Bayelsa State governor, Seriake Dickson, in this interview with the Editor,THE NATION, Festus Eriye, opened up on his relationship with President Goodluck Jonathan. He also spoke on the president’s character, the First Lady, Patience, his achievements and other issues. Excerpts
BEING the governor of a state where the president comes from has so many challenges. What are these challenges?
Being the governor of any state comes with its own challenges. You should ask me my take, how I feel, having been governor for three years now. I will describe it in three words: exciting, challenging and fulfilling.
Let’s start from the first one. How is it exciting?
It is exciting because it is an opportunity to impact directly on the people. With God being on my side, it also gives me the opportunity to leave lasting legacies. I believe in impact. I believe that it is not really a question of how long you serve or how long you occupy a particular office but the degree to which you impacted your society positively. When you do so, then it becomes exciting. For me, any time I go round Yenagoa and I see the life-changing projects that I initiated, a number of them completed, when I see the impacts of our programmes on young people, prospects of families, children going to school abroad on scholarships, the hospitals and schools we built, I feel excited by that opportunity. It is also fulfilling because once all of that is done, you feel accomplished in a way. It is challenging because being a governor of any state at all comes with its own challenges. Challenges arising from expectations, challenges arising from the politics of the job; managing all of that, the interplay of politics and the society, comes with its own challenges.
Coming from the same state with the president comes with its peculiar challenges. If things are not going so well at home, people will tell Mr. President that things are not going well in your home state. Looking at the situation in Niger Delta and the situation in Rivers State, the home front ought to be well secured. From your own point of view, what are these obvious challenges?
Well, Bayelsa cannot pose any challenge to the president. It is safe for the president. I don’t think there is any rational person in Bayelsa who will not support the President for a second term, who will not do his utmost to support his reelection bid. I interact with everybody. That is my duty to mobilize the home front and keep it safe as it is today. I can report that Bayelsa is safe for the PDP. Bayelsa is safe for the president. I am aware that there are some distractions here and there, mine is to stay the course, not to be distracted, in order not to give in to those distractions and temptations. We are bent on keeping the family safe, making the state a secure PDP base. I know that our former governor, my immediate predecessor, is in APC. He is more or less a leader in APC. But the APC does not have any following that could threaten us in all our elections, particularly, Mr. President’s reelection.
You talked about Rivers State. Yes, the situation in Rivers State is not ideal. It is not what we would have wished for, wanted or even prayed for. But it is a political reality we are managing and we must deal with. Even in that, we are very confident over the President’s reelection. I don’t think Rivers State would pose a big challenge. They understand that the stakes are very high, as far as the presidential poll is concerned. And coming from where we are coming from as a people, as Ijaw people, as Niger Delta people, I know that in the Niger Delta area, people are likely to look beyond political personal grievances and things like that and focus on fundamental issues, as to why President Jonathan should be reelected. Talking about Bayelsa, talking about the entire Niger Delta, for the presidential poll, it is going to be Jonathan all the way. It is going to be PDP all the way. Maybe as you go down to the local elections, where the stakes are much lower and far more localized, you could have some divergent views one way or the other. As far as the presidential poll is concerned, in Bayelsa, there is no shaking, particularly with me there. We are working, we have worked. We have performed; we are still performing. And our people believe we are doing our best. We know that Cross River is safe. We know that Akwa Ibom is safe. We know that Delta is safe. I am talking of the presidential poll and to a large extent also the gubernatorial. The PDP is still very strong in Niger Delta states.
What is the nature of your relationship now with the First Lady? I am talking of the political relationship between you and the First lady, Dame Patience Jonathan. Secondly, your state chairman of PDP has just been sacked. And he has been saying that his sack has nothing to do with finance but with local politics because he was not ready to move with people who were close to the First Lady. What exactly is going on in Bayelsa? You are talking about Bayelsa being safe but all the undercurrents we are reading in the media indicate that the state is not as safe as you are projecting?
First of all, before I talk about the state PDP chairman’s response to the problems he is having with members of his own executive committee, let me say that when I say PDP is safe, what I mean is concerning the presidential election. There is nobody in Bayelsa, except very few people, who will not willingly come to vote for the president, majority, up to 98 percent.
