•We must stop AK- 47 role models
•Anybody against our education levy is an enemy
•This revolution is to restore Jerusalem of Ijaw land
GOVERNOR Seriake Dickson, who oversees Bayelsa State, aka Jerusalem of Ijaw land, is obviously angry that the Federal Government and leaders of the state allegedly neglected the oil-rich state for many years running. In this interview the lawyer, one-time lawmaker and police officer talks on what he calls new revolution in the state. Excerpts:
By Samuel Oyadongha, Yenagoa
IT was widely expected that some laudable projects by your administration like the Drug Mart, Diagnostics Centre and others would have been inaugurated during the celebration of your anniversary, last month, but that did not happen, when will these projects be flagged off?
Well, I understand the fixation people have for project commissioning, but ceremonies for me are not as important as actually conceiving, constructing, supervising, building and completing projects. This beautiful Governor’s Office is completed and in use, and we have also finished schools that are in use and other projects. I am not a man for ceremonies and vainglory but since I know that my country people want ceremony, I am planning some big ceremonies for them.
What prompted the decision to sponsor the bill for the Education Development Trust Fund and how will government manage it?
These are critical bills that have been signed into law and will go a long way to consolidate the legacies that the state is making in this critical area of education. As I said on the day I was signing those bills into law, the government has spent over N50 billion building educational infrastructure. This does not include other recurrent investments in education. This is only the money spent in building infrastructure in all local government areas; some local governments have two or three and we are still going on. There are 25 constituency boarding schools with facilities that are functional. All the contractors will soon go back to work and we are now equipping schools with beds, foams, lockers, fences like you have never seen before. The level of investment we are making in education is next to none. Indeed, I doubt if there is any state in Nigeria making this kind of investment in education. We are doing these things in a time of recession.
Today, I was in Niger Delta University, NDU, Amasssoma, to carry out ceremonies marking the disbursement of N10 billion of Tertiary Education Infrastructure Development Fund that I promised in my budget speech. We have flagged off the construction of the senate building. NDU has operated without a befitting senate building, and that is not good enough. We have also flagged off the construction of a dualised road cutting across the length of that great University.
We have almost rounded off the investments in boarding schools; we have about 14 or 15 of them. The Ijaw National Academy has already started and we have 1000 students there. It is a secondary school but it is just like a tertiary institution, bigger than most Nigerian universities and built from the scratch. The first tree that was cut down was done by this government. We did the first road there, cleared the land and everything there was designed and developed by us. Almost 100 of the students are from other Ijaw -speaking states. So when I give scholarships, most people do not know I give scholarships also to other Ijaw in other states because Bayelsa has a responsibility not only to mobilise ourselves within this state for development, but also to lead the way for the rest of the Ijaw nation. Some of the deserving boys and girls from other neighbouring states are there and they will feed for free.
No single boarding school when I came
This is a revolution for my people. There is no government secondary school without boarding facilities. We are capping it all with a compulsory boarding system. So we are going to have about 7 to 10,000 compulsory boarding students fed by the state, clothed by the state, taken care of by the state. There are medical facilities in the schools, laboratories, libraries built to standard. For the Ijaw National Academy, the first principal I have appointed is a British citizen, a distinguished Cambridge University graduate.
There is a major revolution going on that has to be supported and funded. The only thing we want a parent or guardian to do is when your child gets admission into any of these boarding schools, you only buy those little items like bucket, cutlass, dormitory wears and so on. The government will now take care of the intellectual molding of that child and we are training all round citizens. We want new Bayelsans that can come and fly as high as they can and get ready to conquer and dominate their environment in the future. That is the charge I have given to them. For all of these, a lot of money is needed and government has already made the initial investment.
