Dr. Franklin Osaisai is a man of many parts. A founding father of Bayelsa state and pioneer commissioner for works, Osaisai is an academic and an engineer of repute. He is the pioneer head of the Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission where he developed a blueprint for nuclear technology development and application for the country. Osaisai has represented the country in several technical and diplomatic activities.
In this interview with JOHN ODHE in Yenagoa, the Southern Ijaw born politician speaks with clear understanding of the developmental challenges facing Bayelsa state and other topical issues.
You served as a commissioner for works in Bayelsa state years back. Can you remember the highs and lows of your service then?
I served as one of the first set of commissioners under the then Governor D.S.P Alamieyeseigha, from July 1999 to April 2000. Well, it was quite an interesting opportunity and a privilege to serve our people, not quite three years after the creation of our state. It was a happy moment. We settled down to do quite a number of things practically from the scratch. We were given the opportunity to face that kind of challenge. At the same time, we were part of the team to working out the appropriate mechanism and solutions to deal with the problems. It was quite an interesting moment, though I didn't serve too long in the government. I moved into doing some other things. But I would want to say that it was quite challenging and we took it up.
That is to say that it was under that government where you served as commissioner for works that the foundation for the construction of the Bayelsa project was laid?
Well, there was a brief period of military government under four military administrators, starting from Navy Capt. Ayeni, then Olubolade, and finally, Col. Edor Obi that went on for a period of about two and a half years. So, certain activities had started in terms of developing a map for the sustainable development of the state. It started during the D.S.P Alamieyeseigha's time and I was lucky to be one of the pioneers in that effort.
When you look at Bayelsa today, how do you feel?
Well, the good thing is that, anybody who gets to be the governor of Bayelsa State, by the constitution, is an indigene. As a people who have grown up in this environment, they have a good understanding of the developmental challenges that we face. I do believe, and truly so, that the current governor, Seriake Dickson has a clear understanding of the developmental challenges we face here in the state and he is doing his best to continue from where others had stopped and also being able to bring in some elements of innovations in his own way, to ensure that development continues. As we all know, governance is a continuum. You take on from where others have stopped and all that. So, I think he is also covering his own lap of the developmental project in the state.
In specific terms...?
In specific terms, he has done well in the area of education. He believes seriously that for any society to be put on the path of sustainable development, you need some significant input and one that is most important amongst all is one that is human resource based. And for any society, be it a country or a state, to be able to assume appropriate mechanism for its development, its indigenes have to take the lead. And for a governor to understand that and being able to put in place various schemes; educational programmes here and there to train our young men and women to participate, I think this effort is quite a big one. Also, I would want to tell you that under him, we have a number of higher institutions that are coming on and it will take time for them to mature. So, every point in time when things are starting, there are always hiccups here and there. There will be some hues and cry and all that but you will after all appreciate the very positive intention and vision behind this policy perspective. He is doing quite well in that area. I also want to tell you that Bayelsa state is in the heart of the Niger Delta and that means there are some significant developmental challenges because of the terrain; meaning that the financial requirements to bringing in key indices of development that will bring up key areas of development is quite significant. In the area of road construction, in the area of trying to generate power and all that, he has served them quite well. What we expect as a state is that these things are carried on and that there is a continuum.
One project that the present administration has embarked on which has attracted so much criticism is the Airport. How do you look at that project?
Let me tell you, there is no action that a political leader, especially a governor, would take that everybody will be happy with. For any particular project, if we are objective, there are merits and demerits. And when people begin to look at what they consider as challenges and they tend to concentrate on that, they are not being very fair. An airport coming into the heart of Bayelsa State, is a good thing because that will lead to other elements of infrastructural development. As we do know, it is meant to be a cargo airport, meaning it has to do with industrial and agricultural goods and whatever that has to be taken out and some to be flown in. It is going to be an epicentre of development. So, it's something that will serve as a key stimulus of development in the state. There are other areas; there could be arguments of other needs of the state. And so, you want to see the construction of an airport in an area as being elitist, no. Air transport is the basic of any society. What we need to do is to look at it critically and ensure that activities and projects that can optimize its use are put in place. So, I don't think people should begin to say it shouldn't be there because it's already there. We have to think of how to maximize its benefits and make it one of the major contributors to the sustainable development for Bayelsans.
