Ahead of the November 16 governorship election in Bayelsa State and Governor Henry Seriake-Dickson’s end of tenure in February, Daniel Iworiso-Markson, Commissioner for Information, sheds light on the emergence of Senator Douye Diri as PDP guber flag-bearer, Seriake-Dickson’s positives, his Bayelsa story and more. A core Bayelsa indigene, Iworiso-Markson who concedes he is a ‘Lagos-Boy,’ spoke with Stanley Nkwazema
Can you walk me through your public service engagements in Bayelsa State and background generally?
First, it has been a rare honour serving the Restoration Government and, particularly, Governor Dickson for the last seven years, plus. I am the longest serving political appointee and for me its humbling that he found me worthy to serve in various capacities. First, I was appointed Senior Special Assistant on Media/Publicity and then Chief Press Secretary, within six months. I believe this was His Excellency’s attestation to my commitment, dedication and productivity on the job. After winning his second term in 2015, I was re-appointed as his Chief Press Secretary. Barely a year after that, I was elevated to the position of Commissioner for Information. For me, it has been a worthwhile journey and one that I consider a rare privilege, especially given the number of very qualified people – perhaps even more qualified than I am – yet Governor Dickson decided I work with him and give me the opportunity of a lifetime to serve my state and serve him. As political appointees we serve at the pleasure of the governor who is the leader of the government and I dare say he is a rare and uncommon leader. I have learnt a lot working with him. It is one experience I will never trade for anything in the world. As for my background, both of parents are from the same community in Bayelsa but I was raised in Lagos and spent all my life in Lagos. Coming to Bayelsa and being asked to remain in Bayelsa to work in Bayelsa, was a new environment for me. First and foremost a lot of people viewed me as an outsider. At a point a lot of people did not believe I was a Bayelsan. In fact, the governor received a lot of flak that his first appointment was a non-Bayelsan because they did not know me before I became part and parcel of the system. But Governor Dickson is your activist’s activist – and one who is well schooled in the Ijaw struggle so you can understand where I am coming from. Not many people know this – but the job of a media aide to His Excellency is very tasking. I brought everything that I have learnt to the job, both from the theoretical and practical part of it. I have a Master’s degree from the University of Nigeria Nsukka. So that helped a great deal. The classroom experience and the practical work experience, gained from working at the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria FRCN in Lagos, coupled with the fact that I transited to working as a PR practitioner for several firms in Lagos and then started running my own PR consultancy, greatly helped my Bayelsa engagements.
As a PR practitioner working with an activist state chief executive, how have you been able to merge that background with managing your activist principal?
One of the things I take enormous joy in, even in my PR practice is the fact that I am first and foremost a crisis manager. I am an image maker but in managing image, crisis management is my forte. So I wouldn’t say it was easy too because of that background to be able to work with his Excellency who is an activist. But I knew from the very word go that given my background in crisis management, a lot of that skill will be brought to bear to managing the image of His Excellency and also to work with him even as a governor with clear responsibility and mandate of his people. What I find most fascinating is the fact that the governor is a man of very strong convictions. He is one who loves his people dearly. That also comes from his activist background. He is one who believes in the Ijaw struggle and will go to any length to defend it. For me, I recognised from the very word go that these are common virtues of the man and that I also was learning first-hand – some of the principles he espouses both in public functions and everywhere. Long before I even joined him, as an Ijaw man living in Lagos, I saw first-hand some of the harsh treatments meted to our people and sometimes I find it difficult to reconcile why I cannot be given the same attention and privileges as an Ijaw man living in Lagos with my counterparts from the other parts of the country. Often we are relegated to the background in terms of job opportunities and everything. Often, you are told to ‘go back to your state.’ Even when you get the job on merit, it becomes a struggle to be promoted. You see your juniors being promoted ahead of you. Those were some of the things I was struggling with while I was in Lagos.
After seven years, the governor should have a preferred candidate?
