Chief Timipre Sylva, former governor of Bayelsa State, Chieftain of All Progressive Congress, (APC) and Co-Chairman of the Presidential Inauguration Committee for the May 29 Handover occasion said the corruption charges filed against him by the EFCC is vindictive and aimed at smearing his image. Sylva told AUGUSTINE AMINU and MATHEW DADIYA,DAILY TIMES that there was no shred of evidence against him on the charges declaring that he will be vindicated at the end. He added that Nigerians are lucky to have Gen Muhammadu Buhari as President describing him as a patriotic. The former governor also talked about his experience with President Goodluck Jonathan labeling it as ‘a sad chapter of his life.’ Excerpts:
Before now, many thought that your political career was over considering the incidents that played out in 2011/2012, but today you seem to have bounced back even better with your party winning the general elections. What has been your source of inspiration and strategy?
You can see that they were mistaken, those who thought that I have come to the end of my political career. They didn’t factor God in at all, that was the only mistake they made. But on my own what I did was that, everything I went through, I realized that I had to re-strategized and reinvent myself so that I can come out again. I felt that my political career was still very much underway; and I saw that there was no opportunity of growth in the PDP anymore because of the impunity and lack of commitment to the rule of law that was pervading the PDP, so I decided that I have to find another platform, and I found APC. I found a kindred spirit in the APC and my political career of course has kicked start more or less with the victory of President Buhari.
You’ve single handedly led and represented the APC in Bayelsa State to this historic national victory at the polls irrespective of the fact that the incumbent president is from your place, what were the challenges you faced during the electioneering processes?
There were a lot of challenges because nobody in Bayelsa or not many people thought we were doing the right thing. In Niger Delta, a lot of people were against us, writing all kinds of things about us and saying all kinds of things about me that I am enemy number one in the Niger Delta and of the Ijaw people. But I was very clear because I realized that President Jonathan wasn’t taking us to the right destination and as Niger Delta, we have not benefited much from his presidency and we needed something new and I kept saying that you cannot hinge the destiny of the whole Ijaw people on the destiny of one man. Whether we like it or not one day President Jonathan’s tenure will end how then will we continue in this country? That was the question I asked many times and today, I have been vindicated.
Soon after your party won the presidential election, you happened to be the first person ever to be appointed by the President-elect Gen Muhammadu Buhari to chair his Transition Committee, along the line you reneged the appointment many are wondering what happened?
No, I am still a functioning Chairman; I am the co-chairman, Inauguration Committee. The inauguration committee is different from the transition committee. The Transition Committee is the committee that is taking over the Handover Notes from the outgoing government; while we, are planning the inauguration to making sure that we have a proper inauguration. So they are two different committees and I am functioning quite perfectly. The only thing is that it is not a committee that is in the public glare. We are just quietly planning and carrying-on. Maybe soon, you will get your invitation.
Chief, you are facing a 42-count charge by the EFCC over an alleged embezzlement of N19.2 billion while in office, how would you describe this allegation?
In fact, it is a very strange allegation and it is very sad that people would do everything to try to tarnish the image of somebody. The unfortunate thing with Nigerians is that, they are quick to accepting falsehood, because they are very gullible. As soon as they hear that you have a count-charge, the Nigerian public would almost convict you before the court would. If not, frankly speaking, we shouldn’t be discussing this matter at all because there is no shred of truth in what they are talking about.
If you look at it, first they instituted a charge of N2 billon embezzlement against me and two others; along the line they discharged the two others leaving only me. It tells you very clearly that they are just after me. For example, my Commissioners for Finance, my Accountant General were discharged from the matter, leaving only me because it was only me they are after. And if you know how government works you will know that a governor cannot have access to a treasury of a state without the Accountant General or the commissioner for finance. How come in this case, I am the only one being charged? Now, when they found out that, that charge could not go anywhere, they tried all forms of tricks because the EFCC to be fair, (from what I heard) were under a lot of pressure from the (Presidential) Villa. Of course, they tried again, and they say look, why haven’t you found a way of getting this man jailed. And of course, they went to work again, at some point the EFCC went to town to say I owned all the houses in Abuja. Every house in Abuja was owned by me. It was such an unfortunate situation. They went to my friends’ houses and said I owned even those houses. And of course, when they went to court all my friends went to court to challenge them that those houses don’t belong to him and had to prove it and the court discharged that matter. That was a very embarrassing situation. You can imagine the extent they have gone in search of evidence to prosecute me. The truth is that there is no shred of evidence in that matter and I believe that when justice finally takes it course I will be vindicated just as I have been vindicated politically.
