of the situation, the crisis in the Niger Delta.
All in all, we would like to see more commitment and more proactive engagement by the federal government and their agencies.
The issues in the Niger Delta revolve around security, stability and development and the need to expand economic opportunities. These are the challenges that I see. And for me we will continue to keep Bayelsa safe and protect strategic assets to enable production take place and I know that my colleagues are also doing the same. All we ask is that the federal agencies should be more sensitive, show greater commitment, be more proactive and engage.
I cannot recount how many times former President Obasanjo and his National Security team led by Aliyu Gusau convened conferences and meetings at different levels.
You remember immediately after his election, the first place Obasanjo went to was Warri, Port Harcourt and at every major development the President would be calling the governors to direct, and the National Security Adviser would be calling. Even though there were challenges, there was a consented meeting of minds by the leadership.
We will continue to do our part because as a governor that is my responsibility, not just to my state but also to the country, to try to do what we are doing to stabilize. But then there has to be a corresponding partnership and support. But I think in the end, we are going to work to address most of it because these are long-standing challenges and issues. They are not issues that started with this government; the issues of lack of development, the issues of environment, the issues of economic exclusion, these are long standing things.
How are you coping with the federal government as a PDP governor?
In spite of all the challenges, we are still Africa’s largest party. The other party is not a party yet. They are learning to be one. We pray for strong parties to evolve, we need a strong party in government, cohesive party in government and we also need a cohesive party in opposition.
It is not in the interest of the party in government for the PDP to disintegrate or be in perpetual crisis. I think that realisation should be there. It is in the interest of the country and it is also in the enlightened self-interest of the APC and its leadership to ensure that PDP does not die or implode because you hear all kinds of talk about mini-party, mega party and most of the noise we know the direction it is coming from.
Just to say that we are concerned about development in the party and personally as chairman of the reconciliation committee and as someone who interacts with the whole range of the leadership of our party across this country, that process of interaction would go on. There are indications that very soon with the efforts of top leaders of the party, we will have some way forward. These are all normal challenges, it is a process of self discovery.
PDP is going through a process of discovering itself, finding its true feet and identity because all along we have been spoon fed as the government in federal power and now suddenly we are learning to be in the cold and playing opposition. So we are gradually adjusting and all of this is a process of adjustment and self discovery.
Unfortunately, more of that is even happening in the party in government; so we wish the party in government well, I personally do. A lot of the leaders in the APC are people that one has known and interacted with and one has a lot of respect for. A number of them have made sacrifices for the democratic development of this country by even working to bring up the APC, in the first place.
People like us who are in opposition appreciate that it took a lot of hard work and sacrifice on their part to bring up the APC and it is a good development for our country, even though my party lost power.
So, I wish the APC to remain strong and united, cohesive and also to allow the PDP to remain strong, united and cohesive. And state institutions should not be immersed in the political process because once that happens you politicise everything and the next thing is an indication of a failing state and we hope that that doesn’t happen in Nigeria.
On whether he shares the view that the immediate past president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, one of his subjects in Bayelsa State, is being persecuted by the present administration?
First, you need to understand that I am not the spokesman of former President Jonathan. I am governor. President Jonathan is from my state no doubt, he is an elder brother and someone who retired as a leader and former President of our country, he deserves to be treated with respect and to be given a fair treatment even as a private citizen that he has now become.
I don’t want to go into the several issues that are being raised because as former President Jonathan himself said, we need to be careful about commenting on some of these processes because a number of them are just unfolding and a number of them have not been taken to their logical conclusions for things to be proved one way or the other. So we should be very careful about that.
I just feel that, talking generally now, not just President Jonathan and his family, the perception that some of the policies of the present government are selective or are targeted at some persons and some sections is inimical to the success of a number of reforms of the federal government and that is not helpful. It may just be a perception and probably it is not real but you see, perception is also as important as reality. That should be addressed. Let us see how things play out, there should be less sensationalism, let us see facts if there are issues.
I think this country with time will appreciate the kind of sacrifice and service that the Jonathan presidency and Jonathan as a person rendered. He tried his best and particularly in the area of application of public authority, he never used authority to harass or intimidate any person or any particular group and the contributions to the democratic process. You can see what is happening in Gambia now, they are in crisis.
