Rear Admiral John Jonah is the deputy governor of Bayelsa State. In this interview with Osa Okhomina in Yenagoa, he reviews the performance of the Seriake Dickson administration on budgetary spending on security, education, infrastructural development and agriculture.
The journey of this administration would be one year on 14th of February; how has the journey been?
First, I will tell you that we are prepared to tell our people, by whose mandate we are in office, about what we have done in the last one year. You may recall that during our inauguration, my boss and the governor promised total restoration of our dear state.
By the grace of God, we have been able to record a modest achievement commensurate with resources and time spent, particularly in some critical sectors of our economy. We inherited a state begging for development, with the moral and confidence level at the lowest ebb.
But many critics of the administration claim that nothing has been done in the last one year?
They are wrong. Let me tell you the areas we have impacted and those we are still impacting. On security, it is common in democratic society for democrats to say that expenditure on security is better spent on development and social security, but they readily forget that the most important social service a government can provide for his people is security. When we came to office, life meant nothing to Bayelsans.
Cult related activities and fights had destroyed the fabrics of living, and there was hardly any night you would not hear gunshots in Yenagoa and see dead bodies the following morning. We decided, from onset, that if we must have the confidence of our people, we must attract development into this area and tackle security head-on. A lot of investments have been made: investment on technology and on the people; investment on physical infrastructure to ensure that our state is at the point we are today.
The 'Operation Door Akpo' is doing a fantastic job to keep our street safe. By the grace of God we will extend the operations to the creeks and we admit that it is not very safe. There are plans to ensure that the creeks are safe and the roads are safe. We want to ensure that any person that decides not to conform would be shown the full weight of the law. We also got legislation to back up fight against cultism. Our decision is zero tolerance to crime and it has not changed.
What is the government doing to drive the key sectors of the economy?
On energy, personally I have always said that there are two things that can drive the Nigerian project to the Promised Land. One is time management - we must keep to time; the second is the supply of electricity. In the month of August 2012, during the transparency briefing, government announced that we would soon enjoy steady supply of power. A whooping sum of N1.3billion was released. The number of power projects ongoing in the state is huge.
Again, it is not the number we are interested in; we also want power as an investment to improve the economy of this state. And that is why we collaborated with three other states - Rivers, Akwa Ibom, and Cross River - to bid at the national level and get a company that will engage in the distribution of power. Plans have gone quite far to actualise that and we have spent nearly N2billion in that area.
At the end, we would have enough supply of power in our houses and have a return on investment. In addition, government also commenced the construction of Gbarantoro 22KVA lines and construction of several substations to improve power supply to communities all over the state.
Ordinary people on the streets easily rate the present administration in the area of physical structures and projects; how well have this administration done in this area?
Within the one year of this administration, it is heart-warming to see the commencement and completion of projects that impact on the security and accommodation spaces of officers. Other key projects, including the National Youth Service Corps camp, the Torogbene bridge, Federal Prisons at Okaka undertaken by this government are all nearing completion. We have decided to boost the landscape of Bayelsa in order to put it at par with other major cities in the country.
To this end, we have awarded a contract for over 17 key projects. These include the Ikoli Bridge, being handled by Julius Berger and the dualisation of the Isaac Boro road right down to the Ox Bow Lake. We have also started the construction of the four new secretariat annexes. We are also in the process of awarding contracts for some internal roads in the state like the Mbiama-Yenagoa road and the Opolo-Elebele road and Azikoro road project.
The Mbiama-Yenagoa road will require the demolition of a lot of structures and compensation to move occupants to designated places. We are also working on the Nembe-Brass road with an MOU already signed with appropriate companies. Construction firm Setraco is already handling the Torogbeni-Amassoma Bridge as well as the construction of Torogbeni-Ofoni road and the dualisation of the Immiringi road.
The plan for streets in Yenagoa is to get areas that have not been plastered and make it a model for other areas to follow. When it gets to Isaac Boro road, if you are going out of the city, you are going to have six high profile roads off Isaac Boro road. Contracts have been awarded for a few of them.
What about the reported shortage of office accommodation for key officers which is forcing some of you to use makeshift homes and offices?
Yes, prior to this administration, there was no official accommodation of the deputy governor within the Government House. Many of you may not know that I still in a make shift office and home. But now, I can tell you that the present administration has almost completed a befitting accommodation for the deputy governor. I can assure you that in the next four weeks, work would be completed on that house. Similarly, we have commenced and nearly completed the offices for the chief of staff, deputy chief of staff, and other senior staff of the governor.
Work is nearing completion on the Executive Council Chamber and waiting room in Government House. A new and befitting building for the traditional rulers is nearly completed and we know they deserve it. During the campaign, when we visited the traditional rulers, we saw a small cubicle called the Olubolade Hall and we felt it was not befitting for the status of our traditional rulers and we decided to build a befitting one which is nearing completion.
