A Report on the Interactive Session between Government of Bayelsa State and the Civil Society

by: Robinson Erebi 23 August 2012
Hon. Tony Nathan Ile, the youthful Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Civil
Society the restoration administration, cannot be fully appreciated without a mutual understanding and cooperation of the active segment of our population. In a bid to accentuate Governor Henry Seriake Dickson’s policy of reaching out to various interest groups in the State, he brought Civil Society Organizations in the State, for the first time, to cross-breed ideas with the Governor on Thursday, 2nd August, 2012 at the Banquet Hall of Government House, Yenagoa, for the purpose of working together. Considering the frosty relationship that existed between government and civil society groups in the past, political pundits agree that this singular effort of the office of the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Civil Society is a step in the right direction because it has provided an elixir of hope to Bayelsans that this administration has a place everyone; it was an opportunity for both parties to address issues of fundamental human rights abuse and government responsibility to the people in a democratic system.

Activities for occasion started with the arrival of the Executive Governor of Bayelsa State. Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson, represented by Chief. Fred Agbedi, Special Adviser to the Governor on Political Matters. After the opening remarks by Hon. Tony Nathan Ile, Mr. Godson Jim-Dorgu, Chairman of the Bayelsa Non-Governmental Organizations Forum (BANGOF) delivered a presentation in which he thanked the Governor of Bayelsa State for clearly demonstrating awareness that governance is about consultation, interaction and collective decision-making with all stakeholders. Mr. Jim-Dorgu who presented a paper during the interactive session said that BANGOF is an umbrella body of over fifty civil society groups working in Bayelsa State with focus to foster synergy and empower members and communities to ensure good governance, transparency and accountability of leaders in government and sustainable development.

For the Henry Seriake Dickson administration to sustain the momentum of achievements so far, Jim-Dorgu said that his organization has identified a critical need for the Bayelsa State Government to direct its efforts towards mobilizing the public and the media to participate in the monitoring, evaluating and reporting of government expenditure, which is critical for sustainable development. He said that as members of the civil society, Bayelsa Non-Governmental Organisations Forum (BANGOF) is not requesting for contracts but a space to engage constructively with the Government in order to enhance and strengthen public will and government policies by mobilizing civil society and encouraging citizen’s participation in governance. In concluding, Mr. Jim-Dorgu called on Governor Seriake Dickson to institute a quarterly interactive session of this nature with members of BANGOF, to deepen government-civil society mind-robbing in pursuance of another Bayelsa that is not only possible, but we will all be proud of.

Also speaking on “The Role of Civil Society in Promoting Good Governance” the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Social Media & Research, Comrade John Idumange asserts that in spite of the rights of citizens such as the freedom of expression enshrined in our constitution, over-centralization of decision making and the lack of stakeholders involvement that permit patronage of powerful interests and high levels of corruption has become a bane of many developing countries., stressing that lack of buy-in weakens the policy process, decreases efficiency and this in turn affects economic growth. This, he said, is where civil society can play a major role by contributing to greater transparency and accountability.

Idumange said that on assumption of office, February 14, 2012, Governor Dickson pledged to operate an open government – with transparency and accountability as beacons of leadership. One of the challenges this administration has had to grapple with is the cloudy process of governmental transactions. According to him, this administration met an empty treasury, bloated wage bill and an inexplicable debt burden. This prompted the setting up of the 11-man Bayelsa State Financial Review Committee with a mandate to look into the finances of the State. It was also revealed that most of the loans obtained by the previous administration were dead-weight loans, which were used in a frivolous manner and not for the execution of developmental projects. According to him, in spite of massive misappropriation of public funds, a huge debt burden of N207 billion was left behind.

Also, payment vouchers for civil servants were inundated with “Ghost Names” and bloated monthly wage bills, stressing that what happened in the past administration was “corruption incorporated, and to turn the tide in favour of accountability and transparency, government had to take steps to promote a transparent regime” One of such steps was the initiation of Bayelsa State Transparency Bill 2012, which was passed into law. The purpose of the law is to make it obligatory for all tiers of government (State and LGAs) to publicly declare to Bayelsans, all revenues that accrue to them as well as a summary of expenditures. Governor Henry Seriake Dickson himself had emphasized the importance of transparency when he said that “we believe that it is the right of the people of the state, to know what funds accrue to the coffers of the state and the various local government councils and how they are utilized. This is the only way to secure the trust and confidence of the people in whom sovereignty lies. I have directed all local government chairmen to comply with this paradigm shift on the issue of transparency, probity and accountability, to reflect the new Bayelsa we are building”.

