How we defeated ‘federal might’
Bayelsa State Governor Henry Seriake Dickson, who was elected for second term, on January 9, says he cannot celebrate his victory because of the killings that attended the poll that re-elected him. Dickson blames the killings on what he describes as the connivance of security men with thugs who unleashed mayhem on his supporters, many who are now recuperating in hospital.
The governor, who describes his re-election as a war, asks President Muhammadu Buhari to stop what he calls his ‘political conquest’ and tackle urgent national challenges for the benefit of Nigerians.
How would you describe your re-election?
I would simply say that the election was more than just an election. It was more of a war as a result of what my main opponent did, prior to and during the poll.
Indeed, we survived a war because the people of the state were resilient, steadfast and showed confidence in me as their governor. That is why, at the last count, I won seven of the eight local government areas of the state and had over 134,000 votes against my main opponent, who managed to get over 86,000 votes.
To me, this is a resounding victory despite all odds because we were up against a full display of the totality of power at the centre deployed to the fullest to take over Bayelsa by force and my opponent’s campaign was appropriately nicknamed ‘Operation Take Over Bayelsa’, which appeared innocent at first but, in retrospect, we now know what they meant from day one.
This is one victory that led to spontaneous celebrations in families, local governments and communities in Bayelsa, across the whole of the South-South and indeed most states and cities in Nigeria. Millions of people stayed glued to television while collations were going on, hoping that the forces of evil would not triumph.
I believe the Bayelsa election is a significant development in our democracy. It is significant in the sense that this is the first time a governor is winning an election in a core Niger Delta state on a platform different from the party at the centre.
To us, this is a triumph of peoples’ will over might. Women and youths had to stay awake, forming a wall of protection in their voting units and communities with some of them using their bare bodies to block armoured personnel carriers. It means that the Nigerian democracy is on track and it also shows that our nation will not be a one-party state and, everyone, who is thinking that this vast land of proud and resilient people will be cowed and will only go in a particular way and coerced into a kind of totalitarianism, should begin to think twice. With my experience, our people are beginning to understand their roles in a democracy and they are now getting better educated about the democratic processes. It is a good development because this country shouldn’t be allowed to slip into a one-party dictatorship. That is part of the significant thing that has happened in Baylesa; it is a victory for the people in Baylesa who rose up against the desires of the elite. It is instructive, too, that most of the elite, who resigned and joined the other party, positioning themselves for federal appointments, lost their booths and polling units.
So, it is a good development for our democracy, for Bayelsa; good for the Ijaw people, good for the PDP and ultimately good for our country because it shows that our people are resilient and it will resist a one-party state.
What is the unique lesson you learned from the Bayelsa election?
What I have learnt, which I have always known but a lot of people underrated, is that for anyone seeking elective office, you must go to your people because power comes from God and the people. In the election, most of you know that I and my team spent almost six weeks campaigning in a way never done in Bayelsa. I believe the governorship politics of Bayelsa can never be the same again because we have raised the bar in terms of interacting and engaging the people. We visited community after community as against the former practice of a candidate making peripheral appearances in a senatorial district or two. Our campaign was penetrating and I was able to connect with the people who were solidly behind me.
That is why I said, with all sense of seriousness, that if the election is conducted 100 times, I would win 100 times, unit after unit, ward after ward, community after community, local government after local government. I said the other side was not just serious about election because they were not campaigning but simply hoping that violence would fetch them victory at the end of the day.
The lesson from this is that after God comes the people in an election. For those who don’t believe, they will say the people first but I am a man of faith; so I believe God allows people to have power when He chooses to. We also saw the benefits of non-violence because the story would have been lost if we hadn’t laid the foundation, warning everybody not to be violent and to resist intimidation, to turn out to vote, to insist on their right to vote, to insist that their votes count and their votes are counted.
Would you then probe the loss of lives that were recorded during the election?
First of all, I again condemn the unnecessary violence and destruction that followed; you need to know that all these people that were arrested are from one side. Those that had taken over communities, all of them are from the other party, the APC, while all the victims are from the PDP and my supporters. That is the reason we didn’t allow people to celebrate. There was no reason for celebration because the victory came with a heavy cost and I pray that those that were injured in hospital receive speedy recovery and, we will work with the families to bury the dead and we pray God will grant them eternal rest. Over all, the election went well, but it is the security bit that the agencies needed to get right. I want to thank the people for going against all odds and coming out to cast their votes. We were really concerned about the loss of lives and destruction that happened. I had thought that even on account of the violence that brought about the injured and the dead, my opponent would have accepted defeat, called and congratulated me and then join me to reconcile the state and then build a new Bayelsa from the ruins. But I am surprised that he and his party seem to be talking about litigation which they are free to embark upon, but that is disrespect to the memory of the dead and the injured because he seems to be saying he is not tired of supplementary election. He appears to be insensitive because I defeated him clearly in seven of the eight LGAs in the state. As a matter of fact, by our records when he goes to court, eventually, we will prove that he recorded invalid votes in Brass LGA where he won. We will prove that somehow INEC officials connived, though at gun point, to write votes for him. He didn’t earn those votes. Even the few votes they credited to him will come under severe scrutiny and we may have a situation, at the end, where everyone will know we won in all the eight LGAs of the state. He seems to be suggesting that there should be another supplementary election which means he doesn’t care about the dead, the injured and the houses that were destroyed. It appears to me that he doesn’t care if the whole Baylesa disappears. I think that is too desperate to become governor. A man has lost an election clearly in the way the man did, but he is still not ready to accept defeat and allow peace to reign. It is most unfortunate. We are leading, at the end, with over 48,000 votes and he seems to be suggesting that he is not tired of election. To us, this election has been won and lost and the honourable thing, for the sake of our democracy and for the sake of Bayelsa and for the sake of the people he once led, is for him to stop this war against the people.