Now coming to your specific question on my political relationship with the First Lady, you know we are Africans and African values that we espouse, to me, does not allow me to discuss my boss’ wife particularly, publicly on the pages of newspapers. No, I won’t do that. I have resisted the temptation to do so. If I were to do so, there would be no difference between me and maybe, some other people. I won’t do that. What I can say is that she is our wife, she is our sister and she is a mother. I play politics with her husband. For me, the political relationship that I have with my boss and my elder brother, the president, is excellent. I am doing my best to advance and protect his interest and advance the course and development of our dear state, a state I know he also dearly loves. Remember when he was the governor, I was in his cabinet. I know the passion he also has for the development of our state. And as President, he has always given me support
Talking about the PDP state chairman, it is unfortunate if he said so. I don’t believe that my party chairman will say so. He has not seen me since his disagreement with his exco members. And I expect that he should see me to let us know what the issues are, so that we can address them. But I don’t believe the reports credited to him. Those reports are not true, they are not correct. That is all I can say about that.
For the first time in the present democratic dispensation, we are going into a presidential election where the incumbent is not too sure of victory despite that he had massive goodwill when he came on board. What do you think is responsible for this?
Well, I don’t agree with you that the president is not sure of victory. The president is very confident that he will win. We in the PDP are very confident that we will win. And the reason is simple. We have been in the trenches for some time. For a politician contesting an election, there are three elements that are critical: the party, which is the platform, you talk of the candidate and the policies and programmes out there. Of all of these, the candidate is important and the party is also important. The candidate’s party is the warhorse. If the horse is strong, anybody can ride it to victory. But if the platform is weak, no matter how good a candidate is, it would collapse. Just like a good warrior can ride on a sick horse and lose the battle; that is the way it is. Our platform is strong; our platform is tested. Are we as strong as we were in the last general election? Probably slightly weakened, but there is no argument that our platform is the strongest, our platform is more national, our platform is tested. The other platform hasn’t got our resilience, hasn’t got our real battle experience. I am talking of APC. It is an amalgamation of several tendencies. That’s commendable anyway; I give them credit for coming together. Without positive legislation, we now have two strong parties. We should give them credit. They have done a lot of good work, which is good for our democracy. But then, we must also accept that it is largely an untested warhorse on the national stage.
Look at the second factor – the candidate. If you put our incumbent president, with the resilience he has shown, the democratic temperance that he has exhibited because that is critical, we are running a democracy. A president under a democracy, there is a whole lot of difference between him and some guy who runs a military junta and whose word is law.
Talking of youthfulness, talking of educational background, talking of democratic temper and capacity to meander and then interact with the democratic stakeholders to achieve results. And then talk of the policies and programmes. We believe that the message of transformation, in all sectors, has delivered. Again, we also admit that in the last five years, he has not been able to solve all the problems. We also accept that. We realise we must deal with corruption. We realise we must intensify the war against terror. We also admit we are all Nigerians. We must improve the economy. Yes, but is the answer with the opposing party and its candidate? Do they have a magic wand to stop terrorism, to turn around the economy? No. So, that’s why we are not afraid. The president is not afraid.
What happened at that meeting in Government House where you were present with Asari Dokubo, Government Ekpomupolo and a couple of others? Out of that meeting, the message that resonated was that if Jonathan doesn’t win, we are going to war. What actually happened at that meeting because people wondered why that kind of message would be coming from the Government House, where you also sat in? What actually happened?