In the next few months when the first batch of 15 schools have started, I will be awarding contracts again for the boarding secondary schools at the constituency level. Once we finish it, we will proudly beat our chest and say yes, we have the best boarding facilities in this country. The most lasting investment we can make, where you can never go wrong is the investment in the human mind and that is the foundation I have been laying. When I took over this state, we had the unfortunate situation where in 2012; we did not have a single boarding school. For me, that was criminal neglect and that explains why some local governments and across the state we have kidnappers and militants, criminals and cultists because the young people have not been given the opportunities to discover their potentials and to contribute meaningfully to the society.
Now we have to break that cycle of criminality, unemployment, poverty, disease and ignorance where people have lost the capacity to even analyze what they hear. It is so bad that you are building a road to someone’s community and they will say “na road we go chop?” The only weapon to fight this is investment in education. That is why we have come up with these two laws: the Education Development Trust Fund is to guarantee sustainability of the policies and programmes that the restoration government that I am leading has put in place in education.
Thus from now on, by the end of this month, funds will come into that account to support the free feeding, free uniforms that we have embarked upon. We have now created an institution that will be managing that and it will take little contributions from every Bayelsan, some as little as N400, others N500 and by the way in a year it comes to N6000 or less. There are others that will have to pay N1000 depending on the grade for those in the public service. It is better for all of us to pull these little resources to fund mass education.
In this state, we have some educated people, but the judgment I have made over time for the five years I have been here is that we are yet to get that critical mass of highly skilled and developed minds and unless the society has that, we cannot develop. This education trust fund is not to be contributed by only people in the public service. I have said all my appointees will even pay the highest. I am going to be the highest contributor, my contribution will be N100,000 every month, The deputy governor will be contributing N50,000 monthly, the speaker that is seated here will contribute N30,000, commissioners and House of Assembly members, S.As, judges and chief judge will contribute N25,000. This is a compulsory levy for education.
The future of this state has to be protected and it is something that everybody will come together and contribute to. Now all those who of you who do business in this state will have to pay a particular percentage of your profit as education levy. Anybody doing a government contract from now has to be prepared to pay that and I have directed that a minimum of five per cent of the internally generated revenue, IGR, of this state will also go into that fund. Now if we do this, you will see that with the foundation we have established, this state will continue to be number one. Those states that are doing well are states that the leaders took this type of decisions. Several decades ago, their people made the sacrifice we are making now. Let it not be said that any Bayelsan is saying no to this levy. Anybody opposed to this will be considered by me as an enemy of this state. I will engage everybody on this issue to clear any doubts and misconceptions.
Lifeline for indigent students
The second bill is to establish the Tertiary Education Loan Board. We are creating a special board to be able to give faculties to indigent students in tertiary institutions, particularly in the Niger Delta University and all over the world. What government will do to help young people acquire education is to provide loans and make it easy for them to obtain a loan so that a brilliant child who does not have the means would not drop out of school. We have opened up a challenge for all the young people. If you have admission in Niger Delta University, just go and register in the scholarship board and get it. The scholarship will be set up very soon and I will put seasoned educationists that we trust their judgment to manage it and I have directed that five per cent of the IGR of this state will be dedicated to that fund.
It will be fully funded by the government of Bayelsa state. We are also working with NDU to make sure fees are paid. You will borrow and if for instance what you need for tuition is N100, 000 per session and your degree programme is five years, it means the government will give you a loan of N500, 000 and we have trained a graduate. We will restructure your re- payment for 10-15 years.
Experts will work it out so that every month, there is something you pay so that we create a revolving system and so that when you pay, others will also benefit from it. I call for understanding, collaboration, for the education tax fund, the trust fund. Everybody will pay, including those who run away from Bayelsa, who stay in Lagos and pay tax to Lagos state government, stay in Port Harcourt and pay tax, and stay in Abuja and pay tax to Abuja authorities.
What steps will be taken to ensure that this fund remains in existence after your tenure?
