Deacon Markson Fefegha is the Bayelsa State Information and Orientation Commissioner. In this interview with OSA Okhomina, he says that the administration of Governor Seriake Dickson is focusing on education, infrastructural development, tourism and security of life and property.
Bayelsa is experiencing new style of governance and new policies; how far has it been?
Let me describe this administration as a love gift to Bayelsa people; especially because it was inaugurated on a day known as Valentine Day. And to us and to every citizen of the state, there were high hopes to transform the fortunes of the state. Let me say that when the burden of history fell on Governor Seriake Dickson to transform the fortunes of the state in a period characterised by insecurity, violence and the citizens have lost hope.
The people were so despondent, many did not believe that we will rise up to the challenge of transforming the fortunes of the state. But today, so much has been achieved. But let me say that the government has only functioned for seven months. By our calculation, it was only in April that the governor appointed his commissioners and what he was doing initially was to lay the building blocks for the foundation to the effective take-off of governance, because without the commissioners and other aides he could not have done anything alone.
And it was when we all sat down in April when we came on board that we started formulating policies, and one of the first was the Appropriation Bill that was sent to the House of Assembly to be passed into law and contracts awarded. Not until that time, contracts were awarded and deliberations made with money approved.
But when we thought government had taken off, the flood came like a tsunami and destabilised the system of governance. And the focus of government was more on how to rehabilitate those displaced internally by the flood and we all suspended all we wanted to do and went all out to see how we can salvage the remains of our infrastructure and at the same time put the building blocks gathered together by this administration intact.
We had a burden to help the displaced persons. It was not an easy period. The flood disorganised us and broke the flow of governance. It slowed us down, as we lost our pace and state funds. Bridges were lost, roads were torn and the load was heavy. Also while trying to recover from the flood, we had the ill-fated helicopter crash that killed the Kaduna State Governor, Patrick Yakowa and our son, General Owei Azazi. The pace slowed down but with all that behind us, we have tried to be focused and forge ahead.
Now that the trying period is over, what is the main focus of the present administration?
The major focus of the administration in driving the economy is education. From the onset, the governor did not mince words when he realised that Bayelsa State is the epic centre of the Niger Delta and the place where every Ijaw man has come to stay. Thus, it became a responsibility that we have to take care of youths unemployment.
Bayelsa, being the seat of the Niger Delta, was also a centre for restiveness in the past. Five years ago, it would have been difficult for us to sit here and chat comfortably. Even going home without having to look behind you was a feat. But today, except for one or two criminal incidents, everyone in the state can close their eyes while sleeping. The governor, from the beginning, declared that we are set to fight crime and criminality.
Being an experienced man in the area of crime fighting as a former police officer, lawyer, Commissioner of Justice and a lawmaker, he also applied the battle to human capital development and education. In doing this however, the administration decided that core assignment is to first fight crime and criminality and so a Bill was passed into law against political violence, cultism, crime and criminality in the state for peace to reign.
Though we still have pockets of incidences such as kidnapping, it is not peculiar to Bayelsa. The major task we have at hand now is to battle now is sea piracy.
For this, we have set up an anti-piracy squad known as ‘Door Akpoor.’ Ours is a government of restoration and we don’t want to use the existing security apparatus to maim or kill people like they did in the infamous security outfit known as ‘Famou Tamgbe’ in the state. This time around, our focus is to rehabilitate the youths involved in crime.
So, we have been able to reduce criminal activities to a reasonable minimum and that is why some night clubs are still functioning. Night life was non-existent six years ago and this is the legacy that we have come to put in place. Our administration guarantees protection of human life and invites potential investors to know that there is peace in the state.
The government is opening up the state from three flanks. In the east, we are taking the roads to Aggee in Ekeremor LGA and opening up to the sea through Brass and to the central through Okukubi, Koluama. When the three areas are opened up, not everyone will come to the capital city to stay but move to develop areas with business and tourist centres.
