Hon. Daniel Iworiso-Markson is Bayelsa State Commissioner for Information and Orientation. In this media chat in Lagos, he speaks on the achievements of the Governor Seriake Dickson administration ahead of its 6th year anniversary and its various challenges. Excepts:
Bayelsa State Government would soon be marking its 6th year in office. What do you consider to be the significance of the anniversary?
Thank you. I think the basic significance would be a candid stock taking and informing the people what their government had done to improve their lives and hope for a better tomorrow. To that extent, then, we can confidently say that the Restoration administration has in the last six years changed our narrative as we used to know it so fundamentally. I think this is significant. That, I think, is the issue, the important thing we should talk about. It is now incontrovertible because the achievements of this government ably led by the contriman governor, Hon. Seriake Dickson, are now everywhere and good enough the people can relate with them in the various sectors.
Education, for instance, has received an unusual attention posterity will definitely remember Governor Dickson for. Now we have the best secondary schools in the whole country. Even in a recession, government started a revolutionary education programme that you cannot find in any other state. A programme where government is selecting boys and girls from their families and putting them through a competitive examination process in all local governments, putting them in model secondary schools built by government, feeding them, clothing them, providing books and computers for them. This is remarkable and as the governor has rightly noted, this is the foundation of the new Bayelsa. So much had really happened to education that’s creating a great hope for outstanding future development for the state. In a recession, government is also building tertiary schools, the University of Africa, the College of Health Technology in Otuogodi and making resources available for all their facilities and getting accreditation of all their courses. The same thing applies to the college of education, it will be a degree awarding college affiliated to the Niger Delta University, so that they can mentor it. That will increase their capacity to generate money. The administration is also supporting the Niger Delta University; supporting the take-off of the polytechnic, building science and technical colleges throughout our state this year. If you go to the Ijaw National Academy, you will understand the point I am making here. That is the foundation Governor Dickson is inspiring, making us to believe in ourselves and establish a home grown development initiative which is already attracting interest from far and wide.
I think the establishment of the education development trust fund is also a thing we should commend regarding training and educating between 5000 and to 15000 young people at every given time. This has implication for rapid development because such huge investments in education as we are doing in Bayelsa will come with so much benefits in the future.
In the area of healthcare, I think the situation is getting better and better looking at solid investments now in the critical sector compared to the past. Before now we cannot in serious reckoning claim to have modern hospitals in the state but all that have now changed. In Brass we have a modern one there. We have completed the one for Ekeremor, ready for furnishing and take off; we have completed the one for Sagbama, ready for furnishing and take off. Same for Kolokuma/Opokuma, Oporoma and now completing the one for Ogbia in spite of some initial delay. Governor Dickson has also directed that another one be built in Nembe, making it two for use there. Then we have the Bayelsa Diagnostic Centre in Yenagoa, a major facility of world class standard. People are beginning to use it, saving lives, hundreds and thousands of lives, with early diagnosis. That is a modern diagnostic centre, one of the best in the country. People now come from Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and many other states to Bayelsa for diagnosis. It was built, equipped and handed over to American specialists to run it for efficiency. It is the same thing government did to the Specialist Hospital at the Government House. It used to be Government House clinic, but Governor Dickson felt what is good for the governor, deputy governor, and their families must be good enough for all Bayelsans. That was how it was expanded and built a public wing, fully equipped. You cannot find the equipment they have there, with the personnel anywhere else. They have installed telemedicine facilities, which means you can communicate with doctors from abroad right there, they can even direct an operation from where they are in America or London. That is the investment the Restoration government has made in Bayelsa State.
And to ensure that fake drugs do not compound the health situations of our people, government built the drug mart and Bayelsa pharmaceutical centre, ready for commissioning. It has already started working and there are not many states that have that. Everything we have put together, everything we have been working on, is targeted to cover an area of lack in our state. Now on top of these investments, we have introduced the health insurance programme.
