Nseobong Okon-Ekong discusses the vagaries of governance and politics in Bayelsa State with David Alagoa, one of the contestants for the Peoples Democratic Party governorship ticket in the 2019 election
Not many people knew you before the Peoples Democratic Party governorship primary in Bayelsa, where did you emerge from?
I studied diplomatic studies at KO University in England; I have since worked formally in a company called IPCO International Petroleum Company. I started off as a Procurement Manager went on to be the Administration Manager in Port Harcourt and eventually got promoted and transferred to Lagos where I became the Corporate Administration Manager. I actually took over that position from Chief DSP Alamieyeseigha who was the last Administration Manager before me.
I worked there for six years and I moved on to a company called Intels, it’s an abbreviation of Integrated Logistics company in Onne. It is more or less the same sort of job but this time it was called the Government and Public Affairs Manager. I moved on to be the Deputy General Manager Community Services which was a promotion and then eventually ending up as GM Community Services. I resigned in 2018 and since then I’ve been in politics. Former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar was our chairman. I was part of his presidential campaign. Not formally, but of course I was running around the country with him and then after that finished, I came into Bayelsa and ran the gubernatorial race and here I am today.
Looking at your resume, some of your degrees were obtained in Diplomatic studies in England. You studied Diplomatic Law and Practice, Politics of International Economic Relations and Strategic studies, how do these relate to politics?
Whatever is happening politically internationally in the micro it also happens in the state and in local government so really you are learning about systems so whatever system you learn, if you are leaning about security for example and you are talking about international security in terms of the US and Russia for example. That model also translates itself down to whatever models you are looking at even up to the local government level. So once you are learning about systems you now apply whatever is learnt in whatever system into or whatever context you like so it’s all related clearly.
You contested the Peoples Democratic Party governorship ticket. That was your first attempt in politics what gave you the motivation to venture into the murky waters of politics was it the fact that you had Alamiesiegha as a God-father or is it your name Alagoa that propelled you to join politics?
I am not sure I had a godfather. What I did was I had been in the private sector for the best part of 25years and I now got to a stage where I was GM, it’s a multinational company it is very sure that as a Nigerian you are not going to go beyond that and since I have been in the private sector and the only place I have not worked in is the public sector. I now saw that as an opportunity that could afford me the advantage of bringing my 25 years in the private sector into this new dimension that I am into. It was a career move from what I was used and an opportunity to serve and make a difference.
Different reaction greeted the outcome of the PDP guber primaries, what was your initial reaction at the outcome of the primaries?
I was in support of it. In fact I had collapsed my structure into his Excellency Governor Diri so it was only enough to pray that he wins. Of course, he won because he was clearly the most popular candidate.
At what point did you decide to work with him?
I think to answer that, you have to look at the dynamics of what happened before the primaries. There were 21 of us and we were all hoping that any one of us will become governor. As things went along we now heard from the incumbent governor at the time that three will be nominated. From then, it became clear that three cannot be in focus. If you think otherwise you may probably be deceiving yourself. Any of the three became an option to work with. What made me move towards His Excellency the governor was his humanity, the very fact that he was accessible. Three of them were there, none of them had ever come to talk to me, and none of them thought it important with all due respect to the others, His Excellency did that.
I am interested in your assessment of him, what are the things you saw in him aside being a humble and accessible person?
His humility. Sometimes when we have meetings, he will endeavor to greet everyone. Some will come and make extremely arrogant statements during the interviews but he will smile.
The only court case that came out of the guber primaries was the one that was instituted by Chief Timi Alaibe and at the end of it all the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the incumbent governor Senator Douye Diri. However there have been some fallout from that judgement with the governor himself rejecting the congratulatory message that was offer to him by Alaibe and asking for a more acceptable posture from him at this point what comes first, is it personal interest or the state interest?
You also can not remove the personal. By my understanding, these two people have been very good friends from the past. If I have been loyal to you for example and I have done everything to please you and at the point at which I believe something is coming in my favour I would naturally expect that you will say oh, because it is you I might perhaps do it this way.
From my observation, that didn’t happen and so there must clearly be an element of, I was never appreciated. Or maybe there is an element of who is he any way, where is he coming from. Whatever it is, as much as we have this two divergent personal interest, there is indeed a common interest. You know that this battle was an internal battle in terms of party. I think there is a much better way to say we are brothers and let’s move forward.
