These are not the best of times to be a govenor, says Seriake
For Governor Seriake Dickson, these are not the best of times to be the chief executive of a state. In an interaction with journalists in Abuja, at the weekend, he speaks on the Niger Delta crisis and the alleged lackadaisical attitude of the government at the centre as well as the intrigues within the embattled opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). ALIFA DANIEL was there and reports.
Governors’ coping mechanism in recession
For the first four years we never owed salary for a month but from 2015 the problem started. And when you combine recession to a highly contested election; with litigation all the way from lowest tribunal to the highest court, then you can imagine how wonderful the period has been for me, for my government and for my state. But we thank God for the trial and the tribulation but most importantly for the triumph.
So now we are managing salary issues, to the state workers. I must commend the public service for their understanding, my appointees for their understanding. A lot of critical jobs since 2015 have to be on standby. And of course constructing roads down there is not like what happens in most places like some of you know.
In most part of Nigeria, you just put a grader and fell the trees and the grader goes and you have a road. There you have to first create the land which is sometimes 50-60% of the cost, you have to sand fill, you bring dredgers and they create the land and then before you do construct. We go through a lot and a number of those big projects, we have completed. But a number of them are also on going; some staled and we hope and pray the economy picks up. It is showing some positive signs but we are still way behind, given where we are coming from.
At a time a barrel of crude was sold for $110 and we came down to as low as $38. Now gradually we are building up about $54 per barrel and we don’t know how long that rally will last but we just have to pray for our country. From 2015 and 2016 it has been very tough for states and for the country as a whole.
Paris Club refund to states
And talking about whether we received any refund; our state because of the transparency regime that we have instituted, immediately the commissioner of Finance received it and he briefed me, the following day he addressed the press, telling the state what we had received. I think it was even from that announcement that a lot of people even in other states got to know of it. In Bayelsa, the transparency regime is such that any kobo coming to the state has to be announced, the state must know and we have kept faith with that law because the consequences are also very severe and we deliberately included consequences.
So we received N14.5billion or there about and part of it is for the local governments. Our local government has about N1.2 or 1.3billion from that fund. So let’s say about N13.2billion. There is no secrecy in the management of public finances in our state and that is the way it is. And we are hoping to get more refunds.
We have used also, in line with the understanding that was reached, over 50% almost 60% of what we received to pay salaries obligations and pension liabilities and we have actually used about N7.4billion for that purpose especially because of the Christmas festivity and so we decided to pay full salaries to encourage and appreciate workers and their families and also make it easy for them to manage the Christmas period.
Federal Government and Niger Delta region
The second issue you raised is about the need for peace and stability in the Niger Delta to enable oil production to be maximized and therefore to increase the capacity of government to meet their obligations which is key because if you are talking of raising several trillions of naira to fund the federal budget and the state budget are also predicated on oil revenue, then we must be concerned about what happens to the source of that money. So it is an issue that everybody must be concerned. We in the Niger Delta, my colleagues and I, we are all trying our best.
As you know Bayelsa is the safest state in this country, clearly one of the most stable states in the Niger Delta even though historically it is the epic centre of this crisis but because of the efforts we have made and the collaborations we have forged and continue to establish and encourage, there is no doubt Bayelsa will continue to be safe. We will continue to double our efforts and invest more in security and peace building.
But you see all of these takes some level of partnership and collaboration; so while we governors try our best and while leaders like Edwin Clark and others are trying their best and security agents are doing their best, community leaders are doing their best, we also expect the political leadership at the centre to also appreciate these challenges and then follow up and encourage and build understanding and promote dialogue and peace building.
Unfortunately like chief Edwin Clark said, not much is happening from the federal side. I am not saying that they are not concerned; they are because they also know the implications. Part of the reasons our country went into recession is because of the crisis in the Niger Delta. And so they are all concerned and I am aware that the Vice President would be visiting the region very soon and we are supporting that endeavour for people to go and see the real situation of the Niger Delta.
All in all, we will like to see more commitment and more proactive engagement by the federal government and their agencies.
The issues in the Niger Delta revolve around security, stability, development and the need to expand economic opportunities; these are the challenges that I see. And for me we will continue to keep Bayelsa safe and protect strategic assets to enable production take place and I know that colleagues my are also doing the same. All we ask is that the federal agencies should be more sensitive, should show greater commitment and be more proactive.
I cannot recount how many times President Obasanjo and his national security team led by Aliyu Gusau and others, convened different conferences and meeting at different levels. You remember immediately after his election, the first place Obasanjo went to was Warri, Port Harcourt and at every major development the President would be calling the governors to direct; also the National Security Adviser would be calling. Even though there were challenges, there was a consented meeting of minds by the leadership.
We will continue to do our part because as a governor that is my responsibility not just to my state but also to the country, to try to do what we are doing to stabilize the polity. But then there has to be a corresponding partnership and support; there is but we want more of it, we want more collaboration.
But I think in the end we are going to work to address most of it because these are long standing challenges and issues, they are not issues that started with this government; the issues of lack of development, the issues of environment, the issues of economic exclusion, these are long standing things.
But the important thing is confidence building and keeping hope alive and making concrete efforts and I think more of that should go on.
PDP, APC and internal wrangling
The last issue you raised has to do with my party. In spite of all the challenges we are still Africa’s largest party. The other party is not a party yet; they are learning to be one. We pray for strong parties to evolve, we need a strong party in government, cohesive party in government and we also need a cohesive party in opposition.