By Samuel Oyadongha
FORMER Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Chief Timi Alaibe, who is aspiring to govern Bayelsa State on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in this interview, speaks on his plans for the state and why he is the best man for the job among others.
How prepared are you to govern Bayelsa?
Without sounding immodest, I will say that I come with a lot of experience in my aspiration for this job. I come with private sector experience and public sector experience. I am a compassionate father. I am a team player, I come with a strong character. I have strong leadership skills and as you all know I am a peace advocate. I need to now say specifically why I think our delegates and our people must trust this aspirant as governor of Bayelsa State. Over the years, successive administrations of Bayelsa State have impacted in their own ways in trying to ensure sustainable development for our people and proving appropriate infrastructure to support the state.
However, at this point what we need is a game-changer for our people, who will boost the economy of our state, which in itself enunciates and captures the thematic area of our vision. Our vision is shared economic prosperity for all the people of Bayelsa State using government as an enabler for social security investment or as a social security investor if you like to provide certain critical social infrastructure including of course social programmes. And I specifically mentioned rule of law, security and order, human capital development, environmental re-mediation, healthcare and job creation. These are the thematic areas I thought that we will be dealing with, with the government as a social investment platform.
Talking about rule of law and order which is the foundation for some of these things to happen, we insist in that in the first six months of our administration, we will ensure that there is peace and security in our state so that people will be comfortable to come and do business here. We will kick-start the enumeration of all our youths.
We will do what I know how to do best, disarmament, demobilisation, rehabilitation and reintegration programme. That programme will ensure that we set a stage for our youths to be involved in skills development and reintegration activities. I have given several examples of what we will do and then dovetail into one of the principal areas of the thematic economy programme, the blue economy.
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You know that Governor Seriake Dickson did a lot of investment in health. We are going to improve on that. We will consolidate the activities of the governor who did well in some of the critical infrastructure areas and we will ensure our elderly people are taken care of and also our infants.
In terms of environmental remediation, this is critical. Some of you don’t know that there was a Yenagoa master plan at one point. At inception, they have Yenagoa master plan. There was another one in 2007.
Strategic development plan
A lot of people didn’t know that Governor Timipre Sylva invested in Yenagoa city strategic development plan. But as usual with such plans it was never implemented. We are going to pick up that plan upscale it, review it and implement those aspects of environmental recommendations and interventions. And we are going to do a lot of waste management programmes and start the afforestation programme.
Only Bonny, for example, is working today. I am saying go back to history and let us utilise the ocean resources that we have to build our economy and to support the growth of our economy. And that is the key point when we say the blue economy.
Seventy per cent of our space is sea, now what do we benefit from cargo movement? Trillions of dollars are passing the oceans on a daily basis and we have the longest coastline in Nigeria. So for us, our interpretation of the blue economy as enunciated by the World Bank and the United Nations is you utilise it for economic growth, creation of jobs without destroying the ecosystem.
In terms of private capital expertise, I have said that we are going to attract private capital expertise. What will we be using that for? Private sector capital if you know how to make the projects bankable and you know that my fundamental occupation was banking. If you know how to make your projects bankable, housing, transportation, SME support; once you can make it bankable it will attract private sector capital and of course we would have maintained an enabling environment here. That is our goal.
In terms of education, successive governments have invested in tertiary education and I am sure by the last count we have about 16 tertiary educational institutions from the diagnostic report we did. Now, what has happened to primary education?
The diagnostic report showed that their foundation is important to us otherwise we will be feeding into the tertiary education, not well-baked children. So as a major plank, we want to address the fundamental aspect of our educational policy, strengthen infrastructure and human capital.
We are going to train and retrain. This is the key because in some schools from our diagnostic report, we found that some of the schools don’t even have appropriate teaching personnel. Another thing that is worrisome is that the child enrolment rate is about 30 per cent. That is not good development. We are doing well at the secondary and tertiary level but the fundamental level is still something we must deal with. We are going to invest in a 25 years strategic master plan for the state.
Then we will implement the strategic development plan for Yenagoa City after reworking it. But there is a programme that excites me; it is called gas to power and power to wealth. It is an initiative that we will run in the first year of my administration. Today, the 225 megawatts thermal plant built by the Niger Delta Holding Company in situ in Gbarantoru and with the required political will and policy to make it work and serve us 24/7 and 18 months will be too much for me to get it done. I am giving myself a one year target to get a 24/7 electricity in Bayelsa State and grow that power to10,000 megawatts.
