Bayelsa State Governor, Hon Henry Seriake Dickson in this exclusive interview speaks on his efforts in leading the reconciliation efforts in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the proposals on restructuring and how the states can positively anticipate a national consensus towards restructuring. Excerpts:
By Samuel Oyadongha
What is driving you in your quest to effect reconciliation within the PDP?
First of all, I am grateful to the national leadership of my party, PDP that has found me fit and proper to head a committee as pivotal, critical as reconciliation.
And on record so far, the only party leader who has been appointed four times by four different chairmen, four different leaders of the party right from the time of Bamanga Tukur, including people who had some differences with me on the way forward like the immediate past leadership.
You remember the proposals I made about an out of court settlement rather than allowing the court to decide the fate of our party. That for me was an indication of some leadership failure on the part of those polarising the party and of course you have seen what has happened since then till now.
The Supreme Court judgment has come well, but it has not really solved the leadership problems because, in the end, it is up to the party leadership to decide without any problem and build consensus.
Even the immediate past chairman, Senator Ahmed Makarfi appointed me to chair the post-convention reconciliation committee making it the fourth time I was so appointed. So, it is a great honour to be considered, and I want to thank party leaders from across the country who reposed so much confidence, trust in my ability to be firm, and ability to handle challenges in the various states.
I am grateful to all of them for that. Currently, the reconciliation efforts are going on well. We were able to douse the immediate aftermath of the last convention.
We are still on it engaging people. What has humbled me in a way is that each of these leaders and various aggrieved persons when my committee interacted with them reposed confidence in me and the committee.
They believe that we can address their challenges fairly and accurately to the best of our knowledge. I think that is the essence of politics. Politics is about resolving conflict in human society.
We cannot solve all the problems in human society, but it is up to political leaders in all parties and climes to build and engender consensus as much as possible because society is complex. Leading society needs complex skills and my focus in politics actually is consensus building, and it has also helped to build peace and stability in a rather volatile political environment like my state.
The state has recorded the highest number of political casualties. A state that had never had a two-term governor to the end. You can imagine that all that has happened is different from what the experience is around us.
In the entire South-South, there is no state that has had the volatility, from the assembly, governorship, deputy governorship, and party leadership.
My focus and emphasis are on consensus building, on listening to all the other side even when we disagree. That is actually when you listen more in my view and creating an atmosphere for even people you disagree with to vent their views.
For me, all of that has helped me to stabilise the volatile Bayelsa political environment in the last six years in spite of the challenges, both internally and externally.
I have been able to bring about stability in such a way that this state right now by every term of assessment is one of the safest states in the country and even in the region despite the fact that Bayelsa is historically the epicentre of all the challenges in the Niger Delta.
The challenges of reconciliation, I think is a challenge that every political leader should step up to. And like what I read in the papers, even the ruling party at the federal level has set up a reconciliation committee chaired by no less a person of its political leader Asiwaju himself. I congratulate Asiwaju for being considered fit and proper, and I think he has the experience and network to be able to do that.
So reconciliation is ongoing, essentially in the end as I say always, it is the duty and responsibility of every political leader to engender consensus building and to be a tool of reconciliation not just within our political parties but also at the national level.
And that’s why if you have been following my comments on national issues, at a point in time, political leaders must step out of their cocoon, comfort zones and play their role as expected of them as national agents of reconciliation.
For example, when the APC came up with their committee on restructuring, I was taken aback quite frankly because it was coming from an unexpected quarter, with the personalities in the region where the challenges and opposition to restructuring have been coming from.
So I felt we had to step out of our party line to commend and appreciate their courage, their commitment. But at the same time reminding them of their duty to be sincere and honest and to be committed to it and make restructuring possible before the next general election.
I have issued a statement also on the comment of the Vice President on state police. For example, I believe at a level, certain things are right in themselves, and our focus shouldn’t be to score cheap political points but to promote whatever that is in the national interest. So that is what we have been doing.
How prepared is your state and party prepared for restructuring, state police for instance? Do you have a blueprint in place that can be readily implemented to handle this if we achieve the consensus on this in our effort to boost internal security in the country?