And for some of us, when with time our memoirs comes out then people will know the roles and some of the difficult decisions that people had to take in the national interest. But I think overall I am someone who believes that leaders should be respected generally and we can disagree and in fact we need to disagree more and agree in the common interest, in the national interest but in doing so we treat one another with respect. Treat people you disagree with respect, people who don’t share your political party and your political ideology with respect, people who don’t believe in your religious denomination or faith with respect because in the end what should matter to us and I think that is where we missed it in this country, it is our common humanity first and then our shared Nigerian if we are indeed a nation because that is what nation building is.
Nation building is not something that comes overnight, we need to all make sacrifices, learn from our mistakes and leaders are not perfect, no leader is perfect including me. So what is important is underline ideals of respect for one another, tolerance and then if there are issues those issues need to be handled by the appropriate institutions, so that way you address these perceptions which as I said may not even be real. So let’s not pre-judge, let us wait and I don’t want to join the sensational boat. In all I say treat people with respect.
I don’t think we have an alternative, like I said I continue to do so much to maintain peace and stability and order in Bayelsa even though some people at the federal level continue to prefer to see me as a PDP governor. After election, party platform takes a back seat, after election we should be talking about service delivery, we should be talking about the people, the country and that is right attitude.
You don’t carry partisan divide after election because after election we should be governing and we have shared responsibility for law and order, shared responsibility to work for stability of this country and Nigeria cannot be safe or stable until every state within Nigeria is safe and stable and no state can be safe and stable until every community is safe and stable.
So the responsibility that a governor has, which is why whether people recognise to partner or not I go on performing my duties and that is why Bayelsa continues to be stable and that is why we keep working for more stability, we don’t have an option because it is my responsibility and duty to the constitution and to my people, the same responsibility that the President has.
It is just that in his case he is the ultimate repository of the national forces of cohesion and he has to realise that it is his duty to apply that to support the stability of the country. And that is why I said people continue to ask me Bayelsa is the hot spot of this crisis and yet it is stable; a governor first duty is law and order and security and that means sometimes overlooking a lot of things, that means doing things differently, even playing politics differently to create that atmosphere of stability as part of leadership.
And on their part, it is the part of those in charge of the federal government to know that when elections are over, party differences go out and we support development and security.
What are your challenges?
Challenges remain funds. I just talked about major projects being stalled and delayed and I am very sad about it. The second thing is the federal collaboration for security and development. That means that if a person is misguided and he is misguiding people to be violent, it means taking care of that according to the law, without saying this is my party man; once you do that it means the country is failing.
Any country where you have to survive or people have to survive just because their party man is holding a security position, that is a failed state because what you are saying is that the other people should go and arm themselves and non state actors should now take over.
These are the things that really bother one. I have said it to everybody that look the support I need is stability, security; don’t play politics with security, law and order at least in my state. I don’t do that, don’t also do it, I won’t allow it.
If you don’t apprehend criminals, I may get to a stage where I will mobilize citizens. But I won’t tolerant any unlawful and illegal behaviour, and that is what is affecting the overall security and stability environment in Bayelsa because they know that this governor does not condole lawlessness, criminals know it.
Anybody they post there, I don’t lobby for any Commissioner of Police, I would tell you that you are welcome on board; my duty here is to support you to fight crime and criminality and enforce law and order and stability. I have never given an order for any security personnel to go and molest any person, I don’t do that. Opposition politicians are free, they hold meetings and they criticize me. It is their right. That is democracy we are practicing.
If you want to hold a rally I would give you even the stadium to go and do that. President Buhari came to campaign as candidate, I declared security to protect him even when people were blackmailing me because some expected that I should have made the state uncomfortable for him and throw him out as my predecessor had done to him in 2011.
That is the sort of attitude that political leaders in this country must have, that is the attitude that even the President himself must have; you don’t allow state institutions to be used to undermine opponents so that EFCC will have to be part of APC or SSS has to be an arm of APC or the military; you want to destroy the country. I am not saying that is what is happening, all I am saying is that it should not happen.
From It’s in APC’s interest not to kill PDP – Gov Dickson by Vanguard (Politics)