What is your take on youth inclusion in governance?
Our youths are our future. If we do not involve them in what we are doing today, we are in trouble. So we must be able to involve them in governance and tutor them. Skills are not acquired overnight. We have to tutor them and ensure that they go through the rudiments of training to be able to also become leaders.
The first six months will be dedicated to youths and we will categorise them. There are youths who are highly unskilled who are on the streets and who claimed to be owners of the street. I will attend to them. But I will withdraw their arms, I will demobilise them, I will rehabilitate and I will reintegrate them into society so that they can have jobs. The next set of people are those who are prepared who went to university, the finished university they do not have jobs. There was an experiment we did where I was a board member and we wanted some boys, some young people within the age bracket of 21-25 to be employed and we asked for Cvs.
From my state, Bayelsa, I asked some friends to get me Cvs nearly all the Cvs I got were above the threshold of 25. Our problem is that it means those between 25-31 are still there. A lot of our youths are unemployed. So we need to deal with that.
There are two ways to it; we prepare them for special skills so that we can ensure that our tomorrow will be a skill set that can be exported. And I keep giving the example of Philippines, last year over $6 billion was repatriated to the Philippines from seafarers, 45 per cent of the seafarers in the world is the Philippines. So you can imagine, it was not in error some leaders set down to invest in their people. We are going to invest in our youths.
Bayelsans have high expectations of your leadership, as a financial manager how would you attend to the high debt profile of the state?
We are going to rework the debt. After all, Nigeria has quite a lot of debt. We are going to review the debts and restructure them to benefit our people and free up resources for the benefit of our state.
What is the place of women if you are given the opportunity?
I am a gender-sensitive person and as you know I use to be married to a woman who had an NGO in the Niger Delta called the Family Reorientation Education and Empowerment, FREE and she was very passionate about the girl child and women I learnt quite a lot from her, women education was key, women empowerment was key.
Some of our mothers didn’t know how to recognise or know what the naira numbers look like until her literacy school came on board and they recognise naira by the colour at the time. And those schools empowered a lot of our women and she moved on then to do women cooperatives for farmers for processing of farm products and so on.
Even the special skills of knowing how to bake cakes, making of hair, the SME type so I learned quite a lot from my wife and that has given us the framework to design the activities we have for our women,
Some of them are more or fewer empowerment programmes that will give our women the necessary comfort and to build themselves as entrepreneurs which links me to the SME support thing. From my experience in banking when you lend money to women they always pay back 99 per cent of the women they pay back, am not saying the men are bad but they are very conscious of their obligations so we are going to empower women, extension of facilities to make them entrepreneurs and give them that self-worth. The women in Balogun market are not better than the Bayelsa women. The women that travel to Dubai to bring in goods are not better than Bayelsa women, the women that set up small factories, farmlands and cooperatives are not better so we are going to dedicatedly empower our women.
What is your relationship with Governor Seriake Dickson?
There is nothing wrong with my relationship with Governor Seriake Dickson, we don’t have any fundamental issues it is political time so people will be suspecting different things. He is the governor of our state and we give him that respect he is also a leader that we all adore. We will continue to give him that respect we do not have any issue. I don’t know whether you have heard of any there is no altercation and we don’t have any.
What is your plan in developing the SMEs and the issue of multiple taxations because this is affecting small business owners in Bayelsa?
We are going to be deliberate in terms of SMEs. 80 per cent of the Brazilian economy is powered by SMEs and SMEs are key. Where you do not have small businesses that are what I will call feedstock to some of the big ones that we are going to ensure come in then is not going to be sustainable we are going to create an environment where private sector capital can come from. There are quite a lot of partnership funds in the SDGs that will support SMEs and they need to be exploited. You need to have the skills to attract such funds. If you don’t have skills you cannot. And we can help you to make your projects bankable so that you access such funds and get government support. I know about multiple taxations, as a businessman I also suffer it when we move things and so we are going to deal with that. Tax is out of profit and when you tax loss nothing comes out and I keep telling people you can only share profit and cannot share loss.