Let me correct that impression and put the facts as they are on record. The 21 people who contested are Ijaw people and knowing the governor very well, he will not want to be seen as depriving any Ijaw man opportunity of aspiration. The governor is also a democrat with very strong convictions. So, it will be unfair of him to pick any one and impose on the others. He, as a proud Ijaw man, will provide the level playing field for all of the 21 aspirants. But in doing so, people tend to forget that the governor too like any other human being also has the right to vote for a candidate of his own choice out of the 21. Just as anyone has the right to support any of those 21, the governor too has the right to support any of them. As you saw clearly, the primaries that eventually produced the candidate of the party in the person of distinguished Senator Duoye Diri was keenly contested. This goes to show that the level playing field was provided.
Senator Diri is the candidate now, though initially perceived unpopular, but he is gradually proving critics wrong
First you said that people felt that Senator Duoye Diri is an unpopular candidate. If it was any of the other aspirants that emerged, they would have said the same thing of them. Popularity is subjective. Secondly, people will not argue that the emergence of Duoye Diri today makes him the candidate to beat in this election. You must have heard him say that nobody lost that primary that everybody was a winner and that the PDP won and that is the spirit because it’s a contest of family members. It must necessarily favour one member of the family, since there was an agreement from the outset.
Walking a tight rope
I don’t have the mandate to speak regarding others. I can only speak confidently about our experience. The candidate has emerged. Right now we are reaching out to all the other 20 aspirants and so far the results we are getting in terms of the reconciliation for want of a better word is going on very well and that is how it should be because as members of one family we can all only win if we support Duoye Diri in the November 16 2019 general election.
The deputy governor’s slot and the zoning arrangement is a very touchy one. This issue of zoning from my own reckoning, Bayelsa never sat down and agreed or have a written agreement how offices should be zoned. In principle we respect the principle of zoning and therefore we agreed that the governor must come from Bayelsa Central and that is the choice that has emerged now. As for the deputy, do not mind what is going on now with the disagreements within the family. What is most important is that at every point when we have disagreements like that, there is a converging point.
In the course of your job with Governor Dickson, have there been times you disagreed on certain issues?
I wouldn’t put it that way. Truth be told, your leader is your leader – any day and any time. One of the things I have come to respect about the governor is that he is not a dictator. He is a democrat. He is one who bows to superior arguments. He encourages us as his aides to engage him. Over the years, I have seen the governor defer to some of our suggestions and ideas.
What are your thoughts on power generation in the state?
Until recently, power was an exclusive thing. It’s only now that government after government are talking about deregulation of that sector. When I came into Bayelsa State, a number of communities were not hooked up to the national grid. It was this same Governor Dickson that ensured that. Right now, in Bayelsa as part of his policy of ‘light up Bayelsa’, a number of our communities are hooked up to the national grid. We may not enjoy 24 hours power supply like every other state in the country but we have fared better. Looking at where we are coming from, don’t forget Yenagoa just managed to retain 10% of the population as the capital. The bulk of our people reside in our rural areas. Governor Dickson is governor of both the 10% in the metropolis and the 90% in the rural areas, including the fishing ports. Therefore, what he has done is to democratize governance by ensuring what the man in Yenagoa is enjoying, the man in the fishing port in Akasa is enjoying same. By so doing, he feels fulfilled that through his light-up Bayelsa policy, he has hooked up a number of these communities to the national grid. Of course, you know that part of the challenge with governance was that we came into government at a time when a number of things were in a very terrible state. Bayelsans knew the state of affairs that we inherited at the time. Governor Dickson did not begin to indict previous governments like others do now. What he did was just to take up the task head on. As you mentioned earlier, we inherited so much liabilities and debts running into billions of naira. Governor Dickson did not probe his predecessors. He believes that government is a continuum and when you take over government you inherit the liabilities and the assets. As part of our efforts to diversify the economy, we cannot begin to genuinely talk about inviting investors when investors don’t know the way to enter your state. That was why we built that airport and we believe very strongly that once that airport is fully operational, hopefully in October, Bayelsa will begin to see the dividends of that airport.
What do you expect from the incoming government?
The incoming government will be led by His Excellency Distinguished Senator Duoye Diri. He has appropriately christened his campaign theme as ‘Prosperity’ and prosperity is very apt because what Governor Dickson has done in the last eight years is to restore Bayelsa. Now is the time to create wealth for Bayelsans. That is why Duoye Diri’s campaign theme is very apt. Bayelsans will now see that the continuity we are asking them to vote for is to build on the wonderful legacies that the restoration government has put in place and that legacy we will build on is one that will provide prosperity for the people.