The Governor of Bayelsa State, Mr. Seriake Dickson, in an interview with journalists at the weekend, spoke on various issues affecting the state, its 2017 budget, infrastructure development and security. He also took a swipe at the Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government. Emmanuel Addeh was there and presents the excerpts:
Can you shed more light on the N14.5billion just received from the federal government as refund for Paris and London clubs’ debts?
The N14.5 billion is a refund from excess deductions on account of World Bank, Paris club and London clubs and other bodies that the federal government took and repaid using state monies. You know our federation is a very ‘wonderful’ one where the federal government just throws what they like at you.
So, they saw that after what they did, they still owed the states when governors came together with the actual facts. Bayelsa and a majority of other states got the funds, especially when the federal government was confronted with the figures. So, all the states got the money and as a result of our transparency policy, we put out the figures in the public and any figure that we release is the real figure.
The money was sent to all the states, except those that benefitted at that time, but because of our transparency, it’s like it’s only our state that received the money and we are happy about that. We are empowering the people with the right information. The money belongs to the people and that is why the figures are out there. And you know, the civil service has shown understanding in the last one year, when we had to manage very tough situations concerning our revenue.
In January, we almost didn’t receive anything. We were getting N1.5 billion or N2 billion in a state that pays wages of almost N5billion monthly, not to talk of the local governments. It was so bad. But we are one state that has not made any deductions from council funds. We don’t meddle with council funds. In this state, we have set a lot of records quietly. But our people sometimes don’t find out details, they just like sitting in their homes and circulating rumours and posting whatever they like on the internet.
We only receive monies on behalf of the LGS in the joint accounts and channel it to them. I don’t even know how much they get monthly. That is what has been going on for almost five years and for as long as I am here, that is the way it will be. Local governments have autonomy and it is left for the people and the media to hold them responsible.
Part of the agreements we reached with the governors was that because of the issue of salaries, some of the money, about 50 per cent will be spent on salaries and pensions and other challenges.
The outstanding salaries are the first quarter, 50 per cent of salaries in February and march because we borrowed money to pay for January. Now that we have these funds, even though we have so much to do with the money, I thought the finance team should work with labour leaders to clear the arrears because we don’t know what next year will offer.
They must clear outstanding February, 50 per cent and pay the current 50 to ensure workers receive their salaries for two months. The details will be released by the finance ministry. We hope and pray that next year will be better than this year.
The budget proposal for this year is christened ‘Repositioning and consolidation’, why that tag and how do you intend to implement it?
Firstly, in the last four years, almost five, we have embarked on an ambitious and aggressive programme of infrastructure development and deliberate expansion and that’s why I am not surprised that sometimes our people are surprised whether the state government might actually be able to do all these, especially with the financial challenges facing the state.
But I don’t blame them. We have made investments in all critical areas, and so next year, so much will be done and so many of the projects will come to fruition and if we faithfully implement this budget, by next year, this state will have a paradigm and irreversible shift.
In the healthcare sector, visit the Bayelsa Diagnostics Centre, anything you want to do abroad, you can do there.
The Government House hospital has a public wing and the executive wing. So much is happening in education, agriculture, massive farms in cassava, aquaculture. I am not talking about the airport that is world class. We didn’t just start. For example, the issue of increased revenue drive is critical. In this coming year, Bayelsa will be modernised in terms of the internally generated revenue drive. You are going to see a lot of residential estates. Even in sports, the golf course, polo field, sports academy etc.
The attitude of not doing business in Bayelsa will be stopped. In that connection, we have provided for a N10 billion entrepreneurship fund. Five billion is the state government’s direct contribution while the Bank of Industry and Bank of Agriculture will contribute. Also our businessmen will be trained on the enterprises they want. We will give them land, farm settlements etc, but they will be monitored. Many young people will even become employers of labour.
Even civil servants, who have the mentality of waiting for 15,000, N20,000, who will say I want a voluntarily exit will be keyed in to business. We will set them up. In two years, we will produce champions, people who will grow up to be businessman and women.
What are your thoughts on the noise generated by government’s funding of the Niger Delta University?
That’s the policy of subvention to tertiary institutions. That’s also key! In this state, because of the way the state came into existence and because of political upheavals, no governor stayed for eight years to follow through any programme of development. We have had a situation whereby the state-owned university and other institutions behave like they are only centres of cost.
We want them to generate revenue with government supporting in a more strategic sense. The current system is that every month we bring 500 million. In the last five years, we have been left with no resources to dedicate to the actual development of this university which is even more important than payment of salaries. We have said that every tertiary institution will only be entitled to subventions. Lecturers, university administrators will from 2017 be prepared to put on their thinking caps.
But we have also created situations that will help. In this budget year, we have created a special intervention fund for education support, meaning funds kept aside so that we can build major facilities instead of leaving the institution like slums. All the administrators will come and speak big grammar – that the governor does not want to fund the university – where will the governor find the money when the salary budget itself is almost choking the government?
