Untold details of how Bayelsa poll was rigged —Diri

The new governor of Bayelsa State, Senator Duoye Diri, who has christened himself as the Miracle Governor, says the November 16, 2019 poll in his state was a coup hatched in Abuja, describing as voodoo votes some figures that emanated from a couple of local council areas after the election. KUNLE ODEREMI brings the excerpts from his interactions with journalists in Lagos.

 

WE will like you to provide a kind of background before delving into major issues concerning the circumstances that brought you to office?

As the governor of Byelsa State, I know my constituency is Bayelsa State but I am a governor in Nigeria, and so, the whole country mirrors me particularly now that I have christened myself a miracle governor. Therefore, I thought it was necessary for us to interface. And you know the aftermath of the Supreme Court judgment and the move to review the judgment and as you are aware, no other case has attracted the level of publicity like that review judgment of mine. And the Supreme Court has never been that punitive to any other person the way they acted in that matter. For the first time, they didn’t just penalise my opponents; they passed it to the lawyers for the first time, senior lawyers, and they are not names that you can joke with in the legal firmament of Nigeria. Senior lawyers were punitively punished to act as a deterrent for people not to see the Supreme Court as a customary court or a trial court. So, I thought that with those type of developments, it was necessary for me to interact with the media and invite you to join hands with us in the state to make sure that we are on the same page in our quest to serve Bayelsa; that they are stories that will gladden our hearts; stories that will lead to the development of our state and indeed, Nigeria because it is a system; when one state is sick, it affects the rest of the country. Today, there is Boko Haram in the North-East, specifically Borno State but it is affecting everybody in the country. So, we are a system, the system that when one state is sick, it will affect everybody. So, we should not be encouraging negative publicity from one part of the country, particularly from Bayelsa State.

 

That should take us to the issue of the moment, which is the criticism of the opposition of the N2.9 billion you have obtained to buy cars.

The dynamics of my state is well known to all of you. Those who are in opposition, their antecedents are well known to all of you. So, when they bring stories, please try and confirm. Recently, there has been this issue of N2.9 billion car loan. I don’t think that any chief executive would come into a state, particularly for somebody like me who has been in government, both in the executive and the legislative arm of government, to come in with all the experiences and begin to run a government that will lead to collapse.  We did what we did not only for the executive; we are buying cars for all the members of the state House of Assembly because we must create an environment that is motivational for people to perform. Then, at that level of pedigree of public service, I don’t think that I need to go and buy them second-hand cars that will break down on the road that people will start making statements like they told us before that he is a miser. So, he has started with second-hand cars for us.

And we did that also for the judiciary: judges in the state and the executive and let me say that part of the reasons we are yet to appoint commissioners is because we want them to hit the ground running. We want to create the enabling environment for them such that when they come in, they will have all of these things, including cars. Cars are necessities; they are not luxuries; they are necessities for people to perform. In fact, in my time as the commissioner for youths and sports in the state, I had up to two cars: my official car and there was a spare car that my wife and, sometimes others for family usage. So, I want to clear the air on the issue. Let the opposition not see it as people who want to live a life of luxury. And of course, the governor of a state is the image of the state; I don’t know the type of image they want me to carry before Nigerians and outside the country. When I travel outside the country, I represent my state and at the same time, I represent the country. That is why we have gone to do what we did and we can’t do that without the approval of the state House of Assembly.

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So, if the members said no, we can go on okada; the judges can go on okada; the governor can go on Keke NAPEP, whatever they approve for me, I will endorse and we will all go pending when they will call me again to say, ‘Ah, let us review it.’ I think they saw the need; the necessity of it, that’s why the approval was given. I know that’s one thing, particularly the opposition is trying to feast on. We know them; people tend to forget yesterday and a student of political science, we always build on yesterday to project for today and tomorrow. So, we don’t forget yesterday of what some people have done. But because I’m a miracle governor, we have decided to forgive and forget; we are not dwelling on the past.

