Bayelsa State Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Daniel Iworiso-Markson, speaks on the achievements of the Seriake Dickson-led administration and on-going reforms in the state civil service. WALE ELEGBEDE reports
Governor Seriake Dickson would be marking his 6th year in office, what do you consider to be the significance of the anniversary?
I think the basic significance would be a candid stock taking and informing the people what their government had done to improve their lives and hope for a better tomorrow. To that extent, we can confidently say that the Restoration administration has in the last six years changed our narrative as we used to know it. It is incontrovertible because the achievements of the Contriman Governor, Hon. Seriake Dickson, are now everywhere and good enough, the people can relate with them in the various sectors.
Education, for instance, has received an unusual attention that posterity will definitely remember Governor Dickson for. We now have the best secondary schools in the country. Even in recession, government started a revolutionary education programme that you cannot find in any other state. A programme where government is selecting boys and girls from all the local government areas and putting them through a competitive examination process; putting them in model secondary schools built by government; feeding and clothing them as well as providing books and computers for them. This is remarkable and as the governor rightly noted, this is the foundation of the new Bayelsa.
So much has really happened in the education sector thereby creating hope for outstanding future development of the state. In recession, government is also building tertiary schools, the University of Africa; the College of Health Technology, Otuogodi and making resources available for all their facilities and getting accreditation of all their courses. The same thing applies to the College of Education; it will be a degree awarding college affiliated to the Niger Delta University. The administration is also supporting the Niger Delta University; supporting the take-off of the polytechnic, building science and technical colleges throughout the state. If you go to the Ijaw National Academy, you will understand the point I am making. That is the foundation Governor Dickson is inspiring, making us to believe in ourselves and establishing a home grown development initiative, which is already attracting interest from far and wide.
In the area of healthcare, the situation is getting better and better looking at solid investments in the critical sector compared to the past. Before now we cannot in serious reckoning claim to have modern hospitals in the state, but all that have now changed. And to ensure that fake drugs do not compound the health situations of our people, the government has built the drug mart and Bayelsa pharmaceutical centre, ready for commissioning. Before the end of December 2018, every ward will have a functional health centre, equipped with quarters for doctors and nurses.
Yet, I think the infrastructural development like construction of roads and bridges is one key area we cannot but praise the current administration in Bayelsa State, ditto for rural electrification. It’s been revealing, having to open up the state through roads in all the senatorial districts. I hope you all took notice that last Christmas, the governor drove to Aleibiri and by December this year he will be driving straight to Ekeremor. For all those who are familiar with the stories behind such historic efforts, we should commend the Contriman Governor. What people thought were impossible are now possible and that speaks of leadership and vision.
There is the observation that the government has not given due attention to housing in its development initiatives. Why is it so?
That may be true, but the good news is that the state is about to witness major mass housing projects. Estates are about springing up in the state. The point to make is that Governor Dickson came into office with a plan. Although he cannot solve all the problems, certainly we have seen a burning desire to work and to solve problems. Things are moving on according to plan and prioritization of the huge task he’s been shouldering to fix the state, especially those foundation issues he has painstakingly addressed so far. So, this year, you are going to see major investments in public housing.
There’s this back and forth argument between the state government and labour on payment of workers’ salaries. What’s the true position?
I think it is all about misinformation or deliberate misinformation perpetrated by some politicians who tried to mislead the media in their reportage. The point is that the local governments have had some problems paying their workers. It is not the state that did not pay salaries; it is the local councils due to obvious challenges in recent times. The state government only owe three months backlog, carried over when allocation went down so bad. But, the good news is that the issue of councils owing salaries will soon be over. As we talk, Governor Dickson has given the councils a marching order to find a way around the issue by paying their workers regularly. On the part of the state government, it cleared one and half months just two weeks ago and soon, the remaining part of the three months backlog would cleared.
The people can tell you confidently that the Contriman Governor is a responsible leader, who, interestingly, came into office to serve the poor and vulnerable in the state. Importantly, government is looking into the challenge of regular payment of salaries to teachers at the local government level even though it is the responsibility of the councils. The enormous investment the state has made into education in the state has necessitated this latest development. Initially government was paying 80 per cent, but reduced to it 60 per cent, occasioned by revenue shortfall. It actually worsened during the recession and government could no longer pay the primary school teachers. But, from this month, salaries of teachers will be on the first line charge. What this means is that government will take that money from local governments allocation and will pay directly to the primary school teachers.
There is an impending reform in the state civil service. What should the workers expect as many believe that reforms usually come with job losses?
The reform is actually on-going and is aimed at repositioning the state civil service for greater efficiency. This has become imperative because government believes people have lost the core values of the civil service. But, let me quickly disabuse your mind and those of others over the second part of your question, whether the exercise will lead to job losses. I want to say categorically that no job will be lost except those who have something to hide. Hardworking civil servants have nothing to fear and nothing to lose, but those who are lazy and who are disloyal in the area of not performing their jobs and duties, but collecting salaries, those who do not go to work and falsify their records, those who indulge in any of these things will have questions to answer.
Trust Governor Dickson, everything would be done according to rules and regulations. Several committees have been set up in this regard and there won’t be any form of victimization. Anyone affected would be given the opportunity to prove his or her case beyond doubt. The civil service is a very essential arm of government; if it collapses, then we are in trouble. So, government is concerned and really keen to leave behind a more professional civil service.
Let me also say here that the reform will also help in upgrading the mentality and performance of the teachers. But, please tell our people that government is not sacking any teacher in Bayelsa. No teacher should be afraid of job loss. The only thing government is asking for is that teachers must demonstrate that they have the skills to impart knowledge on their students. The governor has already sent a bill to the state House of Assembly to create an agency for teachers retraining and certification. This is the aspect of the reform in this regard.
Once passed into law, anybody who wants to be a teacher in the state; in any public or private school, secondary or primary, must have gone through that institution and that person must have a certificate. Teaching is too important for it to be an all-comers affair. I think government is in order here. The government believes that the solution is not to sack them saying they are not good enough, No, we want to give them the opportunity to be retrained on the ethics, methodology, skills and on what to impart to our children. Government is working with all the teachers and teaching agencies and unions to be part of the whole process, to train and motivate our teachers. The same thing applies to the civil servants, working with the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria (ASCON), they will go for courses because manpower development is important.
Beyond reforms, our communities will get lots of support from the government this year. This is an assurance from the governor. I am aware that government has budgeted over a billion naira for community support in fulfillment of campaign promises. There will also be business opportunities for those into tourism and housing.
Governor Dickson is in the last lap of his leadership of the state. How do you think posterity will remember him?
Well, I will be frank with you. The question is not fair to me being an official of the government headed by Governor Dickson. I think the people who feel his leadership everyday are supposed to provide the answer. But since you are putting me on the spot, my answer is simply that his place in the anals of Bayelsa State is assured in glowing epitaph as a visionary, who came and conquered. He’s just terrific. He definitely has made a huge difference and his stewardship remains indelible.