By Samuel Oyadongha
IT was five years ago, yesterday, that former member of the House of Representatives and erstwhile commissioner of justice, Henry Seriake Dickson was sworn in as governor of Bayelsa State, with its moniker, Glory of All Lands. That date, February 14, 2012 has now come to signify Democracy Day for the people of Bayelsa State. The state commissioner for Information and Strategy, Jonathan Obuebite, in this interview spoke on the strides and struggles of the Dickson administration
It is a year into Governor Seriake Dickson’s second term. How far has it been?
One year, how far? Ordinarily, because of the recession that we are into, governments across the states have been affected. But, in Bayelsa State, we have fared well. Within the one year, we have been able to complete so many projects. The good thing about the governor’s style of administration is that we made provisions for project funding and also for recurrent expenditure. Government decided that, based on the current realities, we had to cut our emoluments as government appointees.
What we are getting now is half of what the commissioners used to get. That cut across all political appointees. Through that, we have been able to save some money which should have been used for personnel cost for political appointees and we channeled the money into project funding. That has reduced the recurrent expenditure.
That’s a drop in the ocean. How much has the government been able to save through that?
I think we have not saved enough from that. But, the number of political appointees has drastically reduced. That is the beauty of it. When you know you don’t have, you have to cut your coat according to your size. Now, we cut our coat according to the material available. So, in the last one year, we have been battling with a lot of issues and we are able to get it right in the sense that we were able to complete important projects. We were able to complete the new Governor’s Office, a multi-billion naira project.
Also, we have been able to complete the Government House Hospital Complex this year. It has both the private and the public wing. It can be accessed from two frontiers. Also, we have been able to complete the House Officers’ Quarters, and the Federal Medical Centre, which is not a state project, but a Federal Government Hospital. But, since it is Bayelsa State and there is the need for that accommodation, we had to build it for them.
We were able to complete the Diagnostic Centre; furnished and functional. We also have the forensic equipment within the same complex.
What is unique about the Forensic Centre?
It is unique. It is about the sixth we are going to have all over the country. Nigerians don’t need o travel out again for it. It is even good for security. It helps in curbing fraud and perjury.
The centre can uncover the cause of the death of a person, if someone wants to attribute it to another cause. It is highly needed. The police work with it. It is very helpful to society. It is very important. It helps the society.
Why is the government owing salaries to workers?
When you talk about salaries, indeed, it was sad that it happened. We had challenges paying our salaries. We had to work with labour leaders in the state.
As at 2015, between October and December, our allocation dropped to N2 billion. From January 2016, it dropped to N1.7 billion. We had to resort to the payment of half salary. We negotiated with labour unions. Outside January, from February, we were paying half salary to our workforce. We actually paid only October, November, December when we had this issue of Paris and London Club Fund. In January, we started paying full salaries and paying the outstanding half salaries.
Outstanding half salaries
We have reversed back to the payment of full salaries. That reversion was because the governor committed himself, irrespective of the condition of the economy. Within six months, we will clear the half salaries. Because of the openness in our financial transactions, the Transparency Briefing that the governor initiated, the Bayelsa Watch Website dedicated to that, our people are aware of our income and expenditure. It was easy for us to negotiate with labour.
The labour leaders are aware of what the government was doing. Our books are open. We are always engaging the labour leaders. The governor has not made any policy decision without involving the labour leaders.
That’s one thing I want to commend him for. It makes my job very easier as commissioner for information. I relate them more than any other person.
Sometimes, we have informal discussions on issues before we come to the open. So, they took that wise decision of not disrupting the system.
They are working with the system to succeed. Before on the 25thof every month, we pay salaries.
What are the challenges facing the Dickson administration now?
Basically, we have the challenges of resources; the challenges of fund. As a government, we need money. We have a war to fight; the war of infrastructural development. If we are able to defeat the war of infrastructural development, then, there will be peace in the Niger Delta. So, we need a lot of resources. Bayelsa is a virgin state. Yenegoa was a glorified local government without a tarred road before the state was created.
When the first governor, your brother, came to Bayelsa State, it was a school compound and the local government that was converted as the Governor’s Office and Governor’s Lodge. Workers were coming from Port-Harcourt had to sleep in their vehicles. All you find on the road is 15 vehicles; buses. That was the situation under the military administrators, until the coming of Alamieyeiseigha, and the proper building of Bayelsa started.
The second challenge is the pay roll fraud; over bloated wage bill and labour strength in the state. The wage bill of Bayelsa is compared to that of Delta and other states. And we are talking about a state that has only eight local governments. We have about 50,000 civil servants in Bayelsa State. That is a problem. We want to change the status. We have about 3,000 non-academic staff in the Niger Delta University and over 785 academic staff. The wage bill of that school every month ids N500 million. That is the recurrent personnel expenditure; payment of salary alone. In a year, we spend N6 billion for salary of workers. We have started the process of auditing the staff. The student population is 14,000. And you have that workforce?