His Excellency, Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson
Occasion of the Courtesy Call by the Chairman and Members of the Board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC)
Thursday 18th May 2017
- Let me first of all thank Mr. Chairman and members of the NDDC Board for coming to Bayelsa State today. Before I make further remarks, I would like to also use this opportunity, particularly because this is the first formal interaction I am having with the Chairman and members of the Board, congratulate you all on your well-deserved appointments into your present capacities. I have known Mr. Chairman for a long time now and I have also had previous interactions with the Managing Director of the Commission. Just before I came down for this meeting, I asked my officials for the profiles of the members of the Board and I was very impressed with the pedigree of the persons who now constitute the Board of the NDDC, including our own Prof. Brambayefa, whom we know very well. So gentlemen and ladies, we congratulate all of you on your appointments.
- Today, we have an opportunity to formally interact, because this is going to be the first in a series of several interactions we shall have formally as well as informally, and we are happy you are here.
- Over the years, the name keeps changing, but the NDDC is one of the agencies created to fast-track and support the urgent development of our region. Our region as you all know, is one of the most exploited and oppressed regions on the face of the earth. You all know the story of Oil and Gas in Nigeria started in this State. In Houston, I referred to Bayelsa as the Houston of Africa. It is the Oil and Gas capital of Africa, not just of Nigeria alone. Sadly, 61 years after the discovery of Oil and Gas, Mr. Chairman, we have no road to get to Brass Terminal and even as we speak, crude oil is being lifted there day and night. Even as we speak, there is no road to Bonny and other terminals. There is no road to Forcadoes and other terminals. There is no road to Oporoma, Kolo-ama and Ekeremor-Agge. We are not a happy people.
- The young people of our region have all become militants and people who carry AK-47 for their livelihood because we did not invest in human capacity development. The only thing they are considered good enough for is surveillance contracts, while others smile to the banks, locally and internationally. People flaunt oil wealth and parade affluence rooted in oil wealth acquired here at the expense of our people.
- As I have always said to this country, what you sit down in Abuja and other capitals of the world and call “oil-blocks” are indeed the ancestral properties of the people of the Niger Delta, the control over which we have been deprived. But we thank successive federal governments, for creating this NDDC platform. We will continue to support and see what we can do in terms of the development of our people.
- A few days back, I made a call directed at no one in particular, but directed at all, that all of us who come from this oppressed region, while blaming the federal government, while continuing to raise the legitimate issues that need to be raised about environmental justice, about respect for our people, about inclusion and accelerated physical development of this region, should also look inwards and call ourselves to greater patriotism, greater duty and commitment so that working together, all the leaders, including me, the Governors, ministers, members of the National Assembly, Council Chairmen and those of you in the NDDC and other federal bodies and indeed all sons and daughters of this region, in whatever platforms we occupy, should use those platforms to make a difference and change the narrative of our region.
- Mr. Chairman, where we are is such that our people are not only dying slowly from the hazards of oil exploration and exploitation activities, but they are also the victims of the lack of regulation in that critical environmental sector. Companies come here and do what they can never do in other parts of the world and go away scot-free. On top of all of these, we have no concrete development to show for what we are contributing to this country.
- One of the greatest dangers facing us as a people now, and our young people of this region should take note, is that other than the flow of crude oil, we are branded as a place that is not good enough for anything. Businesses are made to run away now because of the activities of young people and others who are very happy to sponsor propaganda, branding our region as a place that people should not go to do business. Meaning that jobs that need to be here cannot come. Meaning therefore also, that the unemployment of our people, unless we intervene by the dedicated, serious and clearheaded leadership and all of us working together will continue. Meaning then, that the insecurity will continue.
- Therefore, I want to use this opportunity to call on all the young people, all the leaders of this region and all of us who have the types of platforms that God in his infinite mercy has made possible for us, to use these platforms working together to urgently accelerate the development of our region and change the narrative before things get out of control.
- Mr. Chairman, knowing you as I do and knowing your Managing Director, and reading the short profiles of the people on this present Board (I am not saying that we have not had very experienced people in the previous Boards), there is cause for optimism. You made one critical statement, which for me is of extreme importance, and that is what we preach and talk about in this state also – you called for partnership and collaboration. We cannot afford the luxury of endless politicisation of everything. Yes, I know that there are political parties and their members who have won and lost elections, but for me and for us in this State, and we demonstrate this everyday, once elections are over, all of us by whichever means we came into office should leave all of that behind and concentrate on the programmes ahead for the good of our people and our country. We must avoid the over politicisation of the NDDC because one of the greatest problems that has beleaguered the NDDC is the issue of political interference.