We are also building new government lodges in Sagbama and Nembe. These are original government lodges left in deplorable conditions, and we felt we can't just leave it like that. We are rehabilitating them. In the next three weeks, they will be completed.
In the transport sector, the ban on commercial motorcycles (okada) has seemingly made life unbearable for many commuters in the state; what is your reaction to this?
This is a major policy of the present administration. It was a courageous decision. We know some particular group of people is not very pleased. The traditional bone setters are not pleased that they are out of the market. But we are pleased that they are out of patronage. The agonies of families have reduced and the use of Okada to transport thieves and cultists in the state has reduced.
It was a bold and effective step that we took and we did not allow Bayelsa people suffer the pain; we provided alternative means of transport and gave out taxis to Bayelsa people that can drive and get returns and provide transportation to our people. School buses and others were also provided. We are planning to go to marine transport. There are plans to move into that this year.
But the education policy seems to be slow in implementation; is it due to the recent flood? Or why is the state of emergency declared in the sector with huge funding not producing the desired effect?
At the inception of this administration was the historic declaration of the state of emergency on the education sector. A studied political will entrenched functional educational delivery in Bayelsa State since the declaration became an article of faith in the restoration project. For instance, the revised 2012 Bayelsa State Education Budget at government allocation of a whooping of N21billion which accounts for the 16.8 per cent of the capital budget.
Without any doubt, the education landscape is expected to get a facelift with award of contract for the renovation of quiet a number of our dilapidated public school buildings. In furtherance of this, is compulsory primary and secondary education in the schools across the state.
The administration first of all got committees to study and bring out the cost implications of what it will take to provide school uniforms, sandals and books. These, we were satisfied, could be contained in our budget and that is why we are happy today that all investment in education sector is justified and can be provided for our children.
What about the dilapidated infrastructures in schools?
The education policy covered furniture, but you should recall that there was a set back by the flood. Most of the schools were flooded, with most of their furniture submerged for almost two months. These affected schools have to be provided for and it has caused a delay in the work for this year. But with your determination and support, we are going to succeed. At the tertiary level, we have opened up a Bayelsa State College of Arts and Science with a law.
The academic institution has now been located at Elebele and would commence soon with registration of intending students. The state government is also set to implement the blueprint submitted to it by the state-owned university, the Niger Delta University, on way to improve the institution academically and in terms of physical infrastructure. Government has also relocated the College of Education from Okpoama to Sagbama to make it accessible to indigenes and other Nigerians.
A Maritime Academy was moved to Okpoama and it has got a rector and a security officer. In the next few weeks, the names of key officers to run the institutions will be announced. The government also spent the sum of N1billion for post-graduate scheme all over the world.
Is it not worrisome that only state workers at the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) were arrested for wage fraud, while other fingered workers in various ministries and parastatals were left out?
Our corruption index is rated high. We must realize that issue of corruption is very topical in national discourse. Nobody encourages corruption but government agencies have the responsibilities in going out to effect arrest, and due to separation of power, the executive arm can only make observations where there is sufficient evidence for the agencies to arrest. And where prosecution is necessary, it is done. No one can say there is no corruption going on, but you must also have your proof.
Wherever you see that we have not moved very fast in that aspect, maybe it is because we don't want to be seen as witch hunting some people that have been assumed to have enriched themselves illegally. It is a painstaking process, so that at the end of the day, if arrests are made and prosecution occurs, no one would come to say he was falsely accused. Nobody is saying there are no corrupt people in the state but investigations are going on.
In the administration bid to accelerate infrastructural development in the state,you have not mentioned any completed project in the last one year; how would you evaluate the competence of the Setraco Ltd after it was rated low over the East-West road?
If you are querying the competence of Setraco over the East-West road, it is just like saying the federal government is not competent to handle the project. The budgeting process at the national level is a tedious one,particularly when we talk of envelopes. If you give them small envelopes,they will come out with small envelope jobs. Not that I am standing brief for Setraco, but the few meetings I have attended to discuss performance, Setraco attributed the slow performance to slow release of funds.There could be other issues.
There are some contractors, if you give them 50 per cent, they may finish the job with their resource base. I don't know if their resource base is not enough - I can't speak for them.But for the competence of Setraco in the state,I don't want to believe our engineers charged with the responsibility of assigning contract to companies are naive and not know the competence of Setraco. Project completion in the state is not just about physical infrastructure; that is why I started with security. These are intangible things that can hit you.If you don't know a completed project in the security sector,you can feel it.
A lot of money has been spent on it and we have a four-year mandate.We are not dancing to the gallery.We are determined and focused. Towards the end of our mandate,you will know what we are worth.We also had dislocation with the flood. A lot of primary school buildings would have been completed but the flood came and destroyed what was left.
They had to bring new surveys because we don't want to build houses now for them to be submerged again. As a state, I sympathise with those whose expectations have not been met properly, but we can assure you that it was not deliberate.It is not because of incompetence.We are following a plan and we will get there.