Our government is about mega life changing projects. In the area of education, we have only officially commissioned the Ijaw National Academy. There are many schools we have built that are ready for commissioning. I believe the results should speak for us, but given the political terrain in which we operate, I think we need to showcase some of them. In the area of education, additional five model secondary schools will be opened. These are areas where there were no boarding schools before I took over in 2012. That is why you should not have been surprised, if you had militants, criminality, drug addicts, and so on..
We have the Sagbama Model Secondary Boarding School, also in Ekeremor that has been on for some months now. Brass and NNGS are also set. We have three in Kolga, the secondary school in Kiama, the one in Asuama that will be starting this month, and the Ijaw National Academy. In Yenagoa BDGS will start this September. The facilities in St. Jude’s are well known. We also have in Oporoma, southern Ijaw which came on stream quite a while ago and very soon even the one in Okugbie will start. We have not even talked about the constituency boarding secondary schools that are ongoing with new facilities comparable to what you see in tertiary institutions.
By all analysis, our state has the best public schools in this country and we are not done yet. So, I am not surprised that exam results are moving steadily up, the performance of pupils is moving quite remarkably. That is an indicator of the investment we are making and I want to appreciate all the teachers, all parents for their understanding and let me use this opportunity to call on all parents and guardian to take advantage of the enormous opportunity we have opened up for all the young people in our schools.
Education in all these state boarding schools is free in all sense of it. The uniforms are provided by us, the books by us. We even feed them three times a day. I was told that a number of the children refused to go on vacation and opted to stay back because they are fed three times a day.
We also have the best health care facilities in the state. And even in this recession, we are deepening our investment in that area. Even in this recession, we are pursuing our infrastructural development program. The airport project is going on, mega roads are going on, we have concluded sand filling beyond Aleibiri; you can actually get to Aleibiri with Hilux. This is the Bayelsa we came to change.. We came prepared. We cannot say we have solved all problems, or that we will solve all problems at the end of eight years; it cannot be done.
But, we have a lot of projects ready. The Igbogene bypass with two or more bridges, dualized has been completed. When I said we wanted to turn Bayelsa to the Dubai of Africa we meant exactly this. So, all the interventions are like a signature of the restoration Government. Unfortunately, the recession hit us barely one year into the second term.
I was going to address most of these things within four years. Most people do not know that I was not keen on a second term. That was why I started so many things and worked feverishly to try and complete them, but then, the recession came in. But we are committed in the remainder of our tenure to ensure that Bayelsa is a better place by the time we round up.
How can Bayelsa sustain these investments in the education sector, especially after your tenure?
I am quite satisfied already with where we are, although this is not where we want to be. We want Bayelsa to be the number one in education, the center of excellence and we are working hard to lay that infrastructure. When we took over Bayelsa, our WAEC and NECO rating for 2012 was over 20. If we rated any better , it was considered a fluke or an accident not a product of conscious investment. But from that position, we moved to number six or seven last year I think and now this year we are number five.
That is why we directed the compulsory summer camping program for the SS3 students. Our thinking is this, if we camp them together as we did for between four to six weeks and they are not out there playing and we bring in the best teachers in all areas to coach them, the results should show . In the Ijaw National Academy and most of our models schools, the laboratories we have are very good so they had exposure to practicals and the like. Our expectation is that with this, by next year when they take the competitive national exams Bayelsa will improve more. Our target is to be number one and we can make it because it is a product of conscious effort and nurturing.
Sustainability is the reason we created the Education Development Trust Fund. I think the fund has so far received close to N500m and that is commendable. So that as long as that fund is there and the managers are there and do their job which we believe they are doing well, the compulsory programs will go on until such a time that we would have developed that critical mass of enlightened educated people who can compete in what is becoming an increasingly competitive global world. That fund with the law that has established it will sustain this policy beyond this administration. That is why people should be interested in the policies of people who want to lead.
We are building world class health care facilities. The diagnostics center is there; the whole country is coming to our diagnostics center. The specialist hospital by the government is free for the public. A 100-bed hospital, well equipped and run by competent professionals from outside and within the country. Two days ago, they carried out surgery that was done in the Southsouth for the first time. We have a forensic lab. We are still investing. Every LGA must have a modern health care facility. This has so far been completed in about 5 or 6 different LGAs and by November, you will see that a number of these facilities have begun operating. We had a state where you didn’t have modern health care facilities, where our people who were sick had to be taken to neighbouring states. Bayelsa is on course.
When can the student loan board be constituted for students to access loans to pursue their academic dreams?
Very soon, I will constitute that board and some funds will be made available. I give five percent of the IGR to Education Trust Fund every month, five percent to health insurance and I am thinking of putting some amount to the student’s higher education loan board. But the board will come up with their criteria, it is not everybody that will access it. You must be indigent and you must be doing well and they will work through banks. It is going to be a loan that they will take for 4 years. That loan is not free. It is meant to be a revolving fund to help our students access tertiary education.
