Bayelsa is the President’s home state. Do you think you can make a head way in that state?
Absolutely, because the President was voted into office not just by Bayelsans. It is the smallest state in Nigeria. It is approximately 1.7 million people. Even if every Bayelsan is of voting age and voted, there is no way that Bayelsans by ourselves alone could have determined the outcome of the presidential election in April 2011. It took people from the Southwest, Southeast, Southsouth, Northeast, Northwest and Northcentral to vote him into office. So, by implication, he knows that Nigerians were looking for a fresh direction in leadership and people voted in their numbers irrespective of where he came from. There were people from the Northwest who were running in that election, yet people voted for him. There were people, take the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) for instance, they had a candidate but overwhelmingly most of the states controlled by the ACN voted Mr. President into office. So Nigerians have come to a point where we are now asking ourselves that we want credible candidates; we don’t want a candidate who emerged because of one power block or the other. I emerged through a process that was clear, transparent. I was nominated unopposed as the candidate of ACN and that tells me people themselves were looking for credible candidates. So, the President, I believe, would support my agenda for change because it is on all fours to what he wants to see for the nation.
Last Friday, President Goodluck Jonathan endorsed Seriake Dickson of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Do you think you stand a chance despite this?
The President did that, not only is he President of Nigeria, but also a card carrying member of PDP. He and Mr Dickson are of the same party, in other words, he was there to campaign for the candidate of PDP. That is normal in politics. But having said that, when it comes down to voting, the President himself would very much tell the whole world that democracy is about voting who you want. He would campaign for his candidate, but the Bayelsans would have to decide for themselves who is the best candidate.
Do you see yourself beating Mr. Dickson who is being backed by the presidency, PDP and federal might?
Well, Dickson, presidency and federal might are not God. They cannot usurp the power of the people to get what they want. First and foremost, when you look at Mr. President’s emergence as president, nobody gave him a chance, but he rose from being Deputy Governor to Governor, Vice President and now President. That speaks of divine providence because God rules in the affairs of man. So, no man can arrogate to himself the power to determine what happens in any place. That would simply be pride and as such a very shortsighted approach to the way things happen in the affairs of man. It is the people who would decide and this election will be one election which would shock many people because Bayelsans are sick and tired of people who feel they can just toy with their destiny. Bayelsans are rising and say we are not going to mortgage our future on the altar of somebody’s ego or pride. We are going to determine what is in our best interest.
Are Bayelsans sensitized enough to know that their vote is their power?
Very obviously, they have been sensitized. We have been campaigning right across the state. They are going through pains and they themselves are realizing that this time around, it is not going to be N1000 which many times, others have used to seduce them to get their votes. They say no because we say to them clearly if somebody gives you N1000 to vote for him on the day of election and then what happens in the next four years, would that N1000 feed you? Many of them have realised that it is time to stop mortgaging their future. It is time to stop selling their birthright for mere pottage? They are all realizing that. It is evident. So evident is the poverty and squalor across the state. And they are asking themselves, we have been going the same way and for 12 years we see no real change in our human condition. Is it not time for us to change? They know and say it as we campaign across the state.
How are the people embracing change and are they really ready for it?
The people of Bayelsa have been groaning and crying for change. They have been. They have expressed their desire for change. Perhaps the great challenge the people of Bayelsa have faced is the past is a sense of powerlessness because it is one thing to desire change, it is another thing to have an opportunity to effect change. What some of us who have been crying for this change ourselves say is that we are going to go beyond crying and complaining? We are going to offer Bayelsa a credible alternative. I am saying to the people that I am a man of integrity who has the compassion, who feels the yearnings and pains of the people. I am responding to their cries, therefore, working together, we can bring about the change that they desire.
Why are you in the race and what is the motivation?
I am in the race because it is clear the way I see it that politics is about public service. And if you don’t have people who are public spirited, if you don’t have people who have the desire for public service, then really we cannot complain when we don’t see the kind of positive change we expect from people. My life has always been a life of public service, even as a lawyer and as a pastor. The motivation behind most things that I do is to see how I can be part of improving the human condition. So my motivation is clearly public service.
What are the challenges facing Bayelsa and how do you intend to fix them if you become the governor?
The major challenge facing Bayelsa is failure of ethical leadership, compassionate leadership. A failure of leadership that recognises that if you are given authority, it is meant to be people-centred. You are to look at how you can improve human dignity. Ho w you can bring prosperity to all. How you can create enabling environment for people to grow, find their talents and gifts and do the different things they are called to do. Bayelsans by nature are very hard working people. You need to be, if you look at the kind of terrain Bayelsa provides. Many communities can only be accessed by boat, sometimes, upward two or three hours travelling in the open seas. And in those contexts, people are still with all the limitations. So, the challenge facing the people is the leadership that would harness the existing potentials for the common benefit. That is the biggest challenge.