Governor Diri

We want to see today and then project for tomorrow, so that by tomorrow we would be taken by our words of developing our state. We want to focus on human capacity; we want to focus on infrastructure, particularly as it relates to roads, education and health, which a lot has been done by the previous administration. We want to focus on aquaculture, agriculture, trade and investments. For us to achieve this, we need the press. So be our friends; be our partners in the onerous task of leading Bayelsa State to another level, not the next level; to another level that people will say history will be kind to me, kind to you because you all hold very critical positions in your media. Let us avoid things and people that will pull us down; let delve more into things that will bring us together that will lead to development.

 

Many people are scared by the rate most states resort to obtaining loans.  Bayelsa is generally regarded as rich?

Everybody believes Bayelsa is rich and truly so. I don’t blame anybody who says that because our country runs on oil and the oil reservoir is in Bayelsa and we are like a people inside the river and then soap is entering our eyes and we are looking for water from the bucket to wash off the soap in our eyes. That is what has led to the question about militancy, kidnapping and so on. Don’t forget I was the pioneer national organising secretary of the Ijaw National Congress (INC). We tried to bring in activism into our land to make our people realise what we are; what we have and to stand for it. So, I’m not surprised when people say we are rich. Yes, we are rich. But like I keep saying even when I was in the National Assembly, I have a friend from Adamawa State who called me each time we greeted each other that, ‘ah, Honourable Diri, Resource Control’ and then, I would reply, ‘Resources Expropriated!’ He will say, you are a bad guy. Then when he asked who and I replied you are the one now. People have expropriated our resources; rather than we using our resources for us you take it 100 per cent and give us 13 per cent, even that 13 per cent, we don’t know of what you are giving to us. So, I urge my colleagues (governors) that we look at it because the constitution says minimum. So, part of my fight in the Senate would have been to present a bill on the issue of 13 per cent. The minimum should have been 13 per cent and we have been running in that minimum from that till today.

We should be able to review the 13 per cent the way we are reviewing the national minimum wage. Before now, it was 100 per cent to 50 per cent until it came down to 13 per cent. So, we are not as rich as people think we are. We are rich in mineral resources; we are rich even in human capacity but our resources have been expropriated. Taxes of oil companies alone, you guys in Lagos are benefitting from it. Bayelsa is not benefitting from it because the headquarters of oil companies are located Lagos. For instance, in February, the federal allocation to Bayelsa State was short of almost N2 billion from the previous allocation and so, we said ‘let’s benchmark based on what we had previously so that, even if it is N2 billion, we can run on it.’ But when the allocation came, the shortfall was about N2 billion.

I was part of the last administration before I left for the National Assembly. When we came in, the state wage bill was more than N6 billion and we felt it was too high for a small state like Bayelsa; the wage bill was higher than even some states  which have been in existence for ages. Their wage bill is about N2 billion, so how come our state is having a wage bill of more than N6 billion? A lot of things went under and the former governor fought it until he was able to reduce the wage bill to a little over N3 billion. Then lately, the issue of new national minimum wage came in and as we speak, our wage bill is close to N6 billion. Now, we have not appointed political appointees; we are not talking about civil servants and workers of tertiary institutions.  So by the time that is added, our wage bill is skyrocketed.

Then you look at what is left because government must run and that’s why the issue of loan comes in because you have ongoing road projects. They completed a lot of their projects on loans. You had a capital market loan that was taken by the administration of Sylva. It was about N50 billion and with the combination of interest, that loan rose to about N100 billion. That’s why I said if we should go back, some of these people that are talking today, they were the cause of the beginning of the wreckage of our state. When you go back to what they did, you will find out that the loans that were taken were for road development; all that is on our neck now.  When you take over, you inherit all assets and liabilities; except they don’t want us to function. The monthly federal allocation to Bayelsa now hovers between N10 billion and N12 billion. So by the time you remove all of these things and deductions, you are left with nothing even to run your government. Therefore, don’t be surprised if tomorrow, you hear we took a loan again! We must work; that’s why we are elected.

