Saturday last week, Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital went agog when militants left the creeks and came to town. This time, not to wreck havoc but to surrender their arms and ammunition. They came in their hundreds and numerous arms were given up.
For Governor Timipreye Sylva, this was not a mean feat. Reason, the state has lost a lot of grounds because of activities of militants. So, when they chose the path of peace and lay down their arms, it was a prayer answered. Governor Sylva who was a guest of Vanguard Wednesday could not hide his excitements over the development. For over an hour, he fielded questions from senior editors on militancy, amnesty and other issues affecting the state. Excerpts:
HAVE you and your colleagues in the South-South agreed on the post-amnesty programme? Second, we know there are two prominent indigenes of Bayelsa State who are active in this programme, your self and Timi Alaibe . I hope you are working in tandem? I asked this question because of what one of the militant leaders , General Boyloaf said about what Alaibe allegedly told him, that he should not accept offer?
Thank you f or this question. When you say whether Niger Delta governors have agreed with the Federal Government, I donâ€™t understand. The amnesty committee is working and weâ€™re working with them. If you watch carefully you would have seen that they were present in Bayelsa. The work was done by them, we just handed over the militants and the work is still on-going. They are still doing the biometrics, capturing their details and so on.
So, the Federal Government and the State Government are working together. Of course, in this kind of situation you cannot have water-tight and iron-cast system that things must go on only this way. As you go on, you discover some of the problems and you make some changes, like, you saw the catchment of arms that we received, that probably was not what we were expecting.
We were expecting maybe less, you saw all that and the calibre of arms. Also, we were not expecting that calibre of arms. We were not expecting the kind of young men we saw. But you suddenly saw that the situation is really serious. So, as we go on a lot of changes, I believe, will come into the whole process. So, it is a work in progress.
Timi Alaibe, as far as Iâ€™m concerned, is engaged in this programme at a different level from me. Unfortunately, Iâ€™m just a governor of a little state like Bayelsa, he is working at the presidency and his area of activity extends beyond Bayelsa. He is a presidential aid, so, he is free to work in Rivers State. I am not supposed to work in Rivers State, Iâ€™m only working in Bayelsa. My territory is fully and well defined. Any reason for me to go out of my state will mean encroaching on the job of my colleagues.
I cannot do that and he, of course, can do that. He can work in Bayelsa, he can also work in Rivers State. He is doing that and I cannot see any conflict. The problem in the Niger Delta is to such an extent that it requires all hands on deck. Iâ€™ve always said that the problem should not be left for Niger Delta people alone, itâ€™s a national problem, itâ€™s an international problem. If mobilising international organisations will be part of the solution, then let it be. If you have Niger Delta person as part of the solution, then there cannot be any conflict at all. I mean, everybody is welcome on board, the more the better.
He is doing a good job from what Iâ€™ve followed. And weâ€™re also working in the state. As for me, Iâ€™ve come in to be part of this, first, because I believe that militancy should end because Iâ€™m losing a lot of ground in terms of investors that should come to Bayelsa. Second, Iâ€™m also losing a lot of ground in terms of the earnings from the federation account. From 400 and something thousand barrels a day, Shell dropped to 40 something thousand barrels a day and my earnings are calculated on the 13 percent of that production.
So, what do you expect me to do? At this point, I donâ€™t expect anybody to say anything else about this matter because this is going immediately to translate to more money for my state. And that is why I, personally, must be fully engaged in the solution to this problem because a few weeks ago, the Minister of Petroleum himself came out and said weâ€™re losing one million barrels of crude oil to this Niger Delta problem per day.
You can imagine all that is being lost, that is money that should have been made. So, for me, something like that requires the attention of all of us. Nigerians should come together and as a state there is even more need for me to pay more attention. So, we looked at it as a state government. It was a sort of an economic team that looked at it and said, â€˜look, this is our economy at stakeâ€™. Last year, we were earning like nine billion on the average per month, this year the average is about four billion or so.
What do you expect me to be doing? So, I decided to go headlong and I think we have achieved this and I donâ€™t have any quarrels with whosoever is trying to help in the solution because my interest is for us to totally and completely resolve this problem of the Niger Delta. Since I was born Niger Delta problem has been there. I want to lIve the rest of my life knowing that the problem has been resolved.
If you dislodge this people from militancy, what king of job will they be given that will give them equal opportunity like they have when they were in the struggle?