He should stop boasting that they will manipulate anyone to give him victory or overturn the will of the people. It appears to me as though he does not care if people are dead and if the institutions are destroyed. He just wants to be governor of Bayelsa by all means.
Having been re-elected for second term at a time oil revenue is dwindling and a potential return of militancy in the Niger Delta because of arms not retrieved from youths in the region, are you worried about how you will run the state?
Well, I do know that we are heading to some tough time because of the steady decline in oil prices and revenue in the last one and a half years. It is possible that the APC didn’t see that coming; so I have made this call over and over. What I have rather seen is an insufficient and insensitive team around President Muhammadu Buhari and his government.
For example, they seem to have taken their eyes off the economy, they seem to have taken their attention off core-national security imperatives and are now focusing more on political conquest and expansion of the sphere of authority of their party and all the intrigues going on even within their party. I am of the view that the President doesn’t have the best of advice; I am of the view that the President is not expansive and broad enough. I am seeing a lot of unnecessary restriction, unnecessary concerns about political ego. This President took over the reins of this country at a time that calls for all hands to be on deck. This is when we should be forming national consensus. For example, more people have died in the hands of Boko Haram between when the President took over till date than under the last administration.
What this means is that, contrary to the public proclamations, Boko Haram threat remains a serious challenge. Our men and women in uniform are doing their best and we should all give them support, but what it means is that the national security team needs to have their eyes on national security instead of concentrating on political conquest. The President’s men should show more interest in the economic downturn the country is facing, how to make progress in 2016 and going forward and not wasting time on issues that are myopic and less beneficial to Nigerians at the end of the day.
Now with Iran getting fully involved in oil trade again, we are going to have more oil glut in the market with attendant reduction in the current price of crude. That is a serious matter because it will have an impact even in the maintenance of law and order, because a hungry man is an angry man. If the economy is weak, it may make it difficult for states to pay salaries of workers while the Federal Government might find it equally difficult to pay its workers, soldiers, law enforcement agencies and judicial officers.
These are the real challenges facing the country and I am surprised and shocked that, in spite of all these challenges, what we see is that people are more interested in battles rather than making friends and building national consensus. After elections, no matter how you feel about the candidates and parties, you address the problems of the state and country and move forward. But, sadly, that is not happening and I am very concerned, therefore, the way the country is going in the area of security; not just in the Niger Delta but across the nation.
In the Niger Delta, I don’t think the approach of being selective in law enforcement and deployment of military and security personnel is the solution.
Security agencies should promptly arrest and punish those who use youths to cause mayhem in the Niger Delta and other parts of Bayelsa to discourage others from engaging in criminality. There are different accounts of how Boko Haram started and one account is similar to this and I keep raising the alarm that security agencies should pick up these guys, cause investigation and deal with them appropriately. However, no action has been taken.
So I am calling for understanding and for support from the Federal Government so that, again, we can keep Bayelsa and the country safe again.
Economically, Bayelsa is in a better position now than when I started my first term. The good thing in Bayelsa is that we have spent the first term laying the foundation and we are now moving to consolidate the achievements we recorded in the first term. We have completed 90 percent of our schools with heavy investment made in infrastructure. For instance, our airport is about 70 percent ready. We just need to monitor and see to its completion.
But then, there are challenges of meeting the recurrent obligations and of expanding social security that has been going on in the form of paying school fees, WAEC forms, GCE, NECO, scholarships and all those people as all those things will be unfortunately affected. But, let’s get it clear, our country is in a very difficult economic situation with the drop in oil revenues and that again calls for seriousness on the part of the Federal Government to bail the economy out of the doldrums.
The election seems to have torn the unity of the Ijaw nation apart. What are you doing to unite the people?
To the best of my knowledge, the Ijaw nation is united. Yes, a contest amongst brothers is bound to generate divisions even in the family, but there are no sharp divisions as such. My opponent had his own party men and supporters, but majority of our people supported me. You talked about the unity of the Ijaw nation, the Ijaw nation is united. There are some efforts some people are making, using federal power to get a chunk of support for themselves. I wish them well and advise that they use legitimate means in doing so. Now that the election is over, we are looking ahead to reconciling our people and I have already offered a hand of fellowship to Chief Sylva and the APC and I hope reason will prevail.
I see their reaction after losing that they wanted to go to court as a reaction borne out of shock because they thought they had everything. They had everything working for them somehow, but they did not have God on their side. That is why they lost the election to me. I hope they will accept my invitation to join me to work for peace, security and development of our people.