Bayelsa State Governor Henry Seriake Dickson, in a media chat, spoke on the financial challenges confronting the state, how oil companies are denying the state the necessary revenue through tax evasion, his recent victory in court over the last gubernatorial election and the proposed University of Africa. Anayo Okolie was there.
There are reports that unknown gunmen attacked and killed three security personnel yesterday in Nembe, and there were fighter jets flying overhead. As chief security officer of the state what exactly would you say is going on?
The incident you mentioned in Nembe is one incident too many. You recall that sometime last year in the same location there was this sort of attack where soldiers were murdered in cold blood while protecting our waterways and communities.
I would like to use this opportunity to offer my condolences to the military commanders, colleagues and families of the soldiers who were murdered in cold blood in Nembe. I would be summoning the traditional rulers in the area and the chairman of the council and after that I hope to have a critical meeting with other players in that area to discuss the security developments. We condemn it in its totality and especially looking at it from the point of view that last year in the same location this kind of thing took place.
We are very concerned about that. Our duty is to work with the security forces to ensure that the perpetrators are followed up and hunted down. They must face justice, and maybe from this incident we might also get a clue as to what happened last year and some other incidents of security breaches.
The military high command understands that this was an isolated calculated, cold blooded murder and it has nothing to do with the peace loving people of Ogbolomabiri in the Nembe Local Government Area and I want to thank the military commander on ground for that understanding. As soon as this incident occurred, I asked the Deputy Governor of the state who incidentally is from the area concerned to proceed there and his visit gave us further insight and proved to be helpful in dousing the tension and apprehension.
The commander of Operation Delta Safe, Admiral Okojie was himself on ground and I want to thank him and his officers for the various steps they took to assure the law abiding people of their safety. I want to use this opportunity to call for calm in that area and ask the leaders at various levels to spend more time in their domain and communities so that they can be on top of this kind of development and to liaise with security agencies and government. Having said that I want to assure the people that Nembe remains peaceful, there are no major breaches. I call on all the citizens to be at peace and go about their normal lives. The innocent and law abiding people have nothing to fear.
Bayelsa State is relatively peaceful, and we do not play politics with the security of this state. Most of you were shocked when I appointed a chieftain of APC Gen. Afrikanus as the Chairman of the Waterways security committee. He and his team are carefully selected, they know the terrain and already their work is showing results which I cannot publicly say. I have always called on federal officials not to play politics with security when they come to Bayelsa. Political disagreements are normal, but one thing we must all agree on is security of lives and property, maintenance of law and order and working to ensure that our country does not suffer any security concerns in Bayelsa.
What was your reaction following your victory at the election petition tribunal? Secondly can you shed more light on the proposed University of Africa?
For my victory at the tribunal, like everything else, we give thanks to God and appreciate the support that the good people of the state have continued to show. My opponent in the last general elections never had any credible case. He lost the election clearly and incontrovertibly before the entire world. He would have earned more respect by calling to congratulate me like our former president did over his own election and it would have been a beautiful day for Bayelsa democracy. I won in seven local government areas; even in Brass I won yet they kept spreading propaganda and boasting that the villa will subvert justice, boasting about crime which is sad.
When you take such case to the judiciary you are politicizing the judiciary. All their campaign was based on the use of federal might and they brought all he asked for but he did not have God and the people. He felt the Nigerian judiciary can be subverted and that is why he went to the tribunal.
The tribunal they themselves put together struck out his case on all the issues he raised. No point made sense to the tribunal. He lost at the polls, lost at the tribunal. If he had advisers, he should have been advised to respect the people of the state. I want to use this opportunity to invite him and the few people on his side to join hands with us, we are brothers and friends. I am waiting to see what he will bring to the state from the federal level. They should bring the big contracts they claim the PDP government did not do. I am waiting to cooperate with them. They should use the federal might to bring appointments. You all know that when I was campaigning and particularly in my inaugural address, I made it clear that we were going to invest massively in education.
The results are showing already. Our performance at national exams keeps going up. We are building boarding schools and in spite of the dwindling resources we will continue and this year we are going to have about five to six thousand people put in boarding schools, preparing them for national and international exams. Already the test run has started. If you go to the teachers training academy we have about 300 young boys and girls who for the past three months have been in boarding schools.
For the first time in this state we now have students in a boarding environment and a government building boarding schools again. The last government that did that was Okilo and Spiff of old Rivers state. Now we have stepped up the game and we are building boarding schools and fixing those that had boarding but the hostels had collapsed. That is the kind of investment the government has to make for our future and with that kind of investment you need to expand the scope of tertiary education opportunities.There is a lot of propaganda about the NDU (Niger Delta University).
Let me make it clear that NDU has been a badly managed state institution. As visitor to the NDU, I have read the visitation panel report, I have set up other committees that have looked at various aspects be it the per capita cost of training or the recurrent cost of running NDU. Since I have been governor for over four years, we have been spending that amount on NDU every month and four years ago when I set up the governing council, I gave them a clear mandate.
I said the way the Nigerian economy is going, unless we re-organize how we run our tertiary institution, this our only state owned university may not survive because it cannot depend only on government, I told the governing council chaired by Professor Turner Isoun to go and make it sustainable but four years down the line, we are still here and we kept paying and anytime I pay government salaries, university lecturers who claim they are autonomous will also expect me to pay them.
Quite frankly, I am disappointed that governors before me did not review that and that is part of the historic burden we are trying to correct. The foundational issues we have is the high wage bill which is almost close to that of Lagos and Rivers State and most of your public servants are with all due respect ‘part time public servants’. This year we had a terrible shortfall and you know the talks and agreement we had with the NLC and TUC and I want to thank them for being reasonable.