Thank you, that is a question everybody tends to ask but I can tell you that it is not difficult for me to understand this thing. For me, I will say they are making a lot of money with a lot of risks. The militants in the forest or in the creeks, we were told , make a lot of money, but with big problems and a lot of uncertainties.
Itâ€™s like being on high risk, you might not come back, some might die, some people may survive to the next day. I think at some point in life anybody can subject this kind of livelihood to scrutiny and then decide what is right. Apart from that, you are with all manner of young men who all have guns and they are all very angry.
Even when you are their overlord, one day one person might just get angry and that is a real threat to them as well. I believe that this opportunity is going to offer them more certain means of livelihood. I mean, they will be surer of their lives and of their livelihood. It may not be the same as what they were earning before but Iâ€™m sure that there is a point you get and you really donâ€™t want to talk about the amount of money.
You want to just talk about how stable it is so that you can go on with life. At a certain stage of life, you want to be guaranteed a certain minimum income, not necessarily to earn some money without any certainty on the future. I think some of them have arrived there.
An Ijaw activist said on radio that the arms surrender was just a show that may not endure. Is it possible that all the arms that were displayed are all the arms in the arsenal of the militants because some have argued that if they have five arms, they will only turn in one?
For me, this is neither here nor there. The president said he is giving unconditional amnesty that means there is no basis for negotiation and the militants have also given up unconditionally their arms. Anybody who is suggesting that in the midst of the militancy and the crisis in the Niger Delta, we should have all come together, with our guns and say well, we first negotiate, then, we know the kind of person is not serious.
You know there all kinds of pretenders who go about talking. We donâ€™t even know the man, he is a nameless man and as far as Iâ€™m concerned, such people should not matter to us especially when you donâ€™t even know him. But if he is important, definitely, you would have remembered his name.
There are all kinds of nameless people out there who are just forming all kinds of opinion. As far as Iâ€™m concerned, the Federal Government has given amnesty, these people have accepted, then, let us first and foremost stabilize the region and of course, the discussion will always go on and that is my position on the matter.
Second, you said whether these were all the arms they (militants) surrendered or whether it was just a few of the arms that they surrendered. As far as Iâ€™m concerned, it is not important to me. I donâ€™t know the extent of their armoury, I never knew.
So, whether they brought all or whether they brought a few, I donâ€™t know. But I cannot miss the symbolism of the fact that they (militants) brought arms.
They brought some arms, they have come out and so far, so good, the area has been calm. The creeks have been quiet, which means a lot to us as a country. We must not miss this opportunity and that means that this country and all of us can use this opportunity to actually find a lasting solution. Because without this kind of thing, we will never be able to find a solution.
The young men are out and of course, a lot of them are beginning to see that life on land is also very interesting. In fact, some of them (militants) are even unwilling to go back, after spending one night here, they were ready to stay back because of reasons best known to them.
Some of the things that are not available to them in the creeks are available to them on land. So, you can see that a lot of possibilities are there. We should not look at these things with too much skepticism, thatâ€™s what I mean.
We should introduce optimism and I believe that is going to accelerate and help the process of solving this problem. Nobody really can say whether they brought out all of their arms. So, as far as Iâ€™m concerned, the fact that they have agreed to come out, they have come and now we know their faces is something. I didnâ€™t know him before and truly and sincerely, I only saw Boyloaf when he came to see me. If he had passed by me, I would not have known.
To me, itâ€™s a whole lot of progress we have made and we can now sit and try to analyse issues but it seems as if the progress we have made is been belittled. Letâ€™s look at it from the point of view of this country.
This Niger Delta crisis is serious enough to have dire consequences on our personal livelihood, so we should look at it as a problem that we must all try to solve. And itâ€™s not a problem that should be an interesting subject for debate and so on. Itâ€™s not, itâ€™s bigger than that.
Itâ€™s a problem that affects us really and truly and those of us who are managing some states will know exactly how it affects us when your cheque is completely cut down in the following month. Itâ€™s a big problem that has affected the bread and butter of Nigerians. It also has implication on the global community. So this problem is a serious problem that requires mobilisation of everyone.
At the Calabar South-South summit, certain resolutions were arrived at. Can you give us some insight into what has been achieved after that summit?
First of all, there is the need to integrate our economy. So much has come up since then, my state, Bayelsa and Rivers State are discussing strongly how we are going to integrate our educational system so that teachers can be moved within the two states without any problem and have a fiscal system that unify the states, and to me, it is major follow up from where we stopped in Calabar.