Idumange also took a swipe at the Civil Society and Non-Governmental Organisations, saying that most of them are highly dependent on foreign aid, which often reinforce their already weak systems of accountability. He pointed out that most of them are small, localized, and uncoordinated; hence they can hardly key into state and national development policies. With a very weak organizational structure and porous financial base, most CSOs find it difficult to engage in effective advocacy work.”

By way of improving the situation, Idumange, called for a well structured institutional arrangement for partnership between civil society organizations and government including the MDAs. Such arrangement he said, should make it easy for Civil Society Organisations and other citizen-based groups to partner with government in policy formulation, implementation and monitoring with the ultimate goal of promoting transparency and accountability.

In concluding, Idumange John gave hope to the youths. Hear him: “I have not given up on Nigeria (maybe you have given up). The challenges we face as a nation are the litmus test of our collective resolve to live together. Invariably, as we walk on the thorny path to nationhood, though at a snail speed, I am confident that the centripetal forces are beginning to overwhelm those forces that threaten to tear us apart. We shall remain united, resolved and committed to solve our common problems with even greater vigour. When Civil Society Organisations work in synergy with government to protect human rights, strengthen government institutions, alleviate poverty, combat corruption and promote an open government, the benefits will far outweigh the sacrifices.”

And then, the jaw-jaw started. Talk to me, I talk to you, Dickson style. The Governor of Bayelsa State, ably represented by Mr. Fred Agbedi expressed his gratitude to be at the occasion and promised to do justice to questions and issues raised by the Civil Society Organisations. This writer witnessed the occasion as Senior Reporter of Bayelsa New Media Team, the only media that covered the event, captured some of the questions and responses and serve them to you here unedited. The first question fired by the civil societies was to know the ingredients of the federal allocation and detailed deductions.

In his response, the Executive Governor ably represented by the Special Adviser on Political Matters, Mr. Agbedi said “we all know that before this government, we used to speculate how much comes to the state. Sometimes we say 39 billion came, sometimes we say 27 billion, and sometimes we say 25 billion. But we felt that the people have a right to know what comes to this state and how it will be spent. Of course, we have always told the state how much came. We have also tried to state the number of times the deductions in terms of loans and other charges at the federal level.

In terms of deductions at the state, what apparently, you would call deductions at the state comes from what they call JAC, the Joint Account between the states and local government. This administration made sure that no deduction at all was made on the JAC account between the state government and local governments. I want to also use this opportunity to inform you that, yes, a number of things we know about this is the allocation coming to the state, you have FAC account, you have the oil producing communities account which is what we refer to as the derivation and then the general allocations to the States.

Somehow, the state government has mandated the apparatus of government, like the Chief Economic Adviser to actually find out what and what are the allocation in terms of FAC, what should we get and why do we share this amount in terms derivation what do we get and why do we get this amount. In terms of JAC deductions, how much did we get, why did we get this amount? That responsibility is being carried out by the Chief Economic Adviser today, the Governor. Talking charges for us to be able to tell Bayelsans that if there are deductions, this is why these deductions were made, If it is derivation, this is why we cut this so much, we cut so little, and of course we all know that Rome was not built in a day. If you don’t ask questions, if you don’t investigate, people at the federal level; you may not know what comes to you. That is why sometimes, you have allocations that were over-payment to states, and eventually when you want to have deductions, in fact, at some point in time, they had allocation overpayment was meant to be so. I think even Bayelsa is suffering that account to day. That is the more reason why the government has mandated the Chief Economic Adviser to find out what exactly is the amount to be deductions in terms of FAC and why, in terms of derivation and why and other charges that we benefit from the federal government.”

The second question was the issue of some killings the other day and why peoples children were killed. And Fred Agbedi responded: “the government have not abandoned that case, the government is on top of that matter, we’re making sure that all those who where killed unjustly by the actions and operations of that body are brought to book. And once the police conclude their investigation, it will be out and everybody will know what is happening to those whop came and axed down our loved ones prematurely. I think that is the much I can say on those. If there’re further questions, I’m always available to answer your questions thank your and God bless you.”