Education is the only way through which you can change a society in a positive manner. The country has moved on for so many years and left our people behind, so people in Bayelsa are actually victims of neglect by the Federal Government and by their leaders over time. I have already appointed a very seasoned educationist, someone that is up there among the first 20 names you call in education in Nigeria and beyond the shores of Nigeria. I have spoken with Prof. T.T Isoun, and he has graciously offered to serve once again even at his age. I thank him and express gratitude on behalf of the government and good people of the state. He has the knowledge, experience, passion, dedication, understands the issues and the role education can play as a tool for turning around the Ijaw nation. With his experience and background, and integrity, and above all it has been my honour to appoint him, I have since sent his name to the House of Assembly to chair the Education Trust Fund.
No receipt, no service
I am consulting and before the end of next week, I will be making other appointments in that very important board because they are going to be managing a lot of money. By our calculation, the education trust fund will receive between N100m to N250m every month. That is just the beginning. With time, every private citizen, all taxable citizens must pay, even if it is N100 or N200. Very soon for every public service, for you to access the hospitals we are building, for your children to have enrollment in schools, we will ask for your receipt. The only receipt we will ask for in this state for every official thing is education trust fund receipt because now we are in the period of emergency.
I believe it will be so for a number of years until we get out of it. Whoever the next governor will be will decide the next line of action. I have made a determination that this is the right way to go.
Who is eligible to access this loan, what are the modalities of accessing the Higher Education Students loan scheme and are there specified penalties for defaulters, especially corporate organizations and private individuals?
Every adult taxable person in Bayelsa is liable to pay the education development levy beginning with me the governor down the line to the least positioned public officer. We are starting from the public service to the private sector. Anybody who has a shop in Bayelsa or is running a taxi must pay this levy; nobody is exempted. If you are selling in a shop in the market, you must pay. It may be as low as N100 monthly but you must pay it so that everybody will have a sense of ownership.
This levy is not to build schools, we have already made investments. It will be used to sustain this revolutionary intervention in education, which is the free and compulsory boarding system. We are selecting all the best boys and girls from all the primary schools to start secondary schools. We are also selecting all the best boys and girls from secondary schools.
In the next few weeks, I will be mobilising about N2.5 billion to be used for the completion of the construction of the 25 constituency secondary schools, all boarding! When these boarding schools are finished, we will turn attention to the equipment. Every month we will spend a minimum of N500m for several months buying beds, lockers, foams, equipping kitchens etc the sort of things government was doing back in those days which is why we are who we are. We are going back to those days. If you go to Kaiama Grammar School, you will be shocked what you have there. If you go to the school in Ekeremor you will shocked what you have there. Brass, it is the same thing and so on. In Southern Ijaw, they have even three. We have started the one in Okubie and I have directed the construction of another one in Opuama because that is a vast local government, but children do not go to school.
Looking at the educational loan to students in the state, will the state government employ them after their studies into the state civil service?
There of course can be no guaranteed employment, but I assure you that very soon, there will be many employment opportunities announced in the state service because of the ongoing reforms. The preliminary report I have indicate that there are very many people who ought not to be in the public service that are there. There are people who are 75 yrs of age and are still going to work, presenting age declaration saying they are 40 years, we are collating all of that and it is happening at the local government level in the state. Very soon, we will thank those people who ought not to be there and say take the back seat; we now want to employ your son or your grandchild.
Plans to fast track employment
At the end of this re-organization, there will be a lot of room for employment. But there will be no guarantee for those who will benefit from the loan. The loan is just to enable you go to school and graduate, but once you graduate, if you take your study seriously and earn your degree, you will have a job to do. We are coming up with a number of projects that will enable our young people to employ themselves and others. I have told my team to work on the Bayelsa state young entrepreneurship programme. We are going to select a number of them to give some seed capital to support to start. I am very impressed with what some of them have already shown capacity to do.
First go and acquire the education, particularly in NDU. If funding is your problem, the board will listen to you, but you have to do well also; that is your own part of the bargain and the school will recommend to us that you are a student and you are doing well. We do not want to give loan to a man who will spend eight years doing a four-year course.
