By Our Special correspondent
THE Peoples Democratic Party’s, PDP, candidate for Brass East Senatorial District Ben Murray Bruce had in the four weeks preceding the February 14 presidential and National Assembly elections campaigned vigorously across land and sea to position his 10-point agenda for the next session of the National Assembly. He insists that the time has come to address the issue of resource empowerment in the Niger Delta, and a Marshall Plan for the North East.
Election campaigns can be highly unpredictable in a fledgling democracy such as ours. However traversing the creeks and islands of Brass East Senatorial District, Ben Murray-Bruce brought possibilities quite predictable. Perhaps Murray-Bruce’s background, experience and position as a media mogul and real-estate businessman is exactly what Bayelsa needs. He has brought something new to the table…a campaign-filled with messages relatable to not just the people of Baylesa but the nation as a whole.
Let there be light”, Murray-Bruce’s wake up call to his Senatorial District or zone comes with a highly defined clarity. For a region flowing with crude oil beneath the land and sea, infrastructure development needed for minimum comfort and living remains a mirage. Which is why the candidate is pushing to raise one Billion dollars to power Nigeria, if he is voted to the Senate on March 28…
First and foremost, he explains, his would remain an issue-based campaign with minimum or no room for tirades and abusive language. For Ben , his robust goodwill, which happens to be the driving force of his success, must not be sold on a mission of running his opponents down just to garner votes. Most importantly, he explains the work he has to do given the enormous poverty, sickness, disease and backwardness afflicting his district. According to him, it is a travesty of justice that the people see their natural resources transformed into a fortune that rather than elevate their well being has only succeeded in degrading the environment, bringing enormous hardship to generations yet to be born if the intractable problems in the area are not tackled headlong now.
“Illegal refineries have been the bane of the Niger Delta region and are responsible for environmental degradation, pollution and crude oil waste because they cannot be harnessed in their proper form. The consequences of these have led to fires, violence in the community and even starvation because people will be unable to fish due to the pollution. Millions is spent on security in trying to stop illegal refineries operating, however we can turn this to job/wealth creation for government and local communities. If only we could push for proper licensing and regulation, would stop being a problem but a solution to the problems within the Niger Delta.”
It seems setting up illegal refineries is a culture that has continued to rapidly grow, and my argument is that if we legalize this illegality then our environment would be safer. After all, it is a simple business module, by refining the products, providing this service in the community to Nigerians who are trying to make a living from what we consider an illegal activity would be given a chance to make a living and prove themselves to be business worthy. Since they have a business module, we can create an environment where they can borrow money from the bank to set up modular refineries.
That is the message of Murray-Bruce as he made his whistle-stop campaigns to the major communities of his Senatorial District—Brass, Nembe, Akasa and Ogbia.
The people must be partakers of their wealth not spectators. Believing that every step of success must be anchored on dialogue, Murray-Bruce’s approach is that of forming a coalition across party lines to drive his point home and get the right results. For example, he argues, it is commonsensical disposition to convert illegal refineries to legal corporate outfits and get the owners to pay a corporate tax based on what revenue they generate. The NNPC should be able to allocate crude oil to them while the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) which has funds for the establishment of modular refineries can help power such projects.
But Ben is not just an idea-floater; he is a man of action with positive to-do-attitude. That means he has infused energy into what he thinks and believes and in the fullness of time these same ideas will acquire wings and produce the right results. The Peoples Democratic Party Senatorial candidate with 10 bills waiting to be sponsored and for presentation to the National Assembly will specifically be looking at the needs of his people. Yet the Murray-Bruce we know is not just an individual to be boxed into a tiny location in the Nigerian map. He is looking broadly at the geography and demographic spread of the polity. So while pushing for a Niger Delta Economic Empowerment Programme using Brass East as a testing ground, he is also insisting the much devastated North east needs a Marshal Plan that will pull the zone to a modern state filled with the right infrastructure, institutions that will turn the citizens into an educated elite with the right skills needed for jobs in the industry and more importantly build such relevant industries that will help to turn around the living standards of the citizens.
His recurring mantra: “We will ask those who drill our oil to cede 40% ownership to the people. I am referring to those wealthy Nigerians who received gifts of oil blocks and marginal fields through their oil companies or in collaboration with their foreign partners.
Also as a Senator of the Federal Republic, I will introduce a bill to the National Assembly for the creation of a Marshall Plan for the North east to fast track its economy devastated by war to a modern development oriented region or zone. The idea is to help the zone keep pace with the other more economically developing states of the federation. We must put together a package that seeks to grow a scarcely developed industrial network, develop its poor educational institutions and equip them with modern methods and skills of learning. The Northeast must be ridden of disease through the establishment of world class hospitals; it must cease to be a region of poverty through education, the establishment of a huge industrial village, and a growing business district and skill development for the teeming youths.”
The days the cankerworm has eaten have left so much despondency in the land. In Murray-Bruce’s country home, Akassa, infrastructure-roads, good homes, electricity and the good things of life are few, stretched and far between. Okada machines minister to the poor and rich most of whom hardly come home considering the high cost of living that accompanies it. Willie Murray-Bruce, an accountant and former Air Force Pilot remembers he had just made his sixth or seventh visit to Akasa reminding him of those days when a boat came from Nembe with chilled drinks and snacks making a boat ride a pleasurable experience. All that is gone and the oil companies only build roads that guarantee a walk and an okada ride. “What these companies have done to the community!” laments one indigene, “is left to the Almighty. They dig your oil and leave you impoverished in a conspiracy nurtured by our own people.”
In the health sector, the various communities in Akassa suffer a draught of medical personnel and infrastructure, so much so that the only doctor who was supposed to be in-charge of a clinic in Sangana was said to have returned to Yenagoa for undisclosed reasons. Several months after, the doctor is yet to report back to his duty post or be replaced with another. In the circumstance, the nurses are the best bet any sick person can get. So what happens when there is an emergency? The tour guide is asked? “We just rush people to Yenagoa and if they die along the way, that is it.”This all goes back to the issue of having to deal with illegal refineries, because if the people of Baylesa weren’t destroying the environment by breaking pipelines, the damage to the environment causing these diseases would be minimal.
Ben Murray-Bruce has promised his Senatorial Zone that there is no way his presence in the Senate will be for the purpose of enriching himself through negotiating his way. He has seen what the implantation of free and fair elections have brought about in other countries, it is about truly moving forward, playing the part you can along with others that are in politics for all the right reasons.