We proposed 50 per cent salary but the NDU workers disagreed and insisted that unless they were paid full salaries they would embark on a strike action. I was not around, they did not wait to consult me. They declared a strike and that has gone on for over four months and they are spreading propaganda and saying it is because of NDU we are establishing the University of Africa. This state needs more than one university because of the investment we are making in education.
That institution will be fee paying just like NDU will be. I have not closed down the university, NDU will continue to be our state owned university. The dream of NDU will not die. Just yesterday I approved over 20 medical doctors to begin training in NDU teaching hospital as resident doctors so we are supporting that university. People have to be reasonable and realistic. The new university is not taking the place of NDU.
The university of Africa has come to stay, there is a bill establishing it, the NUC has given recognition but it is not going to start off immediately. The dream is a big dream so we will take time to construct it, our idea is for every faculty to be mentored by a leading faculty of its kind in a top university internationally. Discussions have started and let me report that preliminary outcome is very encouraging. That university is established by the authority of the state in order to fast track it; the actual running of the university will be private sector model and it will be fee paying.
This university is for us to work with institutions abroad, interested people who want to partake in spreading education. Because of our support, we will adopt a policy by which Bayelsa students will pay less. This is not something people should oppose. Very soon you will see the agreement that will be signed by the university and partnering universities. It is the vision of this government to make Bayelsa the centre of learning.
When will the workers expect the remaining 50 per cent of their salaries and what is the government doing to offset the back log of pensioners’ entitlements?
I want to thank the civil servants for their understanding. Even the 50 per cent is very difficult for us to meet up but because I have given my word I will try to keep it up, I promise you there will be no delay in the payment of that 50 per cent during the period of recession.
Workers will get the balance anytime the economy improves. Do not forget that I spent four years here without owing salaries for one month. The problem is not that I have money and I am not paying. If we have challenges, people should understand. This state does not only belong to civil servants, we also have to run a government even though the mistake people make is as if Bayelsa is for only civil servants. I agree it is a civil service state but civil servants are not the only stakeholders. The people of this state are entitled to roads and schools and hospitals and security investments.
For the pensioners, that is a very unfortunate development, not just in Bayelsa. Our situation is not the worst in the country. We have started paying and I am sure all the pensioners must have received or are in the process of receiving alerts. I do not know how regular those alerts would be because it depends on the federal allocation that comes month after month but I pray that we be in a position to meet our obligation to our retired people.
Now that the election tribunal has given its judgement thus ending a major distraction, what are your administration’s plans going forward?
My plan is to move forward and follow through with most of our policies. We are taking on very few fresh projects especially in the light of the dwindling revenue base, but we are taking the issue of diversifying our economy more seriously now. We are taking concrete steps, that is the advantage of having a second term government because most of the policies were laid out, we know what we have accomplished, we know the other issues we had while implementing some of them so we have a clear idea.
For example there is a massive agriculture revolution going on now which I will dwell on in due course. A lot of work is going on in the industrial park to promote enterprise. You also know that the micro-finance programme is up and running, touching more lives. Most of the major infrastructure works have started picking up.
If you have a free education policy in Bayelsa State, why do the authorities of Isaac Jasper Boro College of Education still collect school fees?
To the best of my knowledge, that is a government funded school but I believe that those are fees that they must have imposed. I will seek further details and look at the amount of levies we are talking about. I have been told that the standard of that school is quite high and if that is the case then there must be some levies to maintain the standard. For me that is what I want to see but I will look at it.
There is free education in Bayelsa at the primary, secondary and to some extent the tertiary level because at the NDU, our students do not pay fees. I also have plans to establish the students loan board where every Bayelsan can get money to fund tertiary education and when you graduate and start work you now pay back. That is what is done abroad. Hopefully this week the Assembly will pass that bill.
But primarily, we do a lot of things, books, uniforms, and so on. At the secondary level we pay for WAEC and so on. It is largely free but I am aware that there are complaints about some principals charging levies but that does not mean that the education is not free.
Metrological agencies have placed some flood prone states on red alert, what steps has your administration taken to forestall a recurrence of the 2012 experience?
Secondly, there are rumours making the rounds that you are one of the sponsors of The Avengers. how do you react to this?
The alert from the meterological agency is quite alarming and agencies and officials have been directed to take steps to prepare the state. It is unfortunate that we do not have the resources to do that but we will try our best. Let me use this opportunity to enlighten our people that it is a major challenge that may come our way between now and October, November, so for those areas that were affected the last time, the team will reach out and sensitize more, the affected local government chairmen will also be called on board so that the state can begin our own preparation but we hope that the federal agencies and other individuals and organizations will also come to the rescue of our people.
It is a sad prediction but we are getting ready; the citizenry should also be prepared for it. As for the so-called Avengers, I do not want to dignify that nonsensical propaganda. Those who are in a position to know already know that I am not one person that can be associated with that. That is all I can say.
What is the role of government in the issue of taxation of the oil companies and the state government and what is the state government doing to make other companies comply with the development laws in the state?
As regards that, we are in a very pitiable situation because we have companies which have operated here for donkey years and destroyed our environment and do not pay tax whereas in neighbouring states they pay tax, going up to one billion naira a month, whereas they operate here more. I took it up with them up to the federal level and the presidency intervened and they were told to come and pay the taxes due Bayelsa state.
I have set up laws, a tribunal, and so forth. I will be signing the revenue court law again. I am setting up these institutions that should have been in this state long before now, we are starting and so we need support and encouragement because we are in a very delicate situation. This state should ideally be getting a minimum of N3 to N4 billion tax revenue every month which we do not get, but they pay that to other states.