When you are paying N500 million a month for salaries, in a year, that comes to N6 billion. Even people who call themselves educational experts and elders, who have had the opportunity to chair the university board, did nothing to improve the fortunes of the university. But they will open their mouths and be criticizing, talking and inciting people. We know their antecedents. One of them, a professor talking rubbish everywhere, doing things that elders should not do.
Meanwhile, he was chairman – Professor Okoko (Kimse) was chairman of the governing council of NDU and his friend, former Governor Sylva was governor for five years. Even as chairman of the governing council, Kimse Okoko couldn’t build a block in NDU. He couldn’t bring about any change. But he criticises for the fun of it. The good thing is that we know all of them in this state. So, for the NDU, college of education, college of health technology, Otokiti, all of them in this year’s budget – there is good news.
It was my government, not that of Prof Okoko’s friends, from the creation of Bayelsa till now that set up a committee to look into the issue of development and we have received the preliminary report. We are looking at the departments that need development. But the people running it are more interested in their salaries. But we as owners own the greatest stakes and I have the mandate of the people. Prof Okoko did not run for election. We will move the state to the next level.
We have the mandate to move the state to the next level. In the coming year, tertiary institutions will get strategic subventions to improve their facilities. But they must provide leadership in the school. The staff strength of NDU is almost double what other universities of its type have. They must know what to do with the school. Sitting down and expecting salaries to be paid and incite students and going on strike, make money and then account to nobody, spend the money on themselves and every month government must pay their salaries of almost N500 million. There’s no money for development after paying salaries. This budget will take us away from things that have held us down and free this state and set it on the path of sustained development.
Considering the enormity of these projects, do you think the money appropriated for works and infrastructure will cover these projects currently going on?
We have major deficit in infrastructure. We tried in the last couple of years to see what we can do, but because the economy is so harsh right now, as a result of recession, it’s easy to forget how some of these roads were, for example, Isaac Boro, which is eleven kilometres. We conceived these projects. Sometimes, we create the impression that not only we do not like good things, if good things happen they find it difficult to appreciate. Bad belle.
Even elders who should know and encourage us to do more, instead they say it’s the federal government. Where is the federal government?
There is no one naira of federal government money here, including the airport. Sometimes, we don’t want to talk, but they keep pushing us to say things we don’t want to say. That is Bayelsa for you. We intend to complete these projects though very ambitious.
Most of these people don’t love the state. They judge the government by how much they and their children get personally. You can build roads, hospitals and they still ask you what have you done? It’s a primitive mindset.
Back to the budget, it is not as robust as what we would have loved, but it’s a product of expected income. Last year, we only got 46 per cent of anticipated revenue. Our budget performance is therefore understandable. The Igbogene bypass is there. Our roads are unique. AIT side, elebele etc and that’s why we give them to reputable companies.
Given this economic reality, what accounts for the difference in sum between this year’s budget and next year’s and what has been the level of performance?
As I said, we only received 46 per cent of the budgeted revenue and that will give you an idea. If you look at that, it goes without saying the performance. But the difference in this year’s and last year’s budget is the increased revenue drive. There are states in Nigeria that get over N10biliion, N20 billion and some are pushing N30 billion of IGR. They collect permits, levies, taxes etc, that’s how modern states are run.
We are collaborating on increasing the IGR backed by legislation.
We will block leakages in revenue collection. Now, we have a single account for all revenues accessible to everybody. We have the capacity to raise more money. This is a blessed state but we are trying to redesign the foundation. We have 43,000 to 45,000 people on our payroll, including the local councils. You know that this is a massive fraud – a massive welfare scheme that we call salaries for civil servants.
The state has rested on a weak foundation for so long.
A lot of money that should have been used for infrastructure ends up in the wrong pockets – a wage bill of over N4 billion for state alone. If we can just save N10 billion of this, the state will witness growth. We have actually received less money than my predecessors.
Today, we are sitting in the new governor’s office, which is a masterpiece. Dedication, commitment and vision have taken us here. Not taking newspaper adverts to wage war against anybody. We are not doing that and we will not do it. We don’t spend any money other than for development. The team we have is so committed. The decisions will initially be tough but it will eventually benefit the whole of Bayelsa.
What are your plans for rural and community development next year?
During my campaigns, I went round the state. It was critical, yet it also opened my eyes to the reality of rural life and the potential. The ministry of community development will be very active in 2017. Almost all communities will be touched. In some communities, a N10 million walkway will make a difference. Next year, every community will have at least a health centre. Our diagnostics centre is second to none and our government hospital, the public has access to it.
The much awaited 500-bed hospital which my predecessor redesigned will be completed. There are health workers that don’t go to work. If you have been getting salaries without working, 2017 is your year of reckoning. Don’t risk dismissal that will mar your records.
Make yourself available and make your intention to exit known.
Those who will remain in service, we will train; those exiting, we will key them into the entrepreneurial programme. Unfortunately, some of these people ran away with a lot of billions and these are the same people talking. That’s a story for another day.
There have been reported cases of herdsmen and farmers clash. As the Chief Security Officer of the state, what is the best way out?
