…….Says Relationship With Jonathan Cordial
Being excerpts of remarks and response by the Bayelsa State Peoples Democratic Party (PPD) governorship candidate, Senator Douye Diri, during a recent interactive session with senior journalists in Abuja.
I am from a humble background in Sampou community in Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area of Bayelsa State. I went to primary school in Sampou and Odi before attending Government Secondary School, Odi, where I obtained the West African School Certificate in 1981.
I proceeded to the College of Education, Port Harcourt, and got the Nigeria Certificate in Education (NCE) in 1985 before attending the University of Port Harcourt where I obtained a Bachelor of Education (B.Ed) degree in Political Science in 1990.
Thereafter, I became a teacher. I taught in rural secondary schools in the old Rivers State before Bayelsa was created.
At that time, the issues about state creation and other events were at the frontline and I joined our ethnic-based organisation known as the Ijaw National Congress (INC). I became the first elected Organising Secretary of the body and we worked toward the aim of creating Bayelsa State.
Initially, it was not only Bayelsa. From our submission at that time, three states were proposed for the Ijaws – the Oil Rivers State, Bayelsa and Toru-Ibe State. Finally, we got only Bayelsa.
Upon the creation of Bayelsa, we supported successive military regimes that came on board. Thereafter the military left for civil rule and our first governor became Chief DSP Alamieyeseigha.
We in the INC tried to even bring in a political supportive organ, which we called the National Solidarity Movement (NSM), and I contested election to be chairman of my Kolokuma/Opokuma LGA in 1999. I lost that election. Later, the NSM could no longer be sustained and it was fused with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
We all worked with Chief Alamieyeseigha to become the first civilian governor of the state. In that administration, I was appointed first as a member of the Bayelsa Youth Development Centre (BYDC) and later elevated to the executive secretary. That was the office I held until I felt I could no longer continue with the government at that time and I resigned.
Upon my resignation, I came up with how we could eventually install another government in Bayelsa. So I joined Chief Timi Alaibe, who was with the Niger Delta Development Commission as Executive Director, Finance and Administration. We tried that and it didn’t work out.
For clarity, a lot of people see me as someone who was a staff of NDDC, but I wasn’t. I was a political ally and a close person to Chief Alaibe, believing that we were going to enthrone a government in Bayelsa that would be more responsive to the people.
I was with Chief Alaibe for about 10 years. One thing or the other happened on each election we attempted, then he will return to NDDC. A few of us didn’t feel very comfortable with that.
The events of Chief Alamieyeseigha’s impeachment came and thereafter Dr. Goodluck Jonathan took over. When he took over, I was appointed as Commissioner for Youths and Sports in 2006 and served in that capacity till 2007. That was where I met very closely the current governor of Bayelsa, Honourable Henry Seriake Dickson, who was the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice. We had met earlier in Port Harcourt during our days in the INC because we handed over the reins of office to them where he served as legal adviser of the body.
We all belonged to the same cabinet led by our former president. By the time Dr. Goodluck was elevated to the office of the Vice President and subsequently President, a political vacuum was created. Chief Timipre Sylva came in and filled it for five years.
At that time, I became a member of the governing board of the University of Maiduguri. So I was not in Bayelsa in those five years as I served in Maiduguri for four years before the election that brought in Governor Dickson.
Being a former colleague, he invited me to be a part of the campaigns. In fact, when I accepted the offer and informed my political ally at that time, Chief Alaibe, he didn’t take it kindly. So that was how we parted ways. I joined Governor Dickson, we campaigned, went into the election and he won in 2012.
After winning the election, I was first appointed as Deputy Chief of Staff, Government House, an office I held for about a year after which the designation was changed to Principal Executive Secretary, Government House. That was where I stayed until 2014 when there was the call for me to go into more service of our people, particularly at the National Assembly. That was how Governor Dickson also agreed to release me to go and contest for the House of Representatives for the Yenagoa/Kolokuma/Opokuma Federal Constituency. I won and served from 2015 to 2019.
As you might be aware, there is this issue of zoning in Bayelsa and, of course, in the PDP. So even while I was to contest for the House of Reps, the call was basically for me to contest for the Senate. I actually bought the forms initially to contest for the Senate but the then sitting president, Dr. Jonathan, spoke to me and asked me to allow the incumbent senator at the time, Senator Emmanuel Paulker, to go in for a third term. The thinking of our people at that time was that Southern Ijaw, one of the three local government areas in the Central Senatorial District, had produced Senator David Brigidi, who served for two terms. Then Senator Paulker from Yenagoa Local Government Area had also served two terms. So by principle, it was the turn of Kolokuma/Opokuma, my own LGA. But, when the former President prevailed on me, we accepted. So I went to the House of Representatives.