- I want to use this opportunity also, to call on the Federal Government and its officials to allow this Board that they have selected, to work and not intervene and use the NDDC as a ready cash-cow for funding politics and political activities and as an avenue for political patronage. The NDDC should be allowed to face its primary mandate so that when all is said and done, let it not be said (Mr. Chairman as you know, all of us who are actors on this stage, will be judged by our people when we leave), that because of unnecessary and undue interferences by the federal forces, the good and wonderful sons and daughters of the Niger Delta were made to fail because people will always point to our leaders as a growing statistics of the failure of institutions and leadership in the Niger Delta.
- I call on you, Mr. Chairman, because I know that you have the capacity to resist and say ‘No’ when ‘No’ is the right answer. Please, take the NDDC away from the manner business has been conducted in the past. I am happy you talked about a new way of doing things in the NDDC. I am also happy that you made the point that the NDDC should not be involved in the execution of minor projects and I cannot agree with you more. In this State we have clearly identified our priorities and we adhere to our strategic plans.
- The number one priority apart from security is investment in education and human capacity development. In the five years of our government, we spent over N50b in developing educational infrastructure alone. Now, we are rolling out a robust and ambitious revolutionary programme, by which we will get young people together in free and compulsory boarding schools in all our 8 Local Government Areas and there are 13 of such schools thus far. These boarding schools each have the capacity to admit between 300 and 500 students. The Ijaw National Academy alone built from scratch by our government has the capacity to absorb 1000 students out of which 100 spaces are reserved for boys and girls from other states in the region. We are taking our educational plan to the state constituency level, where we are completing 25 constituency boarding schools, close to the people, which will kick-off before the end of the year. One of these days, please visit these schools and motivate our young minds because they are the leaders we are grooming for tomorrow.
- Mr. Chairman, apart from giving scholarships within and outside the country, we are starting a new University, the University of Africa in Bayelsa State, which would operate a fee paying model, different from the Niger Delta University. Students admitted into the institution will be supported with government scholarships that are managed, using the model of Universities abroad. We are presently seeking affiliation with Universities outside the country so that the standard we envisage is sustained in perpetuity. The point to be noted in the area of education, Mr. Chairman, is that we do not need NDDC to build six classroom blocks in this state. That is our responsibility and I am very alive to it. We have built new hospitals in most of the Local Government Areas which were not there before. We have built new 100-bed capacity hospitals in most of the local government areas which were not there before and I have directed the health team to complete plans of having a functional Health Centre in every ward in the state before the end of the year. Also, our world class Diagnostics Centre is second to none, as is the Government Specialist Hospital by the Government House. These facilities can compete with their kind anywhere in the world. That is the reason I am here and I am very alive to it. I do not need NDDC to do that.
- Our concern, as a result of the level of underdevelopment and the challenging terrain of the State are in the big-ticket projects that we cannot undertake alone. The story of the NDDC is not all bad news because it is not as if the NDDC has not done anything at all in this state. The NDDC/SPDC pioneered the successful collaborative effort on the Ogbia-Nembe Road. That is a great achievement and the kind of developments we welcome. However, when we came on board, and maybe you have not been told this, because of the delay on the project, we became concerned because for us development knows no colour. It knows no politics. We called the contractors, called the community leaders and had series of meetings to find out where the delay was coming from. SPDC and NDDC had several disagreements and so we inquired from the contractor SETRACO, what it will take to finish the job and make it possible for Nembe people to drive to Nembe. They told us N3b and the next week at a public ceremony, I handed over a draft to them to finish the job. That is the attitude we have towards development.
- Mr. Chairman, I came as an angry man, angry at the underdevelopment of our region, angry at the impoverishment of our people. Our people have been deprived to the extent that the young people have lost all sense of dignity, purpose and responsibility. A young man who stays for two or three days in the forest with an AK-47 rifle waiting to kidnap a 90 year old man or an expatriate or anyone for that matter is not sane. The truth is that we have lost a whole generation of young people in the region and unless we intervene in a purposeful manner and with dedication and by our collaborative efforts, we will be contending with a whirlwind in the future. Already, we are having issues dealing with cultists, militants, drug addicts and dropouts. If we are not careful, we may not be able to contend with their children and grand children. That is why we are embarking on our revolutionary educational programme to break this cycle.
- I thank the NDDC for starting the Sagbama/Ekeremor road, which got stuck after Ebedebiri and even as Governor for almost two years, I could not get to my community because the next community was mine. I got tired of the pressure because as far as the common people are concerned, they do not know the difference between federal government and state government projects. All they care about is development. They want water to drink, they want schools for their children, and they want hospitals for the sick and good roads linking them to the rest of the world. I met with NDDC and told them to back off. Mr. Chairman, I do not know the status of things as stated in your records on that road, but our government took over the construction and in less than one year we were able to get to my community. Thereafter, I awarded the contract from that point to Ekeremor to Dantata and Sawoe. Mr. Chairman, even in this recession, we are embarking on an almost 50 kilometre road. We have just sent 2 big dredgers from Westminster Dredging and even as we speak, they are working day and night on the Sagbama/Ekeremor road. This is in spite of the low IGR and the downturn in federal allocations.