First, you need to know certain things about Bayelsa State and the Ijaw people; the Ijaw nation, whose elected leader I am. Bayelsa is the Jerusalem of Ijaw nation; that is what we say. Governor of Bayelsa has a duty to our country, a duty to Nigeria, a duty to Ijaw nation and a duty to Bayelsa people. Remember two things informed that interaction. First, it is my duty to interact with all my citizens, whether you call them former militant leaders or not. In fact, for those kinds of people we call freedom fighters; you need to interact with them as often as you can as part of the peace building initiative. But something happened. There was a report about Buhari’s endorsement by MEND and opposition media propaganda system played it up. That created a major problem for us in the Niger Delta. And when you talk of the Niger Delta, Bayelsa is the epicenter; it is the centre of gravity around which these issues revolve in the Niger Delta. So, when the issue of MEND’s endorsement of Buhari, or let us say a section of the militant group endorsing Buhari, it created division. It raised tension and there was almost a crisis in my hand. Secondly, when the president went around campaigning, and some people were hostile and attacked him, particularly in the northern states, not the leadership but people on the streets, when the reports came, not in all the states but in one, two or three places, and it was continuing, it again inflamed passion in the Niger Delta. As a governor, when you have the reports and you read the security barometer, then there was need for me to step in to perform my duty to our country, which was to interact with the stakeholders, get their views and assure them, if there are messages, pass on and if there are steps to be taken in security, do so.
That is what I did. They came and we interacted. It was unfortunate that the media, particularly the opposition propaganda, took up, instead of taking the conclusions of the meeting, which were an affirmation of the peace process and the need to maintain law and order. I am very strong on law and order, on crime, criminality and violence. Everybody knows that, which I reinforced and told them I would not allow anybody to disturb the peace of the state, the region of our country. Instead of the opposition media to focus on those conclusions, they now took individual contributions of the people in attendance. And when you call them, all the names that you know, with what was going on, what they needed was assurances that people in right places will know what to do.
Those assurances we gave but opposition media focused on their individual contributions and the comments they made, instead of the rationale or the outcome of the meeting.
Moving forward, let me assure you that we, our people, believe in a strong, democratic united Nigeria. But the Nigeria we believe in is also the Nigeria of equal citizenship, a Nigeria that will be democratic, a Nigeria that will be peaceful, secure and prosperous. All of us have a duty to bring that about. We have to create and rediscover that Nigeria. It is my duty to continue to work with agencies, stakeholders and players, whatever their descriptions are, whatever their past may be, to interact and network to ensure that the fundamental objectives of law and order and preservation of security are maintained.
Then the second aspect to your question, that the PDP is not as strong as it was in 2011. We sometimes, don’t remember that PDP has never won, for example, in Kano, from 1999 till date. We have never won presidential polls, not even when Yar’Adua from a neighbouring state was flag bearer in 2007. So, this is the situation.
I am telling you that Yar’Adua who got elected as our president in 2007, from the neighbouring state of Katsina, did not win Kano. And yet he became president. The PDP is safe and secure in our strongholds. We are safe and secure in the South-South. We are safe and secure in the South-East. We are safe and secure largely in the North-Central. We are safe and secure also in a number of states in the North-East and also in a number of states in the North-West. Yes, are we as strong as we were in 2011? Clearly, we are the first to concede that it is not so. But don’t forget, as I said that we elected a president from the South-West, who didn’t have the South-West. Now, our candidate will even win more in the South-West. Yes, or already we have two governors in the South-West and we have a good candidate in Lagos and the leadership, the voters in Lagos, we have our ways of also monitoring how they are receiving our message.
Between President Jonathan and General Buhari in Lagos, our expectation is that majority of Lagos voters will vote Jonathan.
But you did not sustain your party. You know if PDP goes down now, for you to get up will be difficult.
Let me assure you that PDP will not go down. We are the party that is for all Nigerians. We are the party for the small, as well as for the big. We are the party for the rich, as well as for the poor. We are the party of the minority, as well as for the majority. We are the only party since politics started in Nigeria till date that has given some thoughts, apart from the actuality of doing it; that has given some thoughts to the idea for someone from my place, our side of the country, being a presidential candidate and not just that, producing the person as a winning candidate; which the party did in 2011. We didn’t do it alone. All Nigerians did it and we are eternally grateful to them. But that tells you about the nature and character of our party. What we did in 2011 is akin, as I always said, to what the Democratic Party in the US did with the election of Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States. That’s exactly the same thing the PDP did with the election of Dr Jonathan as the first South-South minority president of our country, democratically elected, not emerging through a military dictatorship or a coup. Now, that gave this country the opportunity to renew and reinvent itself and for us, it is only the PDP that can continue with that vision of an inclusive Nigeria, that vision of a Nigeria where as we move forward as a leading nation, it doesn’t matter which state you come from. It doesn’t matter what ethnic group you belong to. It doesn’t even matter the God you chose to worship and how you chose to worship that God. That is the future of our country. The other parties are parties, whose calculations for winning an election are okay; so, so, so zone, bulk votes of so, so, so zone plus bulk votes of so, so, so zone equals Presidency. Now, that doesn’t equate with our umbrella party for all Nigerians.