We have also talked about commission that will be in charge of midwifying the integration processes and we recently had a meeting in Asaba and a lot is also going on there to be able to choose the framework for the integration because these things cannot happen overnight. We have to do a framework and our dear brother, Professor Pat Utomi has been very active and very useful in these processes. We are very proud of him and I think we are making progress there.
You are seen as a controversial personality in your state. Why? Also, the purported 100 billion naira that the state is about to be borrowed, what is the money meant for?
You said, I am a very controversial figure and I like it. For you to be controversial, I think you have really distinguished yourself. If not you will be a conformist and everybody will know that you are just one of those people and you donâ€™t have any characteristics. Definitely, the opposition is left vocal and in some states they are more vocal.
In my state, I think I don’t only have the situation where the opposition is very vocal but they are actively supported by the press. So in that kind of situation, I expect this to happen, but I do not believe that because of this, I should not move forward. When there is a whole lot of reforms going on, you are bound to step on toes of certain interests and those are the people who make a lot of noise and as far as I am concerned, I consider them as noise.
As for the 100billion naira issue that you mentioned, as far as I am concerned, I am not aware of it. The 100billion naira is not going to be my decision. As I have said, we need to fastrack developments in the state and if you look at the world over, this is the system even in America and China.
You can see that it is not new. So people think this is the cheapest way of getting funds. There are people who are suggesting that we must get this kind of funds to be able fund some of our long term projects which cannot be funded from short term funds. But the people will decide, we wonâ€™t just act because we are operating an open system where everybody contributes and as far as I am concerned, nothing will be done until we have collated the opinions of all the people.
Right now, there is still no decision from the part of the government until we have been able to collate information and you can see the kind of opposition I have in the State.
I think right now, it is too early for me to discuss and as far as I am concerned, it is something that has been thrown to the court of public opinion. But what we are trying to do is also to collate opinions from stakeholders and it will be based on what they tell us that we will now take decision on. Definitely at the end of the opinion poll, we will still have some people who will not see anything good in it. These kind of people will always be there, so what I am saying is that, please ignore those people and listen to me.
But the problem is that all your opposition are members of your party, PDP?
That is it, especially, where you have a big family like the PDP, those are the kind of problems you have. The family is large and has lots of complexion and certain people just felt that they have to keep us on our toes. I think they mean well and that is why we carry them along. For me, let us work together and be less controversial.
Your government seems to concentrate more on developments in the state capital, Yenagoa and it appears there is less developments in the rural areas of the state?
We have quite a bit in every local government, but I am happy that you also realise that we should do a bit more in Yenagoa because we are coming from a situation where we did not even have a city. You know how Yenagoa was before I came in.
What we think is to be able to put some drivers in place to drive the economy. There are things that you put in place that people will move in, companies will come in and pay taxes. This will increase our earnings and by the time we are able to improve our earnings, it becomes easy because rural development is the cheapest and easiest thing to do.
For me to give water in every community in Bayelsa, I need to spend maybe 1or 2billion naira for the small boreholes in every community. I can say, okay, let us provide electricity for every community in Bayelsa by building small generators around the whole communities. To me, these are actually very cheap political points, but if you are able to create a sustainable economy that is able to drive itself, community development will become an easy thing at the end of the day because you are not making money alone, but developing too.
That is why I said you must put the drivers in place and the place can take off. So, we have to put those drivers in place and when you are putting them in place, people donâ€™t see, they will be asking what is he doing in the rural areas. But what we are doing for our people in the rural areas is building schools in all the senatorial districts. We are also doing majority of the inter-connection roads because you know these our terrain is a mashy one.
The problem are very high in Bayelsa, but we have to find the appropriate means to serve and this is what we are doing. But we will still get there to the point where we will provide electricity, water in all the villages, that one will come. Right now, we have provided lots of water in various communities, but I am not counting those ones because those are small and cheap things you can do.
If at the end of the day, you do all these community development and there are no pilots and you leave that place and everything collapses again, they will say the other governor did very well, he provided electricity and as soon as he left, the whole place collapsed.
It is because he didnâ€™t put in necessary things to support it. That is why we see that one government goes, another one comes and we are still in the same problem because no system was put in place to support what they have done. That is why we have to look for people who are looking at the right thing and who are putting the right drivers in place and
that is what I represent.