- Mr. Chairman, you talked about partnerships and collaborations. This state needs your partnership. Do not forget Bayelsa. A number of people do not know that the area that became Bayelsa State is the least developed area of the old Rivers State. The whole of this state is below sea level and the NDDC knows the challenges that come with that because you have been building roads in the Niger Delta. Here we have to excavate 10 feet to even begin to fill up with sand and other materials, thereby making the cost of construction 20 times higher than the cost of constructions in other areas, even in the Niger Delta. Mr Chairman, if there is any state in the Niger Delta that needs the support, partnership and collaboration of the NDDC, it is Bayelsa State. And with me as Governor, with the robust agenda we have for accelerated development, and with the peace and relative stability already provided, this state and my government are willing partners.
- Mr. Chairman, already there are signs of political interference. Let me repeat, the NDDC cannot be a tool for funding political activities of candidates in whichever party. The development agenda of our people should come far and above any political consideration. People doing this, including anyone in Abuja who may be forcing the NDDC to do so, Mr Chairman, are enemies of the Niger Delta and Nigeria. Every fund available to the Commission can build roads and develop skills for the people of the Niger Delta. That is the Niger Delta we envision, that we desire and expect under your leadership. If a Board led by Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba that we know, with an experienced person such as His Excellency, Nsima Ekere as MD and ably assisted by all of you cannot do it, I do not see why we should blame God. We should blame ourselves. For as Shakespeare says, the fault, my dear friends, is not in our stars, but in ourselves. That was the basis under which I made the clarion call to each and to all and to no one in particular. Any platform any son or daughter of the Niger Delta occupies should be used to advance the course of development in the region. We have no excuse for failure.
- In this state, the criticism is that I am doing too much but I take that as a compliment because I am angry at why our people who have been producing oil for over 61 years have no roads. Why then would I not build roads? If I complete them, to God be the Glory. If I stop at any point, whoever succeeds me should continue on. But I have finished most and hopefully, I will finish all by the end of my tenure. We cannot afford the luxury of playing politics with the development and security of our region.
- So, Mr. Chairman, you have me. I am just a phone call away. The statistics you reeled out about Bayelsa and the region generally is chilling. From the information we have, and I believe your records are better, this state has suffered more in the area of abandoned NDDC projects. Political and youth leaders get NDDC jobs, get paid and abandon them. I do not care who gets what contracts; my concern is that they should be executed for the benefit of our people. This is part of the mindset we are confronting i.e. a lot of people get contracts, collect the money, run away and leave our people behind. It is a shame that in this time and age, we cannot drive to Brass. We cannot drive to Ekeremor-Agge, and we cannot drive to Kolo-ama or Oporoma. There is only so much I can do with the little money we receive in the light of the over bloated wage bill and a low IGR we struggle with. Once the revenue goes down, the state is grounded. Oil companies are not here. They play no role in the local economy of this state. They do not even pay tax to this state and yet this is the cradle of oil and gas of our country.
- Now, let me give a true account about the NDDC intervention in the sand-filling of the Bayelsa Airport. Mr. Chairman, no sand was dropped. You need to know this and you need to hear it from me. This State took a loan; I approached the House of Assembly for a N50b loan because I said that Bayelsa cannot afford to be cut off from the rest of the world and they saw reasons with me. There is not one grain of NDDC sand in that runway. I told the contractor that I did not want politics because of the challenges I faced with the other road projects. I wanted to be in charge of the development of this critical infrastructure so I provided land for him to dredge sand. If you go to that site today, you will not see more than 20 trips of sand stockpiled there. So clearly, if I had been waiting for that sand to start the airport, which by the way is about now 80 to 90 per cent completed, that project would have simply been a mirage. This year, we intend to complete it and the first set of planes will land here on Bayelsa soil. That is what we mean by showing commitment to development. Please, Check your books, there is no grain of NDDC sand on that 3.5 kilometre runway, one of the longest state owned airports in the country. Even the construction of the terminal building that the federal government was to undertake was abandoned after the foundation was dug. Since early this year, our government awarded a fresh contract for the construction of the terminal building at another site, which is now at roofing stage. This is called commitment to development and it is the attitude we expect from you.
- Once again, Mr. Chairman, MD and others, I congratulate you all on your well-deserved appointments. We have confidence in you all and we expect a robust and useful partnership with your Commission. As long as you follow the programmes you have outlined here in your own words, and you are committed to doing what is right and what is fair, you have the Honourable Dickson as a partner. You have Bayelsa State as a partner. Thank you for coming and God bless you all.