We want someone that can take the loan, graduate in four years, start work and begin to pay back gradually. That is what they do in America and UK. So take advantage of it. If your parents can sponsor you, do not come and apply for the loan because you will be depleting the fund to support poor students, who like me, when I was in the university, had to work night duty as a police constable and later as police corporal. And I did full time LLB and graduated top of my class by the grace of God.
AK 47 role models must go
There are those youths who take those carrying AK47 as their role models. This type of life has to stop. If we must have a future as a people, that life must stop. If others did not see that, I, Dickson, who belongs to the people, who has come from the people sees it. My parents were poor people. I did not go to top schools in Lagos or Abuja or Port Harcourt. I schooled in my village, in my local government and so I want the poor people, who have the same background like my parents and their children who have the same background like me to have access to good education. With what I have done, I am giving them the opportunities that children of elite have. Quality education is the best thing we can leave for children, not these big houses people steal money to build or the big cars and hotels civil servants will be stealing money to build. With the team we have set up, Prof. Isoun is not the type that will come and mismanage our money and that is why we are carefully selecting people that will manage this fund.
Facilities in America, London available in Bayelsa
For the past two years, our students have done incredibly well in the National Essay competition, which should tell you that when we give opportunities to these children, they will get to the moon. That is what I want to multiply, not by giving scholarship to send people out of Bayelsa. We have built the facilities and are still building. I want Bayelsa to have the best schools in this country; I want Bayelsa to have the best public health care facilities. It has already started happening. We never had a functional hospital in Kaiama, none in Sagbama, Ekeremor, Ogbia, Oporoma. But all that has changed. As I am talking to you, all the health facilities are in place. In Ogbia, construction is on-going. I have directed that additional funds be given to the contractor before the end of April I want to see that hospital in Ogbia completed because all others are completed. You have the Diagnostics Centre, which is one of the best in this country. People now leave Abuja, Lagos to do their diagnostics here. The specialist hospital by the government is one of the best; all facilities you have in London and America are here. We are also introducing the health insurance scheme, which everybody will subscribe to, particularly people in the public service.
A few days ago, the eight local government councils confirmed receipt of the refund of the Paris fund with Southern Ijaw receiving the highest. There are, however, fears in some quarters of misappropriation by the councils. What is your charge to the councils on proper utilization of the funds and has Bayelsa received the second batch of the refund?
This is the only state where income of government is declared publicly and we have been doing that for five years. We were even the first state to announce it, N14.5b. In this state, the management of your resources is not secret. We hold meetings to discuss it. Everybody knows what we are spending money on. After salaries, whatever is left goes into projects. That is why we are able to do all of these and you have a N50b airport project coming up, which is one of the biggest.
It is not easy as a government to bring about a project like this. It takes a lot of commitment, determination. In this government we do not deduct even N1 from local government funds. From 2012 till date I do not even know what they get and I am not interested. All I have said is that you have a responsibility to manage your own allocation in your councils, declare it to your stakeholders, just as I am doing here. That is what the law says and be prudent and I believe they are also trying their best.
Our position on transparency is so clear that once we receive the second tranche we are going to be the first to announce the receipt. In fact it was when we announced receipt of the first tranche that a lot of states even knew that their government had received the allocation. We are expecting the second tranche in the next one or two weeks. There is nothing to worry about in the management of funds in this state.
Citizens should hold LG chairs accountable
As for the local government chairmen and their councils, their stakeholders should hold them to account and they should give account of what they get. I have a system of monitoring through the commissioner for local government, but you know in this state, local governments are independent and we do not interfere in what they do.
We make general rules to guide them but we do not get involved in the way they spend their money. But we will make sure that they use the monies that they have gotten to meet their liabilities and obligations. For the Paris fund, anytime we get it, that same day or latest the following day, we will announce how much we have gotten and I will have a meeting with the labour leaders when that happens.
I came prepared
For the past five years, we have focused on infrastructure, education, and healthcare and also investing in security such that Bayelsa now is one of the safest states. Now, we want to go into big time housing development and it is a shame that in Bayelsa, Yenagoa particularly, the cost of rental accommodation is prohibitive and it should not be. We want to address it. Also, it is a shame that people spend so much money buying plots and so on, getting into arguments and so on.