Yenagoa, till today, is still more like a glorified village. Does that worry you?
Well, in this case, I want to be a little bit defensive about my own state capital. There are quite a number of state capitals that are still developing, and if you want to use the coinage, they could be also referred to as glorified villages. So, that may not be a singular description that pertains to only Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa state but also to other state capitals in the country. I wouldn't want to mention them. But you are right, there are quite a number of challenges we have to face -basic infrastructure, the transport gridlock that we are gradually beginning to face. But I think there have been plans in place. It only requires the resources to be able to actualize some of these plans as to additional roads that are coming into the city. Also, to ensure proper water supply to be able to provide potable drinking water to quite a large number of the population within the state. For that, you will be made to face some challenges because of the already built up areas. Also, we face drainage problem, particularly towards the end of the year; issues of flooding. But these are problems every government has attempted and will continue to address. Yes, we would want Yenagoa to be a very beautiful modern city. It takes more than twenty years to develop a modern city. Yenagoa was a local government area headquarters until the state was created. I agree with you, it could have developed a little bit faster but you will have to make sure that you meet other needs of the state. You want your state capital to look beautiful with a lot of infrastructure because it is the representation, as it were, of whom you are. It shows a clear image of what the people are and that is what everybody is attempting to do if the pace is optimal, probably, not, but I think it is a continuous project that the next set of governors will continue to build upon.
As one of the founding fathers of Bayelsa state, when you look at the way things are going in the state, is there any time in your life that you feel like weeping for Bayelsa state?
I am a realist. In life, there is the ideal and there is the real situation. As a young man who had joined quite a large number of seniors, some of them now on the other side and others still around, we wanted Bayelsa state as the melting pot of the Ijaw people and being able to put in place adequate infrastructure, being able to initiate policies that would lead to economic growth and being able to put in place mechanisms that would strengthen industrialization of the state. That will take time and attempts are being made. Some may not be quite successful. Definitely, as an optimist, I would have expected a faster pace of development. But as I mentioned earlier, we have to be realistic. And when you are being realistic, you would want to look at the available resources, vis a vis the needs of society. You need to prioritize and in some cases, key components of prioritizing might be an issue. But what I will tell you is that there has to be some elements of continuity in implementing the various developmental projects in a way that there is a roadmap accepted by Bayelsans and codified in a way that every government that comes in continues in that path. If you don't do that and you have one government comes into place and does what it wants to and another one comes in and moves away totally from that one, you can't enjoy the benefits of learning from what others have done because everyone wants to start something. Probably, that is one of the major challenges we face here in the developmental efforts of the various governments in the state. But I can tell you, 22 years is long enough, yes. A child would have become an adult at that point in time. But I tell you, we still have the time to improve on what is going on but ensuring that good policies are put in place that can move on and being implemented by one government and continues with another government under the guardian of all the major stakeholders within the state.
What future of Bayelsa do you see in the next ten years?
Ans: Well, when you start development in a virgin land, you require a lot of effort to get the structures lifted above DPC to lintel level and on and on. So, what I keep telling you is that significant efforts have been made by past governors including the present government. They have laid a solid foundation. I want to believe that the effort to building upon them may become a little bit faster than what it has taken to put that foundation on what I will refer to as the virgin land. I will want a Bayelsa state in which our young men and women will have access to good quality education, where teachers who are paid to teach our children will do their job both in the rural areas and in the urban areas which is mainly the state capital. I will also want a situation where there are appropriate economic policies geared towards the development of the state in a way that when our young men and women graduate from the institutions, they can adequately fit into the very workforce, not necessarily becoming employees but will also be given the wherewithal to become useful entrepreneurs. That also will mean that there will be some good elements of partnership between the government and the people in ensuring that an enabling environment is created to make that thrive.
In the area of environment of Bayelsa, in the area of infrastructure, where do you want to see Bayelsa state in the next couple of years?
