Senator Douye Diri has been in the political arena in Bayelsa State for a while. He is among those who spearheaded the moves for the creation of Bayelsa State and is among the major aspirants currently vying for the ticket of the PDP for the gubernatorial election. In this interview, he spoke on his pact with the current governor, Seriake Dickson on the future of Bayelsa State, among other issues.
JOHN ODHE transcribed the interview.
As one of the governorship frontliners, what do you have that will make Bayelsans entrust their destinies in your hands?
I want to correct an impression; nobody’s destiny is in the hands of any governor. Everybody’s destiny is in the hands of God. So, l am not asking Bayelsans to entrust their destiny into my hands, not at all. I am only appealing to Bayelsans to see me as somebody who they will be comfortable with, who will not take their resources away, who will bring back their resources and keep it in Bayelsa and invest in Bayelsa and make Bayelsa great. I am offering myself for service so that the greater Bayelsa we have all anticipated, pre-creation and post-creation, will be realized.
What are the service credentials you parade that would make Bayelsans comfortable with you as governor?
Well, to begin with, I am one of those who sought and participated in the movement for the creation of Bayelsa. I was the national organizing secretary of the Ijaw National Congress when we were in the old Rivers state and we moved round the ljaw territory, we moved round Nigeria, trying to influence the creation of Bayelsa. As of that time, a lot of people thought it was an impossible task but to God be the glory, Bayelsa state was created and in pre-creation, we had also envisioned the development of Bayelsa state. That we did with blueprints in our different fora and meetings at the Ijaw National Congress and what we termed the Bayelsa Creation Movement. We called it Bayelsa Forum. We were holding those meetings in Niger Grammar School at D-line in Port Harcourt with Dr. Amba Ambaowei as our chairman at that time. So, the blueprint for the development of Bayelsa was already envisioned at that time. There is one thing to have on paper and another to have it on ground. As at the time when the state was created, there were some of us who were not into what we were doing at that time. So, the ground work became a very difficult task. There were some distortions about the blueprint we did and we still have those blueprints. So, with the incoming of the restoration government, a lot of the blueprints have now come in as a foundation for the development of the state. What we are saying here is that we are going to build on what the restoration government has done in education, in health, in infrastructure, in security, name them. The restoration government has done so much in all these areas and we are going to build on that. The other thing that we are worried about as a member of the restoration government is the local economy of Bayelsa. Steps have been taken. I am very much aware about the restoration government in terms of aquaculture, in terms of cassava farming. These are areas that we, as Bayelsans, have comparative advantage and we are going to look at the economy critically because the level of poverty in the state is something that we need to reduce and we will put everything on ground to ensure that we reduce the level of poverty in our state. For me, that’s the reason for coming into this contest; it’s purely to serve our people. We have been crying over the years. We are on the river, we are taking our bath but our eyes are closed; the reason being that our resources have been expropriated. The soap is getting into our eyes. We are all feeling the heat and the peppering of the soap but we cannot wash off the soap. That has been the portion of some of us from the Niger Delta particularly, those of us from Bayelsa. Those were the reasons we went to the green chambers. We have done our best; there is still much to do because that aim is not achieved. Even as a governor, l will still pursue issues about our oil that has been expropriated, issues about environmental degradation of my state.
As a founding father of the state, is this the Bayelsa of your dream?
Rome was not built in a day. So, you don’t expect in 20 years to have the Bayelsa of our dream. We are still expecting so much work to be done and that is why some of us are in the race. Having that dream and the state was created, well, we should have moved further than what we are today if every successive government was doing and getting it right. We should have moved beyond where we are but we are where we are, but certainly not where we are expected to be. That is why some of us are in the race.
What are those things that make you feel worried and pained when you see the kind of things that are happening in the state?
Well, for me, as a people, we need to be united. Our strength should be in our unity because we have very common goals we are pursuing as a people, as a state and even in the Niger Delta. If we must move ahead, the number one thing is for us to unite and if I become governor, across party lines, is to build bridges. When we build bridges and we come together, we can speak with one voice about the development of our state.
Does it worry you that Yenagoa as a state capital still looks like a glorified village?
I am sure you did know Yenagoa when it was a glorified village. I want to disagree with you that Yenagoa is still a glorified village. Yes, we are not there. It is not yet the city that we have envisaged but I want to disagree with you because if you knew Yenagoa at the pre-creation of Bayelsa state, you will agree with me that we have moved on. Yenagoa is no longer a glorified village as it was before as a local government headquarters of the old Yenagoa local government which my present day local government was part of. So, I want to disagree with you very sharply on that. There is development but we are not yet there.