At this juncture Comrade Gbasa pleaded with the government that they should keep their doors open to human rights groups when they come to them,. He lamented that the Commissioners are not even here, except Mr. Felix Tuodolo “because when we go to them, they see us as their enemy. So they don’t treat us right. When Comrade Idumange was delivering his paper here, he cast a lot of aspersions on human rights groups and that we don’t know what we are doing. A good number of us are over time fight enormously to interact with government, but they see us as their enemy. They will detain you, they will trail you down to your home. So if we’re holding interactive session with the government, let it be realistic because I think the best brains are on this side too. No. 2: Thank God the Commissioner of Police is here. There is a pending case where the police in Bayelsa killed some people and I frown at that. Some of the police authorities in Bayelsa here have refused to present those five persons for trial in court. It is in the high court here. Tochukwu was shot because of N20.00 “Igbo” (Indian hemp) that boy was killed in Swali. It a shame that the Ministry of Justice after issuing DPP advice….. up till today, they have not brought out these five people for trial. Then if you go to Ahoada Prisons, thank God, today our prison house has been built here, thank God we have FMC and other government projects, the Governor should ensure that all federal projects that are carried out in this state should come to reality. Our people are suffering seriously in Ahoada Prisons. Before you can see your relative there, you spend nothing less than N5, 000.00 (five thousand naira). They extort money from people before you can see an inmate. We have our prisons completed here for long now but they don’t want to come and commission it. Its an insult to this state and we cannot continue to send our children to Ahoada prison. Let them come and commission our own prison in Okaka here. Let our people go there. The issue of going to Ahoada, enough is enough. Then the Federal Pay Office here is another issue, there is beautiful building going on there and they just stopped it half way., that type of projects, eight of them were given out at the same time, I worked in the office of the Accountant –General before, five of them have been commissioned in other states. The contractor is joking with this state because we don’t want to demand for our right from the federal government. So they should please do things to see that all federal government projects in the state are completed. And the Police Commissioner is here, please, our Governor too, the federal government should come and build a befitting police headquarters for us, what we have here is a shame, what we have here is not good enough for a Divisional Police Officer. I have traveled and I have been detained severally and I know what I am talking, thank you very much.”

And Fred Agbedi continues: “Our intrepid audience, I think my brother Gbasa raised a few issues, But I think they weren’t twisty questions as it were because he talked about the government taking responsibility to liaise with the federal government to ensure that our prisons here is in place, so that we can bring those of us who are inmates in Ahoada, home. We should give them some leverage and decent life which of course is not really a question. It’s a charge and I want to promise you that the government would do just that. Because its not just doing that, when you do that you attract more of federal presence to our state which means that a lot more workers would either be employed or transferred to Bayelsa which will grow the economy of this state generally, so we’re going to do that.

The next one was about the Federal Pay Office building that you talked about. The other issue was about the police detaining people illegally or refusing to bring them before justice or bringing them to justice. One thing I want to assure you is this, this government is investing heavy on security, very heavily on security. The essence of that investment is to ensure that even the security agencies are checked. By what the government is putting in place, assuming that a security officer is brutalizing somebody, the system will catch that action somewhere. That is what the government is working on. So its not just taking up a security strategy that will identify criminals, no. Even those who are managers of law and order, whether your action at a given point is right, was in compliance with the laws or not. If it is not, then you’ll also be taken to justice. I think that is the level the government is going. So it will not just be a matter of pursuing those who are criminals, those who want to cause disorder in society, no. Where are those who are implementing law and order, enforcement of the law such that your actions would be checked by the security measures that have been put in place. So I want to assure you that wont be a problem at all..

The other issue is, you said build a befitting police headquarters. Of course that is important and this message would be carried to the Commissioner of Police as well as the Inspector-General of Police. Of course, today the President of Nigeria comes from this state and if there’s need for us to have a befitting working environment for our police force, I don’t see any reason why it should not be done. The essence of the civil service public officers training centre that is being completed in Sagbama is to ensure that the workforce is trained, so that you will know the nuances of running the government.