We have been taking a lot of measures. We condemn the attitude of these herdsmen whoever they are. Some of them attack villagers and farmers. Part of what we are doing is to work with security agencies and the herdsmen themselves. Nobody should take the law into their hands, but we will not allow herdsmen to intimidate our people.
Any herdsman found with dangerous weapons would be promptly dealt with.
We will also open up ranches where our people will learn animal husbandry. It is wrong for cows to roam the streets. I have witnessed it myself. Security has been directed to put an end to that. We are aware of what is happening. We have given them (the herdsmen) Bayelsa palm to use. We have over a thousand hectares there. Security is watching and implementing. We never wanted to sensationalise the issue. Let me assure the people that they are protected. Non-state actors cannot carry weapons around. If they are found, call security.
The attack of sea pirates on Bayelsa communities has become an issue, how are you tackling this to ensure the safety of those in the coastal areas?
We are aware of the security situation in those coastal areas, especially in Akassa. The military and the police are working very hard. We have also set up a waterways security outfit which we will activate in collaboration with the centre, when more funds are made available. But whatever you see, report to your local government chairman. We will invest more in security. Even in Yenagoa, we are aware there are now cases of petty crimes, stealing armed robbery etc. We are concerned.
In the New Year, 2017, we will re-kit do Akpo, the special security outfit. Many of their vehicles are now old. We are upgrading their communication gadgets. It’s just that the economy has been destroyed by the government at the centre, the party at the centre, such that the naira that was N160 all the while that my party ruled at the centre has skyrocketed.
Because one thing we (PDP) did very well was the management of the economy and maintaining national stability, bringing Nigeria together.
We did that successfully for 16 years. Now the economy has gone bananas. We are all suffering. Even the vehicles that we bought for between N4million to N6million at that time, are now over N20 million for one.
Now, even the APC government at the centre is now even deploying contradictory policies. It is their right to apply these policies, but it is also our right to feel bad and complain. You all know what they have ‘changed’ Nigeria to. Even in the height of these challenges, we are re-kitting both the police and the marine component. We will make Bayelsa even safer.
Sports have the capacity to reduce youth unemployment. What is the level of investment in that sector in Bayelsa?
Well, you are aware of the Samson Siasia Stadium, which we will finish latest January with the latest facilities. There will be a lot of talent hunting in 2017. I have just appointed a renowned consultant to work with us on seeking out talents. We will make more investments in the sports academy. You need to see the investment there already. The consultant also has the capacity to work with these talents.
In the next four years, our dream is to see Bayelsans win medals at the Olympics. We have had challenges, but we are not deterred. The academy will admit its first set of students in January, though many of the facilities need to be upgraded. The future of sports here is bright.
We are investing in tourism through sports, the golf course, the polo field, and we are going to see more international events hosted in Bayelsa. I congratulate our female football team that narrowly lost to Rivers. We will be receiving them here soon.
What form will the planned N10 billion entrepreneurship scheme take in terms of implementation?
Let me say this, at the successful re-organisation of the civil service, a lot more Bayelsa youths will be employed, not just sitting at home and receiving alert. At the conclusion, young people with relevant skills will be engaged. From our studies, we have found out that even with the bloated civil, there is lack of qualified manpower in sensitive areas. We will employ more doctors. Many vacancies will be declared vacant in pharmacy.
We have very few pharmacists, lab technicians, surveyors, engineers, agric experts in this state. So, those who sit back at home, expecting to collect money should perish the thought. If you want to be a public officer, you must sit up. We will not embark on mass purge of the civil service, but these people will sack themselves by the policies we will put in place. The reorganisation will start with the civil service commission. All the lousiness will be a thing of the past; all the bureaucratic nonsense that makes it difficult to punish negligence, criminalities and those who don’t want to work will be done with.
It’s a duty we owe this state to sanitize it to make it more result-oriented. We need teachers, but not those who are on the pay roll, yet stay in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt waiting for alert. That nonsense must stop. We can’t afford that luxury. But for those ready to work, we will train them in this entrepreneurship. The fish ponds for example, we will pay them allowances and then buy the fish from them. They will own and operate the farm. Small businesses will take off within this scheme.
The youths are the future. See what some of our elders are doing. They are spent. When they should have spoken, they decided to keep quiet. Now the youths must be supported. Those committed to the Ijaw national interest, not those who love themselves rather than the collective interest.
In Bayelsa, it is how much have you given me, not how many roads, hospitals we have built? We supply books, pay NECO, WAEC, supply bags, sandals, put children in hostels, yet they don’t see that. Because of this, Bayelsa’s idea of always me, my wife, my children, my family, rather than the collective, even elders like Prof. Okoko, were more interested in their children becoming billionaires and supporting wrong causes. They are the same old people causing trouble. But the good thing is that their days are gone. We are grooming a new generation of Ijaw youths.
It’s just that the economy has been destroyed by the government at the centre, the party at the centre, such that the naira that was N160 all the while that my party ruled at the centre has skyrocketed.
Because one thing we (PDP) did very well was the management of the economy and maintaining national stability, bringing Nigeria together…We did that successfully for 16 years. Now the economy has gone bananas. We are all suffering.