That’s why we are begging the Federal Government that it’s time for us to review the 13 per cent derivation because what we have is not enough for us to do anything. And we need the cooperation of the government because I am one person who is standing for a true federal set up. We are running the country as a unitary system in the name of a federal form of government. In a federal system of government, the units, which in our own case are called states, approximate the same powers as the Federal Government. We only run certain things as common things like currency, security, immigration and others. Every other things, you do it in your state and pay tax to the Federal Government. But here, we are running it as a unitary system, maybe because of our long years of military incursion into politics. So, to answer the question, we are not as rich as people think we are. We are also trying to make ends meet like most states that are not even oil-producing. Because of that 13 per cent derivation that is given to oil-producing states, people think we are so rich. We are not that rich and the internally generated revenue, like I said, the oil companies, most of them are not paying tax in Bayelsa. The former governor tried to do something; there are some of those matters in court and I intend to meet with the oil companies to look at what they want to do with us. If they are ready to pay taxes to us the way they pay in other places, we will be ready to withdraw the matters from court so that we can have improved internally generated revenue. We are also looking at other sources of revenue so that we can diversify and not depend on the federal allocation.

 

What are you going to do to contain militancy, kidnapping and uprising such AS was witnessed after the Supreme Court judgment?

I am not going to expose my security measures for now. But we have something on ground and we assure that the security of Bayelsa will be tight. However, let me use this opportunity to appeal to my brothers and sisters to allow peace to continue to reign in the state. Just like you rightly noted, when the Supreme Court came, some people said they were protesting. Rather than protesting, it became a criminal affair. We have seen when the Supreme Court judgment came in Imo State, we saw days of protests; not a single property was torched; not a single car was burnt; that is a civilised protest. But when you now attach criminality, it’s no longer a protest. They went torched my house; torched the house of the former governor’s house and torched key government facilities and ministries. The judiciary was affected; library was torched; Radio Bayelsa was torched. The property of key PDP leaders were not spared. So, we must separate criminality; those are common criminals. And the security agencies promptly imposed a curfew in the state for three days and even when I took over, I extended the curfew. So, we will have zero-tolerance for criminality. Yes, you allowed to ventilate your anger but where your own rights stop, somebody’s own rights begin. So, you cannot usurp the rights of other people. You have the same I have mine.

What we had in Bayelsa State in the name of an election was a coup detat. The so-called 320, 000 votes were voodoo votes. Those are not votes from Bayelsa. You can’t talk about a local government like Nembe, where two or three days to the election, we went for campaign and that was the only local government area we were attacked. I led my team to campaign there and we lost more than 20 people; they were killed. And that same local government was returning more than 90, 000 votes; all PDP members were barred from going to vote. In Southern Ijaw, where my opponent hails from, most of our members were arrested on their way to the polling booths. In fact, they will ask if you were APC; once you said yes, they will allow you to go. If you were PDP, you were under detention. Some of them were taken to Benin before we were able to secure their release for no reason. So, what we faced there was a coup detat planned from Abuja to takeover Bayelsa State by all means. And so, when they talk about legitimacy, I am more of a legitimate governor; and god was seeing us while they were doing all of this.  And I promptly rejected those results; those voodoo results the day they announced them.

The true results are very clean and clear because we even went to the tribunal; we were asked to go and inspect the materials. Let me give you this; it will shock you. Where they declared 180, 000 votes in Southern Ijaw, we had our forensic experts and we went for the ballot papers used and unused. Where they said they had 150, 000 votes, we discovered that the total votes cast were not more than 35, 000. And when they saw the way we were coming, they became afraid because if all those votes were removed, the PDP won. They became complainants overnight and said they also wanted to inspect the votes from my local government and that of the former governor. So, the point I’m making here is that I hear that the former governor and Minister of State for Petroleum is saying that I am a product of illegitimacy. I don’t want to join issue with him. That’s the way they have hyped up the narrative about Bayelsa and creating tension in the state. My party and my people are very quiet and calm. On the other side are those who are rough and who believe in the gun and we believe that by no stretch shall no man subdued. So, we believe in using our brains and we believe in working with people to develop our state. I was the governor that was robbed illegitimately and God, in His infinite mercies, restored it through the Supreme Court.

NIGERIAN TRIBUNE

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