What is the Programme for the aged people? Good question. One thing I want to tell you is you lack the statistics in this state. Probably it’s a national matter, but I don’t want to digress to national arena. In this state, as we speak, we lack statistics, that is why in this government, we have appointed a number of people who are paying attention to statistics because you can’t run into a system without having statistics, you can’t run any system without knowing where these people are located. You can’t run any system where you don’t know who are the aged that are in need. The truth of the matter is that its not all aged that are in need. Probably, you that asked this question, your aged parents may not be in need because you are there for them and some other of you are there for them. But there are those that have nobody there for them and there’s no information to government as to say these are the people that nobody is fending for. And so by the time those the Governor has appointed to take statistics of different strata of society complete their programme, we’ll be able to know who these persons, are where they are located, and pay attention to them. I think the government is ready for that and I promise you that in no distant time, we’ll be able to deal with these matters. Thank you and God bless.”

Then John Idumange took the floor briefly to correct a remark made in reaction to his lecture by one of the civil society members. He said: “Comrade, I am not very sure I mentioned that government should not provide job opportunity. I only said that government can employ very few people. You see, if you look at the dynamics of a growing economy, it is private sector driven. Government cannot employ so many people. The reason is that if you are pursuing industrialization, like the other day, somebody came to me and said do you want to work in the tourism industry, I said no. Tourism itself in Singapore, the United Arab Emirate, in other developing economies is private-sector driven. The responsibility of government is to create an enabling environment for the private sector to take over. Now come to think of it, look at the Ministries we have. How many people do you think each Ministry can absorb? But think of a situation where you have only Dangote who is a private entrepreneur employing so many people. So what I am trying to underscore is that no matter the level of education we acquire, we should be able to have marketable talents, skills, and competences that can manipulate economic processes, we cannot all rely on government. Government can absorb some people, but the private sector is what drives the economy, that is the engine room, that is the locomotive. Thank you.

Fred Agbedi: “Ladies and gentlemen, let me draw my responses from what John Idumange has just said. If you really want to be lazy, then you will like to be part of government. Yes, if you really want to be lazy, then you will like to be part of government. I was working in government between 1983 and 1984 and I was seeing handsome money, because I was paying salaries of the whole local government and of course, you know that will fetch you a lot of money. Even the people appreciating you, not to talk about unclaimed salaries, you know, but somehow, I decided that I was going to leave for further studies. And as I was leaving, my bosses said don’t worry, we’ll keep your position for you, when you come back, and you come and work here. And I told them, no. As I leave here, I will never go back to be employed by anybody.

And in that regard, let me take on the issue of volunteer. Of course, somebody raised the question, yes, you have sacked those people who are serving in the Volunteer, that’s where they were receiving salaries from. Now where do they go from here? First question is, what where the Volunteers doing? That’s the question we should answer. As far as I’m concerned, before you respected me, I enter a speed boat, I am on campaign, I’m a government official. By the time I am landing in the next community, you come and drag the boat up and then you tear one shirt and say you are volunteers, and you have helped me to come down… I mean is meaningless, you are idle. As far as I am concerned, you are idle. It is likened to a ghost worker and that is what has brought laziness to the Ijaw race, to our state where you go to every community, those who can’t pronounce ghost worker would try to nimble something like ghost worker. That man don do every thing finish o! At the end of the month, the money will come. But they try to make you understand that there is one particular work that you don’t do anything and at the end of the month, the salary will come, so you are happy with that one. I mean it breeds irresponsibility, it breeds laziness. Let me tell you, government has not scrapped Volunteers. It is an act of parliament, it is a law. And it is only the House of Assembly that can repeal it. But what the government is doing today is to see how Volunteer can be useful to you and it’s not just a matter of being a Volunteer. If we recruit you as a Volunteer, it’s our responsibility to train you. If we recruit you as a Volunteer, we should not recruit you because you have no skill, because you have no certificate, or because you are a rough boy. No.

We can recruit you as a Masters degree holder, as a PhD holder, as a first degree holder to start in Volunteer. Because if you say that the essence of Volunteer is to help the security forces operating, then you must have the knowledge of security. You must contribute. You must have value to security, and that is what this government is trying to do. It’s not a matter of “I’m a rough boy. These things must stop. These things must stop and so if you know that you don’t have a skill, it’s the responsibility of government to train you to have a skill.”

For full text of the interactive session, visit our website: www.bayelsanewmediateam.wordpress.com or www.facebook.com/bayelsanewmediateam. HSD is working!

(Do you have an article for publication? Please email it to bayelsanewmediateam@gmail.com)


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