What are your plans for the youth in the state and how do you want to key into the amnesty programme of the Federal Government?
The fundamental problem of the youth in Bayelsa is two-fold; one, the fact that there is poor education which itself raises people who are not in the position to take advantage of the job market. The second problem is that with poor education, in addition to not being able to take the advantage of the job market, it creates a sense of anger and disconnect from the society. So, what I intend to do for the youths in Bayelsa is to create the opportunity for massive employment and for massive self-employment, through small and medium scale enterprises and through providing micro-finance schemes for people who want to work for themselves. Bayelsa State has so many development needs with an average income profile of N13 billion a month; we can create massive employment through a major infrastructure drive that employs people in different sectors. It is very clear what has to be done, which is why I said it is the failure of leadership. Lagos State also suffered massive unemployment, high youth restiveness with the Area Boys. I am a trustee of the Freedom Foundations and one of the things that we do is working with disadvantaged youths. And we have seen that if you provide employment opportunity, you would attack the root causes of the problem we have in the Niger Delta. That is best way we can align ourselves with the best objectives of the amnesty programme.
How grounded are you in the state, and do you know the people very well to say you want to lead them?
We are running for an office in Bayelsa and I have an office there. We have a state secretariat. We are fully on ground. We have our party members across state and we are campaigning. I spent most of my time there so I am as grounded as necessary to take on assignment as serious as running for the office of governor.
How do you relate your party platform with the challenges facing Bayelsa State?
ACN has been active in the state right back from the days of Alliance for Democracy (AD). In fact, Seriake Dickson was, at one time, the National Legal Adviser of AD. So, Action Congress which transformed to ACN also fielded a candidate at the 2007 governorship election. In fact, that candidate went to court to challenge some of the electoral malpractices of that election and there was a re-run election in 2008. So, ACN has been visible and active in the state. It has also been instrumental in entrenching democracy. The previous candidate was Ebitimi Amgbare, who ran for governorship in 2007. So ACN has been visible as the second largest party in Bayelsa State, going back over many years. So we are simply continuing in that tradition of being part of a party that has shown without any shadow of doubt that good, responsible government is possible. We have seen it in Lagos and Edo States and that is what we want to replicate in Bayelsa State.
Do you think ACN is virile enough to win in Bayelsa State?
Politics is about ideas. Which party in Nigeria has shown it has the best idea? People are concerned about their human condition. They know that a party may be there for 20 years, but if at the end of the day it has nothing to show for it, would they not look for an alternative? Bayelsa State has had the same party in power for 12 years. Meanwhile, the state with all its resources is still very backward. Don’t they have a right to ask themselves what is happening in other places? That is what is happening. And that is why we have a very strong following with the party. To quote Albert Einstein, if you do the same thing over and over again and you don’t get a different result, it is either you are mad or there is a problem. So, Bayelsa State has tried the same thing for 13 years, that is 1999 to 2012 and there were no changes. What is the major physical change in the state? There is nothing to show for it. There is nothing to show for the level of allocation and development. The people are crying out because they are hungry and in pain.
Are you hopeful that the election would be free and fair?
I am hopeful that there would be free and fair election because all eyes are on the state.
So, are you saying there are no misgivings whatsoever?
Nigeria is a developing country. I am hopeful, but does that deny the current reality that there is still corruption, manipulation and violence and vote rigging such as multiple thumb printing, among others? I have seen all these in previous elections. But am I hopeful, yes of course I am hopeful, because I cannot keep going forward looking with the rear mirror. So the past is past. We are in a new day. We are about to hold an election in a state and it is an isolated election. It is not like a general election affecting 36 states. This election involves the home state of the country’s president. Mr President wants to write his name in history. He will not want it to be said that because the election was in his home state, there was rigging. He wants a free and fair election. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) wants a free and fair election because its head, Prof. Attahiru Jega knows he has his place in history, too. We are faced with two principal actors who each wants his name in history book.
Have you been consulting with the elders?
There are many stakeholders in Bayelsa politics. They are in different segments of the society. We have the traditional rulers, elders in every community, the youth, women and unemployed graduates , lecturers and farmers. Also, we have different ethnic groups resident in the state. There are Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Ibibio, among others. And we have consulted widely across board. And our consultation is to sell our ideas. We know that people will have different political leaning and they want to vote this way or that way. That is their choice; we are on the mission of change we are to sell to Bayelsans our agenda for change and we have sold it to them across the state and we have been doing this long before now. I started campaigning for the office as far back as 2010. Some have just joined the race.