First of all, the issues raised by the restructuring debate are very fundamental to the existence of our country and that is why we will continue to push for it. I have spoken more on this than most governors I know of because I believe that the present structure of the country cannot deliver a stable and prosperous Nigeria in the long term. Clearly, if you are talking about true federalism, restructuring whichever way you put it, you will have to deal with the issue of the capacity of the federating units to ensure their own security and stability.
So that brings you to the issue of state police and this why I agree completely with the recommendation on the point arising from the 2014 conference and also as recently adopted by the APC committee and reaffirmed by no less a person than the Vice President of the country. I agree completely with him.
But you see this is why I have always made a call for an enlarged multiparty committee to sit down to work out the fine details. For example, concerning the police, you need to discuss the relationship of the state police force with that of the centrally controlled police force clearly.
Where we are is such that Nigeria is too large with the population and with the diversity of the country that we cannot have an effective central police from Abuja manned by an IGP no matter how hard-working, no matter how well-intentioned that person may be. The resources and the complexities needed to achieve effective policing cannot be done in the context of a centrally controlled police force as we have here. So we will have to decentralise.
How do we work out the regulatory framework to govern this process?
It is something that I think individual states should do; it is something that we need to have a group of stakeholders to sit down and look at other modalities and then work at it.
I don’t think it is as difficult as when it comes to the issue of setting up a police force within a state because already the realities on ground are such that the police in every state is virtually maintained or run by state governors and every state I know of have their form of policing in one form or the other.
In some states, they have Neighbourhood Watch that is a police force. In some of the states, they even put on uniform, which is as close as you can get to state police.
So there is no difficulty in setting up a police system, but there are issues to work out in terms of the standard, ethical values, training and collaboration among the various state police forces among themselves and their relationship with the central police.
I believe we still need side by side state police forces; we still need a centrally controlled police force but not a police force that will do day to day policing. But we still need a federal intervention system.
Like the FBI?
Yes, of course, a strong system that can intervene in case things happened in states that go beyond the capacity of the state police force to handle.
So we need to work out these nuances which is why I have always made a call for a multiparty committee, an expanded committee to examine each of these items and then also see how we can all sponsor bills enunciating these ideas before the National Assembly because it is one thing to come out with a beautiful paper and it is another to thing to reduce it to appropriate bills and to forward same and ensure their passage in the National Assembly.
The APC has taken what I considered a first important step. I don’t think it should be minimised at all but people who questioned their sincerity are very well entitled to do so because now there is huge trust deficit that the APC led Federal Government is suffering from what is caused by them.
So they need to earn the public trust again from this issue. I don’t think we should dismiss it out rightly. We should welcome it and then urge them to set up that multiparty committee that will give all of us the opportunity to fine-tune some of these critical issues and jointly drive it together under the leadership of the president.
But what I am not sure is whether the president himself is willing to lead that change, whether he is willing and understands the issue to be able to build, to lead to a national consensus.
The moves made so far are welcomed. I don’t think any state will find it difficult setting up state police because they already exist under one name or form.
We support the police force in our state and in most states you have something that is already doing some kind of aspect of policing. At the community level in the state, we have it.
In most states you have the Neighbourhood Watch and so on. It will fight insecurity, and quite frankly it will also help to mop up a number of young people who will be engaged at the community level, local government level and across states to provide them security. But we need to work out the details.
As you look towards the end of your term do you do you still intend to remain in politics after your tenure?
Well, I have no such desire for now. I haven’t even thought of it. My intention all along had been to be a professor of law and may be a senior advocate, and those dreams are still clearly set before my eyes. I am actually an accidental politician. Sometimes I feel sad that at personal level, I have not been able to achieve those personal targets that I set for myself.
So one likely destination that I have is the classroom. Not much may be seen or heard about me,, but things can change. For me now I will like to go back to school. I like to teach, I like to write, I like to give lectures, I like to talk about leadership, I will like to be involved in still contributing but I don’t have to be a political leader to contest an election.
That’s what I have clearly in mind, but as you, know man proposes, God disposes. That is why I give every bit of my time to this job; it is every important to me. I am my worst critic.
I like to examine everything that I have done and that is why a lot of people find my style discomforting particularly people of the old school who have been part of the old way of doing things. I want every fund to go to projects.