Acting Chief Press Secretary to the Bayelsa State Governor, Daniel Alabrah, told ISIOMA MADIKE in this interview that his boss, Douye Diri, came prepared for governance and had since hit the ground running. Excerpts…
Your boss was 100 days in office a few days ago. How would you evaluate his government thus far?
As you may well know, 100 days in office is a concept that has come to stay with us even though it did not evolve from our own system. It is a system we copied from the Americans, which was started by a former American president at the time of the Great Depression in the 1930’s. A lot of our leaders have adopted it and are using it to measure performance within the period.
But, for me, it is a very short time to expect any radical developmental change. I describe it as a foundational period during which a new administration is able to articulate its policy direction, so that people can begin to see which direction the new government is headed.
Having said that, my principal within this period has shown that he is ready to change the face of the capital city by laying the groundwork for urban renewal projects. He has already visited some of the sites. For instance, when he visited the popular Tombia Roundabout in the Edepie/ Etegwe axis of the state capital, where a flyover had been earmarked by the immediate past administration, the governor saw the need to expand the roundabout. The project is meant to decongest the area and reduce the traffic bottleneck in that axis. Unfortunately, we now have COVID-19 and it more or less slowed down some of the projects he earmarked. But that is not to say other things didn’t happen because of COVID-19.
Are you saying COVID-19 has slowed down governance in the state?
In a way, it did. But it however became an opportunity for the governor and his team to show that they could be resourceful in the handling of the incursion of the pandemic into our state. So far so good, the government has tried to reduce the spread of COVID-19. So, even when it came as a distraction, the government has been able to show that taking the right decisions and putting in place the right measures could protect the people against such pandemic that has gripped the whole world.
But away from these, there are other things the governor did within the 100 days. For instance, he has been able to stabilize the state. When you look at the circumstances that brought him to power, there were a lot of skepticism at the time the Supreme Court pronounced him governor of the state. There were violent reactions and hoodlums took advantage of that to unleash mayhem on the state. A lot of property were destroyed, including the residence of the current governor, that of the former governor, the premises of Radio Bayelsa, homes of PDP chieftains, the PDP secretariat, a public library owned by a member of the House of Reps, alongside many other public property. The police had to impose a curfew on the state.
So, what’s the situation now?
Progressively, we have seen things return to normal and it is because of the posture of the governor. From the moment he was sworn in, he started talking about reconciliation, peace and unity in the state and his actions have reflected that. He has shown that is the way to go; that we are one and that politics should not divide us. For him, the elections are over, the Supreme Court has given the final ruling and the people should begin to live with the reality that this is what we have. Even those that are aggrieved, either within his own party or outside his party, as long as they are Bayelsans, he has extended an olive branch to them. We need peace for us to even have any measure of development. So, he has been able to show that in his character and attitude to governance that we could live together as one and do not need division of any sort. That in itself is something that has calmed frayed nerves and a lot of people are beginning to see him as a man who means very well for the state. He came prepared. He is somebody who understands what governance is about. So, he is ready to lead the state from the front and let people know that we could get better from where we were.
How about projects?
In terms of projects, let me say firstly that this is a state where we have always had issues with public power supply. Most residents of Bayelsa, particularly in Yenagoa, the state capital, complain that they pay for darkness to the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company. They say they are being exploited. But within the 100 days, the governor held several meetings with the management of the electricity distribution company and we are beginning to see a change. Before now, in the area I live we barely had public power supply. Maybe in a whole week, we could get like two or three hours of power supply. But now, we have three to four days of power supply and sometimes for 18 to 20 hours or even the whole day. Even when there is power outage, it doesn’t take long before it is restored.
I tell people that the fact that we are beginning to have regular power supply in the larger part of Yenagoa metropolis didn’t happen by chance. It is not because the Port Harcourt Disco just decided to be magnanimous. Rather, it was the result of the effort put in by the governor and officials of the government to ensure that power supply was scaled up.
Of course, you know the effects of power supply, particularly on businesses whether small or big. So, the effect is being felt by the people and a lot of them are giving kudos to the government for swiftly tackling that issue that had been a pain on the neck of our people.
Then there is also the issue of the street lighting project in the state capital. The moment the governor came in, he saw the need to light up different areas of the state capital. Before now, some of the major roads had light installed but they were not really functioning. So, he quickly moved into action. For instance, on the Sani Abacha Road, he ensured that a new generator was procured to power the lights. At night, that area is now lit up as well as the road leading to the Government House. The Isaac Boro expressway is a project that is almost completed but the light poles have all virtually been installed. In a few weeks from now, I expect that the whole of that long stretch of about 10km will be lit up all the way to the Tombia Roundabout.
With the period under review, we have equally seen the downsizing of the number of ministries in the state from 32 to 21. This was done with the intention of reducing the cost of running the bureaucracy and addressing the challenge of duplication of functions.
The issue of payment of pension and gratuity has been major topics in most of the states. How is the administration going about them?
A lot of people have talked about this – how the governor has ensured that salaries are paid promptly even before the end of the month and, importantly, how he tackled the issue of the backlog of gratuity of retirees headlong. The story was that retirees, some of them dating back to 2008, had not received their gratuity. Some even died without getting their gratuity. But when Governor Diri came in, he immediately from the month of February directed that the sum of N200 million be released for commencement of payment of the backlog of the gratuity of retirees. Since then, every month retirees get their gratuity alongside their pension. To the governor, he doesn’t think it is an achievement to pay salaries promptly or the retirees gratuity because it is an obligation he owes these persons as Bayelsans. Yes, he is right because workers are supposed to get their dues. It is not something you deny them. For him ensuring that workers get their salaries before the end of the month is something that he considers as routine and not an achievement. But that is not the way people see it. To them, it is heartwarming and a big achievement.
What is the situation with the Bayelsa airport?
The Bayelsa airport project was, unfortunately, enmeshed in some form of politics towards the end of the previous government. As we speak, that airport is ready for commercial flight operations as the navigational and other required aviation equipment are all in place. But, curiously, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority has insisted that the perimeter fencing round the airport must be completed before it will be given the final nod for commercial flights. At the moment, military aircraft operated by the Nigerian Air Force land regularly at the airport. So, it is more or less in use.
In any case, the perimeter fencing was the reason the NCAA gave for withholding its approval even though we knew there was an underlying political side to it. However, the project is ongoing and there are discussions going on too to ensure that the airport opens for commercial flight operations. So, we are waiting for the regulatory body to give its final nod for us to commence otherwise the airport is ready. It is good to go.
Where do you see Bayelsa after COVID-19?
I believe that first of all there are lessons to be learnt from COVID-19 and we must not forget those lessons. COVID-19 has changed the way we interact with ourselves and the way we handle our health issues. So, I would say that our people should not forget the lessons we are already learning. But after COVID-19, I believe that the areas we were affected in terms of development, for instance, infrastructure, we are going to have a scale up in those areas. I see us moving fast in the way we approach issues about development of our state.
Do you see the government making a conscious effort to further develop the health sector?
Of course, yes! I actually think Bayelsa should be a centre of excellence in medical tourism with the infrastructure already on ground. For instance, the previous government did very well in terms of health infrastructure building hospitals in the 105 wards across state. These health centres had almost been completed before the previous government exited. Some of them only require finishing touches before they become operational. Like I said, the previous government built a good foundation in the education and health sectors and this government will continue on that path.
Culled from the New Telegraph Newspaper