There are certain things environmental that can't only be treated at the level of Bayelsa government. For instance, we have a number of environmental challenges. Let's look at two key ones -flooding. Flooding is seasonal in this country and it affects the whole Niger Delta Basin. And not just the Niger Delta, including the River Niger and the River Benue basins as the water flows down. So, you cannot just merely have isolated technical engineering solutions developed within Bayelsa and believe that that will solve the problem. It could, maybe, a little bit palliative in nature but there has to be a detailed national or regional structure that addresses that. Another major environmental problem that we face here is air pollution; pollution from petroleum, oil and gas exploration. That in itself, whatever that is released, no matter where it is, will circulate to every part of Bayelsa within the Niger Delta area even within the country. So, there has to be a national effort to addressing the issues. They are not elements where the state government can champion but environmentally in these areas, the solutions have to be more global in nature. Having said that, if you are talking about the Bayelsa state capital, Yenagoa, drainage is a major problem. But that is a problem that can be taken on by the state government. So, in constructing the roads and all that, you have to ensure that the drainages are planned in a way that it fits well into the general drains of the area where there are outlets for flood water to drain to. Another key thing is waste management. Waste management is a major problem here in the country, not just in Bayelsa but is everywhere. And we have to begin to look at how we manage our bye-products for our daily living. Those are also areas we know we will have modern technological solutions to deal with.
Are you proud to be called a Bayelsan?
Why won't I be proud to be called a Bayelsan? I was born as a Bayelsan and a very proud one as that. I think something that makes a person proud could be from two sources. One, that the people before you have worked hard; had struggled to achieve certain things that you can easily be identified with. Yes. I will tell you, as a Bayelsan, there are people who have come before us, who have struggled for the emancipation of our own people. State creation, Rivers State came much later. Now, there is Bayelsa and some point in time, as indigenes, we have to take responsibility to ensure that the input and the resources available are maximally utilized. That's the journey. Another one is that for you to be proud of a particular place, it's your own contribution. So, what are the challenges you see? What do you want to contribute to ensuring that there could be progress? You refuse to become proud when you are giving up. And I can tell you I am a proud Bayelsan. It didn't start now but I believe that the future will be a lot better because there are many people who are beginning to gear up for these challenges and I am part of the team to ensuring that we can bequeath a better developed and an egalitarian Bayelsa state to future generations. I am that optimistic and that continues to make me a proud Bayelsan.
Elections in Rivers state have just ended. What do you think about the drama that played out in Rivers state and what do you think about the man, Wike?
Bayelsa and Rivers state are in many ways, inseparable. We have got quite a lot of things in common. And at some point in time, even for people who are from Bayelsa, if they have not quite washed their face very well in the morning and you asked them where they are from, they could say they are from Rivers State. Rivers state people also take Bayelsa as part of the larger state that we all have worked hard to develop. One of the things that is a major challenge which we have to find a better way of dealing with is the struggle for political power. That seems to have created quite some serious challenges in River State. But I tell you, in the past 20 years of civilian administration, Rivers state has done quite well. And I will also want to tell you that in the past four years, Nyesom Wike has brought in some elements of consolidation. One thing I like about Governor Wike is that he is quite a committed fighter for the interest of the Rivers people. He is a dogged fighter and you only appreciate the results when you fight with a serious conviction. He has the conviction that he is doing the best for his people. He also has the ability to convince his people to believe in him. They believe in his leadership. He has done quite well. That is why it is somewhat saddening in a way, that some indigenes of Rivers state who have been lucky enough to enjoy the goodwill of the people could become agents of attrition and thereby creating problems for the people. What I pray for or maybe suggest is that Wike as a person who has been able to win a re-election, in spite of every challenges should extend that hand of friendship to even those who attempted to suffocate him. He will stand out as a leader in Rivers state for a very long time to come. He should make policies that are more inclusive. There are political parties only when we are going for elections. When the elections are over, everybody is a Rivers man or a Rivers woman and I think he understands that. I think that he is able to utilize these four years to consolidate on quite a number of the developmental strides that he has started in the state.