I want to state it clearly that was one of the best decisions I took because having a seat in the House of Reps is a very good thing indeed. I enjoyed my four years in the House and I can attest to that anytime.
Thereafter, in the last National Assembly elections, there was no argument as to who should be sent to the Senate. At the end of the day, I contested and won that election under the PDP with my governor behind me.
Again, in the Senate, I got calls from my people that you have a very good background, you have the experience in the executive and in the legislature and you have been a part of the PDP and the Restoration Government from the onset till date. You have participated in initiating policies and now that Governor Dickson is exiting, we cannot find any other competent hand. And that by the zoning principle of our state, it favours your senatorial district. So we are calling on you to return from the Senate to contest for the office of governor.
I made my consultation with God, my boss the sitting governor, and other relevant stakeholders. The answers I got were all positive. And that led me back again to pursue service of my people at the state level having barely spent two months in the Senate.
I returned and obtained the forms being one of the three that was favoured by the Dickson-led Restoration Government. It was agreed that the office should be zoned to the Bayelsa Central Senatorial District. So the names of three members of the Restoration Team was put up. But that didn’t prevent others (from outside the Central District) from obtaining forms. As you are aware, we had 21 aspirants, the highest so far in the PDP in the state.
We all took the forms but cautioned ourselves that it was a family affair and as such the contest ought not degenerate into name calling, insults and abuses. We kept to that even though at some point we saw some form of non-compliance, which was typical of politics.
At the end of the day, we held the primaries. Many were afraid that there would be an implosion in the PDP because of the number of aspirants in a small state like Bayelsa. But God being on our side, we had a successful primary and I emerged as the candidate of the PDP.
In my acceptance speech that night, I told our party and the world that the winner of that contest was our party. As much as possible, I wanted all my colleague-aspirants to join hands with me and no matter how bitter the exercise could have been, we should all come together and first of all think about our party to continue in the governance of Bayelsa State.
Bayelsa is a predominantly PDP-controlled state and we are believing that all the 21 aspirants will come together and work for the success of our party.
Q: Have you made deliberate or subtle efforts to bring together all the people that contested against you?
A: Earlier, I made an allusion to it that we are trying our best. Even as we speak, we are calling, we are moving to them and we are equally using their friends and brothers to ensure that we come back together as a party.
You would agree with me that party politics in Nigeria has not been the way we see it in other climes and that is why you see even while I was in the House, people on the floor (of the House) cross to other parties. We are not there yet but I believe we need to consolidate on what the political party is.
Beyond the issue of getting control of governance, a political party has other functions that it owes its members, such as educating them and bringing cohesion within the the party and all of that. Here, many zero in on a political party as an avenue to grab political power and I think we need to move beyond that. That is why it is really difficult when you come into a contest like this, before you know, someone is already moving away to the opposite party. Not even to any other party, but the party that might eventually give you the fight of your life. That is the way I see it in our country.
What I read about political parties in the book is different from what I see in Nigerian politics. But to answer your question directly, we are trying our best, we are calling them and talking to them. Even this morning, I had discussion with some of them and many of them have agreed that they are not going to another party. They have agreed to sit back, work with the party and ensure that the party wins. If I win the election, it won’t be as Douye Diri. I have been nominated by the PDP. So, it is PDP that is actually winning the election. I’m not saying we are there yet, because at the end of the day, we need to get all the 20 of them to return to our fold.
Q: What is your relationship with Chief Timi Alaibe?
A: I was with Timi Alaibe for 10 years. Just to let you know, we hail from the same local government area. So he is my brother. That is why I said earlier that we are not home and dry yet as we are still talking to ourselves. Politics is like looking for a wife to marry. Maybe these days it is very easy but in our own time, a woman can take as long as one year to woo. So we are still in that process.
I see him as a brother and I believe that he too sees me as one. Specifically, I don’t believe that any one of us is indispensable, including myself. But I agree with you that he (Alaibe) is a factor. He came into the race and he did very well and like every other aspirant, was in the race to win. I don’t think anybody will like to throw away N21million.