When will the state government conduct local government elections in the state?
Since we took over, no deduction has been authorised by me in respect of funds coming to councils. I do not even know how much they get. In this state we have local government autonomy. We didn’t dissolve the local government system we met in place. We wanted to conduct election showing we respect the autonomy of councils, especially in the area of respecting their finances. We constantly encourage them to be transparent, hold transparency briefings, and inform their people about their income and expenditure, to judiciously utilise their resources and we give them some policy guidelines. Because of the recession, states are finding it difficult to muster the resources to conduct local council elections. These local council elections run into millions. So, it is a very expensive exercise. We are told the country has gone out of recession, or is trying to come out of recession. We haven’t seen or felt it yet but we believe and pray that is so. If our revenue improves by next year we willlove to have local council elections.
What efforts are you making to assist the staff of the local government, in terms of teachers’ welfare and the backlog of salaries?
It is a very pathetic situation. It is not just in Bayelsa, but across the country. It is a fall out of the recession. In my first tenure, you did not hear of such challenges, until the country went into deep recession. Every money we get comes from the Federal Government apart from the IGR which when I started was about N60m, but which we managed to raise to N500m on the average. The rest comes from the Federal Government which they get from selling crude oil and if people do not buy crude oil as a state we are affected. A states like Lagos is out of it because they are fully developed, people pay tax, run a modern organized economy but Bayelsa is not on that self sustainable level. Even, if we produce the oil, it is not owned or managed by us.
The number of these people you are saying are local government workers is actually few. 80% are workers in name only because they had appointment letters and receive salaries and not because they go to work. When the economy was robust their wage bill was about N160m. Now, they are receiving about N90m, how do you expect them to meet up? That is why I tell people to take responsibility, to stop payroll fraud in the local government areas. If we take out all those that are working in more than one ministry or in the local government system and the state civil service system, all these fraudulent payrolls in Bayelsa there will not be much challenge. The responsibility lies with the stakeholders. Some of the stake holders of the local governments are doing well. I want to address most of these reforms before my term runs out.
We are trying to get proper records. We have been compiling a number of data; they were not even keeping records. Before 2012 they were not keeping real records in the state.
I am very impressed at the few dedicated teachers we have and the ones who are not dedicated I will deal with them. You will see the reforms taking place. We have been quietly collating names. The union leaders should please listen to me. We will not be intimidated; we will do what is right.
What effort are you making to renovate the Samson Siasia Sports Stadium?
I received certain assurances from the contractors just last week because we are as concerned as everybody else. We are paying them money that is left to enable them put that place to use. And they have assured me that they will be done before the end of this year. They had challenges with fluctuation in currency. We are looking beyond the Samson Siasia Stadium. We are looking at focusing on the sports academy by next year.
Could you shed more light on the effort your administration is putting into the ‘Light up Bayelsa’ project?
The government has made a lot of investment in electrification. Now a lot of communities around Yenagoa are connected to the national grid, and we still want to link up so many others. Amassoma for example is linked to the national grid. We had to do electrification in Sampou. Sagbama to Ofoni is all electrified, connected to the national grid. We want to do more and so we are working with Agip. Right now they are erecting a number of poles going to Nembe from Imiringi gas turbine. This could have been done several decades ago but we want to accomplish it if possible before the end of December. We are working hard. It may not be with the speed we want because of funding constraints but operation light up Bayelsa is on course and I have directed the ministry of power so that they can get a date when we will go and commission the projects in order to create awareness.
We are working with our partners and I want to thank Agip. Very soon, we will formally unveil the content of collaboration with the IOCs whereby we are thinking of generating up to 50mws of power between now and next year so that we can call on the investing public and manufacturers to come to Bayelsa. We also have plans to power our airport.
Is there any plan to celebrate the 21st anniversary of the creation of this state?
There are no elaborate plans. Instead of throwing money around, we will use that money to build one primary school or it will help to complete one secondary school or pay for the education of our children. That is one legacy I care about.. The days of frivolities have ended and we are going to do our best. We still have a long way to go.
We want to use this opportunity to thank our people for their prayers and support. Our state is very much on course. Our state is stable and calm. All organs are doing their best to move the state forward. As leader of the team, I am doing my best to motivate my team members. You have all seen the programmes we have; these are the reasons I ran for governor and these are the reasons you supported our re-election and you are seeing the benefits.
Support your government, support your state so that we can carry out this revolution till the end. We have two more years to go and in spite of the recession, we will try our best to conclude our programmes and policies. With the economy, we cannot take anything new, except minor things. And we will deliver a new and better Bayelsa.