Yenagoa will become like Lagos and become the Dubai of Africa.That is why we are trying to attract investment from within and outside Nigeria. One area is that of tourism. We want to open up and allow people see the beauty of the state through boat cruise to Brass and Nembe.
But the education policy seems lost in all these?
It is not. What we have done is encourage the people to have a free and compulsory education. It is a cardinal plan of this administration. And for this reason, we have awarded scholarships to deserving students. Because it is a government for the Ijaw people, we have also extended the scholarships to other neighbouring students out the states that are Ijaw speaking in Edo, Cross Rivers and others. We emphasise that we can only match our development when our people are soundly educated.
For instance, in the information ministry, when we decided that we must transmit the Ijaw culture to the nation and the world, we knew we must have adequate and qualified manpower. This is the more reason we are sending our students abroad and to the United States of America and the United Kingdom. Last year, we gave out N1billion for scholarship grants. And this year, we have decided to add more because our people have shown new hunger for education.
The one Billion naira was not enough. We have decided to double it to allow more of the people to benefit. We have also initiated another phase of the scholarship that is coming because we want our people to be educated. Now that we have taken our children out from the den of cultism, what they are to do next is to taught how to read and write and give them skills. And that is why we reopened the College of Arts and Science.
We have also moved the College of Education from Okpoama to Sagbama because of proximity and easy access to the place. Today, the enrollment has become much. From an enrollment of 22 persons to thousands. We also have technical schools at Aleibiri and Tumgbo so that our people will learn skills. Not everybody will read and write; we have also gone ahead to source for billions from Bank of Industry to empower our women.
We don’t want our women to just be in the kitchen and be housewives. We want women to earn a living for themselves even when the husbands are not there. A lot of this have been put in place.
During the last tour, the commissioners emphasised that Bayelsa has become a construction yard? How well has the infrastructural policy been implemented?
That is the major policy: development of infrastructure of the state. On road and buildings, we have opened up the city in three flanks. We have opened the state for development with roads. Of course, you are aware that in the state here, there is a traffic jam in town but this is for the good of the state. The people of the state have started bearing the pain because they know that it will be smooth soon.
All we are doing is that every roads in Yenagoa must be dualised. We have also opened the roads to the East and the West through internal roads. It is not just small roads but with double lanes. We want to open up the road and build flyover bridges through the Amassoma road and Tombia. Another one at Oppollo roundabout. We want to ensure that the road link into the Immirringi road and Otueke. If we do not do it now, in time to come, it will be difficult. It is to rework the Master Plan for the state.
Today, in Bayelsa, there is a facelift of the capital and it will soon be a tourist delight. We have also started rehabilitating the five-star hotel earlier abandoned and we have also started work on the 500-bed hospital, now 300-bed hospital. We want a situation where it will not only serve as hospital but a tourist site. And what we are trying to do is to raise the class of infrastructure in the state.
We are emphasising on education, tourism and infrastructural development for the first phase of our administration. By the grace of God, we have three years more to go, if we take the first phase and then complete them, we will initiate others.
We have rehabilitated schools that were seen as a miserable area but we have raised the standard with building of headmasters’ house and make our public schools compete well with any private schools. We are also building model secondary schools in each local government. We want it to be state of the art. we are emphasising the technical aspect of education.
Your ministry, Information and Strategy, seems in a lull in all these restoration journey; how well does information dissemination match the list of development plans you mentioned.?
We are an integral part of the restoration agenda. We have just secured a licence to transform from Radio Bayelsa to Niger Delta Radio and from the Gloryland Television to Niger Delta Television. We have secured it and in no distant time we will be ensuring that the voice of an Ijaw man would be heard all over the world.
The Niger Delta Radio and Television will be the signpost through which we will speak our language and transport our culture to the world. Very soon, we will have our offices in Johannesburg, London and Atlanta. We want to transmit to the world so that the people will know that a section of Nigeria known as Bayelsa and Ijaw people exist with pride.