Talking about public opinion sir, some persons have it that this issue is as a result of your fallout with the outgoing president, how true is that?
Well, I am sure it’s not too far away from that; I don’t really like to dwell on it because so many things happened between myself and the outgoing First-family, I don’t want to discuss too much on this question because I don’t want to go into all that happened between myself and the First family but I can only round it off by saying that it was a relationship that I’ll rather put behind me because it was not a pleasant one at all! It was a very unpleasant relationship that I had with the outgoing president (Goodluck Jonathan) and his wife. It is a very sad chapter of my life and I am only willing to close it, I’m not ready to open it again.
You have governed Bayelsa state as governor for five years, what can you tell Nigerians was your success story?
It was a very great opportunity for me and I think I used it maximally. When I was going into Bayelsa, there was only one issue in my mind at that time, I think it was also the paramount issue about Bayelsa in the minds of most Nigerians and that issue was insecurity. The militancy was at its peak when I became governor of Bayelsa; five years down the line when I was leaving Bayelsa you would agree with me that there was no more militancy in the state and that was due to strategy and what we did as a government, and I take credit for it with all sense of modesty. For me, that was my most important aspiration and I achieved it as governor; apart from that the rest of course, were routine things that any government should achieve like building internal roads, building schools, building health centres and all those things that we did. Frankly, as far as I’m concerned, a government should not pride itself of doing any of those things because they are just being a matter of facts. And we were able to impact on Bayelsans that is why I am very happy today because I am one of the most accepted past governors in Bayelsa. If I go to Bayelsa today, I feel very happy that the people appreciate what I did.
Do you have any intention to contest the governorship election come 2016? If yes, and if given the opportunity again what wrong would you want to correct?
Let me just say this, I am very conscious of the fact that I have one more tenure in Bayelsa, but whether I will run, I have not decided I must tell you because a few things are still fresh in my mind and also there are few opportunities for service that I have seen around the country that I believe are just as good as serving Bayelsa State. But if I do decide to go back to Bayelsa State, I will not be going on a clean slate because I have already done quite a bid; I have laid all the foundations and I will be hitting the ground running. There were few things that I really wanted to do in Bayelsa because what I have done in Bayelsa was to put down all the dots, unfortunately I was not given the opportunity to connect those dots. We have done a lot of things; I have completed all the old uncompleted projects, I have completed all the internal roads, I then, wanted to do the legacy things: things that people would have remembered me for, but I was not given that opportunity. If I have the opportunity of going back again now, those are the things I will do. I will do things that will make the people to remember me forever as past governor of Bayelsa State?
Considering the vigour with which Nigerians voted for your party the APC, how hopeful should Nigerians be of the change mantra as propagated by APC because many people are doubtful of the possibility of this ‘desired change’?
The problem with Nigerians is that you are always doubtful. I don’t blame Nigerians because over the years, there is a breakdown of trust between the people and government. But whether we like it or not there must be trust before a country can grow. As long as there is this distrust between the people and the government, we would not be able to share the same vision and unless the people share the same vision with the government, the country cannot grow. If you go to an average Chinese, the average Chinese shares the same vision with the government. They share for example, the vision of a great China, everybody shares that vision even the man that is sweeping the road shares that vision and that is why he does it with all his mind and all his strength to make sure that he contributes in his own small way to the greatness of China. Unfortunately in Nigeria, the people don’t really believe in the vision of the government. Frankly, we must get to that point.