But government is doing more… before the end of December 2018, every ward will have a functional health centre, equipped with quarters where nurses and doctors will stay. By the way, the health insurance scheme recorded over 300,000 people with the one man, wife and four children. The governor has also approved 5% of our IGR for “Dicksoncare”.
And this year, government is coming up with a policy for our pregnant women –from the month a woman becomes pregnant, she becomes government property.She will be registered and taken care of. We will have the health centres set, with computers so women who are pregnant can confirm their pregnancy and put on a special allowance, we then register them to have their data so that we can monitor. If anyone has any challenge, we know and we can deal with it. This is one of the things Governor Dickson said he will like to leave behind, just like education; this rural healthcare. Both maternal and infant mortality will be drastically reduced in this regard and thus a welcome development.
Yet I think the infrastructural development like construction of road and bridges is one key area we cannot but praise the current administration in BayelsaState. Ditto for rural electrification. It’s been revealing, having to open up the state through roads in all the senatorial districts. I hope you all took notice that Governor Dickson last Christmas actually drove to Aleibiri and by December this year he will be driving straight to Ekeremor. For all those who are familiar with the stories behind such historic efforts, we should commend the contriman governor. What people thought were impossible are now possible and that speaks to leadership and vision.
There is the observation that the government has not given due attention to housing in its development initiatives. Why is it so?
That may be true but the good news is that the state is about to witness major mass housing projects. The estates are about springing up in this state. The point to make is that Governor Dickson came into office with a plan. Although he cannot solve all the problems but certainly we have seen a burning desire to work and to solve problems. Things are moving on according to plan and prioritization of the huge task he’s been shouldering to fix the state, especially those foundation issues he has painstakingly addressed so far. So this year, you are going to see major investments in public housing and a lot of empowerment drive. Women and youths being put together, trained, in cooperatives and other ways and given money; bank loans, to start up. Government has set aside1billion naira for women and 1billion naira for youths. The operational modality will follow a structure in the state-owned Izon-Ibe Micro Finance Bank which also has branches in all our local government areas. The whole money will be given to the Izon Ibe Micro-Finance bank to disburse. Governor Dickson believes in private enterprise and has consistently supported such moves that can unleash the creativity of young Bayelsans and government is also building shops to support them in that area.
I think I should also brief you more on the housing deficit my friend raised earlier. I can confirm here that the housing programme for the elites has already started and in the next few weeks, allocation letters of about seven hundred to eight hundred plots in the GRA will be ready. This is the New Yenagoa Governor Dickson has been talking about, it’s now established and ready. A lot of infrastructure are now being put in place to make the place exceptionally modern and beautiful. The island leading to River Nun is the new Yenagoa city. Every plot will be planned and it is very cheap to buy the forms. The plots there will be four million naira per plot because it is almost four plots in one. Government has also made a funding arrangement where one does not need to pay all, you will pay a percentage and then the bank gives a mortgage. Of course, government is also opening up a lower one for the low-income bracket. This category will have over a thousand plots in Agbura. Governor Dickson is about signing the compensation for land acquisition here as he will also do for another hundred hectares in Anyama. Those ones are medium and low.
Of course, government has made land acquisition very easy in Bayelsa State thorough liberalization of land certification… within thirty to sixty days, you can get your C of O in Bayelsa. So thank you my brother for your question, the Restoration Government sees housing as a necessity for the people and so much will still be done to address the noted deficit.
My question is on the payment of salary. There’s this back and forth argument on this between the state government and labour. What’s the true position of things?
Thank you. I think it is all about misinformation or deliberate misinformation perpetrated by the politicians who tried to mislead the media in their reportage. If you follow me, I released a statement on the true position recently. The point is that the local governments have had some problems paying their workers’ salary. It is not the state that does not pay salary, it’s the local councils due to obvious challenges in recent times. The state government only owe three months backlog, carried over when allocation went down so bad. But the good news is that the issue of any council owing salary will soon be over. As I talk with you here, Governor Dickson has given the councils marching order to find a way around the issue by paying their workers regularly.