In your opinion, how can the PDP work towards unity?
There is this hierarchy even above the Governor, clearly that type of forum may be created where the parties involved will come and make some sort of impression known.
What are some of the distractions that has cost the governance in the state?
It is almost like a house, where the husband and the wife are not getting on, it is never going to be stable and that’s why I believe that a lot of delays have happened in the state, things have not moved as fast as they should because there are a lot of cases both internal and externa. It is just like you are carrying a load on your back until they are sorted out. Even if there are small issues they need attention.
Personal interest has a way of playing out. The success, according to some, is temporary. Sometimes it ends in a shock. How does this affect growth when personal politics is in the forefront?
Personal interest is not necessarily a bad thing. If you are not interested, you will not be there in the first place so there must be an element of “I want to achieve XYZ but when the personal interests overwhelms other interests then it becomes unsafe and that’s what is bad about personal interest. Let take a very current issues without referring to individuals, let’s take the leadership of NDDC for example, it appears that personal interests overwhelmed the general interest and what that means at the end of the day, the schools that we would have had, we don’t have them, the hospitals that we would have, we don’t have them. And that is how harmful it can be. But imagine a scenario where people are totally selfless and focus on development that will benefit all. You will see a different narrative.
Bayelsa state is not the only state that had a court case. In other states, the governors are doing their projectsand are developing the state. Why is Bayelsa state different?
Litigations indeed are part of the whole process of democracy, but you also have to understand that the level of the litigation also clearly can affect the instrument of government, I mean a lot of those cases for example are taking people back and forth to Abuja and other places so that will mean people are not settled. I am not saying that because of the litigation per-say that everything has stopped, but there is a whole series of events and litigation is one of them. You can’t neglect that. Yes, indeed you have given examples that in XYZ state even when litigation is on, appointment continued but this is a different scenario. We have to be able to understand the challenges that the Governor is having and the Governor is not wanting to share that because indeed there are some information that is reserved for him, so he is not just sitting there and thinking that he doesn’t want to do anything, I am sure that he feels the pulse, he knows exactly where the state is at, I mean I feel indeed that he can understand that the politicians are getting agitated, they are talking of five and six months but then when you look at the other side, like the civil servant who are pleased that things have happened, that so much has happened, we are getting our pensions. A lot is happening, the fact that it is not affecting a certain sector of people who it will affect positively very soon, doesn’t mean that nothing is happening. And I find out that it is just one particular group who are agitated but they are also forgetting that there is a huge group that is very at peace with the way things have gone. So I think it is not fair to say that the governor is not doing what they want him to do so he is not doing anything. He is doing a lot.
What really worries me is with governance and I guess as a Governor, as a leader, you get used to it, somebody mentioned the N100 Billion that the government has received. These are just stories that fly round the place, that the governor has got this, the Governor has his got that. But we all know that probably that 50 percent of all those stories are not true. There are so much exaggeration in the state.
Look at the peace and security we are enjoying, you can’t cost. Nobody sees it but that is a huge cost from the government to achieve that, also you talk of pension, you talk of civil servants salaries. I heard about some guy who heard that his gratuity has been paid and when they told him, he passed out knowing that this thing has been outstanding for many years. Those are silent but really big success stories but people are not seeing it. And to them as long as they hear you have got N100 billion, come and let us spend it, if possible borrow more billions let spend but that’s not how to run a government. So to me, I think that the government has its challenges and he is coping with them and I am sure he has scheduled a time frame within which things will happen. A lot of people on the streets will not understand but it is totally accepted. They should not think that the governor and his team are just sitting down doing nothing.
In Bayelsa State, there is government only. There are no industries. How can this narrative be changed?
We are talking of a Governor who came in just six months ago. Good or bad that is what he has inherited and that is why he is a prosperity government. He is going to have to put things in place to make us start thinking. I mean what a lot of people want is ‘dash me money’ and I am not comfortable with that dash me mentality at all. The other day I was browsing through my phone and I saw these Diri Boost, where the Governor has said “look come there is money coming from XYZ, why don’t we all come together if you are an entrepreneur or you have an idea or you have something that you think you like to do, why don’t you come and appeal, let see how we can make you prosper within your idea.” That is a beautiful concept. I have spoken with not less than 10 people and I will say that about 70% of them don’t even believe that it exists.