We are trying our possible best engaging our brothers and friends just to ensure that we have a common house so that we can collectively face our political adversaries. We have a fight ahead of us but I don’t see the other people as being so strong on ground to fight and defeat the PDP. If we have a free, fair and transparent election, the APC cannot win even a councillorship election in Bayelsa State. It is just the hype about federal might by using of security apparatus to intimidate or using INEC to write results. That is the propaganda we have been receiving.
Our appeal is that the security agencies must be professional. INEC must remain an umpire and if there is that fair playing field, the opponents are neither here nor there to contest in this election.
Q: Specifically, who are those you consulted? Is former President Goodluck Jonathan among them?
A: It is difficult to mention all the people I consulted. The former president was my governor. I worked under him as commissioner and that tells you the relationship that I had with him. Before then, even while I was Executive Secretary of the BYDC, he was deputy governor under Chief DSP Alamieyeseigha. So we have known ourselves for a long while before he became president.
While I was in the House of Representatives, there was a probe panel to investigate the former president. It was myself and Hon. Boma Goodhead from Rivers State that kicked against a decision by the committee to invite the former president to appear before the panel and not even the floor of the house. I found that very ridiculous and that brought about a serious disagreement between myself and a colleague from Kwara State, who was chairman of the committee. I saw in the national dailies the next day that I almost beat up the chairman. There was nothing like that. But I was visibly angry with what they were doing because I believe that no other former president had been so humiliated the way they wanted to humiliate him. The question I asked then was, is it because he is from the minority? Because he is the first president to come from the minority. But that was finally put to rest.
So I have a very cordial relationship with the former president and he was one of those key persons I consulted. I went to him in his house and he received me. In fact, he took me to his wife because the wife was like our mother when he was governor. So my wife, who was a commissioner’s wife, was like her daughter. So, he gave me his blessings. I also consulted very many other leaders before I finally went into the race.
Let me also say that politics is a game of interest. At a point, the governor said he doesn’t have a candidate and I saw in one of the posts that if the governor is going to have one candidate that will be adopted, it will be me. So anybody can claim that the former president was with him but it is only at the point of voting that you know whether the former president was with you or not.
Q: What are going to do to reassure Bayelsans that you are not a stooge.
A: From my short profile I just spoke about, it would be very clear to anyone in doubt about who I am, what I stand for and why I even accepted to work with the current governor. I told you that Sylva was in power for five years and I didn’t get into Bayelsa State. That tells you I am a man of principles. I choose my friends and those I want to work with. I chose to work with Governor Dickson and I am very satisfied working with him.
Ask me why? There was this Transparency Bill he introduced to the state House of Assembly whereby the government is mandated to hold a monthly transparency briefing and inform the state about its revenue and expenditure. And because of my privileged position in the engine room of government, every month when the federal allocation comes in and the IGR, we seat together in a committee where the governor, his deputy, myself, the Commissioner for Finance and all the finance-related people allocate what came into the state to the various ministries, departments and agencies. So, at that point, I knew that Gov. Dickson was not taking anything out from what was coming in.
When people say you are a stooge to cover up, I do not know where and what I want to cover up, having known that this was the process until I left for the National Assembly. Even while I was away, the process continued.
So, I believe that in the first place, there is nothing to cover up and the resources that come into Bayelsa are used for development of the state. I just believe that it is out of my humility, my honesty, my principles that he recognised and felt that this candidate will be the person that will serve our people well.
Q: What would be your key policy thrust?
A: When we took over in 2012, the policy thrust on education came about because there was a lacuna in our educational sector. The governor declared a state of emergency in that sector and I believe to a large extent, he has ameliorated most of the gaps that we discovered when we came in. For instance, Bayelsa was previously on about thirty-something position in all national examinations when we came but today, the state is among the first 10 in all such national examinations. That has been achieved to a level and I will continue with it and ensure that we go higher.
Next will be the economy. Our local economy is neither here nor there. The sitting governor has tried to bring in solutions in agriculture, trying to look at our comparative advantage and I intent to build on that. I want us to have a local economy where our people will be directly involved. Today, the number of Bayelsans involved in economic activities is low. That will be one of our policy thrust not forgetting the issue of security. Of course you are aware that no government can thrive and do well without security. We are seeing bits of it at the federal level where the level of insecurity in the country is so high. Those are the things I will build on but that is not to say we are forgetting other sectors.
Q: How would you react when people say you don’t have what it takes to win this election?
A: I like when people underestimate me. It is out of that underestimation that I always bring out surprises. When people say my emergence will make the other party to win, they have not taken into cognisance that this was the same man who won recently two elections, one to the House of Representatives, the other to the Senate and you say that man is an underdog.