Some people may think we are a country, but we will tell them who we are. We want to showcase our culture and tradition and export everything that is good to the world. As the governor has always said, anything good in Nigeria is Bayelsan. We will export the good part of our culture to the world. Everyone will listen and it will attract business to the state.
But most of these projects reeled out by your administration have not been completed. What are those projects that have been completed?
Well, I won’t be able to mention all, but I have informed you that the government has only been able to function for about seven months. And so, seven months is too short to judge an administration. During the good governance tour in the state, it was obvious that two edifices have been completed – the Traditional Rulers Council building and the police officers’ mess.
There are many others I can’t recall immediately. These are buildings we pulled down and rebuilt. Even when we are critical of the past regime, we have inherited projects and have built on them. Some projects were abandoned and we have rehabilitated them.
Many persons have viewed some actions of the present administration with suspicion and it seems their fears are being confirmed with the manner the Timi Alaibe committee on appropriations of fund by past administration was swept under the carpet. Has the government done away with the report?
The Timi Alaibe’s report has not been thrown into the bin. It is rather being implemented by the present administration. The first part of the report is to sanitise the civil service. When the report came out, we noticed the cases of over-bloated wage bill. In a country like Nigeria, we are supposed to be the least populated but we had a wage bill compared to that of Lagos. These are the things the report pointed out.
Someone even asked me why we concentrate on only the education sector and I told him we are moving from phase to phase. It is not to witch-hunt people; just that when some things are obvious, we need to ask questions and security personnel were invited. But I don’t think it was a targeted measure because many people were annoyed at what was going on in the sector. For instance, when we were doing the local government verification exercise, we discovered that there were so much fraud.
Those reports were done by highly reputable personalities and we have not thrown away their report. We will soon do justice to it. They also suggested the revamping of the economy and we accepted, because without an economy there is no governance.
Anything that drives the government is the economy. Without a good economy, there can be no good government. And we, as a state, have checked and asked how to build up our economy through a sound Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) regime.
The Timi Alaibe’s committee also suggested it and all those leakages in government spendings must be blocked. When we block those leakages, our IGR will move up. Our plan is not to depend solely on the oil revenue allocation from Federation Account. It has made us work harder.
Government says its primary focus is education, is the free and compulsory education working with many schools still lacking teaching facilities? What kind of free education is Bayelsa practising?
Let me start by saying that we seem to notice sabotage from those who are suppose to facilitate the implementation. You know the governor and the commissioner will not do it. The commissioner of education emphasised that instructional materials like chalk and others will be distributed in collaboration with the universal basic education.
And when we went round during the Good Governance Tour by the minister of information, we discovered that some instructional materials were received by some heads of schools and it was discovered that they were diverted. Like the flood period, we heard rumours of diversion of relief materials. We discovered that some materials were entrusted to some people and they were stolen or diverted. I experienced it during the flood and I believe that they do it.
The government has good intention. Even the governor is more frustrated than I am over the issue. Like the uniforms, the contractor has been paid almost all the money and very few have been delivered. These are the kind of sabotage we have in the system. Well, we are just taking off and these are the hiccups we face.
But I promise you that we will know how to move forward in the midst of these challenge, because we can not declare to the public and not meet up with our plan and purposes. I assure you that we are prepared to ensure that the free and compulsory education is delivered to the people.
But we learnt the uniforms for the schools are being produced abroad whereas the nation harps on local content policy and promoting indigenous businesses…
What I know is that the materials were mass-produced in China. We are using the opportunity of sewing the uniforms to empower our women and youths. The handling of sewing the bale of clothes will assist our local tailors. We cannot do that if we have been telling the oil companies to ensure local content.
Many residents have raised eyebrow about Bayelsa governor’s constant absence from the state and the frequent trips to Abuja and beyond?
Well, there is nobody who doesn’t want development. And development can not come through the indigenes alone. Development requires attracting people. For instance in Yenagoa here, not only the indigenes can bring up an economy.
That is why if you see our economy, the Igbos have dominated. And so, the governor is trying to lay the building block for investment and economic development. That is the more reason why the governor travels.