On the part of the state government, it has now cleared one and half month just two weeks ago and soon the remaining part of the three months backlog will also be cleared.Please tell the public that Bayelsa State is not owing workers contrary to such misinformation. I think the people can tell you confidently that the contriman governor is a responsible leader, who, interestingly, came into office to serve the poor and vulnerable in the state.
Importantly, government is looking into the challenge of regularly paying teachers’ salaries at the local level even though it is the responsibility of the councils. You see the kind of enormous investment the state has made into education in the state has necessitated this latest development. Initially government was paying 80% in this state but reduced to 60% occasioned by revenue shortfall. It actually worsened during the recession and government could no longer pay the primary school teachers.
But we have seen the difficulty so from this month government is announcing a stop to that, from this month salaries of teachers will be on the first line charge. What this means is that government will take that money from the Local Government’s allocation and will do the payment directly to the primary school teachers. The money for the primary and secondary school teachers will be paid at the same time.
Let’s find out from you about impending reform in the public service. What should the workers expect? You know it is believed that reforms usually come with job losses or what’s your take on this?
The reform is actually on-going basically to reposition the state civil service for greater efficiency by restoring those basic values in the bureaucracy, You see this has become imperative in this state because government believes people have lost the core values of the civil service. But let me quickly disabuse your mind and those of others over the second part of your question whether the exercise will lead to job losses. I want to say categorically that no job will be lost except those who have something to hide. Hardworking civil servants have nothing to fear and nothing to lose but those who are lazy and who are disloyal in the area of not performing their jobs and duties but collecting salaries, those who do not go to work and falsify their records, those who indulge in any of these things will have question to answer. But trust Governor Dickson, everything will be done according to rules and regulations, several committees have been set up in this regard. There won’t be any form of victimization, everyone affected will be given opportunity to prove his or her case beyond doubt. That’s that..
The civil service is a very essential arm of government; if it collapses then we are in trouble. So government is concerned and really keen to leave behind a more professional civil service. You must behave like a professional civil servant, go to work and do what is expected of you .And in this regard, on behalf of the government, I crave your indulgence for support.
Let me also say here that the reform will also help in upgrading the mentality and performance of the teachers. In the enlightened appreciation of the issues by the government, most of these teachers do not have what it takes to teach our children anymore. This is well informed, by the way.
Seeking to solve the problem and in consonance with the huge investment of government in the critical sector, government sent a bill to the assembly to improve the standard of teaching throughout the state. So please tell our people that government is not sacking any teacher in Bayelsa, no teacher should be afraid over loss of job. The only thing government is asking for is that teachers must demonstrate that they have the skills to impart the knowledge and we will help you. The governor has already sent a bill to the assembly to create an agency for teachers retraining and certification. This is the aspect of the reform in this regard. Once passed into law, anybody who wants to be a teacher in this state; in any public or private school, secondary or primary, he/ or she must have gone through that institution and that person must have a certificate. Teaching is too important for it to be an “all-comers” affair. I think government is in order here. The government believes that the solution is not to sack them saying they are not good enough, No, we want to give them an opportunity to be retrained on the ethics, methodology, skills and on what to impart to our children. Government is working with all the teachers and teaching agencies and unions to be part of the whole process, to train and motivate our teachers.
The same thing applies to the civil servants, working with ASCON, they will go for courses in this state, because manpower development is important.
Beyond reforms, however, our communities will also receive a lot of support from the government this year. This is an assurance from the governor. I am aware that government has budgeted over a billion naira for community support in fulfillment of campaign promises.There will also be a lot of business opportunities for those into tourism and housing.
With this anniversary, Governor Dickson is in the last lap of his leadership of the state. How do you think posterity will remember him?
Well, I will be frank with you. The question is not fair to me being an official of the government headed by Governor Seriake Dickson. I think the people who feel his leadership everyday are supposed to provide the answer. But since you’re putting me on the spot, my answer is simply that his place in the anal of Bayelsa State is assured in glowing epitaph as a visionary who came and conquered. He’s just terrific looking at it all together. He definitely has made a huge difference and his stewardship remains indelible. I thank you all for coming