Having said that, his (Gen Buhari) government of course, definitely stands on the platform of change, and will bring about a lot of change. We have told you the areas we are going to concentrate; there are three main areas: fighting corruption (Transparency in governance), security (making sure that the country is secured) and the third are is employment and opportunities for Nigerians. Once we are able to achieve these three things I believe that Nigeria would have moved to another level, and that is what we expect you (Nigerians) to expect from us. But of course, you must also give us some benefit of the doubt. You can see that we are taking over power with an empty treasury, the economy is in shambles. So we are almost starting on ground zero, in some instances we are starting on minus zero. So if we are going to start on that kind slate, Nigerians must give us a little bit of time not that from day-one you expect us to build all the skyscrapers.
We must really be given time to study the rotes, the actual nature of the rotes so that we can find a way out of the rotes. And that is why Nigerians must build that trust in the government and if they don’t trust somebody like Buhari who by himself personifies transparency and modesty, I don’t know who else they will trust. Nigerians are lucky at this time that we have somebody like Buhari, somebody that we can at least collectively trust. You can say anything about Buhari, but nobody will say that Buhari is corrupt; nobody will say Buhari is not patriotic; nobody is going to say that Buhari doesn’t lead by example. Somebody that is leading by example I believe he is going to make a lot of difference. So, all we need from Nigerians is trust and some benefit of doubt.
Some Nigerians view that the President-elect is a dictator and may not be able to carry his party members along, having worked with him for some time now, how would you describe him?
I find him a very patriotic Nigeria and somebody who means well for Nigeria and is ready to work with anybody that means well for this country. I don’t think, if you have any personal interest and you are disappointed at that personal level; Buhari himself does not look at things that will benefit people on personal level most of the time. He looks at things from the benefit of the general good most of the time and that is what I think makes all the difference. A lot of people don’t understand him because he looks at things from the general good. Sometimes, what is good for everybody may offend some vested interests and those vested interests of course, can start a whole campaign of calumny; you know how this country works.
I think that as far as the general interest of everybody is concerned he (Buhari) is the best person; I don’t want to look at it from a personal point of view and I don’t think anybody should look at it from personal point of view. We’ve all supported a good cause, we’ve supported General Buhari, and we have to allow him to govern at this time and in governing, even I expect him to look at the general good before he look at my own personal good and interest.
Sir, being a right hand-man of the President-elect, given the state of the Nigerian economy as it stands today; if you are to set an agenda for him what would you tell him?
I have already told you the three things that I expect him to concentrate on: corruption issues, let there be some transparency in Nigeria; that is what is going to bring a lot of investors and will translate to a lot of things, it’s going to blocked all those leakages, free up a lot of money to be deploy into development and the country will become more wealthier. Then, he should look at the issue of security, because without peace there can be no development; and last but not the least; he must look at the unemployment issue especially among the youth, and the poverty issue which results from unemployment because without poverty and unemployment, I don’t think there would be Boko Haram, I don’t think there would be militancy. It is only poverty and unemployment that make people vulnerable and make people being able to recruit them for the things that really they shouldn’t be doing. That is why we have militancy, Boko Haram, Kidnapping and all forms of social vices. So these are the three things that I advised should be tackled and I believe should be tackled headlong as soon as he begins his tenure.
You talked about the Niger Delta not being able to receive the kind of development they ought to have under the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration; now the Buhari administration is coming onboard what should the Niger Delta expect from the incoming government of the APC?
Of course the Buhari presidency is going to really tackle the Niger Delta issue in a more sustainable way because what happened in the Jonathan’s era from what I saw was that he (Jonathan) threw money at the problem. So they created a few islands of wealth in the Niger Delta, a very few people were picked and empowered and they became very rich. Some of them bought private jets as a result but there was no trickle down; even some of these militants’ leaders that were given money to pay their subordinates did not pay the money to their subordinates and it gave birth to a lot of discontents among them (the militants) that was why the militancy never really quiet ended. You must look at the problem more holistically, and solve it in a way that it will be thoroughly resolved not just to look at it and be throwing money at the problem. When there is a problem you throw money there and quench the fire; and then there is another fire as a result because these group have seen that those people got some money, then you throw another money there again (he laughed). That is not the way to solve problem like the Niger Delta, you must look at the problem holistically and solve it in a way that is good for everybody (and that is what I mean by general good) and that is what I believe that the Buhari’s presidency will doing, not to look at personal issues and empowering some few individual as well.