When you become governor, what would you like to do differently from what other governors have been doing?
I know a lot of people would answer in the affirmative, I will do this, I will do that. As a governor, I cannot on my own do anything except l work with the people and except the people agree because I want to look at a Bayelsa where our values are brought back; the values of the Ijaw man that bind us together, that saw us as one and not as an enemy. I want to bring back those value systems. I want to work with the people. My focus will be on the people and there is so much that has been achieved by the current administration on that. That’s why I keep hammering that I will build more blocks on the foundation that has already been established by the restoration government
There is this perception about you out there. Some people say you don’t relate with people, that you are stingy and so on. What are those things that people don’t really know about you?
If somebody tells you that I don’t relate with people, even you as a person who knows me, would you answer in the affirmative? It is not about perception, it’s blackmail, typical political blackmail, not misconception. When we were working for the creation of Bayelsa and Bayelsa was created and I continued to serve Bayelsa, we have been in this business from creation to serving Bayelsa people. As national organizing secretary of the Ijaw Nation, the first executive governor you know was DSP Alamieyeseigha. I was appointed executive secretary, centre for youth development and held sway there until l left that regime. I later became commissioner for youths and sports in this state and that was one of the most productive eras of sports development in our state because our state was in the national sporting map of the country. Thereafter, l was a member of the governing council of the University of Maidugiri. From there, l moved on. I was the deputy chief of staff to the current governor. I was principal executive secretary to him. So, l have a lot of experience from the executive arm of government. I moved on to the legislative arm and was elected a representative of the Yenagoa/Kolokuma/Opokuma federal constituency. My records are there for everybody to check at the hallowed chambers. Today, l am an elected senator representing Bayelsa central senatorial district. I don’t think that any other person has this pedigree. Currently, l am contesting to become the governor of Bayelsa state. Mine has been service, service and service and l keep telling our people, let us not disunite. Let us not talk about those who go to take from your public purse. When they collect one billion, they come and spend 50 million and you clap hands for that person. That is a common criminal. In developed countries, that kind of person should be behind the bar. Then you will now use that to juxtapose somebody who is prudent; someone who, in all the places where he has served, there is no record of corruption. Nobody is looking at that. Then you blackmail and say somebody is stingy. That is cheap political blackmail. Nobody gives more than me. While in service, l paid people’s school fees. Students can attest to it. From my federal constituency, l have assisted people. I have offered humanitarian services. For anybody to blackmail me because we are in a governorship race, l beg to disagree and I appeal to our people that that is not the way for our state to grow. I don’t want blackmailing any other person. Let us be united. The earlier they stopped this blackmail, the better for us. I am one person that relates better than what any other person can imagine. There are a lot of people, after I finish relating with them, they would say ‘senator, we never knew that you are like this. Why are they saying all kinds of unnecessary things about you?’ that is the politics we are into. Some people see that as their own political game. I don’t belong to that class of politics. I have a theoretical background in politics and l have built on that background. I am not one of those who just found themselves in politics.
What do you share in common with Governor Seriake Dickson?
What l share in common with him, having worked with him closely, the governor is a very prudent person. The governor is not into acquisition of materialism. The governor is very passionate about the Ijaw man and indeed, the Niger Delta. During his first term when the economy was not as bad as this, he demonstrated it by the number of projects that you will see and the turning around of the educational system in Bayelsa. Bayelsa was about the last in any national examinations when we took over. But today, Bayelsa is about the first five to the first ten. Renovation of schools across everywhere. In the health sector, it is the same. Renovation of health centres across everywhere. So, that is the kind of thing that is propelling me to talk about the governor. It is not a hear say. My office was the last office to the governor’s office. We knew it. We sat down as a committee to look at the monies accruing to the state and allocate them to the different sectors. You are aware that the governor was the first to make a law to have a monthly transparency briefing. Till today, the law is still subsisting and those are the very features that I have in common with the governor.
What is your pact with the governor as far as the governance of the state is concerned, if you become governor?
It is not just him. Yes, he is on the driver’s seat as our leader but it will be by the collective understanding of our people. There is no different pact. The things I have just enumerated form the pact and they form the reason why we are together. That is why l believe that l will further those things that he believes in and he has done. There is no other secret pact. It is actually a pact with him and the people of the state. That’s why among all of us who are in the contest, there is nobody who is talking about Dickson not performing.
Yet the Tower Hotel is still there?
Well, where we are now is also a five star hotel. Well, there are certain things you don’t just condemn until you get there. I don’t know why that hotel is still the way it is and until I get there, I will not condemn it because you must have the facts before you can speak to it.