David Serene is the Secretary to the Government of Bayelsa State. Recently he spoke to journalists in Yenogoa, the state capital, on the state of affairs in the state since 2012 when Governor Henry Seriake Dickson assumed office. Excerpts
CAN you give us an overview of what Governor Seriake Dickson has achieved in the last five years?
Henry Seriake Dickson is actually a positive phenomenon. He ascended to power in 2012 when the situation in the state was horrendous. First, in the education sector, we had no single boarding institution in the state. Then, the service culture of the people or lack of it – the civil service was peopled by non-people. What Governor Dickson faced when he came was unimaginable, so much that the wage bill was over N6 billion every month. We had agriculture which was in comatose; we had a health sector that was virtually moribund. We had the abysmal lack of or failure of infrastructure. No suitable road or bridges, no proper public facility or building. That was the profile of the state at the time he came on board.
The very first thing the governor did was to declare a state of emergency on education and he went on to attack the problem by building schools and schools in virtually every community in the state. The evidence is there for all to see today. He also embarked on an elaborate programme of scholarship awards and sent several of Bayelsan students overseas for good education. He also embarked on ambitious infrastructure development building roads and roads and in that connection, he build the Toru Ebeni Bridge, which is the longest bridge in the whole of Niger Delta that links Yenogoa to Southern Ijaw and all that.
Now, the terrain in the state is so inhospitable, completely different from the people who are very hospitable; in Bayelsa, in order to build a road or a house, first, you have to create the land upon which you have to build the house or the road on.
How did the present administration contain the militancy and other forms of criminalities which the state was known for?
We did that by singularly committing ourselves to the task and we shut our eyes to constitutional impediment. Under the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, law and order are the responsibility of the federal government but in practice, the country is so vast that the federal government cannot police the nation. And so, Bayelsa State decided to embark on programmes that have helped in getting our youths off the streets.
Bayelsa till now is still one of the educationally disadvantaged states in the country, was this the reason for the massive investment in education by the governor?
Before 2012 when the governor came in, we knew about the level of militancy and criminality in the state. The governor did his research and found out that these children of ours who are into these activities are misguided and they are pushed into it because of lack of education and after education, lack of job opportunity. That explains why he embarked on massive educational infrastructure development.
Why is it so difficult for the government to address this recurring issue of non-payment of teachers’ salary, especially that of primary school teachers?
Primary school teachers’ salary is the responsibility of the local government. If you recall, there was this problem that state governors were tampering with local government fund, that is wrong and they should stop. And Governor Dickson said, ‘I will not touch your money but uitilise it responsibly’. But because they are a veritable tier under the constitution and there is a limit to what you want to do regarding fiscal issue, that will not be misinterpreted. As a matter of fact and by way of positive intervention, Governor Dickson has been bearing a lot of the responsibility of primary school teachers that is not state responsibility under the law. But things became so bad as a result of the crash of oil price which resulted in low inflow to the state from the Federation Account and we are no longer able to cope with primary schools teachers’ salary. Having said that let it be made explicitly clear, categorical that Bayelsa State is not in default of salary of primary school teachers. Local government is in default; having said that, but because they are our people all the same, discussions are ongoing to see how the state can assist further in resolving the issue.