The senator that represented Bayelsa West senatorial district between 1999 and 2003, Senator Emmanuel Diffa has said that the decision to allow Fulani herdsmen the use of the Bayelsa Palm estate as their ranch has turned out to be a blessing to the state.
Diffa who is the executive director of MAMCO Bayelsa Palm, one of the companies that has the concession right of managing the mega palm estate also said that for the first time since the state government established the palm oil estate, the government was now earning revenue, while he estate was being maintained.
The senator told TNN in an exclusive interview in Abuja that he governor, Henry Seriake Dickson was doing his best to move the state forward, and needed the support of the people, rather than constant chastisement.
When asked to assess the government of Dickson, he said: “I think he is doing a lot of things right. Other people may see something else but the truth of the matter is that in certain areas he has done so well. In education, he is doing marvelously well. To have a school that will cater for 1000 kids in a boarding situation and it is like a tertiary institution; it is not just a secondary school.
“And to have people like Gowon to be there, Soyinka and others and also have Gabriel Okara, J.P. Clark and Tekena, all of them to be there, I think it's wonderful. The learning environment, I think it's so good for young kids like that. And that is not even a private school. It's a school that is organized by the government itself to give scholarship to a thousand people. In addition to other schools he has established in Ekeremor and other places are all boarding facilities, feeding and it's free. I think he has done marvelously well, apart from anything else that he is doing; and it is commendable.
People have some other side of him. People talk about the fact that he is owing salaries, he's kind of enriching his immediate family members, his manner of governance and all of that. I know that you are very, very close to him. What are the things you discuss with him privately, concerning the total development of Bayelsa State?
You must know that development of a state, indeed any community and anything requires a lot of time, a lot of money and a lot of energy to do it. Has he started to do things or is he doing anything? That should be the concern? He is a human being; he doesn't have all the resources to do everything. That is the fact. He doesn't have all the time where he would be given maybe 20 or 30 years to do those things. It's not possible, but progressively in five years he has been, there he has done quite a lot. Yes, you know, salaries and so on that's also the problem with a lot of other states. I'm not saying that salaries should not be paid. It should be paid but I think he is grappling with all those challenges with the resources that is available to him.
Bayelsa is still a glorified village so many years after its creation. Most of the good buildings you see belong to individuals. When will Yenagoa become a place like Port Harcourt, like Lagos?
You and I know, my brother, that these places you are mentioning have been there for years and development progressively have been going on. Don't forget that Bayelsa had only eight kilometers of road. You said it's still a glorified village, by all standards; Bayelsa is progressing. You see individual buildings, yes, somebody has to start something. Government cannot do everything, there is no way but we must allow it to progress. There is no way you will be talking about Lagos and Port Harcourt that have been there, by the Europeans. All kinds of structures were put in Lagos, for example, by all Nigerians. The Ojukwus and so on, the fathers, they lived there. All Nigerians have contributed to the development of Lagos and indeed Port Harcourt. But we are talking about Bayelsa State that was neglected and nobody knew other than the oil they were just carting away. Seriake happens to be the longest serving governor. He is the one that we know who will do his full eight years. He is grappling with the challenges of the environment and the developmental challenges of that place. There was nothing, virtually nothing. So, to say it's still a glorified village, I don't totally agree with you. Look at the progress it has made and I think throughout the length and breadth of Bayelsa State, not just Yenagoa because when we were in Rivers State, the emphasis was just in Port Harcourt. Nobody dared to go to Bayelsa and so even those people that were governing the place from Bayelsa concentrated in Port Harcourt. So it's just of recent we are beginning to think Bayelsa and beginning to do a few things there. I think we need to give it some time. I think the progress is wonderful and we will continue to make progress.
I think, instead of complaints, and you know bad-belle and things, we should be able to encourage him. I think that's the right word. We should encourage him, give him advice; where he has done not too well, you tell him please do it this way. Where he has done very well, you praise him.
Let's talk about the Bayelsa palm which you manage now. How is that place contributing to the growth of the economy of Bayelsa State?
We took over that place July last year, on the 1st specifically. It was more like a semi forest. The people that were managing the place were just managing it and nothing was going to government; government was more or less still putting money into that palm. We took over and we decided to do a few things. The roads were so terrible, we had to do roads. The drainages were to be opened up. The palm, like I said, was like a semi forest, we had to be slicing out and clearing the fields and pruning the palms, which now is far, far better. There's still more to be done. But we've pumped a lot of money into it because we want to see that it gets into the same glory that it had when the Europeans first established that place. It has almost about 1,250 hectares of landmass space but where it has been planted is about 750 or so. We still have vast land for development. So, we are grappling with all these challenges but more so, usually in the rainy season, it's pretty bad because of the terrain of the place. But we are grappling with the challenges there. Now, instead of government giving us money, we are giving government money. We are employing almost about 130 people working there. But our challenge mainly is the security challenge. I must mention that. So much poaching, stealing, serious stealing from the neighbouring communities. And we need to and besides that once or twice we had people, these boys coming to vandalize things. And in fact, we even had an issue of kidnapping. And they came to kidnap one or two of our workers and so we had to plead with the government to see that security is provided more for us. So, in the past few weeks, there is an improvement. Honestly, that is the challenge we have. The plants were all down. We resuscitated them. There's another one for milling and harvesting and that is working. And the workers morale is very, very high. And we just celebrated our one year anniversary.
...and that is where the grazing is?
If you are talking about grazing, the herdsmen, well, in the wisdom of the governor, he decided to put them there to help curtail, as it were, these animals rampaging the farms. We all need to put them in one place so that we can observe and keep them. We are building even a police station there so that security is taken care of and we have no problem as at now and the herdsmen and the maroons and abattoir which we are building. We are living in harmony and we don't have any challenge right now.