The policy we have adopted is for you to see estates coming up one after the other from now till the remainder of my tenure. Because these things are structured, I came prepared for governance, I came with the full understanding of the challenges and programmed how to tackle them one after the other. We have taken education to a level, we have taken health care to a level, security is stabilized, and agriculture is expanded; now tourism is also expanded to a large extent now. While waiting for all of these to materialize and be synchronized, we are taking on public housing.
Government Reservation Area, GRA, is just one of the several initiatives we have. There are actually two other medium and low income developments going on here. There is one going on at Ayama, 100 hectares acquired, cleared and made ready as we speak. The Ministry of Housing is doing it, I have approved another 250 units to be put there, all one and two bedrooms. We have approved money for them to pay part of the compensation at Agbura, another 100 hectares. These two areas are for the medium and high density.
The GRA here, which is in the tourism island, is for low density, all Bayelsans are free to apply but these ones are about four times the size of normal plots. I will engage my housing team to know what the civil servants and other low income earners will pay for the houses and the land that we will give in Agbura. The price for the houses in Ayama is known because we are spending money to build them. We are going to sell them but not below the cost of building. We will put in a mortgage facility and synchronize all of it. I want more people to own their own houses and unfortunately we have not seen too much of that in this state.
Poor but rich
All these years, it has been housing estates for the commissioners, so now we want to do big time low income housing developments. Some of it we will plan out the plots and sell them with C of Os and you all know the introduction we have done. The BGIS is here. That is one of the first investments we made when I was campaigning, I told them the value of land that a number of people are rich, but just that land which is their capital has no value because it is not in a certificated form, so we invested heavily in that. I sign C of Os every morning, including today and I do not care who the title owner is. We do not play politics with those things. This is the level of maturity you need in government. Every building in this state is recorded. Every plot is recorded. We have been collecting data from 2012 till now. We are even working towards getting C of O for everybody so that people can pay and collect and then you pay our ground rent and also pay for our physical planning and development permit so that the government can also have income.
Our plan for market women
There are a lot of markets going on in Yenagoa. In fact, yesterday I had a long meeting with the investment team, there is a market we have been building at Kpansia, and I told them it is too slow for my liking. I think the design got so big and very complex and the contractor and the team have been having issues about variation and all that. They were even having issues with land compensation and all that, so even in that market now, I hear we have over 200 stalls ready to go. With the new roads we are building all over in Yenagoa here, that road is also quite passable even though it is not fully finished. We are hoping that the market will be put to use very soon.
I have directed the construction of a new market in Igbogene area because of the women selling plantain and all other things along the road. I appreciate the industry they are showing. So they are working and planning to start a simpler market, not a complex one, just a stall to put their wares and all that and do their business and pay tax to us. A number of markets will also come up in the local government headquarters.
We have also spent a lot of money in our biggest market, Swali, doing up most of the abandoned stalls. I am told that we have over 600 market stalls that we have re-done. I have directed the commissioner for works to do the roads in the area. In the next few weeks, he will get to work; it is direct labour so that we will reduce cost.
New Bayelsa terminal
On motor parks, part of what we are doing is to conceive projects that will outlive all of us, projects that will stand the test of time. Similarly the government realized some years back that we needed a bigger and more modern motor park so we have started the construction of a modern motor terminal like an airport terminal at Igbogene. They are at roofing stage now. These projects are not political projects; they are projects to serve the people both now and for the future. That motor terminal at Igbogene will take thousands of vehicles; we have a police post, a bank, and all kinds of things there. The plan is that every vehicle coming into Bayelsa will stop there and then the small taxis we are soon going to introduce will take people from the terminal to wherever they are going. I am sure in the next couple of months, they will be completed because they are roofing now. I like the work going on in Ekeki Park; that is a local government project I want the chairman to keep it up.