Being continuation of interview with Bayelsa State Governor Seriake Henry Dickson.
Tell us about the Maritime Uni- versity and employment genera- tion…
I will come to your question; there was an initiative that I proposed working with the polish government, but it failed because I wanted the Federal Government guarantees to pay our own equity, and the Polish government brought some funds and expected also some contributions and the Federal Government, in the last administration, didn’t approve that transaction. Okonjo-Iweala didn’t approve that. I think that’s what Oshiomhole said he is angry about; she didn’t do that to only Edo State; she did it to the Presi- dent’s state.
Owing to our maritime nature, I wanted to train seafarers, and the country is losing so much money training these guys outside. We can actually be a powerful mari- time nation. I wanted Bayelsa to be the maritime hub because of our location. The maritime acad- emy is there; we are operating it in a small way.
On the employment genera- tion question, we have employed a number of people. There is just a limited number you can employ. Government alone cannot employ, cannot create jobs; that’s is an un- realistic expectation. As a matter of fact, that is one of the problem facing our country; states and lo- cal government, the wage bill is over bloated. But I have employed in the critical areas. I directed the employment of 200 graduates to protect our forestry reserves be- cause we have very pristine for- estry reserves, which are to be protected. There is illegal logging going on there. We employed a lot of medical personnel – doctors, pharmacists and nurses. I have also authorised the employment of engineering staff because of the quantum of government public construction that was going on; we needed to have more people to supervise. So after some time, I wish to employ teachers massive- ly too. I have employed a number, so employments are going on.
The key to employment generation is not an overbloated public service, it is to stimulate the pri- vate sector; that is why I have been holding the economic sum- mit; that’s why I have established the Bayelsa Development Invest- ment Corporation, BDIC, the first investment arm of the state and it has made wonderful investments. We have majority stakes in insurance, banks, real estate investment under this government. Over time, the investment arm will have a lot of money on its own. It can create jobs, not the state. Look at Lagos, Lagos is the way it is and they arehaving high IGR not because of state government, but the private sector; they create the jobs, de- velop skills and then pay taxes so that’s what we are pursuing.
How much of loans have you taken in the last couple of months?
Well that is an interesting ques- tion because when we took over government, Bayelsa was one of the highest indebted states; our debt volume was so high; my pre- decessor borrowed a lot and com- mitted the state to a lot of bonds and other obligations. Debt volume was very high, meaning that every month, a substantial amount of our revenue went to debt servic- ing and they took it off from the source. We have to manage and now Bayelsa is one of the least in- debted states; that will answer the question as to how much we have been borrowing.
In any case, you can’t run a government without borrowing. There are short term facilities you take to meet one exigency or the other. Bayelsa was the highest in- debted, but now the least indebted. This shows you the frugality and prudence and the ijebu blood!
When elections are approach- ing, people get desperate. As the chief security officer of the state, are there measures you are put- ting in place to make sure that there is no breakdown of law and order? Secondly, when you leave office, what are you going to do so that things will not slip back into the situation of the past?
Things will not slip back, by the grace of God. That is why most of what we are doing, we instutionalise by backing them up with laws, the transparency. Do you know what I formulated there? I said, if a governor of Bayelsa does not address the press, does not call the whole state and tell them what has come in and what it has spent, if he doesn’t do this for three months, the governor should be impeached. I proposed the legislation and when they passed it, I signed it, so, that is to instutionalised it. Also, there is the savings law; anything put into that account, the governor cannot touch it; it can only be touched when two-thirds majority of the house of assembly approves A, B, C reasons.
There is one aspect of the political culture that we have changed. For example, when President Buhari was campaigning, even against Jonathan in his own state, when he came, I gave him state facilities, stadium; traditional rul- ers came to me for permission to receive him. I said go ahead and receive him. Now, the last rally. APC never expected me to give them the stadium. I gave them the stadium. I directed the security to go and protect them. There were people who disagreed with me and I disagreed with their politics, but they are Nigerians and they are Bayelsans and they are enti- tled to their views. No one person has been molested or harassed for having a contrary view.
Let’s talk about the PDP. There is the belief that the PDP is going into extinction; but you have talked about Bayelsa and those who have decamped. What went wrong with the PDP as a ruling party that made it fail woefully in the last election?
Talking about the PDP, this is the first time the ruling party would lose at the federal level. Well, don’t worry, politics is dy- namic; what is constant are the people. APC is at the centre; they did a lot of good work; my friends and colleagues, I have a lot of re- spect and admiration for the hard work they put into bringing the APC to existence. But they themselves have to deal with the prob- lem of managing the success and managing the national party.
You saw what happened in the National Assembly, probably with more pro-activeness they could have saved the situation; I am happy they have resolved the mat- ter. My good friends, Gbaja, and Dogara had to be made to go to the polls. I congratulate them; they are both my friends, Gbaja could have made a fantastic speaker. He was my ally in the house. Those are the challenges of managing national power, let’s watch events develop. I don’t think PDP is dead, in the sense you are putting it.