Three years in the saddle, what can you say are your greatest achievements?
As I said, going round Bayelsa and even at my quiet time thinking about some of the things we were able to put in place, I feel fulfilled. Now, we are not where we want the state to be but there is no doubt, if you go to Bayelsa, there is no doubt at all that we have made a lot of achievements, achievements in the area of infrastructure, which you see. There are some investments in government that are intangible. Nobody sees what you do. But if you go to Bayelsa and you see the roads and bridges that have come up, it is not story. You just go there and see it. If you call people there, they will tell you. In fact, the story is that we are over working. ‘This governor self, na roads and bridges we go chop?’ But that is good. That is a complement for a politician, who is attacking frontally the issues of development because for you to move the state to where I want it to be, that is the Dubai of Africa, you have got to think of world class infrastructure. You have got to think of security. That’s what I am doing.
What is your IGR now?
The IGR now is between N700m and N800m.
What was the magic you used?
They include discipline, focus and an insistence that the right thing must be done. We spend political capital but that is what leadership is all about. You don’t shy away from doing what is right because it may sound unpopular. So, when I told civil servants, sorry, no governor has the right to waive paying tax; that’s a federal legislation. There is this culture of free, free, free. The government must do everything free. People don’t pay electricity bill. Government pays. Now, that is primitive. It is not sustainable. When I tightened up all of that and insisted that you must go to work, because prior to when I came, the wage bill was inflated; one person will have three, four, five names collecting salaries and so on. If anything, that is the sin I have committed. And to that I plead guilty because that is in the interest and building in a lot of ways a foundation.
If you were to help the president to make an average Nigerian understand him for whom he is, how would you convince them to connect with the man that you have painted in this picture?
I agree that the president has been largely misunderstood. The president’s personality and to some extent, even his capacity, you hear things like clueless. That is very far from the Jonathan that I know. For God’s sake, you are talking of a man who holds a PhD; you are talking of a man who lectured, you are talking of a man who served as a civil servant in institutions and did his best. You are talking of a man who was deputy governor, governor, vice president, who is now president. That was part of why we need this interaction. Jonathan is a very intelligent person, one of the most intelligent people I have known and interacted with. Not many people know that. But you need to sit down with him one on one and take him up on any issue and you will agree with me that he is very well informed, very articulate and well-grounded, with strong conviction. Dr Jonathan, the president, is very different from the way he has been painted before the Nigerian people, as someone who is just there, who doesn’t know what to do. I am a Nigerian myself and I see him and I know him differently. Unknown to a lot of people, he has a mind of his own. He is also someone who holds tenaciously to his own views. He is someone that is so pliable that you think people can so sway him this way or that way. I should say that if he is convinced of the course of action, he sticks stubbornly to it and will not change until a superior position is canvassed. And with his background, of course, he goes by superior reasoning once you convince him. He is not someone who is clueless. That is far from him.
Can we then say some of his advisers are not giving him the best advice? For instance, why was it difficult for him to go to Chibok? Going to Chibok would have explained some of this to us that the president is courageous…
No, no, no. He is very courageous. A man who decided to take a right decision at the time by reviewing payment of subsidy; that was a courageous decision. A man who decided to do that, not a politician who is thinking of the next election, is a very courageous person, honestly. I will agree with you that he is a very cautious person. He is a cautious person. He is not rash but it doesn’t mean lack of courage. Once he is convinced on any course of action, he will pursue it to the last. Honestly, I know that and also, he is not a desperate Nigerian politician. I think that’s the main difference. He doesn’t do a lot of desperate things Nigerians do. Do or die, by hook or by crook. No.